Set It Off talk ‘Duality’—”What I’m encouraging with this record is show who you really are”
Photographer: Tarina Dootlittle
It’s been an exciting week for Set It Off. Yesterday, they revealed their sophomore album Duality is set for release October 14 and that they are embarking on a tour this October with two of the biggest bands in the scene, Black Veil Brides and Falling In Reverse.
With all the excitement ahead, we decided to look back with these studio photographs by Tarina Doolittle and a chat with vocalist Cody Carson to get the serendipitous backstory of their next album.
Interview: Cassie Whitt
You have a new album coming out in October and just released a video which features a new song, so let’s start with that. What can you tell me about the song featured in it?
CODY CARSON: I think one thing that Set It Off are known for as far as our albums go is we try to make it as diverse as possible, and this record is no different. That song is very much like a gospel-rock-meets-R&B song. It’s called “Why Worry.” We’re really stoked about it, and it looks like we’re going to be shooting a video for it as well, which I’m really pumped about. That’s going to be probably the first song everyone hears off the record. We just shot that little commercial to give people a taste, but we’re really excited about that song.
You guys have always been about—and you say this in our Most Anticipated interview—the duality of the band, like putting pop next to twisted storylines and neurosis. Do you think that comes out the same way it did in Cinematics?
Going back to what you said about my obsession with duality: That became the album title. We’re calling it Duality. If we exercise the definition of that juxtaposition of two polar opposites… I’m really proud of the fact that we were able to do it. Even in that song “Why Worry” you hear it. You guys heard the chorus—the really happy, upbeat, fast chorus, but those verses that no one’s heard yet are actually quite dark and kind of angsty. The goal is to make you think. Even in just that song, those two polar opposites right there, the verse right into the chorus, are instrumentally completely different.
Then also on this record, I kind of touch on more humanistic properties of duality. For instance, another thing about duality that I find really interesting is that everyone in the world has a side that they choose to show to the public. And then they have that side that they don’t really show, or maybe they have hidden behind a wall or a mask. What I’m encouraging people to do with this record is just let it out. Show who you really are, and stop worrying about what everybody else is thinking, because it’s so damn liberating to just finally figure yourself out and be yourself.
That’s what this record deals with. It deals with relationship issues in an honest way; drinking, knowing I’m enjoying it now when I’m on the road and while I can, but I know when I’m an adult I won’t be able to do it at all anymore. It deals with sex, it deal with sadness, all these different human emotions, and I feel like that’s what’s most important to us. When I was growing up, every record I ended up falling in love with, I loved because it made me feel something. That was the goal of Cinematics and that’s also the goal with this album. That won’t ever change.
Musically, I’ve never been more proud of songs I’ve been a part of or written in my entire life. I know everyone says that when they put out a new record, like, “Yo! Check out this record. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done!” But, I genuinely feel that way. I’ve never been more proud of anything, and from the response from our team and close family, I think we really have something special here.
You mentioned everyone having a side that other people don’t see. In encouraging people to be themselves, I assume you’re showing your true self. Do you think there’s content about you in the album that’s going to really surprise your fans?
I do. For instance, people are so kind when you post Instagram pictures. They post these really kind comments, but there’s one that sticks out to me: Whenever people go, “You’re perfect.” I hate that. It’s the one compliment that bothers me. It actually makes me a little upset, because I used to be so obsessed with being a perfect person. When the band first started, I wanted to do everything perfectly. I wanted to be a perfect person, and it was totally insane. I finally just said, “Fuck this. It’s not who I am. I’ll never be perfect.” I needed to be okay in my own skin. I have flaws. I mess up. I’m okay with that. There’s a lyric in our title track that says, “I am good/I am evil/I am solace/I am chaos/I am human/And that’s all I ever wanted to be.” That’s kind of my motto. I think people can be okay with that as well. We’re not out here to try to impress anybody with who we are or make people think we’re perfect. I want people to know we’re just human like everyone else, and I think what that stems from is that being a musician, you meet a lot of people. You meet some genuine people who are so awesome to meet, then you meet some fake people who will have a smile at your face then turn around and stab you in the back. I feel like things would be so much easier if everyone were just straight-up with each other. There’s no mask, there’s nothing. It’s just, “This is who I am, and I hope you like it.” That’s what life should be like.
We’ve talked about the themes of the album, but I know that you—as evidenced when you played for us at the AP office—are also passionate about the instrumental side of things. Was there anything extra fun you got to play with in the studio this round? Any new gear available to you?
One of the people we were working on the record with was a dude named Matt Appleton, amazing guy, incredible instrumental as well. He plays tenor sax in Reel Big Fish, and I met him on Warped Tour last year because we both liked [to play horns] a lot. He’s like, a pure wizard, and he taught me everything. We really bonded, and I had no idea that he used to work for John Feldmann or that he was directly involved with [The Used]’s Lies For The Liars record. He engineered that record. So, it was like, “You’re my friend. You’re in a ska band that I love, so let’s work together.” So, it turns out when we got in touch with Brandon Paddock to get ready for the record, he was like, “Do you know Matt?” And I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “Call him right now.” Matt was out doing college shows with Reel Big Fish, and he was like, “Yeah, I want to come over and do the record with you guys.” Back to the horns thing: Turns out he doesn’t just play tenor sax. He also plays baritone sax, flute, trombone. He also does play trumpet and clarinet, but Dan and I, of course, played the clarinet on the record. [Appleton] plays tuba… It’s just endless! The guy is a horn master! With the last record, I don’t think we had any real horns. We had synthetic horns and real clarinet. We didn’t have real sax or brass parts or trombone. We had some real strings, but in this one, there’s a lot of focus on the horns, and it’s really exciting, because the amount of character and life horns bring the record confounds me. I had no idea that it adds so much. So we really got creative when we went over to Matt’s house in the woods and started knocking out all these horn parts, just writing them on the spot. They were supposed to end up on, like, three different songs and ended up on half the record.
So, you have horns on the album. What else are fans going to hear that they might not have before?
I’m a huge ’90s pop fan, or pop in general or R&B. I love Destiny’s Child and NSYNC, as well as my influences from Earth, Wind & Fire, which isn’t pop, but I’m all over the place. But, that was my era. That was my shit. On this record, a lot of those influences are brought to life, and I think what happens naturally as you grow as a writer. You figure out how to implement certain influences that you didn’t necessarily know how to at all prior. I’m a pure melody guy. I feel melody is so key in everything. So, when we first met up with Brandon— are you guys familiar with how the whole story and how that [switch from producer John Feldmann to our new team of producers] happened?
We knew that you had switched from Feldmann from the video announcement, but we hadn’t heard the full story.
It’s incredible to me. So, obviously John wasn’t able to do the record, and it was unfortunate, but the day that we got that email, obviously with our hearts pounding in our chests a little bit, we drove from New York all the way out to Los Angeles. But, we were on the way, like, “Oh my God. What are we going to do?” So, immediately the first person who popped into my head was Brandon, because we did “Why Worry?” with Brandon, and I’ve never felt chemistry like I did with him with anyone, really. So, he was the first person who popped into my head, so I gave him a call. I didn’t expect him to say “yes” at all, because it was like, “Hey, man. This is last-minute. We’re in LA. Do you want to do a record?” Because the guy is so busy. I told him the full story of what happened and he was like, “Let me get back to you.” So, we’re at the [All Time Low] show, and I have to pretend I’m in a good mood, because I want to see my friends and I don’t want them to be asking me what’s wrong. So, I’m at the show just barreling through, saying “hi” to everybody when I get the call from Brandon. I love Brandon because he gets so excited. If he gets an idea, he just starts going, so he was like, “We want you to start on this day, then…” And I was like, “Wait! You’re doing the record?” And he was like, “Yeah.” And I freaked out.
I know Brandon because I met him when I happened to be sleeping on a couch of one of his former roommates [while recording Cinematics]. That’s our connection. And then [producer] Tommy [English] I met when we wrote a song with Feldmann and he was working there at the time. So, I met all these people in the weirdest ways and then we all come together to work on the same record? It’s like, “What the hell?” It felt like a sign. It was kind of like a voice in my ear saying, “It’s all going to be okay. This couldn’t be working out more perfectly.”
So, back to this All Time Low show. Just after we finally get everything sorted out—this all happened in the same night! We got cancelled, and we found our new producers in the same night. So I’m on the side of the stage watching them play “Dear Maria, Count Me In” [remembering getting to sing with the band on the 2008 Spring AP Tour] and thinking, “What a great way to end this night,” and Alex looks over at me and motions for me to come onstage, and then it all comes full circle. The night ends with me singing “Dear Maria” with them. I was like, “We’re going to be okay. We’re going to be fine.” And we were. It’s crazy to think of how this all came together.
If you were thinking of it in terms of what might have been and how the album turned out after the producer change, what do you thinking the guys brought to the table? How did they change things for you?
I think they all added their own style, and that’s what I love as well. Brandon works with Martin Johnson, who is very deep in the pop world. He works for Jason Derulo, Avril Lavigne, Christina Perri, all these other people, so Brandon has also worked directly with them. Being the pop nerd that I am, he helped me translate my ideas into things that I may not have necessarily been able to do on my own. He brought a lot of that to the table. Tommy has a really, really good mind for indie rock or alternative rock. He’s really good at that. What’s cool is Tommy and Brandon are polar opposites. Tommy’s the most “Yeah man, whatever. Let’s do it.” and Brandon’s like, “Ah! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Like, really excited all the time, so it was a really cool dynamic within the studio to have that mix of personalities. And Matt was obviously just so helpful with everything.
When we first started, Brandon had just moved into a new house. He didn’t have anything. No studio or anything, so we’re writing these songs, and we’re writing them a cappella without even a guitar. We were really inspired by this demo of “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, and he just wrote it all a cappella. We were like, “Oh my God, that’s incredible!” The foundation was completely melody, and what a better foundation. We used to say if you’re writing a song, it needs to pass the acoustic guitar test, where you shouldn’t have to worry about all the programming and everything. It should survive on its own as a good song with just your voice and acoustic guitar. So now our goal became, we need to make this survive without that. These songs had to be good enough just sung on their own. We wrote a majority of the songs [that way] and we still have the voice demos. It’s really funny to listen back to it when someone throws a beat box in there. To see how they transformed is really neat. We put ourselves outside of our comfort zone. We were forced to write in different scenarios and it really kept us on our toes.
Out of thanks to Brandon for doing us such a huge favor, I helped him, while writing, build his studio within his house, and then that studio ended up being where we finished the record.
So it was not only artistic labor, but physical labor.
It was one of those Mr. Miyagi moments, you know? Like, “Wax the car and then you will have have your album!” [Laughs.] I wanted to do it. Back home, I always help my mom out if she needs help building anything. I’m not a handyman per se, but I can help. We helped put up all the panels, we went to IKEA and got the couch, so I got to watch an album and a studio be built.
I was thinking while you were talking about the demos that now that fans know they exist, they’ll want to hear them.
Oh, yeah. I want to create some way for them to hear the transformation. I still have them. I would love to have those voice memos play then immediately after, play the song, and just show them, “This is how it happened.” This was the little moment of the inception of the song; then, here’s the final product. I’ve always wondered about that, too, when I listened to my favorite bands. I love Fall Out Boy and think Patrick is such a talented musician, and I used to YouTube “Patrick Stump writing” just because I wanted to watch him write! I would love to see how his mind works, so I think it would be pretty cool to give people an opportunity to see how we write songs.
This is one of AP’s most anticipated albums of 2014, so if you were to give us and fans a little tease, what do you think we should anticipated now that it’s all ready?
From watching this all come together, like really seeing it come together behind the scenes and from being really put outside of our comfort zone writing here and involving these other influences… I know [change] is a scary word, but I hope people will look at it in a positive light, because we totally are; anticipate a little bit of change. We’re excited about it. Everyone has always been with us every time we’ve made changes, and we’re happy no one has really fallen off the wagon and they seem to have a lot of trust in us. So, I want to say to anticipate change.
If we wrote the same record over and over again, how fun would that be? ALT