The Academy Is...
Designer Magazine's Alex McCann met Chicago's The Academy Is... on their debut UK tour proper playing to sold out venues on a package tour with Panic! At The Disco.
A true band of the Myspace generation the tour has seen capacity venues rammed through word of mouth alone as the band are yet to release their debut record. Picked up Pete Wentz, bassist for Fall Out Boy and all round A&R supremo, the band are being picked up by Fall Out Boy's fans but are striking out with their own identity which owes as much to the classic Rolling Stones and Beatles records as it does the latest rock sensations.
Throughout the Summer the band are set to support Fall Out Boy on a European tour as well as be one of the main attractions on this years Warped tour. Read on with a Soak exclusive with TAI's guitarist Mike Carden.
Q: The Academy Is... haven't released the album yet, these dates sold out in the UK purely by word of mouth and the power of Myspace. It's pretty mad?
A: Absolutely. We came here once if i'm not mistaken of October last year, so less than 6 months ago, and we're back. It's great. We've put a strong package together as well which really helped out. We brought two bands that are smoking up in the US and here its likewise, and you don't see it here so it's kinda more surprising. You hear here and there that tickets are going well so you're like this is great. Im totally happy.
Q: Where did you play last time you came to the UK?
A: They were like Barfly's. So we did our headlining run through that Barfly circuit that you guys did over. In Manchester we played the In The City festival that you guys have over here. Obviously that was our first time so we got slotted in around midnight so it was hard for every kid to stay around, but In The City is such an amazing event to play - hasn't it discovered Oasis and Coldplay?
Back home on the next run we're playing anywhere from the smallest being about 1000 to 2700 capacity and we have a chain of House of Blues, kinda like your Barfly's but bigger, and when you do a tour even though not every venue is a House Of Blues it just ends up being called a House Of Blues tour.
Q: Who's idea was it to team up you and Panic! At The Disco for this package tour?
A: It was our idea. Panic were putting out a record and we were on the Warped Tour. So we were thinking let's get a headline tour together while we were doing the All American Rejects tour. I got a rough copy of Panic's record of Pete from Fall Out Boy and I liked it and thought they could do very well. We're label mates so we said let's do it and I think to everyone's surprise the record has done really well, especially in the states.
Q: The thing about this tour is you're two quite different bands, but it slots together so nicely?
A: Somehow I think we share fans and that our fans are their fans. Once I think they've seen the live shows they end up fans of both bands. It's just a enjoyable little package of 2 hours of music.
Q: Is it a pressure or a relief to you...the fact that you've sold out this tour before the album's even been released over here?
A: I think it's a combination, but not to downplay any of it, with the internet and Myspace and Purevolume it's a whole new way to find out about a band and break a band. It's a weird word of mouth where it's not necessarily me and you speaking together but it's the zines, the website, livejournals and the message boards and once you start doing that, especially with Panic and us it's definitely and indicator that music will forever be changed. For me that's the best part because then it does start from the music, you're not seeing this image in a magazine or seeing it from the TV. You might see a small picture, a profile and then you see a few tracks and the connection is much sooner. It's basically our website through some cables to your computer, there's no middle person, especially on our website where we update it personally and take pride in it ourselves.
So in answering your question I don't feel nervous at all because I think it is natural, if anything more natural than it ever has been. Before you had to hear a band on a radio station or see a big advert in a magazine, now you can get bands that are freshly signed, having a fanbase and playing very respectable venue sizes.
Q: Going back to the very first steps of The Academy Is... weren't you and William's in rival bands to start with?
A: It was funny because it was all just different little bands. I had a band, Bill had a project, Fall Out Boy were in there. In the press it's something people always want to talk about and there's always a friendly competition, it wasn't like we all hated each other. At one stage I was out of a band so I asked him if he wanted to start a rock band and here we are the Academy Is... Enemies was definitely the wrong word, i'd like to think healthy competition.
The band I was in previous to this was called Jodie. It was all bad (laughs). It did a lot in terms of seeing Fall Out Boy, becoming friends and now, like four years later, a lot of these bands are popping out into their own. Who knew that? I didn't know. We sounded pretty different from the Academy Is, we were a lot harder, but then the EP we put out at The Academy is a bit different to. I guess it wasn't until we started writing the album that we really found the sound that we call The Academy Is now.
Q: When I listen to you now I think of the band as classic rock band rather than fitting in with the current scene. Would you agree?
A: Yeah. It's hard being so knee deep in it. It's like asking when you write a piece what does that sentence mean, you don't know but in the context of the piece it all makes sense to you. I think music is the same way where all of your influences clash together, you don't necessary just listen to one band and say im gonna write a song like this fella, you listen to lots of music and all of a sudden its gets a mind of its own. I can agree though that it is more classic because in America right now there's a lot of the harder nu-metal kinda bands that to me doesn't do much. Oasis and Blur were the school for us when we were growing up.
Q: All the British bands then?
A: Absolutely. A year ago or two it was Muse's "Absolution" that inspired us. That was just an incredible record and that goes to show, it sounds nothing like The Academy Is record, but it still holds something that we take influence from. And even like the Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs records. Its more like keeping up with the times I guess and if you like it you become a fan and if you don't it's just research.
Q: What's the music press like in the States? We have this thing over here where the weeklies immediately put American bands on the frontcover rather than support home-grown talent. Do the US mags push the latest British bands?
A: To be honest no. When you see The Kaiser Chiefs or Franz Ferdinand they've done much better. The first Franz Ferdinand record "Take Me Out" was big and then the latest 'the lucky lucky one' (Do You Wanna?) didn't really do well in the States at all, but i'm sure over here it did really well.
James Blunt for example has gone over and that's a completely different level. It's a different thing he's doing, but none the less it's doing very well in the States too and it took time to do that. James Blunt is pop though and I can't really think of any other examples because im not in that world, but for rock band's it's a lot harder. Even for an older band like T-Rex they're not widely known, people might know the songs, but it's not in the same way that everyone knows who Pink Floyd are or something like that.
Q: What's the emo / screamo scene like in the States right now because I believe Guns'n'Roses producer was leading a kickback against it all with more classic rock bands
A: To be honest with you it's funny because now were in this Panic! thing, and I think Panic's doing the same thing, but i've never really talked about this until you brought it up. When we were writing "Almost Here" there was actually a conscious decision to get away completely from that because me and William did not vibe with that completely, we didn't like it all. We liked Thursday, they did it well, but other than that there were a lot of knockoff screamo bands that we felt no connection with.
Even though at the time it was very popular, that was about a year and a half ago, now it seems like it's dying out. It's one of those things where it came so hard and fast that no-one knows where it went - did it go away or did it really happen?
I think we're doing what we've always been happy with. I like the Foo Fighters, I like Blur, I like Oasis. Another band I love are Travis. So when you put that all in together it's different somehow.
Q: There's real classic pop hooks as well
A: Definitely. I'll be honest I do like the new Strokes record too, which is the throwback thing which worked and then didn't work, but I have to give it to them. I still think they're doing it. And then there's bands like the Darkness which i'd think are classic rock taken to the extreme.
There are these timeless bands like Modest Mouse, The Killers and even Coldplay who are all over the place. You can't put your finger on it, but all these bands you just end up thinking is this 80s, 90s.
Q: How do The Academy Is... write the songs? Is there a specific process you go through?
A: At the moment were all writing in different ways. A lot of the songs come from basically campfire chord with a decent melody and then you arrange everything around it. Sometimes it goes the other way round where your arranging from a rhythm or a drum beat and then layering on chords or whatever. We go both ways and being such a young band we like to think you shouldn't always go well that always works because it's always interesting when you do it from the otherside or do it backwards. Like before when I was talking about T-Rex, Marc Bolan would always know when to go electric, but he's also know when get back and go acoustic.
Q: "Almost Here..." was an album at the very formation of the band. Are you starting to think of the next album now?
A: Absolutely. I knew the songs on this album were good and I like em. For us now there's a pressure, more from ourselves, because we don't want to completely drift cos in our hearts we're still there. I wouldn't say to anyone to expect something completely radically new even though I know alot of bands would say that. When you tour you listen to a lot of music and see a lot of bands play constantly, you see your own band play everyday and you do interviews everyday and you have to think about your own craft.
After we recorded the album we had 7 months until the release date and we were second guessing alot of things, very small things like wishing this guitar part was different - the simple things that matter to a musician and an artist. You don't want to end up one of those tortured artists where nothing is to them no matter how well the reviews are or how many people show up to their show they are always thinking way to hard. I'm trying not to be like that because it takes its toll on you. There's a tendency with the new songs to do that as well and look back and think a little to much so you end up thinking about not thinking.
I don't talk about the album much myself, but I listened to it sometime around Christmas and my family members were playing it to some older people. I mean you play the songs every night, but you won't sit there listening to the album because you don't need to. But listening back to it I felt very proud. Sometimes it's good to step back.
Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Kirsty Umback www.kirstyumback.com
"Almost Here" is out now through Fuelled By Ramen
The band support Fall Out Boy on their UK tour in May
For more info
Click here to leave your The Academy Is...comments on the Message Board
(NB: The message board opens in a new window so please disable your pop-up blocker to view)