Army of Freshmen are back on UK soil, this short trip sees them playing four shows; two as part of Hit The Deck festival. It was at their first show of this run- the headlining warm-up show in Norwich that Cult Following caught up with the band and sat down with Chris Jay and Dan Clark to find out a little more about this trip, their record and their plans for the coming months.
Friday saw a rare day full of glorious sunshine. Not a bad time for a band who usually see the UK in the colder months to pop over to play a handful of shows. Norwich was the first port of call before they headed further North for Hit The Deck Festival in Nottingham and Bristol.
"We were invited to play it." Chris states explaining how the band got involved. "Hit The Deck people asked us. I know it's in it's third year, the first two years I believe were just in Nottingham, and this year they're adding a city in Bristol. So when we were first invited we were very interested in it, but it's kind of tough to come over for just one show. Especially because it's not a massive festival, it's more like a walking venue-to-venue multi-club thing. But when we found out they were adding an additional city we were like, you know what, you get more bang for your buck. We get two cities. Then we said we would do a warm-up show,and The Aquabats asked us to do a show so it got to the point where we were like, yeah this is probably enough things to make it worth the trip. Just to kind of pop in and say hi."
With the decision made to play the small two-day event are they looking forward to getting there and playing?
"Yeah for sure!" Chris enthuses "We're excited we were talking about it today. But, there's a lot of bands there frankly that we don't know, that are UK-based. So we're excited to see some bands that maybe we may have heard of, but being from America we never get a chance to see them. And walking around is always fun at those things."
With that in mind, are there any bands that they're maybe going to head out to see?
"Yeah, we were looking forward to seeing a band called The Front Bottoms," Chris notes, "Our friend Ben, his band Summerlin - it's their last show ever, so we're going to go see them. Anybody you were checking out?" he turns to ask Dan before continuing, "Vinnie from The Movielife; he's kind of a legend. I want to see bands that I hear are getting big like We Are The In Crowd and Don Broco, because sometimes you hear about these bands online, but you don't know what they're all about, so for us it's a nice chance to honestly see some new bands."
With the primary motive behind this short trip to the UK being Hit The Deck, the band added a headlining date turning it into a mini tour of sorts. The headline show sees the band taking to the stage at The Waterfront in Norwich the day before the festival kicks off. Why add their own show?
"We just wanted to get back out to Norwich." Dan explains, "We had a great time last time we were here and we wanted to have a warm up show, get to see some of our fans, some of our friends who may not have been able to make it out to the festival."
"Yeah," Chris continues "When you travel you get a little jet lag. We had issues sleeping last night so sometimes its nice to get that, almost just kind of..."
"Get in the zone." Dan adds
"Sweat it out, get comfortable." Chris nods "Figure out what songs work,pick the set for Hit The Deck. Play some songs tonight and say 'okay we felt good about these', you know that kind of thing? I mean in a perfect world, I would always love any time we came over here to; first day: don't play, get adjusted. Next day; play something small just to kind of get comfortable."
Any surprises in store?
"We're going to dip into the catalogue a little bit I think." Chris reveals
Dan nods "We've got some older stuff coming up."
"Yeah I think we're going to do like maybe three songs off the second record which we haven't played in quite a while."
"It's been a very long time." Dan points out
"Yeah so that will be scary" Chris states causing both Dan and himself to laugh "So we'll see what happens. Actually do one or two old ones, test a couple of things out."
With these four shows being the first for the band since their last trip across the pond some time ago, are there any plans for their own full UK tour?
"Yeah I mean perfect world we'd like to come back at the end of the year," Chris says sounding hopeful "Depending on what happens. I know our agent is going to try and submit for a couple of things. I think that's definitely the goal. Every time we come here we hope that it leads to another visit and it kind of always has, we've been really lucky that way. I'd like to come back at the end of the year for sure. I mean we're in a position where we can't come over as long as we used to, with jobs and all that, but if we could put something together like this towards the end of the year I know we're be all thrilled to do it. I'm already having a blast. I mean it's only been a day."
"It's been awesome." Dan agrees
"Yeah it's been awesome, and we haven't even turned it on yet." Chris enthuses as he points to Dan's drink sitting on the table, "That coozie right there, that's the turn on point right there. So when that comes out it's like okay here we go!"
The band released their fifth album 'Happy To Be Alive' in November last year. How have they found the response?
"Its been really good," Chris notes "I mean everybody that's heard it has liked it. I haven't had one person come up to me in my face and say they hate it. For the most part people that like us really really like it. And what's more exciting to me is people that maybe we're friends with, but maybe aren't fans of the band actually are listening to this record. So I feel like anybody that listens to it has been in to it. The hardest thing now is just to get anybody to listen to anything in this day and age, it seems like we've made our best record in a time when people actually listen to records the least. We saw our first batch of iTunes sales and its was like 'oh you've sold 20 records and 5,000 singles' and it's like what?! We'd be in a different financial place if we would have sold 5,000 records as opposed to songs."
Nodding Chris continues "It's gone back to the 50's. People buy singles, nobody buys records at shows. That used to be the great debate when we were growing up going to shows, do I buy a shirt or do I buy the record? You know because maybe you'd go to see a band that you know that record's not in stores. And before the internet was really really happening, fucking iTunes didn't exist, that may be the only place you could get that music. So it's like do I get a CD or a shirt? Now it's like, well first off kids don't even buy a lot of merch any more period. But if they do, they're getting a shirt before the record that they can go home to spotify and listen to a hundred times tonight for free. Legally I may add. At least at one point you got in trouble now you're not going to get in trouble."
"It's a single culture again." Dan states pointing out the shift in what people are buying.
Have there been any notable fan favourites from the record?
"You know we really haven't played songs enough to find out yet." Chris points out, "'Ava' was the single and we did the video for that, so I hope people are excited to hear that one. I don't know. I actually got a couple of really nice emails about 'Skyscrapers' which is a ballad on the record, so a lot of people tend to seem to really like that one. We put '(America) You're Breaking My Heart' out first just as a free download, and that got really good response. I think the single hopefully, but as you play more you and as you meet people you find out more what songs are working."
Dan agrees "We really haven't played these songs live yet. For our kick-off show and record release but that's it we haven't had any fan interaction with this record at all."
"Tonight will be the first time we play these songs in front of people that may have listened to the record, as Dan said I think we played a warm-up."
"Before we recorded them."
"Before we recorded them, and it's like the third time we've played some of these songs live. So it's exciting for us because we get to play stuff that we haven't played a thousand times. Which is I think for a band always fun, maybe not for someone going to see them if they want to hear old stuff."
Have there been any notable favourites that have come through from people just listening to the record?
"We had people hit us up online and say which ones they were into for sure."
With an album full of great songs, it's easy to find yourself changing your favourite track with each one that plays. With this in mind are there any personal favourites?
"I really like them all to be honest with you," Chris muses, "But I personally - just personally - there's a song on there called 'Cape May Diamond Ring', that I just think is a great well crafted pop song. Just a song that tells a story, puts you in the location but has hooks. That's one for me that I like a lot."
Nodding Dan tells us his "I have to run with several songs, one of them was stuck in my head for two weeks at a time. That one 'Cape May Diamond Ring' was the most recent one that we started practising to get ready for this tour, and I would not ever get rid of that song out of my head. But '(America) You're Breaking My Heart', 'Ava' and 'Cape May Diamond Ring' are like..." he gives a thumbs up "for me."
"Yeah those three I'd have to agree." Chris continues "I think 'Devotion' is a really good pop song too. Dan, I saw Dan on twitter once and he's like 'man the new records great to work out to' and I was like is it? And I've been working out a lot and I've been popping it on, and it's my run record now. Because I can kind of listen to the lyrics and work on them, but it really works its I'm proud because I think..."
"Chris is doing double duty training listening to our own records."
"He can't remember his lyrics."
"Totally. So yeah, it's killing two birds with one stone. But I think it's a neat record because I feel like it's a record, I feel like we made a record. There is kind of a journey with it from top to bottom; so the opening feels like an opening, the end feels like an end, the middle feels like the middle. People don't make records like that any more. And some people don't even make records. I really think we tried to go old school and work on a track listing that flowed. If somebody took the time to listen to this from top to bottom, I think that they would get some kind of an experience with it which is what they used to do. How you make a record now its like you make songs and stick them out there, people will know one or two and that's the end of the story."
The record is packed with punchy song, loaded with catchy hooks and sing-a-long choruses. It's highly likely that anyone listening to it will struggle to pin down their favourite, in fact favourites are likely to change as often as the tracks. With this in mind could the album be summed up in three words?
"Our. Life. Journey." Chris states, "Or, or how about letters just S-M-H."
At this Dan laughs "Little inside I know."
"Little. Little on the inside, sorry about that."
Part 2 of our exclusive Army of Freshmen interview coming soon!