Selfish Things on working with Spencer Chamberlain, Andy Leo, Ryan Key
When Selfish Things were crafted from mastermind frontman Alex Biro, the name was originally meant to be a moniker for his solo vehicle. As the group grew, so did their following, which is exactly what Biro intended before releasing their debut LP, Logos, into the world.
We chatted with Biro on the band’s narrative and purpose, treating fans like family and friends and what comes next for them in 2020.
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Selfish Things released their debut album in 2019. But you have been together as a collective group for three years now, correct?
I started it as a solo project. And then I guess we recorded the EP without having played any shows. The three of us [recorded it] in September of 2016, [and] our first show was February 2017. Usually, Toronto is pretty shot if you're up and coming, but we managed to fill it out. Our first tour was with Simple Plan, which was way too big for us at the time. And we had no fucking idea what to do in front of that many people. Raw Power picked us up right after 2017. So I guess we've been a band for three, three-and-a-half years. And then I guess touring “full time” since mid-2018.
Why was the decision made to not release a full-length album until about three-and-a-half years of being together?
I think the industry has changed a lot from what it was. It takes a long time to build a band now, especially because of how saturated the market is. Secondly, I think that loyal fans are really only obtained through touring. Not to say that people don't find their music online and become a loyal fan. But I would say it's at least an 80/20 split. 40,000 songs a day are uploaded on Spotify, which is an absurd number. And especially with where rock music is, I feel like you have to get in front of people for them to actually buy into what you're doing. So I think it was partially just trying to build at least somewhat of a narrative and build a base that was tangible. Also just trying to push singles to get on playlists and get to a position [that] when we put out an album, people would actually be there to listen.
You mentioned creating a narrative. What’s the summarized version of the Selfish Things narrative? How is Selfish Things different from the current alternative-rock climate?
The Selfish Things narrative is just being yourself and being open with whatever you have going on is better than trying to be an Instagram highlight reel. I've never really had any interest to make myself appear as like some Omni-God or someone who is awesome because I have a fucking lament on.
My goal as a person has always just been to humble myself to my own experiences and experiences of other people. People talk about mental health a lot. That is very much a saturated narrative. But I just don't feel like we're hiding anything. We are who we are. The lyrics say what they say. I'm very much about trying to create an atmosphere of group therapy and mutual support and it just not just being about us as the focal point. It's a community of people supporting each other and standing up for one another and standing up for what's right. I don't give a fuck about trying to be cool. I give a fuck about climate change and making sure our kids have a future, you know? I think that's where I try and differentiate us and what we try to differentiate ourselves from.
Mental health is a common narrative. It's become less taboo to openly talk about mental health now. You're vocal about your mental health and personal struggles. How did that play a part in the creation and writing process of the album?
I think the variance with any EP to an album is where I was mentally. It was just blaming everyone for everything that happened to me as a person. It was very much like, “It's the fault of the universe.” I think it was more nihilistic and self-defeating than the album was. I think the album was my first real chance, my first real opportunity to actually see who I was and what I was writing. And I think that comes across in songs like "Synaptic," especially when we play it. It's a single, but it seems like a song that [fans] sing along to the most because [of] the repeated choruses: "Can I still love myself when I'm a problem for everyone else?" And we all feel that way.
I think I'm just always in the process of trying to figure out how I can better exist in a world that is, at the end of the day, incredibly dangerous and always trying to defeat you in some way. I've come to the point where I don't think the point of life is happiness. The point of life is being able to survive the worst fucking storms and come out with your sail still intact and stronger because of it. I think Logos is the embodiment of that. I went through all this shit, and I'm still here.
Selfish Things have established a foundation of growth, personal and professional, since the EP release to the album. How do you think it's affected the way your fans consume your music?
I feel like I want to grow with our fans. I don't even like the word “fans.” I know them by name. I feel weird onstage being on an elevated platform. That's why floor shows are so lucrative because it's like there's no difference. I feel like we're all just growing up together, like some of our oldest fans from the Simple Plan tour. There's one girl who stopped cutting herself after she saw us at that show. It's been two-and-a-half years since she cut herself last. To see that growth in somebody and to know that they've taken what we said and turned it into making their life better. I don’t care about a fucking platinum record; I care about that. We're all growing up together, which is really special. It makes me feel a lot less alone than I did.
It's a healthy thing for both yourself and the individuals who come to the shows. You mentioned that you don't like the term “fans.” Do you consider them more as friends?
I feel like it's just a mixture of family and familiar faces. Touring is lonely. Anyone who says touring isn't lonely is fucking crazy. Unless you have your family with you on tour. Your band is your family, and your tour package is family, but at the end of the day, you still fall asleep alone. So when I get to places like Dallas, L.A. or Atlanta and I see the same faces come up again, and they tell me about how they're doing at work now and how this happened to them or they're doing better in this area or they're struggling with this, it just feels like you're connecting to people across the world.
That makes sense. I think it says a lot about your character. It says a lot about Selfish Things and what you're trying to do with your music versus just gaining a mass group of followers and trying to get a platinum record. As you said, it's more than that. It's creating a family together and having a family you can come back to while you're not able to be with your wife and daughter.
Yeah, exactly. A lot of those kids don't have that. It kills me to see how many people don't have a father figure or good families. Obviously, we all have friends growing up who didn't have a good mom or dad or didn't have a good home life. But sometimes I feel like I’m that person they need advice from or the person they need to talk to. To be able to help people through their darker moments or [help them] navigate what they want to do with their lives or answer questions that they might not have the answer to. It is such a bigger opportunity than just being in a fucking band. I say that being in a band is useless because I think it's a mechanism to get where I want to be. But the world's so fucking dark. I just want to be one light in it among a lot of bullshit.
Going back to the album, it's really great and deep. You hear a lot of growth from the EP to the LP. And you were able to secure some incredible guest vocalists on the album. How did those collaborations come about, and what was it like working with Spencer Chamberlain, Andy Leo, and William Ryan Key?
They were all three really different opportunities. The first collaboration we walked in was with Ryan. We were obviously going on tour with him, and he had heard the song and was in a similar space that I was in when I had written it. And he had sung on it before we'd even met, knowing we were going on tour together. I think it's a testament to what kind of person he is and how much he appreciates art for what it is. He sang on it, sent the file and it was wonderful. Once we got to know him, it was clear why he was the way he was. He's just such a lovely human being. And we initially connected through management and then just have a really solid friendship now.
As for Andy, he's probably one of my favorite people on Earth. Trying to not have fun with him is physically impossible. He just pulls it out of you, regardless of what headspace you're in. We'd initially met through our producer WZRD BLD [Drew Fulk] and K.J. from the White Noise. They were playing with Asking Alexandria and Black Veil Brides in Toronto, and Mike [Ticar], our guitar player, and myself went to the show. We just ended up hitting it off. We talked about a lot of the same things. He'd read The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He's actually a very well-read and intellectual person. We just ended up talking the whole night about psychology and philosophy. When it came down to do the album, I just hit him up and was like, "Hey, would you sing on this?" and he again, same thing, immediately hopped on it.
The Spencer one was interesting. Spencer was really busy with Underoath. Obviously, they did the Erase Me Atlantic tour. Our manager had sent him the songs just to get a feel for it. And we were on tour with Set It Off, and Spencer was off tour finally and had gotten the chance to listen to it. Within three days, he turned around the song and sent it over to us. I just don't feel like rock musicians support each other the same way that R&B and hip-hop artists do. I think that's part of the reason the genre isn't as prevalent as it used to be. There's no mutual support. It's very much still a competition. So I just wanted to try and make it the opposite.
2020 is already shaping up to be a massive year for Selfish Things. How do you stay humble? I mean, in all seriousness, because you're immensely humble and such a wonderful father and wonderful husband and incredibly talented. And you really have a vision that I don't think is a common thing in the alternative music industry anymore.
I think music is important. I think having a group of people in a room from all different walks of life and every gender identity under the sun and sexual orientation and political affiliation all listening to something that they connect to is beautiful and special. This is all gonna be over for us at one point or another. Unless you're Dave Grohl or fucking Taking Back Sunday or Jimmy Eat World, unless you're the 0.1% of bands that end up doing this for 20 years, you will end up at home, and you will work a job, and you will just be a normal person. And that's not to say I'm not normal right now. I very much try to not treat it like it's anything other than just trying to connect with people. What matters to me is just connecting with people, whether we end up selling 10,000 champs or we end up putting out two albums. I just don't feel like I have the capacity to think I'm better than anyone just because I fucking write some songs. We're all just trying to feel like we belong. That's the goal of life. Whether you're writing for a publication, going to a show and seeing your friends or whether you're on tour trying to earn fans, nobody wants to feel alone. Feeling alone is the worst. I'm just trying to not feel alone and make other people feel like they're not alone. The moment it becomes about anything other than that is the moment you've totally lost what you did in the first place. I can understand why people get lost in it, but it really does make me sick when it happens. It's just a mechanism to make people feel like they aren't alone. And that's a gift. It should be treated very carefully.
That's a really good way to put it. Honestly, I couldn't agree more with you. So, what are you looking forward to with album No. 2?
I'm looking forward to experimenting. I'm also really looking forward to pushing the envelope on it. I already have the title, the concept, and the artwork in my head. I've already drawn it out. My biggest qualm right now is that we live in a world that lacks forgiveness. And I feel like people are more inclined to judge than look in the mirror. So with the album and announcing that Have Mercy tour, and we're [having] announced another tour at the Epicenter, [I’m] obviously looking forward to touring, but I'm looking forward to having a real conversation through a medium that's more difficult to criticize than Twitter. I'm very much going to focus a lot of the content around that [website’s] hypocrisy and then the worry it causes me for both our society and the future of our species, ultimately. So, I'm excited. It's going to be different. It's going to be very different from the first album. I feel no obligation whatsoever to make it sonically the same at all. That's one [of the] good things about our management. They really have given our band and myself just total creative control to believe in the art. And let us do what we want. That's pretty rare. I'm excited to continue to be myself as much as I can and to try and connect with people as much as possible through open conversation. In whatever form it comes.