William Beckett of The Academy Is…
Upon first glance, frontman William Beckett may look like just another musician rolling through on just another tour. But, to take The Academy Is… or William Beckett at face value would be your greatest mistake. What you don’t know about this band is their intensity for every song they write, their passion for their fans, and their ongoing effort and competitive spirit to outperform themselves night after night.
The Academy Is.. (William Beckett on vocals, Adam Siska on bass, Michael Guy Chislett on guitar, Andy “The Butcher” Mrotek on drums and Mike Carden on guitar) recently released their latest effort titled Santi on Fueled By Ramen Records. For fans looking for Almost Here, Part Deux, you’re not going to get that. Santi offers up raw, in your face songs from track to track. Not quite as polished as Almost Here, Beckett offers up a reason for that – “It doesn’t sound like it’s been run through a computer, no auto-tuning and all that. Most of what you hear on the record is one, two, or three takes.” Not something you hear too often in today’s high tech age of endless gadgets and tools to perfect ones craft but a definite breathe of fresh air to music fans that are sick of albums driven solely by protools and not by soul.
William Beckett’s confidence soars throughout Santi and the addition of Michael Guy Chislett is a blessing that Beckett refers to as the fifth point on their creative star; the puzzle piece they’ve been missing. Not to cast a shadow on the rest of the band, they’re no slouches either; in fact, it’s drummer Andy Butcher who’s brainchild Bulls In Brooklyn is being compared to T-Rex in review after review. Sure, some of TAI’s fans may have never even heard of T-Rex, but it’s this comparison which may drive new fans to take a chance on TAI, and believe me, all you need to do is take the chance, they’ll do the rest to pull you in hook, line and sinker!
The Academy Is… is currently out on the Honda Civic Tour with the likes of Fall Out Boy, Cobra Starship, +44, and Paul Wall. William Beckett recently sat down with TWRY Staffer Ellen to discuss the new album, the changes in the band over the past year, a personal look at some of the songs, and his very honest approach to writing, lyrics, and all things TAI.
The band name is pretty unique, where did it come from? Word on the street is that it changed (added an “Is”) earlier on?
It’s origins are quite bland. We were originally called “The Academy”, which is not unique at all. In turn we got a cease and desist order from a lawyer about this band that was playing in South Carolina under that name, so we had to change it. At that point, we had worked up a loyal following in Chicago and the Midwest, so we didn’t want to alienate our fans, or the people who knew who we were. Plus, we had printed some shirts with money out of our own pocket that said “The Academy” on it, so it was like “damn, we’re broke… what are we gonna do?” so we just changed it very subtly by adding the “is” and it leaves it open ended. It’s open for interpretation and I feel like that’s our band and who we are, it’s all very open and unfinished. [Tune into TAI TV Episode 12 to REALLY appreciate this question]
Rolling Stone recently listed you as one of their top artists to watch. Is that exciting to you or do you feel pressure?
Not pressure anymore. It’s very much an honor because obviously that’s one of the most talented rock magazines in the world. But at the same time, it’s all press stuff that I don’t really pay much attention to, as far as the reviews and things like that. Interviews are a different story because that’s relatively real, from our mouths, and based on questions. But reviews and things like that, it is what it is. It’s just one person’s opinion. We are a band that never got much. I don’t feel like we ever got a lot given to us. We are a band that has intent to earn everything that we have. We earn fans one at a time, a very slow steady space. So for us, it’s going to be the same this year as it was last year. Touring – we’re definitely a lot happier and content, but at the same time, we’re always pushing to do better.
Butch Walker produced your album and is widely known for being an amazing live performer as well. What was it like working with him as your producer?
Well, we’ve known Butch for a while now. We’re very close friends. We’ve been big Butch Walker fans since he was in Marvelous 3 and up to his solo records, so we’ve always been like “whoa his records always sound so cool!” Particularly his new record, I think it sounds great. That was pretty much the clincher for us, hearing the Butch Walker and the Lets-Go-Out-Tonites record. He came out and saw us at a few shows in LA, he’s a big fan of the band, so we just started talking about doing a record. It was great, because there was such a comfort level with him in the studio, because we’re so close. But at the same time, there’s also this level of professionalism because of all the great musical minds in one room together. We were all learning from each other as it was moving. The main thing that he taught us was to trust our instincts, and that’s what we did on “Santi”, and I believe we made the record we were supposed to make. A very live sounding, real record. It doesn’t sound like it’s been run through a computer, no auto-tuning and all that. Most of what you hear on the record is one, two, or three takes. We finished tracking in twenty-three days total studio time. So, it was very pleasant for us to have a very spontaneous record, like records are supposed to be.
What does Michael bring to the band that wasn’t there before?
Well, a lot of what we were missing before was a lack of creativity from all five points of the star. It was a little lopsided before, and not by choice. Some people are wired differently. Michael is wired to be one of the best guitar players I have ever seen in my life. He’s a great songwriter and a great arranger. He was born to play music, and to play music with people who want to try new and different things. I think he’s the perfect piece of the puzzle that may have been missing before. And also, he’s such a positive influence. He is such a great person, he has such a warm kind heart. It inspires us all to be better people.
What are your favorite three tracks on the new album and can you walk us through them musically and lyrically?
I don’t know, this might be easier just for you to pick three songs that you like, because I like them all for different reasons and what-not.
“Everything We Had”?
I had the idea for the chords, I had played them and recorded them on my computer last summer. I had this idea and didn’t know where to go with it. I didn’t have any verses, didn’t have any other verse ideas, and then we worked on it in the practice space, and didn’t really get anywhere with it. So before we left to record I sat down in my room in my house and started writing lyrics and a rough arrangement, and it just came out in one night. It’s a very personal song to me. But the full arrangement and the orchestration of the song didn’t really come full circle right away. Once we got in the studio we didn’t really know what to do because we didn’t really want to make it this big, half time with the snare ballad. We didn’t want to make a cheesy ballad, so we started very raw with acoustic guitars, with a floor tom and a mallet, that Butch laid over and played with brushes on the snares. It was just so powerful and an emotional piece of music, even before we laid the vocals down, with the rough arrangement I had. It was such a powerful and moving piece. Listening to it made us all emotional in the room. Once you lay down the vocals, it’s very easy. In my shoes, because the music evokes so much emotion, it makes my job a lot easier. And also, it makes my performance better because I’m more moved by the music itself, and its one unified piece as opposed to my words and melodies over power chords.
Check out TAI video for We’ve Got A Big Mess On Our Hands
“Unexpected Places” is my absolute favorite.
Awesome! That’s one of my favorites too. That song is very interesting and very awesome. It’s one of Butch’s ideas. Butch is a little genius, and once the guys play some stuff, he’ll come back with like three demos that he did in his basement, and they all sound great, which is just crazy. I think he is going to be an incredible producer, and then one day maybe will self-produce a record, might be sooner then you think. So he had the idea. Actually, there was a whole different version of the song that I had vocals for, completely different vocal arrangement. And we got to the studio with those vocals. I had written the vocals, you know the verses, that real staccato verse and the harmony, in the same kind of setting, my room. I would listen to the music and feel what a vibe was. So we were all diggin’ that, and then I had this other alternate chorus that I think was pretty uninspired as far as meaning anything, so when we got to the studio, we scrapped it and started over. And that’s when I feel one of the more powerful choruses on the record that came out. The song is definitely talking about identity and relationships and knowing somebody, but then when it comes right down to it, you only know as much as somebody exposes you to. And I think in a lot of ways, you only know yourself as well as you admit to yourself you are. So that song has a lot to do with identity and the whole spectrum of social behavior, but at the same time it’s also very personal. As far as specifics and things like that, I’m going to leave that to you, but that song was particularly meant to be a song like that, open for interpretations, with very focused intentions.
“Bulls In Brooklyn”?
Bulls In Brooklyn was another Butcher [Andy] gem. He had it, and it was so badass. As soon as I heard it, I was like “damnn”. It’s like a late 60’s early 70’s vibe. He had that bass line. It was just like mind-bending. It took me a while to put something over it vocally, because it was just so good, yet interesting and simple at the same time. The chorus is the same as the verse, the verse just has guitars in it, then that first chorus, which is more of a sing-a-long part. It was really natural once I got the vibe of it. From the first line on, “some people have it, and other people don’t”, I just think that it really captures the attitude of the song, and the personality of the song. The song particularly is talking about that voyeuristic judgment of people where people can watch from afar and judge people. For instance, people can talk shit on the internet via myspace, message boards, things like that, and its directed towards old friends and people that may have questioned you or just didn’t believe in you, or made fun of you because you were doing what you were doing, doing your thing and being yourself. I think that I tried to capture that in this song.
A lot of the songs on the album seem to be written in a way that your fans can reach out and relate to…is that by design?
Well, I’m a human, just like you. I didn’t want to make a record that was talking about making a second record and the pressure and the fame and all that crap, because honestly, that’s part of it, but it’s not what keeps me up at night. What keeps me up at night is the same thing that keeps you up at night. Things like relationships, your own expectations of yourself, things going on around you in the world, struggles with your balance between whatever it is that you’re dealing with, whether it be school, your work, or your friends, love. I’m sure that you’ve read the “Alternative Press” article? Which for the record, it was bad, but it was never meant to be glamorized like that. I never meant for it to be put out like that. I maybe talked about it for five minutes out of the whole two hour interview we did. [Beckett is referring to the interview he did with AP for their June issue where they mentioned his panic attacks, depression and thoughts of suicide last year] Anyway, so I was under a lot of pressure, personally, because I wanted us to have a record that people could relate to, but then it came to the point where it was like “wait a minute, if I’m forcing this, and stressing so much about this, then I’m not relating to it. How the hell is anybody else going to relate to it?” so I started fresh, started over mentally. Some of the parts I did just scrap and start all over again, like in “Unexpected Places”. It was important for me to really get in touch with myself, as well as the world around me immediately, so that I would be able to comb over my experience over the past three years, and also the way that I effect other people. I just tried to broaden my perspective and that really helped a lot. I think that in doing that I uncovered a lot of what I actually care about, and things that I wanted to say. None of the things that we feel necessarily have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and this record’s like that. We think that there’s a lot of room for imagination, where we just sort of guide you through the experience and you get to think about it a little for yourself.
A MySpace compilation was recently released that you guys did a cover of The Smashing Pumpkins song “Mayonnaise”. How did that project come about and did you choose that song?
It was a huge honor to be asked to do it. When MySpace asked us they were like “you guys are from Chicago, are you guys big Pumpkins fans – want to do a Pumpkins cover?” and we’re like yeah! So we did it on a day off, and when we did the song, Michael put together this structure on his computer, he’s pretty good at that, and then we’re like “great, great”. We changed the key, and we sped it up a little bit. I think we changed the key because my voice sounds better in particular keys, where as Billy Corgan’s voice is much different from mine. We didn’t want to completely do the same thing. We also know that we can never recreate what that song was, that’s why we didn’t keep the pitch harmonic solo in the beginning, and we cut the intro in the beginning of the song, all intentionally. So, we weren’t going to attempt to recreate this thing, which we couldn’t have done. I mean we could have, but it was sort of out of respect for Billy and what that song is, which is incredible. No one can recreate that kind of emotion. So it was really fun to do, we banged it out in a day. I really like the way it turned out. I’m so, just geeked that we are number one on the Smashing Pumpkins MySpace friends list! So, apparently they like it!
Do you have any pre-show rituals that you do as a band before you hit the stage?
We all do our own thing. Sometimes Mike likes to nap. Butcher [Andy] warms up, he goes kinda crazy. Maybe a beer or two, or a vodka and Red Bull. Adam keeps it cool, he keeps a positive vibe. We always have music playing in the dressing room. We have one of those iPod speaker boom box things, so we just jam to tunes all day. Michael will just make the playlists. That’s one thing that he also brings to the band. He’s like a music library! He has everything and knows pretty much every song, ever. He’s always bumpin’ those. We do some stretching and warm up vocally for about 45 minutes to an hour before every show. Primarily I do the vocal warm ups. It’s important for me to sing as best I can every day, I take a lot of pride in that.
Are there any bands that keep reoccurring in the dressing room playlists?
Oh yeah, for sure. The Clash is a big up for everybody. “London Calling”, whenever I hear that song, it reminds me of Sisky [Adam] for some reason, because he’s got that total Clash vibe, especially with his new haircut. He’s a little Clash reincarnate. There’s tunes by this band called Mew, that Michael likes a lot. He plays a couple of those. Sometimes we throw in some Saves The Day, “Say What You Want To”, it gets the vibe moving in the right direction. Jimmy Eat World, “Bleed America”, At The Drive In – the hype songs, pretty much. Some days it’s different, though. Like, some days we were listening to bands that were from the city that we were in. That was interesting. Sometimes we’ll just get into an 80’s vibe and listen to like, New Order or Tears For Fears.
You have so much energy on stage that not too long ago you even sprained your ankle. How is that feeling now? How do you keep up that energy night after night?
It isn’t a sprain, unfortunately. I wish it was a sprain, that way it would be less painful. I’m getting an x-ray in Chicago when we are there, but I’ve been doing research and I have a feeling that it’s a hairline fracture in my heel bone. But, you know, I have to rough through it. I just ice it after every show. I can’t jump off the kick drum anymore. [picture a pout here]. A lot of people think that it’s fake, so we did the whole guy on the news of BBC thing [on their TAI TV episodes, catch them at http://www.theacademyis.com ], just in case it did affect me. I’m just trying not to injure it any further, but at the same time I’m just trying to bring it. I also compensate for the jumping with just singing the best I can. I just try to give the best vocal performance that I can. I’m trying to incorporate the mic stand more too; we’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll jump off, maybe I’ll just lose it.
The new album is titled “Santi”. Where did the name come from and what does it mean?
“Santi” is a word that we’ve said for a long time. A lot of our old school fans have known about the word for a while. It’s basically a word that we say that means everything positive. Something you call one of your friends while you’re talking. It’s for good health, positive vibes. It came from this asshole I went to high school with. Me and Adam went to high school with this dude named Josh Santiago and he had a Dave Matthews cover band entitled “Santi”, where he was the singer. He always called me “faggot” with all of his friends, and yelled shit at me in the hallways. He said I would never make it with my music, at that time they called it “punk”. Lets just be honest, it was emo, okay? At that point and time, it straight up was, real emo, when emo started. But now, if Red Jumpsuit Apparatus is called emo, then I don’t know what the hell is going on. Nothing against them, I’m sure they’re really cool people. Anyway, I was doing my thing and they were very negative. So basically, we started saying “Santi” to encompass everything that’s not him, everything positive vibes. And now, he’s a huge huge fan of ours. We get him on the guest list whenever we play in Chicago. And he wrote me this long email saying how sorry he was, and how much he loves the record. I learned a lot from that, too. If anything it’s a reminder that you can’t live your life holding grudges, with hate in your heart, being unforgiving. Life’s way too short, there’s way too many questions left unanswered, for us to fester and dwell on things that are completely unimportant in the long run.
With so many bands out there at fans fingertips, what do you think sets The Academy Is… apart?
I’d like to think that our music speaks for itself. Also, I feel like this tool of the internet, it’s there for everyone to use, but I think seldom do bands use it in the right way. We’re trying to give back to the fans as much as we possibly can, with things like TAI TV, some buzznet stuff, some Friends or Enemies stuff, Sisky’s journal. We make a very conscious effort to put out stuff weekly for our fans, especially where the natural growth of the band has put us in a spot where it’s harder and harder for us to actually talk and run into each other. I feel like it affords us more freedom to do things like TAI TV, and they’ll have a bigger impact. We have fun with it, and go the extra mile for our fans. That’s something that we can attribute to our band. Any five TAI fans, to any radio bands 100, I’d put our five fans up against them 100 percent; in loyalty, ingenuity, and heart, just because of what I’ve seen, the way that they all are. We fall in love with our fans with every show we play and see the support, every story we hear, every letter that we get, every stuffed animal that they made; we take it to heart. That’s the biggest thing that sets us apart.
On your website [and also on itunes now] fans can download or watch tour diaries or “TAI TV” episodes, which are often comedic. Who’s idea was it to start these episodes, and what has been the feedback so far?
We did it before, but it was less frequently, and it was very disorganized episodes. I guess it was a collective decision for us to do it. The feedback so far has been great! On the podcasts on iTunes, which we just recently got added to, we are like number four or something on the music podcasts. I’d like to see that raise to number one, just because I think that what we’re doing a little different from what a lot of bands do. It’s pretty fucking goofy! They can get pretty nuts, but at the same time they can bring it back down and get serious.
You’ve been on the Honda Civic tour since the beginning of April, how do you feel the crowd response has been on it so far and what have been the highlights?
Good! It’s different! It’s a different vibe because the majority of people have never seen us before, and barely know our band. Maybe they know “Slow Down.” It’s great because it just builds the excitement for us as a band even more. We put the best show that we can forward, because if we blow it, this crowd of eight-thousand to fifteen-thousand people or so are gonna be like “pshh this band sucks”, so we put on the best show that we can and try to show everyone a good time and get everyone involved. At the same time showing these people that we do have fans that know every word to our songs, that are there in the crowd. You see them in a pack of, like, fifteen people, it’s like “wow, maybe I’m missing out on something there”. That’s really exciting. The melding of old and new is an exciting thing, too. Hearing about a new band is an exciting time. That’s why I never understood people that got so upset by a band getting more known. When I was growing up, I wanted nothing more than for Dashboard Confessional and Alkaline Trio to be huge, because maybe then these people could see them that didn’t get it before. They could listen to the words, get what it really is, and like the tunes. It’s like when you see a good movie or read a good book, you want everyone to know about it. You tell everybody “oh yeah, see that movie” or “you should read that book”. I don’t understand why a band’s any different.
Its been said that the meet and greets can get pretty crazy. What’s the craziest thing a fan has done to or for you?
There was this quilt that was made by our LiveJournal community, and one person from the community made a square, and then they compiled it all. This one girl, Huey is her name on the LiveJournal, made the whole thing, and it’s huge! I think that Tom took it when he left. That is one of the most notable things that our fans have done for us. Also, there’s this group of fans from the Virginia area, they call themselves the “VA Crew”, and they’re always always out, anywhere. Even in Ohio, and places like that. They will come out. To the lengths of this – we did a headlining tour in the UK, and two of them flew out to the UK and bummed around following the tour because they didn’t want to pay whatever it is to see us here and see us play a half hour set, they wanted to see us play a full set. We just thought that was an extremely powerful display of devotion and love for music and our band, and we’re extremely honored to see that, and they definitely have our blessing.
What’s next for the band, after this Honda Civic Tour is over?
Well, we have about a month off, which we’ll still do TAI TV and stuff like that, and then we go to Australia and Japan for the first time. I’m really excited. We do Reading and Leeds, the festivals in England, and then we go on our headlining tour in the fall with Armor For Sleep. It’s gonna be great.
TWRY Poll question – What was the first album you ever purchased for yourself and do you have any memories associated with it?
I think it was Stone Temple Pilots “Core”. I was really into that, and I was really into Pearl Jam “Ten” at the time, they were two of my favorite records. When the song “Daughter” came out, I rehearsed it, and it was the first time I ever sang in front of anybody. I was a little snotty kid. And at my after school program, I always played with the girls because I just got along with the girls a lot better. I organized this singing aria. I sang Pearl Jam “Daughter”, and I was maybe like eight years old? That’s sort of my memory.
Any last words for the fans?