The Bonfire Set
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The Bonfire Set

Reno, Nevada, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | SELF

Reno, Nevada, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Alternative Indie


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Music Interview: Reno’s The Bonfire Set Puts the Contemporary in Contemporary Folk Rock"

Who, you my ask, is The Bonfire Set?

The short answer is that The Bonfire Set is a young, seven-member Reno, Nevada-based congregation with a new debut EP, On the Road, that resonates with familiar contemporary folk rock tones and flavors. But they’re something distinctive as well, especially as they represent a generation you wouldn’t expect to be saying the things they do.

For one example, the title song is an obvious homage to Jack Kerouac, blending vocal harmonies with ’60s vibes. Speaking of the ’60s, Jamil Apostol, vocalist and acoustic guitarist for the group, says the song “Nuclear Love” is “a love song/anti-war song with two lovers `holding hands in the ashes … swimming in the depths of liquid napalm.'” Likewise, “Red Roses” is a song about a breakup as a result of war. Sound a bit like what they used to call protest music back in the day?

Lyrically, there’s a lot of social commentary in the seven songs of On the Road. In fact, On the Road is one of those collections with an upbeat, often poppy sound that almost masks the philosophical musings of the words. For Apostol, the EP is unified by recurring themes in “a story line of a character trying to make it in this world, despite being bombarded by attachment to war, relationships. etc.” This character ponders much on the meaning of mortality as in the optimistic opening track, “Few Years,” which notes we will all turn to dust, be bogged down in the 9-to-5 world, but all turns out fine in the end. Likewise, “Mammoth” is “about making good memories while on the path to enlightenment – `As we drove toward the
Light.'” Or “City Lights,” which is “about remaining eternal through old memories.” In short, this isn’t a set of simple observational or confessional stories but is rather very accessible music with a spiritual bent.

To dig into what The Bonfire Set is all about, I decided to ask Apostol to describe just who the band is, what inspires it, and what it is trying to do. Here’s what he had to say.

How did The Bonfire Set come together?

We’ve been childhood friends for the most part. It wasn’t until a trip to Coachella 2013 that we wanted to form a band. It was such an enlightening experience that we decided that that could be us headlining the main stage one day if we worked hard enough. Ryan had never even touched a bass until the band formed! We’ve been a band for about 16 months now.

Who are the members?

Beyond myself, our current roster includes Kirsten Crom (keys/vocals), Nathan DePaoli (drums), Casey Frasca (electric guitar/vocals), Denise Julian (vocals/percussion), Ryan Widmer (bass), and Patrick Zbella (electric guitar).

With that many personalities, I suspect everyone has their own sources of inspiration with a variety of tastes.

Yes, the group has many inspirations, which helps with our eclectic sound. Aside from the Beats, I am inspired by the works of Bright Eyes, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Arcade Fire, Kendrick Lamar and even Kanye West. In addition to those musicians, spiritual teachers like the Buddha, Alan Watts, Baba Ram Dass, and many more have been a contributing factor for me.
Others in the band draw influences from different genres of music. For instance, our drummer comes from a metal background (who is also an EDM DJ), our guitarist Patrick draws inspiration from U2, Brand New, [and] Switchfoot. Casey is heavily drawn to ’70s guitar players like Jimmy Page and Clapton. Our keys player Kirsten LOVES Lady Gaga. Our bass player really digs the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

With such divergency in backgrounds, how does the group collaborate on your songs?

Generally, I would have a chord progression and lyrics already made. From there I let the other guys layer in their own “personality” to the song. It’s a very magical process.

I gather from your publicity that your intentions are to do more than entertain audiences. What are you guys trying to accomplish with your music?

Nowadays, it seems as if mainstream music is just mass-produced. Generally, I feel that it all really sounds the same and that it lacks the initial “quality” that music used to have. I’d like to cause a dent in the music industry, breaking barriers in form and the traditional trend of things through a resurgence of what this nation once had.
This is my contribution to the world; to raise the consciousness of people around me through my sound. People of my generation are being subconsciously brainwashed into believing whatever they are fed, and “the only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world,” as Allen Ginsberg states.

How did your debut album come together?

After playing some shows around Reno we decided that we were ready to record our album. We started a Kickstarter campaign in mid-December and raised over $5,000 as a result. We also had money from shows and merchandise.
We recorded with our hometown hero producer/engineer Tom Gordon (The Beach Boys, Boyz II Men, Dr. Dre, etc.) and had it mastered up in Seattle with Ed Brooks (Pearl Jam, Fleet Foxes, Death Cab for Cutie, the Head & the Heart, etc.).

You warn listeners some of your songs have explicit lyrics. Why?

Breaking the rules and being explicit widens the world.

What’s next for The Bonfire Set?

While On the Road is more on the “light and fun” side of things (perfect road trip album), the next album we are working on really goes a different turn and more in depth with socioeconomic issues, self reflection, and how we can effectively progress as a species without us destroying each other.
Currently, we are all studying in school and our drummer is leaving for LA at Musician’s Institute to further his drumming skills. We’ll most likely be writing new material with our drummer away and doing shows around the West Coast whenever we can. Or get noticed by a record label who supports our musical endeavors. That’d be rad too. - Dr. Wesley Britton

"Super Friends"

Life, the longest amount of time available to us, is framed by an eternity of nonexistence. A small window encompasses all we will ever know or experience. Music, as with all forms of artistic expression, is an attempt to saturate each moment of our passing lives with meaning and feeling.

The Bonfire Set approach this concept in the first words of their new EP, the Jack Kerouac-inspired On The Road, by singing: “In a few years, we will all turn to dust.” This meditation on impermanence is the prologue to the EP, which, far from a morbid elegy, is instead a celebration of life and love–our brief moment in the sun.

Singer and songwriter Jamil Apostol recalls his first time reading On The Road as a life-changing experience. The Beat Generation classic has inspired many generations afterward to live in the moment and see as much of the world as possible, and it still finds relevance today in the hands of young musicians.

“I read it, and it just made me wanna tour, travel, live the life, you know?” says Apostol.

Apostol admits the members of The Bonfire Set are rookies as far as extensive touring is concerned, but the band is optimistic about their prospects abroad. Their music is joyful and adventurous, with the drive of rock music making it a perfect companion for a long road trip of any kind.

The Bonfire Set offers the vibe of modern indie folk, but through the lens of a Cold War-era rock band. Anti-war protest, themes exploring the survival of love in an increasingly bleak geopolitical landscape, and guitar solos are The Bonfire Set’s currency as much as the melody and songwriting focus of indie folk.

On The Road was recorded by local heavyweight producer Tom Gordon, and mastered with his help by Ed Brooks, who has worked with big names like Pearl Jam and Bright Eyes. The Bonfire Set’s fascination with '60s and '70s rock ’n’ roll is evident in the recording process, as they used vintage equipment to forge their own retro sound. Vintage microphones and recording equipment, and a bonafide Hammond organ are a few artifacts the band employs on its recordings. The idea behind the recording style is to meld past and present, to bring new meaning to some of the past’s most memorable sounds.

“I wanna redefine our generation’s view of music,” says Apostol. “We have to think about how pop music affects our culture. Everything is mass-produced and cheap. I think our music has the potential to be a breath of fresh air.”

The Bonfire Set was formed when a group of friends from high school decided to take a road trip together to Coachella. Inspired by the energy of the festival, they decided to start their own band.

The songwriting is influenced by indie rock and classic rock, but several members are also admirers of hip hop, which influences the band’s hierarchy. The Bonfire Set often feel more like a collective than a band. Members Denise Julian and Casey Frasca often provide the lead vocals of the songs. The ego distribution of the band is communal, as opposed to the traditional structure of “frontman and back-up players.” Songs explode in choruses of many voices, like a choir, giving the impression that you’re listening to a big group of friends making music together. - Kent Irwin

"The Bonfire Set: Making the Band"

RENO, Nev. – At the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif. on Aug. 19, 2013, the course of eight friends’ lives would change after hearing a performance by Youth Lagoon.

“I wasn’t really blown away by their (Youth Lagoon) performance, so I thought, ‘You know what, if these guys can do this, then I can do this so much better,’” said Jamil Apostol, a 20-year-old business management major at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Apostol stood near the front of the stage on that hot April day that consisted of 95-degree weather around a crowd of what he described as friendly and carefree people. Underneath the dome-like structure that covered the stage and the audience, Apostol’s longtime friends Patrick Zbella, 20, stood behind him and Casey Frasca, 21, was to his left. Ryan Widmer, 20, and Denise Julian, 20, who are in a relationship, were also present.

During the concert, Zbella was tapping to the beat on Apostol’s back. He looked back at him and said “Hey, you’re getting better, you actually have rhythm now.”

“I would always try to see if I could jam with you guys, but I couldn’t really.” Zbella said as he looked at his band mates during an interview.

“Yeah, you used to suck, man,” Apostol said to Zbella in another interview with just the two of them.

On April 23 at 9:30 p.m., Apostol wrote a Facebook status looking for members to form a band:

“I need a bassist, keys, and cello player ASAP who can rehearse Tuesdays, Thursdays and sometimes weekends,” his post read. “I’m dreaming big by performing at Coachella next year so lets get this thing going. Msg me if interested.”

At 10:12 p.m., just 42 minutes later, Frasca commented on the post hoping to be chosen as one of the lead guitarists, but his next comment said he was also open to playing the keyboard.

There were a total of 14 comments that ranged from one person offering to do vocals to another joking about playing a “mean electric triangle” and even the clarinet.

Zbella messaged Apostol once he saw the post and suggested that he, Apostol and Frasca get together to start it. They wanted a culmination of sounds, so they reached out to friends of theirs who they knew were also musically talented.

They decided that Apostol would be the lead singer and play acoustic guitar, Frasca would be the lead guitarist and do back-up vocals and Zbella would play rhythm guitar and second percussion.

They needed someone on keys, so Apostol reached out to a girl he had known since the third grade, Kirsten Crom. They asked their friend Nathan DePaoli to play drums, and although he had never played bass before, they asked Widmer if he’d be open to trying it.

Frasca can recall asking him how he felt about the bass and if he was able to keep up after their first practice together.

“Dude, I was born to do this,” Widmer said to him.

Thomas Hogan, another friend of theirs, plays secondary percussion for the group and does back-up vocals. However, he had to leave for Denver at the end of June because of a family emergency, but he is supposed to return to Reno, Nev. in January.

The Bonfire Set is a group of eight friends, and their music ranges from indie rock to alternative to folk. (left to right: Ryan Widmer, Nathan DePaoli, Patrick Zbella, Jamil Apostol, Kirsten Crom and Denise Julian (standing), Casey Frasca and Thomas Hogan not pictured)
The Bonfire Set is a group of eight friends, and their music ranges from indie rock to alternative to folk. (left to right: Ryan Widmer, Nathan DePaoli, Patrick Zbella, Jamil Apostol, Kirsten Crom and Denise Julian (standing), Casey Frasca and Thomas Hogan not pictured)

A week after the band was formed, Julian asked them to be in the group when they were all hanging out in Hogan’s garage one night. She already had been telling her boyfriend that she wanted to be in it. Widmer told her she had to talk to Frasca about it.

“I was like, I want to be in the band, I want to be in the band,” Julian said. “And Casey was like, ‘What do you want to do?’”

She said she wanted to sing even though she never had any singing lessons, was shy about her voice and it wasn’t something she took seriously before the band.

Although she is shy about her voice, she said music is her release and helps her relieve stress and anxiety. She has even recently started singing lessons. Julian said she had been singing her whole life, and she has a few family members, including her mother, who possess this talent as well.

“Sing something for me,” Frasca said.

She decided to sing a song that her mom played while she was growing up. Julian said she knew it like the back of her hand so when Frasca asked her to sing she didn’t even have to think about what song. The lyrics to Strawberry Wine by Deana Carter just naturally flowed out of her mouth.

“And he was like, you’re in,” Julian said enthusiastically as she laughed.

“And that’s the last compliment I ever gave her,” Frasca said teasing Julian.

Forming the group took about two weeks, but finding the right name wasn’t something that they all agreed with at first.

In mid-May, a couple of days before Julian left to study abroad in Chile, the group discussed what name to choose. They were all at Sushi 7, except for Crom, 21, who hadn’t been at practice that day.

Zbella had his phone out where all of his ideas were listed.

“We were going through famous band names and thinking about how maybe they thought the name sounded weird originally,” Julian said. “But then now that they’re famous no one thinks, ‘Oh that’s a really weird name.’”

Some of the choices they really considered were Indigo Child, The Silver State and The Splash Page. Zbella said they also thought about going with The Porters or Porter for their friend Kyle Porter who went into the Navy.

“We had about 40 other options,” Zbella said. “Plus the goofy ones, like Butthole Bonanza, which Ryan (Widmer) would seriously bring up every practice.”

Yet, the only name they all didn’t hate, and could at least find some meaning in, was The Bonfire Set. Zbella was the first one to mention Bonfire, and he said that Frasca suggested, ‘How about The Bonfire Set?’

Apostol said when he thinks about a bonfire, he sees their future as a group within the fire and all of their possibilities. He added that a bonfire is a place where people tell stories, and they do that through their music.

Zbella felt that a bonfire even represents the style of their songs, which range from alternative to indie rock to folk.

“In a bonfire you can have very quiet intimate moments, but you could also have raging awesome moments as well,” he said. “So I even feel like our music has a little bit of both of those qualities.”

According to Zbella, it took them three to four weeks to decide on this name.

There have been other disagreements, such as what logo to choose, the design for posters, flyers and photos. Apostol stands as the leader of the group, so he has the final say when it comes to the decisions. Yet, that doesn’t stop the so called “yelling matches” that occur between Frasca and Zbella.

Frasca said that there are often arguments, but that’s bound to happen when eight people from different musical backgrounds come together to form a group. Hogan, 20, served as the mediator when disagreements broke out, and since his absence, Apostol expressed that the group has missed his presence.

“I think I kept it lighthearted because they’re so serious about it, and I’m just doing it for fun,” Hogan said. “They’re just so serious about it, which is not a bad thing. They love it and it’s fun, but at times it just gets ridiculous.”

The breaking of their friendships was something that Apostol worried about.

“I actually thought about that a lot,” Apostol said. “But I was like, friendship should be first, and then the band. And if this isn’t going to work out, then it’s not going to work out.”

Apostol said The Bonfire Set’s first few shows during the summer were bumpy because they were still trying to learn how to gel as a group. However, he said their first performance at Walden’s Coffeehouse in early June was amazing, but it was mostly in front of family and friends. Apostol explained that there were some nerves and a fear of being judged at first, but they overcame that by performing more.

Egos and technical difficulties such as problems with the sound were issues that arose during The Bonfire Set’s shows following that first one. Apostol really began to see the band come together following their performance at Wildflower Village in August. He described everyone as on point during this performance, and it was obvious that the crowd was feeling the music as well.

Although The Bonfire Set is still a young group, they have performed at several venues since May with their first paid gig being on Oct. 12 at Bodega Nightclub.

On a Monday evening at the start of September, Apostol met with John Tamayo, the general manager of Bodega. Apostol called Tamayo, 53, a couple days before, and they had planned to meet on this day after the 20-year-old’s class to discuss The Bonfire Set performing there. Apostol said it’s ideal to try to ask about performing at a venue six to eight weeks in advance.

Tamayo didn’t know what to expect. He said the first thing he noticed about Apostol when they met was his baby face.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Ok you want to play at my club, it’s a very new band and I don’t know what to expect,’” Tamayo said.

At first, Tamayo offered them the back room, which is considered Bodega Lounge. He said this room is great if he knows the band is going to draw 40 to 50 people. However, Apostol wanted The Bonfire Set, and the other bands that were going to play that night, to perform in the front room, Bodega Nightclub.

Tamayo typically books the front for the bigger shows that draw 200 plus, but he decided to take a chance on The Bonfire Set.

“He basically told me that I wouldn’t be sorry and that he wanted to play the front room,” Tamayo said. “He told me politely, ‘don’t worry about it, you’ll have a good show,’ and low and behold, it turned out to be a great show.”

Tamayo is in contact with a design company that creates posters and flyers for events. Apostol gave Tamayo a picture of them and their logo and passed it on to the design company. He ordered a total of about 175 posters and flyers. Apostol and Zbella posted these in coffee shops and around the University of Nevada, Reno campus, which is where they all attend school except for DePaoli and Hogan.

The Bonfire Set used social media as a means of promotion as well such as their Facebook page and Twitter.

They even promoted their show, The Bonfire Set and Friends, by performing on Wolf Pack Radio on Oct. 11.

“We’re about getting local music on the air so we were all for having them come on,” said Thomas Snider, music director at Wolf Pack Radio.

Brewfish and The Nick Sexton Band opened up the show, and once The Bonfire Set took the stage around 11 p.m., there were about 340 people in attendance. DePaoli, 20, described it as their first real “concert” experience.

In the moments before Max Christy, the host of the show, introduced them on stage, the members of The Bonfire Set could feel their adrenaline rising, their hearts beating faster and faster. For Zbella, it’s “zone out mode” each time before he takes the stage. Apostol said he’ll feel numb throughout the entire day with racing thoughts, but when he steps on stage, he’s alive again.

The room went dark. A countdown from 10 to one played overhead, the spotlights to the stage came on and the remainder of former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s speech from the 1964 election played. His words attacked Barry Goldwater’s, his Republican opponent, willingness to use nuclear weapons.

“These are the stakes,” Johnson’s voiceover said. “To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.”

Then The Bonfire Set opened with their original song Nuclear Love. All of the songs they perform are written by them. So far, they have about 11 songs, and plan to post recordings online in December. Most of them were written by Apostol, but Frasca has also written a few songs and Zbella has contributed to some lyrics as well.

Tamayo said he was impressed with all the effort the group, especially Apostol, put in to promote the show on Oct. 12.

“I don’t care how good you are, if you don’t promote yourself, you’re only going to get so far,” Tamayo said.

Since The Bonfire Set’s show at Bodega, they’ve played at four other venues, and they’re still “dreaming big” by hoping to get the chance to perform at Coachella in 2014.

To this day, Zbella and Widmer still have their bracelets from Coachella on their right wrists.

“Those of us who take showers don’t have our bracelets anymore,” Frasca said jokingly.

Technical difficulties still arise at times during shows, but they said they always continue to play through it. Disagreements and tension sometimes builds up as well, which is why Julian said they decided to hold monthly meetings to work any issues out.

One thing that Julian mentioned was remembering to stay professional before, during and after a performance.

“We’re not rock stars, so we have to remember to stay modest,” she said.

Yet, even with the ups and downs, they all agree that this journey has brought them closer.

“I knew these guys before, but they weren’t really my friends,” Crom said. “I didn’t really connect with them socially, but it’s really cool how easily we bond through music. It’s just a whole other language, and I think I understand them better through music than I do through just talking to them.” - Alexa Ard


On the Road



Memories and melodies are what The Bonfire Set is all about. The musical company, built out of childhood friends and unexpected bandmates, began playing their eclectic and classic tunes in spring 2013 and instantly started performing around their hometown of Reno, Nevada. Playing everything from rowdy bar gigs to closing out local music festivals, The Bonfire Set entertains with its collection of Blues, Rock, Folk, and Alternative tunes.The band finds their influences in everything from the iconic guitar riffs of the 70’s to the melodies of modern folk, making their sound one that creates the feelings of nostalgia in any music lover. 

Band Members