The A.K.A.s’ brand of keyboard-infused, shout-along tunes warmed the hearts of Metropolis Records last year following a stint on Fueled By Ramen. What resulted is their recently released sophomore full-length, Everybody Make Some Noise!. Brian Shultz had a thorough discussion with front man Mike Ski on the label changeover, the new producer deal and Circle Jerks.
You guys signed to Metropolis Records this past October after being on Fueled By Ramen. I can imagine you guys weren’t exactly a priority at FBR.
There’s a lot of things [with that situation], to be completely fair. The main thing is, it was a completely different label when we signed to them. We went for the same initial things as other bands. I think it was an [eventful] time for the label. They were trying some different things, and one thing they were doing really worked. Fall Out Boy was a huge success and as that kinda took off, we quickly realized that that wasn’t necessarily gonna [happen] for us. [Laughs.] From that point on, a lot of the stuff that they did was kind of stacked on top of that.
Most people really don’t realize that they put out…whatever it was, like 50 records before that. For most people–I think [the] perception of the label is the last two or three years, but they don’t think about bands like the Stereo…
…other bands that were on the label that we thought were cool before that.
Yeah, they have the whole history and everything.
Yeah, exactly. When we signed to the label we didn’t know anything about it. We knew [it was] Vinnie from Less Than Jake’s label and we thought Less Than Jake were a band who were a really good example of a success story that we thought was cool; they were a band who steadily stayed at a level for 10 years… So we thought, "Well, the guy who’s a creative force behind that band must have cool ideas and can definitely help steer us in a good direction."
After all that’s said and done, we’ve moved on and there’s no hard feelings. After Vinnie left the label, he started a management company and he and another guy that used to run Fueled By Ramen worked with us doing that. So I feel like there was a line in the sand, and we are still on the same line with the same ideas that we started with.
I think people’s perception sometimes is that when a band leaves a label it’s a black eye. We don’t feel that way. We’re just excited to put out a record–like a new record that we’re completely stoked on, and have somebody support it. If our new record came out on Fueled By Ramen, it wouldn’t–[Laughs.]–it wouldn’t really matter. It would be the same thing that happened before but on a much larger scale.
You’re not sick, are you? [Ski was constantly sniffling.]
Nah, it’s just kinda early out here [in L.A.] [Laughs.].
What time is it out there?
It’s, like, 1 o’clock [p.m.] [Laughs.], but we just drove late last night so I woke up an hour ago and haven’t eaten yet. [The sniffling] is an ongoing sickness that I’ve had hangin’ around for a month or so. [Laughs.]
I think Alex Newport [producer for Everybody Make Some Noise] definitely has a more rugged track record as of late [than White Doves & Smoking Guns producer Tim O’Heir], since he’s worked with a lot of really angular or experimental bands like At The Drive-In or the Locust. Is that something you were mindful of when you hooked up with him for Everybody Make Some Noise?
There are two things that have to do with it. And one makes sense with Tim O’Heir, too. Speaking directly about Alex Newport, the thing that we liked about him is that a lot of the stuff he does has a really raw and live sense to it. With our band, if you take that energy or urgency away from what we’re doing, then it’s not [us].
We knew that we really wanted to make [an album where you’d] listen to it and have that sense of urgency and that kind of tension and rawness. It makes it kind of fun and loose but still sound sonic. Especially in a day and age when the recording process has sort of become way less inorganic. I think that’s a dangerous playground for us.
The second part of that is that we always tried to create as many options as we can, but we go with what’s most natural. Alex was somebody who had heard our band and contacted us and said, "Hey, I really like your band and if you ever need a producer, blah blah blah." He was in New York City once and rearranged his schedule to stay an extra day to see us play; we thought that was something really important, so it’s more like a relationship rather than a business agreement. That was the same thing with Tim O’Heir. When we were a brand new band and just playing in New York, Tim had been invited out to see us through a friend, and at the time, same thing–you gotta keep in mind, the time frame–the All-American Rejects had not yet proven a success. Those weren’t the kind of records that we were like, "Oh, yeah, it’s the guy who did the All-American Rejects record." To me, it was like, "Oh, it’s the guy who used to record a lot of old Boston punk bands." He did the Only Living Witness record [Prone Metal Form]. When I first met him, I was like, "I love that Only Living Witness record!" And he was like, "What?" [Laughs.]
So the thing that was cool about Tim was he was a fan of the band. Every time we would play, he would come out and be in the middle of the floor with his hands up in the air and his eyes closed, screaming every word; we thought that was awesome, to have somebody who’s that passionate about the band.
Is there anything to this day you would change about the production on White Doves & Smoking Guns?
Yeah, I mean, I guess everyone does kinda feel that way. Maybe [instill] that same sense of urgency, but at the same time, Tim really brought out something in the band that we didn’t really see at the time. When we started the band, we thought we’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band or whatever, but he kind of brought out an accessibility that we were maybe naïve about at the time. Having him do that in the long run really affected our overall perception of our own band, and I think that’s really important because in the big picture of things I feel like we’re not the kind of band who thinks what we’re doing is too obscure or too pointed or, quote unquote, "cool" for anybody. We don’t think that there should be a ceiling to important ideas and that’s the main thing about our band: We’re musicians and we’re artists, but we have an important message and we think that everybody should have the same right and opportunity to be exposed to those ideas. If you took away those opportunities from me when I was 14 or 15 and skateboarding… [Maybe] somebody kinda accidentally turned me onto a Circle Jerks record, you would’ve taken away that catalyst for me at the time. I know today I would be a completely different person. Maybe I’m reading into it too much.
That is a huge[ly] important aspect to the band–being able to write a record that comes across as fun and loose and energetic but also that is really listenable.
Actually, that was kind of my next question. I think stylistically, the two albums are pretty similar in that both have that really brash, sing-along rock ’n’ roll feel. I know most bands will say they’re just writing what they feel, but how much of a stylistic change were you looking to make, if any?
Very little, really. I guess like you said, we just went with what we felt. We did make a lot of effort to make it a progression. I guess traditionally a lot of bands essentially have all the time and experience in their entire life up until their first record. We wanted to have a second record that was something beyond that initial surge of ideas. We wanted to kind of learn from things about the first record and about where we were as a band at that time that we thought could use work. I think we all agree that in our band, our first record was awesome. But there’s some aspects of it that could be more interesting from song to song. There’s just, like, one organ sound on the whole record, whereas now we’re in a little bit of a different situation, knowing more about keyboards and stuff like that.
When we were playing our first shows, people were like "Whoa, that’s not fuckin’ punk to have a keyboard in the band." Then within that couple years, bands like Motion City Soundtrack were finally getting attention. Then it was just like a staple standard for bands to have keyboards. We were just like, "What happened?" [Laughs.] But since then, we took the time to experiment with different sounds and have more layering and more overall participation from everybody in the band during the writing process, and to have that be reflected in the song where you’re hearing more voices musically and vocally.
Does that answer the question at all? alt