In the recent book “The Black Swan,” author Nassim Nicholas Taleb defined a black swan as a highly improbable and unpredictable event with far-reaching implications, such as the attacks of Sept. 11. His theory is now the central idea for rock band Story of the Year’s latest album bearing the same name, which was released April 22.
“All the lyrics on the record kind of hit different subjects that can be tied in with it,” explained bassist Adam Russell in an interview last month at the Bamboozle Left festival in Irvine. “The way our band happened, the way the music industry’s happening now – there’s a lot of these kinds of events that are shaping the way things go.”
Despite the commonality, The Black Swan is by no means a concept album. In fact, the title wasn’t settled on until most of the writing was already finished.
“We wrote all the songs, all the lyrics and everything, and then named the record afterwards,” Russell said, confessing it just happened to coincide with the general theme.
The band, which also features Dan Marsala on vocals, Philip Sneed and Ryan Phillips on guitar and Josh Wills on drums, previously tackled political issues on 2005’s “In the Wake of Determination,” although it was met with a mixed reaction.
“I think it kind of came off as complaining to some people, which we didn’t intend at all,” Russell said. “With this one, there’s just as many anger-driven things – anger with world issues and politics and things that are really on our minds a lot – but we try to broaden it and make it a more accessible way to get it to people.”
Russell, who cowrites the lyrics with Marsala, is especially proud of the record’s lead single “Wake Up,” which was inspired by Carl Sagan’s book “Pale Blue Dot.”
“It’s the first time we’ve had a single that really says something broad and global while still being easy on the ears,” Russell admitted. “It’s kind of about how small we are in the universe, how insignificant our existence is in the grand scheme of things and how petty all of our differences really are.”
“The Black Swan,” the band’s first release for indie label Epitaph Records, examines similar social and ethical dilemmas throughout. “We’re Not Gonna Make It” explores the hardships an interracial couple has with finding acceptance, “Welcome to Our War” takes aim at those who profit from war, while “Message to the World” criticizes America’s blind nationalism and superior attitudes. Elsewhere the ballad “Terrified” tells the story of a man sent off to war, forced to leave behind his pregnant wife.
At first glance, the band’s maturing viewpoint appears a little surprising. The St. Louis quintet, which originally performed under the moniker Big Blue Monkey, is best known for an explosive live show and crazy onstage antics. In other words, this sort of insight isn’t exactly to be expected.
“I think we confuse people,” Russell said. “It’s like our music has always been serious, but we’re just …weirdos when it comes to our personal lives.
“Bands have pulled it off in the past,” he added. “Pantera, my all-time favorite band, is a …heavy, disgusting metal band, but you watch their home videos and they’re just crazy … weirdos. That’s probably why we’re like this because I grew up on that.”
For the rest of the year Story of the Year will be out on the road supporting the effort. Over the summer the band will serve as a headliner on Warped Tour and hopes to do a headlining tour of its own come fall.
“We’ve actually from the beginning been a much better live band than we were songwriters,” Russell said. “Once we grew up a little bit and got more to the label material, potentially getting signed level, we kind of said, ‘Maybe we should not worry about that as much and just make sure our songs are good.'”
With its latest release, the band is confident it has pulled that off. In addition to pushing the lyrical content, it combined the stylistic elements from its previous records – 2003’s Page Avenue, which featured the hit singles “Until the Day I Die” and “Anthem of Our Dying Day,” and the aforementioned Determination, which showcased the group’s metal influences to a higher degree.
“We have the heaviness of the second record with that more widely accessible, kind of Page Avenue vibe,” Russell said. “It’s right down the middle but still on a more mature level. I think it’s our best record.”
Originally appeared in The Orange County Register