Story of the Year

Everything and then some

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By Gary Graff  

Thanks to its debut album, Page Avenue, Story of the Year has a story to tell. The St. Louis quintet, which formed as Big Blue Monkey, sold nearly a million copies of that disc, which launched modern rock radio hits such as "Anthem of Our Dying Day," "Sidewalks" and "Until the Day I Die." The success followed a dramatic stylistic change for the band. Big Blue Monkey was a heavier, guttural outfit, sometimes compared to the Deftones.

But the name change also ushered in a still hard but also more melody-conscious sound, with more hooks and a greater range of dynamics. It caught the ear of Goldfinger's John Feldmann, who took the band under his wing, introduced it to Maverick Records, and produced Page Avenue.

Joining a band community that included the likes of Thrice, Thursday and the Used, Story of the Year won over the Warped Tour crowd as well as its own devoted following, cementing its place with the concert CD and DVD Live in the Lou/Bassassins a few months before coming out with its sophomore effort, In the Wake of Determination, which was produced by Steve Evetts (Hatebreed, Snapcase).

Frontman Dan Marsala takes up the story from there.

Q: Were you surprised by how well Page Avenue did?

Marsala: Oh, yeah. We never expected the record to go Gold in the first place. It was way past our expectations, so that was really cool. Then you come down and realize, "Wow, we've got all these fans now, thousands and thousands of fans around the country." You've got all this weird stuff you have to think about the second time around. You've got to make sure they're really gonna like this new stuff you write.

Q: So you felt some real pressure on the second album.

Marsala: Yeah, definitely, but it was pretty much just pressure we put on ourselves. We racked our brains a while and finally said, "You know what? We're in this band to make music, just to have fun. That's what we've always done." So we put everything else behind us and said, "Screw it, let's just do what we would want to write, what we would want to listen to, and hope for the best. It's our band." That's what we ended up doing.

Q: What were the best things that happened as Page Avenue began to take off?

Marsala: Watching the crowd grow every night, that was an experience. Our first few months of touring we were playing in front of fifty people, and you're like, "Wow, hi, thanks for coming." We were still having fun and really happy these people were there to see us. Then a year later five hundred to a thousand were there, which was awesome, and towards the end we were playing 2,000-capacity clubs, which was crazy. We never imagined we would play places like that. But, really, to get to play music and make money doing what we love to do, that's the cool thing.

Q: Who became some of your better friends on the road?

Marsala: We toured with a lot of bands. We haven't really met any bands we didn't get along with through two years of touring. We were, like, really good friends with Letterkills, did a lot of touring with them. A lot of touring with My Chemical Romance. It's cool to see those guys getting big now. We opened for them a lot. There's a band called And Berlin that we toured with a lot, too.

Q: Were you able to start working on In the Wake of Determination while you were touring?

Marsala: Yeah. We were on the road for about two years straight, I guess, but we did a little bit of writing on the bus and stuff. Me and Ryan (Phillips) had some demos recorded, and Ryan had a whole bunch of demos recorded on ProTools with fake drums, just to keep his ideas recorded. I had a couple, too. It came to December and we were kind of done touring. We took from December to March, maybe even April, 'til we actually started recording, so we had a good four months at home to write. Then we brought all our ideas to the table and wrote a bunch of new stuff, too. It worked out good.

Q: Were you going for a heavier sound this time out?

Marsala: Yeah, definitely. I think we always came across a little heavier live than on the first CD. It's hard to capture a live sound on CD, so we wanted to mainly go for that, get that live energy and feeling into the CD. Naturally we just started writing some heavier stuff. Two years of playing live is definitely going to influence that.

Q: You used a different producer than you had on Page Avenue. What impact did that have?

Marsala: Recording with Steve Evetts, that's where he comes from. He's done a bunch of hard stuff, Snapcase and Hatebreed. He saw what we were trying to go for. We'd say, "Hey, we want this part to be chunky. We want it to sound like Snapcase," and he'd say, "Yeah, I know what you're going for."

Q: "Sue Your Friends, Pay Your Enemy" is an interesting song. True story?

Marsala: It's about a certain person that was in our lives in the past. I probably shouldn't go into it too much, but it was called that for a reason. We actually took off the "Sue Your Friends" part 'cause we got scared, so it's now officially just called "Pay Your Enemy." We finally go to the point where we're big enough for people to sue us now, over the stupidest crap in the world. It's not something to be happy about. So it's just a song to that person. I'm sure they'll realize it's about them.

Q: You've been writing more about issues and politics. Is that a direction you're comfortable now pursuing?

Marsala: It is. The first record didn't go into much about anything like that. I listened to a lot of political punk bands -- NOFX, Suicide Machines, Anti-Flag. The rest of the band isn't into that stuff, so we try to keep it simple and go for more social issues, topics and stuff that really relate to people more. This is a good medium for getting your ideas across to people, so we'd definitely like to keep going in that direction on some stuff. At the same time, it's still good to have heartfelt songs about friends or whatever. I like to write about anything that moves people.

Q: Why the title In the Wake of Determination?

Marsala: It's the mindset that we had writing the whole record. For the past three years, everything's been about "Hey, let's put as much focus, as much work and determination into everything we do, really try to stay focused." It's easy to lose your passion for what you're doing when you do it every single night. You really have to stay focused. It's a job either way. It's not easy to go on stage every single night and have the time of your life. You have to find ways to keep it going. That's what we were doing the whole time we were writing this record, trying to stay focused. A lot of the songs are about putting everything you have into everything you do, so the name of the album reflects that.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.