Track By Track: Smoke Or Fire – Beauty Fades LP

Smoke Or Fire - Beauty Fades - Iodine Recordings

Smoke Or Fire will release Beauty Fades on May 27th via Iodine Records. It’s a collection of out-of-print and unreleased tracks worth checking out. Joe McMahon breaks the album track by track exclusively for Thoughts Words Action.


Sunday Pints: This song was about friends being there for each other in a messed up time after 9/11. We needed a way to escape the world and would drink pints together and unload all of our problems every Sunday, in order to face the world again on Monday morning.

Beauty Fades: The band had all been working and saving up money to head out on our first actual tour, a two-week trip from Boston to Florida and back. On day 3, the engine in our van seized in Western Pennsylvania, about 9 hours from home. The van was toast and we were completely screwed. We got home somehow but our spirits were pretty broken. Our next show after that was up in New Hampshire and a friend was giving us a ride in his van. I spent the day moving our equipment from our practice space to our friends place in a shopping cart. Someone in the band quit before we left and I went home and wrote the lyrics to ‘beauty fades’ in less than 10 minutes. It was about the frustration we were going through at the time where we just wanted to tour, make music, and everything seemed against us.

50 Cent Hearts: I wrote ‘50 cent hearts’ in the year 2001, shortly after 9/11. America was invading the Middle East and we as a band were against the war and saw it as ‘war profiteering.’ Mother’s sons being sent off to die or kill someone else’s son in the name of greed, masked as patriotism. It was the first really political song I ever wrote and when we started playing it live I saw the energy it not only brought to our band but in the crowd as well. It really transformed the band.

Second Wind: Between vans catching on fire, broken equipment, and people in the band trying to decide if they wanted to continue playing music, this was a song about not giving up and remembering why we started in the first place. For the love of music and that intoxicating feeling of playing live.

Running in Circles: I had a pretty intense on-again-off-again relationship with a Ukrainian girl during the years I was writing these songs. This song was about us trying to get our shit together. We never did.

They All Go to California: I wrote this song in my senior year at Boston University. It’s about not fitting in there and just trying to get through to graduation so I could do music full time.

Modesty: Modesty is a song I had written years before it was recorded when I was still studying at Boston University. I was 20 or 21 at the time and it was about a day when I was 15 years old. Our guitarist Jeremy and I had bought our first guitars and started a band. My dad picked me up from band practice that Saturday and I popped a tape in of our first recorded song and played it for him. My father was never one for deep talks or heart to hearts but he pulled the car over and put it into park. ‘You love this don’t you? Playing music?’ I told him I’m going to do this for the rest of my life. “Don’t” he said. “Go to school, get a job, get married, and play it safe. This will only break your heart.”

Nowhere to Go But Up: A song about feeling like the world was crumbling around us and the power of music to get us through. We thought it couldn’t get any worse than the Bush years. Boy were we wrong.

Hand Me Downs: A song about the things we inherit from our parents that we don’t want. When I chose to play music instead of use my college degree and get a “real job” my parents stopped talking to me for a few years. This song is about that.

Written to Be Read: Literally about the title. A girl had written a note specifically for me to find and read. The chorus is from that note. “I’ve killed the flame in his eyes.”

Live On: A song about sticking to your ethics even when you’re treated as an outcast. It was very unpopular to be anti-war, anti-bush, at this time. We were told that made you unamerican and basically a traitor.

Someone Said We Flew: This song is about us driving from Boston to Los Angeles to play a few shows for a label that was interested in us. When we got back, there were rumors that we had been flown out to California like rock stars or something. It was quite the opposite. We drove for 3 days there without stopping, and 3 days back.

Oxygen: I wrote this song during that drive to California. The truth was we didn’t want to sign to the label in Los Angeles. We did want to drive across the country and see the Midwest and the west coast. This song was about where our priorities were as a band and this crazy adventure we took.


Smoke or Fire formed in Boston during the late ’90s alongside countless bands in the Boston underground scene. The band delivered a unique brand of heartfelt emotional punk that included complex layered guitars, dirty vocals, and lyrics that ranged from deeply personal topics to social criticisms of war and politics. The songs often drew comparisons to bands like Avail, Hot Water Music, and Against Me! 

Smoke or Fire released their debut EP Worker’s Union via Iodine Recordings in 2002. After several U.S. tours with bands like Against Me! and Avail, Smoke or Fire relocated to Richmond, Virginia, where they caught the attention of the iconic NOFX record label Fat Wreck Chords. They signed to Fat and remained through their career, releasing three full lengths: Above the City (produced by Fat Mike/NOFX), This Sinking Ship, and The Speakeasy

Smoke or Fire toured relentlessly over the 20-years-and-beyond history, with numerous U.S. and European tours, sharing the stage regularly with bands such as Against Me!, Dillinger Four, Hot Water Music, Descendents, Anti-Flag, NOFX, Silverstein, Rise Against, Bad Religion, and The Ataris, among others.Today, Iodine Recordings has announced the release of Beauty Fades, which will arrive on May 27. Pre-order it HERE

Beauty Fades is a collection of out-of-print and unreleased tracks. Side A includes Worker’s Union, which was completely remixed and remastered at New Alliance Studios in Boston. Side B includes seven rare or unreleased tracks that span the history of the band, including the EP Rises in the East, which was never released, but included a number of songs that were in the band’s live set throughout their tenure. The entire collection is being pressed on vinyl for the first time ever and it comes complete with all new artwork and packaging. 

The band has also shared “Beauty Fades.” Listen HERE.

Beauty Fades documents some of the best moments of the band’s legacy with fist-pumping anthems and emotional interludes. Singer Joe McMahon remains adamant that these are the best songs he ever wrote, which capture a youthful energy and idealism that is fleeting for us all. 

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