By Matt Bloom Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s
Don’t call It a comeback. It’s more like chapter two for New Found Glory. Sure, they’ve been on the punk scene for more than ten years, burning through six record labels, five albums, three EPs, two DVDs, and a cover album in a pear tree, but the album that’s following them out of their latest bout with the studio is not only a return to the beginning but also the beginning of a new era for the pop-punk powerhouse from Coral Springs, Florida. Call it the new New Found Glory.
“We’ve come full circle,” says Cyrus Bolooki, the band’s 29-year-old drummer. “This record is a culmination of everything. This is almost the beginning of part 2. With all the experience that we have behind us, it’s a different story. It’s more about going out and doing what we’re good at.” And what they’re good at is fast rhythms, catchy choruses, and power chords in need of a surge protector. For fans of earlier New Found Glory, Not Without A Fight, released in March on Epitaph Records, doesn’t disappoint. “A lot of people wanted to count us out and say that the music industry has moved on. And on paper, it looks that way. We’ve been out of the game and we’re on a smaller label, but the truth is that we’re still doing things for the first time and we’re still getting bigger.”
The firsts Bolooki refers to? For starters, this is the first album they’ve recorded with Epitaph, the venerable punk label that boasts production credits for everyone from NOFX to The Black Keys. Besides that, New Found Glory recently sold out a stack of shows in Asia, played Australia’s Sound Wave Festival in February, and booked a European tour for summer 2010. And when you consider that 11 years ago Bolooki was 18 years old and only had three short years of skins experience (lessons not included) before joining the band, you’ll find that New Found Glory has changed a bit. No, they haven’t strayed from chugging guitars or upended relationships, but they definitely have matured as musicians. “When we came into the studio, we had a different kind of confidence about us that we didn’t have in the past,” he says. “We’ve done this long enough to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
But if the name of the label on which New Found Glory recorded the album is any indication of their place in the punk world, we’re dubious. Webster’s defines epitaph as “an inscription on a tomb commemorating the person buried there” — not the best choice of labels for a fourth-quarter record release. But Bolooki reassures us: “We have no plans of leaving anytime soon, or even giving in and accepting that we’re a band that’s going to do a couple of tours a year.” On top of the band’s reinvigorated spirit, Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus loaned the band not only his studio but also his production know-how for the latest album. The result seems like a slam-dunk, and Bolooki agrees: “Not Without A Fight really hits you from the first track,” he says. “I guarantee a knockout by round four.”
Back When. Not since Till The Wheels Fall Off, the 2008 album by Hot Water Music — a hardcore punk band that, incidentally, is also from Florida, been together for more than a decade, and recorded with Epitaph — has a band been so fired up so late in the game. And in punk music, that means something. Hitting the stage night after night for ten years with the energy of a Pixie Stick–snorting ten-year-old at a birthday party takes a toll on grown men. Forget that most punk bands live by the creed that, as Bolooki puts it, “the faster you play the more energy you have.” He thinks New Found Glory’s longevity and resilience stem from the band’s ability to evolve naturally.
“A lot of those bands who blew up after their first record freak out because they don’t want to see themselves pigeonholed,” he says. “So they do something different on their second record. Half the time it doesn’t work out and the band’s done.” Though New Found Glory never blew up and fell off, they were never a band that flew under the radar, either. “Hit Or Miss,” the band’s single from the self-titled follow-up to their 1999 debut, was featured in the classic teen sex-romp flick, American Pie, which offered a bit of showbiz cred to the newcomers. Two years later, the band found radio success on its third record with “My Friends Over You,” an anthem to brotherhood that seemed to solidify New Found Glory’s knack for writing angsty soundtracks to teenage lives. Radio success or not, New Found Glory has garnered a loyal following from Tokyo to Trenton, New Jersey, boasting more than 16 million hits on their MySpace page and around 45,000 song plays per day. In fact, the new album was leaked onto the Internet in February and was illegally downloaded thousands of times before guitarist Chad Gilbert released a statement.
“It is a bum out that some of the anticipation is lost,” he wrote about the album’s unintended early release. “But to be honest the fans that would go out of their way to download it are the true fans. You are driven to get it because you like NFG, so how can I be bummed at that?”
Where many bands have grappled with an identity crisis (“We’re not emo!”), New Found Glory knew who they were the whole time. Take a look at their self-titled 2001 album for example. The record opens with “Better Off Dead,” a peppery three-minute tune whose bread and butter — distorted, chugging guitars, sing-along choruses, and stay-true-to-yourself themes — has become the band’s calling card. Now listen to “Truck Stop Blues,” off their new album, a rapid-fire tune that vacillates between a punk-staple double-time beat and half time, just like “Better Off Dead.” Fans have already recognized the similarities. “A lot of kids have been telling us that Not Without A Fight reminds them of older New Found Glory. The tempos on this record are a little faster and I think that’s one of the reasons that people like to say it’s a return to our old style.”
In The Studio. The relaxed environment in which New Found Glory recorded the album might have something to do with the outcome. Hoppus lent the band his studio on spec, meaning he didn’t charge them for precious studio time until they had signed with a label. And without said label breathing down their necks, New Found Glory was able to bring the album together organically in about a month. “We didn’t have to worry about record-label politics,” Bolooki says. “We were able to put together a team with everyone we wanted and nobody we didn’t.” The all-star ensemble included Neal Avron, who produced hit albums for Fall Out Boy and Weezer but who was also behind the mixing board for New Found Glory’s Catalyst, Sticks And Stones, and New Found Glory. “Neal produced our three biggest records,” Bolooki says. “We needed another set of ears, but we thought, this time around, let’s bring a pair of ears that we’re comfortable with. The songs sounded good before they came in, but sounded awesome after Neal was done with them. He’s the go-to guy in the industry.”
Epitaph, the band found, is also the go-to label in the industry. After their 2006 album, Coming Home, the bandmembers became disenchanted with record labels and the music industry as a whole. They spent more time writing and recording Coming Home than any other record, but for all the time and money spent, their efforts proved fruitless. Though the band has always had its loyal legion of fans to pick up the slack, the critics weren’t as impressed. “Coming Home was the end of part one for us,” Bolooki says. “The record label [Geffen] was falling apart and the last thing they were thinking about was our record. When you have no label that’s backing you up and MTV says they don’t want to play your video, you don’t stand a chance. I don’t like when people at the record label tell me, ‘We’re going to do this and we’re going to do that,’ and it doesn’t happen. Well, we actually heard and got that this time.”
As for the record’s best drum fill, Bolooki says you can credit Hoppus for that one too — at least as far as timing goes. Despite its relatively slow tempo, “This Isn’t You” gives way to a rapid-fire fill reminiscent of Max Weinberg’s snare-roll intro at the start of Late Night With Conan O’Brien. (Hey, Weinberg’s a great drummer!) With a short pause between the chorus and the second verse, Bolooki unleashes the somewhat-pushed (though completely on-beat) fill almost as an afterthought. He originally played right over the guitar re-intro, forgoing a short pause for a constant beat, until Hoppus suggested a three-measure rest. “He told me to let Chris go by himself and then just do a fill,” Bolooki says. “He didn’t tell me what to do; he said, ‘Just do a fill.’ I gave it one or two tries and nailed it. After that, Mark was like, ‘That was awesome. That was right on.’ But under all the pressure of knowing that this was now a fill that people would have for the rest of my life, it actually turned out pretty good after about ten seconds of thinking about it.”
The wonders of Mark Hoppus don’t end there. One of the biggest differences in recording this album compared with past records was the schedule the band adhered to. Instead of pulling all-night studio sessions like, well, every rock band that’s ever recorded an album, New Found Glory hit the ground running first thing every morning. “We started at 10:00 every day, which is early for us, and ended at about 5:00 or 5:30,” Bolooki says. “Mark Hoppus had this idea that even though people want to say you work better at night, you’re actually more focused in the day. Even if you come up with that crazy idea at 1:00 in the morning, it’s going to take you hours more than it would during the day.” The only downside to the early-bird schedule? Says Bolooki: “I was getting a lot of Starbucks for people.”
Another familiar face joined New Found Glory in the studio for some drummer-to-drummer inspiration. Not only did Mark Hoppus and Neal Avron help cut the album, they brought Travis Barker with them. “I brought my whole arsenal of drums in on the first day,” Bolooki says. “I had an old Gretsch kit, I had drums galore from Orange County, new snare drums, Ludwig Acrolites, you name it. But I showed up in the studio and Travis had an old OCDP yellow acrylic set already miked and ready to go. So I said, ‘There’s no reason to strike that and set up my stuff.’” Bolooki gave it a try and ended up recording all 12 tracks on Barker’s old kit. “I basically had a free pass,” he says. “Everything Travis had, I had too.”
Lessons From The Road. “The biggest thing for us is playing live,” the drummer says. “That’s where we have our most fun.” Not that that’s anything new, especially for punk musicians, but New Found Glory seems to thrive more than most bands on live performances. So much so, in fact, that when the bandmembers were cutting their teeth, it wasn’t uncommon for them to drive from Florida to New Jersey for a single show. “We’d book a show in Jersey for a Saturday, leave on Friday after school, drive 24 hours to Jersey, play the show on Saturday night, leave Sunday morning, and drive back to Florida to get to class,” he says. “That was really the first region in the U.S. outside Florida that we got buzz.”
Though the band found its initial following in New Jersey, Bolooki’s favorite place to play, and perhaps the craziest, is Japan. “The culture is so different out there,” he says. “The kids yell every word to every one of your songs, but they don’t even know how to speak English. As soon as the song is over, they don’t talk, they don’t make noise, nothing. You can hear a pin drop.”
But live shows haven’t always been so kind to New Found Glory, particularly to Bolooki. After an October 2001 show at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, Bolooki stood up from his kit and fell off the back of the stage, breaking his arm and a bone in his back. “That whole thing was a big wakeup call for me. One day we’re on top of the world playing in front of 25,000 people, and the next I’m in a cast wondering if I’m ever going to play again. I’m just glad it’s behind me.” Pun intended? Probably not — it’s somewhat of a sore subject for the now-healthy drummer. These days, Bolooki is his own drum tech, not least of all because he wants to know every nook, cranny, wall, and curtain in the venue. “I was definitely scouting the stage before a few shows last tour to see if there was a curtain behind that wall or whatever. One show I basically had to crawl off the stage because I was that scared.”
Bolooki says that being on tour also offers great opportunities to learn, though more so when he’s not on stage playing. Having never taken a lesson, the 29-year-old finds that watching other drummers is the best way to pick up new ideas. “I’m never one to sit there and talk about rudiments and paradiddles,” he says. “Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to study drums in that sense, so I’ve learned a lot visually being on the road and being able to watch other drummers that I like. The Blink tour in 2001 was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. I sat there — I’m shy so I wasn’t talking to Travis, I was just watching him — and I learned how to play some of their records. I could tell that a certain beat had certain elements in it. I just couldn’t understand the sticking or what hand to lead with. The funny thing is, some of those things I was learning were rudiments or standard beats like an Afro Cuban beat, but I didn’t know that, I just knew that I was playing this song by Blink. It’s cool because it’s taught me that there are different ways to learn. You don’t necessarily have to pick up a book and go through Stick Control every day. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I’ve learned that at this stage, playing drums for this long, maybe I’m better off learning from others, talking to others, watching others, as opposed to practicing out of a book every day.”
The method seems to serve him well. Without a click track or even a drum tech, Bolooki commands the band’s pace during live shows. “Chad will start a song on guitar, and if he starts it at one tempo, I’m not listening to him, I’m figuring out where I need to be. I play the song the way it should be and they know that. That’s what makes us such a tight band. Everyone knows their role.” That said, if Bolooki notices that one member isn’t fulfilling his duties by lagging, rushing, or missing cues, he takes it upon himself to crack the proverbial whip. “The one thing I hear for reference is Jordan, our singer. I put him in the monitor pretty loud because I want to hear him and hear if he’s out of breath. If he’s not hitting every word, I’ll bring the tempo back a little bit. Vice versa, if I feel like everybody is being lethargic, I’ll speed it up. I like that human element of a live show, to be able to swing things if I need to.”
Back To The Present. “We’re not going out without a fight,” Bolooki says when asked about the title of the new album. If Coming Home was a departure from the band that owned the pop-punk scene at the start of the millennium, Not Without A Fight is a return to the tried and true, and perhaps their best chance at staying relevant in a rapidly changing music industry. “When you’re in a band, you have to realize who you are. You do that so that you don’t sit there your entire life trying to be something that you can’t be. The key word is trying. We don’t ever want to be a band that tries too hard or that tries to be a specific style that we’re not. So over the last couple of years, we’ve looked at ourselves to figure out who we are. And Not Without A Fight is really a reflection of who we are.
“Bands say, ‘I don’t want to be this.’ Well, the fact is, you are this and that’s what got you here. And in our case, we’ve had ten years now of seeing who we are, not just one record. And really, who we are is this energetic, pop-punk band.” As their 2002 song “Better Off Dead” goes, “It’s your own life. Live it for yourself.” This far down the road, it’s good to see the band taking its own advice.