It’s been a long, at times rough, road for the So So Glos since their 2007 debut. The Brooklyn punks cranked out a string of EPs before unraveling themselves from the constricting record contract that they signed when singer-bassist Alex Levine was only 19 years old. Brief stints opening for …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Matt & Kim, amongst a host of others, left guitarist Matt Elkin feeling like “the most inappropriate addition to every show [they] played.” After sitting on their latest fell-length, Blowout for just over a year, Levine, Elkin, guitarist Ryan Levine, and drummer Zach Staggers (Alex’s brother and step-brother respectively) have unleashed their latest prickly take on salt-of-the-Earth punk rock on their own.
SPIN trekked to the East Williamsburg, Brooklyn DIY venue Shea Stadium (where the band also lives, and from which their label takes its name) to talk about the process behind Blowout (which you can hear streaming below) and how they’ve managed to maintain their identity in an increasingly fickle internet environment.
After nearly five years since your debut, was making Blowout a laborious process?
Matt: They were the ideal circumstances, or the most ideal yet, to record an album. We did it on our own time when we could, on long weekends down in Philly and it took about five months. We’d never done that before. Before that, it was always rapid-fire weeklong sessions where we’d just camp out in the studio and get everything recorded and mixed. So this was the first time we got to reflect on things over the course the week, and pare things down to their barest essentials.
Alex: We went to California and did some demos out there. We went upstate to our friend’s place and got away from the city. It was really central to get out of the city every time we were writing and demoing. But the writing process has just been constant, and that’s been going on since we finished the last EP. Some of the songs were written maybe two years ago and some of them were written in the studio. There’s this song, “Everything Revival,” that was a total skeleton and we just went crazy in the studio one night. It’s that balance between really practiced and planned out and completely improvised, and they work together for us.
What were the sessions themselves like? Were they more businesslike since you squeezing everything into weekends?
Alex: I wouldn’t say businesslike.
Zach: Business in the front, party in the back.
Matt: No, it was a really great experience packing up and heading to Philly and we’d stay in a Motel 6 and devote the entirety of the 96 hours at a time [to the recording]. Obviously, making a record at any time is pretty fucking laborious, but this was getting to exercise all our little whims.
Alex: There was a little drinking of cough syrup.
Zach: There’s always a little bit of cough syrup on our records.
You don’t really have a cough syrup sound though.
Zach: Yeah, maybe it was DayQuil.
Ryan: We just had a lot of fun recording this album. It was loose.
Matt: [2008’s Tourism/Terrorism] wasn’t all that fun. It was just insanity. Adam [Reich, longtime So So Glos producer] literally didn’t sleep for seven days.
Did you start the label solely for the purposes of putting this record out?
Alex: We didn’t start the label for this record, that sort of came after the fact. [The label] is just the process of the way we can put the record out so that the most ears can actually hear it. That took a lot of time, working out the best way to do that.
Matt: Having this Shea Stadium imprint is natural. This place is so inherent in who we are. It’s our little headquarters, our little Batcave. Everyone here is our family. It’s beyond the band, we’re just a small part of this equation. Everyone that gets involved here are our closest friends and longest partners in music making and everything otherwise.
Did you have any big musical goals for this record as opposed to those past EPs and the debut?
Alex: I think our big word that we were throwing around when we were recording this record was “clarity.” We wanted to be able to hear everything and be in your face and almost hi-fi, in a sense. It’s not a lo-fi mess where you’re hiding your insecurities behind a lot of noise and a lot of reverb. It’s really crisp and clear. It’s a kick in the face, an explosion, a Blowout.
Zach: The vibe is so apparent in the title, Blowout. We had that name as a loose name for a while. Even as we were starting in the studio we knew that’s what we were going for. It’s like everything is blown out, bricked out, we just wanted it to be aggressive. We just put our faces in people’s faces to get our ideas out. And it’s a party.
Alex: We had to own those insecurities we might have had — to really embrace them, and be the band that we are.
What are those insecurities?
Alex: Creatively, there’s always that time when you start to think or believe some of the bad things that people say about your old record. Part of growing into this record was getting to a point where we didn’t give a shit about what people say. I think that’s a long process to get to a point where you don’t give a fuck and you can just be exactly who you are.
Matt: We really don’t have a lot of like-minded musical peers even though we do cater to any and all. I think we’re sore thumbs.
Zach: We’ll be billed with hip bands that everyone is going out to see. They could be punk or not, but we feel like outsiders. That’s essentially why we created [Shea Stadium], to include ourselves.
Alex: In Internet culture, everyone has their two cents to say. Fuck it, we are an in-your-face band. We’re from the Northeast, this is our home, this is the way we speak, this is our attitude. I think a lot of bands try to hide who they actually are. They cover those insecurities up with production techniques. A lot of music that’s popular nowadays sounds like it’s pretending. It’s not honest. We wanted to make a true reflection of the people we are on Blowout.
Matt: We’re earnest without just whining about relationships.
Even if you don’t sound like other bands, don’t you think you still fit into the climate of what’s going on?
Matt: Maybe we’ve just gotten to the point where a few people on the Internet have said “It’s okay to like the So So Glos.”
Alex: It’s more of an attack on the Internet culture that breeds constant cynicism and bickering and bitching. It’s so fucking annoying. And it’s anonymous! If you say something in real life you have a face and a mouth and that sound and those words are coming out of there. If you say it on the Internet it’s nothing. You can say racist and ignorant things. It’s stupid. That culture is starting to influence reality. We’re all becoming a lot more cynical. At the first sign of emotion we shriek and cower. And we shouldn’t, we should celebrate [emotion] because we’re all humans.
Matt: A big step was not concerning ourselves with that shit anymore. I heard Aziz Ansari talk in an interview about how he used to be invested about what people were saying about his comedy and it would really hurt his feelings, and then he saw that someone was posting about Raw by Eddie Murphy. 20 years after the fact someone is talking shit on a message board about one of the most highly regarded comedic performances of all time. Who are these fucking assholes with that much time to waste?
Ryan: They need hobbies.
:audio=0:112744:playlist:The So So Glos, Blowout: