Gaming with Cody Carson (Set It Off)

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I’ve never been one to pass up old-school arcade games, so when I met Cody Carson at the Space in Hamden, CT, we dug around for some quarters and played some Wolverine. The Set It Off frontman is currently on tour with We Are the In Crowd, and is preparing to release a new record sometime this year. While battling virtual cyborgs, Cody discussed his musical beginnings, storytelling stage persona, and April Fool’s Day plans.

Can you give me a brief history of the band?

I met all the guys through different avenues. I met Dan [Clermont] through high school, Austin [Kerr] and Zach [DeWall] were in other bands, and Maxx [Danziger] had mutual friends. We started the band in 2008, and we’ve been trucking along ever since!

How long have you known that you wanted to be a musician?

Ever since I was a kid! My parents were in a band.

So there was always a lot of music around the house?

So much. Yeah, my mom was a singer and my dad was a trumpet player as well as a vocalist, and they were in a band. They would always tour, so I would go along with them. It was a good time. They would sometimes have me perform; I would play clarinet, or I would sing. And I was really young, but it showed me that I really enjoyed it.

Were you good at the clarinet?

Oh yeah, it was my best instrument. It probably still is! [laughs] I’ve played since the second grade. And I was in college for it and everything. I was gonna be a classical clarinetist.

Ooh, a clarinetist. That’s a good career.

Yeah, kind of, but it’s hard to get the job. That’s the tough part about it. Every orchestra only has two clarinetists, and the only way you get an opening there is if someone retires or dies. So… it’s pretty insane.

Would you resort to murder to get the job?

No way! No! Well, maybe. [laughs] The way it works is that once that spot’s open, there’s this giant forum. Cause there’s millions of clarinetists out there, you know? They’re very good, and they’re just looking for a job, so everyone goes to even the smallest audition. It’s just as competitive as what I’m doing now. I don’t see any difference between competing to be in a rock band and competing to be a classical clarinetist.

When you’re performing onstage, you tell a story with a narrative. How did you come up with that format?

The idea came along because I was sick of just playing seven songs and being like, “Okay, that’s our show”, because that’s what everyone’s show is like: Six or seven songs, and goodbye. So since I love theatre and musicals, I thought it would be really cool to do a set where we organize the songs so that I could tell a story with them. I created a musical. I would love to do a tour where we have a whole Broadway production: hire actors and actresses, create a storyline, and have them act out the songs as we play them onstage. But in the mean time, I was thinking, “How can I work my way there?” So I looked at all the songs. I knew that “Partners in Crime” would be in there, and it ends with two lovers dying, so I thought “Okay, well that has to be the end of the story”, and I went from there. I put all the songs in an order, made a script, and rehearsed it over and over again.

I cannot play this game, by the way. I am very bad at it.

I think you’re kind of winning?

I’m trying to.

Well, you’re not dying.

Yeah… [kills virtual villain] There we go.

So I would continuously practice [the script], and create voice memos and talk along. We didn’t have any dress rehearsals; our dress rehearsals were the actual shows.

So the songs were already written and you just put them to a story?

Yeah! A lot of people were curious if we wrote the album to fit the story, which I’m flattered by because that insinuates that it seems that natural. But no, the songs were already written. I just looked at the songs that we already had and I was curious as to how I could turn them into a story.

So if you had the chance, you would put on a big production with actors?

Oh God, yeah. That would cost more money than anyone could afford right now, even Miley. [laughs] I want to go over the top.

What is your songwriting process usually like?

It’s different every time. It depends on what inspires me. Just like any writer out there, I have an idea, I put it into my phone, and that’s where it starts. From there, I’ll bring an idea to Dan or Dan will bring an idea to me (Dan is usually guitar-based, I’m more lyric-based) and we’ll start creating a song together. But with this album it’s very different. When we went into Cinematics, we wrote sixteen to seventeen full songs, and then we continued to work on them in the studio. But with this one, we have thirty-five demos: about ten full songs, and twenty-five concepts about a verse, a chorus, or a hook. But it’s awesome cause John [Feldmann, producer of their upcoming record] understands and is really good at writing. It’s beneficial to us because we can continue to write with so many more ideas and options to work off of. In the studio, the more you have to choose from, the better album you will release. If you go into the studio with nothing, you’re only gonna write from scratch. It’s easier to create or manipulate something that exists than to start from something that doesn’t exist.

So do you come in with a lot of songs and end up cutting a few of them?

A few? We’re gonna have probably eleven or twelve. [laughs] Yeah, we’re gonna be cutting quite a few.

Do you ever take songs that were cut from a previous album and revisit them to use in a future album? Or once they’re cut, are they just gone?

It depends. Sometimes I’ll take a melody or something, and…

Sorry, I’m facing a boss right now [giant virtual character runs towards Cody’s wolverine].

Yeah, that guy’s really intense.

He’s big, aaaand I died. There. That’s it for me. Game over.

What was the question again?

If you ever reuse songs that you cut from a previous album.

I used to do these things called “frankensongs”, where you plug the best parts of other songs into songs that you’re currently writing. Cause usually you have one part that you’re attached to, but if you’re not into the whole song, there’s no point in scrapping everything. You can just take it, change the key, change the tempo, put it into the song that you’re working on, and boom! You have yourself a new part of the song.

Are a lot of your songs “frankensongs”?

Yeah. The most recent example I can give you is the bridge of “Kill the Lights”. That part was a bridge to a song that was rejected from Cinematics.

What is your favorite song to play live?

“Kill the Lights”, actually. It’s more dancey and it’s more pop, and I love pop. Looove pop.

Today is April Fool’s Day. Did you do anything prankster-y?

Well, I prank all year long, and I feel like this is the most expected day to do it, so…

So the best prank is not to prank?

Exactly. You’re not gonna fool anyone today. Like if I went up to you and said, “Oh, the band broke up”, you’d be like “Ehh”, you know? Every time April Fools Day passes by, I’m like, I should have done something, but I just like to be a prankster all year-round. It’s more fun.

Being a professional prankster, it’s different.

Yeah, I’m a professional prankster. [laughs]

If you could eat one food for the rest of your life-

Steak.

Steak?

I love steak. I like grilling, and steak is my favorite.

So just straight-up steak, or steak in something…?

Straight-up steak. Ribeye, on the bone.

Okay. That’s really legit.

[laughs]

So, what would you say are your biggest goals as a band?

I think any band that you’ll meet wants ultimate success. We all are in it cause we love the job, but we also want to support ourselves, and be able to support a family. I want to be able to say that the reason I’m able to feed my children, or buy a house, or keep my wife happy, is because I’m doing the job that I love. So I hope to reach a level of success that’ll allow that to happen comfortably, where I’m not going paycheck to paycheck.

As far as band goals, I wanna play on Saturday Night Live, I wanna play an award show, I would love to do things like that—just exhilarating and nerve-wracking. I can imagine that fifteen minutes before going on, I’d feel like I’m about to die, but I want to perform to audiences of that mass, so we want to create music that will allow us to do something of that magnitude.

As of right now, who’s your favorite artist or band?

Beyonce and Justin Timberlake are always my top two. Whatever they put out, it’s gold to me. I love their voices, and how they emote things. It’s always revolutionary. They can push the envelope and it doesn’t matter cause people are still gonna buy their records. It’s insane, you know? Justin Timberlake could put out a country record, and Beyonce could put out alt rock covering Nickelback. And people are still gonna want to hear Beyonce covering Nickelback. They have the luxury of having the name, so they can do whatever they want. But still, no matter what they do, no matter how ridiculous it is, it’s always great.

They’re just on a different level.

They really are.

Any last words?

Are you killing me? [laughs] My last words are, stick by us. I have a lot of faith in this next record. So keep in touch, come see us out on tour, and I know we’ll give you a show that you’ll never forget.

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