Mike Carden interview, The Academy Is interview, Santi interview

Mike Carden interview, The Academy Is interview

Music Home / Entertainment Channel / Bullz-Eye Home

The Academy Is are currently the textbook definition of a “buzz band.” Rolling Stone named them one of their top 10 artists to watch, Blender listed their new album, Santi, as one of their top 25 reasons to love 2007, and on top of it all, they're one of the bands participating in the Honda Civic Tour that's been headlined by Fall Out Boy. As such, Bullz-Eye was pretty psyched to get a chance to talk with the band's guitarist, Mike Carden, for a few minutes. We had the opportunity to quiz him about working with producer Butch Walker on the new album, the accuracy of his Wikipedia entry, the departure of Tom Conrad from the group's ranks, whether he ever had a “rumble” with bandmate William Beckett in their younger days and if their fans can spell. 

Mike Carden: Hello, hello! 

Bullz-Eye: Hey, how's it going? 

MC: Good, good, good. 

BE: So given how quickly Christina (the label rep) got you on the phone, I take it you're actually in Atlantic Records' New York offices right now. 

MC: I am, I am. You know, I guess it's Hub Central. Where it all happens, I guess. 

BE: Is it buzzing with excitement? 

MC: Everything. Everything's exciting. I'm learning more and more about how this business is changing, which I'm clearly aware of, but… 

BE: You're learning it first hand. 

MC: Of course, of course. 

BE: You guys just did Jimmy Kimmel's show a couple of days ago, right? 

MC: Yes. Absolutely. (hesitates) I think last week. (hesitates again) A week exactly, I think. 

BE: (laughs) It's all kind of a blur? 

MC: Yeah. No, it's good, it's good. 

BE: How was it? Are you actually on the talk-show circuit – as it were – right now? 

MC: Yeah, we're doing a bit of it. I don't know if you're aware, but the Honda Civic Tour got moved back a few weeks, so we're doing a little more press stuff, and flying around…which is all good, because I like coming to New York. Good friends, good people. You do a little stuff, and then you get to go out. So it's all good. 

BE: There you go. So the new album premiered pretty well for you guys. 

MC: Thank you, yeah, I agree. I was completely…it's very hard in this time right now, just because, y'know, record sales are just so different from where they've been, and they just keep changing, as far as the positioning of bands; it's hard with all the country and pop bands. A lot of that stuff, I don't really pay attention to that much. But everyone seemed really happy about it. I mean, for us, it was more from all the MySpace and emails about the record. That's really what did us over. But the number on the charts was great, too. 

"With Butch, he was, like, 'Well, listen, I like Almost Here, I like what you do live, so let's talk about the demos, and then let's just start recording.' And I think that, for a lot of it, he was right. He didn't want to change the band too much."

BE: And it was produced by Butch Walker …  

MC: Uh-huh. 

BE: …who clearly has the magic touch as far as producing hook-filled pop/rock. 

MC: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, I would think so. 

BE: Now, were you guys fans of his work already? 

MC: Yeah, I mean, I grew up listening to Marvelous 3. 

BE: OK, yeah, I love that band! 

MC: Yeah, exactly. So I love Marvelous 3, and I liked the solo records, but I always felt like…well, Butch Walker was doing the skinny tie and the tight jeans thing when rap-rock was going on, so it was weird. He was just way before his time in the sense that his songs… you're either, “Who?” Or you're, like, “Yeah, yeah, that dude's fucking great!” Y'know what I mean? So the fact that we got to work with him was great. And he's made an amazing career for himself; he's been very smart about playing a certain game, and I respect him for that, but also I think that his latest album, with the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites, was a great record. I loved the songs on it, and everything else. So when I heard that…wow. And we just get along. I mean, everyone says this, but he's our bro. Like, for real. He's our friend. We get along very well. 

BE: What was he like in the studio? 

MC: Fast, man! He works like a…well, he's a nasty man! He just works very fast. We did the record in about 22 days. And he's done the whole shuffle of doing records long, and he's made a ton of his own records, and everything else, and I think, but…well, with Almost Here, we made the record just as fast, but it was more because of the budget. But with Butch, he was, like, “Well, listen, I like Almost Here, I like what you do live, so let's talk about the demos, and then let's just start recording.” And I think that, for a lot of it, he was right. He didn't want to change the band too much. With Almost Here, we had the success that, really, no one expected. I mean, we were barely signed to a label when we made that record, we had no management. It was basically just me and William, and the next thing you know (pauses). We did that whole thing for, like, 12 grand or something, and I bagged his guy James (Paul Wisner) to do the record, which he did, which is great. But now, here we are in the studio, we've got a great engineer, Butch Walker's sitting there, and I'm thinking, “Here we go, it's gonna take us four months to make this record,” or whatever. But, no, it was good. And I think that, as players, we kind of surprised ourselves, because we were a lot more prepared than we thought. It's one of those things where you don't know how tall you've grown if you see yourself in the mirror every day? And when you get in the studio, it's, like, “Wow, after two and a half years of touring non-stop, I'm much more comfortable as a guitar player!” And Butch would do really cool things where…well, I mean, a lot of producers have done this, but he'd say, “OK, well, we're just gonna run through it, so just stand up and play it like you'd play it onstage or in the rehearsal room. I just wanna see some sounds.” And we'd run the song, and a lot of times, he'd use that. We'd do a regular take of it, and he'd say, “Y'know, the first take was better.” I'm, like, “What do you mean?” And he'd say, “No, I was rolling on the practice take.” And that was cool, y'know what I mean? That not-overthinking-things really helped me out, because I'm much more methodical, and I'm at this age where I like to think about every decision we make, and I like to twist the arrangements of the songs and make sure, but I think Butch has been to the movies so many times that he helped me a lot. It was a good blend of just trusting your instincts. 

BE: Now, were there any songs with arrangements that did end up getting switched up in the studio? 

MC: Yeah, well, not so much with lyrics, but with some of the phrasing and stuff like that, because William has such respect for Butch, and Butch has the same for William. I think they worked really well together. Butch is not just a great vocalist, but he's got a knack for interesting melodies and also just good pop hooks. And for William, I think it was important to keep that blend. So I definitely think he was instrumental for William. Singing in the studio is a weird kind of thing, because it's not a very natural thing, compared to being on the stage in front of a crowd. We'd just gotten so used to that. There needs to be a vibe in the room. And that's what Butch… (pauses) I'm not sure if you've ever met Butch. 

BE: I've talked to him, but I've never met him. 

Mike Carden interview, The Academy Is interviewMC: OK, well, you know how there are some dudes who, when they walk into a room, they've just got a good vibe? Where you're, like, “This guy's cool. For some reason, I trust this dude with a lot.” And he's got that thing. And in the sense of the pop world where he does his thing, once I really started working with him, I could see why certain people would want to keep working with this guy. In music, a lot of times, it's the relationships that you have with each other. Like, myself and William, we trust each other so much. I trust his judgment, he trusts my judgment, and that's why we write so well together. And it's the same with Butch. But, I mean, it's the same with any partnership, really, be it business or art or whatever. 

BE: The one time I talked to Butch was when “Freak of the Week” was just getting big for the Marvelous 3, and he just struck me as the kind of guy who, if you met him, he'd immediately have his hand outstretched and be saying, “How ya doin'?” 

MC: Yeah, exactly! No, he is, he absolutely is. And he still goes out on the road, he still puts on a hell of a show. He's a hell of a guitar player, too. Nasty. 

BE: You guys just released “We've Got A Big Mess On Our Hands” as a single… 

MC: Yes. 

BE: …but as a 7-inch single! 

MC: Yes! 

BE: You do realize that you're a member of the generation that's supposed to ask, “What's vinyl?” 

MC: I know, I know. But, you know, it's a piece. I agree with you, and, trust me, we're playing both fronts, but I think it's more for people who want to collect things. I mean, it's weird, and I go back and forth on it, because you're absolutely right. On one hand, we're growing into this minimalistic society where kids just want an iPod, they want their songs, and they don't even want the artwork. Or if they do, they'll just download it off of iTunes. But, then, there's a piece of you…I mean, for me, the Smashing Pumpkins were the band for me where, even now, if I go into a record store and I find some weird single – like, we were in Germany and I found something or other – and I'll just get it. You know what I mean? I'm not like that with everyone, but there's that one particular band. And I'm not trying to put us on that level at all, but I would figure that if someone wanted to purchase something like that of ours, it's always good to have. 

BE: I actually got to talk to Gabe, Ryland, and Alex from Cobra Starship several weeks back… 

MC: Yes! 

BE: …and they were very psyched to hear Santi at that time, but they hadn't heard it yet. Have you heard from them about it since then? 

MC: Yeah, absolutely! I saw them just on Tuesday. We had a good time; we went out. With Gabe, we toured with (his former band) Midtown quite a bit, so I know Gabe, and I was also a fan of Midtown for awhile. Also, Butch Walker worked on their record! It's all twisted and very much incestual. But, yeah, Alex and Ryland are also great dudes, and they have heard it. I've always gotten along with all those guys…and we're gonna spend eight weeks together soon, so everyone's really excited. And Gabe…I don't know how your vibe was with him, but he's always just a riot, so I always have a good time with him. 

BE: Oh, yeah. And Ryland just couldn't believe that I wrote for Bullz-Eye.com. It's apparently been one of his favorite sites for awhile. 

MC: Oh, that's great, that's great! And we're all about it as well! Those dudes…I'm actually going to try and see them, but we've got to catch a flight at 8, so I don't know. It's funny: those dudes – Gabe, Ryland and Alex – they're the sweetest dudes, and we get along with them so well. We don't see each other too often, but when we do, it just snaps on. They're good dudes. 

BE: Like you said, the Honda Civic tour got pushed back a few weeks, but the new date is now good to go? 

MC: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Which is good, in a sense, with the weather being what it is. Where are you? 

BE: Norfolk, Virginia. You'll be here in, like, late May. 

MC: I hear you, man, I hear you. But a lot of the dates are in outside venues, and it's just been so cold everywhere. Well, at least, here in New York, anyway. 

BE: Hey, it's in the 40s here in Norfolk today. 

"(William and I) would just go to shows together, and we were little salty kids that wanted to have bands. And, finally, I was just, like, 'Hey, William, you wanna start a band with me?' And we did. And so far, so good." MC: Dude, it's so bad, my friend. I don't even know. So I'm glad it got pushed back, in a sense, because a lot of the pavilions are outdoors. And for the kids, I think it's great. It's kind of an after-school thing now. I think a lot of graduations for colleges are in the first week of May. But, y'know, to be honest with you, I've always said that the tour should be moved back, and that April was a weird month to be starting a summer tour. You know what I mean? It's that month where you're, like, what is this? What's April? You can't really do stuff outdoors. 

BE: It's too unpredictable. 

MC: Exactly. 

BE: So I went and checked out your Wikipedia entry, and it says that you once turned down an offer to join Fall Out Boy. True? 

MC: Well, I mean, “turned down”? (scoffs) I grew up with those dudes! I had another year of high school left, and they were talking about it, and Patrick used to just sing, and I knew Joe and Pete, and we joked about it, but I don't know that I really “turned it down.” I guess the cards just didn't fall in the right place at the time. Which is totally cool. (laughs

BE: By the way, your entry also says that you smoke Marlboros, like sushi, are fond of water slides, and that you used to be a lifeguard. (laughs

MC: (Seemingly not as amused.) Well, I mean, that's all correct

BE: Any other former jobs in the closet that you want to come clean about? 

MC: Uh, you know, I lifeguarded, like, every summer. I swam in high school, so that was kind of my jam; I could swim, and I had no problem being by water. I mean, I still don't, but these days, I don't so much have the time anymore. But, yeah, that's basically what I did. You know, I worked at The Gap for a quick second, but that didn't last too long. 

BE: In the pre-Academy days, most articles tend to describe you and William as being “musical rivals.” 

MC: Uh-huh. 

BE: Did you ever come close to a rumble? 

MC: Day to day, my friend. (laughs) No, when we were younger, we played shows…VFW shows, church basements. When we were growing up, Limp Bizkit was big, and all this other rap-rock kind of stuff, so we went down and saw all these punk rock bands. I don't know how punk rock they really were, but they were punk rock in the sense that they weren't on the radio with everything else. So we had our own little clique, which I guess has bubbled up to be emo now. This little scene that had been around in some form or other, now, you walk into a mall and the fashion has completely taken it over…which is as it should be. That's how trends bubble up and whatnot. But, yeah, I knew him from there, so we'd just go to shows together, and we were little salty kids that wanted to have bands. And, finally, I was just, like, “Hey, William, you wanna start a band with me?” And we did. And so far, so good. 

BE: I know it hasn't really been that long ago, but when you look back at your earliest recordings and compare them to what you've just done, how much growth do you see? 

MC: Oh, tons! Tons! I mean, some of the bands I was listening to then. The Pumpkins were always important to me, Weezer's Pinkerton was a big record for me and still is, and Clarity, by Jimmy Eat World. But the thing is, on this record, it was the Replacements and the Clash. It's weird, because I grew up in the '90s, so, obviously, a lot of grunge bands like STP, Pearl Jam, and obviously Nirvana, those were my jams, so in a weird way, I kind of miss the '80s. They were just too close. It's like kids today are, like, “The Smashing who?” You know what I mean? They're just not classic yet. It takes a second to get to a place where you'll say, “OK, you should definitely listen to this.” So I think now, with the Replacements and the Clash and the Jam, even early U2 stuff, I think that influenced my playing on Santi. Just the attitude, and, well, I was really getting behind it, for some reason. When I was a kid, I saw the Get-Up Kids and the Promise Ring and Alkaline Trio and Cursive or whatever, it was the same vein when I started latching onto these punk bands from the late '70s and early '80s. And that changed my tastes. That's growth, I guess. And as a songwriter, I listen to more and more music now; with the iPod, everybody's got a soundtrack to their life, so when we're on the bus, I listen to a lot of music. 

BE: Talking about bands who've influenced you, do you have a favorite obscure band that you like to champion? 

MC: Obscure band…you know, I like this band called…I don't know how obscure they are now, but they're called Mew? 

BE: Yeah! 

MC: Yeah, I like them a lot…but I don't know how obscure they are. I mean, I'm in New York, so there's gotta be something way fucking cooler than that that I don't know about yet. But, yeah, I like them. And I'm trying to think: what else have I been listening to? Again, I don't know how big they are here now, but I like Phoenix. I like Phoenix a lot. I think a lot more people should listen to them. They're good. I also like a lot of the British stuff now. Like, I like the new Bloc Party record. It reminded me of (Jimmy Eat World's) Clarity a lot. If I was 15 or 16, this would be my jam. I would be listening to this all the time…which I am, anyway. 

BE: So, um, are you talking about Tom Conrad's departure at all yet? 

MC: Oh, sure, yeah. 

BE: What was the story with that? 

"We did the tour, and it's a great vehicle, but The Academy Is… isn't exactly a Warped Tour kind of band."

MC: Well, I mean, we went through a bit of a…it's funny, it's a bit of a cliché, but we went through a bit of a dark place for the band for a quick second. Now, it sounds so trivial, but at the time, we weren't getting along too well. The Warped Tour was a hard tour, kind of a messed up tour. You basically play for half an hour, you don't know when you're going to play, and we were kind of a band who was on the fence on that tour, in the sense of what we do. Which is fine, because the Warped Tour has changed over the years. We did the tour, and it's a great vehicle, but The Academy Is… isn't exactly…we aren't exactly a Warped Tour kind of band. So that was a little part of it. We were ready to make another record, though. Obviously, we signed onto the tour, and everyone's going, “This is a great opportunity,” but we're out there and everyone's going, “We really should just go make another record.” But you're signed up, and you get into that mode of touring, and I think William went down a little bit. It was just too much. And I think Tom…well, see, Tom never recorded anything with us. He joined the band after Almost Here was done, so he was always sort of a touring guy in the sense of my relationship with him. And, then, afterwards, we got off that tour and there were some problems, the vibes weren't right, we had a talk, and he left. And, y'know, I don't know what kind of terms it's on. I think he's salty. I mean, I'm not really sure what's the deal. But, see, I knew Michael (Guy Chislett, Conrad's replacement), and Michael played with Butch, and I met Michael at the “Slow Down” video that we did for Almost Here. I sat down with the dude, we just talked about music, we played guitar. It's funny. I was with a friend that night, and I go back, we're shooting this video, and I go, “Dude, that dude Michael is awesome. I know I'm gonna play guitar with him someday. I just don't know when it's going to be.” And I've just kept in touch with him about records, so when Butch was kind of slowing down with his thing…see, Michael's not just a good guitar player, but he's also got good taste, good intuitions, everything else. And when we started to make Santi, I called him and I was, like, “You should come out to Chicago, because I want you to hear this stuff that William and I are writing.” And he liked the band – he was a fan of Almost Here, I sent him a few demos – and he said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” And, then, it was about 10 days, and he came out here, and we just kinda started playing and stuff, and he said, “I really like this!” And it was weird, because it was like he was the guitar player I never got to play with, but, now, finally he's here! It was so cool. And we had that whole honeymoon period, where you play with someone and the chemistry's in the room, with no heavy bullshit stuff going on, and it's, like, “Man, this is so great! These songs are coming out so easy!” And, then, finally, he was, like, “Dude, let's just do this! I want to go on tour, and I want to do this!” So I said, “Great!” So that's kind of that. 

BE: And my last question. 

MC: Go ahead. 

BE: Based on the comments left on your MySpace page, I have some real concerns about the spelling abilities of some of your fans. 

MC: (laughs

BE: Do you ever see some of those and just go, “Can I buy you a copy of SpellCheck?” 

MC: Absolutely. Without a doubt. It's funny, but with this texting generation, and these slangs, and these shortcuts, and everything else. Well, because I'm not exactly on IM, like, ever, some of the abbreviations and crazy stuff, I'm, like, “I don't know what that means! What does that stand for?” But I think you're right. I think you're absolutely right. 

BE: OK, well, it's been a pleasure talking to you. 

MC: Cool! You, too, man! 

BE: Hopefully, I'll be able to meet up with Cobra Starship again when this tour comes through Virginia Beach, so maybe I can meet up with ya'll, too. 

MC: Absolutely! Please stop by, say “hello,” and whatever. I'm sure we'll be up to no good with the Cobra guys. Take it easy!