CD Reviews

EP Review: Army of Me’s “Make Yourself Naked”

In an age where Auto-Tune is recognized as music and overproduction takes the place of the stripped down and acoustic, Army of Me‘s latest EP, Make Yourself Naked is a welcomed reminder of where it all begins. On Make Yourself Naked, singer-songwriter Vince Scheuerman breaks things down and takes the listener on a journey.

“I never intended for anyone to hear this music,” Scheuerman said. In fact, the recordings on Make Yourself Naked were originally meant to be song ideas and demos for the next Army Of Me record. It was recorded on his laptop, in his bedroom in Washington DC.

Reminiscent to that of Switchfoot singer-songwriter Jon Foreman’s seasonally themed EP’s released last year, Scheuerman pours his heart and emotion into each track, inviting listeners into his bedroom. With the overlying theme of love, the EP includes the beautiful “Don’t Be Long” and “Love Song” (listen below).

While a definite contrast from Army of Me’s debut album, Citizen, the five-song EP was Scheuerman’s first attempt at self-recording: he only had a microphone, guitar, keyboard and laptop to work with. The result is a raw EP of honesty and intimacy.

Revealing his vulnerability, with delicate finger strumming on “Love Song” Scheuerman sings, “Love I want to give myself away/Love I want to receive you back in the same way/I make no sense on my own/We’re meant for each other/This is love/I forgot the part of my heart that could burn for someone/Happy surprise when I can’t take my eyes from you/You are something sweet/Surely have captured me/But I know I will stay anyway.”

“Lost At Sea” draws numerous aquatic metaphors, allowing the listener to come to his own conclusion while “On My Way” paints a vivid picture of a man on a long and uncertain journey. Beginning with soft strokes of the piano, “Don’t Be Long” ends the EP with an ethereal chorus to the fadeout of the song, begging the listener to question what’s in store next for Army of Me. A solid release, it is hard to believe Make Yourself Naked was recorded in Scheuerman’s bedroom on a laptop. Nonetheless, it is often these intimate moments that make the best music.

To listen to “Love Song” click here. Be sure to visit Army of Me on MySpace for tour dates and to purchase the EP.

Related Links:
Audio Interview with Vince Scheuerman of Army of Me
I’m With the Band
Army of Me Invades Brooklyn
Q&A; with Vince Scheuerman

Features Q&A

Top 10 Interviews

While I’ve been taking suggestions on revamping my blog, some advised cleaning up the sidebar and deleting older interviews to make it easier on the eyes. After much thought, I really can’t just weed out certain interviews because each has a life of its own. Maybe its the frank musician that discussed exactly what’s wrong with the label executives, or the bass player that told me just how “gross” groupies are, regardless, each artist I’ve talked to needs to be showcased. So, when you’re bored at work or just surfing the Web, you have plenty of reading material on your hands.

While going through each interview I came up with my “Top 10” list of interviews that have surprised me or left an impact. Here’s my Top 10 list, in no particular order.

1. Jon Foreman of Switchfoot (photo above)
I’ve been listening to Switchfoot since high school. I’d buy tickets with friends and we’d travel to NYC together at least once a year to see them live. One year, when covering the show for MTV’s concert blog, I was able to meet the guys, and interview frontman Jon Foreman. To meet one of your favorite musicians and talk to him about life, his fears of being a songwriter and pretty much anything else you’d want to know was truly one of the best moments in my music writing career. Read the in-depth interview here.

2. Colbie Caillat
I remember my cousin from California mentioning Colbie Caillat on his visit to New Jersey right after her debut album was released. A few weeks later “Bubbly” exploded on the radio and I just had to buy myself a copy of her album. The next summer she was going on tour with one of her biggest influences (and mine) — John Mayer. I was able to set up an interview for the blog and was surprised at how humble and down to earth she was. Talking about her stage fright before performing and thoughts on just why “Bubbly” took off, Colbie shared insight into her life before and after her music invaded the airwaves. Read all about it here.

3. Marko DeSantis of Sugarcult
This was my first impromptu band interview. Before catching Sugarcult’s set at Starland Ballroom, I noticed a group of fans by the stage door talking to someone. My friend found out it was Sugarcult guitarist Marko, so I asked to interview him. Why not? He wrote down his email address in my notebook with the casual, “Just don’t show this around” and I emailed him questions a few days later. My first nationally published interview, it was featured on Jane Magazine‘s Web site. I still can’t believe I did that, but it paid off. Read the full email interview here.

4. Kris Roe of The Ataris (photo above)
I lucked out being able to interview Kris twice — first for Rutgers University’s entertainment section, Inside Beat, and last year for my blog. Having listened to The Ataris growing up, I attended a performance of theirs at Rutgers and was able to obtain an interview after talking to his manager. After interviewing him with my friend Monica, I remember leaving the room with the realization and determination that, “This IS what I’m going to do the rest of my life.” Haven’t looked back since. Read the full two-part interview with Kris from his performance at Maxwell’s last year here.

5. Joshua Radin
Incredibly honest about the music industry, Radin bought himself out of his five record deal with Columbia and put out his most recent release independently. Not to mention, it hit No.1 on the iTunes folk charts. Not too shabby. A class act to follow, Radin even performed at Ellen DeGeneres’ wedding. Read on for more of his take on the music business here.

6. Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind
I was extremely nervous for this interview. 3eb was one of the most recognized bands of the 90s and having read up on past interviews with the band I was a little worried how mine would pan out. Luckily, it went extremely well — good enough to be used as my first interview feature on! You can read it on Marie Claire here.

7. Vince Scheuerman of Army of Me (photo above)
Possibly the most open singer-songwriter I’ve interviewed, my chat with Vince revealed many of the stories behind his songs, the struggle of making it in the music business and a typical day in the life of a musician. Read on for more here.

8. Tyson Ritter of the All-American Rejects
Oh, Tyson. Brutally honest and never afraid to hold anything back. Though it was a quick 3-question on-the-spot interview outside his tour bus at a concert, it’s one that will always stand out in my memory. Laugh about it here.

9. Jeph Howard of The Used
Okay, I must admit interviewing Jeph on their tour bus was definitely a highlight of the interview. Possibly the longest interview I’ve had, he chatted with me for nearly an hour about life on the road, groupies, and struggles the band has faced. Read all about it here.

10. Sia
Australian singer-songwriter Sia was definitely the most captivating and lively phone interview I have ever had. With her infectious laugh and refreshing take on the music industry, it’s interviews like these that make me continue pursuing this crazy career. You can read the interview featured on here.

That’s my Top 10. What’s your favorite? Did I miss one that should be added?

Concert Reviews

Army of Me Frontman Opens Up at Acoustic New York Set

Taking the stage solo, Army of Me frontman Vince Scheuerman played to a standing room only crowd Wednesday night at the Living Room.

For me, life came full circle as I realized that it was just around this time last year that I first met Vince for Army of Me’s show at Union Hall in Brooklyn. My third “official” band interview for the blog, I remember walking away in awe of the pure honesty and amount that he revealed himself to me, a mere music journalist. Then I was struck with the immediate, “I HAVE to do this for the rest of my life” realization.

A few months later I was fortunate enough to go on tour with the band during the “Get a Life” tour with The Used, Straylight Run, Street Drum Corps and Lights Resolve — all great bands you should definitely check out if you haven’t yet. I spent two days touring with Army of Me; interviewing the guys and getting a feel for the real touring lifestyle. Let me tell you, it’s not as glamorous as it may seem.

Wednesday night at the Living Room, Vince reminded me of why small venues are my favorite. The intimacy. The onstage banter. The feeling that you’re having a conversation with the musician onstage.

Performing songs from Army of Me’s amazing debut album, Citizen (pick it up on iTunes, easily my most listened to album of the year) as well as a few new songs, Vince showed the audience his true colors as he told many of the stories behind his songs. Take “Perfect,” a solid song played on acoustic guitar of which he said was written “at the end of a six-year relationship where I realized I was the worst boyfriend ever and was so wrapped up with myself.” With light guitar picking, never overpowering the emotion of the song, Vince had the room paying attention to every lyric sung.

Having been off tour for a few months, Vince told the audience he’s been at home writing and debuted a few new numbers. Some still untitled, he told the room his tentative song titles throughout the night. Not a huge deviation from his debut album, the newer songs sounded a bit more personal and fit the acoustic, intimate atmosphere of the venue extremely well.

Heading over to the piano, he told the crowd, “If I had my way, I’d play piano 80% of the time and guitar 20% of the time. But, I’m not good at piano,” which seemingly presents a problem in that wish. Despite his lack of confidence in his piano playing, piano based “Better Run” continues to be my favorite song of theirs played live. Slowing down the night, you can feel the emotion throughout the lyrics as Vince sings, “If you find that your life would be better off without me/If you’re running full speed and it feels good to be free/If you know it in your soul, though it’s hard to let it go/You better run, you better run.”

Another song from Citizen, “2 into 1” he asked, “If you love someone, is there anything you can’t forgive?” before telling the crowd, “That’s the idea of this song.” The rest of the night included more of a behind-the-scenes look at each song performed as well as a few personalized dedications to long-time fans in the crowd.

As the year draws to a close, Wednesday night’s set reminded me of why I began this blog just over a year ago. Showcasing musicians like Vince that I probably would never have stumbled upon years ago and seeing their progress as a band over the years is so inspiring. I’m excited to see where Vince and the rest of the guys from Army of Me will be up to in the next few years!

Vince will be playing another acoustic set in Arlington, Virginia this Thursday, so if you’re in the area be sure to catch it! For more on Army of Me and future tour dates, check out their MySpace. And, if you haven’t read my interview with Vince from last year yet, click here.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Hu.


Audio Interview with Vince Scheuerman of Army of Me

Editing down these interviews has taken a lot longer than I had previously expected. I’m hoping to get more of my interviews up in audio format from the “Get A Life” tour soon . . . can’t make any immediate promises though. Here is my interview with Vince broken down into two segments, each about 10-minutes long for your listening pleasure. Let me know if this is a good length, I know everyone has busy lives and you don’t really have time to sit down and listen to a 40-minute interview, so I tried to cut it down to the most interesting parts. Enjoy!

Click here to listen to Vince talk about how Army of Me prepares for tour, what they do on their days off and how their new pre-show ritual came about.

Click here for more from Vince on how the audience’s vibe impacts his performance, getting dropped when jumping into the crowd to crowd-surf, the struggles of being in a band and more.

Interviews Q&A

Vince Scheuerman

Being a writer myself, I’m always curious at how a musician goes about writing lyrics to a song and if those songs are better when inspired by real life situations (do you have to be sad to write a sad song? in love to write a love song?) or just fantasy. I chatted with Army of Me frontman Vince Scheuerman while he ran some errands to the Post Office in town before their show in East Stroudsburg, PA, about writing songs and performing, the struggles of being in a band and his dream collaboration (it might surprise you). Check back in a few days to read more interviews with the guys from Army of Me as well as listen to some MP3 files of those interviews. And if you haven’t yet, be sure to check them out on MySpace and catch a show when they’re in town!

How do you prepare for a tour?
The way we that we prepare for tour is about 30 minutes before the van is supposed to leave we pack our bags, frantically looking for enough socks to get us through a week and then we stuff everything that we can possibly fit into the van. Then we figure out a way to pack all of our equipment and merchandise. We have this system for packing our van because we haven’t been using a trailer. We took out the back two benches of our 15 passenger van, there’s not an inch of space in the back of the van and we all have our bags with clothes and stuff. We did not even practice and we left late, we do this every time. We say, “Okay, we’re leaving at this time” and then three hours later we’re still there and haven’t left.

As far as preparation for tour, we don’t really do that, with one exception. I do preparations for my voice. Because when you hit the road and you’re getting ready to sing full on, every night, if you go into it completely cold, you might have a rough time with it. Every day I try to sing a few songs, practice belting all the high notes.

What do you do on your days off?
Well, today I had the day off in D.C. and I spent it trying to fix a bunch of problems in my house. We got home at five or six in the morning, went to bed and I didn’t realize that there were some people coming to replace the carpets in our house, so they woke us up and we had to vacate the premises in the morning so that kind of sucked. When I got back last week we had another day off, the gas got shut off in my house so there was no hot water, no heat and no stove so I was trying to deal with those things.

It depends. If we’re in the middle of tour and have a day off you’ll maybe sleep late, catch up on emails, watch a movie, write music, something like that. If the tour is over and we have a couple weeks off, I’ll maybe try to find a job. I was working at a hardware store in my neighborhood, making a little bit of money, just trying to pay the bills.

Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?
Actually, this tour we started a new pre-show ritual, believe it or not. About three dates into the tour we realized things weren’t going well and the sound guy from The Used got us together and gave us all these pointers. He basically gave us the kick in the ass that we needed to get on stage every night and really bring it. The second night of the tour we were getting stuff thrown at us. I got hit by a lighter, cigarette buts, coins, and whatnot. There was stuff flying on stage the entire show. We were like, “Man, this really sucks. This crowd doesn’t like us, what are we doing?” We kind of got a new attitude which was to just come out on stage every night and really try to make the audience care. When you first get on stage, they might not give a shit because you’re not the band they came to see, but hopefully if you play your songs and you mean it and you are good then they will. So we kind of got our shit together so to speak and we’ve been playing a little bit better. One of the things we do is about an hour before the show we all get together and start warming up. Everyone’s playing their own thing. It’s a place you don’t want to be ‘cause everyone’s playing something different and it’s just noisy and it makes no sense. But it helps us get warmed up and come together.

The other night you crowd-surfed into the audience and another time you jumped off the balcony. How do you know if the crowd is going to catch you?
You don’t know if they’re going to catch you, I’ve gotten dropped. One time, not too long ago, there was a pretty big crowd, pretty packed and I thought for sure they would be able to hold me up and I kept going until my back hit the floor. The other night, we were in this club in Scranton, Pennsylvania called Tinks. I, in the moment, climbed up on the balcony and was looking down, thinking in my mind, “I really want to jump, but I don’t know if they’re going to catch me.” But I went for it and they caught me! That was very good because that would have been a long drop. I was maybe 10 feet up. It’d be hard to play shows with a broken neck.

It’s just one of those things, getting into music and wanting to connect with the audience too. One thing I like to do, and try to do at our shows is to break down the barrier between audience and stage. Sometimes there is a physical barricade, which I don’t like. I always liked when we used to play shows and there was no stage at all. We’d be standing there eyeball to eyeball with the audience and I always thought that was pretty cool. For me, music is about communication. I don’t want there to be a separation. Sometimes I’ll physically walk out into the audience and sing to try to make that connection.

What do you feel is the biggest struggle being in a band?
Trying to do what we’re doing and have a career at it. The odds are about the worst odds of any career you could ever possibly have. And the amount of work that you put into it is more than any job you would ever have or any career you could ever have. Sometimes you think to yourself, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” But then you think, “I can’t do anything else, or I don’t want to do anything else.”

It’s kind of a blessing and a curse because as an artist it’s really cool to have a gift, to express yourself and be able to sing, play music, write songs and reach people on an emotional level. But at the same time, you give up other things – your stability, being confident that you’re going to be able to pay your bills next month, or knowing what you’re going to be doing a year from now. This could all end tomorrow; I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no stability, there’s no guarantee over anything when you’re in music. It’s kind of like jumping off a cliff and you’re not quite sure if you have a parachute or not. I’m going to do this and not look back. And that’s how you have to do it. You can’t do this rationally. So many bands, they come and go. You hear about bands that were so amazing and no one ever knew about them. That can’t be the reason for success. Art and m
usic is about communication.
If you have that passion to do it, then that’s what you’re doing and it’s sort of a pure thing.

When will you consider that you made it as a band?
When we’re on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine then I’ll be like, “Yeah, I think we made it.” [laughs] In a sense we have made it. We put out a national record, been in stores, gotten on radio, gotten on MTV, all this really exciting stuff. At the same time, I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to pay my bills next week. I don’t know if you look at success as financial success to say that you’ve made it or you look at the fact that you have people who will die for your band. Even if it’s just a handful of people, that’s pretty cool too. You’ll meet kids that have tattoos of your band, and you’re like, “Holy shit, this must really mean something to somebody.” That’s really awesome. Then you’ll look at people like Dave Matthews who packs 15,000 people into an arena, well that’s pretty cool too. I don’t know. As long as I’m still doing what I’m doing and I’m happy and I’m playing music I want to play with my friends and we’re having a good time and we’re still touching people and connecting with people on an emotional level, I’m stoked.

What inspires you to keep writing, playing songs and touring?
Inspiration comes in different form. For right now, it’s all I really want to do; it’s all I know how to do. This is my life, this is what I do. I play music and I believe in my music. There’s not really a question in my mind of, “What are you going to do today?” I know what I’m going to do today, I’m going to play music and if I have a few minutes I’m going to try and write a song. As long as I feel that way I’m going to keep doing it. The day I wake up and I’m like, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I’ll figure something out.

What musicians do you look up to?
I look up to different musicians for different reasons. I look up to Jeff Buckley for instance, because he was such a great singer, the beauty that he captured in music was so amazing, just breathtaking. When you put on his record Grace, it changes the temperature of the room that you’re in. The beauty that is captured in that music is just overwhelming. A band like Radiohead for pushing envelopes so much and changing what they do and really pushing, artistically, their limits. A band like U2, who have tackled big, important issues in their music. I love The Edge’s guitar sound, it’s so signature, he can play one note and you know its The Edge. Bono, I like his voice, but the things they talk about in their songs are deeper issues and that’s something I can connect with.

Are you guys working on a new album?
Not officially. We’re always writing new songs, but we haven’t begun a new album yet. I feel like the current record, Citizen, isn’t done. Our record still has a lot of life left in it. This record I really love so much and I’m really proud of the songs and the lyrics and what it says. We have that one song, “Going Through Changes” and the video, and it gets played on the radio. This record is more then just one song and I think there are a lot of people that haven’t heard it yet. I want to keep working this record for a little while and hopefully have more people check it out.

Do you feel you have to be depressed to write a sad song or in love to write a love song?
Different things inspire songs. I think if you’re sad it helps writing a song, to put what’s really happening when you’re sad into a song. Things that you might write in a song, since you’re feeling it, it might be easier [to write]. Since you’re feeling it you know how to express what it feels like. You don’t necessarily have to be sad to write a sad song or in love to write a love song. I tend to write about what’s happening in my life, what I’m going through, what I’m learning, how I’m growing, all those different things.

The experiences you write about, if they’re real, do they come out better in the songs?
No, not necessarily. In order to write a song you have to have experienced life. To be a compelling songwriter, you have to have experienced something. If you’ve never gone through anything hard in your life then you can’t really write good lyrics about going through something hard. Having had that experience of going through something hard, you don’t have to necessarily be sad at that moment to write because you know what it was like to feel like that, even if you’re not feeling like that at that time. So, to write a song about being in love, you have to have been in love at some point.

Are there any songs that you sing later and they lose meaning for you, either after singing them so much or if you’re at a different point in your life?
No, they don’t necessarily lose meaning. They’re always about what they’re about, but sometimes they take on new meanings when you go through other things. Sometimes I’ll be singing a song and I’ll be thinking about something else that’s going on in my life and I get into that aspect of the song, like its describing something else or I make up new meanings for what it is. Songs are cool like that; they can be interpretive in different ways.

Who would you want to collaborate with?
I always thought it’d be cool to collaborate with Rufus Wainwright. I love his music and his voice. I wouldn’t mind collaborating with Carrie Underwood on like, making a baby. [laughs] I have to be careful because I only get one shot at this. I have to figure out who my idea celebrity girl would be. Sienna Miller. She is so beautiful to me, I think she’s perfect. I don’t know anything about her personality though. I kind of live in a dream world. I’m an artist; I kind of live in an alternate reality sometimes.

What do you love about music?
Initially, I started playing music for all the wrong reasons. When I was a teenager I thought it’d be cool to be famous, be a rock star, meet lots of girls and be rich, like all the guys on MTV. I think over time, growing up a bit, it’s not about that anymore. It’s kind of a search, in one sense, to find beauty, to find meaning, to express myself and to communicate with other people. Music, the way it makes you feel, there’s a certain power in music. It’s amazing. Music has had a big impact in my life. When you get to that place in music where you’re making music and you get that feeling, it’s a great feeling; it’s kind of like a drug in some sense. That glimpse of beauty, that glimpse of how it makes you feel, its a little taste of heaven. Ultimately, if we can communicate that feeling to other people and other people can have an experience that’s meaningful to them, to me that’s what it’s about. If our music can lift up somebody whose feeling pretty low, that’s really awesome and that’s what I hope our music can do.

Did you think growing up you’d be in a band, touring across the country?
No, never. Never thought I’d be in a band. I didn’t really get interested in pursuing music seriously until I was in college. I never thought this was going to happen, it was kind of a fluke that it did. A friend of mine that was in another band invited me to try out for his band to play guitar and I was like, “Dude, I’m awful at guitar. You don’t want me in your band; you don’t want me to bring your band down to that l

evel.” And he’s like, “No, man, we’re just having fun, its cool.” So I tried out for his band and I really liked it, and I fell in love with being in a band and from there I started this band with Dennis and the rest is history.

Interviews Q&A

Army of Me

It’s hard to believe a few years ago drummer Dennis Manuel of Army of Me never picked up a drumstick and singer/songwriter Vince Scheuerman never wrote a lyric, “But it didn’t matter, because we were going to take over the world,” frontman Vince Scheuerman said. Army of Me started out playing in a friend’s basement, eventually recording a demo and touring up and down the East Coast before expanding their tour to the mid-West, getting signed on label Doghouse Records and releasing their first full-length album, Citizen, back in April.

Vince was nice enough to sit down with me last Thursday and answer all my questions about the band, the inspiration behind his writing and the stories behind some of his songs.

How could you afford to do all those tours? Did you guys have steady jobs?
It’s tough because anything that you love to do is hard to make money out of and there’s a lot of other people that are trying to do it too because it’s the cool thing to do. What you’re doing, what other artists are doing, musicians, photographers. It’s really hard.And it never pays you enough anyway. It’s underappreciated. We used to work jobs. I went to college for mechanical engineering so I worked a job at the National Institute of Standards and Technology inGaithersburg,Maryland, for a while. NIST set standards of measurements of length and time and weight. I was dealing with really small lengths, like atomic lengths. So we had microscopes that could see atoms. It was pretty insane. I’d sit in the basement, in the dungeon, working on these microscopes and then as soon as I was out of there I’d be playing music, practicing. I’m just always in the dungeon. What’s up with that? I didn’t see the daylight very much. I lived in a basement apartment. There’s a theme here.

Tell me a little bit about your writing process.
The weird thing about songwriting is it’s hard to describe how it happens. I’ve heard other people describe it and I can kind of relate to how they describe it as something that you don’t really have any control over, it just happens. And when it happens you’re like, ‘Holy shit, that was awesome, but how did I do that?’ you get a feeling like you didn’t do that. It’s hard to explain. Inspiration can strike at any moment. But then I have to make myself sit down and try to work on it, try to come up with something. When I finish a song or come up with a cool thing, the feeling is amazing. It’s a really powerful feeling, like ‘Oh my God I created that, that’s pretty cool.’ But at the same moment, I think how did I write that?

I really like the songs on our new record, Citizen. I’m really proud of what I was feeling and going through during the writing of that record and how I said it. I don’t know how it comes off to other people, but when I look at how I said what I was feeling I’m like, wow that was beautiful. With Citizen, I’m like how did I do that? Where did that come from? Could I duplicate it? Could I do it again? I don’t know. It’s almost like channeling something, like a grace given to you. I still don’t know how to write songs. People are like how do you write songs? I don’t know. But it happens.

Definitely feeling upset about something or wanting something, desiring something triggers a strong emotion. There’s definitely inspiration for a song. I think a lot of songs come from a place of desire, of yearning for something to satisfy you and you’re not feeling that thirst or hunger or quench. And you write about it. Whatever form it may be. It can be a relationship, anything. It is for me. I’m a pretty passionate person. I get hungry a lot, not necessarily for food. I think that’s the human condition, the feeling of looking for something and asking questions about what does it all mean. For me, songwriting is about looking for the meaning, asking for questions, searching for those desires, searching for that thing, whatever it is.

Do you ever want to hold back when writing a song?
I’m a pretty open person. When it comes to songs I don’t really think about that. It’s not that hard for me to be personal with songs, it’s hard for me to be personal with a friend, somebody I know. Maybe you’re more afraid of the judgment that a friend may have, to care what that person thinks. Songwriting for me is my way of searching – documenting my life and what’s going on inside of me.

I really like “Better Run.” When you listen to it, it just seems so honest. What inspired it, or what were you thinking about when you were writing it?
I’m always kind of hesitant to tell specific stories behind songs because I like to leave it up to people’s interpretation. When someone has an idea of what a song’s about to them, it usually has to relate to their life. When I tell them what it’s about they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not what I thought.’ It takes away the message.

“Better Run” comes from . . . I was in a relationship for 6 years with someone. To be honest, she was really great – a beautiful person inside and outside. I never really experienced that much love from another human being, maybe my mom, but that’s about it. If there was one thing that I could bet on in this entire world, it would be that she would always love me. And I took her for granted. I was just always focused on myself and self-absorbed and I was kind of an asshole. She started to lose faith in our relationship and that woke me up to how it was and it devastated me. Not only did she not want to be in a relationship, I had been totally oblivious. I realized that I had hurt her and so. . . it fucked me up big time. It was rough. I was devastated.

So that song is kind of like, for the first time looking at someone with love, real love. The love is expressed as the desire for the best interest of the person I was singing to! If it’s not me, go find whatever that is. Even if it’s not what I wanted, it’s easy to be that person in a song. All you have to do is write the lyrics. It’s a whole other thing to actually really feel and mean that in real life, when everything inside you is screaming, “NOOO!!” It’s a very tortured song. There’s that tension there. I don’t really want this, you know? So the song hopefully captures part of that battle.

How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it before?
The music is about the experiences you have in life and the feelings and the wants and the desires and the hopes and the dreams that I think we all have. It’s about asking questions and searching and trying to find myself and trying to find the answers. Maybe a couple of people have the answers, but everyone has the questions. I believe in hope and I believe that going through rough times, there is also growth and healing and that’s something I talk about in music too. So it’s kind of a mix of all that.

What’s your favorite song to perform?
I think “Perfect” may be my favorite. When we play “Perfect” live, it’s like a journey. Perfect might be my favorite song on the record, it’s a song about wanting to accomplish something great, wanting to prove that you’re worth something to somebody. And when we play it live, it feels powerful, and I feel like I can do something great. In the middle of the song, we do a section that is improvised. Brad, our guitarist, does a solo which is always great. I like to get lost in the moment.

I was wondering about the story behind “Rise.” I read that it was inspired by the tsunami in 2005, how so?
I heard this story about these children inSri Lanka, maybe 7 or 8 years old, who had lost everything in the tsunami. Their families – mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters swept away, their houses completely destroyed. They were literally left alone and abandoned.They were afraid of the water, which in a small fishing village, had been the source of life. Now it was a big monster who took everything. I can’t imagine the devastation, fear, and confusion they must have felt.

There was an American psychologist there, working with the kids, having them draw four pictures. The first picture was what their houses looked like before the wave came. The second picture was what the wave looked like as it was coming – big and gnarly. The third picture was what their house looked like after the wave had hit – completely demolished . . . and the fourth picture was what they wanted their house to look like after the wave had hit. The kids were drawing that fourth picture of a new house that was bigger than the old house. They were fixing things they didn’t like in the old house, maybe a swing set in the front yard. It blew me away that in the face of such an unthinkable tragedy, when all was lost, that here was a spark, a little ray of hope shining through. How resilient is the human spirit?

And as I related it to my life, it was the idea that maybe you were happy and content or complacent in that old house. And then something comes and just knocks you off your feet. That thing you were holding onto gets ripped right out of your hands. And although you could never, ever forget what had happened to you, that somehow, mysteriously, this was now an opportunity for growth, for a bigger, improved house – a mansion.

What’s the premise behind your album Citizen?
When we went to record this record we threw out all the notions of trying to appeal to one particular scene or group of people. Instead, we wanted to make a record that could communicate with everyone. We were living in a little secluded beach house on the coast inVirginia for about two months, where we got to escape the world that we were used to, and just concentrate on making the record.

When it came to the lyrics, I took a new approach to these songs, something I’d never done before. I wrote about how I felt. That sounds kind of obvious, like, what else do you write about?! But in the past, I had attempted to be clever or ironic, witty, etc. in my songs. Not that there’s anything wrong with clever lyrics, but this time around, it was almost like I didn’t have the energy or the desire to do that. This time, my world was turned upside down and I couldn’t do anything but write out exactly what I was feeling, no irony. I was making myself naked. And I was scared! I worried that people might think that the lyrics were dumb or too obvious, but it was all I could do at the time. I remember telling another musician friend of mine that I couldn’t be ironic or sarcastic about subject matter that I cared so much about. And he assured me that it would be ok.

And in hindsight, I believe it was ok. Because I think in music and in art, when you speak from the heart, it’s more powerful than when you speak only from the mind. You can’t escape a purely gut reaction to something. It’s real. In artistic expression, for every cynical person that thinks something is silly or stupid, that same expression might change another person’s life. Citizen is a record about being a human being. It talks about the struggles, the pain, the questions, the searching. But it also talks about the other side of that struggle, where I believe there can be healing and hope, strength – like in the song “Rise.”

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Feel free to check out the concert review on MTV here.