Interview: Set It Off

Photo by Ellie Mitchell

Photo by Ellie Mitchell

Set It Off have an interesting story. Frontman Cody Carson paved the way for YouTubers-turned-musicians in the alternative music scene, which has since expanded to include acts like Against The Current and As It Is. 

In 2008, Carson first experienced being a frontman when All Time Low's Alex Gaskarth let him sing Coffee Shop Soundtrack" onstage with the band. Seven years later, Set It Off is opening for All Time Low's Canadian leg of The Future Hearts Tour and Under The Rockies' Mary McComish was able to sit down and talk to the band prior to their Calgary show. We talked new music, who they want to record music and tour with next and YouTubers on Warped Tour.

Set It Off's Duality and Duality: Stories Unplugged is available now through Equal Vision Records.

A couple days ago you premiered your “Wild Wild World” music video. Is this the last project from the Duality era before you work on your next release?
Cody: We’re not sure yet. We’re kind of playing around with the idea of possibly doing another music video for “Duality” but we’re already working on new material. The goal is to go back out into the studio around January and start busting out another one.

What do you know and what are you able to tell us about your next release?
That’s the crazy thing about it is, we kind of stopped trying to make some sort of guidelines for what we’re going to be for the next record. That’s what I think made Duality so special is there was no “we’re going to be this band”. We just wrote a bunch of songs and the best ones made it. That’s what it should be about; it should be about great songs. With this, I will say that I think it’s more down the alley of what Duality was like because that when we truly found ourselves. You’re going to hear melodically driven songs, a lot of attitude. We’re going to be drawing influences from all over the place, just like we always do. 

Are you going to work with Brandon Paddock again?
That’s the goal, he was the man. 
Dan: He’s pretty much an extra member of the band. He was the next extension of what Set It Off was. He had a very huge part of creating our sound on all of Duality. It would only make sense to have him back again.

I know you tried to get John Feldmann for Duality.
Yeah, at first we were going to work with John Feldmann and we wrote with him before and it went pretty well but when we wrote with Brandon, no disrespect to John because he’s incredible at what he does, but we just had this undeniable chemistry with Brandon. When it turned out that he [Feldmann] couldn’t do it, we knew we had to hit up Brandon and it obviously worked out really well.

A lot of bands tend to find their producer and that’s the person they tend to stick with. Have you found that in Brandon?
It looks like it. It looks like he’s our producer. We always were that band that would go from producer to producer to producer, we’ve never had the same guy twice so this is the first time we’ll ever be having a consecutive producer on an album. We’re excited about that.

You’ve worked with Ash Costello [New Years Day frontwoman] on “Partners in Crime” and Jason Lancaster and William Beckett both appear on Duality. Do you hope to have some guest spots on your new release?
Cody: Yeah, we definitely do. We want to think outside the box too about our next guest appearances, people you wouldn’t necessarily find within the scene. We honestly all love rap a lot, that’s what we listen to before we go on stage, so we want to feature a rapper at least on one of the songs. I think it’d be cool to add that sort of flair to a Set It Off song. We definitely plan to add some guest vocals.

Is there one rapper you hope to approach?
There is one – Hopsin. Full name, Marcus Hopson, but he has this new record out called Pound Syndrome and it’s fucking amazing. Futuristic is another really, really good rapper that I think is realistic option to have on the record. It all depends on what their management wants and also whosever’s voice and style fits the song the best. 

You followed up Duality with your acoustic EP, Duality: Stories Unplugged, what’s the difference between recording an album and then transposing those songs more acoustically. Is it challenging?
Actually, it went pretty fast.
Dan: It’s a lot of fun. I can’t speak for every artist but when you write songs, there’s always something they wish they could have done after the song comes out. Doing that kind of gave us a chance to reimagine a lot of things and add things especially as we all became better songwriters with Brandon in the group as well. It’s cool to showcase what we’ve learned and what we’ve really wanted to do through those songs.

Bands tend to reimagine songs as time goes on. I know My Chemical Romance later on put out a new version of “The Ghost Of You”. 
That was actually the epiphany I had watching one of their live sets one time. I was watching, I think it was “Dead!”. They played a lot of stuff differently and I was like, “oh my god, you don’t have to ever stop writing your songs. You can just keep changing it until you find the perfect version for you”. I thought that was really cool. 

My Chemical Romance were an influence to you, right?
Oh yeah, they’re a huge influence.
Zach: They’re a huge influence on our whole entire band. At one point, I know all of us were huge My Chem fans.

This has really been your first full Canadian tour since 2013, where Cody was unable to make it. How’s that going so far?
It’s great.
Maxx: The last couple times we’ve been here, the fans that have come out have always been incredible. They’ve generally been smaller shows with the exception of a few. Early on, Set It Off has come here a lot. Very small shows, sometimes maybe 10 kids would show up and it’s incredible, now, being on tour with All Time Low, to play these 1,000 cap rooms and have all these people know our words. Like you said, it’s been about two years so it’s crazy to leave and come back and see it grow. Definitely been a blast.

It’s unfortunate but the venue that you played last time you were here, The New Black Centre for Music and Art, doesn’t exist anymore. All of the small, all-ages venues are shutting down.
The venue we played yesterday, they said it was the second all-ages show ever, they just started doing all-ages shows. It’s crazy, like Maxx was saying, I don’t even know if I have been here, personally, but we come back here and Zach and I can barely get food. We were getting stopped by all these fans of Set It Off. It’s really cool to see how big the buzz is here for our band.

One of Cody’s first ever live performances was with All Time Low, 2008, doing “Coffee Shop Soundtrack”.
My first performance as a vocalist. Actually, no, my first ever, this is ridiculous but… My mom and dad were in a band and so I performed on stage with my sister and my mom when I was like 5. We did “Colors of the Wind” and I was dressed as John Smith. That was my first ever. Every now and then I’d go on stage and play clarinet. Never was I really ever the frontman in a band before so that was my first experience. I was in a music conservatory practicing clarinet and, to practice, I went in the practice room and blocked off the window and put my headphones in and pretended. I really like rehearsed it. I wasn’t sure because I was nervous as fuck. That was my first real frontman performance. 

Since then, you’ve followed a similar career path as All Time Low, from playing Warped Tour. Now you’re opening for them. How’s it feel to kind of come full circle? 
It’s so cool to see it come full circle. That band is the reason why this band started. They showed my family this is something I need to be doing and really gave us the jumpstart that we needed and the fate that we needed and hope we needed. What I like about it most too is they didn’t just spoon-feed us. They let us do that and from then on it wasn’t like, “alright, here’s this, here’s this here’s this”, we finally raised ourselves up on our own, we became this band that’s like a force to be reckoned with and now we’re on tour with them. I think that’s really fucking cool. You feel like you earned it.

Cody did a lot of YouTube videos. Hands Like Houses vocalist, Trenton Woodley, he penned a blog post about the YouTubers on Warped Tour and how he believed they were taking away from the music and I wanted to get Cody’s opinion on that.
Oh yeah, I saw that. Here are my thoughts on that: I think it depends on what your intentions are. If you’re a YouTuber and you play music, then you’re not taking anything away from the artists because you’re still a musician, you just happen to use an outlet that’s very resourceful. YouTube is an amazing thing. I hope that his intention is not to say that YouTube is toxic at all because, in the sense, YouTube can help so many artists become bigger than they were. Friends of ours in Our Last Night, they were close to stopping and they started doing YouTube and now they’re doing better than they ever were. They’re amazing artists, they’re so great at what they do. They have no disrespectful things to say about them or the fact that they use YouTube or anything like that. I think if you’re using YouTube as a source for just fame and then you don’t know how to deal with it once you get it, I think that’s a little weird. I have no harsh opinion, it’s just more so, “chill out”, you know? If it’s helping them out with their career, awesome. If you’re using it for the wrong reasons, stop. Just be a good person about it.

I think it was mostly the YouTubers on Warped Tour that had the big lineups that didn’t do music.
Warped Tour has never been just about the music though. In the beginning, it was skateboarding, music, things like that. Now it’s changed. To me, it reminds me a lot of when, from what I’ve heard, I was like 1 when it happened, when MTV came out and all these artists and musicians are saying, “MTV is gonna kill music because now it’s TV and TV’s going to kill music”. It’s not. There are growing pains, obviously, some’s going to be good and some’s going to be bad.  It gives you a chance to connect with your fans and let people who aren’t able to premiere their music videos on TV, it gives them a chance to show their music videos to fans.
Cody: It’s the only shot at radio any bands like us have. 
Dan: We’ve never played South Asia or China or anything but for all the fans we have there, that’s the only way they can listen to our band. Spotify’s probably not a thing over there, Apple Music is probably not a thing over there, so all they have is YouTube. 
Maxx: And as far as the YouTubers go, I feel like a lot of that is a crossover fanbase so, if anything, it’s a good thing. They’re bringing fan to Warped Tour which is cool.
Cody: I think really where that stems from, and I’m not trying to put anyone on blast, is just a sense of jealousy. Everyone will admit this, when you would go over and you’d see the YouTube line, it was bigger than any band’s line. You hear people bitching about the YouTubers and, yeah, maybe they didn’t hang out as much, didn’t go talk to anyone as much but good for them, they found a platform that worked for them and they created an awesome huge and, obviously, devoted fanbase. They [the fans] bought a ticket. They still came to Warped Tour, they’re still supporting the festival. I just don’t see why there should be any discrimination there. 

I know Cody has covered a lot of musicians on his YouTube channel. What’s like the dream tour? Who would you love to tour with next?
I want to tour with Jason Derulo really badly.
Zach: I think it’d be awesome to do a tour with all pop artists. To do a massive tour like that, we get to be the band that opens that tour, that’d be rad. 
Cody: I think it’d be cool to take advantage of that sort of situation. I feel like we’d do a good job of that. 
Maxx: One band I think, we haven’t met them but I feel like our live shows would mesh really well, we’ve always put focus on our live performance, putting on a great show, and twenty one pilots, everything, their whole show, you can’t take your eyes off what they’re doing. 

So what does Set It Off have planned for the rest of 2015?
We finish off this tour in two days in Vancouver, we fly over to the UK and do a tour with Mallory Knox and The Xcerts, then play a couple shows in the Netherlands and then we are off writing the new album for the next few months and recording.

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