Sporting a pair of black skinny jeans and an olive t-shirt, Mike Carden strolls into Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre a few minutes late and finger-brushes his unwashed rocker ‘do into place.
Carden shrugs and takes a seat on the red leather couch to his right.
As the lead guitarist and co-founder of The Academy Is…, Carden is used to dealing with the press, but he’s no veteran, either. Formed in 2002, the band has just started to create buzz on the airwaves.
“When I grew up, there was basically radio and MTV,” says Carden. “You saw a [music] video and you’d go buy the record because that was your outlet to the new shit, right? But now you have so many different options.”
It’s options like Myspace and Purevolume that help give the band exposure. With nearly 35,000 friends and 5.5 million profile views on Myspace, The Academy Is… (yes, the ellipsis is part of the name) has built a solid fan base since joining the online community three years ago. And after relentless touring with bands like Something Corporate, the All-American Rejects, and their Fueled By Ramen label mates Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy, the buzz has spread to mainstream media. Just days before the release of their ambitious sophomore record, Santi, Rolling Stone magazine named them one of the top 10 bands to watch in 2007.
The Academy Is… is a five-piece rock band based out of Chicago. Consisting of Carden, lead singer and co-founder William Beckett, bassist Adam Siska, drummer Andy “The Butcher” Mrotek, and newcomer guitarist Michael Chislett, the band released Santi this spring. The record’s unusual name is an inside joke within the band, referring to someone Siska strongly disliked in high school. “Santi would always say, ‘Adam, your band sucks. You’re never going to go anywhere.’ So, we just started saying ‘Santi’ as a word of cheers and praise. It’s so sarcastic, it’s funny,” says Carden. “Then we were just like, ‘Man, we should name the record that. How funny would that be?’ Right? And then we fucking did!”
Funny, sure (Siska and Butcher both have ‘Santi’ tattooed on their asses). But is the real Santi pissed? “Naw, I’ve talked to him like twice, and I guess he’s still a little salty about it. But like, he’s kind of confused all in the same right, you know?” Carden says, laughing. “So yeah, it’s pretty insane, I’ll be the first to say it.”
Jokes aside, Santi showcases how The Academy Is… has matured since their 2005 debut, Almost Here. While the first record was solely written by Carden and Beckett, the band wrote Santi collectively, mixing their pop-smart lyricism with classic rock verve. “With Almost Here, it was more The Get-Up Kids, Alkaline Trio, and stuff like that, bands I still have such respect for,” says Carden. “But with this record, I think The Clash, early U2, The Replacements. And the Smashing Pumpkins have always been an important band for us. Tastes just evolve.”
Friends also influence tastes. Produced by fellow musician Butch Walker (who has produced records for Hot Hot Heat, The Donnas, Fall Out Boy and Avril Lavigne), Santi sometimes delivers a sound reminiscent of Walker’s own work. “With producers, you show them an idea and you use him and his judgment calls,” says Carden. “So there’s going to be influences that come out—they just sneak in, as opposed to him saying, ‘Do that.’”
According to Carden, the band, currently on the Honda Civic tour with Fall Out Boy, +44, Paul Wall, and Cobra Starship, knew from the beginning they wanted Walker. Soon after meeting with him during their tour for Almost Here, the band began to send him demos. “When we decided to do it, it wasn’t as if we had a big list of producers that we were gonna work with,” says Carden. “It was just kind of like, ‘Butch is doing the next record.’”
Getting Walker’s expertise paid off. The recent buzz surrounding the band grabbed the attentions of Rolling Stone and Alternative Press magazines, the latter of which features The Academy Is… as this month’s cover story. “We hear about things where someone is going to do a piece and everyone gets really excited,” says Carden. “But then it takes about a month and a half before it comes on print. So you kind of live with it first for a second—it’s not that kind of boom! effect. But, obviously we’re very proud and it was definitely one of those moments where we were just really happy.”
But some critics have been questioning the band’s chameleon-like transformation—with chords reminiscent of early U2 and a chorus that screams Smashing Pumpkins on ‘Seed’, and the T-Rex-inspired glam rock jam ‘Bulls in Brooklyn’—and are still quick to label The Academy Is… as everything from emo to punk rock. “We were doing an interview in England not too long ago and they were saying like, ‘Well you and Gym Class Heroes are doing this,’ and I was like, ‘What?’” Carden says, imitating his look of exasperation at the time. “It’s all ‘emo’ right? Whatever. I don’t worry about those things. If we get lumped in with Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, My Chemical Romance, or whoever, that’s fine. We’re not very good with names or titles.”
Still, they’re feeling good about Santi. Calling the record a snapshot of who and where the band is right now, Carden says he is happy with it. “I would like to think that we are going to make a lot of records so I don’t get too bent out of shape thinking, ‘Oh, this is it. This is the last record,’ or, ‘Oh, this is the most important record of our career,’ because you don’t know until you can look back on everything,” says Carden. “But, I’m very proud of this record. And I’m excited to make the next one.”
Although the boys are writing new songs while on tour, they don’t know when they’ll start recording again. For now, The Academy Is… is keeping busy with shows. The band will tour Australia and the UK this summer before returning home to start their first headlining tour in the fall.
At this rate, The Academy Is… will make it big – soon.