The Academy Is… | Freshly Scrubbed

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"There was a band called Alkaline Trio that was starting to do real well in Chicago, and they set kind of the tone of the new wave of whatever was going to come out of Chicago; that was a very important band for me. So I feel very proud and privileged I got to grow up in that particular part of the United States. I think it helped having all that music and culture around us."

As I walk into my interview with Mike Carden from The Academy Is…, I am nervous. Very nervous. I clutch my Dictaphone in one hand and my interview questions in the other. My hands are shaking and I mentally try to convince my heart not to leap out of my chest. I open the door to the makeshift dressing room and there he sits on a grungy couch, open and welcoming, ready for his interview. "Can I offer you anything to drink?" he asks as I sit, his black wavy hair falling into his face. I mutter something about a bottle of water and an assistant tour manager hands one to me. I take a sip and ask if he's ready to begin, my hand obviously shaking as I turn on the Dictaphone and set it on the edge of the couch. He replies with a "sure," and shoots me a reassuring smile as I hit "record." My first in-person interview with a rock star is under way.

 

The Academy Is… is part of the new wave of unclassifiable indie rock that is coming out of Fueled by Ramen. Discovered by Pete Wentz on a whim, the band came together in 2002 with lead vocalist William Beckett and lead guitarist Mike Carden as its founders. The two were in "rival" bands or, as Carden puts it, "William was doing kind of a solo thing and I was playing in a different band, but we were really young, too. It might be blown up a little more than it was, but that's all part of the fun, you know. When I met William, we were pretty serious at a young age, especially to go ‘Let's take this as far as we can.'" And that is certainly what they have done. A string of singles and two full-length albums later, the lineup is now rounded out by Adam T. Siska on bass (or as fans affectionately know him, "Sisky Business"), along with Andy "The Butcher" Mrotek on drums and, more recently, Michael Guy Chislett on guitar.

Chislett replaced Tom Conrad this past fall when Conrad was asked to leave the band. Carden treads on this subject lightly while still explaining a lot, saying, "The way I put it, I don't think you should ever be in band with people that aren't getting along, especially writing music. It's one thing to be on tour, but it's another thing going into a record, so the relationship wasn't working. There's a lot more to it, but it's hard when you're not there to explain it to someone, just like any falling out of a relationship or a friendship where you find a place where it's just like, ‘This isn't going to work for both parties.'"

Chislett, the token foreigner in the band, had played with Australian Christian music powerhouse Hillsong United and Butch Walker before joining The Academy Is… "We actually met on the shoot of ‘Slow Down,'" says Carden. "I kept in touch with Michael for the next year to year and a half, just talking about music, so he became a good ‘friend-on-the-road' kind of guy." Then the split happened. "After Warped Tour, Tom was asked to leave the band. At that point, I called Michael and asked him to come down to Chicago and hear some of the tunes. We both kind of started writing together and he just brought an element…" Carden pauses a moment, trying to think of the best way to sum up how he feels. Finally, he says, "To be honest, it was the first time I got to really play with a guitar player that I enjoyed and respected. Which made it nice, because ‘Almost Here' was written by myself and William and this record [Santi] was written by all of us. It made it that much more fun to make the record, considering we're going to be on tour forever together," he says, shooting me another one of his signature smiles.

The Academy Is… has certainly made progress since its humble beginnings. Carden himself is still in awe, saying, "Being able to play shows like this and having fans and having this whole thing has surpassed completely my expectations of being in a band, quote unquote." Both Beckett and Carden grew up in Chicago, a city that at the time was producing bands that have shaped both The Academy Is… and many other bands entering the music scene at the same time. "At that time, a lot was happening. There was a band called Alkaline Trio that was starting to do real well in Chicago, and they set kind of the tone of the new wave of whatever was going to come out of Chicago; that was a very important band for me. So I feel very proud and privileged I got to grow up in that particular part of the United States. I think it helped having all that music and culture around us."

In regard to the Chicago scene that The Academy Is… was a part of, Carden says, "There were a lot of VFW Halls, a lot of teen centers, a lot of church basements. There was a place called the Fireside that was very important. And then when things got picking up, the Metro was another place to play." And even though it seems as though these guys have jumped from small clubs to huge amphitheatres with this tour, Carden says, "It's not strange…because we've done tours from coming over and playing the Creepy Crawl for the first time, to going to Pop's, and then Mississippi Nights and The Pageant. You see that every tour went to another place…I feel comfortable being on stage and I feel comfortable with the tour, if that makes sense."

Their sophomore release, Santi, dropped on April 3 of this year. It ranked decently on the charts, with the first single being "We've Got a Big, Big Mess" which is accompanied by a clever, tongue-in-cheek video in which Beckett's evil twin takes over his life. Carden's favorite track off the album, though, is "Seed." When pressed on why he likes it best, he says, "Just the way it was written. I like the lyrics a lot. I think it's one of those songs for me that snuck up on me. The few times we were playing it in the practice space, I just remember probably the fourth or fifth pass through, I go, ‘This is kind of a really interesting way to do it.' So, sometimes you have little surprises even, for yourself." And even though many of the Fueled by Ramen bandmates like to collaborate and guest star on each other's albums, the Butch Walker-produced Santi is all The Academy Is…members. When asked why, Carden says, "With the Academy Is…, there's five of us, so there's a lot of dudes to begin with. Also, I thought the collaboration we had even with Butcher doing a lot of back ups and Michael joining the band and Sisky stepping up his game, we felt pretty facilitated. Plus, the record was done fast; before we knew it, it was done."

At this point in the interview, I get my first real taste of the true benefit of a live interview versus a telephone interview. Chris V., their merch guy, comes in and spots a variety of shampoos and soaps lying on the table. He gestures toward them and Carden nods and says, "Yeah. Go nuts." I then proceed to really take a good look at Carden. He is freshly showered; even his clothes look ridiculously clean. All of those rumors about dirty rock stars and the lack of showering on tour? Lies, I tell you. Lies. Manufactured dirtiness, that's what it is. If only the fans could see them so close up and realize the truth. Then maybe the mosh pit wouldn't smell so bad.

Before I know it, the interview is over. I shake Mike's hand and we say our goodbyes. I begin my walk toward Cobra Starship's tour bus for my next interview, happy I survived as he, in true rock-star fashion, grabs his cigarettes and heads outside for a smoke. Some things about rock 'n' roll will never change. | Katie Herring

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