Big thanks to Ben for answering these questions for me!
What is different in the direction you took for this album than you did the last?
The biggest difference is that we made a song based record this time around. We were really interested in telling different stories throughout the twelve songs on this album, both musically and lyrically. in the end, in retrospect, an umbrella sound and lyrical theme fell over the whole thing, but as opposed to our last CD, that came after the whole creation of it.
What gave you the idea to make "What to Do When You Are Dead" a concept album?
The first two songs I wrote for that album were in the voice of me being dead because it was for some reason easier for me to think like that, and after trying to re-write those lyrics, I thought it would be cool to just make it into a story and keep pretending I was dead. I kinda creeped myself out sometimes.
In the song Chemicals are you referencing your past drug usage? (Do you have a history of drug usage?)
This is a weird thing to talk about, usually I would shy away from this question, but I wrote the song so I owe it to everyone to explain. Yes, it is about a period of my life where I used drugs...specifically about how drug use became the staple of a relationship that I had with someone. After a while, that became ALL we had in common and I watched that person slip away. Once I stopped doing drugs I realized that we no longer had anything in common and there was really nothing I could do for them. This song is about how I got swept into the whole thing, but it's also about how drug use is a twisted cycle...and also about how I miss my friend.
What possessed you guys to leave "the way out is broken" off the new CD?
Either we will release it as a b-side, or it's something we can keep working on and maybe put on a future record. It just was an oddball on this one. We all love that song though. It's not going away.
Please describe this experience with hipsters that led to the amazingly bitter song "Williamsburg."
We are from New Jersey. Being so close to New York City, we have spent many years wandering the city and hanging out pretty much everywhere. I guess we started hanging out at parties like "misshapes" when people actually went there a few years ago, and I guess "hipsters" would hang out there too. What exactly is a hipster? That's like asking, what exactly is emo? It's the same concept. There really is no absolute truth. for instance, if someone asks if Armor For Sleep is emo I say something like "eh, call us what you want." how lame would it be if I said " we are emo, I am EMO, I EMBRACE EVERYTHING EMO'' I think there's just something inherently lame about people CLAIMING they ARE some subculture. So anyway, getting back to my story, there were always people who dressed like they were living in 1983 and who listened to The Faint and yada yada yada, that's all good. (I kinda do too)....the annoying part is when I met people who were so STEREOTYPICALLY hipster and even stated that they WERE hipsters like they didn't get the memo that that is embarrassing to do. Like, even the captain of the high school football team doesn't walk around school shaking people's hands proclaiming "yo what's up guys, I AM A JOCK".
These people were basically the impostors of the people who probably really could only afford vintage glasses and who did really like Fischerspooner dance parties. Another thing that got to me about this selected group of people was that I knew them from childhood. I knew they listened to the same Saves The Day and Midtown records that I did growing up, but when they talked about music they denied that that ever happened. And on a more serious note, I had a friend who ended up ruining her life by getting caught up in the drugs that she associated with that lifestyle. It's just bad news bears all around but we're not trying to wage some war here. It's just a song about people who put you down and how lame they really are.
Do you think your fans will respond positively to the message of this record?
I do. Our fans accept us for who we are and know that we are going to do something different every time around. I know people will have a certain attachment to WTDWYAD, but I know they will also have an attachment to this one. I think we're always going to put songs on our records that are about things you've never heard songs about before, but I'm also going to put songs on our records that really come from my heart. I'll never stop doing that.
Do you think that writing about today's society will cause your fans to live their lives differently?
I don't think so. I hope not at least. To me the whole obsession with reality TV is an observation I'm making about our culture right now. I don't think I'm telling anyone to microwave their TVs, I just thought it would be cool to write a song about someone locked in a self imposed reality TV show.
What do you hope the new record will accomplish?
First and foremost I hope people can exist with it for a bit and have it be something special in their lives. Music is supposed enrich your life while you're listening to it, and also once you've turned it off. If some of these songs can speak to people, that's all I can ask for.
Are you going to release any of your b-sides from smile for them?
Yeah! This is the first time where we have a pretty big chunk of b-sides that we really still love as much as some songs off the actual record. We will release them somehow...I would imagine pretty soon.
How was making the jump to a major?
It was fine. There wasn't any big change in how we do anything. The music industry is so much different now than it used to be. Majors used to think they had it figured out and they would sign bands and mold them to their liking, now it's the complete opposite. They know they can't create bands anymore...they know it's really hard for them to even BREAK bands at all. This means, they trust bands that have done well and encourage them to keep doing things their own way...i.e. us. Our label really liked our approach to making records and they encouraged us to be as creative as possible. It was awesome.
Did they have much to do with the album or did they pretty much let you guys do your thing?
They let us do their own thing. They had high hopes for the record. They signed us because they liked our sound and had faith that we could be an important band. I always thought we could too. If anything, they really helped us have the confidence to go in there and do our thing.
Why did you decide to not renew with EVR?
We could have renewed our contract with EVR and I'm sure they would have done an amazing job with the record. I just think we wanted to switch it up a little bit and take a chance.
I've read that you take each fan criticisms very personally - that said, how do you feel about some fan's being disappointed with "Smile for Them", and how do you cope with that. Does it only add fuel to your fire when it comes to writing and performing?
I remember when WTDWYAD came out. People SERIOUSLY bashed it. There were kids sooo attached to dream to make believe that they were irrate that we didn't write songs about sleeping anymore. I got the "concept record-most played out idea EVVVVER" email sooo many times. I was really bewildered and upset then, but now I completely get it. We are not a band like Fall OutBoy...what I mean is, FOB are such an immediate band. You know right when the song comes on if you like it or not. But with us, I think it takes a minute to really get our records. Why? I dunno. It's not like we are doing anything crazy, but for some reason it's just different with us. People did not really get WTDWYAD for a while... for at least a year I think. I understand there are going to be some fans so tied up in that record that they can't see past it. Honestly, that feels kind of good to some extent. At least they love that one! But seriously, all I can do is have faith that we poured everything into this record and that it's something that will find its way into the hearts and minds of people. I know it will. It just takes time. I've written back to so many people who asked me questions about the new songs and I go back and forth with them until they either see my side orthey don't. I like having those conversations. However, it's hard not to feel sucker punched when someone signs online and shits on the most important thing in your life and won't give you a chance to defend it.
What does it feel like to see your fans singing all the words back to you every night?
It's really weird. Sometimes it doesn't seem real and I have to remind myself mid song that they are actually feeling the same thing I am at the moment. Sometimes I get lost in that thought and worry that I might forget the next words.
What do you think of your album leaking?
Our albums leaking I think have always helped us in some way. This time our album leaked only about three weeks before the CD came out which I think was fine. Most of the people who scrambled and found it online was probably fans anyway and I would hope would buy it.
What do you think about Radiohead letting fans set the price for their new album?
I think it's amazing. I think that might actually be more influential than any of the music they've created. No one is buying CDs anymore. It's obsolete. How long did people still buy pocket calculators after computers were being made available? For a little bit.
What bands would you like to tour with in the near future?
I would love to tour with Thrice or Paulson.
What do you think about the current New Jersey music scene?
It's dead pretty much. When I was in high school it was a paradise. There were five shows a weekend...all done by kids for kids. It was insane. Even when bands like NFG would come through they would stand on stage marveling at how much energy there was. That was the nebula that created bands like us...even My Chem and Senses Fail. But unfortunately, there just doesn't seem to be that local energy anymore. I don't know what to do.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
If you ever got to guest star on a TV show, what show would it be?
What a fucking awesome interview. Great questions too. Good to know "the way out is broken" still has a future -- I was pretty upset it wasn't on the record. Ben is such a fucking cool dude. I hope they put out another DVD -- the last one was hilarious and entertaining.
Yes, tour with THRICE! Paulson would be a bit weird because it's two different sounds but hey, whatever works.