Reflecting On: The Academy Is… – Santi

It’s been 10 years and I’m still not completely sure how to use the word “Santi” in a sentence. Employing an inside joke from your high school days as the title of your sophomore release and potential mainstream breakthrough is admittedly curious, but The Academy Is always seemed to have an affinity for doing things their own way.

Two years before Santi’s release, the Chicago rock act had their breakthrough on Fueled by Ramen with Almost Here – a scene classic that helped define an era of snide emo pop, even as the album itself remained a relatively underground gem. The ensuing years would see a cast of the band’s label mates rise to pop radio stardom (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Paramore, Gym Class Heroes) while The Academy Is seemingly remained a buzz band on the brink.

You can buy Santi on iTunes.

Enter Santi – an album that seemed primed for success. With a stellar debut under their belt, one of the most exciting young frontmen in music behind the mic, and the benefit of rising Fueled by Ramen stock in their pocket, The Academy Is tabbed the legendary Butch Walker to produce the record. The resulting effort remains the band’s most divisive album to date, but is arguably their best.

I still remember purchasing Santi on the day of its release at a Hasting’s book store in Enid, Oklahoma. As a huge fan of Almost Here and a firm believer that the band was destined for stardom, I was giddy to see the CD’s front and center placement when I walked into the store. I also remember those subsequent first listens as I tried to process what I was hearing. Despite spinning the album for weeks on end, I couldn’t decide if I actually liked it.

Everything about Santi (aside from its peculiar title) seemed primed for a breakthrough. The album’s cover, featuring the band’s name in flashy neon lights. The Pete Wentz cameo in the band’s video for first single “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands” (which was later referenced in a Fall Out Boy video). A prime slot on the summer’s premier Honda Civic Tour. William Beckett’s cocky swagger blossoming even further, placing ruminations on impending fame to tape: “It was a big bang and a bright white light from nowhere / It turned my coach class window to a first class seat on the evening news on NBC”.

Despite all of the signs, Santi never quite took off. True to the band’s free and unconventional tendencies, the album was a complete departure from their debut. Gone were the pop punk leanings and snappy production of Almost Here, replaced by gritty guitars and stark changes of pace that gave Santi a garage or indie rock type feel. As the scene around the band began embracing the successful sheen of pop radio, Santi may have been ahead of its time, simply by avoiding an obvious approach.

If you were to dare administer criticism in the direction of Almost Here, you might draw attention to its lack of variety. That debut, for all of its worthy praise, avoided diversity at all costs, choosing to play to one very commendable strength. Santi, on the other hand, is so full of range that it’s hard to pin the album down to one particular genre.

While rich melody is present throughout, its presentation changes from track to track. Here you’ll find homages to classic rock (“Bulls in Brooklyn”), dance-y post-punk (“Same Blood”), mid-90s alt rock (“You Might Have Noticed”) and even a gentle ballad (“Everything We Had”). A signature Butch Walker underbelly of raw guitars serves as Santi’s refrain, even as the songs themselves vary wildly.

It is my firm belief that there is not a bad song on Santi. In fact, many of the album’s tracks would quietly prove to be the best work The Academy Is produced during their eight year run. Unfortunately, a lack of cohesiveness accompanied by a hard right turn from the sound that put the band on the map made Santi a tough pill to swallow for most fans, even though most seemed to have softened on the record over the course of the past decade.

The Academy Is released three very different albums during their short existence, each showcasing the kind of range that many bands could only dream of. In the case of The Academy Is, this penchant for variety potentially hamstrung the band from cashing in on a definitive sound that could have propelled them to greater heights. Instead, they remain mysterious legends, respected for their refusal to follow the crowd. If I had to make a guess, the band would likely say that they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Honestly, I don’t think I would either. On a warm, sunny summer day, Almost Here can be found in regular rotation on my stereo – the perfect background music for the season. But when I want to remember how great of a band The Academy Is truly was and ponder on what could have been, I reach for Santi.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Will The Academy Is… Reunite for “Santi” Anniversary Tour?

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Last week, The Academy Is… updated their Facebook profile photo with a promo shot from the Santi album cycle. Seeing as how the album turns 10 years old in April, the subtle update raises some big questions about what lies ahead.

Seeing as how the emo pop darlings from Chicago reunited two years ago for a run of dates in support of Almost Here, another round of anniversary dates wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility. In the decade since its release, the band’s sophomore effort has become seemingly more lauded than it was upon its release.

Fresh off the buzz of their debut, The Academy Is… hoped to capitalize on the momentum that seemed to be carrying scene bands into the mainstream in bulk. In many ways, Santi was truly a more well-rounded and mature effort than Almost Here, but failed to capture the same spark that their debut did in many fans’ eyes.

Now, 10 years removed from that release, tracks like “Same Blood”, “Seed” and “Bulls in Brooklyn” sound full of life and even outshine the album’s original singles. Based on the turnout from 2015’s mini-reunion, it seems undeniable that a similar run for Santi would be happily welcomed. Here’s hoping for an announcement soon.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Riot Fest 2015 – Day 2

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Riot Fest is an exhausting weekend. Sticking with what has become a yearly tradition, Day 2 of the festival opened after a full day and night of rain and cool temperatures the day before. Thankfully, Saturday’s weather was gorgeous save for a few threatening clouds, but the rain had left its mark, and it would be felt by dozens before the night was done.

One of the trademarks of Riot Fest is how quickly the earth turns to mud once it rains. Vans shoe after Vans shoe smashes the soft grass into the chunky clay and it tends to become a mess. Everyone at the festival would experience it, but for some, it would become a nightmare.

Let’s jump back though, just a bit, to about midday, when Millencolin blazed away to a large crowd. The band looked eerily relaxed on stage, pacing gently and letting the crowd do the majority of the energetic work for them; we were happy to oblige. It was a quick startup to the day ahead.

The Movielife took the stage early on in their full 2002 glory. Vinnie Caruana paced the stage, screaming as the band blazed through their songs to a large crowd, considering the group has been mostly inactive and haven’t released any material in the last 13 years. Regardless, they carried the torch high for the generation that really launched the pop punk revolution from Drive Thru Records back in the day.

About midday, The Dead Milkmen came up, and basically split the crowd in half. On the one side, there were hardcore fans, singing along to every word, losing their shit and constantly reminding anyone who stood near them that seeing this band live was “something magical that doesn’t happen very often.” The other half couldn’t have given less of a fuck and waited it out or went to see who else was playing.

Midday, several current bands utterly slayed everything in their path. Mayday Parade took the stage by storm, delivering one of the most energetic sets I’ve ever seen, leading the crowd in choruses so strong, some people I brought with me who had never heard of the band before were humming the songs by the end. One of the more memorable moments came when the band played a new song, “One of Them Will Destroy the Other”, allegedly for the first time live. The real surprise though, was when Dan Lambton of Real Friends stormed the stage midway through and sang double vocals with vocalist Derek Sanders.

The Devil Wears Prada are destroyers of all things living and pilot the stage like they were trying to destroy Alderaan. Do you really need to know anything else? It’s an amazing show they put on, and even in peak daylight, their lightshow is perfect.

Alexisonfire recently reunited to a mad swarm of fans. The band danced around the stage to a frenzied crowd, wondering when their next chance would be to see the group live again. Although it didn’t happen at Chicago Riot Fest, a week later, the band would announce their official reunion at Riot Fest Toronto in their native Canada.

That night though, was when the true magic appeared, and for some, pure terror.

Billy Idol headlined his stage to a monstrous crowd. He carried his swagger and demanded the crowd sing along with him. He was truly enigmatic, blasting music across the hills before ending with a massive rendition of “White Wedding” that sent the crowd raging screams as Billy commanded their attention.

Taking Back Sunday helped close off the night with a massive stage show. For being one the smaller stages, they upped the ante from their headlining position the previous year. Even several hundred feet from the stage, fans jumped and sang back. With a massive catalog of older songs and their newer hits, the band blasted the night sky with a huge light show.

Then there was The Academy Is… The instant they stepped on stage, the crowd fell under their spell – the opening lines, “Attention, attention” grabbed the audience completely. Despite the incredible noise the band managed to produce, the crowd sang back almost loud enough to drown them out. Their performance was magnetic, nostalgic and hypnotizing, made all the better with the announcement of the band taking a full tour for the 10th anniversary of Almost Here before ending with one of their most underrated songs, “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands”.

Finally, System of a Down took full reign of the evening. They headlined Day 2 on the biggest stage, and were the unfortunate victims of the day’s muddied frenzy. I only saw the band from the very back of the crowd, as I am not terribly familiar with their music but wanted to see them perform. Several friends jumped headfirst into the gigantic crowd, hoping for a good view and a place to jump. It was catastrophic.

The crowd in front of the stage became too large, too quick, and the mud beneath their feet basically liquefied. Within the first few songs, all hell broke loose as waves of people fell, with more eager fans trampling them further into the mud. The band was forced to stop their set at least twice for minutes at a time to make sure people could get out, but for those in the crowd, it was utter hell. There are dozens of stories about people thinking they were going to die from suffocating in the mud, of people with a bit of space grabbing girls and smaller people and throwing them into the air to crowd surf them to safety.

Although there were officially only a few injuries, several people passed out, and one of my friends emerged with a muddied boot print across his nose and a glassy-eyed, shell shock look on his face as he just mumbled that “he saw a body, face down in the mud, not breathing,” and how the crowd closed in and started jumping before he could get close enough to pull the stranger out of the mud.

It was unfortunate, but a cost of unfortunate weather, and an enormous swarm of loyal fans willing to wade through hell to see their band. At the very least, there are some unique battle stories to be had.

Riot Fest is my favorite festival. So many generations of musicians and fans make it an event that lacks to pompous and annoying crowds that flock to younger shows. This is an event for everyone, and a generous helping of music for whatever genre or era you’re most in love with. With all of the trouble the festival faced this year in Chicago (forced to move venues, sued by a hospital, the mud, so much mud), I fear that we may not see them here again. But Chicago loves this festival, which has quickly become a yearly staple for those who have attended before. I sincerely hope that the festival survives Chicago’s bullshit to reward those loyal enough to come year after year.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and went to Riot Fest with a man dressed like Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers. He was recognized almost a dozen times and posed for photos, while I stood awkwardly to the side, hoping for the sweet release of beer to take hold.

Aaron Gillespie and William Beckett Celebrate the Past on Summer Tour

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On Saturday, September 12 in Chicago, William Beckett will step onto the stage in front of roaring crowd at Riot Fest as the lead singer of The Academy Is… to perform Almost Here for what will likely be the final time. On July 31, Beckett took the stage at the dimly lit Emerson Theater in Indianapolis, silently strapping on his acoustic guitar as a small, quiet crowd looked on.

For Beckett and tour mate Aaron Gillespie, art and performance exist independently of audience size. Both singers are familiar with crowds both large and small, and have spent the better part of their careers gaining a rabid following, thanks in large part to the passion they pour into their many projects. Tonight in Indianapolis is, in a way, about giving back, as the two perform acoustic numbers from both past and present.

Gillespie, formerly the drummer of Underoath and lead singer of The Almost, now spends his days crafting songs for his solo endeavors when he’s not on the road as the touring drummer of Paramore. A multi-talented artist known to play a myriad of musical instruments, Gillespie masterminded this tour as a way for fans to relive a decade’s worth of songs and moments.

William Beckett

William Beckett

Beckett saw The Academy Is… take flight in the summer of 2005, just as Gillespie and Underoath were bringing heavy music to the flocking masses. In part, the two helped signify the bridging of a gap between heavy and light in a scene that became a melting pot for new alternative sounds.

On this night, Beckett not only takes time to play old Academy classics, but also shares his wildly underrated solo material. Truth be told, time has been quite kind to Beckett, whose vocals now sound even more crisp than in his early days as an energetic and flailing frontman. When he sings “About a Girl”, a soaring chorus that once appeared to take everything his vocal chords could give, now appears effortless, as he holds incredibly high notes for extra beats, just for good measure.

His 2013 debut solo album flew largely under the radar, but Genuine & Counterfeit is chock full of the gorgeous melodies that made Academy such hit, even as he relies far more on his pop sensibilities than his punk and emo tendencies. “Hanging on a Honeymoon” sounds just as wonderful in this acoustic setting as old favorites such as “The Phrase That Pays”.

Beckett’s ability to capture a crowd while on stage has long been lauded, but it’s clear that he hasn’t lost a beat. As exciting as the upcoming Academy reunion at Riot Fest may be, it’s even more exciting to know that Beckett is planning on sticking around for the foreseeable future.

Aaron Gillespie

Aaron Gillespie

Gillespie’s set finds a treasure trove of hits to choose from. Both The Almost and Underoath have provided a large collection of fan favorites through the years, but stripping these songs down for this acoustic setting was surely a challenge. Even so, the melodic leanings of They’re Only Chasing Safety-era Underoath tracks like “Reinventing Your Exit” and “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White” make for obvious choices. Likewise, calmer numbers like “Dirty and Left Out” and “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape” lend quite well, too.

With an acoustic guitar and a single pedal-powered drum, Gillespie is able to add dimension to the songs as the crowd sings along. When he picks up pace for “Say This Sooner”, the audience goes into full choir mode during the chorus. Gillespie has made a name for himself with his ability to capture the moment with both gentle and explosive deliveries. Red in the face, he belts out the high points of “No, I Don’t” just as if a full band were on stage to back him up.

Even with such an expansive catalogue to pull from, Gillespie still makes time for cover songs from U2, Oasis and Tom Petty. The highlight of the night finds Beckett and tour mate Nathan Hussey of All Get Out joining Gillespie on stage for a performance of “Free Fallin’”, featuring a delightful three-part harmony during the song’s chorus.

A longtime fan of Beckett and Gillespie, I’ve found myself in attendance for numerous concerts from both throughout the past decade. The music of The Academy Is… and Underoath are likely to remain timeless for me – a touchstone to a coming-of-age period in my life. Truthfully, it’s hard to think back without remembering their voices as the soundtrack. All of these years later, it’s a pleasure and an honor to sing along again.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

It’s All Dead Podcast Episode: 015 – The Best Music of 2005

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The air is thick with nostalgia on our latest episode of the official It’s All Dead podcast. Kiel and Kyle break down their favorite albums of 2005 and reflect on how they hold up today. The conversation includes chats about classic records from Paramore, Daphne Loves Derby, Acceptance, The Academy Is, Jack’s Mannequin, Panic! at the Disco and much more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What are your favorite albums from 2005? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Academy Is… Will Reunite to Play Riot Fest in Chicago

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Talk about unexpected! The Academy Is… will be reuniting to play this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago. The band will be playing their debut album Almost Here in its entirety in honor of the album’s 10th anniversary. Sadly, it would appear that this will also be their farewell performance. You can read a message from the band below:

Hello old friends,
We are pleased to announce that we will be reuniting the band for a our first show in many years. In September, we will come together for Chicago’s RIOT FEST in Douglas Park to perform our beloved debut album “Almost Here” in its entirety. This is a 10 Year Anniversary Show! This is a Reunion Show! This is a Farewell Show! We are extremely excited to take a trip down memory lane — in the city that we call home.
See you soon!
Xo. The Academy Is…

Riot Fest is set to take place September 11-13 at Douglas Park in Chicago. To view the full lineup, go here.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting on: The Academy Is… – Almost Here

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

You could quite easily call 2005 the year of Fueled by Ramen. Although the indie label was no stranger to success stories (see: Jimmy Eat World), the mid-aughts served as a gold mine. In 2005, Fueled by Ramen saw the meteoric rise of Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco, along with breakthrough records for soon-to-be-stars Gym Class Heroes and Paramore.

For all of the fame and platinum albums garnered by the aforementioned acts, there were a few Fueled by Ramen bands that came ever-so-close to the limelight, only to watch it fade away. Perhaps no band in the label’s history encapsulates “what could have been” better than The Academy Is….

Hailing from Chicago, just like their contemporaries in Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is… hit the scene with their debut album Almost Here after stirring some buzz with an eponymous EP one year prior. Almost Here is a non-stop whirlwind of glossy emo pop that could easily stand alongside any release this scene has witnessed. Not only was the album a near-perfect debut, it was also the best album the band would release during their startlingly brief career.

But before we get to the bad news, let’s just take a few moments and remember why Almost Here was so damn good. As a matter of fact, go ahead and stop reading and put the record on. I’ll wait. The album clocks in just over a half hour and is driven non-stop by the sleek guitars of A.J. LaTrace and Mike Carden. James Paul Wisner handled the production duties for Almost Here, and you can feel his signature polish on every track.

Michael DelPrincipe (drums) and Adam Siska (bass) round out the instrumentals, and each member plays a key role. No instrument overshadows another and each gets their chance to shine. It’s a credit to Wisner, per usual, that the mix feels so clean and full of life. Almost Here is a rockin’ record, but it’s impossible to deny how easy these songs go down.

For as talented as every member of this band proved to be on this debut, the album, and truly, The Academy Is… itself, belonged to William Beckett. It’s fully possible that no frontman in this scene has ever possessed as much swagger as Beckett does on Almost Here. His smooth, confident delivery seethes from every corner of the record. Alex Davies of BBC once described Beckett as a cross between Adam Lazzara and Prince – and he wasn’t wrong.

When Beckett opens the album with the gently delivered lines of, “Attention, attention / May I have all your eyes and ears to the front of the room / If only, if only for one second” we’re all put on notice. What follows is a band making the most of every opportunity. Every chorus, every breakdown, every swirling climax is handled with care. These are songs you can replay relentlessly, but Beckett’s knack for constructing a clever line makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

His lyrics meander from lost love to lasting friendships to a steadfast belief that he’s on the verge. When he snarls the lines of, “Oh Mr. Magazine, I never wrote one single thing for you / And your so-called music scene / You don’t mean a thing to me” on “Black Mamba”, you can hear his defiant confidence in every word. Beckett’s turn of phrase just adds to his repertoire. Consider “Slow Down”, which finds the band delivering one of the most dance-able instrumental bridges in recent memory, only to be eclipsed by Beckett, who effortlessly drops his legendary croon of, “I’m not saying that I’m not breaking some hearts tonight, girl”.

In a decade defined by razor-sharp tongues lashing against heartless former lovers, Beckett delivered a catalogue of one-liners on just his debut. On “Skeptics and True Believers” he opens with, “Don’t be so scared, we will not lead / You on like you’ve been doing for weeks” followed later by, “Someone, somewhere said some things that may have sparked some sympathy / But don’t believe, don’t believe a word you’ve heard”.

For all of its momentary guile, Almost Here is a surprisingly uplifting and forward-looking record. The album is loaded with singles, from the peppy “Checkmarks” to the high-flying “Season”. For every biting remark, there’s a complimentary brush of the shoulder and encouragement to carry on. “Hold your head high, heavy heart”, Beckett sings on “The Phrase That Pays”. The album comes to a close with his triumphant repeated declaration of, “Our time is almost, our time is almost here!”

Despite its artistic successes, Almost Here flew largely under the radar, overshadowed by the band’s contemporaries. Though the band would go on to receive moderate MTV rotation and meager radio play in following years, their follow-ups (Santi and Fast Times at Barrington High) failed to capture the spark of their debut. Sadly, the band always appeared a step or two behind their label mates. Their disbandment in 2011 after a few years of relative inactivity seemed depressingly unsurprising.

In hindsight, Almost Here is more focused than From Under the Cork Tree and more technically sound than A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It helped pave the way for bands like Mayday Parade and All Time Low. After 10 years, it still stands as one of the greatest and most original emo/pop punk records to release amidst a decade of lookalikes. Even if The Academy Is… failed to burn out bright, there’s no denying that they captured the most thrilling kind of lightning in a bottle in 2005. And we’re all the better for it.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: We Are The In Crowd – Weird Kids

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We Are The In Crowd’s latest effort, Weird Kids is an expertly crafted album that strives to completely take over the scene as much as it plays right into its hands. While each song has a ‘typical’ lyrical style to the pop punk genre, it’s written in a way that tests you not to sing along. We Are The In Crowd don’t particularly push any fresh territory with Weird Kids, but instead put together the best elements of the genre as a whole into an absolute monster of an album.

Weird Kids is loud. The guitars are strong and vibrantly memorable, paced with lively drumming that kept calling my attention. It stays the course for a pop punk record, but varies itself enough throughout that no two songs ever sound even remotely similar.

Tay Jardine pushes her vocals across each track, always finding a higher note and snapping in quick lyrical synapses. Meanwhile, Jordan Eckes’ backing vocals are again a perfect counterbalance whenever he duets with her. Lyrically, the album is very positive, creating youthful anthems about overcoming adversity within and without, as well as scorning past lovers.

The best compliment and, sadly, biggest insult I can give the record is that it constantly reminded me of Paramore (I guess it’s to be expected) and oddly enough, The Academy Is…’s Almost Here. Jardine’s voice is eerily similar to Hayley Williams’ when she hits her high notes. Regardless, We Are The In Crowd are poised to become one of the scene’s biggest contenders with Weird Kids.

“The Best Thing (That Never Happened)” is a frantic pop song layered over planked synth and Franz Ferdinand styled guitar riffs with an incredibly strong chorus that pops with each line. It never slows its pace down and instead jumps with each note. “Attention” is one of the fastest songs and has some of the most memorable lyrics as Jardine and Eckes bicker back and forth sporadically amidst a frenzied chorus of, “I know the way I wanna be but I’m trapped in who I am / The only thing that holds me back is believing that I need to change.”

Meanwhile, “Reflections” is the perfect closing track, being an incredibly fast punk song that never stops upping the ante and sums up everything that the album is about, “Destiny is overrated so I think I’ll write my own / I Don’t believe it’s complicated so I think I’ll stay at home / I followed the leader now I just follow myself.”

Weird Kids is without a doubt the highlight of We Are The In Crowd’s career thus far. It’s a powerful album that stays strong throughout all ten songs and practices what it preaches; overcome and never give an inch. Every song is just as strong as the last and when it ends, you’re left in that abrupt glowing silence that follows every great record. Anyone who cherry picks songs from albums is completely screwed here. Be prepared to memorize each one.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.