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Ultimate Fakebook | Open Up and Say Awesome | interview | punk | pop | Lollipop
Open Up and Say Awesome (Initial)
An interview with the band
by Scott Hefflon
Obviously there's a story to tell, seeing as this record was expected to be on a division of Sony which doesn't even exist anymore, so, uh, how long has it been?
It was three years between when we recorded the last record and when we recorded this one, but only a year and a half between releases, because This Will be Laughing Week was essentially released twice, once on Noisesome and then on Epic/550. Sony pulled the plug on 550, and the only bands they moved over to Epic proper were Céline Dion, Fuel, and Ben Folds. Ben Folds was a big part of why we signed with the label. It was the same A&R guy, and he seemed to understand career-type bands, not just the one hit wonders. Our hope was that they would re-release ...Laughing Week, and then get us a big producer for the next record.
This record, Open Up and Say Awesome, was written while you were still on Sony, right?
Totally, yeah. It was written and demoed and the label was really excited and thought it was totally hot. And then the next thing ya know, the whole thing went down... Half the songs were written about the same time as ...Laughing Week, the other half were written while we were on Sony.
How's that work? Majors are usually quite stubborn about releasing you back your own songs if they were written and recorded while under contract to them...
We were treated pretty fairly. We got our money quickly, we were able to shop the demos we'd done...
Demos you'd done for them, recorded with their money, right?
Right. Actually, when you get right down to it, all they really did was re-release a record we'd already put out.
That must've really helped you build it up...
It definitely kept us out on the road, and that sure helped. But the thing it taught us is that there really isn't any security on any label - I mean, Wilco got dropped - so what label you're on isn't really all that important anymore.
A lot of independent labels - Victory with Thursday, Vagrant with some of their bands, Drive-Thru with a couple of theirs - are really stepping up and moving some serious numbers. So while I like what Initial does, I'm curious as to why you signed with them.
We're friends with The Get Up Kids and maybe we could've signed with their label, Heroes & Villains (through Vagrant, natch), but there seemed to be a lot of competition just to get on the release schedule, and we probably would've just gotten lost in the shuffle. We signed with Initial because they were really excited about the record. They were super enthusiastic. We knew that we'd be the biggest band on the label and that they'd give us the best push they could because they liked the record. That kind of attitude and support means a lot to us.
When we were at Epic, some of the people were behind us, but unless you're a heavy-hitter, it's really hard to get the higher-ups to support you, so we ran into people whose hands were tied all the time. With Initial, no one's hands are tied, there's just not the power to make everything happen all at the same time. But the desire to try is there... With other labels who were interested, there was the typical nonchalant enthusiasm "Yeah, we should get together..." Most indie labels are used to selling a certain amount of records. But the Initial guys were flipping out. I don't think they expected us to be interested in them, so that fired them up even more. It just really looked like a situation where we could all work hard and make some impressive things happen.
When we were on Noisesome Records - which really isn't much of a label - we worked really hard for a year together to get things going, and at the end of that year, we were signed to a major.
To show my cards a bit, I'll admit This Will Be Laughing Week was in the "indie/don't know" bin, which is overflowing with CDs by bands I don't know on labels with no real track record. About one in 20 gets reviewed. Your CD impressed me musically, and even when you were "unsigned" (for all practical purposes), you were smart enough to hire a reputable PR company. That was before Sony entered the picture, right?
Yeah. We were with Noisesome, who had limited experience and resources, but our first record with them did very well locally. We didn't really tour at that point, we'd just drive somewhere and play a single show. And sometimes, the only way to get a show was to play these stupid contests. So we did this one contest and we won, and the grand prize was 1500 or whatever CDs pressed at DiscMakers. So the first pressing of our CD was paid for. So we asked Noisesome if they'd take the money they would've put toward manufacturing toward something else, like hiring a real publicity company to work us at college radio and generate some press. Also, we knew Julie Underwood who worked at Nasty Little Man (now at Tag Team Media, who Ultimate Fakebook currently use) because she's from Lawrence, Kansas, too. Nasty liked our record, so they cut us a deal. One thing led to another...
You mentioned working hard, but it's also working smart. You didn't just pound the streets, playing the same clubs over and over hoping to build it up through sheer blind repetition, you looked for where you weren't and asked "How can we get there?" and then took the steps to reach your goals.
We knew we had to try different ideas, that that was the way to get the word out. So after a year of working it like that, we were signing with a major. And it wasn't just some super slick A&R guy, it was a guy who signed Ben Folds and Fuel, and seemed to... Well, it's probably the same story every band gets sucked into... (laughs)
So here we are, a year later, still working hard. Signing with Initial felt really good and sure, the record is slower getting into stores because Initial can't be like, boom, it's in every store the day it comes out... But we'll get there...
How's the level of press been?
The tour press has been good, great, in fact... But the national press has been a little slow. So we're kind of scratching our heads...
Odd. Sure, there's the stigma of being dropped, but this is a superior record, and it deserves review (or a feature) no matter what label it's on.
Thanks. Most people around us seem to agree. It's simply a better package. Someone may like a few songs off the last one better, but the whole thing - production and artwork and lyrics - is much more consistent and... better. People talked about the "major labelness" of ...Laughing Week, and it's funny because we spent $5,000 on it and that was it...
I've never been to Kansas, and I'm sure you're sick on the Wizard of Oz reference...
We used to get that all the time, but now, at least in the indie scene, when people hear we're from Kansas, they're like "Wow, do you know The Get Up Kids? Do you know The Anniversary?" And it's funny cuz nothing really changed, it's not like it's suddenly become a cultural Mecca...
It's pretty flat, right?
It's really flat. We live in the Eastern part, so it's closer to Missouri and we have trees and stuff, but you get more toward the middle o the state, it's flat and there's nothing there.
What's the scene like?
I wouldn't consider it much of a scene at all, but it's probably much the same as anywhere else: Every city has a scene - in this case us, The Get Up Kids, and The Anniversary - but we're all out on tour all the time so we're never there. So it's not like you'd come to Kansas and hang out with all of us at local shows, ya know? But it's still happening, there are still good bands coming out of here. Mates of State is doing well, and The People are getting some attention, and I think they're going to start touring soon and blow people away...
I hear the band started out drastically different than you are now.
Way different. We were a four-piece, I didn't sing, I just played guitar, and we sounded kind of like a cross between Sonic Youth and Mudhoney. I was into all the grunge stuff, all the Sub Pop stuff... It was that time, ya know? I'd realized all that '80s rock was pretty lame and that Soundgarden and Nirvana were sweet, and Eric (Melin, drummer) saw Soul Asylum in their club days, he saw The Replacements, stuff like that... He's a couple years older than Nick (Colby, bass) and me, so he got into college/alternative rock a bit before us... From there, it was just a matter of getting sick of the four-piece set up. There were no real melodies, no real singing, and Nick and I were realizing that's what we liked, the pop element. A band that really brought that home to me was Guided by Voices. I read an article on Sonic Youth and Guided by Voices was mentioned. I kept hearing the name, so I checked them out. They appealed to me at the time because there was this lo-fi indie vibe, but the songs were catchy as hell pop songs. So they really bridged that gap for me.
It's funny cuz that's the path you took, but it's difficult to see those influences now...
This is only our third record, so in the 33 songs or whatever, we wrote what was real at the time, what we were going through, so are we always going to be singing about growing up listening to heavy metal albums? No, but at the moment, that's where we're at.
Guided by Voices was a big influence when I first started singing and writing songs, and from there, I realized that I grew up listening to Top 40 pop songs, and that the hooks really appealed to me. Ultimate Fakebook had been together as a three-piece for about a year before Eric became our drummer, and he turned us onto a lot of stuff like Elvis Costello.
So when it comes to a parallel band like Weezer...
I could be all defensive and say I'd never heard them and that any similarities are just coincidence, but that's not true. But it's not like I sat down with their records and tried to figure out their secret... They did what I wished someone would do. It was really up my alley, but it's not at all like I copied their style. We play with lots of high school bands who totally rip off Weezer, and you can totally tell... So that may be why I'm a little defensive about it, because I think we may come out at roughly the same place, with the same sense of aesthetics, perhaps, but it's not a deliberate rip-off by and stretch of the imagination.
The clones may fool lazy people for a while, but when those people lose interest and move on to the next fad, there'll be nothing left, no rock-solid fanbase.
It all comes down to the time signature: 6/8. "Do-do, do-gat, do-do, do-gat." They grew up on heavy metal and started writing pop songs, and so did we.
I usually don't read lyrics, but I hear some good turns of phrase in your songs...
Thanks. One song in particular (one of their rather Weezer-esque songs, ha!), "Forever, Forever," was written while I was bored on the couch, watching MTV with the sound off as some boy band unabashedly sung some love song to a girl, no metaphors, no symbolism, just "Hey baby, I love you, let's get togetha." So I totally went for that whole thing. Is it meaningful to me? Sure. Is it really about a real person? You bet. But it was an experiment, just to see if I could pull it off.
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