Interview: The Academy Is...
Fri, 31 Oct 2008 09:06:24
The Academy Is... Videos
The Academy Is… love the '80s. That's instantly apparent from the title of their latest album, Fast Times at Barrington High. The album is chock full of super infectious pop hooks that'd resound down any high school hallway whether it was '08 or '88. On a heavy diet of literature and Cameron Crowe flicks, frontman William Beckett has a lot to talk about. He discussed the making of Fast Times, launching his own online literary society, the Internet, how kids have changed and much more in this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com.
Did you go into the studio knowing you wanted to do a high school centric record for Fast Times?
Yeah, I did. We had the name of the album before we started recording, which is a big difference from our last album. This one was very focused. I knew what I wanted to say on it.
It feels very cohesive from start to finish. Is there one conceptual thread lyrically?
A lot of it had to do with not wanting to repeat stories. Each song deals with something different that happened in my life. When it comes down to it, the overall theme is the importance of the present and not taking what's in front of you for granted. It encourages people to have fun. It's very easy to get lost in the future—what you're going do with college, this job or that job or wanting to grow up so fast. This is for everyone essentially. My parents can identify with it. It goes across the board.
What's your creative process like?
That's a good question. It's different for every song. On some songs, Michael will write music and send it to me. Then I'll write melody/lyric over it. Other times, I'll start the song with an acoustic guitar, or we'll sit down and get a structure of a melody that we like. Nothing was going to get in the way of the melodies. On the last album, it was a little more jammy and free flowing, which is great because it enabled to make us whatever album we want. This is the album I've been waiting to make, ever since I was younger.
The songs definitely flow with each other.
It was definitely a bit of a challenge to find songs that would stick because there were more songs that didn't make the album. There was one called "Everybody Has a Version," but we ended up releasing it as a B-side, strictly because I thought it was a little dark for the album. Thematically, it was more matter of fact storytelling and less hopeful. That's one of the themes I wanted to keep constant in the album. Which I think is sort of a dying breed. It's definitely turned into a single oriented, single-serving world.
Where did that '80s aesthetic come from?
We're huge Cameron Crowe fans, and he wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High. First it was a book, and then it was transcribed into a screenplay. A lot of the music we listen to is also from the '80s, like New Order and The Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen. Our guitar player has really found a unique sound, but there's still great guitar work in there. The way that he solos, he's not doing 180 notes in a second. He's learning melodic solos that are very tasteful and interesting. I think that's another big accomplishment on the album. The aesthetic of quality of the recording and the production—it sounds bold and all the parts are very cultivated.
It seems like it was a natural evolution from the last record too.
It's definitely a brighter sounding record. That's why they call it a record, because it's a recording of where you are. We don't like making an album that sounds the same as what we've already done. Why would we want to do it again? It's a natural thing to evolve and change, and it's also something that you would want to change. But why did people like your music, and why did they get into your music in the first place. They have their evolutionary road, and they forget their roots. In the core of this album, it's all about our roots and where we came from. It was as honest as possible.
Do you feel like you were coming from a different place lyrically at all?
Definitely, it's coming from a place that's sort of like the first album. There were no expectations actually. We had nothing to lose. We made this album essentially about living our dreams and becoming a band. It's something naïve at times but real. I was definitely going through what was an identity crisis. I was very confused and stressed and scared about how people were going to think about the album. As a result, we came out with a pretty dark record. Lyrically, it was pretty much self reflective, dealing with trying to find yourself or trying to find your identity and going on without showing that anything is wrong. Even though it was a darker album, it made me realize a lot about myself. With the album, it was like I found my voice and found a place where I'm okay where I am. I'm not trying to be anyone else. I'm comfortable with who I am. The album was intending to encourage individuality in people and in particular young people.
That's definitely important these days, because kids get so bombarded by their parents, or school or TV or the internet. It's easy for a kid right now to get lost in the shuffle.
Yeah, it's definitely a strange thing. One of my friends is a teacher that teaches first grade or something and went into the class and asked all these kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. Basically, you've got a room full of kids saying things like, "I want to be a rock star," "I want to be a celebrity," "I want to be a singer" and "I want to be a diva." It's shit like that. I'm sorry, but when I was in first grade, I wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman or something like that. I think a lot has changed with media and the emergence of reality television. It's hard for people to feel comfortable about themselves now when they have a limited number of role models in the media. You look at all these people...there are no role models in politics at all, and, if there are, I guess we'll find out soon. It's hard to find hope and honesty in our politics, and that's what's on TV now.
You look at The Surreal Life now or shit like that. You look at people who were successful and now are failing or miserable and falling apart. People watch this. If you're watching people you used to look up to reduced to tears with drug problems, you think, "What is there to strive for? What is there to look up to? What's the next step?" Other than a few good celebrities who are role models, when it comes down to it, there aren't many. Music is a way out of it. When I found music, I was happy with who I was. I didn't care what people thought about it because I had my friends, and that's all that mattered.
“Music is a way out of it. When I found music, I was happy with who I was.”
Kids need to be brought down to reality. The celebrities are even more here-today-and-gone-tomorrow than they ever were. Most of them aren't celebrities for any warranted reason, other than the fact that they were just on TV.
Yeah, or they're here today, gone tomorrow and then they're back for their big comeback, like Britney Spears. It's all so calculated—people get so worked up about it. With the Internet too, it's a great tool to have. I just launched this poetry/new poet's society, MONDAYEYES. I launched that purely because I'm trying to encourage people to douse into creative writing and to be creative on the Internet. That's an alternative to sitting on message boards or Perez Hilton and other gossip sites all day long and talking shit about people and living this double life of who you are and who you are on MySpace. That's the kind of stuff I'm trying to encourage.
Kids need more of that too. It's so important to be creative when you're young. That sets you up for more creative future endeavors.
Yeah, it's just as important for people who are out of high school, out of college or in college, purely because I think people stop being creative at a certain point. They tell themselves that they don't have it, that they aren't good at that. It's just because they haven't done it in so long. It's really interesting how that kind of thing stays. I think people just forget about it because there are so many distractions everyday on TV and on the Internet. People need to take a minute with themselves—go outside, hang out with your friends. You've got to find that inspiration from the real world.
You can't get it on Wikipedia or download inspiration.
Personally, I've never been a fan of blogs because they take the art out of writing. It takes a certain degree of refinement out of it—similar to music. The Internet has taken the real soul out of it.
It's oversaturated everything. You and I, right now, can start a band and have a MySpace. We can have friends and fans online without any music. We could essentially talk over a drum loop and call ourselves a band. That being said, more quality is rising to the top of the shit storm. There's something at the eye of the storm. There always has been, but now that's the case more than ever. There's just so much material and so much information—especially with blogging and music. It's one of those things that will and already is fixing itself. I do a blog actually, but a lot of it consists of short films and poetry, which has, in turn, motivated more people to join. MONDAYEYES is the writing site that I mentioned. It encourages people to try and learn from other people's writing and learn from their own writing. I think that's a relief. I think it's a healthy and positive thing as opposed to everyone being their own Gene Simmons and the master of their own universe.