July 2002: St. Louis-bred fivesome Story Of The Year (then known as Big Blue Monkey) hits the stage at the Phoenix, Arizona stop of the Vans Warped Tour in the Peoria Sports Complex. But, there’s no real stage — rather, the group is crammed onto a rickety platform that’s relegated to a remote corner of the venue. Although temperatures are well north of 103 degrees and the assembled audience is largely unfamiliar with the band, Story Of The Year doesn’t just play the songs on the setlist — they live for it and deliver.
July 2004: Story Of The Year hits the stage of the Vans Warped Tour, though this time it’s on decidedly different terms — for starters, they’re playing the main stage. Thousands of dedicated fans rush to the front in an effort to gain a glimpse of the group well before the first note is even heard. Precisely as they’d done two years prior, the fivesome doesn’t just play the songs on the setlist — they live for it and deliver.
It’s this remarkable consistency that’s embedded within the collective mindset of Story Of The Year. Though they’re musicians first, the band also takes time out for a bit of good, sometimes-not-so-clean fun and games. “You can’t be serious for too long,” says bassist Adam Russell.
And it’s this well-balanced attitude that’s worked to the benefit of the group, particularly in the success of 2003’s near platinum, Maverick debut Page Avenue.
The next several months post-Page Avenue’s release were filled with whirlwind blurs of touring stints, both domestic and international, interrupted by mere days of rest. In fact, Story Of The Year wouldn’t have a significant break from the road until the end of 2004, when it came time to write and record their follow-up to Page Avenue.
Writing sessions began almost immediately after the band’s touring cycle ended. “We pretty much got together in the winter and just started working it like a 40-hour-a-week job,” Marsala says. Most of the writing took place at guitarist Ryan Phillips’ house, whose residence also doubled as the band’s practice studio.
With songwriting sessions wrapped up, the band joined forces with veteran producer Steve Evetts (Snapcase, Hatebreed) to begin tracking their new album. “[He recorded] a lot of old records that I grew up listening to, some of my favorite records of all time,” says Marsala of Evetts. “That’s one of the main reasons why a bunch of us were like, ‘Yeah, we should talk to this guy and see if he’s cool.’ And the first time we met with him, it was like instantly good chemistry. He really knew what we were trying to go for and we all agreed and were on the same page.
“We felt like we were always a little heavier than [Page Avenue] sounded,” he adds. “Live, we always played heavier than our record actually sounded, so we wanted to try and capture our live sound on this record.”
Capturing Story Of The Year’s stage sonics also meant being physically able to perform on record as the band had done on tour. During initial tracking sessions for Josh Wills’ drums in a Chicago studio, Marsala, Phillips, guitarist Philip Sneed and bassist Adam Russell performed alongside Wills, making sure to incorporate all their stage maneuvers.
“We did the drums with everyone in the room and we were actually jumping and stuff!,” says Marsala. “It was really cool, we acted like we were playing a show. Even Steve was in the room, rockin’ out with us.”
And when the drum sessions were complete, Wills made it a point to let everyone know. On the last take for the last song on the record, “Josh stabbed the heads of drums with his drumstick, pushed his drums over and we were all screaming,” Russell recalls. “We were feeling the fire!”
That same fire blazed its way back to St. Louis, as Story Of The Year continued its sessions at what became the primary recording studio for the new album — Phillips’ practice room.
“It’s just a big room, so we can run around and sweat in there,” says Marsala. “We made it really soundproof and with ProTools now, you can record anything anywhere. We did guitars, bass and vocals all in our practice room. It’s easier because you’re at home, you can spend more time, you don’t have to drive anywhere or go anywhere.”
The band spent plenty of time at their new studio, mostly recording, but at times, blowing off a little steam with plenty of pranks — much like the sort found on their recent DVD release, Live at the Lou/Bassassins — like tossing snap bags at each other. (Don’t try this at home!)
“Phil took off his shirt, and I was throwing handfuls of ‘em at him,” Russell says. “He was like, ‘Dude, throw two more!’ I eventually threw like 15 at his chest and he ended up with all these red marks. We took a big straw and started shooting them at each other.
Weeks later, Story Of The Year finalized their sophomore Maverick full-length, aptly dubbed In The Wake Of Determination. “We were really excited to write a new record, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, and we knew how we wanted to come across,” says Marsala. “We were just really determined, so it seemed as if the title worked really well. That was our mindset the entire time.”
Firing off with the first single, “We Don’t Care Anymore,” In The Wake Of Determination immediately finds Story Of The Year on a full-throttle course throughout its dozen tracks. The track offers tight, synchronized guitar riffing interspersed with broad choruses, and according to Marsala is about “the pressure of making a second record for a band like us, or just the pressure in anyone’s life, you know. Having to follow up to your first record, you can’t ruin what you already had, or else your band will be over. We could worry about all these things and have the pressure get to us, or we can do things for ourselves, do it the way we want to do it, and just have fun doing it.”
“Five Against The World” finds Story Of The Year reflecting on its success and accomplishments over the past couple years. “These are good days and we’ll remember this stuff for the rest of our lives,” Marsala says. “We’re happy to see where we’ve gone. We never thought we’d get as far as we did. It’s just an awesome thing.”
As one of the most propulsive tracks on In The Wake Of Determination, “Jarhead” recalls the hyper-tempo bursts of the legendary East Coast hardcore scene. As its title might suggest, “Jarhead” also points out miscreants whose sole purpose is to cause a commotion.
“From my whole life of going to shows and over the last few years of playing shows, you’d see those guys in the crowd who you could tell aren’t there for the music whatsoever,” says Marsala. “They’re just there to beat up as many kids as they can. But it’s not only about going to shows; it’s about any random, tough guy who thinks he’s tougher than any other guy in the world. He takes his aggression out to prove how cool he is. Why are you here? We’re here to have a good time, not to try and fight people.”
In addition to having a good time, Story Of The Year also has plenty of reason to celebrate. And looking back at the band’s roots as a hard-working, independent operation, Marsala understands just how much the band’s hard work and effort has finally paid off.
“It helps that we were that band that nobody knew and we’d try to go around and sell our CD,” Marsala recalls. “Especially on Warped Tour, I see a lot of bands do this now — but at the time we were one of the only bands that would walk out there and try to put headphones on people’s heads and sell them our CDs. It’s good to have that background of working like that, just to appreciate how lucky you are to make it as far as you did.”
After all, such determination (interspersed with an ounce of good humor) isn’t just the story of the year —— it’s the story of a lifetime.