Known as firekid, the universe brought Dillon Hodges and Heidi Feek together based on their shared love for making the old new again. Introduced by a mutual friend who recognized the connection, Hodges’ music aimed to mix elements of bluegrass and pop, Feek’s a culmination of trail songs and pop. But as their discography develops, firekid strays farther and farther away from being just a genre-bending folk pop band. That’s evident in XY, their new four-song EP influenced by vintage hip hop production and 90’s country songs. Meanwhile, the album showcases the refined skill of both members as individual musicians and gives listeners a glimpse of their personal lives, more specifically — loss. With both Hodges and Feek emerging from divorce and grieving the death of loved ones, XY is firekid’s exploration of those feelings, finding happiness, and learning how to appreciate the small victories.
Originally a moniker for his solo project, firekid began with Dillon Hodges. Growing up in Florence, Alabama, an 11 year old Hodges dreamed of playing guitar. But despite his begging, his parents refused to buy him a guitar or lessons. After being gifted a $10 guitar his uncle bought at a yard sale, he found a neighbor that agreed to teach him the basics. “I wanted to learn how to play Creed, but he didn’t know what that was. He said, ‘If you want to take lessons from me, then you’re gonna learn how to play bluegrass.’” His parents began taking him to bluegrass guitar contests throughout malls in smalltown America, competing against fellow pickers in the Southeast, and at 17, Hodges became the second youngest person ever to win the National Flatpicking Championship. “It’s all I ever wanted and it changed my life. I came home and told my high school friends, ‘I won the National Flatpicking Championship!’ and they asked me what that was. It was humbling,” he explains, “But I needed to find a new goal, and I decided that it would be to bring bluegrass to a larger audience.” And out of that, firekid was born.
A little over two hours away from Florence, Heidi Feek was living on a farm just outside of Nashville. Feek would tag along with her dad Rory, frequenting the Bluebird, writers rounds, and Nashville’s songwriting staples. By the time she was a teenager, Feek was well-versed on the industry and began playing music. As an adult, she became fixated on taking old sounds and putting a modern spin on them — the common thread that brought her to firekid, a fated duo that Feek would complete. “We met because we were both, independently, trying to modernize traditional music. No one else we knew was doing that. It was such a special thing that we found each other,” she says.
Recorded at their home studio in Florence, Alabama (and occasionally at co-producer Willie Breeding’s place), XY opens with “WHERE MY MONEY GOES”, a traditional song dating back to the late 1890’s. Hodges and Feek picked it up from Uncle Dave Macon, one of their main influences, and reimagined it, re-writing a good portion of the lyrics while preserving the spirit of the song. Feek explains, “One of the cool things about folk music is that they would take these old songs and keep writing verses to them, so we wanted to keep that tradition alive, but in a different way.” While the original lyrics read, “That’s where my money goes, to buy my baby clothes // I buy her everything, to keep my girl in style,” firekid’s upbeat chorus builds on the foundation, “That’s where my money goes, she’s why I’m always broke, she’s why I’m never broke.” In addition to highlighting Hodges’ skilled, technical guitar skills, the single also features noted Alabama rapper Chika, known for her poetic rhymes and outspoken, 90’s style storytelling. The story that became “WHERE MY MONEY GOES” is one that Hodges says mirrors real life, “We were both broke yet feeling so happy. I was realizing that every dollar I make goes back to investing in our life.”
The duo decided to resurrect “BOOMERANG” for the EP, a single from firekid’s 2015 self-titled album. Originally written about Hodges’ wild, unexpected reunion with a stolen guitar, the song took on another meaning after his ex-wife was tragically killed in a hit and run, just months after Feek lost her mother and beloved country singer Joey to an intense, highly publicized battle with cancer. Feek’s father Rory suggested that the duo re-record the song since the original was solely Hodges, and when the duo asked him to join in on the track, he didn’t hesitate. He re-wrote some of the lyrics to fit Joey, and the three were joined by the rest of the family and their home in Florence to record an intimate video touching on the new meaning of the song.
Hodges says, “As a family — Heidi, Rory, Hopie, and I — it’s our collective story. The fact that they lost Joey and I lost Elise around the same time; in so many ways, we all have this really deep respect for each other because we’ve all been through the same thing and we went through it at the same time. Mine was immediate; she was there one day, she was gone the next. Joey was a slow, steady, horrible decline. But we were brought so close together through that experience. Though this song, this video, we capture this moment in our lives that brought us so close together.”
The album transitions with the lively title track “XY”, that both Hodges and Feek say is a complicated, but extremely relatable concept. With the lyrics, “I miss my ex (X) and I don’t know why (Y),” the duo nods to their respective ex-spouses. “The song is about me missing and grieving my ex-wife’s death, but also being incredibly happy in my current relationship. And for Heidi, she has an ex-spouse who is a good friend of hers, and it’s about moving on with a new relationship when you have a past.”
“BABY YOU DONE ME WRONG” closes the album, an ode to Hodges’ roots and how far he’s come since. No Country for New Nashville said the single, “feels like a natural evolution of firekid’s sound, again juggling their eclectic influences and honed knack for melody, sampling, and layered, technical instrumentation.” And while the single samples the 2007 Flatpicking contest performance that Hodges’ ultimately coins as the catalyst to a decade-long identity crisis, it also illustrates where his as an artist. “I’m on the other side of that. Heidi and I have built a life together in Florence, Alabama, and have remolded firekid to represent where we are and who we are,” he says, “This album feels really good because it’s completely mine. It’s completely Heidi’s. We did it all ourselves. And we cherish every little small victory.”