It was naturally a night for having fun, what else could be had when a show consists of Zebrahead and Army of Freshmen?
Before the show began we, like a wandering stray, were graciously brought out of the freezing cold and taken into the warmth of the venue to sit down and have a chat with Chris Jay and Kai Dodson one third of good-time gang Army of Freshmen to discuss the tour, their recent EP and socks.
It has been at least 3 years since we last crossed paths with Army of Freshmen back when they were in the UK on their 'No One's Famous' tour, and aside from some quick trips to the UK and Europe all has been mildly quiet on the Army front in the years that have passed. So, with greetings, brief comments on the abysmal weather and a recalling of just how long it has been since we last met, we sat down with vocalist Chris Jay and bassist Kai Dodson to find out just how this tour has been.
“It's been absolutely great.” Chris tells us “It's been super cool. Happy to play with Zebrahead again, they're great guys, buds. We got to go to a couple of cities that we hadn't been to like here [Newcastle] in a while. So that's been great. All positive, the only negative thing I would say is that it's the end of the year, and it's so close to Christmas you just get that element of you know, people have their minds on the holidays. And the weather, I mean it's woooooo! We've never been here in December.”
“We come from California,” Kai nods “We do not understand this kind of weather.”
And so it's at this point that the new batteries on the voice recorder decide to die, the next few sentences lost forever, however with the video option on the camera as a backup and the nod from the guys we're quickly up and recording once again picking up from their comments about the weather.
“Oh the weather?” Chris quickly recaps “So, great tour. Zebrahead great guys, happy to be here it's been totally fun, got to go back to some new cities, only thing would just be it's frikken cold. We saw a snow storm in Glasgow, wind storm last night [Thursday]” he lists off in his fingers
“And it does not snow where we live.” Kai adds “Ever. Not once in the history of the world has it ever snowed, since like probably Pangea and snow is cold, this is something I've learned.”
“It snowed at club pangea?”
Kai laughs “Oh I forgot it. It's a horrible club where we're from.” he informs us
“It has snowed things there before.” Chris laughs
Thankfully there has been no snow in this part of the country, so aside from torrential rain and gale force winds, has it been good to be back in the UK?
“Absolutely.” the guys say almost simultaneously.
“We have so many friends and fans here it's so good to see familiar faces,” Chris explains “People like you, that's like 'oh hows she doing I haven't seen her' that kind of thing, its been great.”
“It's a home away from home for sure.” Kai smiles
“And it was nice to do a proper tour because we were here in April, but we did three European festivals so, we just kind of did a couple of spot shows and we did the same thing in 2010, so this is the first time that we've been in the UK and played more than five shows.”
“An actual tour yeah.” Kai agrees.
Having been to the UK quite a number of times, it's a wonder that the guys haven't seen all the sights, so do they still head out and about when they visit?
“I do,” Kai nods “I mean this time of year not nearly as much but we've walked around, busted some action, seen some bridges and some old places.”
“We didn't hit it like we would if it was spring or summer.” Chris agrees “We're always down to see stuff but there were days where it's just like...”
“I get a mile away and I just freeze.”
“And it's sad too because we have a new drummer with us, and I wanted him to see a bunch of stuff in London, but it just was not realistic between the schedule and the weather you know. This poor guy comes to England for the first time and all he's seen is the backstage of clubs.”
So no ice-skating this tour?
“No,” Chris shakes his head
“I'd like to try though.”
“I don't know,” Kai laughs “We've had enough broken bones for one tour.”
Over the summer the band have hit up Europe taking their blend of good time pop-rock to the stage at just a handful of the numerous festivals the likes of France, Belgium and the UK have to offer. Were the festivals as good as they had hoped?
“This past year?” Chris questions, inclining his head slightly “Earlier this year?”
“Oh man amazing!” Kai enthuses
“Great,” Chris agrees “I love festivals. I know of course Kai is the same way, but I think we first off - we excel on stage there because we know how to work a larger stage, and we know we have very [good] crowd interaction which tends to go over well at festivals. But you get to play with all of these bands that you're fans of or maybe you're friends with.”
Nodding Kai continues “Groezrock was, I mean that was one of the best weekends of my life. Hands down. There were so many bands that are like heroes.”
So would they say that Groezrock was their favourite of this year?
“Oh yeah, for sure.” Chris states
“Yeah, this year definitely.” Kai agrees
“Yeah...” Chris starts slowly after pausing to consider the question “That's kind of hard to beat, but for different reasons. That one was amazing because of what it was and where we were, we were on the main stage, but we've played club shows where we've put on a better show, you know so you like different shows for different reasons I think.”
Last year the band left a virtual trail of breadcrumbs. No announcement in sight and a number of teaser photos later they released three new tracks in the form of the EP 'Close Encounter'. The EP was released on a pay-what-you-like model and we were curious to find out what made them choose to do that.
“It's just kind of the way,” Kai explains “For a band our size, we're not going to make money off the music anyway but it's better for people to have it then have them come to the shows, than pay for the music and not come to the shows.”
“And we'd been a little quiet before that to be honest with you,” Chris points out “2009 was a pretty quiet year for us. And so was the first half of 2010, and it was only an EP. So I think there was also an element of feeling bad about trying to get money from people, when you know we hadn't had music out in a while. We're hoping to do a full length record next year, and I mean I don't think we'd do a freebie thing but we'd definitely do some incentives and experiment. everyone's trying stuff now.”
“It's the wild west in the music industry!” Kai laughs
“You know what its funny,” Chris states “Everyone's telling you, you know your fans will give you more money. There will be people that will give you too much for it to offset it, and we didn't really find that.”
Kai nods “Apparently that worked for Radiohead, but Radiohead we are not.”
“Exactly I saw the percentage on it, and it was like 90% of the people that had downloaded it did the free option. And its like thanks peeps.” Chris emphasises with a thumbs up
“Including my mom.”
We can put our hands up here at Cult-Following and happily state that we paid for it.
“That's awesome.” Kai tells us
“I paid a penny!” Chris laughs
“Hey, don't judge.”
So, with 'Close Encounter' being a three track marvel what was the inspiration behind them?
“Well I mean it was interesting, because when you're only gearing on three tunes I think you actually get to spend a lot of time on them,” Chris explains “As opposed to a record. Every record there's always going to be a couple of tunes that don't get the love that the others ones do, but with that EP those three songs got every attention.”
Kai agrees “We worked them and worked them and we worked them, and they were all written in a very short period of time. We went back to old school. We were all in the practice space just hammering about, as opposed to just one guy with a part kind of doing email chains and that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, and I think there was kind of a real sense of hanging in there on that one, because it was an in between thing and things had kind of slowed down. So a lot of the stuff that was on my mind was just like no, just keep it going. That was the sort of thing I think in a couple of those songs.”
Their single from the EP is 'Body Parts' a bouncy rumbustious number that is no doubt set to be one of those that you find yourself singing along to at random intervals. The track is accompanied by a brilliantly satirical video, set in the Wild West it sees the band going toe to toe with the bad guys. But where did such a concept come from?
“Well Kai and I are huge western movie fans,” Chris explains “And I think it was just kind of an excuse for you and I to dress up like cowboys really.” he looks to Kai
“We'd been talking about it for a long time,” Kai continues “And it was always just we just couldn't find the budget for it. And we finally found a way to do it on the cheap”
“Yeah we have.” Chris expands “And we had actually been talking about that concept for 'Above The Atmosphere', but everyone told us it's too expensive it's too expensive. We found the right director, a guy named Travis Mauck, who was amazing. He kind of got the vision, he had a hook up at a local place. We did a lot of work on our own preparing for it just to try and do it on the cheap. I'm thrilled with it.”
“As with him and his crew, everyone just really pitched in and all the bad guys are all our best friends from back home, that was good times.”
“Yeah it was great. I'm really proud of that video and how well it came out.”
“Actually,” Chris begins “I love all our videos. I mean, I think we're only one of a few bands who can look back and be like, okay we've made basically 3? 4 official videos? We've made four, what I consider, official videos. There's one or two when we first got together that we tried some stuff but like, four what I call videos. And I to this day, for the budget that we had for those videos, am thrilled with them. I think they totally stand up you know.”
It might raise eyebrows but here at Cult-Following we think that sometimes a lot of the low-budget videos are better than one that have had all the money spent on them.
Chris nods softly “Yeah sometimes they are.”
“Totally.” Kai agrees
“I'm already thinking about shit for the next video. Because I'm like wow man we got to live up. We've got a lot to live up to.”
“What's next ninjas?” Kai suggests “A samurai video?”
“I know that could be good, could be good. Maybe we won't even put ourselves in it.”
All of the Army of Freshmen videos seem to be really fun. Everyone seems to be having a great time. It also seems that the band don't really take themselves too seriously. But is that something that they think is important to portray?
“Definitely,” Kai states “We never take ourselves too seriously.”
“I just think we would feel kind of fake if we did like a tough guy video or something like that.” Chris admits “We just kind of have to make fun of ourselves. I always liked funny videos, when I was a little kid - Twisted Sister when MTV first started getting cooking, I would wait and wait at the TV. Because I just as a kid, thought that those Twisted Sister videos were so great.”
“Beastie Boys 'Fight For Your Right' did the same kind of thing,” Kai points out “Just like these guys, look at these goofy guys they're having a party it's good times.”
“Even if we did a serious video I think there would have to be some type of humour in it.” Chris admits, before continuing quite exuberantly “We've got this new song called 'Concrete Hope', which very well could be the new single off the next record. It's completely possible that that could be the tune. And I'm already trying to pop things in my head, and I'm like man maybe there's a way to kind of bridge the gap. Like, I was thinking the other idea of the tune, almost like a travelling thing with like a little kid on a fucking big wheel,” he laughs “Do you know what I mean? And he's just like the whole town's against him, but he's like a bad ass just doing his own thing and maybe we're in it in some way.” he pauses before giving a small disclaimer “This is just a random idea that I've shared with no one, it may not work.”
“Again we don't take ourselves seriously,” Kai reiterates “The last thing we're going to do is try to act like we're tough guys, or enforce that to anybody. We're just, we're ridiculous. We were nerds growing up we always got picked on. That kind of never changes.”
“So we try to portray that in the video. There's sadness in comedy.” Chris nods before smiling “That's a funny line.”
“Sad clown happy clown. So gangster.”
Having been around since 1997, it is quite evident that the guys have come far since the beginning. Clocking up numerous travels and tours almost globally, and a strong fan base supporting them all the way, but how do they thing they've progressed with regards to their writing and their sound from the early days to now?
“I think it's gotten better,” Chris tells us “Naturally, I think your song writing just gets a little better. You just learn how to do it a little more.”
“Better melody,” Kai explained “I mean just more musical. Songs on Close Encounter are probably more musical.”
“I really think we can say that even though the records are different, I've enjoyed every record a little more than the last. There's just been a certain amount of growth to a certain extent. But they all mean different stuff, and were recorded in different ways. There's a time and things in the way the first record was recorded versus the Close Encounter EP. I mean I'm talking about technology that really didn't exist. So things change you know but, I think that there's been growth.”
So with plans for videos swimming around their heads, plans for a full length record what does 2012 hold for Army of Freshmen?
“New album.” Kai states
“Yep,” Chris nods “New album. I think that 2012 is going to be awesome, somebody was asking about that earlier. I think it's like our 15thyear technically as a band, so it's a bit of a milestone. We're going to go back and do some writing, a new record for sure. And then I think that we want to try and crack that German egg. We really want to get over to Germany next year and we want to definitely get back to the UK. I'd like to do a festival or two.”
“Or 13.” Kai laughs
“Yeah or 13. But my perfect year would be like write a new record, release a new record, do a new video, come do a festival late spring early summer here [UK]. Do a festival or a tour in Germany around the same time, and then come back for like a cool tour at the end of the year. That's just fantasy you know, but we're thinking. The gears are grinding. Which is good for us because when we get going things really happen, our problem is the lulls.”
“We live in a sunny pretty place,” Kai points out “It's easy to become complacent.”
“You throw in a 9-5 job in a sunny place and its like do you really want to go?”
“Our jobs and our friends. And our bars and you know, one thing leads to another.”
“The productivity can slow down occasionally.”
“But its mostly like extra time.” Kai notes “We're going home immediately to finish writing for the next record.”
“In fact,” Chris continues “I would like to get together even if its not a full band in the jam room type of thing. But get together with a couple of us and just piece out a couple of ideas, to be like okay we know we got these three tunes, lets think about some stuff. Everybody work on some riffs, lets really kind of think it out a little bit over the holidays. So maybe people have a bunch of stuff brewing so, when we get back together in January its not like there's one idea, there's like ten ideas.”
“There's already ideas floating around,” Kai states “But yeah its going to be good. Its going to be a good year.”
“Yeah make a record that people, even if they're not into Army of Freshmen just - and then we always try and do this of course - but maybe have one or two things on there, that would make somebody turn their head and be like woah, that's, that's something special. But its getting it out there. Its the same battle we've been battling ever since we met you. Its not having a label, not having the big push, not having the money. It's not easy you know what I mean? So it becomes a matter of you've got to find people like yourself, and the fans that you have, that whether its one person at the show or 300 people at the show. You've got to find the people that like you to spread the word, definitely.”
And so concludes our chat with the guys, however we're not quite finished yet. They were game enough to answer our five Christmas questions.
And so without further ado, we present you with Cult-Followings 'Festive Five.'
What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
Kai: The food, no question about it. I gorge myself.
Chris: I lean towards presents. Giving and getting they are both awesome.
What is the worst Christmas present you've been given?
Chris: The worst?
Kai: Every year. Every year my grandmother gives me socks. I love my Grandma, I hope she doesn't read this because I do not want her to get bummed out, but Grandma I've got enough socks. And she buys me white socks, and I don't wear white socks.
Chris: I actually just ran out of socks today and I wear white socks, so if Kai's Granny wants to kick down.
Kai: Well Granny Wardock will hook you up.
Chris: Well it's better than Ed Sellers miss-matchies. The only socks he left in his drawer were ones that didn't match, you know what I mean?
Kai: Those would be the ones that he wanked in.
Chris: That was my fear! What if they're not miss matched? What if they're his wank socks?
Kai: You got the wank socks on. There's the worst present that's ever been given. Wank socks, pre-wanked. I did get coal one year actually in my stocking, that was kind of rough.
What is the best Christmas present you've received?
Kai: The first guitar I ever got. I got it for a Christmas present, and it has to be because it changed my life.
Chris: I don't know about my best but I remembered my worst. I was fucking obsessed with these guns which shot paint before paint-ball really came around. And it was a toy for kids and it was called Gotcha.
Kai: Had it.
Chris: And I was so obsessed with it and I wanted it so bad for Christmas, but the son of a bitch gun. I remember being at my Grandmothers just crying because it just doesn't work.
Kai: Oh yeah it was complicated
Chris: Well mine I just could not get it to work I had to boil the caplets. It was a nightmare. It was not what I thought it was. And I was amped for that present. So whoever, the bastards that invented Gotcha. Now paint-balls are frikken awesome. You get a paint-ball gun you can actually have a really good time.
Kai: I had Gotcha and it was supposed to be disappearing ink. But it was more it should have been called fading ink, because it was blue and red and you'd still end up with a slightly blue or pink stain. Fuck you Gotcha. Let's find them, who made that? Let's track them down.
What is your favourite Christmas song or carol?
Chris: I like uhm
Kai: Silent night.
Chris: God Rest You Merry Gentlemen. I think that was always a pretty hardcore song.
Kai: I like Silent Night. I know its a serious one but.
What is your favourite Christmas film?
Kai: A Christmas Story.
Chris: Yeah I agree 100% can't go wrong.