WHEN NEW FOUND GLORY STARTED in South Florida in 1997, the term “pop punk” wasn’t a thing. Bands like Green Day, MxPx and Blink-182 were steadily bringing West Coast punk to the national stage, but the scene back east was smaller and more dispersed.
Without a central hub, New Found Glory, the Get Up Kids, Saves the Day and others were left to freely mix and match influences from their own local sites instead. And when Blink-182 exploded across the mainstream on 1999’s Enema of the State, the genre became a fixture, yet was regularly disparaged by critics.
“We have no problem calling ourselves a pop-punk band, because that’s what our fans call us. We’re not overthinking it,” guitarist Chad Gilbert recently told Behind the Setlist. “Instead of trying to control what our fans think, we wanted to have fun with it, so we played along.”
Fast forward to 2017 and the mantra “Pop Punk’s Not Dead” is New Found Glory’s adopted slogan, even if the genre has fallen from how popular it once was. Nevertheless, the band is happily commemorating their 20th anniversary with both a new album and the 20 Years of Pop Punk Tour. Two of their first six albums are played in full at every show, but the songs are arranged out of order like a regular set, retaining a unique experience each night.
“It keeps kids on their toes. You show up to a show and you know what songs you’re going to hear, but you don’t know when. So you can’t take a pee break. You can’t go too far or you might miss your favorite song,” Gilbert said. “I think it’s the better way to go. It makes it so if you like one album better than the other, you don’t have to wait through one to hear the one you like more. It makes the set ramp up and ramp down at different times.”
Such was the case last weekend at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, where over the course of three sold-out nights all six albums were animatedly performed. The 500-capacity venue was one of the earliest places the group played outside of their home state, making it a suitable backdrop to ring in their ninth album Makes Me Sick, which was released April 28.
MAKES ME SICK sees New Found Glory returning to more of a straightforward pop sound, complete with synths and layered guitars, after a departure from that style on 2014’s Resurrection. The group teamed with indie pop-rock producer Aaron Sprinkle (Anberlin, Acceptance) for the first time, with a concentration on making songs that were fun to listen to on headphones or in the car rather than replicating everything live as a four-piece.
“We went into Makes Me Sick with a lot of confidence. That’s what made us able to grow musically and not be afraid like we used to [when] trying new things,” Gilbert said. “When we went to make this record, we were more self-reflective with this ‘nothing is going to stop us’ headspace. It led for lyrics that are a little bit deeper and music that was not afraid to step out of the box.”
One constant through New Found Glory’s career has been a willingness to embrace stylistic deviations. It doesn’t always work perfectly, and the band has probably lost more than a few fans as a result, but when it does work, it can lead to moments like “The Sound of Two Voices,” a Paul Simon throwback on the new record that manages to sound fresh and classic New Found Glory at the same time.
“If you look at our catalogue, Coming Home sounds nothing like Sticks and Stones, and Sticks and Stones sounds nothing like Resurrection. But [fans] sing all the songs the same. They love them each differently for their own reasons, and that’s what our fans count on us for. They don’t want to have the same album over and over again,” Gilbert explained.
“We never try to fit anything, and we also don’t try to recreate. We don’t go in and go, ‘Oh man, how do we write a New Found Glory song?’ As long as we’re being honest in writing songs that are true and real about what we’re actually feeling, then it always comes out exactly how it’s supposed to.”
HAS THE BAND CHANGED significantly in 20 years? As a whole, Makes Me Sick slides comfortably into the pop-punk genre and New Found Glory’s discography. It may not reach the same heights as the band’s past classics, but it’s also more consistent than their other output from this decade. As far as personal changes go, that answer is a bit more involved, but collectively the members are all said to currently be in a positive place.
Gilbert remarried last year to Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams, singer Jordan Pundik started a tattooing business, bassist Ian Grushka is enjoying a sober lifestyle and drummer Cyrus Bolooki has a two-year-old son, while the foursome has capably adjusted to life without original guitarist Steve Klein, who was acrimoniously dismissed at the end of 2013. Meanwhile, the unbroken determination that’s been around since day one hasn’t gone anywhere.
“Big or small, if you’re a New Found Glory fan, you’re going to get the same amount of passion one way or the other,” Gilbert said. “I think that’s why we’ve lasted this long and why we don’t break up. We’ve given up our self-serving pride a long time ago with this band. We’re here to play regardless. We don’t get affected by what anyone says or what’s cool and hip at the time.”
“We’ll just always do our thing,” he continued. “We’ll always tour. I remember when we had three gold consecutive albums, and then we didn’t. We were playing smaller shows, but it still meant the world to us. Things always go in circles and come around. Now our shows are bigger than they’ve been in a long time.”
For a band that’s stuck around as long as New Found Glory has, none of the ups and downs the industry throws out are new. As Matthew McConaughey famously once said, “Time is a flat circle.” Except now there’s a clarity that has come with age.
“It’s a different feeling. When you’re younger and you’re growing, you feel like you have all this stuff to prove to people,” Gilbert explained. “You think there’s this thing you need to reach or this finish line. You’re constantly worried about what’s next. Now, 20 years later, there is no stress. We’ve done nine albums. We’re not worried if fans are going to like our band or not.
“You see a lot in 20 years. There are so many bands that have come that were big and we might have been told to open for, and now five years later they’ll open for us. It’s just the way it goes. We’ll always be the same and we’ll always be here because we have that loyal fanbase, which is all we set out to have.”
WILL POP PUNK EVER BE AS BIG as it was 15 years ago? Blink-182 and Green Day continue to headline arenas, but other mainstays have either broken up by now (Yellowcard, Motion City Soundtrack) or gone full pop (Fall Out Boy, Paramore), and the genre hasn’t produced an exciting up-and-comer in years. There’s a good chance the cycle will loop around again, as it often does in music, but there’s also a good chance it won’t. Either way, New Found Glory are living by their “Pop Punk’s Not Dead” principles.
“I’ve always felt like we waved the flag of the genre, but whoever breaks up or gets back together or starts, New Found Glory is going to keep going. We’ve never been driven by a scene. We built our own world inside it,” Gilbert said.
“It would be great if the album sells. It would be great if it’s the biggest record and sells a million records. That would be awesome, but we’re not living for that. We’re able to get onstage and play our songs and focus on what matters, and not about the illusion side of the music business. We’re able to live in the present and enjoy every show and be thankful.
“Does that make sense? That’s the difference between then and now.”
Originally appeared on Behind the Setlist