Q Magazine

Nabil Moo Talks I Set My Friends on Fire's Early Years on Fifth Anniversary of OG 'Astral Rejection' Release

The album was shelved by Epitaph Records in 2010 and released officially in 2019 after some of the tracks were leaked online.

I Set My Friends on Fire
Source: Epitaph Records

Former I Set My Friends on Fire member Nabil Moo left the band after recording 'Astral Rejection (OG)' in 2010.

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Nabil Moo was only a member of I Set My Friends on Fire for a few years, but in that short time he and frontman Matt Mehana managed to greatly expand the musical horizons of the MySpace screamo scene they came up in.

"The whole thing just kind of felt like lightning in a bottle," Moo told Q of his tenure with the band.

ISMFOF came to fame by fusing screamed vocals and blistering metalcore breakdowns with party-friendly elements of crunk, pop and electronic music. They were one of the biggest artists in online alternative circles around 2009, where glum-looking emo listeners were quickly being replaced by cutesy neon-colored scene kids.

Moo left ISMFOF in 2010, but Astral Rejection (OG) – his final album with the band – wasn't released by Epitaph Records until March 29, 2019 (exactly five years ago yesterday).

After the LP was shelved, Moo tried to write something new, but his heart wasn't in it. Mehana ended up recording a very different version of Astral Rejection which came out in 2011.

Moo doesn't blame Epitaph for not running with the original album. The slick, spacious post-hardcore record was a big departure from ISMFOF's full-length debut You Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter.

There was no reason to believe well-considered tracks like "Cantaloupe the Antelope," "Infinite Suck" or "The Zenith Anniversary" would resonate with ISMFOF's young fan base, especially after the group made a name for itself as a novelty act.

The label pushback was too much for Moo to bear at the time, especially after he'd grown tired of the band's grueling tour schedule: "It was kind of a devastating blow for me personally."

But the tracks are some of the best material ISMFOF ever released. It's a shame the money and the music didn't line up.

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I Set My Friends on Fire
Source: Epitaph Records

The LP was shelved by Epitaph Records, but was eventually released on March 29, 2019.

'Crank That'

Just three years before the album was recorded, Moo was a high school student in Miami. That's where his parents immigrated to from Jamaica shortly before he was born. His father is of Chinese descent and his mother has Indian roots.

Moo played in almost a dozen different bands during his teenage years. One of the groups, We Are The Cavalry, also included Mehana. When the project fizzled out due to creative differences, the pair joined forces as a powerduo.

"We both kind of wanted to experiment a little bit more," Moo said. "We weren't going to impose arbitrary limitations on ourselves."

The project was briefly known as the Cavalry Kids before Mehana came up with the ISMFOF moniker. "I Set My Friends on Fire" is also the name of a track by the emo band Aiden, but Moo and Mehana didn't realize at the time.

The frontman handled the band's lyrics and social media presence while Moo focused on the music.

Mehana was hoping to experiment when he introduced Moo to Soulja Boy's "Crank That," which was popping off on MySpace at the time.

The vocalist wanted to record a cover, but Moo didn't see get the vision: "I didn't see what a rock band covering it would do."

He eventually agreed and quickly threw the track together on Reason. Mehana recorded the vocals and uploaded the cover to MySpace.

It went so viral that the website shut down ISMFOF's account. They couldn't believe the group had genuinely garnered that much attention without the help of bots.

"All the songs people tend to like were the ones we wrote the quickest," Moo said.

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Studio Debut and Smosh Collaboration

The viral hit drew the attention of Epitaph's president Sue Luccarelli, who quickly signed the band. Moo remembers literally jumping for joy when he and Mehana got the call.

The pair had already begun writing some of the material that appeared on their debut album You Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter, which they recorded over the course of two weeks with producer Lee Dyess at his studio in Valdosta, Georgia. Travis Richter of ISMFOF's label mate From First to Last also had some input on the album.

By this point, Moo was starting to move past the screamo and metalcore that defined his music taste in high school. He'd always loved pop and had developed an interest in more relaxed forms of electronic music.

While Slaughter is packed with breakdowns and chaotic screams, it also has lots of brooding electronic interludes and shimmery pop vocals.

In the earliest days, ISMFOF never had any intention of playing live. That's why there are so many layered guitar tracks and electronic instrumentals on Slaughter.

"It was just kind of excessive," Moo said.

For something so unapologetically heavy and strange, the album was a massive commercial success. Slaughter made it to No. 29 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart following its release in October 2008.

To promote the record, Moo and Mehana wrote two adolescence-themed parody music videos with Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox of the YouTube channel Smosh.

Moo doesn't remember exactly how the creators got connected, but he noted that ISMFOF was already making its own promotional comedy videos at the time.

He and Mehana traveled to the Smosh house in Sacramento to record the first track "Sex Ed Rocks!" in 2008. Moo's writing process took just 30 minutes, but the video has been viewed nearly 30 million times over the past 15 years.

"I think that was a lot of people's first introduction to the band," he said.

ISMFOF and Smosh recorded a sequel called "Four Years Foreplay" in 2009, which has garnered more than 8 million views.

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'Astral Rejection'

As he prepared to record the next album, Moo wanted the music to come first. In many ways, ISMFOF was not a serious band.

"It was part of a larger whole," Moo said. "The music wasn't the focus."

This was around the time that drummer Chris Lent was added to the lineup. The seasoned multi-instrumentalist who'd also played in From First to Last and the Color of Violence was an inspiration for Moo.

"I just wanted to do something that was a little more challenging musically," he said. "I wanted to write stuff that would translate live better."

When composing Astral Rejection (OG), Moo drew inspiration from System of a Down, Bloc Party and the math rock group Tubelord.

He also wanted to stay away from breakdowns. They'd grown stale for him after years of touring in the metalcore scene.

The band returned to Dyess' studio in autumn 2009 and sent Epitaph a record that was much more mature and thoughtful than Slaughter.

"It's a little bit more minimal compared to the first album, but that was kind of intentional," Moo said.

Mehana penned more of his signature goofy lyrics, but in the context of Moo's pensive soundscapes they came off as more pained and repressed than silly.

The new album meant a lot to Moo, so it was hard for him to receive kind but negative feedback from Epitaph. He was young, shy and worn down by life on the road.

"I think I was just very over-stressed about things that didn't matter," Moo said.

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Nabil Moo
Source: Nabil Moo

Moo is now a video colorist living with his wife in Los Angeles.

Belated Release

Astral Rejection (OG) remained in Epitaph's vault for nearly a decade, but some of the tracks were eventually leaked online.

Epitaph reached out to Moo about releasing a remastered version of the album in 2019. They needed the original stems to make that happen.

"It was just kind of out of the blue," Moo said. He feels like the album's release was important for his legacy: "I'm really grateful they did put it out. It did hang over me for a long time."

Looking back, the songwriter is proud of what he accomplished with ISMFOF.

The heavy music scene was very rigid and insulated when Moo was in high school. One of his goals was to break down those genre barriers.

"Hopefully it opened people's eyes a little bit to different kinds of music," Moo said.

These days he's a video colorist living in Los Angeles. Moo and his wife tied the knot last year and are now busy caring for their dog.

He only speaks to Mehana occasionally these days, but said he's always happy to hear from his "old high school friend."

Fans shouldn't expect a full-fledged reunion tour, but Moo would consider doing a one-off show.

ISMFOF is still going strong. Mehana has recently collaborated with artists like Berried Alive, Lightmyselfonfire and Eliminate. He's also planning to go on a brief U.S. tour next month.

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Check out a list of the upcoming ISMFOF concers below:

4/18 – Anaheim, California – Chain Reaction

4/19 – Los Angeles, California – The Paramount

4/20 – Bakersfield, California – Jerry's

4/21 – Las Vegas, Nevada – The Usual Place

4/23 – Denver, Colorado – The Rickhouse

4/25 – Tulsa, Oklahoma – Vanguard

4/26 – Kansas City, Missouri – Farewell

4/27 – St. Louis, Missouri – Red Flag

4/28 – Indianapolis, Indiana – Hoosier Dome


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