“Persepolis” was one of the most critically acclaimed films from last year, picking up the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and numerous nominations during awards season. Its recognition might not be over either, as some believe it might pull off an upset on Oscar night and beat out “Ratatouille” for Best Animated Feature.
Based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, the French film picks up in Iran in 1979 in the midst of the Islamic Revolution. The nine-year-old Marjane witnesses the tyrannical government’s rise to power and the harsh rules it imposes on its people, especially the women. Soon thereafter, the country is thrust into the long running Iran-Iraq War, which forces her to move to Austria for safety’s sake. It takes a while for her to fit in there, and a new series of problems aren’t far behind. Homesick, she moves back to Iran only to discover she can no longer take living in such an oppressed society.
Cut from the same cloth as last year’s Juno MacGuff (of the Oscar-nominated “Juno”), Marjane is a rebellious anti-heroine who never shies away from speaking her mind. Whether refusing to wear her mandated veil, lying to soldiers to get other people in trouble or listening to the forbidden music of Iron Maiden, she is a fish out of water searching for a place to belong.
In much the same way “Sin City” and “300” turned Frank Miller’s graphic novels into live action epics, “Persepolis” translates its unique source to a 2-D backdrop. While the animation isn’t intricately detailed, the way it presents itself shows great creativity. Jumping around in both time and setting, it almost insinuates a move from panel to panel. With its camera movements and shot selection, the film — told almost entirely in black and white — also displays a rogue imagination that refuses to pull punches.
While “Persepolis” does hit a few speed bumps along the way and lacks a strong ending, Marjane’s story is a remarkable one. The real life Satrapi, who served as writer and co-director, does quite a job of putting her experiences up on the big screen in her first film project. While it might not reach the high level of “Ratatouille” — which was, after all, the best reviewed wide release of the entire year — it still shows that animation isn’t solely for kids and fairy tales.
In the latest token of 1980s nostalgia, Sylvester Stallone resurrects the “Rambo” franchise after a 20-year absence. Despite the immediate apprehension such an idea evokes, Stallone surprises by delivering a solidly gripping film.
Stallone, now 61 years old, is as stout as ever as the disgruntled Vietnam veteran John Rambo, who has withdrawn to northern Thailand to live a quiet life of wrangling snakes and river boating. As Stallone demonstrated a year ago with “Rocky Balboa,” he has no problem reemerging back into the familiar archetype, and it feels a natural evolution to the character.
Since this is a “Rambo” movie, it doesn’t take long before the protagonist is engulfed by a world of conflict. A group of naïve missionaries approach him to lead them into war-ravaged Burma (now called Myanmar by the current government). With much reluctance and doubt that they will be able to change anything, he agrees. Once he drops them off, they are inevitably captured by the cruel army, forcing Rambo to lead a rescue mission with a ragtag group of mercenaries in tow.
Last year’s batch of war movies were often tedious and heavy-handed. With its primary objective to deliver an adrenaline rush, “Rambo” is neither. The second half is particularly action-packed, and, as several media outlets have brought to light, it contains the series’ highest body count by a wide margin. However, the violence isn’t glamorized. Instead it serves as a stark reminder of events similar to these occurring in today’s world.
Nevertheless, whatever type of message it is trying to purport often gets lost amidst the wash of blood. While it tries to delve into reasons about why we fight and when, if ever, it is okay to adopt such extreme measures, in the end it simply comes across as supporting the age-old adage that violence only begets more violence.
For an exciting and intense thrill ride, “Rambo” fulfills its purpose. Combined with its rather open-ended conclusion, I even wouldn’t mind seeing the story continued at some future point. On the other hand, for those who like something deeper or more profound, there’s a little something called the Academy Awards. Go watch one of those nominees instead. This is, after all, Stallone we’re talking about.
In the face of the impeding writer’s strike, Academy Award nominations were released last week. With emphasis on both solemn and contemplative fare, “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” led the pack with eight nominations apiece.
As with every year, there were several notable omissions. Gems such as “Sunshine” and “Zodiac” went ignored, “Eastern Promises” and “Into The Wild” were underrepresented and a late questionable call disqualified Jonny Greenwood’s superb score for “There Will Be Blood.” Meanwhile, the overrated “Atonement” racked up seven nods, while the abysmal “Norbit” can somehow call itself an Academy Award nominee, picking up one for Best Makeup.
Out of the films which did garner nominations, here are those I enjoyed the most:
“3:10 To Yuma” 2 Oscars, including Best Original Score
Christian Bale and Russell Crowe excel as men on either side of the law, and Ben Foster is a scene-stealer as Crowe’s ruthless right hand man. The story focuses on its characters yet manages to deliver plenty of action, proving all hope is not lost for this once great genre. The best western since 1992’s “Unforgiven.”
“The Bourne Ultimatum” 3 Oscars, including Best Editing
Matt Damon returned for a third outing as superspy Jason Bourne, and it matched the high bar of its predecessors. The action scenes are superbly staged, another adept display from director Paul Greengrass (“United 93”), and the film exhibits an unusual amount of smarts for a Hollywood blockbuster.
“Juno” 4 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay
Not only was it the breakout hit of the year, it was also the year’s best comedy. Buoyed by a star-making turn from Ellen Page, the story’s real charm lies in the script from rookie screenwriter Diablo Cody, made up of wildly inventive dialogue and wholly amusing characters.
“Michael Clayton” 7 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director
A character-driven, legal thriller centering on a man caught in a moral crisis. Tony Gilroy’s sophisticated screenplay is brought to life by one of the best casts of the year — George Clooney has never been better, and Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton excel in support.
“No Country For Old Men” 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography
The Coen brothers’ strongest outing to date turned out to be the best of the entire year. Highlighted by an impressive cast, including the phenomenal Javier Bardem, it is impeccably written and executed. How much you like the film hinges on its unconventional ending, which has generated a significant amount of debate among viewers.
"Once” 1 Oscar – Best Original Song (“Falling Slowly”)
The stirring Irish musical incorporates songs naturally into its storytelling style. The indie soundtrack is stellar, and first time actors Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová deliver heartfelt performances in a down-to-earth movie devoid of Hollywood conventions.
“Ratatouille” 5 Oscars, including Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score
Pixar bounces back from 2006’s disappointing “Cars” with one of their best yet. Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), it is cute and full of humor, yet unafraid to tackle existential themes for older audiences.
“Transformers” 3 Oscars, including Best Visual Effects
A widely entertaining popcorn extravaganza with some of the best visual effects ever seen in a film, it is director Michael Bay’s (“The Rock”) most accomplished work. It also features plenty of humor, especially from budding star Shia LaBeouf.
“Sicko,” “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood.”
01. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
02. The Dark Knight
06. The Happening
07. Bond 22
08. Iron Man
09. The Incredible Hulk
11. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
12. Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
13. Star Trek
14. The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian
15. Burn After Reading
Be Kind Rewind
Body Of Lies
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The X-Files 2
01. Brand New (Fingers Crossed!)
02. New Found Glory
05. Jack’s Mannequin
07. Green Day
09. Story Of The Year
11. Death Cab For Cutie
13. Dashboard Confessional
14. The Format
15. Taking Back Sunday
Anchor & Braille
Between The Trees
ALSO HOLDING OUT FOR…
Fall Out Boy
Even though there weren’t any films quite as good as my top two from last year — Pan’s Labyrinth and Letters From Iwo Jima — it was still a very solid year. I averaged at least one trip to the theater a week, catching 56 films over the course of the year (a new personal record!).
There’s still several I have yet to watch, but my favorites thus far are as follows:
1. No Country For Old Men
2. The Bourne Ultimatum
5. 3:10 To Yuma
8. Michael Clayton
10. Live Free Or Die Hard
12. There Will Be Blood
13. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
15. American Gangster
17. Knocked Up
18. Gone Baby Gone
19. Eastern Promises
20. Spider-Man 3
21. Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
22. Charlie Wilson's War
23. The Devil Came On Horseback
28 Weeks Later
Away From Her
The Brave One
Dan In Real Life
I Am Legend
Reign Over Me
The Simpsons Movie
01. Wild Hogs
02. Dead Silence
04. The Last Mimzy
05. The Number 23
07. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
09. Rush Hour 3
10. Smokin' Aces
Last year was a very good year for music, with four of my top five bands releasing new music. It also put quite a dent in my bank account, as I attended 30 concerts and bought around 150 CDs...and that's just for those released in '07!
So without further adieu, here's my picks for 2007's Cream Of The Crop:
01. Linkin Park – Minutes To Midnight
02. Fall Out Boy – Infinity On High
03. Jimmy Eat World – Chase This Light
04. Yellowcard – Paper Walls
05. Anberlin – Cities
06. The Rocket Summer – Do You Feel
07. Straylight Run – The Needles The Space
08. Thrice – The Alchemy Index: Vols. I & II – Fire & Water
09. Paramore – Riot!
10. Say Anything – In Defense Of The Genre
11. Relient K – Five Score And Seven Years Ago
12. New Found Glory – From The Screen To Your Stereo Part II
13. Dashboard Confessional – The Shade Of Poison Trees
14. Angels & Airwaves – I-Empire
15. Chevelle – Vena Sera
16. Lovedrug – Everything Starts Where It Ends
17. Motion City Soundtrack – Even If It Kills Me
18. Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
19. Sherwood – A Different Light
20. MxPx – Secret Weapon
21. Dustin Kensrue – Please Come Home
22. Alter Bridge – Blackbird
23. Radiohead – In Rainbows
24. The Spill Canvas – No Really, I’m Fine
25. The Academy Is… – Santi
Against Me! – New Wave
All Time Low – So Wrong, It's Right
The Almost – Southern Weather
Amber Pacific – Truth In Sincerity
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
Armor For Sleep – Smile For Them
Band Of Horses – Cease To Begin
Brighten – King Vs Queen
Bright Eyes – Cassadaga
Cary Brothers – Who You Are
The Cinematics – A Strange Education
Circa Survive – On Letting Go
Stacy*Clark – Apples And Oranges
The Dear Hunter – Act II: The Meaning Of, & All Things Regarding Ms. Leading
A Dream Too Late – Intermission To The Moon
Eisley – Combinations
Evans Blue – The Pursuit Begins When This Portrayal Of Life Ends
The Fold – Secrets Keep You Safe
Four Year Strong – Rise Or Die Trying
The Frames – The Cost
The Graduate – Anhedonia
Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood Soundtrack
The Less – Loud Machines
Lifehouse – Who We Are
Mae – Singularity
Maroon 5 – It Won't Be Soon Before Long.
Mêlée – Devils & Angels
Once – Soundtrack
OneRepublic – Dreaming Out Loud
Project 86 – Rival Factions
Raining & OK – The Devil On Your Shoulder
The Receiving End Of Sirens – The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi
Relient K – Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer
Saves The Day – Under The Boards
The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
Sound The Alarm – Stay Inside
The Starting Line – Direction
Tokyo Rose – The Promise In Compromise
The Used – Lies For The Liars
We The Kings – We The Kings
01. Holiday Parade – This Is My Year
02. We Shot The Moon – The Polar Bear & Cougar
03. The Morning Light – The Sounds Of Love
04. The Dangerous Summer – If You Could Only Keep Me Alive
05. Blindside – The Black Rose
06. Typhoid Mary – Take Shelter
07. The Reign Of Kindo – The Reign Of Kindo
08. John Mayer – The Village Sessions
09. The Classic Crime – Acoustic EP: Seattle Sessions
10. Jon Foreman – Fall
Despite what the title suggests, “There Will Be Blood” is not a horror film, nor is there much bloodshed onscreen. Instead, it is the story of a man who loses his soul when he is consumed by his own selfishness and unquenchable greed.
We are first introduced to Daniel Plainview, brought to life by the great Daniel Day-Lewis, at the dawn of the 20th century. He is in California looking to strike it big in the booming oil business, and during the opening 15 minutes — mesmerizingly told sans dialogue — he succeeds.
Then over the course of the next two hours, Plainview decomposes in front of our eyes. We see him continually backstab everyone in his life and commit heinous acts, all while refusing to live for anyone but himself. In spite of this depravity, his journey is fascinating as it unfolds, and there are even brief moments where you begin to like him. However, the film’s main downfall is that it never makes a purpose behind his collapse clear.
Paul Thomas Anderson, the brilliant director behind “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” fails to establish a lesson or moral truism to accompany the bleak tale. On the one hand, it wants to be a cautionary story in much the same way as “Citizen Kane,” yet it continually shrouds itself in vagueness, which impedes the development of a thesis.
Plainview’s inner destruction — which culminates during the conclusion — seems to be his desired outcome all along, almost to the point where he wishes to end up alone and waste away with his vapid wealth. Perhaps that he is never held responsible for his evil deeds is what is most disturbing, leaving us wondering if it can be considered punishment when he reaps what he desires.
You almost have to look to Jonny Greenwood’s dark score for any answers, which is superbly unsettling in its own right. Mirroring the rot and decay of Plainview’s moral sinews, it often communicates his state of mind better than the actions onscreen. The work of Greenwood — the famed guitarist of Radiohead — beautifully serves as its own story within the larger picture and delivers an unforgettable impact.
While “There Will Be Blood” is a radical departure for Anderson, he is unable to fully encapsulate the boldness of the change, which was loosely inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!” On the other hand, Day-Lewis’ performance is nothing short of masterful. His powerhouse display, combined with the high respect he has from the Academy, is sure to position him as a frontrunner in this year’s Best Actor race. Nevertheless, the lack of a discernable message prevents the film itself from being the masterpiece it could have been.
“I think there’s a moment in everyone’s life where it’s this do or die moment,” Anberlin's Stephen Christian acknowledged, minutes after another terrific performance at Anaheim’s House Of Blues on Dec. 3.
“You have this one chance. Do you jump off the train and try to save the day? Do you go out and create some art you don’t think anybody’s ever seen before? Do you quit your day job and go back into television or producing movies? Who knows when that moment is for you? But you have to decide.”
For Anberlin that time is now.
With long, shaggy hair and a stern face, some might suspect Christian to be shy and soft-spoken. In fact, the singer is quite the opposite. Charismatic and outgoing, he radiates a contagious energy to those around him, making it easy to see why Anberlin’s future is so bright.
The band, which also features guitarists Joseph Milligan and Christian McAlhaney, bassist Deon Rexroat and drummer Nathan Young, is currently nearing the end of their two-month tour supporting Motion City Soundtrack and former labelmates Mae. Then after a break for the holidays, they will be entering the studio with around 20 songs to record for their fourth record and first for Universal Republic.
“Lyrically, it’s going to be more like Cities than the other two,” Christian explained. “As far as sonically, I think it’s going to be a cross between ‘Dismantle. Repair.’ and ‘Paperthin Hymn’… Not too intricate that you get lose it, that you get lost, but a little more…epic.”
If it continues to explore the growth Cities demonstrated — one of 2007’s best — there is no telling what could be in store for fans. However, he is quick to point out it will sound like a natural progression.
“We haven’t changed at all,” he pointed out. “Nobody’s going to be like, ‘Who’s this?’… It’s going to be very, very distinctive.”
After working with Aaron Sprinkle, who Christian regards as “almost like a sixth member,” on their previous three records, the band will be collaborating with a different producer this time around. Although his identity can’t officially be revealed quite yet, suffice it to say he has worked with plenty of big bands and is more than capable of taking Anberlin to that next level.
In the meantime, last month saw the release of the b-sides/rarities album Lost Songs, which should be able to tide fans over until the summer when their new effort is scheduled to drop. In the end though, the release wasn’t something the band was entirely pleased with.
“It was contractual. We didn’t want to do it at all,” confessed Christian, chiming in that he personally has never purchased a b-sides record. Tooth & Nail Records originally wanted to put out a Greatest Hits release, which the band was adamantly against, before finally consenting to the current 18-song collection.
“I love my fans too much,” Christian said. “I don’t want to slop something together just to make some money for Tooth & Nail, me or whoever.”
All of this came in the wake as Tooth & Nail’s major label partner, Virgin Records, questionably opted against upgrading Anberlin to their roster. This was a setback for the band, and Christian described the feeling as though they were “trying to slaughter our careers. We worked this hard and suddenly [they] put the nail in the coffin.”
The band eventually settled on Universal Republic, who coincidentally had been pursuing them before Cities was even released. Unfortunately, once they were finally off Tooth & Nail, they received a less than stellar reaction from their former label.
“It felt like they didn’t care anymore. It’s sad,” Christian admitted. “As soon as we left, they were more invested in the money that could be made instead of the lives that they could have touched.”
While he stated “some of my best friends in the entire industry are at Tooth & Nail Records,” he also recognized that, in the end, it is a business.
“With Tooth & Nail, I believe that there’s a glass ceiling. You can go so far and then you kind of have to stay there,” Christian pointed out. “There comes a chance when you have to step out on a limb, go out and see what the rest of the world has for you.”
For Christian, that doesn’t solely include Anberlin. Over the last year, he has been working on a side project under the name Anchor & Braille, with some help from Copeland’s Aaron Marsh.
“These are songs, either lyrically or sonically, which felt like they weren’t in the vein of Anberlin,” he explained. “I think Anberlin is more of like Foo Fighters/Jimmy Eat World fast rock, stuff like that, whereas Anchor & Braille is very much like Sigur Rós/Ryan Adam-ish… I’m not comparing myself to them, just that kind of genre.”
While a few of these songs are circulating around the internet, the official release won’t come out until Anberlin’s latest offering is complete, which is currently Christian’s primary focus. “Until then, I don’t want to get my head in the clouds.”
Besides music, he has also completed work on his first book, entitled The Orphaned Anything’s. Nevertheless, he is hesitant to call himself a writer, preferring the term “tryer” instead.
“We have a lot of down time on the road, so instead of playing video games all the time, I try to pick up writing and stuff like that.”
The book, set for release early next year, is centered around the line “there’s more to living than being alive,” which was incorporated into the song “Alexithymia” on Cities. Christian described the story as the “monotony of life and trying to get out of the sludge and the cyclical world that we put ourselves into… It’s about turning your life around and going, ‘You know what? There has to be something more than just this.’”
Meanwhile, the band finds it exciting to be among the recent uprising of Christians in the mainstream marketplace, which this year has included the likes of Paramore and OneRepublic.
“It’s cool because we can set a lot of different examples for not only the listeners but other bands. We can go, ‘You know what? You really don’t have to do this and participate in the stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll.’”
While the band isn’t a huge fan of the “Christian band” label, the lyrics aren’t afraid to touch on spiritual or philosophical issues.
“I don’t sit down to avoid the word ‘God,’ avoid the word ‘Jesus’ or something like that. That’s never my intention,” Christian explained.
“If I could have any goal in lyrics, it would be to teach a life lesson. Whether out of failures or out of successes. Out of life or death or hate or whatever it is, to hopefully better people’s lives. I don’t want every song to be, ‘Girl, I want to hold your hand cause you’re pretty,’ and I don’t want every song to be like, ‘Well, the third law of thermodynamics states that everything is in the process of decay’... I want a medium where I can relate to that, I can absorb that and I can apply that to my life.”
It’s this sort of attitude which already has the band considering their career a success. No matter how their major label debut performs, it has encouraged them to dream big and give it their best shot.
“And what if it flops?” Christian questioned. “Let’s say we only sell 10,000 of the next record. You know what? I’ve had some of the best years of my life. This has been so much fun. I’ve gotten to tour with amazing bands and live out dreams that I never thought in a million years would be possible. So it’s like why not take the risk?”
Come this time next year, it’s likely fans will be glad they did.
This is an interview I had the privilege of conducting with Anberlin singer Stephen Christian following their set at Anaheim’s House Of Blues.
How’s the tour been going? Has it been a lot of fun so far?
A lot of fun. This is one of the coolest tours. I like all the bands. I’ve gotten to know the guys in Metro Station real well. Mae, we’re former labelmates with from Tooth & Nail, and they’ve gone on to bigger and better things. Then Motion City is just awesome. They’ve been doing this for years. They know the formula and they’re just so good at it. So Motion City’s just great guys. A couple of them are really outgoing, so we hang out a lot. Some of them are into Kid Robot, which is like a Japanese toy store, and they take me around and go like "this is cool," just to hang out. But yeah, good guys. Really nice guys.
You guys just had the b-sides/rarities album come out a couple weeks ago. How did that come about?
You know what, it was contractual. We didn’t want to do it at all. I’ve never bought a b-side record in my life and felt like it was almost a rip-off. I love my fans too much. I don’t want to slop something together just to make some money for Tooth & Nail, for me or whoever. So to be honest, I hated it. I hated the idea. It actually started out as a Greatest Hits, and we were like "Dude, whatever. We’re not over. We’re not done with."
Yeah, Tooth & Nail seems to do that a lot.
Yeah, dude. They’re good. I was like "Okay, can we please do a b-sides?" So we finally convinced them, and I was like "Do we mind if we do 18 songs and a DVD? We have all this footage from throughout the years." And they’re like "Yeah, yeah. That sounds great, that sounds great." Then a month before it was released, it got chopped down to 12 songs and no DVD. We were like "You got to be kidding me." We’re off the label, so it feels like they don’t really care. At moments it feels like they almost don’t care about us or our fans. We finally had to take the DVD and chop it up into seven webisodes and put it on youtube. So it’s youtube.com/anberlin, and there’s seven of them. I just uploaded one a couple hours ago, so I think there’s only two left to complete the seven. That was supposed to go with the b-sides record.
With it, we finally got them back up from 12 to 18 songs because we were just so furious. We were like "You can’t rip us off. We still have ties with you guys. We still want to push these records that you put out for us." I don’t know. It just felt like they didn’t care anymore. It’s sad. As soon as we left, they were more invested in the money that could be made instead of the lives that they could have touched. So it was sad. But anyway, b-sides is just a collection of stuff that didn’t get on records. It’s stuff that if you were an avid fan, you would already have.
Yeah. I already had about half of it.
See. That drives me nuts. I don’t expect, and I hope you don’t, to pay like 10 dollars to get these songs that were just slapped together. You already have the best ones. Whatever you have were the best ones.
Do you now regret any of them not making the records?
I mean yeah. I wish I could go back in time and on Cities I really wouldn’t want a few songs. I would want "Haunting" on, just because I had no idea of the response. That was one of those songs that I wrote and was like "I don’t think people are going to like this." I just felt like it didn’t fit the mood, and I felt like we shouldn’t have put "Mathematics" on Cities. I love the song. I absolutely love the song. I think it’s dark and tells an awesome story, but I think people just didn’t get it and don’t like it. I don’t know. So we shouldn’t have put that one on. I don’t really like "Alexithymia," and there’s one other one I was thinking about the other day that I wish I didn’t put on. I’m trying to think, doggone it… "Mathematics"… Anyway, those two. And "Alexithymia" seems to be a curse for us. Every time we try to play it live, something goes wrong. It was a bad song, so we stopped.
You guys are going to be working on some new stuff and recording pretty soon, right?
Yeah. We’re already at 10 songs. Hopefully, we’re going to take off the holiday after this tour’s done, go back into the studio probably February 1 and work with an awesome producer named [can’t be officially announced yet].
Yeah. We’re actually going to meet him tomorrow for the first time. The contract’s not signed, but he’s already fully committed. We’re going to hang out with him tomorrow, give him the idea for the overall picture and show him the first 10 demos. We’ll keep writing through the holidays and hopefully when we walk into the studio Februrary 1, we’ll have like 20 songs together.
Now you guys have only worked with Aaron Sprinkle before, right?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean we never really had the opportunity to work with any other producers, not that we would have. I love Aaron Sprinkle. He’s just an amazing guy, and we all talked about maybe going back on the fourth record to him — not for old times but just because he’s almost like a sixth member. He’s that entwined. I know [our new producer] is going to do an amazing job. Me and him have had incredible conversations and he’s just a solid, solid dude so far. He’s a very songs-oriented producer, and I’ve never had that. Aaron Sprinkle is a music mastermind genius, but his first main career wasn’t a producer. [Our new producer] worked with [artist] in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then he stretched out on his own and did some fabulous stuff. So we’re just excited to work with him.
That’s cool to hear. What kind of stylistic direction are you guys taking with the new stuff?
It’s still all over the place. I don’t think that we can all settle on one thing. The one thing I can say is that Christian now being in the band from Acceptance brings back a lot of the riff stuff from "Readyfuels" and "Feel Good Drag." That kind of like heavy, riff stuff. So I think that’s really going to push Joey to take what Christian writes and make it his own. Make it Anberlin’s. So it’s going to be really cool to see. I think the direction that I’m kind of aiming at lyrically is going to be more like Cities than any of the other two. As far as sonically, I think it’s going to be a cross between "Dismantle. Repair." and "Paperthin Hymn." Kind of right there. Like not too intricate that you lose it, that you get lost, but a little more like…
Like epic sounding, kind of.
Yeah, epic. I guess that’s what I mean. Anberlin — we haven’t changed at all. Nobody’s going to be like, "Who’s this?" "Oh, it’s Anberlin." I mean, duh… There’s no way. It’s going to be very, very distinctive.
You guys are also on Universal for this one. What made you decide to go to them?
I think several factors really. With Tooth & Nail, I believe that there’s a glass ceiling. It’s like you can go so far and then you kind of have to stay there. The thing is that when we assessed on staying at Tooth & Nail, we could have had another five-year career. Everything’s stable. We just sell to this market that they have a niche in. But I think there’s a moment in everyone’s life where it’s this do or die moment. You have this one chance. I mean do you jump off the train and try to save the day? Do you go out and create some art that you don’t think anybody’s ever seen before? Do you quit your day job and go back into television or producing movies? Who knows when that moment is for you? But you kind of have to decide. I think that for us, this was like here’s Universal, who’s just begging for the opportunity. I’m talking like hounding my manager everyday since before Cities came out. We were like "Wow. These guys really want us. Why not take the risk?" And what if it flops? Let’s say we only sell 10,000 of the next record. You know what? I’ve had some of the best years of my life. I’ve had so much fun. I’ve got to tour with some amazing bands and live out dreams that I never thought in a million years would be possible. So it’s like why not just take the risk?
On top of that, we wanted to do like a Tooth & Nail/Virgin thing, as far as a major and a development. We wanted Tooth & Nail to stay with us because we love the people there, but Virgin just wouldn’t have us. Here’s all these other major labels just hounding and then they were just like "Hey listen, there’s no singles on Cities." Universal said, "I want to buy it. There’s five deep on that CD. We’ll buy it." And Virgin was like "No. Not only are we not going to push it, but we’re not going to sell it." It was just kind of like "Dude, are you trying to slaughter our careers? We’ve worked this hard and suddenly you just put the nail in the coffin." So we love Tooth & Nail. I love their passion. Some of my best friends in the entire industry are at Tooth & Nail Records — in life, not just in music — but there comes a chance when you have to step out on a limb, go out and see what the rest of the world has for you.
That’s kind of weird because Virgin just had a lot of success with The Almost.
Yeah, they did.
So that’s kind of weird that they didn’t like you guys.
I agree. I think they also had a lot of… I mean Underoath sold awesome. If Underoath would have wanted to have been on the radio, they could have. They would have been huge. I don’t know. They just have a lot of integrity. So they just went with other bands.
Now Christian is from Acceptance, and when they made the jump to the majors, they weren’t met with the best of results. Has he been able to bring any advice to the situation?
Oh absolutely. I think he was a great balance of like "Hey, here’s what labels are going to do. Here’s what they’re probably going to say." But actually in the end, Christian was quite — I can’t put words in his mouth — but I think he was quite surprised at how supportive Universal was, and how they were like "Listen. This isn’t going to happen." He was like "Wow. I didn’t even know because I didn’t even tell them that." They were already saying "Listen. This isn’t going to happen. It’s not like if you sell under this then you’re gone. We’re not going to drop the ball. We’re not going to leave you hanging." So that was really like okay, calming us down. So that was really cool.
In addition to Anberlin, you have your side project Anchor & Braille. Can you describe that a little bit?
It’s just songs that I’ve sat down and wrote that I knew Anberlin couldn’t portray or translate. There’s a couple songs, like 4 or 5, that Anberlin has taken and made their own, but these are songs that either lyrically or sonically felt like I don’t think these are in the vein of Anberlin. I think Anberlin is more of like Foo Fighters/Jimmy Eat World fast rock — stuff like that — whereas Anchor & Braille is very much like Sigur Rós, Ryan Adam-ish. Just kind of more in that vein and stuff like that. I’m not comparing myself to them. I’m just saying that kind of genre-ish.
Now when is that supposed to come out?
You know what? We have no idea. I think that my manager agreed with the label on this that Anberlin has to be the primary focus until Anberlin drops the record. Then we can all focus on Anchor & Braille. Until then, I don’t want to get my head in the clouds.
You’re also something of a writer and have your first novel coming out next year. What’s the deal with that?
I don’t know if I’m a writer. Is there a pseudo-writer out there? I’m a tryer. I don’t know. We have a lot of down time on the road, so instead of playing video games all the time, I try to pick up writing and stuff like that. I don’t know if it’s a short story or a novella, it depends on how it’s bound I guess, but it’s going to come out in February/March of next year is the tentative date. It’s called The Orphaned Anything’s. I don’t have a lot of press for it or anything like that, but I do have myspace.com/theorphanedanythings.
Yeah. I read the first chapter. It was pretty sweet.
Hey, thank you. Thanks very much.
So what’s the plot of the book?
I think the plot is kind of like… Well, actually the line "There’s more to living than being alive" was in the book and was almost translated over into a song. You’ll hear a lot of lyrics off Cities from stuff in the book. It’s about the monotony of life and trying to get out of the sludge and the cyclical world that we put ourselves into. Such as this girl emailed me the other day at Modesty, and she was just saying how she looks back — she’s 25 now — and she’s at a desk job. She’s not married yet but she still has this boyfriend, and one morning she just woke up and was like "What am I doing? This was never what I wanted to do." I told her that there was a quote that says, "The road to hell is a slow and gradual one." I’m not saying she’s going to hell by any means, but I’m saying that I think you make real small justifications and you let little details go. It’s just little things. "Well, I don’t really need to do this." Or "I can put off college until next year." Or "I would take this film job but it doesn’t pay nearly as well as this job at Kmart." After a while, in three or four years, you’ve made all these justifications. Here you are in the thick of life, and you’re just like "This is not who I wanted to become." So I guess that’s what it’s about — about self revelation, turning your life around and going "You know what? There has to be something more than just this."
Now over the last several years, there’s been a huge uprising of Christians in the mainstream music market. Back in the day, it was like P.O.D. and Switchfoot, and then this year it’s been Paramore and OneRepublic. How exciting is it to be right in the middle of that?
It’s great. I think for most of us, we don’t go in there and go "I’m a Christian, so I should get into a band and try to save the world." I think for most of us, it’s almost a calling. Like a burden. Like "Hey, this is what I really want to do with my life." It’s cool because we can set a lot of different examples for not only the listeners but other bands. We can go "You know what? You really don’t have to do this and participate in the stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll." I think you can see the seeds of that were planted with like maybe MxPx, P.O.D. or Switchfoot. I think you can kind of see them now whereas a lot of bands are getting behind a lot of causes. You never saw Guns ‘N Roses doing a charity event, believing in an organization or funding a well in Africa. But now you see everything from Fall Out Boy to Cute Is What We Aim For to Paramore to Thrice. Everyone takes up a cause. It’s just unreal. All these people trying to be a positive light, and it’s really cool seeing the fruits of that coming out of our scene.
Do you have any theory why you’ve seen the mainstream respond to this so well?
What do you mean? I’m sorry.
Like have you seen any reason why the mainstream is more accepting of Christians and "Christian Music," and are more responsive to it now than they were back in the day?
Well, I think it’s just desensitization. I think when the first bands came out, everybody was like "Christians in a band! Christians in a band!" But now you have everything from U2 to Paramore to Copeland. You can’t even name the amount of bands that have Christian members in them. I just think it’s like the… How do I explain this in better words?... It’s just not a big deal anymore. It’s just over. No one talks about it anymore. It’s just like "Oh, okay. Big deal." There’s tons of people in it. I think that over time, people have just gradually become like "Oh, uh-huh. Good deal."
The band has written its fair share of love songs, but you aren’t afraid to delve into those deeper issues, be it spiritual of philosophical stuff. Is there a favorite area you like to write about and do you find it difficult to balance both aspects?
No. If I could have any goal in lyrics, it would be to teach a life lesson. Whether out of failures or out of successes. Out of life or death or hate or whatever it is, to hopefully better people’s lives. I don’t want every song to be "Girl, I want to hold your hand ‘cause you’re pretty," and I don’t want every song to be like "Well, the third law of thermodynamics states that everything is in the process of decay." What? I don’t want to hear that. I want a medium where I can relate to that, I can absorb that and I can apply that to my life. I think that’s the area I love the most.
What is your approach and philosophy to writing lyrics, and how are you able to incorporate your faith without it coming off as preachy or something like that?
Well, I don’t sit down to avoid the word "God," avoid the word "Jesus" or something like that. That’s never my intention. I know this is going to sound creepy, or whatever you want to call it, but a lot of times when I sit down to the music, it already talks to me. In other words, if you have this fast paced song, like "Dududududududu," you’re not going to be like [Sings] "Girl, your eyes are blue, yeah, and so is the sky." So it already kind of gives you like a "Well, this is the direction where it’s going in my head." Then I usually journal. I try to journal everyday, it doesn’t work out so well, but I keep this little black notebook with me. If lines or something inspires me, whether out of a book, a film, or just life or someone says something — like my grandfather was the one who told me "Never take friendship personal." I was like "Wow." It stuck with me for like a year. I hated that quote because it was like "Dude, that’s just sad." But then when you have people completely turn their back on you and despise you, it’s kind of like "Ah, yeah. At moments it feels like that. You can never take friendship personal." It’s little things like that. So when I sit down to hear the song, I’ll flip through my journal — the front is where I do like my "Write One Today" — and I’ll flip it over where it’s all lyrics, one-lines or something like that. Usually when I hear the chorus, I can translate some of those words into that chorus, and then I start to write the song around that. Then I go to the pre-chorus. Then I go to the verses — start with one then two.
Last week, the music community was a little shaken up with the passing of Casey Calvert [guitarist for Hawthorne Heights]. Were you able to get to know him at all?
It killed me. It crushed me. I can tell you the time, the place, even the city we were in. Minnesota. It was right in the afternoon. I had just walked in the bus after coming in from the mall, and one of my friends from Bayside called me. I just didn’t move. We had been on tour with Hawthorne Heights three times, and Casey — ask anybody who has ever toured with them — was the first one to get off the bus, the first one to hang out with you and the first one to hang out in the backroom. He was just hilarious. Always a kid at heart. Like we would go and find these Kid Robot toys together — those same ones — and stuff like that. He was just the greatest guy. It was so funny because I had just gotten a new phone and, no offense to the rest of the Hawthorne Heights guys, but his was the only number I put right away in my phone. I knew that if I was going to talk to one of them — talk or see where they’re at in the country, like most bands do. Like "Where are you at today?" "Oh, Minnesota." Or wherever. — He was the first one I put in my phone. And I had just gotten the phone like days before. I think everybody’s going to have their own "Casey story." For us, I don’t think anyone else treated the band better, the other bands on tour, even our staff or anything like that. He was definitely the nicest, most friendly, most outgoing guy in Hawthorne Heights, and maybe in the entire music business.
I read your blog from time to time — I try to keep updated on it — and you seem to be pretty knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects. With the New Year approaching, what do you see as the big issues facing not only the music industry aspect but also our country as a whole?
Wow. I mean obviously the elections are coming up. I think that’s one area I’m definitely going to tackle as soon as I process it out and get more data. As far as politics is concerned, I really wish we had an election where you don’t have to choose from the lesser evil. Why can’t you choose for someone that you love and are proud of to have in there? I’m not saying I’m going to enact it, but I’d love a third party, or something like that, so we have a little more of an option. A little more of a choice as far as who we put to represent the most powerful country in the world to go out there, who’s going to take me and you and everybody, go to a different country and speak before thousands of people. It’s just scary. It’s like why we do we have to choose between I hate him and I hate him less, so I’m going to vote for him? I wish it was different. I wish there were two awesome candidates, and you’re biting your nails at the last second at the polls with who you’re going to vote for. So it’s just a concern that is going to face us next year, since we do elect a president in ’08.
As far as the music scene, I think people are, in the next two years — I’d say definitely within the next three years — are going to have to come to terms with themselves and start to either justify, admit or change as far as downloading music illegally. In the beginning, I think we all had the attitude of "Down with the man. Down with the big corporations. If I burn this CD, what does it matter? It’s one CD." Well, now it’s to the point where some people are suggesting that if you’ve sold one CD, there’s three out there that have been burned. That’s great for the consumer, but the problem is that in the end, it’s going to eat them. You’re taking money away from the corporations, which takes money away from the bands, which means they can’t sign as many bands, which means the local band that you start or this other guy starts is not going to get signed. Instead of me being able to sign 30 bands because we’re Tooth & Nail or some indie label or major — I don’t care who you are — we can’t sign 30, we can only sign 10 now because that’s all I have the budget for. So I think that that’s really going to have to be addressed very shortly. With the consumers, it’s like a reality check.
There was a really cool label in the late ‘90s called Deep Elm. They put out a lot of really cool bands like Mineral and Appleseed Cast — a lot of bands like that. I just read an interview where he said the year that burning CDs became — not okay, but you had the accessibility to buy a machine that burns — his sales dropped 50 percent. And that’s why he’s declaring bankruptcy now. He’s like "I’m the little guy. I’m the small guy. I was the one fighting for the consumer, signing these real indie cred bands. I’m not trying to sell them out or anything like that." But he’s like "If I’m closing my doors, it’s going to work its way up." Now it’s going to go to the bigger indies, then it’s going to the massive indies like Vagrant and Tooth & Nail, and then it’s going to climb its way to the majors. I think it’s just crazy. Like when is it going to stop? We have definitely seen it. Our contract, the way that we signed it with Universal, has encompassed so much more of our life besides just our CDs. Now we have to branch out and give them a part of merchandising and live shows…
Part of that 360 thing.
Oh, yeah. And you know what? The consumer doesn’t care. 360 doesn’t mean anything less to them. I just know that at the end of the day, I’m the one who has to suffer, and then we have to work twice as hard. It’s not that any one of us are rich. None of us own a house. I just moved out probably four months ago. I just bought my first car last year in October. This was before Universal, so it wasn’t like we signed and got a million dollars. This is after saving up for all these years. It’s like if this is what’s happening to us, and we’re one of the bigger bands on Tooth & Nail, then what about the little guys? They’re still living with their parents. They’re meagerly getting by. Well, this is going to eat them alive. Now they’re going to have to go get day jobs because their CD can’t get pushed as much, or they may just get dropped. Like before, I think if you don’t sell 15,000 or more than you’re dropped. But now what’s it going to be? 50,000? We can’t afford it. They just can’t afford it.
Do you see bands moving towards self-releasing it on their own?
I mean maybe but… Well? That’s really hard. Sure it’s easy to do. You can all stick it up on iTunes or whatever. You’re going to maintain the audience you have. Let’s say you’re like The Barenaked Ladies or whatever. They did that. I think 3 Doors Down did that, I believe. What happens is you maintain the fan base and then it slowly starts to dwindle and dwindle, like it did for 3 Doors Down and Barenaked Ladies. So you can self-release it, but your album sales are going to slowly dwindle. You can’t be a starting band and self-release it. You’ll gain no new fans. No one will hear of you. iTunes is going to put you out. Best Buy won’t carry you. So sure, you can do it. You can make decent money. But unless you were already selling 10 million records, you’re not going to survive. So something’s going to have to change. I don’t know what it is. I have no suggestions. I really, really don’t.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think we covered pretty much everything. Maybe the end of the world even. There’s nothing we haven’t, so this was awesome.
2007 is a special year for New Found Glory — it marks their 10-year anniversary. Over that time span, the band has released six albums, a pair of EPs and performed hundreds of shows all over the world. More importantly, they have become a staple to the pop-punk genre by providing a shining example of how to keep it real in the music industry.
The year was a prototypically busy one for the band, who embarked on a short stint with Fall Out Boy, took part in the summer phenomena known as Warped Tour for a third time, released a sequel to 2000’s movie-cover EP From The Screen To Your Stereo, and recently wrapped a co-headlining tour with Senses Fail.
What makes this so remarkable is that earlier in the year they parted ways with longtime home Geffen Records, granting them free agent status for the first time in their career. Despite lacking the support of a label, the band refused to slow down.
“Regardless of a label or not, we’re still able to tour, put out records and sell out shows — which is the important thing,” singer Jordan Pundik admitted to me over the phone. “We’ve always been a self-sufficient band, so we can work through anything.”
While their final record on Geffen, 2006’s Coming Home, failed to match the sales figures from their previous releases, Pundik remains more proud of it than any other.
“I think that that record came out when it was supposed to come out,” he explained. “Those songs came out for a reason… and it was a record that I think we needed to make to show that as a band we had progressed.”
That progression led the band, which also features guitarists Chad Gilbert and Steve Klein, bassist Ian Grushka and drummer Cyrus Bolooki, to capitalize on their label-less situation. As a result, they set to work on From The Screen To Your Stereo Part II, which was something fans had been hounding the band to release.
“We had always talked about doing it but we never could because we were stuck on Geffen… and they didn’t want us doing it,” Pundik pointed out. “What’s great about not being on a label right now [is that] we’re able to do what we want.”
In May the band holed up at Gilbert’s house in Texas to record the album. The writing process was a bit different from their usual routine, proving to be “a lot more laid back because the songs were pretty much done,” Pundik said. “All we had to do was make it our own style.”
This time around, they chose to cover everything from Go West’s “King Of Wishful Thinking” to The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” and again opted to put it out though Drive-Thru Records, who had released the first EP. In addition, the band called on several friends to help in the process, including Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy), Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), Adam Lazzara (Taking Back Sunday) and Lisa Loeb.
“It was just bands and guys we’ve been friends with for a long time… who used to be fans and stuff and still are,” Pundik said. “It was really flattering because they wanted to be a part of it.”
Next on the band’s horizon will be a new six-song EP, which will be released through Boston hardcore/punk label Bridge Nine Records. In a displaying of their hardcore influences, it is set to feature cover songs of Shelter and Gorilla Biscuits and three original songs, which Pundik described as similar to the intro song on Catalyst. The EP, which the band recently finished recording, will see a limited release sometime early next year.
Then in January the band will be heading overseas for a one-month European tour alongside Paramore. Once they return home, Pundik said they will focus on writing and recording a new album, which they hope to have out next summer on their new label.
When asked about what direction the band will take, he admitted, “It’s hard to say. We like to keep our fans on their toes.” Nevertheless, he alluded the few riffs the band have been working on have sounded “almost like a pop-punk snap kick.”
Meanwhile, in a time when bands seem to go through members like spare tires or just break up altogether, what has allowed New Found Glory to last this long?
“There’s no better job than what we do, so we don’t let the little things bother us,” Pundik replied. “The love of writing music and playing for kids all around the world keeps us going… We’ll try and keep putting out good records for them.”
Here’s to the next 10 years. May they be as memorable as the first.
If Quentin Tarantino had written “Little Miss Sunshine,” the result might have sounded a lot like “Juno.” Its stylized dialogue is sharp as a razor and constantly inventive — an amazing accomplishment from first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody. While a far cry from the way a normal person would talk, the words never cease to entertain.
With a vaguely similar storyline as “Knocked Up,” the film follows the escapades of 16-year-old Juno MacGuff, whose name is not to be confused with the city in Alaska, as she sardonically asserts in one scene. Played with a blunt spunk by Ellen Page (“Hard Candy”), the performance is star-making.
Events escalate when Juno discovers she’s pregnant after a one-night stand with Paulie Bleeker. Bleeker — “Superbad’s” Michael Cera — is, as the name implies, a major nerd — albeit a charming one — and is clueless on how to handle the situation. After briefly considering an abortion, Juno decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption, finding the soon-to-be-parents in, of all places, the Penny Saver.
One of the best aspects of the film is Juno’s reaction to her surroundings, which is usually cynical and dripping in sarcasm. Whether it’s dealing with her parents, the hilarious J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, or those of her unborn child’s — a surprisingly good combination of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner — her strong-willed personality shines. Just like a cowboy with a holstered gun at the ready, she finds strength in staying prepared to dish out a smart quip at a moment’s notice. Even though, as she points out, these issues are beyond her young understanding, this determined resiliency allows her to plow through them.
Director Jason Reitman, who struck gold with last year’s hit indie film “Thank You For Smoking,” once again balances a chain of varied elements with remarkable adeptness. By incorporating such things as an animated credit sequence and an indie acoustic/pop soundtrack, along with impeccable comic timing, the quirky mood he creates proves just the right complement to Cody’s writing. While at times it might border on being a little too clever — especially when considering the young age of its cast — it never loses sight of the characters or what they're going through.
Remember the names Ellen Page, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody because “Juno” will likely catapult the three to household name status. The trio is nothing short of magnificent and, along with the perfectly eccentric cast, makes “Juno” the indie breakthrough of the year and 2007’s best comedy. See it before all of your friends start quoting it.
This is a phone interview I had the huge honor of conducting with New Found Glory singer Jordan Pundik.
First off, I just want to thank for you taking the time to do this.
Yeah, no problem.
You guys were one of the first bands I started listening to back in the day that really got me into music, so this means a lot.
Thanks man. I appreciate that.
So you guys are co-headlining right now with Senses Fail. How’s that going so far?
It’s been going really good. It’s been a really fun tour. Probably one of the funner tours we’ve had in a while.
It seems like you guys are always constantly touring of some sort. What’s a typical day like for you out on the road?
A typical day I guess would be waking up at about… I like to try and wake up a little early. That way I kind of go exploring and stuff, you know? So for me, I’ll usually wake up around 11. Then I’ll kind of scope out the scene. See what’s going on. I’ll find like a coffee shop or something, which is not Starbucks… So if there’s a rad coffee shop or something, I like to go to that and just walk around and see if there’s anything cool. Then sound check at around three or four o’clock, and hang out by the venue and just wait for the show to start. Then get a couple glasses of wine, get me jazzed up, and then we play. So it’s mostly hanging out. It kind of gets boring and tedious most of the days, but I try and find stuff to do.
I heard about your little Warped Tour fiasco with getting pulled over. Have you had anything like that happen recently again?
No nothing, thank God. [Laughs] That shit sucked. You know what’s so sucky about it was that it was like they didn’t even — granted a couple guys had some stuff on the bus but nothing too crazy — and they totally blew it out of proportion. They brought the dogs in, brought us to the sheriff’s department, had our bus impounded and searched the whole bus. It was just a nightmare. The runner from the show in Indiana had to drive like an hour away to come pick us up in the runner van. We had to borrow equipment and stuff. Then seriously, in probably like 20 minutes it was on MTV News. So the whole thing was media bullcrap, so like the cops can get their names in some sort of thing. You know what I mean? They’re like, "Oh, band bust. Let’s try and milk it for whatever."
Now that you guys are a little bit older and some of you are even married, has it become harder to keep up the grueling pace?
As far as like…
As far as constant touring and stuff like that.
A little bit. I mean we still tour as much as we always have. Luckily now with iChat, cell phones, and visitation rights [Laughs] it helps out, you know?
The first From The Screen To Your Stereo came out back in 2000. Seven years later, what made you return for the sequel?
I guess the fans just saying, "When are you guys gonna put out a sequel? Are you guys ever gonna put out a sequel? You know the first one was so great. When are you gonna put out a sequel?" I think it was the fans asking us all the time. So I guess it was the demand for it. We had always talked about doing it but we never could because we were stuck on Geffen, and we weren’t allowed to do it. They didn’t want us doing it. So now what’s great about not being on a label right now, we’re able to do what we want. Drive-Thru said they would put it out, because they put out the first one, and I don’t know. That’s it.
Since it’s obviously all covers, what was the writing process like, and how did it differ from what you guys usually go through?
The writing process was a lot more laid back because the songs were pretty much done. All we had to do was make it our own style. We wanted to pick songs that could translate into the way that New Found Glory would write their own song. There were other songs that we tried to do that wouldn’t sound right and didn’t really work. I wanted to do "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel, and just a few different things, but some songs just didn’t work or sound like we were going to sit down and write that song ourselves. It just didn’t sound right. So I don’t know, just a lot. The environment we were in was a little different. We were in Tyler, Texas, where Chad lives — our guitar player — in a little small studio in a little town. It was kind of cool. We went swimming in Chad’s house, and we all stayed at Chad’s house for most of it.
Did you guys produce it yourselves then?
Yeah, with the help of our friend Paul Miner.
I noticed there are quite a few guest appearances on the album as well. How did you go about selecting them and deciding which people would sing on which songs?
We would listen to the songs and be like that’d be a rad part for Adam [Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday] to sing on because I can totally picture his voice. Or like the Madonna song, it’d be really cool for Max [Bemis of Say Anything] to sing on because he’s a little bit crazy and the song’s called "Crazy For You." So his voice would fit perfect in that song. It was just bands and guys we’ve been friends with for a long time, and it’s guys that have — even though we’re close in age to a lot of these guys — they were fans of New Found Glory from a long time ago. They all have From The Screen To Your Stereo — the first one — and used to be fans and stuff and still are. It was really flattering because they wanted to be a part of it.
So are you happy with how Part II turned out in the end?
Yeah, I love it. I love the way it’s recorded and the song selection that we picked. I don’t know… I like it a lot. Better than the first one I think.
Now Coming Home is a little over a year old. I personally loved it and thought it was one of your best records, but it never really seemed to take off like your previous work did. Are you a little disappointed with how that all turned out?
No, I’m not at all. I think that that record came out when it was supposed to come out. We were at a point in our lives where… Those songs came out for a reason. So I’m not disappointed because it was a record that I think we needed to make to kind of show that as a band we’ve progressed. We can write songs that aren’t a sheen of vocals and like chugga-chugga the whole time. It’s funny because it’s an album that a lot of our old fans came back — got that record and kind of came back for — as opposed to like… I can’t explain it. It’s like the older fans that we have kind of disappeared for a while from going to shows and stuff, and it’s a lot of the younger kids now. When this album came out, you started seeing those older kids, those older fans, coming back to the shows as well.
It seemed like Geffen kind of dropped the ball with promoting it too. Are you disappointed with how the label handled it?
I guess to an extent. I mean any label you’re on, you’re going to have some sort of problem with. We were a little disappointed, but at the same time we’ve always been a self-sufficient band, so we can work through anything. For example, right now we just put out the cover songs CD on a one record thing with Drive-Thru. We’re not on a label. We don’t really have anything going on. I mean we’re talking to labels and stuff right now, but we’re playing all these shows and the majority of the tour has been sold out. So it’s like regardless of a label or not, we’re still able to tour, put out records and sell out shows — which is the important thing. And every record we’ve put out — Sticks And Stones, Catalyst, Coming Home — there’s always been a different freaking label president. So we’re always having to reintroduce our band to these people.
Are you guys leaning towards going back to an independent label or staying on a major?
I kind of still want to be on a major… It depends. We’re talking to independent labels. We’re talking to major labels. It really, to be honest, doesn’t matter to me. I just want a label that’s going to back our band 100%. There’s pros and cons to each thing. Some independent labels are sketchier than major labels. The good thing about having a major label is that instead of like 20 people working for your band, you have hundreds of people working for your band.
I also noticed over the last few records your voice has sounded stronger and more improved. Have you been doing anything differently?
Ummm… No. [Laughs] Just drinking wine. [Laughs] I don’t know. No, nothing really. I think just from touring for so long and being in a band for 10 years, I think that gives you a little more confidence.
Have you guys already started writing stuff for the new record?
Yeah, our guitar player Chad has been working on it. We have tons and tons of riffs and different parts, but there’s not really any kind of full songs yet. We work here and there a little bit during sound checks and stuff, but it’s not really like getting into it. At the end of January, we fly to England with Paramore and Bayside, and we’ll be in England and Europe for a month. Once we come back from that, that’s when we’re going to start writing and really focus on writing a new record.
Do you have any idea when it’s going to come out?
I have no idea. Hopefully by next year. You know, middle of next year.
It probably depends on the whole label thing as well.
Yeah, exactly. Well fuck, who knows? Maybe we’ll get someone to fund us for the recording and put it out ourselves. Who fucking knows?
Are you going to stick with the Coming Home kind of sound, or are you going to go back to the more upbeat stuff?
Well, it’s hard to say. We like to keep our fans on their toes. But I can tell you that the few riffs I’ve had are really kind of… I don’t know… It’s almost like a pop-punk snap kick or something. Just like the lead parts.... The little riffs here and there that I’ve been hearing.
I also read on absolutepunk last week that you guys are coming out with a new EP. What’s the deal with that?
Well, basically since we’re not on a label, we’re able to do whatever the hell we please. So there’s a record label called Bridge 9 Records. They’re a very influential hardcore, punk rock label from Boston. We’ve been talking to them about putting out a six song 7" and CD. The CD is going to have three original songs on it, kind of faster, punkier. Like the intro song on Catalyst — that kind of style. Then we’re going to have three cover songs of hardcore, like old 7" songs. Like Shelter, Gorilla Biscuits and probably one other song.
And when is that supposed to come out?
Well, we’re going to record it this next week, so hopefully pretty soon. And it’s only going to be sold at Newbury Comics, the Bridge 9 website, or you can get it from us when we’re on tour. It’s going to be like a limited kind of thing.
You guys have been together as a band for a decade now, right?
That’s pretty amazing. It seems like recently there’s been a lot of bands who have either been losing members or breaking up, yet you guys have managed to pretty much keep the same lineup throughout. What has allowed you to be so different?
I guess that we don’t take anything for granted. There’s no better job than what we do, so we don’t let the little things bother us — like if a show’s not sold out or if we don’t have the bus we wanted originally. We’re just very grateful for everything and we don’t expect things. I think that’s the problem with a lot of young new bands. They see all their favorite bands doing well for themselves and being successful. Then they start a band, they start getting popular and they want that same thing, but they go about it the wrong way. They think that because they have a million hits on MySpace that guarantees their shows to be sold out. Or they’re on Warped tour so they have to have a bus, but that’s not how it is. You have to do your grunt work, start from nothing and get to that point.
Going along with that, since you guys have been around for so long, you’ve become one of the veteran bands of the scene that a lot of up-and-comers look up to. How does that make you feel?
It’s definitely flattering. What’s funny is that a lot of the bands out now are the same age. [Laughs] So we’re still pretty young. We just got a head start because we started young. We started the band when I was like 17. So I don’t know… It’s just really cool.
After all these years, what keeps you guys going and inspires you to keep making music and progressing?
The love for playing music and creating something that kids can relate to. The love of writing music and playing for kids all around the world keeps us going. We’re always constantly thinking and always constantly observing. There’s a lot of things out in the world that are very influential on us as people, so we’ll always have something to sing about and something to talk about.
It also seems like you have a pretty dedicated fan base, and you guys really seem to appreciate that. I saw a video on youtube where people were throwing up signs, and you would sing "Happy Birthday" to them or whatever. Has that been a pretty big blessing as well?
Yeah. It’s always kind of funny when that happens because it’s kind of awkward. You can’t ignore someone who has a huge poster which says, "Sing ‘Happy Birthday’" or "Play this song." [Laughs] So it’s pretty funny. It keeps us on our toes for sure. Especially when it’s like, "Hey, play this song," which we haven’t played in like six years.
Out of everything you guys have recorded, what are you most proud of?
I would say Coming Home for sure. Since we went about writing it and the things that were going on at that time… I don’t know. It all seemed to make sense at the time.
It seemed like you guys addressed a little bit more issues than your typical love songs.
Yeah, for sure.
Okay, one last thing. If you could sum up New Found Glory in a single sentence, what would it be?
Ummm… Let’s see. In a single sentence, huh?
Yeah. Or like a phrase or whatever.
[Pause] Superheroes of hardcore let ‘em see you windmill when you’re on the dance floor. [Laughs] Superheroes of hardcore wanna see you spacedive onto the floor… I don’t know.
I could see that song making the new record.
Yeah, yeah. [Laughs]
Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I always say this but I just want to give a shout out to all our fans everywhere for still sticking with us for this long, and thank them for still coming to the shows and seeing the same songs. We’ll try and keep putting out good records for them.
Borrowing from several animated Disney classics, not to mention films such as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Kate & Leopold,” “Enchanted” presents a premise where cartoon characters are transported to the harsh confinements of actual reality.
Giselle (Amy Adams) — a chirpy mixture of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty — has a perfect life in her animated, music-filled world. That is, until she is banished from it by an evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon) in order to prevent Giselle from marrying her son, Prince Edward (James Marsden). Now alone in New York City, Giselle must await her prince’s rescue while charming her way into the life of a divorce attorney (Patrick Dempsey).
Whether or not you buy the movie’s unique surroundings lies on the shoulders of the cast and its star Adams, who earned an Oscar nomination two years ago for the little-seen indie flick “Junebug.” Her performance straddles an over-the-top vigor — precisely what the role calls for — which is buoyant.
Whether encountering strangers or singing to animals, she emits a youthful innocence and exuberance in all that she does. Even when her good spirits are dampened during the story’s more serious latter half, it only serves as an opportunity for her humanity to shine through.
Meanwhile, Marsden (“Hairspray,” Cyclops from “X-Men”) hams it up as the oblivious Prince Charming. Spending most of the time clueless as to what is transpiring, he emotes a likeable earnestness, and it’s hard not to laugh along with his misfortunes. Following similar lines, veteran British actor Timothy Spall generates several laughs as a bumbling henchman and easily overshadows his boss Sarandon, who never quite registers an impact as the evil queen.
On the other side, Dempsey (“Grey’s Anatomy”) serves as the story’s practical realist, choosing to see things in their down-to-earth condition. This outlook and his McDreamy charm make for a nice counterpoint to the silly behavior of those around him. The part is certainly no stretch for Dempsey or his Hugh Jackman comparisons, but he plays it well and seems to be having fun.
While the story tinkers with some inherent conventions in clever ways, it never fully mines their comedic gold. This could be a result of its Disney backing, whose hallowed cartoons it relies heavily upon, or the constrictions produced from aiming squarely at a young audience.
Whatever the case may be, director Kevin Lima (“Tarzan,” “102 Dalmatians”) sticks to simple laughs framed within a cutesy atmosphere. An increase in wit and tongue-in-cheek ingredients — areas where the first “Shrek” film excelled — would have been helpful in providing a greater depth.
Good family films are a rarity these days, and “Enchanted” proves to be a decent addition to the genre. While there’s no denying its appeal towards children — who are likely to appreciate it the most — the inspired acting is something anyone can enjoy.
“When we were a band starting out in Ohio, I don’t think any of us thought that we’d go past high school,” Relient K guitarist Matt Hoopes admits to me over the phone. “Then we got a record deal right before we went to college… so we made our first record, and then we made a second record and then a third. And it kept going.”
Six albums and almost a decade later, Relient K is still going strong and as busy as ever. The band, which features Hoopes, multitalented frontman Matt Thiessen, bassist John Warne and guitarist John Schneck, has seen their popularity steadily increase in recent years, resulting in three Gold selling albums. 2004’s Mmhmm, led by the hit single “Be My Escape,” sold over 800,000 copies, and their follow-up, Five Score And Seven Years Ago, debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200 back in March.
As if that wasn’t enough, the band recently released a Christmas album, Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer, which features their take on 10 holiday classics as well as a handful of original material. Ten of the tracks originally saw a limited release in 2003, and both groups of songs reflect the band’s no rules attitude towards the process.
“On the first batch of songs, we mostly tried to keep it… really fast, loud and a little bit off for Christmas songs,” Hoopes explains.
Yet for the newer ones, they chose to incorporate a wider array of influences. Hoopes describes their interpretation of “Sleigh Ride” as having a “jazzy, ‘50s, dancy kind of feel to it,” while other songs “are rock but kind of crazy.”
Currently the band is promoting the album while nearing the end of a co-headlining tour with good friends Switchfoot. The tour, dubbed Appetite For Construction, is significant in that $1 from every ticket sold will be donated to Habitat For Humanity, an organization devoted to building simple, decent and affordable housing.
“I had never had a lot of contact with the organization… but the more we helped out, the more we respected it and thought it was something we wanted to get behind and promote,” Hoopes adds.
Despite their recent success, Relient K has not been without their share of hardships this year. During the summer their tour bus caught on fire, and many of their personal belongings were lost. Hoopes, who among other things lost his wallet, admits the events were “slightly frustrating,” yet credits the band’s positive outlook on life for carrying them through it.
“When you think about it in the grand scheme of things — no one was hurt and there was nothing lost that was irreplaceable — it was just an inconvenience at worst,” Hoopes says.
Then last month drummer Dave Douglas announced he would be leaving the band at the conclusion of the tour. However, this didn’t come as a complete surprise.
Hoopes, who along with Thiessen is the only remaining original member, confesses Douglas had been talking about doing his own project for a while, which he will pursue with his wife Rachel.
“We’ve just been able to talk him out of it until now,” Hoopes jokes.
For the moment, the goal is simply to try and enjoy their remaining time with Douglas, who joined the band in 2000. Hoopes acknowledges there are no hard feelings between any of the members, and “we all wish him the best and hope that he does well.”
Once the tour is finished, the band will begin the task of finding a replacement. Hoopes says they will be trying out a few friends first, and hopes one of them will work out.
“It’d be cool to bring someone on who we already know their character really well,” he admits.
Meanwhile after getting their start in the Christian music scene, Relient K remains hesitant to be placed in any sort of a box this might imply.
“Christian music, as you define it, is a little bit odd in the fact that it’s the only kind of music that’s defined by lyrical content rather than musical content,” Hoopes says. “When you say you’re a Christian band, it automatically puts connotations in people’s heads… and we try to avoid that connotation.”
While the band doesn’t shy away from their Christian roots, they would prefer to let the music itself do the talking.
“We write songs about our lives and the things we experience, and as Christians that’s definitely a part of our life experience,” Hoopes explains. “We’re not angry if someone calls us a Christian band, but we probably wouldn’t introduce ourselves as a Christian band.”
With the New Year quickly approaching, Relient K doesn’t have a set plan for the immediate future, which will likely include either additional touring or starting work on a new record. This reflects the band’s philosophy of taking things as they come and living life as it presents itself, which they’ve followed since day one.
“We’re honestly just thankful for the opportunities that we’ve had, and don’t expect there to be any more necessarily,” Hoopes says. “People seem to like [our music] for the most part, so we’re going to keep doing it as long as people keep coming to the shows.”
Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer and Five Score And Seven Years Ago are in stores now. For more information, visit www.relientk.com.