It’s been a rollercoaster few months for Florida’s pop punk outfit Set It Off. Their unexpectedly pop-infused second record ‘Duality’ flew off the shelves and landed them an immense fan response, leading to a headline UK and US tour selling out venues all over.
Just before they hit the Underworld stage for the first time as sole headliners, Already Heard sat down with bassist Austin Kerr and drummer Maxx Danziger to talk progression, excessive touring and the songs that never make the setlists.
Disclaimer: On Wednesday 20th May 2015, Austin Kerr was asked to leave Set It Off after sexual assault allegations involving the bassist were made online. This interview was conducted on Wednesday 6th May 2015 before Kerr’s departure from the band. Since his departure, Austin Kerr has posted a statement online (see here). Already Heard does not condone the alleged actions of Austin Kerr. We encourage fans of both genders to prioritise their own safety and well being at any live music event and online regardless of who they may be with.
Already Heard: Congratulations on ‘Duality’, it’s gone down a storm! Did you expect such a great reaction from the Dreamcatchers?
Maxx Danziger: Honestly, we were a little nervous, there was a bit of a style change for us, ‘Cinematics’ was a little darker, a little heavier, a little faster. It became a more pop-oriented kind of transition so we had no idea what to expect. It was everything we could’ve asked for and more, especially in the UK and Europe, it was received really well. The first time we came out here since that came out was the Crown The Empire tour and people were screaming the words back at us, it was incredible, a dream come true! It was nice to see that, even though the music was a little different, that people were accepting of it and still enjoyed it.
Austin Kerr: Even more so, it’s been crazy because in general, the Dreamcatchers like the new album more! In the first tour after we brought it out, we were playing much more new stuff than old stuff, we were expecting people to complain and be all “we wanna hear ‘Swan Song’”, but the only complaints we got were that we weren’t playing more new songs. That never happens to a band so that was pretty cool.
AH: Your Spotify commentary let us in on a lot of secrets about ‘Duality’, but which songs mean the most to you personally?
Maxx: I would have to say ‘Tomorrow’, I think ‘Dreamcatcher’ resonated a lot with our audience and to have a sequel to that, it was something we always wanted to do, I always thought it was cool when bands continued on an idea. It’s got a great message and I think it’ll resonate with everyone.
Austin: I think I like ‘Duality’ the most. The thing for me was, the other albums were, I wouldn’t say forced necessarily, but they were trying to be something, we decided “this was a sound we think people would like and try to do this one sound”. ‘Duality’ was us finally going “screw it, let’s just do what we like” and it turned out really poppy, but it was finally just us not caring and just putting out the music we wanted to.
AH: You guys are always great at the menacing songs that send shivers down your spine, like ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’ and ‘I’d Rather Drown’. Where does that anger come from and how do you bring that out when you’re on stage?
Maxx: All our songs come from personal life experience. The one thing we wanted to do with ‘Duality’ is show that life isn’t always positive. ‘Duality’ is about showing all your sides – you’re good, you’re bad, you’re happy, you’re sad, you’re angry. For example, ‘Bleak December’, the hook is “how full of shit you are” – there’s some people that you don’t agree with, who are bad people that turn around and stab you in the back. So that’s where that anger comes from, but we try to cover every emotion. Some bands will write a song saying “we want to write a pop record, so let’s make all songs about partying and drinking”, and that’s fine. But we wanted to cover a little bit more as far as topics go.
AH: You’ve come a long way as a band over the years, with the theatrical energy of ‘Cinematics’ and the pure kind of venom in ‘Horrible Kids’. If you could go back and revisit any of Set It Off eras, whether it’s to rerecord the album or revisit the tour, which would you go back to?
Austin: Definitely ‘Calm Before the Storm’, that was so much fun, it was so crazy. That whole time period, not that I don’t love everything we’re doing now and all the opportunities we’ve been given, but there was something about that album cycle where nothing really mattered. We weren’t big enough to have to worry about losing fans, we didn’t have a label or a management or tour manager or anything like that, it was just the five of us going out and playing music. There was something magical about how simple it was, just going out and having a good time with your best friends. Not that I’m saying that’s not what’s happening now, but it was just different back then.
Maxx: I think ‘Horrible Kids’, to me, it was the first record I recorded with the guys, it felt for the first time in my musical career that it felt like things were just starting to pick up. We got signed off that record, we got management, things were starting to become more professional. For the first time, it was like “I could actually do this for a living” and that was an incredible feeling, something I never thought I’d get the chance to experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. From the first time you pick up an instrument, you imagine that feeling of a record label coming to you and saying they want to work with you. To finally get that feeling is amazing.
AH: One of the great things about Set It Off is the way you can’t be placed into a box, you’ve never stuck to one genre so you’re always unpredictable. What’s next for Set It Off?
Austin: Lots of touring, you probably predicted that one! I think musically, we plan on continuing on the vibe of ‘Bleak December’ – at least at this point, I have no idea how it’ll turn out in the future. We really like the ‘90s, the ‘90s were sweet! You can expect more things that are 90s-esque, that’ll be my only guess.
Maxx: Honestly, even we don’t know yet. When we went to start demoing for ‘Duality’, the original idea was something far different. It was almost like a ‘Cinematics’ part 2, a lot heavier with some heavy songs but also some party songs. I think ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’ was originally in Drop A which is the tuning that Korn plays in, so we honestly don’t know. We have an idea of where we want it to go, but when we get into the studio or start demoing, we have no idea! That’s kind of the fun of it though, we have a basic plan but it’s just whatever we feel. I think that comes back to being true to ourselves, not saying we want to be something.
Austin: Originally, ‘Duality’ was supposed to be both very pop or very light and very heavy in separate parts. Obviously, that’s not what it came out like, and that’s not what the word ‘Duality’ ended up meaning to us, but that’s what it meant at first.
Maxx: ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing and ‘Ancient History’ are two different songs, but we feel like hey belong on the same record. It’s not so out of the blue.
Austin: Yeah, it was supposed to be a little heavier than ‘Cinematics’ and then a bit of ‘Duality’.
Maxx: Yeah we were worried about alienating fans, and it comes back to the fact that we were so excited when people perceived it well.
AH: So speaking of alienating people, a setlist isn’t going to make everyone happy at the same time. What songs do you know will never make the setlist but really wish they would?
Austin: Ooh there’s this one song from back in the day called ‘Chase It’. Sometimes when I’m hanging out with friends back home, they’ll just bug me to put Set It Off on Spotify when I’m in the car with them, and ‘Chase It’ came on and I was like, “wow, this is the best song we ever wrote.” I don’t think we’ll ever play it live but man, I love that song. Every time we hear it, we think “man, why don’t we do more of that song?” It was so good!
Maxx: Actually we just played a club night in Coventry and there was a song that I always loved playing and it always fell out of the setlist, but since it was a club night, we had to cut some of the softer songs and put in ‘End In Tragedy’ which is a blast to play live! It’s fun to play, a lot of singalong, a lot of jumping, the crowd really gets into it, it was nice to be able to play that one again.
AH: Speaking of tours, these last few months have been pretty crazy for you guys. It’s great to see you guys back on a headline tour this time! How does it feel headlining this time?
Maxx: This is the first headlining tours we’ve done in over a year.
Austin: The first real headlining tours. We’ve done tours where it’s like, “yeah we’ll play last” but there are other bands on tour that are more local. But not where there was a green room or a situation where we were setting up our stuff our way, it was always just “umm, yeah, we’ve arrived, I guess we’ll play last!” It’s a different story now, we’re a band and that crowd is ours, so it’s cool!
Maxx: I think over a year ago we did a co-headliner with Our Last Night in the States, we love those guys! That was the last headliner we did in the States and to see the comparison with those shows to the Spring Break tour we just did, it was massive. It’s really hard to get perspective on how much your band has grown but on that tour, we were able to see just how much traction ‘Duality’ had picked up. And over here, we just played our VIP with a few acoustic songs, and they knew all the words, it was incredible. The show’s hopefully going to be great, we’re real excited!
AH: So you guys have been touring for a long time now, have you guys grown tired of the touristy side of travelling? Would you rather just be curled up on the bus watching Netflix?
Austin: I will say that I think it was on the Crown the Empire tour that Europe kind of lost its magic. I wouldn’t say it lost its appeal, it’s not that I don’t like touring, but the first time you go to a new country where it’s all “oh wow look at this, oh my god look at that”, that was the time I was more like “cool, this is like home.” Touring America is like touring a place that I know. Like “okay I’m playing this venue, I want to go to this place to eat.” But it’s still just as cool, you find new things to like instead of having all these new experiences all the time, you have friends that you can count on being there, places you know are awesome. It’s more about the people rather than the place.
Maxx: I eat far less kebabs now. It’s that feeling of not knowing anything and coming over to a different place, it adds a certain magic to it. It’s harder because you have to figure everything out but now, I come here and I go “okay I know where everything is, and Nando’s is just over there.” The first time we came over here, I hadn’t figured it out at all, how to get cell phone service and things, so it’s better but it loses a little of the exploring. But it’s different because now I feel more at home.
‘Duality: Stories Unplugged’ by Set It Off is released on 23rd June on Rude Records.
‘Duality’ by Set It Off is out now on Rude Records.
Words by Ali Cooper (@AliZombie_)