If you haven't already, take note of Set It Off. These young guns just released Cinematics, the band's debut full-length on Equal Vision Records. It's packed with huge hooks, dark and orchestral melodies, and fantastic lyrics. I was fortunate enough to meet up with them to talk about a variety of different topics. To top it all off, we did it in the food court of a local mall. Thanks to the band for taking time out to do it.
Everybody introduce themselves.
Hey I'm Zach and I play guitar.
I'm Austin I play bass.
I'm Maxx, I play the drums.
I'm Dan, I play guitar.
I'm Cody and I sing.
You guys just got off the Chiodos run. How was that?
Cody: It was absolutely incredible. The crowds were unreal, we got to play to a different sort of crowd, and I even got to deal with a few hecklers one night. It was an amazing experience.
Craig has a tendency to mentor, work with, and have an ear for younger bands. How did he help you guys?
Maxx: Well, you know, we just thanked him for giving us a shot. He was like "no problem."
Dan: The fact that he just gave us the shot was incredible. We weren't really on the tour long enough to truly get to know everyone, which was a bummer, but we still had a ton of fun.
You just got off the tour with Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. How did that opportunity come about? How was it?
Austin: It turned out to be really awesome. We made a lot of good friends on that tour. It was a blast. I wish it was still going.
Dan: We had submitted to a tour before for them and we got in their ear. When we got accepted for this tour, we got bumped up from opening to direct support. Our friends in Patent Pending were on it and it was great to see them play and spend a lot of time with them. Junior Doctor hopped on and they were all really great.
Austin: It was that first "next level" tour on the professional touring circuit level. We were playing to crowds bigger than 100-200 people per night. It was a nice step up for the band.
Maxx: Touring with a band like that…it's one of those bands I listened to growing up. I saw them on TV, Warped Tour, heard them on the radio, and touring with them and meeting them…it was so surreal. Same thing with Chiodos.
Austin: One of the fun things about doing these next level tours, we've been touring by ourselves and doing these headliners and DIY tours, now that we're doing these bigger tours, we're learning to play to different crowds. Different people, how to perform to a variety of fans, how to play and win them over, all the facets of growing as a band.
So what have you learned from playing to different crowds?
Cody: It's important to realize that every band has a "chip on their shoulder." You have to have confidence in your band. You have to be that way, otherwise, why the hell are you here? But when you play for a crowd, and you're a pop band playing at a pop-punk or hardcore show, there's going to be a divided line. There are going to be kids in the back. I don't mind that. There will be some kids that want that extra attention and distract everyone from the overall show and at the end of the day, the crowd will end up talking about them and not remembering you. When it comes down to it, play the music you want to play, play for the reasons that you play, and if people get in the way, just deal with it. Don't be a dick about it but deal with it as it needs to get dealt with.
New album, Cinematics, was produced by Zack and Ken. Known for their pop production, you guys went with them despite your more rock based background. Why?
Dan: I think as you said, Zack and Ken have a very big, strong pop influenced background and what we wanted to do was still be a rock band but pull of the nice pop-rock riffs, choruses, bridges, and so on but still have the heavier and orchestral sound. They've been behind some amazing records.
Cody: Maxx was in the van listening to one of We Are The In Crowd's records and I was listening to the tones on it and I was like "Holy crap, this sounds really good, who is that?" So Zach found a behind-the-scenes recording showing Zack playing viola and this meant he had a classical knowledge, so to me, this is great. So we know their tones are balls to the wall powerful, and we imagined what our sound would be like working with them. We really liked the idea of it. We worked with them a bit in the past, they mixed "@ Reply" and "In Tragedy" for the Horrible Kids record and what they did with what they had, it was unreal. So we wanted to get in there and they were super excited to work with us so it was a perfect match.
Zack and Ken are very organic producers. They really make a lot of their sounds instead of relying on digital tricks. Care to elaborate on what happened?
Cody: Well, first, there was the telephone mic. I didn't think much of it at first until they brought it out. They basically bought an old rotary telephone at a thrift store and soldered it with an audio cable and that's how you hear the vocals that sound like they're coming through a telephone instead of using digital effects.
Dan: We actually recorded through headphones. The opening line to "Swan Song" is a distorted bass and when the guitar comes in they used an Orange Tiny Terror amp and hooked it up to headphones and mic'd the headphones.
Austin: The best thing about recording with Zack and Ken is that they didn't put a limit on what they were going to do and where they were going to get creative. They were always down to try anything. They completely immersed themselves in it.
I think with this record you guys really grew up and matured. It's a full rock record more so than anything you've done before. Who were your influences for writing and how did everyone involved help out?
Cody: It's always different. Some bands have a set formula. For us, it's so sporadic every time. I think that's what makes it as dynamic as it is. Maybe we'll get the idea to, let's say, have a fast swing song. So Dan will write the guitar parts and he'll send it to me. I'll write a horn line and give it a horn feature. I think as far as maturity, every time we go on a new venture as a band, it's an opportunity to learn. I'll constantly ask writers "What do you?" or I'll try to write with somebody. People refer to co-writes as if it's such a dirty word because it's not just you, and that's bullshit. Because what people don't understand is that's like saying "I taught myself how to draw and I'm never going to learn from someone else." You write with your friends, you write with people that know what they're doing and it makes you better. We worked with this guy Erik Ron who helped with "Swan Song" and "Grand Finale" and he gave us ideas we wouldn't have thought of and vice versa. From that, we take those experiences to the next album.
Dan: He was talking about maturity-wise on the album, I can guarantee you on almost any album that someone says "I wish I did that" after the album comes out, but you save those ideas for the next record.
Maxx: I think another big thing is Zack and Ken. We came to them with all these songs and then having fresh ears, they helped develop all of these great ideas into a final product.
Cody: What's important to know is that they're very open-minded. They weren't like "This is what we say and what you have to do," but some ideas we ended up using, some we didn't, but everything they did turned out really cool.
There's a ballad on the record called "Dad's Song." Apparently from what I've heard, Zack and Ken said it's one of the saddest songs they've ever recorded. Can you give some background on it?
Cody: In 2008 I lost my father to cancer. He battled it for five years and on the morning he died I wanted to write a song about it because I know that other people write songs about their loss. I thought I'd give it a shot but I'm really overcritical so I worked on it for a long time. As soon as it was done, I'd be ready to show it and then I'd want to go back and make changes to it. So finally, after about 3 years, I'm very happy with it. The cool thing about the song is that my dad was a musician, he played the trumpet. I was left with his trumpet. There's a song called "Danny Boy" and it's the first time I had ever really seen my dad cry. Dan and I were in band together in high school and the song is basically a father telling his son that he's going off to war and that he may not come back alive. So I used that melody and changed the lyrics and I had Dan play it on my dad's trumpet since he also plays trumpet. There's a lot of things you might not get on first listen or understand unless you read the track-by-track but that's one of the things that I'm really excited about.
You just shot a music video for "Swan Song." How was that?
Austin: We shot it the last 2 days. It was pretty ridiculous shoot because we started from 9 PM and went to 9 AM and then went 6 PM to 3 AM. We stayed up all night right after doing the Chiodos dates.
Zach: It was rough but it's definitely the best music video we've ever done. I think the guys captured exactly what we wanted. A lot of bands will know what I'm talking about, you go into a shoot with all of these ideas and you want to do them, but then the director gets overambitious and then you show up and realize you can't do everything and you feel underwhelmed. They did everything we wanted and we were so stoked on it. Even our record label owner's daughter is in it. She plays a critical part and she kills it. She's like Dakota Fanning at 12 years old.
Dan: it was really cool just watching everything come to life. I felt like I was in a movie. They shot with a Sony Red Epic, which is the same camera they used for the new Spiderman and The Hobbit.
Cody: Everything is there. The production value, the picture quality, it's our best video to date. Oh, and there's fire. I can't tell you much, but I will say that there is fire.
Can you give us any inside scoop on what the video is about?
All talking at once: There's a story line, there are performance scenes, it's theatrical as hell, it fits the mood of the album.
Austin: it's very much us. Imagine our live show tenfold, and you basically get that in a music video.
Before we talk about your fall and winter touring plans, I heard about an amazing prank you pulled on Divided By Friday. Explain.
All at once: YES!
Cody: We found out that they were really into wrestling so we had this idea that when we first met them that we are going to convince them all that Zach was The Undertaker's nephew. The crazy thing about it is that he pretended like he didn't want to be part of it and he didn't want to talk about it at all. We did our homework and knew all of the questions that they were going to ask about him. They wanted to know even more. They kept asking all these questions that they thought Zach might be able to answer but he pretended like he didn't want to talk about it. Towards the end of tour, they're calling all of their friends and family saying who they are touring with and that it's so amazing and so on and so on. On Cinco de Mayo, we have these huge fake mustaches on and we get the sound and lighting guy to turn all the lights to blue and turn on his theme music during their set which is exactly what he would do if he was entering the ring on television. We also had the door guy put The Undertaker's real name on the guest list so the band thought that he might actually come. So while this is all happening they're all excited but then they see us come out onstage in our mustaches and get disappointed really fast. Maxx grabbed the mic and said "You fools!" We still love them to death, but they don't know they are currently in the middle of another prank. (Interviewer's note: The prank is finished. They pretended to have Chris Jericho of the metal band Fozzy recording with Zack and Ken and convince Divided By Friday they just missed him in the studio.)
Now let's talk about the tour plans for you guys that involve Sparks The Rescue and Handguns, and also the There For Tomorrow tour. What are your expectations and how do you plan on going about those tours?
Cody: We have heard a lot of great things about both Sparks The Rescue and Handguns so we were really excited when the opportunity came up to be able to tour with both of those bands. We will definitely be catering our set to the audiences that we'll be playing. For example, on the Chiodos tour, there's a song that has a lot of screaming and a breakdown so we were going to throw that into our set to please the crowd but for the pop punk tour we're going to play a pop punk style set. For the There For Tomorrow tour, we are going to play a more rock-based set. It just depends on the audience and you have to cater to the audience in order to retain their attention. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can have the ability to tour with a lot of different bands yet still be Set It Off.
Dan: That's the cool thing about the new record. There are songs on there that can go over well with a lot of different crowds.
Austin: Off-topic really fast we do you want to talk about the fact that we are supporting a charity. We are trying to raise $5000 that will be matched by Equal Vision if it's raised. Basically from the preorders to the end of the first week of record sales, we will be donating one dollar to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation. If we hit the #1 spot on Billboard Heatseekers we will bump it up to $5000 which will be matched for a total of $10000.
Cody: The program donates money to high school music programs to keep the arts alive. As I said previously in the interview that's how Dan and I met and the band wouldn't happen had we not been involved together in a lot of different ensembles and bands in high school. Maxx was involved with stuff in his high school. It made us who we are. Our character, our work ethic, our drive – it made us who we are today and we are proud to support that organization. We didn't have a lot of friends in high school so we went to the band room and that was our safe haven. You watch the show Glee but that was really what we experienced. We were always being threatened that funding would be cut and our program would die. So this is our opportunity to give back and really help out what inspired us. A lot of what we learned then has helped us write the music that we do now and we certainly wouldn't be the musicians that we are without that program.
Austin: We just want to help give back as much as we can. As we try become a bigger band we want to help shape and promote the things that helped us become who we are today. We don't want to forget our roots because they mean so much to us.
This is been a really fantastic the long interview so let's wrap this up. Anything left to say?
All talking at once: Just thank you so much for the interview. Thank you so much for supporting our band throughout the years. You guys have no idea how much it means to have your backing. Check out our new album and come see us live and hang out with us. We want to meet all of you.
I really disagree with his position on co-writes. sure, that person 'knows what they're doing', but isn't it the artist who's supposed to know how to write a proper song? I mean almost every artist uses a producer anyways, going for a co-writer to me is the extra mile that says "I am not able to write this release by myself".