For plenty of local indie-rock bands, opportunities such as meeting the National's Matt Berninger would be a highlight of the year. But for Torches' Azad Cheikosman and Eric Fabbro, shaking hands and posing for pictures with one of their idols is only a small sample of what's fueling their fire as musicians these days.
Since January, the duo has toured the country, released an EP, played festivals and headlined a residency at the lauded Echo in Los Angeles, all the while creating an insatiable momentum that continues to grow exponentially both in Southern California and nationally. “We've found that in some places, like Kansas City and spots in the Midwest, people are really eager when a new band comes into town,” Cheikosman says. “They're just down for new music, maybe because there's nothing to do?”
He laughs, but there's definitely plenty of truth to that. In Southern California, we're spoiled by the amount of great music accessible to us. “[Playing those cities] definitely proved a point to us,” Cheikosman continues. “After each show, we sold a lot of merch; our mailing list filled up almost every night in some of those areas; it was great.”
However, life on the road isn't always that rewarding. “There are definitely nights when we're playing for maybe 10 or 15 people in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” the singer/guitarist laments. “[That] happened on the last tour. You kind of just have to get into it. . . . You have to play every show like it's your last and like it means something. You want to leave people with something they'll remember.”
This mindset is what first conjured the buzz surrounding Torches. In the studio, Cheikosman's vocals soar as Fabbro's drumming guides each track, but live, the two breathe new life into each song with the help of a full band. They experiment with percussion and arrangement, and Cheikosman isn't afraid to let loose, often ending the set in the crowd (or as close as he can get). It's this high energy that sets a Torches performance apart from other traditional indie bands.
Their genuine passion and sincerity shine on their records. In 2012, the duo released their debut full-length, Head Full of Rust, and this May they dropped the follow-up EP Let the People Stare. "It was almost like I was trying to connect with myself in those songs and hoping people would connect with it,” Cheikosman says.
While imagery and storytelling play roles in his songwriting, personal experiences and feelings weigh the heaviest in his lyricism, and he believes Torches' next album will be their boldest statement yet.
"We're about 10 songs into the [new] record,” he says, “and it's everything we wanted to say. We went through a big transition last December when our bass player decided to part ways [wit[with the band]. . It taught us a lot about ourselves: how to be a band, knowing what we want, and just having realistic expectations with the songs and how people are going to respond to them.” As a result, the vocalist predicts this album will give the band the momentum they need to progress to the next level.
He and Fabbro have offered fans sneak peeks of new material during live performances, and they are ending the year with a slew of co-headlining Southern California shows with fellow LA darlings the Lonely Wild. The micro tour includes a night at the prestigious Echoplex and a stop at Costa Mesa's Detroit Bar; the set lists will focus primarily on new songs and possibly a few extra bodies onstage (including a violinist).
So what's in store for Torches in 2014? Aside from a sophomore full-length, they're in the market for a new van. In that regard, the band may have found a winner for their next big tour. “It's a Mercedes Sprinter,” Cheikosman says proudly. “She's a beaut!”
Torches perform at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Thurs., Nov. 7, 9 p.m. 21+. $10.