Since 2015, Northern Virginia-based guitarist and lead singer Sean Flanagan has worked to mold his band, The Firnats, into the diverse indie-rock four piece they are today. Their novel style is reminiscent of 50s doo-wop music, 90s grunge, and a wide array of genres to fill in the cracks, and as far as The Firnats know, they’re the only band that sounds like them. We caught up with them at home to talk about their upcoming sophomore album, My Cat at Home, the evolution of their sound, and how they’re carving the path for diversity and nuance in the Richmond music scene.
The birth of The Firnats occurred when Flanagan was still in high school in Northern Virginia. The band only had two members then, Flanagan and drummer Aaron Pirnat.
“He had the drums and I had the guitar,” says Flanagan. “Pretty much the only reason we started this was because we wanted to be rock stars.”
Pirnat eventually split from the band amicably, and five years later, The Firnats are rounded out by Chris Castro on lead guitar, Griffin Low on bass, and Kurtis Kunkel on drums.
Being based in the Herndon/Reston area, they’ve opened for bands in D.C. and played at some eccentric venues, but according to the band, there aren’t many small venues in D.C. anymore.
“It’s so much harder to get your foot in the door in D.C., just because of how the scene is there,” Low says.
Flanagan moved to Richmond to attend VCU in 2016, which opened up a world of new venues to play and new connections to make.
“Richmond is a smaller market, it’s a lot easier to make a name for yourself,” says Flanagan. “Most of the time when we play a show in Richmond, the venues are the ones who reach out to us, because we’ve made friendships with them and formed relationships with them.”
The new Firnats album, My Cat at Home, is coming out April 11. They had planned an album release party in Richmond and were working on planning a tour, all of which has unfortunately been undermined by the ongoing coronavirus situation. However, the band is still excited to finally bring their second full-length release into the world.
“This album has been in the works for about two years,” says Kunkel.
Although recording sessions took about one year, another challenge The Firnats faced is that, while Flanagan was primarily in Richmond for college, the rest of the band remains located in Northern Virginia.
“It was just about time restraints,” says Flanagan. “We all have jobs, I was in school, Griffin was doing school as well. But we’re willing to make sacrifices.”
Now that the album is finally ready to be released, the band revealed how they feel about it, and how their sound has changed since they released their first studio album, Fear Not.
“I’m so glad to finally be able to say that we did it,” says Low. “It’s not that we don’t like our first album, but this is the one we’re the most proud to show off.”
Low and Flanagan say they think the new album has a lot more intention behind it.
“I tried to put a lot more thought into the arrangement and construction of the lyrics,” says Flanagan. “I wasn’t just fiercely scribbling down lyrics like I was in high school for the first album.”
Low says their first album was mostly garage rock, but My Cat at Home blends a myriad of genres, sounds, and effects together to create a unique sound that the band is satisfied with.
“The first album, Fear Not, was garage rock,” says Low. “There’s always been a 50s doo-wop sound, but it’s definitely shown through more on this album.”
Melding both pop-rock and a 50s sound together, they believe their sound differentiates them from most bands, which has helped set them apart especially in the Richmond scene.
“I think we have a lot of little flavorings of different genres. We all listen to different music,” says Griffin. “We don’t strive to fit into a particular sound.”
When asked what they’re most proud of about their achievements as a band, Castro says he had been a fan of The Firnats prior to even joining the band.
“I’m just proud of the music,” he says.
The meaning behind the name of the album, My Cat at Home, is not as conventional as one would assume.
“We were asking Kurtis where his car was, and he misspelled in our group chat, saying ‘My cat at home’ instead of ‘My car at home,’” says Flanagan. “We eventually decided that’d be the album name.”
However, even though the name of the album was random and accidental, the title can allude to a more complex interpretation.
“To me hearing that, it sounds like there’s a sense of longing,” Low says. “It doesn’t explain where you are at the moment, but you’d rather be with your cat at home.”
The Firnats’ second album, My Cat at Home, will be available on Spotify April 11.
Top Photo by Cole White, courtesy The Firnats