INTERVIEW: Cody Carson (SET IT OFF)
From marching bands to headlining festivals, Los Angeles pop rockers Set It Off have carved out a unique place in the music world since forming just over a decade ago - and there are definitely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Starting life in high school bands, Set It Off swiftly jumped on board the pop rock phenomenon whipped up by fellow theatrical rockers My Chemical Romance, Panic! At The Disco and Fallout Boy. But while the quartet's early sound was dominated by synthy pop-punk, in a refreshing act of self-awareness the group chose to actively mature and evolve their sound, embracing their classical music roots and landing in a realm of likeable orchestral pop rock with a slight acerbic twist.
Fast forward to the end of 2018 and the Set it Off gents sit poised from closing out the last ever Vans Warped Tour in Florida and armed with a heap of new material which will culminate in their fourth studio album releasing next February. But before Set It Off take off into orbit next year we grabbed delightful frontman Cody Carson to chat musical evolution, memorable moments and the song guaranteed to get him busting a move on the dance floor. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Cody! Hello from the other side of the world!
CODY CARSON: It's good to hear from you! What time is it over there??
TIANA: It's 10 in the morning, so it's actually not too early.
CODY: Yeah, that's not bad! I'm glad it's reasonable for both of us (laughs). The sun's up for both of us!
TIANA: Very reasonable indeed! Now I feel like even though 2018 is winding down, Set It Off are not slowing down at all, and 2019 is going to be a huge one! And the big exciting news is that your brand new album 'Midnight' will drop in early February - how exciting is it to be arriving at this next phase?
CODY: It's been unbelievable, everything we could've asked for and more has been happening for us, and we're really, really excited. We teamed up with Fearless Records and they've just been so supportive and busting their ass for us! And our management with Reclaim (Reclaim Music Group), Matty, he's been unbelievable. Because we've switched our team up almost entirely for this record, and to be honest with you that can be a really daunting and scary thing. But when you meet these people and you work together, you can see how badly everyone wants it. And it's really exciting! And not only having the new record out in February, but Spotify is a huge thing, streaming is obviously overtaking physical copies, as much as I hate to admit that out loud. But we've had so much love, especially on the last single 'Lonely Dance', it got on five major playlists, including 'New Music Friday' - we've never had that attention before like that. We're used to fending for ourselves, and now we're seeing the support from all formats: our fanbase, these different outlets, these streaming sources...we've got a lot to be excited about right now, and I really am pumped about it.
TIANA: On the note of switching things up, I've read you guys speak about how 'Midnight' is a bit of a game-changer for you guys, is it just from that perspective, or also from the creative and technical standpoint as well?
CODY: It's kind of an all-round thing, a lot of what we've been really excited about is the fact that we felt like we've been levelling up. We feel like the songs are stronger, the lyrics are even stronger, the way we carry ourselves now I feel even is stronger. I'm not gonna lie to you, when you're writing a new record and you're trying new things - it can be the most scary experience in the world. Just because you're never certain, you're like "ok, well, we hope people like this!!? I know we like this!". And then you send the demos to your label, or your closest friends and then you gauge their response. And they'll be honest with you. Then once you sort of get the reaction back and start to feel more and let the songs flesh out, the excitement just starts to build. And as it's releasing that definitely helps, seeing everyone respond to it as well. It truly feels like a new era.
TIANA: As you mentioned earlier as well, 'Lonely Dance' is one of the most recent things we've seen and heard from Set It Off, and I feel like people are definitely digging it, you've clocked over 2 million views on YouTube alone, outside of the streaming stuff. So clearly people are liking what they're seeing and hearing so far!
CODY: I'm so happy about it!
TIANA: The clip for 'Lonely Dance' is super, super fun as well. Where did the concept evolve from, because I was not expecting to be sent into space with this one!
CODY: Oh my god, it's actually really funny. The way we do music videos now, we work closely for everything visual with this girl named Shelby Parks, she's incredibly gifted at what she does. And we basically bring these ideas then she kind of transforms them and comes back, then we go back and forth until we find the final idea. So for 'Lonely Dance' itself, all I had in my head was that we liked these really dark blue lights but I had this idea that I wanted to be very isolated. So I was like "what if I'm in this plexiglass room, and had bedroom stuff in it. And there's people coming in and out and I keep ignoring them". And she took that and just really focused on the word "isolation". And what place is more isolated than space! So she had this idea of doing a space thing and then we started talking on the phone, and it was like "what if I'm in space and I'm not even happy with being that isolated, I wanna be in space by myself". Then we came up with this concept, and that's the funny part about it, usually when I come up with an idea that intense, usually your first thought is: will budget support this?! Because if we don't have a good looking spaceship, this is gonna look like shit (laughs). But we got very fortunate, because we live out here in Los Angeles now we were 15-20 minutes away from a location with a set of a full-on spaceship. It was the most convenient thing in the world. And it was affordable, it was in our budget and the team that we got behind us was all these people, the super team came together and it couldn't have worked out better. It was really awesome.
LONELY DANCE (SET IT OFF)
TIANA: It sounds like it was all meant to happen! Now focusing on yourself for a moment, I find it quite interesting about you - and correct me if I'm wrong - but I believe you are a classically trained musician, and quite a wiz on the clarinet...
CODY: You are correct!! (laughs).
TIANA: Did you ever dream coming from that background that you'd be fronting a rock band in 2018 and about to release another studio album? Was music always the ultimate dream?
CODY: I've always been involved in music, it's kind of funny. I guess I always hoped I'd be in a rock band. When I grew up...I will try to make this as short as possible (laughs). But my mum and dad were in a band together and so whenever they would go on tour, if a nanny couldn't look after us at the time we would just go with them. And every year they played Hersheypark, and I was playing clarinet, my dad played trumpet, and my mum was the lead singer and she played a little bit of trombone. But they would bring me and my sister up at a portion of their set to play. But before the set even started, there was a drum set there, I would always bang on the drum set, I'd bang on pots and pans at home. They were very patient parents (laughs). And my first band, I was the drummer, And as soon as I got a taste of playing a rock show - that was it. I was obsessed. And it wasn't the same to me as doing a clarinet recital, cos you work hours and hours and the reaction's - I'll say it, it's not the same (laughs). You know? It's not the same energy. But once I got that taste of it in high school, I changed as a person! I started to gain confidence in myself for the first time. And what I am happy about is that every record, every full-length record Set It Off's ever released, I've been able to play my clarinet or a woodwind instrument on it, as well as Dan (Dan Clermont - lead guitar), who I met in high school marching band who plays trumpet - he's the only guy my dad would let play his horn. So Dan plays trumpet on every album as well, and we get to play just like we did in high school. It's actually really awesome!
TIANA: Set It Off does really have that specific sound, obviously your sound has evolved along the way and you have embraced that symphonic/orchestral kind of sound. But back in those really early days was there a mission statement for Set It Off for your sound? Or did it just kind of evolve naturally?
CODY: Well our first EP we ever released was called 'Calm Before the Storm' and it was very indicative of the 2008 pop rock world at that time. And I won't lie, we weren't anything unique at that time. And we had friends tell us straight up, we were unsigned and they were like "right now you're a number in a fish bowl. Here's hoping a label picks you up and says alright, what about this band?". And we were like "holy crap, that's very brutally honest, but we need that. Thank you". And at that moment we were like: well what sets us apart? What have we got in our back pocket? And we were like "well we have this orchestral background we're not even using. What are we doing?". So we started doing that, and at the time My Chem had broken up, and we were like "let's fill that void of that minor key realm". So it was very much a conscious decision to involve orchestral stuff, involve minor keys. But it's changed since then in the sense that - before writing that, we had this checklist, like it has to have full orchestra, and it has to be creepy sounding and dark lyrics. And that's fun and all, but felt too premeditated, instead of being what we're doing now. Once 'Duality' hit, we were like "let's just sit down and write the best song we possibly can". And since moving to that structure, I feel like we've become stronger as writers and also a stronger band because we're not chasing a brand. We're chasing ourselves, and music that we wanna write. So going through that was necessary, but we also hold on to our orchestral sound. We add it as it should be added, but we don't add too much because we don't want to over encumber. It's just that we've found a way to make it more tasteful.
TIANA: Over the years Set It Off have played so many shows, including some alongside some Australians, of course touring with Tonight Alive...
CODY: Yeah, they're our homies!!
TIANA: Well you don't have to say they're your favourite, but along the way has there been a significant live show standout for Set It Off, whether it's been memorably good or the reverse?
CODY: Oh man, there's a lot of things I'm thinking and I'm trying to narrow it down right now (laughs). I have one that sticks in my mind that is a recent one. So Warped Tour in the States meant a lot to us because it was the first real tour, or person with Kevin Lyman who really gave us a shot, and put us on the stage. We made a lot of memories on that tour, and as you know they ended the coast-to-coast tour this year. And the last date we were gonna play was Orlando, Florida, which is where our drummer is from, he's from Orlando and he would go to Orlando Warped Tour every year growing up. And he remembers seeing that stage and thinking "one day, I'm gonna be in a band, I'm gonna play on that stage". And not only did we do that, but we closed out the whole show, the final Orlando show of the coast-to-coast Warped Tour. It feels like ending a legacy in a dream state. But the craziest thing about it, and I still remember the feeling - we were originally slotted to play very first. And I've never pulled a card like this but I asked Kevin (Kevin Lyman - Warped Tour founder), I was like "is there anything we can do to not play first? Our families are coming, we want everyone to see us". And he goes "you can play last". And we were like...."oh my god. Ok! We'll do it!". And we looked at the slot and the titans of the tour were Simple Plan, they had the biggest crowd every day and their shows are amazing. So I see, the main-stages are side to side, and I see their crowd - it's unbelievably massive. And I'm like "oh no, they're all gonna walk out after they finish". Then we go over to our set, we walk out - and no one has left! It was just this massive crowd, and they were loud and it was just goosebumps. It was an unbelievable experience. And there's been many moments, I don't even know if I can call it my favourite, but it's definitely something that I'll never forget.
TIANA: Incredible! And it also sounds like you might be a great person to have on hand for negotiations! From first to last!
CODY: (laughs) If it's necessary, I'll speak up!
TIANA: So final question: in honour of your recent track 'Lonely Dance' I have to ask you: what is your favourite go-to song that will always get you out on the dance floor?
CODY: Ooooooo. Oh that's a really good question. It's gotta be a song I can sing to, I think that's important. You know what I think is my number one, and it has been for a long time: 'This Is How We Do It' by Montell Jordan. That song comes on - I transform into an animal. (laughs) I love that song.
TIANA: I am so with you there. I can literally hear it in my head now as we speak and I just wanna bust a move in my living room.
CODY: Oh yeah! As soon as you hear (sings) "This is how we do it..." you're like "OH MY GOD!!!"
TIANA: Well I think we're going to get along great if we ever cross paths on the dance floor as a result of that. But! I cannot wait to hear more from 'Midnight', we would absolutely love to see you out here if you ever get the chance, and more importantly have a fantastic rest of the year and cannot wait for 2019 for Set It Off!
CODY: Thank you so much, can't wait to see everyone out there someday, we will do whatever we can to make it there!
TIANA: Thanks Cody! Enjoy the rest of the afternoon!
CODY: Thank you so much! Enjoy the rest of your morning!
SET IT OFF'S BRAND NEW ALBUM 'MIDNIGHT' IS DUE OUT EARLY FEBRUARY, 2019 VIA CAROLINE AUSTRALIA & FEARLESS RECORDS. PRE-ORDERS ARE LIVE NOW HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER