Brooklyn punk outfit, So So Glos (Alex Levine, Ryan Levine, Matt Elkin and Zach Stagger) are back with their fifth full-length, Kamikaze, to be released May 20. The band of brothers strive to rewrite the American lexicon on this one, ultimately hoping to redefine the term Kamikaze. You’ll have to keep reading to find out just what they look forward to accomplishing with a record that almost didn’t get released.
Northern Transmissions: Hi Alex, thanks for taking the time to talk to Northern Transmissions and congrats on the upcoming release. How have some of the singles been received so far?
Alex Levine (So So Glos): Received? Umm I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I don’t know if I’m the one to say how well they’ve been received, but they’re out. I dunno, I don’t pay too much attention once we put them out. Once we have them released into the world they’re no longer mine, they’re for whoever loves them and hates them.
Northern Transmissions: Can you tell me a little bit about the time leading up to Kamikaze? You mentioned that it almost didn’t get made.
Alex Levine (So So Glos): Yeah, well you know it was just a kind of difficult time for everyone in the band, just certain circumstances, you know? Some extreme ups and downs, various mental health issues both individually and collectively within the band that needed to be taken into account. There were some relationship breakups and things like that. It took its toll on us. Were a band of brothers and family, were as close as brothers, all of us. I dunno it was just pretty difficult to get together, and it was definitely a struggle to make the record.
Northern Transmissions: Can you tell me a bit about the writing and recording process for the album?
Alex Levine (So So Glos): Sure, well it wasn’t really a straight line, it was kind of a lot of circles. Some of the songs were written right after Blowout, maybe just kind of a day or two after like “A.D.D. Life”, just kind of came right out, and other songs took a little bit longer to come around, a lot of crafting, throwing everything in and then just carving everything out collectively. The song “Fool On The Street” was kind of a jam we had forever, and then there’s some songs like “Sunny Side” and “Down The Tubes” that I kind of just brought to the table pretty much completely. Matt Elkin wrote the lyrics for “Inpatient” after a certain experience that he had, and that sort of song was a jam that we had kicking around for a long time. I dunno, they all have their own story and just weaving them together was what the record was kind of all about. I’m kind of a little anal when it comes to the process, I want to make everything…all of us are kind of anal, and it’s just a lot of editing before we’re happy. That takes its toll, that can take its toll as well.
Northern Transmissions: You mention songwriting as “a lifetime of editing and trimming down.” Were there a lot of songs that didn’t make the cut for this release?
Alex Levine (So So Glos): Yeah, there were, there were a bunch. It’s a kind of shorter record, and I like that, and it’s very to the point, it’s dark. It was definitely a conscious decision to have this group of songs. We write a lot of stuff, I write a lot of lyrics, and it doesn’t all make the cut. It’s like a board, you have to bring it to the board, and if passes the board and if it moves forward… and were a kind of critical collective board as a band, especially if you’re with your brothers, and close friends, people who know you so well, that won’t hold back if they don’t like it.
Northern Transmissions: How do you generally approach songwriting? Is it more important to lay down a melody or riff, or get your message across lyrically, so to speak?
Alex Levine (So So Glos): Well for me, sometimes that lyrics and melody come at the same time. That happens quite a bit. I do a lot of freestyling when I’m writing something. And then there’s other times when, you know, once you get that initial spark after that the process is making it into something that has some kind of lyrical certain political or emotional subtext, that says of a bunch of various things. I really like that, I’m really into the whole triple entendres kind of embedded into the lyrical set. So that’s when it gets a little brainy, but you can’t make it too brainy. I would say it’s a mixture of both those things, some are more crafted then others, and others more just the way they came out, lyrically, and musically. You get the initial chord progression, and then you go, “alright, well I’m going to tweak this a little bit more”, I spent a lot of time doing that collectively as well.
Northern Transmissions: What were some of the challenges you faced, not so much going into the album but during the writing or recording of it?
Alex Levine (So So Glos): We spent a lot of time writing it. Like I said that initial spark is never really the problem, it’s just editing it down and getting it to a place where we’re all happy, because we’re a very critical group of people. When we’re like 60% happy, we’ll just start recording it, and then we’ll go, “alright, this is coming out good, let’s keep going.”
Northern Transmissions: What is the most important moment of the album for you?
Alex Levine (So So Glos): My favourite song on the record is “Down The Tubes,” that’s the one where I kind of had my shining moment, but I’m sure everyone has a different opinion. I dunno, they’ve all been like…I’m just proud of all them at different times, you know? Which I think is good. Hopefully they’ll continue to evolve with me.
Northern Transmissions: You’ve also put out tons of material, where do you think this album sits in your catalogue? How does it related to your previous releases?
Alex Levine (So So Glos): Hmmm, well I think everyone….I don’t want to call it a concept album, but every record has their own story, and some of them are schematic, but they all of these underlying themes that are just kind of melancholy, a certain bitterness, and laughing and crying at the same time in a way that it’s a little sarcastic, and there’s also this extreme poppyness to it while I’m talking about some pretty dark stuff if you listen to it, which is my favourite kind of music. So the overall theme for this one is a little bit more… I dunno. I think this one sits in a place that’s like gritty, the character has gotten into a world of trouble and maybe it’s society as a whole that’s gotten into a world of trouble, that’s on this suicidal path, that the narrator is maybe just the one who’s telling the story. Maybe we’ve all gotten into this and this is individual is very troubled, whether it’s society, an individual or character, male, female, I dunno. That person or thing is at the end of its road, kind of a post apocalyptic world, and we’re just walking through it. Nothing left to lose, you know?
Northern Transmissions: And I think you put it very well on your Twitter when you compared Kamikaze to Blowout; a divine wind, a suicidal offensive…
Alex Levine (So So Glos): Yeah, that was Zach. Zach runs our twitter mostly. Yeah, I wrote that on the Blowout album sleeve, that ‘it’s a party, it’s a haircut, it’s an apocalyptic party, pop explosion party” and to me Kamikaze is like the fallout, it’s after. If you want to talk literally just about defining Kamikaze, I think it’s just a divine wind through a party drink, were a society on a suicidal path. But we’re also redefining this term Kamikaze. If you look – that’s what I did today – If you look at the liner notes, it all comes with this book that comes in the album. What were doing is… another part of it is kind of a flip, it’s hindering the American lexicon because words will change over time, and Kamikaze, we’re using this as an explosion of creativity, this is an explosion of expression, self-expression. That’s what you’ve got, your weapon is a song, I don’t want it to be misinterpreted as violence, because it’s not. There is maybe some kind of struggle going on within the narrator’s head, if that makes sense.
Northern Transmissions: You guys have been playing punk music for a while now, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in Brooklyn, and the music scene there?
Alex Levine (So So Glos): [laughs] That’s too long to answer.
Northern Transmissions: Or just the short version…
Alex Levine (So So Glos): Um, well. Ah, I dunno what to say. New York is just a rapidly changing beast, Brooklyn especially. It’s kind of unrecognizable to the Brooklyn that we grew up in as kids. There’s still traces of it but it’s changing, and one thing that I’ve seen is there’s this kind of real nostalgia that our generation has for this old New York grit, but we don’t really respect the culture in which it made that stuff possible. So that kind of annoys me actually. We’ll have a punk exhibition, at the Met, and we’ll have a leather jacket behind glass, but we won’t really talk about those ideals that made punk rock, or hip-hop, or any of those movements important, and I think we’ve moved more towards that in our glorification of New York City culture, and community. I think the community is so important. People need to get involved in the existing community. I think it’s changed so much, and let’s try not to build condos every-fucking- where, you know? [laughs]. I miss some of the old Brooklyn, and that mentality of people saying what they want, being very obnoxious, that’s disappearing. We wrote about that in a lot of songs. We have a song “Speakeasy” which is kind of about that. We have this whole record called, Low Back Chain Shift, which is basically an EP. It was meant to be a record but the label that we were on at the time shortened it. But that’s all about the oldschool, and dealing a lot with old school New York. If you look up the low back chain shift, is the actual term for the New York dialect, like coffee, talk. There are a lot of songs about that on that record, but not so much on this record. But if you go back, and I dunno if you’ve heard it, but we put it out in 2010, and it has songs like “Here Comes The Neighborhood” and “Live Like T.V.” and other songs that are kind of dealing with that. We’ve written a lot of songs about that. We actually have a song called “New New York City (NNYC)” that didn’t make the cut for Kamikaze but it’s a pretty cool song. It’s all I can say about that. It’s just an ever changing beast.