Now in their tenth year, Flat Tire Ambulance have been bringing their brand of straight-ahead riff-heavy rock to the Summit City from their hometown of Defiance, Ohio since early on in their existence. As a band, they’re adept at writing originals (they have released three full albums so far, along with the occasional music video available on YouTube) though their live set nowadays is often heavy on crowd-pleasing covers. They are in the process of writing and recording another new album, which they intend to release this year. Upon first listen, FTA hit you over the head with some seriously heavy guitar crunch, but don’t mistake them for a purely aggro band. There are always hefty doses of melody in the mix, and the basic mood and tempo of their music ranges from fast and aggressive to moderate and fun-filled to slow and moody. That variety is reflected in their lyrical mix, too, which can range from the more serious (the death of a loved one) to the lighthearted (humorous takes on love and relationships) to pop culture (the history of the Etch-A-Sketch).
In fact, while the band can blow the roof off musically, there is a consistently wry sense of humor that makes its way into the band’s lyrics, attitude and even its name. The name Flat Tire Ambulance – which in real life would be your worst nightmare but kind of funny as well – comes from a mix of real life and witty fiction. Founding member, singer/guitarist and chief lyricist Skip Skeens was indeed in a serious vehicular crash (he was struck by a drunk driver) and his wife always made fun of the way he said the word “ambulance,” which has an unusual emphasis on the last syllable – “ambulance.” He figured he had come up with a memorable band name he could use to rib his wife with.
“I always would make up a different story every time I’d tell it. I had people believing I was in a bad accident and we had a flat tire on the way to the hospital,” says Skeens. “And there can be so many different meanings that you put to it, like life’s little unexpected things that happen all the time, and what could be worse than being in an ambulance and getting a flat tire.”
Despite their Murphy’s law-like name, Flat Tire Ambulance haven’t experienced much in the way of transportation difficulties, enabling them to take their music into a number of nearby markets. While Defiance – population 16,000 – has a solid local music scene, it’s also located within a reasonable driving distance to several other cities with significant music scenes. Fort Wayne is about an hour’s drive for them (“I would say outside our hometown of Defiance, we probably play Fort Wayne most frequently,” Skeens says), but they are also close to Toledo, Bowling Green and several other smaller cities.
The band may have formed ten years ago, in 2007, but their history goes back even farther. Founding members Skeens and drummer Joe Robles had known each other for years, having played in previous bands like Grace Engine and Delphi. Starting out as a three-piece, FTA eventually expanded by adding a second guitarist. Current members are Skeens and Dan Hamminga on guitar, Chuck Mast on bass and drummer Matt Egler. Robles left last year due to health issues and was replaced by Egler, who was already familiar to band members. Hamminga attended school with him, and Skeens knew him from the local scene.
Despite their talent, hard work and strong body of work, the band have no plans on straying far from home anytime soon. They all have domestic responsibilities – both familial and professional – but that doesn’t stop them from playing some high-profile regional gigs. They have been on the stage at the Hub (when it was Piere’s) and at C2G Music Hall, and they still have dreams of being able to play even larger venues like the Coliseum. They have also been able to open up for some of their heroes, including guitarist George Lynch.
“I was always a huge George Lynch fanatic,” Skeens says. “I would sit in my room and read about him in Guitar Player magazine ,and I never thought I’d meet the guy, much less share the same stage as him. But we opened up for him twice, got to met him afterwards, got pictures and stuff … I was on cloud nine.”
Making connections can be a powerful part of being in FTA, but its their personal connection with fans that keeps them going.
Skeens points to one of his songs, “I Wish I Knew,” which was written after a nephew of his committed suicide, and the effect it had on someone that attended one of their shows.
“There was a person that came to a show that said how much that song really touched them because they lost someone to suicide,” says Skeens. “That connection of knowing how that song touched somebody, that was just a good feeling. So, to keep doing stuff like that and even if somebody comes up after a show and says hey that’s an awesome show, that really keeps us going.”