Not sure about you, but I think that if you get booked to perform at your city’s Apple Store, then you have pretty much made it in the music business. Chicago’s very own 1997 played a gig downtown a couple weekends ago and I was there to witness it and cheer them on. I think it’s safe to say that the show was a success and sold out. Almost every seat was taken upstairs and there were people standing all around, checking out the FREE acoustic concert by their hometown heroes. After the show, I got the chance to sit down with Alida Marroni (Keys, Vocals) and Alan Goffinski (Bass, BGV) where we discussed everything from Victory Records to Sex and the City (the movie!).
With two studio albums to choose from (plus short Warped Tour sets), how do you pick songs for your Warped sets?
Alida: Basically, we were talking about it and we are just going to play the catchiest, loudest, fastest stuff that we have. What do we have? I think two songs from the old album and three songs from the new album.
Alan: Something like that.
Alida: We’re going to play five songs that are as catchy as possible. Just to grab people’s attention, you know? As they’re walking by…
Alan: Part of it is standing out in the deluge of music. There’s just so much going on. Just trying to make sure that at any possible moment, someone passing by might hear something that they like and just stick around for awhile. Pick up a new fan. Don’t want to play too much quiet stuff either because it will get drowned out by the stage next to us.
You said during the show that Caleb (Caleb Pepp – Guitar, Vocals) made the set list for today. Does that always happen?
Alan: Caleb loves lists. He loves making lists of all shapes and sizes. For anything. So it’s usually he’ll make a list and we’ll go over it and say maybe not…
Alida: Maybe open with this one instead and end with this one instead.
Alan: He’s no novice. He knows how to make a good list. He’s been making mix tapes since he knew how to press record on a tape deck.
Some bands already have their next record written right when their latest album is coming out. Are there new unrecorded songs that you will be playing?
Alida: We’ve got a couple that we didn’t record for this album. But we are pretty much going to designate a few months to devoting our time to writing before we record the next album. And unlike a lot of bands, I think we’re just going to soak this album up for awhile. I don’t know, Caleb’s always writing. And he’s really excited to be constantly making new material. It just depends…
Alan: We don’t like to sit too long. I don’t know how many of the B-sides from the last album would make it onto the new album. I doubt any would, but who knows? We’re always writing. We’re always coming up with new stuff that just ends up kind of laying fallow for awhile until we have a chance to sit down and make sense of it all. Spend a couple months just working out the kinks of it.
Does anything prevent you from playing different sets every night? On Warped Tour will you play the same set of songs every day?
Alida: We can change it up. I mean, our boredom is the only thing that I can think of that would prevent us from doing that.
Alan: As much as we always try to find a set that works and stick with it, we are always changing it.
Alida: When we tour, we’ll play a different set – we’ll play at least five sets in a tour.
Alan: We switch it up a lot.
Alida: And it’s more fun for the people that come to see us a couple dates in a row. It’s cool to not have to see the same show twice.
What have you noticed about crowds at recent 1997 shows?
Alida: Well, I want to talk about our CD release show that we had two nights ago. It was a really good time. It was the first time that I had ever seen people – a really big group of people – singing along to the new songs. That felt awesome because this is the first album that I’m on, so I was really excited about that. But more and more, as we keep visiting the same cities, kids are more and more perceptive, intense and awesome.
Alan: Numbers are increasing.
Alida: Yeah, it’s great. It only gets better.
Alan: We accidentally played our first headlining tour – just got off of it. When I say accidentally, I mean that it was supposed to be a co-headlining tour, but the co-headliners dropped off the tour, so we wound up headlining. We were a little nervous at first, but we surprised ourselves.
Alida: It went pretty well. We sold out a couple too. It was cool.
Alan: Yeah, big numbers.
Do you plan your sets differently when playing in your hometown of Chicago?
Alan: Yeah, we do.
Alida: Our Chicago kids have songs that they just need to hear. So we like to do that for them.
Alan: We take into consideration the fact that when we play Chicago, we are playing to a lot of family and friends. We try and play everyone’s favorites.
How much do you rehearse for a tour?
Alida: When we have a practice space, we practice every day.
Alan: We got out of the studio and we learned all the material again because everything changes when you record it. New parts get added, guitar parts change slightly. Gotta relearn everything – we spent several weeks doing that. And then once we’re comfortable with that, then it’s smooth sailing.
Alida: Every show is a practice, really.
What’s on 1997’s rider?
Alida: The funny thing is – do we even have a rider? I don’t know. I don’t think we’re cool enough to have a rider yet.
Alan: Interestingly enough, we do have a rider. But it’s just like a default rider that our booking agent put together. I don’t think we ever asked for anything, but she asked for things on our behalf – like to include several cases of beer. And only a few of us are of legal age to even drink, which is really interesting. Venues complain about that sometimes. When we have a rider and when venues decide to fulfill the rider requirements, which they rarely do anyway at this stage in the game, it’s just going to be the basics.
Anything you would want to have on your rider?
Alida: It’s going to be a few years before we’re playing arenas and I can request a masseuse, but I’ve got awhile to think about it.
Alan: The only thing I really crave ever, on a constant basis, is cheese and ice cream.
Alida: Yeah, we’ll have a lot of ice cream, probably.
Alan: But who knows? I don’t care. I’m just there to play music.
How are you planning to change things for this summer’s Warped Tour to make your live show different from past tours? Any audience interaction?
Alan: As far as stage performance goes, it’s just gonna be go, go, go. Let’s make sure we can cram all the songs we want to play into a short set. Speak briefly; say your name in between every song.
Alida: Yeah, so people always know who you are.
Alan: Say your name in the middle of a song if you have to.
Alida: “We’re 1997! Here’s the cool bridge to this song!” Just exert all of our energy into those 20 minutes. Hopefully, get some kids to come over to the merch tent.
Did you ever go to Warped as a fan?
Alida: Hell yeah, I’ve been going to Warped since I was 13 years old.
Alan: Alida happens to be the only one in the band who has ever been to Warped Tour.
Alida: It’s so funny. None of them ever go. They always go to Cornerstone and stuff like that; festivals that are going around at the same time. Dude, I love Warped Tour. That’s a huge part of my middle school and high school experience. I’m bummed we don’t get to play the Chicago date. Our booking agent couldn’t get us on that date. Dude, Warped Tour is awesome, and I can’t wait to play it – I cannot wait to see how different it is as a musician. I’m sure it’s so much rougher, but I think it’s going to be a great time. And obviously, I’m going to be a fan the rest of the day, so I’m going to be just watching as many bands as I can. We already have a list of all the bands we want to see.
When you’re in the studio, do you think about how the songs will sound live?
Alan: Probably somewhat. I think we naturally write songs that sound good live. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I think that subconsciously we know that songs need to have energy. We write energetic songs that have dynamics to them. If you can do that, no matter what style of music you play, no matter what genre or type of kid you’re playing to as your primary audience, it’ll come through well live.
What do you do on the road to relax?
Alida: I write in my journal and whenever we get to venues, I always give myself a half hour before we play to just be alone and warm up.
Alan: We skate a lot. We enjoy dumpster diving – sometimes for fun, sometimes out of necessity. We like to hang out with fans at the shows.
Alida: There are house parties that we’ll go to after shows all the time. We just spend a lot of time in the van. There’s a lot of listening to music, driving around. They play hacky-sack at rest stops. I don’t play hacky-sack. I don’t want to play hacky-sack.
Alan: That’s a new development – hacky-sack. It’s a really good way to stretch our legs at every gas station. Everyone comes out and kicks the sack around for awhile.
How is the Warped Tour going to be different from other multi-act tours and festivals you’ve played?
Alan: Who knows? Tell me!
Alida: We’re excited to find that out, but I’m sure it’s gonna be way more intense and a lot hotter.
Alan: I hear it’s just like regular tour on speed. It’s just high impact, high energy.
Alida: No sleep. Long drives, really hot. But we’re so psyched.
Alan: No sleep. It’s going to be hell and we’re psyched for it.
What challenges, if any, did you face putting the album together?
Alan: There were some illnesses in the studio that inhibited some voices for awhile. A big challenge is making sure everyone’s on the same page: the band, the label, management. Just to make sure everything runs smoothly and all promotion is running on all four cylinders when the album hits and well into the first several months.
Alida: We want to make sure we have enough time to produce the best songs that we can in the month that we’re allotted to be in that studio. There’s a lot of prioritizing towards the end and deciding what needs more attention. There’s crunch time for sure. It’s all worth it and we’re happy with how it turned out.
Alan: Neither of the albums we’ve recorded is in our opinion, a perfect album. There’s always stuff that we feel like we wished we could’ve spent more time on. We try and do the best with the time that we have – the time that the label is buying for us. We think we do a really good job with it and we’re really proud of what we’ve managed to do. But by no means do we think that they’re perfect.
What is your songwriting process?
Alan: Caleb is the backbone. He is the guitarist and comes with a bag of tricks – a big sack of goodies – a big bag of riffs and we all sit down behind our instruments and try to make sense of them. Try and basically sort out Caleb’s mind. For this last album, we wrote all the music first. Well, not necessarily all of it. The majority of it was all written on guitar first. Maybe a hook, a melody, had a couple words written to it. Then the four of us – me, Alida, Kevin and Caleb – all put in effort as far as lyrical content.
How would you categorize your music?
Alida: I just call it indie rock.
Alan: We try not to because it’s always harder to categorize your own music than it is someone else’s. We try and let other people do it for us. But I think generally, people just consider it indie rock – indie rock with folk undertones. Certainly, there are some pop elements to it. It’s listenable, it’s catchy.
What makes your album stand out from some of the rest?
Alida: I think that our whole three-part harmony thing sets us apart from quite a few bands.
Alan: Also, I think that part of it is the fact that we don’t really subscribe to the whole emo-band indie image. We’re not trying to snap into a mold, like fit a grid or anything like that. We’re just trying to write music that makes sense in our minds and in our hearts. When you do that, you can avoid having the cookie-cutter, trendy image.
Alida: We acquire whatever fans want to listen to us – whatever demographic responds to what we are making. It’s not really aimed at this group of kids or anything like that.
Alan: Rather than just subscribing to a genre and then trying to fit the mold, we’d rather just sort of make our own mold and see who bites.
What are some of your favorite bands? Who would you like to tour with? Open for? Write songs with?
Alida: I want to play with Eisley and Rilo Kiley.
Alan: I want to play with Jimmy Eat World.
Alida: So do I.
Alan: We’re all about touring with any band that will expose us to more kids. The more people that we can have singing, yelling, screaming and dancing along at out concerts, the more fun it is.
How has your life changed since signing a deal with Victory Records – the world’s largest independent record label?
Alan: When you get signed to a big, important label, things get handled differently. You have a constant interaction with a whole family of people over there. You have to make sure that they are on top of their game and know what you want. And you have to know what they want from you. Luckily, we are a Chicago band and they’re a Chicago label and we have good lines of communication with them. They come to all of our shows in the city. They like us as people – they’re our friends. A lot of them are good friends of ours. So that’s really convenient and a really good feeling to know that they’re on our side, helping us out.
How much of the music business did you know about before signing with Victory and their in-house publishing company – Another Victory Publishing?
Alida: A lot of it was trial and error – learn from our mistakes. No one really set anything out any guidelines or anything as to what to expect. It all has been happening as everything progresses for us. We’re trying to become more informed and like Alan said, keeping the lines of communication open and trying to be aware of things Victory is doing for us and things that we should ask them to do for us.
Alan: As far as contracts and publishing goes, we were very unprepared to sign a contract at the time Victory was offering a contract. Thankfully, luckily, I have a good friend who is a lawyer, who helped us out with that and made sense of the jargon. He did his best to make sure we knew exactly what we were getting into.
When it comes to commercial music licensing, are there any TV shows you would like to have your music featured in?
Alan: Grey’s Anatomy.
Alida: I don’t really like Grey’s Anatomy, but Victory is trying to get our song On The Run, the title track from our new album, on that show, so that would be cool. Dude, I would love it if our song was on a really cool show like…what shows do I like? I don’t really watch TV.
Alan: I know Scrubs plays a lot of good music, so maybe we got a shot there.
Alida: Yeah, that’s true.
Alan: I don’t know. We don’t watch a whole lot of TV.
Alida: Dude, if Sex and the City was still on, I would do anything I could to get our music on that show because it’s the best. The movie is so good! I want to watch it every day of my life, but I don’t have $8.50 every day of my life, so I can’t. That movie did not disappoint. I can’t believe I’ve been talking about it seriously every day since I saw it.
What advice would you give those interested in breaking into songwriting and form a band?
Alan: Don’t! Go to school. No, I’m kidding.
Alida: If you do, be prepared for instability and uncertainty.
Alan: Someone once told me, “Alan, college isn’t for everyone.” I would just like to say, “Kids, music isn’t for everyone.”
Alida: It’s got an awesome mystic to it. But when it comes down to it, you don’t know when your next shower is going to be, or your next meal, things like that. But it’s worth it if you really love it, then go ahead. You gotta really love it.
Alan: You gotta want it.
Alida: Do whatever you can to be involved with people that you really get along with because you are never going to be apart from them.
Alan: There are probably close to 1,000 bands in Illinois alone that are better than us and more deserving of a record contract than us. The problem is that they spend all their time jamming in their parents’ basement. They might be better musicians, they might be better songwriters. But if you don’t get out, you don’t play or make your name known, or don’t meet the right people…then you’re going to be playing in your parents’ basement for the rest of your life.
Alida: Gotta make sure you’re ambitious. Gotta want it, gotta love it.
Alan: You gotta want it.
How do you feel about fans downloading your live performances (concert footage) online for free?
Alida: I think that you kind of sign away your decision to control that if you’re with a major label. I know we just want as many people to hear us and watch us as possible. So we’d be down with that idea. It depends on the label and a lot of other things though…
Alan: I know that the music industry is in a very volatile situation right now. Everything is really shaky and about to crumble. It’s inevitable that there are going to be some major changes in the music industry over the next several years. Record sales are at an all-time low.
Alida: Everything’s digital.
Alan: I don’t even know if I’m going to see CDs in the next ten years. The old model is changing. I’m not sure how it’s going to change, but I just think that bands need to be prepared and ready to mutate.
Alida: Yeah, just willing to succumb to the whole digital era.
Alan: Or else just go back to vinyl and keep it real.