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An interview with the So So Glos / by Chris Keene

The So So Glos are the best, ask anyone. A few months ago, the band of (mostly) brothers from Brooklyn released one of our favorite records of the year, Blowout. Now, they’re on a tour that brings them to Allston’s Great Scott on August 29 to play with Krill and Diarrhea Planet. In advance of the show, our friend Chris Keene (of Mean Creek) called up So So Bros Alex Levine and Zach Staggers to talk about their record, hometown, the DIY venue they live in, and more.

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Chris: You guys have been a band for many years. I sometimes get the impression from some people that it’s almost looked down upon to be in a band that’s been around a long time. The internet has shortened all of our attention spans, and it leaves a lot of music listeners constantly wanting something new. What has kept you guys together for so long, and what do you love about being with the same group instead of bouncing from one band to the next?

Zach: Well, for us, we’ve been in a band together since we were 3, 4, and 5 years old, Alex, me, and Ryan respectively. A lot of bands now will have formed sort of with the intent of doing something like a couple of records, and then doing some side projects and using the internet to exploit that short attention span, but for us, we’re just lifers.

Alex: I think there’s a certain unique energy that us 4 bring together just because we learned how to play together. We were never classically trained by any means in any way. It was just learning how to work with what we had in terms of instruments just by falling down and making the same mistakes so we’d all kind of fall to that same beat. It’s not a band where anyone’s replaceable. I’m kind of a big subscriber to the philosophy that a band is a band when it feels like a band, and when one of the members or anything goes, then that’s it. That’s why it’s especially important in this band because we made our own weird rhythm with the tools that we had.

You guys remind me of a lot of the pop punk bands I grew up listening to. Rancid being the biggest one, especially in your vocals and attitude, but also bands like the Exploding Hearts, Screeching Weasel, etc. Would you consider these bands influences?

Alex: Ya, I mean, those are definitely influences, but we’re all bringing a lot of different stuff to the table in terms of music. I think it starts just by trying to write a great song, and then you add the way that we play. I don’t know if it’s necessarily intentional but it turns out a little scrappier and a little bit punkier. I think at the root of the song they’re just the best songs we feel like we can write. They turn into punkier things, but we listen to all kinds of music from Harry Belafonte to Buddy Holly. I’m especially glued to lyrics. They hit me, they stick in my brain the most. We’ll just try to start writing a Woody Guthrie song, or some kind of Bob Dylan song, and then boom, in the end it sounds like a So So Glos song and you don’t know what happened.

What do you feel like is different about this album than your previous ones? What was going through your heads when you were making it?

Alex: I don’t know if there was anything that was much different. I think we grew into this record and all those past records were just little steps along the way to get us to that place, but now we’re in a completely different place, so everything just kind of adds up. The headspace of this was just kind of an independent headspace where there were no other hands in the pot in terms of management or label or anyone like that telling us what we could or could not do. There was no thought of any of that stuff because it was just not there. It was basically back to the original plan which was just to go into a studio and have the most fun. Record the best album that we could, and make it a cohesive piece of art. It ended up being a party so I’m pretty proud of it.

In “Son of an American”, two lines really stick out to me that have vastly different effects on me when listening. “I wanna sit in the stands and scream, I wanna root for the losing team” makes me feel nostalgic about American culture, while “The sun’s brighter than it’s ever been, why ain’t I? Cause I’m the son of an American” makes me question and critique American culture. The song seems to celebrate certain aspects of our culture, while also questioning and critiquing other aspects of it. Was that dichotomy something you were going for when writing this song?

Alex: Absolutely. Ya, I think any great American anthem is as much knocking America as it is celebrating it. They’re doing it at the exact same time and I think that’s one of the foundations of the American spirit. If you look at “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie, or “Born In the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen, or even “American Girl” by Tom Petty, they’re really dark songs about the dark side of America. “Son of an American” is definitely a jab at American culture and a critique on that. Even a feminist anthem I think in a sense, because it’s really just poking fun at this sort of exploitative American side that we have where we want everything censored. We want the TV to be thin just like the girl, and we want the coffee to be cold and come fast, and we want to use it up as fast as we can. That is what America has become, so it’s a joke, but it’s not ironic, it’s sarcastic I think. It’s more sarcastic than it is ironic. Also it’s sincere because we are all guilty of that type of behavior just by being members of this culture, and it’s spreading internationally.

In “Lost Weekend” you sing “We’ve been drinking far too long, we stumble forward hung up on the past, don’t you worry about that my babe these days weren’t built to last”, and in “Son of an American” you sing “I think I’m living in the past, the other half move too fast”. There seems to be a lot of hints to your past on the album, from these lyrics, to the childhood recording clips that start and end the album. I get the sense from the album that you want to move forward out of the past without losing who you are and who you’ve been all along. Is that at all part of what the album means to you guys?

Alex: I think a lot of it is. I can’t say everything, but I think a big theme is smashing out nostalgia and moving past that. We’re a generation obsessed with looking back at things in this super reflective way, like things were better before. We’re a nostalgic generation. I think the future was definitely in mind lyrically. We’re commenting on that in some ways with those lines. “Lost Weekend” is maybe a generational lost weekend, where we’re drunk with living in the past, and so clouded by it that we can’t really form a culture of our own. The past 10 years have just been this white wash of over saturation in culture. Internet culture especially. We are so exposed to everything at the same time that there is none of our own local culture, it’s this international hodge-podge of everything and nothing all at the same time. That’s kind of where we’re heading, too much information.

In a live clip I saw on YouTube of you guys playing “Speakeasy”, you start the song by putting on a police hat, blowing a whistle, and saying to the audience, “You’re all under arrest for apathetic behavior, for over use of the internet, and for excessive blogging.” I thought this was hilarious and very much spoke to the spirit of your band. You write intelligent and intense songs, and you put on an energetic and engaging live show. Is it important to you guys to try to shake the apathy out of people through your music and your live show? Because that’s what it feels like listening to your album and watching you guys live and it’s one of my favorite parts of your band.

Alex: Absolutely. We love it. We want people to be there now. John Lennon said that. You shouldn’t be taking everything through a fucking screen all the time. That needs to be checked. Things are just so safe in that kind of world and rock n roll needs to be a little bit dangerous. I think if you come out to the show you should dance and engage and put your phone away. The irony of that is that you actually watched that performance through a screen, through a computer, but it’s good, it’s a useful tool, you just can’t let the tool use you. If you do then you’re just being controlled. So that’s definitely part of what we reiterate all the time on stage.

You guys grew up in Brooklyn and have been playing music there since you were kids. Originally being from there, what are your thoughts on the thousands of people that move there to start bands? Do you think it’s good and healthy for the town and for the music scene there, or do you think it’s a negative thing, or perhaps a little of both?

Alex: Probably a little bit of both, I don’t really know. I’m not the authority on it. I just think New York is an ever changing place. It’s constantly growing. Throughout history the tone of New York has been set by the people that come to it, and that will evolve and change forever. Right now Brooklyn’s being put on the map in terms of being exploited as a brand in mainstream culture. There are very bad aspects of that, but I think what people are trying to do when they say this word “Brooklyn:, when they use this brand, is to try to spread the community spirit and the love that comes in the neighborhood. When you move into a neighborhood like that you’ve got to bring that spirit. You’ve got to bring that into the community rather than try to exploit that without the actual feeling of what the community embodies. There are a couple problems with it, but it’s not something to think about too much. It’s just Brooklyn, it’s just a place on the map, and it’s a good place. It’s about respect.

The song “House of Glass” seems to be about the DIY show space you run and live at in Brooklyn, Shea Stadium. Is that what the song is about? How has that DIY show space inspired your band?

Alex: Those ethics are deeply rooted in our band, the DIY all ages ethics. That song is about living that lifestyle for a number of years, and the actual work that goes into creating these spaces. It’s not just a party, someone’s got to clean it up, someone’s got to monitor and control it. We’ve been pretty active in the New York DIY scene for some time. It’s a fragile eco system. It’s made of glass, and it can shatter at any minute if everyone who’s involved doesn’t have mutual respect. That’s really what it’s all about. You’re stepping into someone’s house when you walk into these venues. They are created out of necessity, but also to serve a community, so don’t throw stones around, and don’t talk so loud. It’s just a song about street smarts really. There’s a ton of people involved in Shea Stadium, there’s a big community there. Now that we’re touring a lot we’re not there every night. A lot of good people help run that spot.

Your newest album “Blowout” has received a lot more national attention than your previous albums. What have you learned from this experience, and has anything changed for you guys with the added attention?

Alex: We learned that we need to make another record. We really want the message to get out there, and it’s great that some national media is picking up on it, but it’s just about continuing to make the truest reflection of self. What you envision your artistic experience to be. We’re just trying to make more good music. You can’t really think about anything else about how it’s received or anything like that. It just gets annoying and it’s unimportant.

What about the bands future are you most excited about and looking forward to?

Alex: Just staying alive, staying hungry. Moving along, having fun.

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