"A Christmas Coal Carol"
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They laugh about it now, but only a few years ago the members of Socratic were down to their last dollar – make that, their last 76 cents – before finally landing their Drive-Thru Records deal. Taking things to the brink like that suits the band just fine, especially when it comes to their music. Beneath Socratic's sunny pop constructs lays a knife-edged view of life that cuts deep. That's never been more true than on the band's new Drive-Thru CD, "Spread the Rumors."
The album was recorded in LA, a continent away from Socratic's New Jersey home base. "The whole time we were planning this record," recalls lead singer/songwriter Duane Okun, "we would say we wanted it like [blink-182's] ‘Enema of the State,' where every song is a single." So when the band got word that blink's Mark Hoppus himself loved the demos and wanted to produce them, it was a no-brainer. "Although we're kind of at opposite ends of the musical spectrum from Blink 182," adds Okun, "we have the same pop sensibilities, and Mark is amazing at bringing those out."
Most of the 12 songs were written over a short time, which lends a measure of musical consistency to the album. There's no single overarching theme, but the songs hammer home images of unfulfilled agendas and open wounds, faithless love and fated destinies. Basically, maturity sucks, but it's the only open road. Says Duane, "Maybe what I’m saying is: I'm young, but no one ever grows up."
The album starts with the righteously catchy "Boy in a Magazine," which features every classic Socratic signature: clever lyrics and spangled melodies wrapped in taught arrangements. The cheery humor and harmonies of tracks like "May I Bum a Smoke?" and "I Haven't Seen You in Years" mask hidden disappointments (as they sing in the latter, "There's something wrong with me/For thinking you're every tan brunette I see"), while "Janis Joplin Hands" is about "feeling older, even if you're only 22," says Duane. "The 60s are our favorite time for music. The generation of kids now always talks about the end of the world coming."
"Long Distance Calls," written by the band's Vincent D'Amico, adapts a nursery rhyme-like melody to a vulgar tale of an American family flameout. The title track picks up that theme in a touching slow rocker, while "Constant Apology" is a funny and unapologetically pop gem (" I used to think that my mind was wasted/But now I can't recall"). "A Diamond in a World of Coal" looks at life, or rather, the end of it, from the perspective of a funeral director; kind of like "Six Feet Under" spun as a quiet ballad. And then there's "Another Headache," a quiet lament about the road not taken.
It wasn't hard to pick up an aversion to any sort of pre-scripted life while growing up in Linden and Cranford, N.J., two densely populated suburbs near New York City. That's where Duane, Kevin and Thomas grew up together, slowly figuring out how to write, how to play, how to rock. "We've been in this band since we were 14-15 years old," says Duane. "I've never played with another drummer. My biggest musical influences are these guys. I don't think we changed that much."
They went from recording "crappy demos" to playing gigs up and down the Atlantic seaboard. Barely out of high school, the band signed with indie label No Milk Records, which released their 2002 debut EP, "It's Getting Late." Touring the country behind that record the following year, Socratic ended up in California, where they met Richard and Stefanie Reines. The Drive-Thru Records founders were duly impressed and after sampling some demos, signed the band to the label. Good thing, too, as that 76 cents wouldn't have lasted much longer.
In 2005 Socratic released their Drive-Thru debut, "Lunch for the Sky," which kerrang! described as "Jimmy Eat World overdosed on Meatloaf." The CD's release led to expanded national touring. That following year they put out a 5-track EP, "Just Turn," available as a free download. Last year, bassist Lou Panico joined the line-up just in time for the making of the new album. "It was the best thing we ever did, and one of the hardest," says Duane of the CD. "Meeting someone like Mark [Hoppus] was intimidating at first, but he was incredibly generous and made us feel comfortable. He also made us work every second of the day. It was great."
By the time "Spread the Rumors" ships, Socratic will have completed their first tour of Australia, played SXSW three times and shared the stage with bands like Hellogoodbye, the Rocket Summer, Boys Like Girls and All American Rejects, to name a few. Not a bad way to warm up for what may be their biggest year yet. But however things may change for them on the outside, within the band, nothing changes. "We're close," Duane adds. "We love to make music, and we're not concerned about trying to fit in. We never did fit in anyway."
Duane F. Okun - lead vocals, guitars
Kevin G. Bryan II - guitars
Thomas Patrick Stratton - drums
Vincent D'Amico - piano
Louis Panico – bass