Interview The Academy Is…

Adam Siska invited us onto The Academy Is… tour bus for a chat about Internet pornography, selling out and gang warfare.

The life of a music journalist is never easy. Groups of teenagers are swarming around The Cockpit hoping for a glimpse of the beautiful Beckett; there’s a traffic jam blocking one entrance and a row of tour buses blocking the other. And it’s raining. A lot.

This Is Fake DIY dived into the nearest sheltered area and stumbled across Adam Siska who invited us onto The Academy Is… tour bus for a chat about Internet pornography, selling out and gang warfare.

Your new album, ‘Fast Times at Barrington High’, is very centred around high school and all of its pleasures, why is that?
I wouldn’t say it was focused on all of it’s pleasures so much there’s a lot of not pleasuring, displeasuring things about high school that’s definitely in it. It sucks, I didn’t like high school very much. I think ultimately ‘Fast Times At Barrington High’ is a fictional depiction of what high school is like.

To be honest, I don’t really remember high school; it’s all this big blur of nothingness. So the record is recreating something that would have been my ideal experience, something that I guess youth was like but I don’t really know.

I think ultimately the record’s more centred around the 5 years of when we started the band. We were approaching the end of our time-span at high school, and we’ve been on the road for almost 6 years now, and it’s about where we were then and where we are now and trying to connect the two. I guess, it’s kind of admitting where you come from because after a while, being on the road so much, you forget where it all began. This record for us is about somehow attempting to get back to that place before we were on the road everyday, rainy days in Leeds, and get back to where we were when we first started the band, where the mentality was just to have fun, be friends and play the best music as possible. I think that was just the mentality on this record, and the title of the record just comes from a tribute. Barrington High is where the band began, where the idea of the band even began; just being high school students who really loved music and wanted to get away from high school, go see the world and get a real education. That’s what the record is about.

So what is a real education?
I guess it’s what we do everyday, talking to people from different places in the world and feeling some sort of connection. I guess, the people in England have always been pretty cool but America sucked for a very long time and then some people came out in the forties and fifties and started changing the way people thought and tried a new lifestyle. That kind of lifestyle is the kind of lifestyle that we’re living on the road. In my opinion the only way to really learn is to experience. You can read a million textbooks but that’s just something that’s written in a book. You’ve got to go out there and experience in order to know anything about life. Ultimately, that’s a real education.

Did you intend ‘Fast Times At Barrington High’ to be targeted at a specific demographic?
Absolutely not. I never thought of music as to be towards one person, that’s selling the audience kind of short. When we first started playing, it was to white suburban kids, and as a stereotype people would assume that that’s what we’re still playing to but we’ve toured a lot, we’ve met a lot of different people and we found that we have fans of all different races and all different upbringings and all different religious belief and of different classes. Rich, poor, black and white, gay and straight: we have fans from all over the place, and I wouldn’t say that our music is geared towards any one of those groups. I’d just say that it’s a proper representation of what it is we’re doing as a band. Take it or leave it, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you believe or who your parents are, if you like it go ahead and listen.

In the lyrics you discuss sex a lot.
I guess that’s a big part of the human mind and reality.

The past 2 albums barely touched on sex, why such a big change?
I think music touches on sex. I think that the first record did just as much as this one, whether it was a literal thing or not. Music is something that’s meant to be provocative, that’s why people thought that rock and roll was associated with the devil, because it makes you think about things that they tell you you’re not supposed to think about in school, and that’s what rock and roll is. I wouldn’t say that any of our songs are over the top sexual by any means, I just think that they promote something that isn’t maybe friends.

The sound of ‘Fast Times At Barrington High’ is quite different to the other two albums, is that a conscious thing?
Absolutely. I think that every time we make a record we try to explore different things musically: lyrically and melodically. On the last record, there’s a lot of songs in the minor key. I don’t know if it was really something that we did intentionally or it was really thought out but the minor key just tends to have little bit of a sadder, more sombre tone. And we found that touring with those songs, even if they were hard rocking songs, it was harder to get the full energy out of them because a song in minor key just feels a little dark. In this record, we knew that we wanted to return to a little bit more of the major key and make songs that a little bit more upbeat and were fun to play live and fun to sing along to. We wanted to focus on some positive energy in these songs. We have the rest of our lives to make music, and maybe our next record will be really dark and sad but that’s not what we’re feeling right now and we’d be fooling anyone if we tried to act differently. We’re feeling pretty good.

So was it the relative lack of success of ‘Santi’ in comparison to ‘Almost Here’ that drove the change?
I wouldn’t say that we ever felt that it was a less successful record. We plan on being a band for a very long time and we plan on a lot of records. I think that now with the Internet pretty much being the number 1 source of music, the attention span of people has gone down a lot and that the idea of an artist’s career has kind of deteriorated a little bit.

We’ll put out a new record and they’ll say, “this is crap, I don’t like it”. In actuality, if you don’t like this record, then so be it. We’ll bring out new ones and maybe you’ll like those but if not then I guess we’ve lost you.

But we always felt pretty good about the last record. Surprisingly, when we play songs from the last record, they tend to go over better than the songs from the first record. At least a handful of them seem to be our more successful songs.

People often ask us how we feel about the negative reaction to the previous record. I think that we just try to play the songs the best we can. It’s like when Bob Dylan first ever played ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, and when he first started playing with his full electric band, people used to boo him and throw things at him and stuff but ultimately those are the songs that he’s remembered for; those are his best songs. No one knew it at the time but those were the songs that were gonna influence the next fifty years of music, so you never know.

How do you think it will reflect in sales?
It’s hard to say. We try not to think about sales. People count sales and say that this is what I know about the band but ultimately music is something that comes from you. It’s something that you create because you want to, you have to, because the opportunity to make music is almost like a pact that you made that you just have to keep playing.

We try not to think about sales too much, especially now with people downloading the records and getting the songs for free and just putting it on their iPod from one of their friends or something. You can never count the number of people that are enjoying the music. From the amount of fans that we’ve played to around the world is much greater than the amount of records we’ve sold, and if we focus on how many records we’ve sold, then we’re forgetting about all the people that are actually enjoying the music; the bigger picture. That number is ultimately more important. That’s not something you can really touch. I don’t know how many people come to see us play or how many people are listening to the band in their rooms. There’s so many places to get music now that I don’t think there’s even a way of knowing. We just try to make the best songs as possible and go out on tour, and whoever comes, hope that they enjoy the show.

You streamed the entire album on Myspace before it was released. Why?
We just wanted to get the record out. We knew that usually what happens is that before the record comes out, it’s going to leak somehow. One record store gets it early and someone working there feels a little devious and they upload it to the Internet and everyone downloads it. That way they have control over it. The critics have control at that point, they can say “that sucks” or whatever. But if you leak it, which we did and we did for the previous record as well, we just put it up as a gift. We said, “it’s gonna leak one of these days so here it is from us, we hope people like it.”

Before the record came out, we were just ending Warped Tour, and we flew to Australia immediately and we weren’t really around to hear what anyone had to say about the new record, which was actually a pretty relieving thing not having to think about critics or anything like that. Our manager sent me like fifty reviews of the new record; I’ve maybe read like 1 or 2 of them.

Would you ever consider releasing a record for free download like Radiohead’s In Rainbows?
Yeah, I think that’s cool. I feel like every record that’s released these days is for free download.

An idea that I had was to put a record up a website, I think this may have been what Radiohead did but I had this idea for like ten years, before I even had a band. Put it up on the Internet and have it where people could select how much they wanted to pay. You could pay like $5 or like $20, you could select whatever it was worth to you or if you wanted it for free, you could go someplace else to get it.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of music being something that happens over the Internet. I think there’s something really personal about going to the store and buying a record and putting it on in the car on the ride home or getting back to your bedroom and burning some incense or something and put on a record and listen to it for real and look at the artwork and read the lyric book; that’s what ultimately makes you connected to a record.

I think that now music has become a piece of the Internet, it’s become like something people do privately. Like late at night, you got home from the bar and you heard some song and you go on iTunes and you read what everyone has to say about it and you buy the one song and the next morning you wake up and you forget you ever bought it. It’s just like music has become something that’s floating through the Internet waves or something, it’s not something that’s from within.

I encourage people to collect records but I guess people don’t want to. Music shouldn’t be something that’s done privately on your computer with headphones plugged in, it should be in a record that you listen to when you drive around with your friends, which I guess some people still do.

But ultimately the quality of music you’re getting when you buy it on the computer is not as good, it’s not in the proper format for listening. It’s compressed and it sounds real funny and you’re selling yourself short if anything by listening to a record online.

It feels like one step away from Internet pornography. It’s something that everyone does and nobody talks about. People walk around with their little iPod headphones in and it’s not really a social thing anymore. It’s actually become a hobby rather than a passion, which is a very bad thing. Ultimately, that’s the problem with music now, it’s not the music industry or anything like that, it’s that music is becoming less of a necessity and more of a take it or leave it thing.

In the UK they’re cracking down on illegal downloading, do you think that’s a good thing?
That’s a real good thing, especially with sites like Myspace which promote music. Ultimately, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, whether you know it or not. When you’re not buying a band’s record, you’re not providing them with the income, not to go get houses and sports cars but to make better videos and better sounding records, you’re not keeping the labels going that put out the records. Now what’s happening is when you want to make a video, the record label gives you such a low budget that you need to put like a Pepsi can in your commercial so that you can get more money to make a video that’s even worth making. People will point to that and say that they’re a sell out, they have a Redbull in their video or something. That’s because not enough people are buying the records and the label won’t give you as much money to make a good video anymore to help you get your ideas across. So now you have to reach out to new places to attempt make a record that’s a good enough quality to be heard, it’s a shame.

You’ve just got back from Warped Tour, how was that?
Warped Tour was great. It’s a very strenuous tour, it’s real hot and there’s a lot of bizarre people, I’ll say that much. I think it’s actually a lot like high school for better or for worse, I don’t mean that as a negative thing or as a positive thing.

Warped Tour was actually a lot of fun for us because we’d just finished making the new record and we got to go play some new songs and hang out with our friends and play for our fans for the first time in over 6 months. It was a lot of fun. We’ve done it a couple of times now and it’s a hard tour but it’s also a lot of fun.

You’ve done a lot of touring in your time, who’s been the best band to play with?
There’s a lot of great bands, we’ve had a lot of fun. My favourite people to tour with are Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate. They took us on one of our first tours and I formed a friendship with him that I see lasting for a long time, he’s a very good person. When you can tour with good friends, it makes the whole process go a lot easier. When you’re gone for 2 months at a time or so, if you get to hang out with friends everyday it definitely makes it a lot easier.

Another one of my favourite bands to tour with is Gym Class Heroes, they’re some of my best friends. We have a day off in London, they’re playing there so we’re going to go surprise them and hang out with them for the night. I always miss those guys when we’re not on tour with them.

In a previous interview, you likened going on tour to the first day of high school.
Yeah, going on tour is definitely like the first day of high school in the sense that sometimes you don’t know everyone and you’re a little bit shy and by the end, you’re just kind of glad it’s over. You’re excited for the summer in the sense that you get to go home. It’s a lot like school; I’d say it was a lot more fun than school, you get to play music, which is good. The excitement of the first day of tour is definitely a lot like going to school and seeing who your classmates are.

Did you hear that they’ve banned “emo” in Russia? What do you make of that?
Is Stalin back in? I don’t know. Luckily I don’t have the swoop haircut or whatever but I can’t go to Russia anyway because my last name literally means “boob” in Russian. I’m avoiding Russia at all costs because I know I’m just going to get made fun of there.

That’s strange. I don’t see how you can point to that and say this is emo and this isn’t. The stereotypical emo look came from bands that were playing in the eighties like The Cure, the glamorous rock bands and that wasn’t bad. I don’t get it. Luckily, our band doesn’t fall into the negative stereotype of emo. Our songs don’t have any hints of suicide or anything like that, they don’t have anything negative to say. I don’t think a country would have any right to ban us so we’re allowed to go there.

If you could make one law, what would it be?
I think that you can’t ban any type of music, I think that would be my law.

In America, when the Columbine shooting happened, in 1999, the people that shot were big fans of Manson, so the town banned Marilyn Manson’s music. There was this all this uproar in the United States about how it was bad for people.

When the shootings happened, they tried to blame Marilyn Manson for why these kids had gotten assault rifles and gone to school and killed people. Music is something that’s purely for entertainment. There’s going to be negative music out there; there’s going to be music about sex, there’s going to be music about drugs, God and the devil. If you’re not a stable enough person to handle that and you’re going to take a gun and shoot people at school because you think that Marilyn Manson told you to, you’re a crazy bastard and I don’t know what to tell you.

You can’t blame Manson, he’s an artist. He’s just someone that’s writing songs. He takes off his makeup at night and he goes to bed, he’s not killing anyone. Granted, his music is at times negative but it’s also good. He’s good at what he does. You can’t say that he’s the reason that people are bringing guns to school and shooting each other.

People have been violent since the beginning of man. You can’t say it’s because of rock music or that emo music is making these kids cuts themselves because bad things have been happening forever. What’s emo? I’m sure the people that banned it found out about it last year when Fall Out Boy came to town and they were like “whoa, these guys have black hair.” If you talk to the guys in Fall Out Boy, they’re all real happy and real fun guys to know. Maybe some of their fans are depressed and lie to cut themselves but you can’t point the finger at the band and say that’s their problem; They’re making fun music for people to listen to.

There’s all sorts of bad things about emo happening in Mexico now too. Kids are being beaten up on the streets and there’s gangs that are out to get emos. I don’t know what that means! It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a fad and people shouldn’t be judged based on that. I like to think that our band stands for more than some stupid fad that people are overdoing. Ultimately, I’d say that I’m more emo than I am violent and I’ll definitely side with the emo kids before I side with the people that are stabbing people on the streets. I think that violence should be banned before a music genre should be banned. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

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