Fans of THE ACADEMY IS… woke up to some heartbreaking news last weekend: With a simple post on their Facebook page, the Chicago band announced their break-up after eight years, three full-length albums and plenty of high-profile tours (including a stint on the 2009 AP Tour). Although frontman WILLIAM BECKETT assured he’s working on a solo record, the sudden split left fans with more questions than answers. AP exclusively caught up Beckett yesterday, as he was strolling around crunching through the autumn leaves—and while he remained relatively mum on his future musical direction, he was candid about what lead to the end of the Academy Is… .
Interview by: ANNIE ZALESKI
The breakup took a lot of people by surprise. How long was it in the works?
It definitely wasn’t an impulse decision. For me, it was a culmination of a lot of little factors that summed up to a very difficult but necessary decision for us. A lot of it had to do with the way I felt after our show in New York for the Fueled By Ramen 15th anniversary. It was meant to be our last show with our drummer, the Butcher [Andy Mrotek]. It felt great. Then we were penciled in for this Jack’s Mannequin tour, and thinking about moving forward without him on tour… I think I naïvely thought before that it would be okay, it would be the same. But those feelings changed after that show; I felt like it wouldn’t be the same anymore, and it wouldn’t be as comfortable as far as the other aspects of things.
The three of us—me, Mike [Carden] and Adam [Siska]—have all been growing distant [with] less emphasis on friendship, and it’s pretty much all taken over into the stress of the record. Our friendships had definitely been taking a toll, and to be perfectly honest, it was never really peaches and cream. Mike and I are definitely an interesting pair, and our dynamic worked for a while, but not without great struggle and internal battles and demons. For me, I feel like it’s the right time to move on, to move forward, and to do something I can champion on my own and be in control of—and feel better about my decisions, my record and how it’s going to pan out. Whereas Mike and I started drifting, as far as our vision for the band and what we wanted it to be.
When it comes down to what you want something to be and what it is, you have to be honest with yourself about what you’re looking at and how who you are is going to be affect the art of what you’re doing. And Mike and I, while we did write a lot of great songs together, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Was that a sudden thing, or did that evolve over time?
I mean, there have been eight-month periods when we didn’t even speak on tour, at all. This is dating all the way back to writing Santi. It’s definitely not something that’s happened overnight, and it’s been something I’ve thought about before, but I was too afraid to do it. But at this point in my life, I’ve honestly never felt better being able to have control of my life, feeling like, if I succeed it’s on me—and if I fail, it’s on me. And I’m okay with that; I’m welcoming that.
Sometimes it takes you getting to a certain time in your life so you can get comfortable with that. I could see when you’re younger being like, “Nope, too much pressure; I need people around me, so if I do fail there’s a cushion, and there are other people involved, too.”
Yes, exactly. And I’d rather be friends with these guys and have some friendships. Mike’s extremely talented; he’s grown exponentially as a guitar player and as a songwriter. We’ve both grown incredibly since we started working on the fourth record. But in a lot of ways, while we both had growth—significant growth—it may have been in opposite directions as far as our goals and what we want out of music.
Some of it had to come down to taste. And people compromising as far as what songs are on the record, compromising what they want just to stay together, I think that works in relationships, but I don’t think it really works in art. You need to commit fully to an idea, and both of us were just compromising a lot in different ways. I think it’s going to be better for both of us to move forward. He’s a great songwriter, and I have no doubt that he’s going to continue with music and write some great songs. I wish the best for him. It just had to happen; we had to move our separate ways and move forward.
It’s true, too—you guys pretty much grew up together in a band. It’s natural people would change. You see that in a lot of bands. As you get older, you diverge. Not everybody’s going to stay the same and want the same thing they wanted nine years ago, when you guys started.
Exactly. It’s bittersweet. Over the past year, I’ve been very active online, on Twitter and on my blog, just really trying to reconnect. Honestly, as much as the fans may need us, and may need our music, I feel like for me, why I started playing music and writing songs and performing was to get that feeling of reciprocation, when you’re sitting there in front of someone and you play them a song and you can vividly see that you’ve changed—even if it’s a grimace of, like, “This sucks.” [Laughs.] Obviously, that’s not what I’m addicted to. To affect someone like that, to move someone like that—that’s the connection I’m addicted to. Fans have been a great support system through this, and for the most part, everything I’m reading is positive. Obviously, people are sad—it was a long road for us, and we did a lot of great things together. I’d rather remember us that way, as opposed to falling apart.
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You even said in your farewell blog, “The skill in attending a party is knowing when to leave.” There’s a lot of truth to that statement. You’d rather split now before having that awful farewell tour where everyone’s yelling at each other or you release a record where not everyone’s heart is into it. You’d rather go out on a positive note.
And I love this band; I love the Academy Is…. I love everyone in it, and I love all of our fans. It would be a disservice to them to put on a show that we don’t believe in, that’s not everything we want, everything we’re capable of. My goal is to push myself and expand as a performer and as a writer. Now I feel like I’ve got total liberation in that way. I never cared about being cool, ever. Not in high school—that’s why I was called “faggot,” because I dressed way differently than everyone and I didn’t care. I never cared about fitting in or being cool. I feel like when you’re part of a group, a band, and people have different influences upon you, and someone may say, “Hey, that’s a bad idea, you shouldn’t wear that” or whatever. “You shouldn’t do that, you shouldn’t say that.” At this point in my life, I don’t want someone to tell me what I can and can’t say, what I can and can’t do, what I can and can’t sing. As much as there are personal aspects of this decision, it’s moreso just the point in time in my life where I need to be independent.
I know you have been writing. So what have you amassed so far?
Mike and I wrote a bunch of songs together; I wrote a bunch of songs on my own. Some stuff is going to go away. It’s unfortunate, but there are those songs I feel fit into what my vision is, and those will likely stick around. We have over 60 songs that were written over the past two years—last week, I wrote four more songs. I plan on continuing to flex that muscle until we get into the studio and even while we’re in the studio. It’s going to be a matter of what’s right for the vision, what’s right for the record. A lot of that’s going to reveal itself in the next month or two.
Are you going to go in the studio solo? Are you going to go in with musicians around you?
I’ve got some friends and I’ve got some people that are going to be included in the process. This is still a fresh wound, so I’m still trying to conceptualize exactly what it’s going to be. I know it’s going to be me, completely, as far as the identity of it. I’m really excited about it.
How would you describe the stuff you’ve been writing?
People are probably expecting a folky solo album, an acoustic solo album. That’s really the opposite of what I’m going to be doing. That’s all I’ll say [about] that now.
When someone goes solo, for some reason the immediate connotation is that it’s going to be someone with an acoustic guitar.
I don’t want to be trapped behind the guitar onstage. So we’ll see how it develops. That’s definitely not my intention, a sleepy record.
Do you know when you’re going into the studio?
It’s not completely confirmed, but [I’m going nto the studio] definitely before the first snowfall.
I’ve been speaking with Adam with a lot, and I’ve been in touch with Mike since. And we’re good. Everyone is on the same page and understands that this had to happen. You can’t really ignore the elephant in the room for five years; at some point, you’re going to get a tusk in the ass. I feel like, before that happens, we just had to address it and confront it. And now we can focus on our friendships—particularly Adam and I. That’s a big priority for us, that we remain friends.
Was it a difficult conversation when you brought it up with them that the band should break up?
Yes. It was very difficult. It’s not the easiest thing. You can kind of equate it to a divorce or something. But instead of one person, you’ve divorcing multiple people. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re all adults now. And I think we handled it that way. We took responsibility for the band and what was best for it—and this case, what was best was to let go.
What will you miss most about being in the band?
Probably hanging out with Adam, and maybe playing a lot of those songs. It’s almost too soon to know exactly, but I’m very comfortable moving forward. Doing it this way is a way that we can—or personally, I can look at what we did and what we accomplished and be proud of it, and be happy that we did what we did, and we made the choices that we did. We got to see the world together time and time again which was amazing. And I hope to do that again with my new project.
You do sound very at peace. You seem excited to have this blank slate in front of you.
Like I said, it’s very liberating. I’m more inspired than I’ve been since I picked up a guitar. It’s a good time in my life. I know that might be hard to hear for some people who are really upset about this, but they have to understand this wasn’t an impulse thing. This was a cumulative decision that led to this after a long period of time. You’re going to get a better product, a better result out of it, from all of us. Everyone’s going to be able to focus on whatever it is they want to pursue—whether it’s music or not—to their fullest. I really hope that we can stay close. alt