This interview was conducted with Mike Carden of The Academy Is... on February 16, 2005 at the "Truckstops and State Lines" tour in Atlanta, GA. A big thank you to Mike for his time and Kate for getting it all set up.
AP: How’s the tour been so far? Any crazy stories or anything?
Mike: When we were in England right before this tour, it was pretty crazy, just because kids over there go nuts. This tour’s been crazy as far as—I think the bill is crazy, to be honest with you. I think it’s completely stacked. We got really fortunate in the sense that we got to put this bill together that’s insane. It was probably because the week before, it ended up that three of the four bands were on MTV, on TRL, so it was just like, “What the hell?” This is a stacked tour.
AP: When was the tour planned?
Mike: A long time ago, October or November. It was right when Panic[! at the Disco]’s record came out. Panic was supposed to be the first out of the four bands on the tour—Pete [Wentz] called us and was like, “Dude, you gotta put this band on the tour.” And I’m like, “OK man, alright, I will, we’re brothers, it’s all good.” Go figure, right?
AP: Haha yeah, they’ve sold what now, 220,000?
Mike: Yeah, absolutely, they’re kicking ass. They’ve got their shit going on.
AP: You guys are headlining the tour—do you notice people leaving right after Panic’s set?
Mike: No, never, never. I mean, to be honest, Panic’s a different animal than anyone I’ve ever toured with or anything, especially on AbsolutePunk, no one’s ever really seen this ever happen. There’ve been bands that flew, and I would say our career, The Academy Is…’, has flown really fast, extremely fast, but they are just a whole other monster. And, the fact is, the guys are great dudes. Really good dudes. We went to the UK with them, we get along with them, obviously the whole Fueled By Ramen thing, there’s a family vibe there—I don’t even think they know what’s going on to be honest with you. It really takes the tour up a notch too, because, the fact is, record sales are record sales, even though they haven’t toured that much. They should go headline after this.
AP: You mentioned you guys were on TRL a little earlier, you had gone on with Panic—how was that?
Mike: It was great. It was bizarre, to a certain extent.
AP: Is it what you were expecting?
Mike: When we wrote Almost Here, we had no clue any of this was going to happen. That was one of the main monumental moments where we were just like “Holy shit!”
AP: What was the day like?
Mike: It was a lot of press before that, so we were doing press for MTV, MTV2, mtvU—mtvU has been a big supporter of The Academy Is…, which is how basically the TRL thing happened. And when we did the TRL thing, the funny thing is, we came in there and were kinda like, “Well, I don’t know, they don’t really—other than Fall Out Boy, and a few other bands, they’re not very hip to what’s going on”—but the fact of the matter is all the people working there knew who we were, were so excited, so it was a very warm vibe. I was completely impressed as far as the knowledge they had. I had a great time.
AP: Is that kinda where you’d like to see the band go, the TRL-type crowd? Does it matter to you what kind of people like your music?
Mike: Here’s the thing, Almost Here has been out for a year—I think it was out for 40 something weeks when we did TRL, and we played “Checkmarks,” which is a song we’ve been playing for the past two years—we didn’t change anything. We’ve just kept doing what we’ve been doing. And the fact was, from my understanding when we got asked to do it—we’ve turned MTV down many times—but this was “Spankin New Music” rock week, they were gonna bring Hellogoodbye, Panic’s gonna walk on, “You’re gonna be playing with Avenged Sevenfold,” so we were like “Cool, this makes sense.” It’d be different if Lil Bow Wow was on there or something. And the other thing we were really concerned about, which is always an issue on TV, was that we play live shows—I was very concerned before—“Are they gonna have people in the crowd right next to us?”, and they did, and they agreed to that, which was very important, where it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re playing on TV, it feels like you’re playing a little show, or a little VFW hall show, so it’s great. It’s totally cool.
AP: Once you guys get bigger—not that you’re not big right now—but once you start getting more and more on TRL and that kind of stuff, I’m sure there are gonna be some fans who will start hating you guys for the sole reason that you’re popular. It happens to pretty much every band that gets semi-big. Is there anything you’d like to say about that?
Mike: Well, the fact is—I’m not sure how familiar you are with our web site—no matter how far the band goes and what tours we do, we feel like updating—if it’s video journals, or if it’s photo journals, or if it’s written journals—I think that’s kind of a way to—if kids aren’t happy, then we don’t know what to do. If people are going to react in a negative way towards the band because we’re getting successful, I don’t have an answer to that. But what I can say, is that we’re gonna do everything we can, because we enjoy it, the fact that we can show ourselves and be truthful on the website. We’ve had numerous conversations with Pete [Wentz], especially when they were on the road up, probably a few months ago, where he didn’t know, he was like—“Are we doing this right?” “Absolutely, your videos are great, you guys are who you are.” I think with a band like Fall Out Boy, with a band like us, with a band like Panic, there’s a few other bands, they can spread to wider audiences, you know what I mean? I think being from that kind of school, that mentality, I think we’ll keep going. I’ll do interviews like this, I’ll update the site, I’ll make sure the guys are doing what they’re doing, cause I think it’s very important to keep that bond with your fans.
AP: If I remember correctly, people didn’t take all that well to the EP you first put out.
Mike: Definitely, I think there was a backlash.
AP: Was that in the back of your minds when you were writing Almost Here? I know you wrote “Black Mamba,” which is about that criticism, but even if in the song you say you don’t care what critics have to say, you’re still writing a song about it.
Mike: To be honest, we don’t care in the sense—when the EP came out, we were just a bunch of kids, which we still are, and it was hard because we were going, “Man, we’re just trying to do something. We’re just trying to be a little band and put out EPs and have fun and be on our friend’s label. We’re not trying to get shit, we’re just trying to do it.” And I think that was more the mentality—“What’s wrong with this? What is with kids being so negative about everything?” It’s very easy to be a hater. The fact of the matter is that nine out of ten bands don’t succeed. So it’s easy to put your money—“Oh, fuck that band. Fuck that record.” You know what I mean? “That ain’t going anywhere.” You’re probably right, it probably won’t. But “Black Mamba,” in a sense, when that song was written, he had this guitar line, and I was talking to William, “Why don’t we write something about it?” And he was saying, “Should it be very direct?” And I was like, “Yeah man, it should be really direct.” So he came up with that, and there have been bands we’ve been compared to and everything else, blah blah blah, so I think that was a nice and cool way to kind of say—and you know, it turned out to be a really cool tune, I really like it, I enjoy playing it. It’s hard, that was written two years ago, so I think we stand in a different place now. I can’t really explain what that song’s about to a certain extent, because we’ve changed, you know?
AP: On the topic of bad reviews, I really don’t see that much shit talking on you guys and Almost Here, especially for the level that you’re at.
Mike: I agree. I think we’ve made our mark to a certain extent. It’s funny, because Almost Here was kind of a metaphor for making it in the music business, a lot of the themes in it. But the thing is, it’s not necessarily negative, there are a lot of hopeful aspects to it too. For example, “Phrase That Pays,” especially in the chorus, it’s hopeful. Some reviewers take it very directly and are going “This is a record about making a record” blah blah blah. But I don’t think so, I think you can take that metaphor in anything you’re doing, if that’s being a writer, or if that’s going to school, or if that’s finding a college you want to go to, I think that’s why people react to it, because they are metaphors for a lot of things.
AP: It’s really surprising, especially for a band of your size. I mean, pretty much the only negative things I see people saying are, “William looks like a 14 year old girl” or “He looks like Adam Lazarra”—and it’s like, “Oh, good one.”
Mike: It’s just like anything—say, when Pete gets crap, or the guys from Acceptance—“Oh the label isn’t pushing the record.” Whenever I go on AbsolutePunk, it’s always that. Everyone gets their little tangent that they go on a band with. You know what I mean? They find a little thing, and they run with it.
AP: There’s one thing that people keep on saying, but I don’t see it at all, and it’s that “They’re just a Fall Out Boy” rip-off. I don’t see it. What other criticism have you received, and how do you take it?
Mike: I mean, in the UK, for example, they call it all emo—“The Emo Invasion.” And we laugh at it, because to me, we’re just a, whatever—it’s funny when you read the headlines and it says “Emo Rock Invasion” or “Emo Punk Invasion.” So I don’t know, I take that stuff lightly. We almost throw the word around so much—
AP: Haha, that’s not too bad of a criticism at all.
Mike: Ultimately, I think as the band grows, in the live show and the new record, we’ll turn into a rock band, and I think that’s what we’re going for anyways. I think the “emo” thing is just a vehicle, so it throws us off, because I think we do separate from a lot of bands that do—just kind of, there’s a lot of bands which do have very mediocre records which I would call “emo” or “scene” records.
AP: I’d say you guys are more just pop than anything else. But yeah, last I’ll stop talking about it, people on message boards are harsh, so it’s interesting to see not that much shit on you guys.
Mike: Right, well, I take it all very lightly, you know?
AP: So when you worked with Wisner on the full length, did he work with you guys a lot to take your songs to the next level, or was it just a matter of you guys growing up?
Mike: No, we’ve grown up. To be honest, that record was recorded in two and a half weeks. We did drums in a day in a half, right after the bat—right when we got there, we started drums.
AP: Oh, so you didn’t do any pre-production with him or anything like that? Did he help arrange the songs?
Mike: No, no, nothing like that—cause at that point, that was right when Fall Out Boy was getting semi-successful, so as far as Fueled By Ramen goes, they were a pretty chill label. They didn’t have a lot of money to throw around necessarily, right? So, when we made that record, it was very “DIY”—we didn’t have management in place, we didn’t have anything. It was just me and John Janick actually, who’s the head of Fueled By Ramen. He was a good guy though, Wisner was very cool, he helped out as far as vocals and some of the harmonies and stuff, he was instrumental in that.
AP: How many songs do you have written so far for the new CD?
Mike: We have a bunch. It’s funny because every time a tour comes up, we say “Let’s do it, let’s do it.” We always want to tour. I don’t know how familiar you are with the tour schedules, but we really have not had a break since Almost Here came out, and before that. Right now, with the songs, we have a bunch of basically acoustic songs that are going to turn into rock songs.
AP: Cool, so “The Fever” will be a rock song?
Mike: Right, you’ll see the full-fledged version tonight and go “Wow, that’s way different.”
AP: In what way is the new material different from Almost Here? What can listeners expect from the new songs?
Mike: I think it’s along the lines of Almost Here. I think there are musical changes that we’ve grown up a little bit, as far as our taste in music goes. I don’t think it’s a departure where I’m gonna say “We’re gonna change over—“, you know what I mean? It’s not going to be one of those things. We’re very comfortable, we like playing the songs on Almost Here. We’re happy doing that. As far as the new songs go, I think the lyrics especially, I think William’s writing now really blows my mind at times. He’s really dead on at times. Not that he isn’t on Almost Here, but I think he’s just grown. So I’m excited. I can’t say too much because it’s hard when you’re in the thick of writing, you kind of—you write, right? So when people criticize your work, you’re like “Wow, I didn’t even…” you know what I mean? “I didn’t even think about that.” So it’s a lot like that.
AP: How far along in the process are you?
Mike: I guess there’s probably a good 15 to 20 right now.
AP: Do you know when you might be going into the studio?
Mike: I don’t know, because, as you know, Almost Here is a weird animal where it just keeps growing. For example, the record sales in just the beginning of this year have been extremely cool, they’ve been doing very well. So it’s hard when a record’s still picking up steam, and “Slow Down” just got released as the next single/video—a few radio stations are starting to play “Slow Down,” which is really nice because they’re doing it on their own.
AP: Being where you’re at, the success you’ve had so far, is there any pressure to keep the same sound as Almost Here, to please fans or the label? I know you mentioned earlier that the new songs are somewhat similar to Almost Here, but is there a conscious effort to keep it that way, or is that just what comes naturally?
Mike: On Almost Here, we wrote kind of folkier songs, they were actually kind of campfire songs with just an acoustic guitar and singing. Then when you add all the instruments and the distortion and the drums come in, it adds a whole new life to it, which we’re just touching on right now, so it’s hard for me to say, because the dynamic of the whole band, the environment the song’s in, makes a huge difference to people. The riff, clean, palm muted, whatever, you know what I mean? It makes a big difference. But initially, I think all the songs that are written, I think the skeletons are really good. There’s stuff that we can really work with.
AP: Do you know who you might want to work with on the new album?
Mike: I don’t know. I mean, we’ve been talking to a few people. One of the main guys who enjoys the band is this guy named Chris Sheldon, and he mixed The Colour and the Shape by the Foo Fighters. He came to a few of the shows in the UK, and he digs the band and he likes Almost Here, he’s someone that we’ve always loved.
AP: So you and William are the main songwriters of the band, if I’m not mistaken.
Mike: Yes, on Almost Here, yes. Now the band has changed a bit, because there was a member change after Almost Here. So Tom and The Butcher have come in. The Butcher is an amazing songwriter in his own right, and we’re trying to figure out this triangle right now, because he comes in with songs that are way different. He brings in a whole new element. He’s just a hell of a dude. He’s a musician, he plays guitar, he does everything, so it’s a very nice addition to The Academy Is….
AP: Do the other two members have input in the writing?
Mike: Adam, definitely. He’s a great guy as far as when it comes to—for example, when a song’s done he can really come in and say “I like this part, and this part, and this part,” and I go, “Wow, ok.” So he kind of does a more overall thing, more of a producer kind of thing, where maybe he’s not in the trenches with us working on parts, but he can give us his advice. And Tom’s great too, because he’s got a good ear and listens to a lot of great music. He’s probably the most musically diverse member.
AP: One reader was wondering why the old members weren’t included in the liner notes, though they had played on the record, and the new guys were. Was that just a mistake?
Mike: Yeah, we were pressing the record and we were on tour with I think Something Corporate—at that point, you don’t think of certain things, you know what I mean, because you’re band’s tiny, it’s nothing, it’s non-existent. I talk to AJ, the old guitar player, he’s at school and he’s a great dude. He’s writing songs on his own and everything else. I haven’t talked to the old drummer in a while, but everything seems cool.
AP: Do you have plans for a third single?
Mike: Um, no, not right now. It’s up in the air though. “Phrase” is a great song I think, “Classifieds” is a really neat song I think that is kind of a little different. We never really think of that stuff. For “Slow Down” we were like—we had this concept, with the whole Hollywood hills thing, it seemed like a cool idea.
AP: You have a new acoustic EP coming out on Tuesday—a lot of people were wondering why it’s a digital only release.
Mike: It’s more of a fan thing, I guess. I don’t think it’s a hard release where it’s something we want to be noted for, as far as a full-fledged release. If you’re into TAI TV or you go to the message board, or you like the LiveJournal community, it’s more kind of like that. That’s not to say it won’t be a hard pressing at some time, it might come out with a DVD—as you can see, we’re filming a lot on this tour. I understand though. The thing is with iTunes, as a band, we’re understanding that things are moving with the times. I used to be very anti-iPod, to where I now have one. I had to. I can’t carry around a huge booklet of CDs. One of our plans is to release more material, even between records, on iTunes. When you do a hard pressing, it’s expensive. It takes more time, you need artwork—this is more of a pro way to do digital music, yet not giving it away completely for free. The label and the artist get a little bit, but not a ton, you know?
AP: Someone was wondering if you were putting the EP out to get out of your Fueled by Ramen contract.
Mike: No, no, no, not at all. Here’s the thing: Almost Here is 10 songs, right? And I know our fans dig that record and in the back of our minds, we want to put out new material, but you can’t just lay out a bunch of demos, you know? Well who knows, we might, actually. To me, it’s kind of a bridging between Almost Here and the new record—something to chew on, I guess, while you’re waiting for the new one.
AP: Could you talk a little bit about how you got signed by Fueled By Ramen?
Mike: It was funny because at that point, we’d been friends with Fall Out Boy for a long time, just playing VFW shows, I was in this band—Fall Out Boy actually opened up for us. And this is way back when, when nothing was going on. So at that point, Pete called me, and we were playing a show at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago, and he said “I’m going to bring this guy out, his name’s John Janick, he owns Fueled By Ramen, he wants to check the band out, he heard the EP” etc. So I’m like, “Cool, right on.” So that’s where the whole Pete thing comes in. I believe Fall Out Boy had probably sold 10,000 or 20,000 records at that point, so he didn’t have any crazy pull, but he basically did it more as a favor. For example, if you need a place to say in Chicago, I’ll hook you up, you know? So, likewise, same kind of idea. John came out for three days, spent some time, we played him some of the new acoustic songs for Almost Here, and we basically signed to Fueled By Ramen, long story short. There weren’t any big expectations, John was like, “Write the record, we’ll get you in a studio, we can’t spend a lot of money” just because it’s an indie label, you know? At that point, Fueled By Ramen wasn’t the label it is today.
AP: You guys are releasing Almost Here overseas with Atlantic in the near future—any plans for them to release the new one here in the US?
Mike: There’s definitely talk about it. It’s traveling at a point where—an indie label has a certain glass ceiling that it hits. Just because. That’s just how it goes. So as long as we stay in control, as we do—we work really well with people at Fueled By Ramen. For example, we have a good friend Johnny Minardi there who’s doing retail, and he used to be with LLR records, and Tony, our tour manager, was with LLR records. So I think we’ll always have people from Johnny to John Janick dealing with us, it’s just a matter if the higher-ups come in. What it comes down to is if they give money to make a cool video. That’s about it, when it comes down to it, you know?
AP: Yeah, personally I don’t care, but it seems like a lot of people care if a band’s on a major or not.
Mike: Yeah, it was weird, because when the first few bands in this scene kind of moved out, everyone was kind of going “Oh no, no, no, no, no,” but now to be honest, Coheed to Brand New to Saves the Day to Fall Out Boy to My Chem have all made the jump and most of them have been pretty successful, if not very successful, so they’ve kind of done it for us, as far as that, you know what I mean—
AP: Right, they’ve set the stage.
AP: What’s something fun or special people might not know about you guys?
Mike: That right now we’ve been in a band for 2 years with basically this line up, and to be honest, as we sit here today, we’re in the best of spirits. It’s never been better to be a band right now. There’s basically one show that’s not sold out, which is Boise. We’ve got an amazing tour—I feel like it’s a tour that is going to be talked about for a while.
AP: Right, I think every one of these band is gonna break.
Mike: The whole package is great, and I’m really glad that we got to do what we’re doing, because I think it’s more than just an Academy Is…’ headlining tour, or just an XBOX tour, it’s a movement with all these bands.
AP: I think people are gonna look band and say, “Whoa. Fuck.” when they talk about the tour.
Mike: When I call home and my dad or something says, “Did you see these eBay tickets?” and I go “Holy shit!” you know, where people are scalping em. In New Jersey, I felt really horrible, I believe there were about 30 kids that got turned away because they bought fake scalped tickets. $50 bucks a pop, which is horrible. So we tried to get 7 or 8 of them in with a guest list, but that place is tiny anyways. When you see that shit going on, on one hand, it’s horrible, on another, it’s an indicator of how big this tour really is, and what people are willing to do to get in. It’s just insanity to me.
AP: What’ve you been listening to lately?
Mike: I like the new OK Go record a lot, I think it’s great. I like the new Depeche Mode record. I like listening to Panic every night. Men, Women, & Children, right. We drink a little bit to that.
AP: What’s the one thing you and the band can’t live without on the road? Sidekicks?
Mike: None of us have Sidekicks actually. I know, it’s the new thing right? I mean, my cell phone I guess because I’m always talking to the label and the management, and I’m doing interviews and making sure everything’s nice, and talking to friends at home. The other thing we can’t live without is our crew. Our crew is great. Chad is great, Tony’s great, we got this new guy Nasty Nate who’s doing guitar teching, and he’s a great guy to hang out with. We try to surround ourselves with really nice people to work with, because that makes it all that more fun, rather than making it just business, you know?
AP: Anything crazy on your rider?
Mike: Um, no, Butcher wanted Clif bars, so that’s about as crazy as we get. The new thing we like is—we got sick of making sandwiches, so Tony and I decided—you know how Subway has the wraps? Like the tortilla wraps? Now we’re eating sandwiches with those.
AP: That’s about the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.
Mike: Every once in a while maybe we don’t want ham and we’ll ask for turkey. We’re simple people and good dudes.
AP: What advice do you have for younger bands?
Mike: There’s two things. A lot of guys will say, “Go out and tour and break your band.” I think that is important, but also to write songs and find a sound for yourselves. Before you go out and do label shopping, and go out and start the van tour, I think it’s important to develop your sound. Develop something you’re all really happy with, you know what I mean?
AP: Right, if you don’t have the songs, who’s going to listen? Just touring won’t get you anywhere.
Mike: Absolutely. The music speaks louder than—I mean, there’s hard working bands out there, and there’s very ambitious people, but I will stand by this, there are bands that come up with unique sounds and are talented musicians, and in conjunction with the website to the touring to a great label, you can do wonders.
AP: With Panic, people complain that they never toured—but hey, they wrote the songs. Give them credit.
Mike: The music speaks louder to a certain extent.
AP: If people like the music, they like the music.
Mike: When you hear bands, for example, break out on a single, if the single’s great, well then it’s great. So they didn’t tour for 10 years. There are also bands like Modest Mouse that have been writing songs, writing songs, writing songs, and then they make it. Or Death Cab, for example.
AP: There are also plenty of other bands that are great, but they may not be marketed well, etc. etc.
Mike: Right, there’s tons of reasons, tons of things that could go wrong.
AP: Any side projects or anything in the works?
Mike: We’re just focusing on this. As you’ve seen, it takes up all my time, as well as all the other guys’ time. Siski Business will write a few rap songs every once in a while, but those are more for humor and yet to be released. Look for that I guess.
AP: What’s the craziest thing a fan’s done for you guys?
Mike: Some of these extraordinary scrapbooks that they make, where you start seeing pictures of yourself from every city that they’ve been to, and you’re like “Fuck, I wore that shirt way too many times.” But no, those are nice. William just had his birthday, so people were really bringing in cool gifts, which we were all really thrown back by and respected. It’s crazy to a certain extent to put a book together and take a long time to do it for your favorite band, but I see how if that affects you in the right way and you’re doing it for the right reasons, well, good for you. Thank you.
AP: What’s your favorite place to eat on the road?
Mike: Eat on the road… ooh. I do dig the House of Blues now because the catered food is amazing there. New York’s always great, just because a few of the guys, myself included, like sushi. Every once in a while we’ll go and hit up something nice. Thai food, we’re always hip to. Adam loves pizza, so he knows all the good pizza places in the country.
AP: What’s the dirtiest or nastiest thing you guys’ve done?
Mike: Hmm. Yeah. Every once in a while we’ll do some crazy shit. For example, someone will be on the bus or in the hotel room and have a camera and we’ll just take shitty pictures of stuff, and when they develop it…. So we never really know, we don’t get much feedback from it, but it’s kind of the thought that counts. I don’t think I even know what the pictures will have on them, but I don’t think it’s pretty, if that answers your question.
AP: Sure does. Well, thank you very much for your time, I’ve probably kept you much longer than you like. Anything you’d like to say to the readers of AbsolutePunk?
Mike: Thank you for supporting the band, AbsolutePunk for posting and being supporters, I know a lot of the administrators enjoy our band, which is great. Go to the website, and to all the readers, life is fun. Enjoy it. I see our friends sometimes get a lot of shit on there. Just enjoy yourself and take it easy. Life’s not that bad. Bands are just out here having a good time, they enjoy writing songs and touring, and I get a little depressed at times when people really try to kick their ass about things. We’ll see you soon!
nice interview. The guys appear to be really cool and it was nice of him to answer all of those questions. To be honest, Im surprised that I made it through that whole interview. But i guess I did because it was so well done, props.