Guitarist Mike Kennerty talks about the band’s third album When the World Comes Down, the gradual climb they always seem to go through, the big break that first got them signed, and what’s allowed them to stick around.
Your new record is called When the World Comes Down, so I have to ask, when exactly is the world coming down?
Well, according to the Internet it’s December 21, 2012, but I don’t know how accurate that is [laughs]. It’s funny. We’ve gotten asked if the title’s like this dark, pessimistic thing, but it actually comes from this song called “Mona Lisa” that’s on the new record.
That’s the acoustic one, right?
Yeah. You know, it is sort of a pessimistic song in a way, but it’s also a hopeful song. There’s lyrics like, “You can sit beside me when the world comes down.” The world is kind of shitty right now. Who knows? It could end soon, but if you got someone there to watch it fucking burn with, then it’s all good.
The only song you’ve officially released at this point is “Gives You Hell.” How does that stylistically compare with what’s on the rest of the album?
It’s night and day. This is definitely our most daring record. There’s a few staple Rejects-sounding songs on there. We didn’t go out and intentionally try to write a different record. It was just sort of write songs, and whatever’s good, stays. We got these 11 songs that are definitely our most diverse batch of songs, and we also think probably our strongest.
“Gives You Hell” – there’s definitely nothing else on the record that sounds like that. “Mona Lisa” – there’s nothing that sounds like that. “Gives You Hell” and “Mona Lisa” are probably two of the softest songs we’ve ever done, and there’s this song called “Real World” that is probably the hardest we’ve ever done. There’s everything in between.
Now you’ve been working on this record for quite a while, right?
Yeah, we wrote for like a year and a half before recording, and then it took us over six months to finally get it all tracked and mixed and everything. It’s definitely the longest we’ve ever taken to record a record.
How was it working with Eric Valentine?
He’s amazing. He did Queen Of The Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf. The first thing he ever produced was the first Third Eye Blind, which was amazing. He was the main reason the record took so long, but it was a good thing. He’s very methodical in the process of producing.
Our last record we did with Howard Benson, and he works with an assembly line process. A bunch of people are working on the record at once. All these different parts are getting worked on, going through the ringer to get it done as fast as possible to get the next band in.
With Eric, it’s just him. He oversees everything. He’s there for every little, minute detail. He sits there and ponders and frets over every minute detail, so it took a while. The whole process was a long one, but it was essential too because we needed the time and the guidance of someone to help us get the songs together.
We had hit sort of a wall before tracking. We had a bunch of songs, but how exactly to arrange them and play them was eluding us on some of them. It was nice to have an outside perspective to be like, “Maybe try this.” Or even to be like, “You are doing it right. Why are you trying to change it?”
Did you guys record in L.A.?
Yeah, we did the whole thing in L.A., except for we did a week outside of San Francisco at Skywalker Ranch.
Oh, wow. How was that?
It was awesome. They have the hugest live tracking room I’ve ever seen, so we went there to do some drums to get this giant, roomy sound. It was amazing. It’s definitely not what you’d think. It’s very quaint. It looks like an old person’s house. It’s a compound and every building looks like what your grandma would buy if she had a house in the mountains [laughs]. It was cool. It was beautiful up in the mountains. It was definitely a nice change of place to be in after the shit of L.A.
What’s the writing process like for the band? Does someone usually bring the general idea to the table and then you collaborate from that point?
All the songs start with Tyson coming up with a melody in his head, and he’ll find a chord progression around that. Then he’ll show it to Nick and Nick will help him build a skeleton of a song. Then we’ll all get together, flush out the full arrangement and turn it into the final product.
The video for “Gives You Hell” was just released a little bit ago. Was it pretty fun to shoot?
It went really well. We did it with director Marc Webb, who did the video for “Move Along” also. We actually didn’t have an amazing experience doing “Move Along” [laughs]. He and us definitely butted heads on certain things, but I think that’s what made that video good and what made this one good. We do disagree, but there’s that compromise in the middle that ends up being really good. Everyone seems to really like the video, the new one, so we’re stoked on how it turned out.
Lyrically speaking, “Gives You Hell” is more on the angrier, pessimistic side. Is that similar to the rest of the record?
You know, there definitely is more darkness and pessimism on this record than previous ones. I’m trying to think. I guess all the other ones had their moments, but there’s also hopeful songs and songs that do have a positive outlook. It’s more of a dichotomy on this record of negativity and positivity, but I think it all works in context when it’s all together.
Is there a song that really stands out to you on the record?
There’s one called “Breakin” that I love. It’s actually the last song we wrote for the record. It came about towards the end of the recording process when we were kind of going crazy. Everyone at the label was like, “This is great. You guys are doing an amazing job.”
Unlike previous records, where they tried to make us feel insecure about how things were going, we were the ones imposing our own insecurities this time. We were just like, “No, we don’t have a record yet.” So, we took a little break, wrote this song and came back. It definitely gave us a little jump-start to get everything finished. In the end, listening to the record, it’s one of my favorite songs, so I’m very happy we decided to take that break and write it.
In addition to the Rejects, you help run the label Edmond Records. How’s that been going lately?
It’s good. We have a band coming out called the City Lives. They’re a band we just signed, and I’ve been producing their record off and on when I’ve had time. They’re an amazing band and I’m so stoked to get to work with them. They’re from Oklahoma, too.
Then we have another band called the Upwelling that are from New York. We toured with them a few times, and they’re amazing dudes. They’re actually recording their album right now, so it should be out sometime next year. Then before that I produced the solo record for a guy named Ben Weasel. That was the first release we did. It went over really well, so I’m excited to do the label more.
Do you guys still actually live in Oklahoma?
Three of us do. Me and Chris have never left. Nick and Tyson moved to the middle of nowhere Florida for a while to be near the beach. Nick is sort of splitting time now between Oklahoma and Florida, but we’re all definitely Oklahoma kids at heart.
You originally started off on Doghouse Records. How were you first able to get their attention and get noticed by them?
With Doghouse, it was just sending demos out. It was actually complete luck. Originally, they got the demo and threw it away. The label owner’s sister-in-law, who was 16 at the time, would take all the demos that they didn’t want. She took ours, and I guess she listened to it and really liked it. She actually took it back to him and was like, “You should listen to this again.” With that second time, they signed the band. We definitely owe everything to her.
From there, it was a string of lucky situations where other people happened to hear the record. It started getting attention and major labels started coming around, even before Doghouse had a chance to put it out. I think the lady who mastered it also worked for Doghouse and actually gave it around to some labels, and that’s kind of what got the ball rolling on that stuff. We’ve just been very lucky, and for some reason people believe in us [laughs].
Since your first record came out back in ’02, there’s been a pretty big influx of pop-punk in the mainstream and whatnot. Have you noticed anything as you’ve been able to progress or learned anything from seeing all these other bands come in?
We are who we are. It’s cool to see these other bands come up, especially since a lot of them we’ve toured with and spent time with beforehand. We wish everyone the best of luck. We just kind of feel like we do our own thing. It’s funny because when the first record came out, everyone lumped us in with Good Charlotte and New Found Glory. Then the second record came out, and suddenly we were lumped in with Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco.
It’s a weird thing that we can be the one around longer, yet getting lumped in with newer bands. Whatever. We do things for ourselves. As long as we’re around, then fuck it. We’re always that band that has second tier to whatever’s hot, but at least we’re still there the next time around.
Since it has been so long since Move Along was released, do you think it’s going to be challenging to reconnect and get your name out there again?
It’s definitely always a process every time. We feel like our songs are what speak for us. As long as we’re going out there with songs we’re proud of, we’re pretty sure there may be another fight up the charts. It’s never a quick thing for us, but we’re confident that we can get back there. It’s maybe one of our saving graces but also one of our biggest annoyances, I suppose, is that we’re sort of a faceless band. We’re a band that lots of people know our songs, but no one knows who sings them.
I think that’s what saves us, in the end, to be able to come back every time. You hear a new song and people listen to it like it’s a fresh thing. If they would have known the band, then maybe they’d be like, “They’re old,” if people actually knew who we were before [laughs]. Maybe it’s a good thing. We embrace that.
Is that nerve-wracking, to go through that slow catching on process?
It can be, but then also, if you think about it, a lot of bands come out and when they do put out a new song and it’s instantly at the top of the radio and all this stuff, it burns a lot faster. Since we always kind of do a gradual climb, it makes us be able to work longer. We tour more. We can make a record last. We can actually feel like we promoted fully and live a little before having to write a new record.
I think that helps us write different records every time because we have the time between them. As tough as it can be and as nerve-wracking as it can be to look at the charts and be like, “God, it takes so long for this shit to work.” In the end, if it does work, it’s all for the best.
Have you found it hard to adjust to being super popular and all that kind of stuff?
For us, it’s always been get out there and play shows. We’re pretty disconnected from MTV, or the radio or whatever. We don’t know how much we’re out there until people tell us. So for us, nothing’s super changed. We play bigger venues now, but other than that it’s still us getting out there and playing.
I feel like we’re all the same dudes. It hasn’t been too bad of an adjustment for us. It’s nice to have a little bit of security, financially and mentally, for a while. That’s the only thing that’s changed [laughs].
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press