Words: Miljan Milekić
If I had a chance to tell my 15-year-old self that 19 years later, I would be looking at my laptop screen at 1:23 am, putting the finishing touches on an interview with Story Of The Year, he would probably scream. Hell, even the 33-year-old me is holding off the scream, mostly because it is 1:23 am. Back in 2004, ‘Page Avenue’ wasn’t just my introduction to Story Of The Year, it was the first time I heard someone scream the way Dan Masala did. Yes, by that time, I was obsessed with ‘Hybrid Theory,’ and especially ‘Meteora’ – another record that turns 20 this year – but this was different. As a punk rock kid, Story Of The Year opened the door and introduced me to genres of hardcore and post-hardcore. Now, 20 turbulent years after the release of their legendary debut, and several albums which saw the band exploring and experimenting with different sounds, they are back with ‘Tear Me To Pieces,’ the record that sums all these years and influences into eleven songs, and just over 33 minutes of music. Familiar, yet fresh, the album is surely one of the best the band ever released, and we were lucky to catch up with guitarist Ryan Phillips, to dig deeper into it.
How are you guys? How did Australia treat you?
Ryan: Australia was incredible! We were a bit nervous about Knotfest, specifically being on a bill where virtually every band was ten times heavier than us, but it wound up being pretty wonderful. The fans in Australia never disappoint.
You had a chance to play some of the new songs on some recent shows, both in Australia, and back in the US. Are you happy with the feedback you have received so far?
Ryan: I couldn’t be any happier with the feedback from the shows. Playing new songs can always be tricky, especially if you’re a band like us that’s been around for 20+ years, as people generally want to hear the early stuff they grew up with. It’s totally understandable, and something you have to take into strong consideration when putting together a setlist. That said, this is for sure the most and loudest we’ve heard people singing along to new songs in our entire career, and it’s a truly wonderful feeling. It might be the thing I am most excited about at the moment.
I saw phone footage from your hometown show at The Pageant, and the crowd’s reaction to ‘Tear Me To Pieces’ was simply insane. How does it feel, to have such a reaction to a brand new song, 20 years into your career as a band?
Ryan: Yeah, again, it’s an unbelievable feeling, for sure, to hear thousands of people singing along to brand-new songs. Hearing all these people singing along to the new album has been my favorite part of touring this year.
Six years ago, you made a return with ‘Wolves,’ which I still love, but I feel like ‘Tear Me To Pieces’ tops it in every way. How long was this one in the works, and how different was the approach on this one?
Ryan: I’m always writing songs, and for this album, I spent years recording demos, similar to ‘Wolves.’ The difference with this one is sort of two-fold. For one, Covid happened right when we were supposed to start recording, and that set us back another year. With utmost respect to the massive amounts of suffering and lives lost, Covid was actually a blessing in disguise for us because there was nothing left to do besides write. No shows, no touring, nothing. It was – write music for this album or lose my mind.
So many songs came about because I was trapped at home, and those emotions, fears, etc, ultimately led to some of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. Secondly, the major difference is that for the first time ever we collaborated with outside songwriters. It seems like we are quite literally the last band in the world to try this, and ten minutes into the first session I couldn’t believe we waited this long to be open to collaboration. It was super rad and inspired some of our best music.
On the new album, you decided to look back at your career, reflect on your past works, and invoke a bit of nostalgia as well. What was the reason you decided to look that way and take that path?
Ryan: We really got introspective on a song called ‘2005,’ which is what I’m guessing you are mainly eluding to. It’s been a wild, unpredictable, up-and-down journey, and the vibe making this album just felt conducive to a song like ‘2005.’ I mean, I guess you could say that about the whole album to a degree; it was us really tapping back into what it felt like to be teenagers in my mom’s basement playing music simply for the love of it.
Colin, the producer, did a hell of a job getting us to step way back and look at our band from afar, and this magical thing kind of happened. We saw ourselves in a sort of different way – we saw what drew people to us in the very beginning, and once in that mindset, everything just seemed so simple: great songs about love, loss, adversity, and the hope of overcoming that adversity. No forcing shit, no politics, no filler. A big chunk of our career was overcomplicating and forcing things, and losing sight of what people really identified with, even what we identified within ourselves. This was just clarity, for lack of a better word. The clarity in terms of what the goals should be.
By doing that, you faced the risk of being stale, repeating, or recycling yourselves. How hard was it not to fall into that trap, and did you ever fear that your fans could reject the album or keep making comparisons to early albums?
Ryan: This record was about finding that original flame but building new fires with it, and honestly, it wasn’t hard at all because never once did we try to write another ‘Until the Day I Die,’ or anything like that. It was about finding that mindset but being forward-thinking in that mindset instead of chasing ghosts. The songs just sort of happened. I think the coolest thing I’ve heard about this record is from a radio programmer here in St. Louis, who said – “It sounds like if ‘Page Avenue’ was recorded in 2023.” I don’t think there is a better compliment.
One of the things I like about this record is how you approached your lyrics. It feels like some of it is still coming from the same place and touching on the same topics as it did ten or twenty years ago but from a slightly different angle and perspective. Was that something you did on purpose, or is it just something that comes to you naturally? Is music still the vessel you use to channel certain types of emotions and messages?
Ryan: I can’t speak for Dan, but since a lot of these lyrics were written in a group setting, I am comfortable saying that 20 years of insane ups and downs and wins and losses unquestionably gave us a perspective that would have been impossible for our teenage selves to have. A song like ‘Afterglow,’ which is basically a love letter from Dan to his children, would have been impossible on ‘Page Avenue,’ and that’s the beautiful thing about the creative life. It’s about growth and continuing to push yourself to find meaning in that growth, and if you can share it with the world that’s even more beautiful.
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a certain resurgence of punk rock, hardcore, pop punk, and everything in between. And not only that new bands are making big waves, but also it feels like many new fans are rediscovering bands that broke onto the scene in the ‘90s or the early 2000s. Do you as a band see that shift in the energy, and do you see a new generation of fans on your shows?
Ryan: We can definitely see that shift. For sure. It’s most apparent at our shows, where we often see young kids with their parents. It’s incredible. A lot of these people started listening to us in middle school, and now they are dentists or whatever. And now they have small children that hear us in the car, and they know all of the lyrics and fully love the band. It’s amazing, but what’s even more amazing are the teenagers we see at the shows. They aren’t there with their parents; they’ve discovered us because of the resurgence of the genre. It’s a whole new generation of fans, and it rules.
I would love to get back to ‘Tear Me To Pieces,’ and the video you did for the title track. Sk8 Liborius is definitely on my list of the places I got to visit sometime in my lifetime. How crazy was it to record a video there?
Ryan: I’ve been wanting to shoot a Story Of The Year music video there forever, so finally getting to shoot there was rad. Our goal over the last couple of years was to build a team of highly accomplished, talented creatives here in our hometown of St. Louis and show the world that you don’t have to go to LA, NYC, or Atlanta to get pro-level music videos and photography. All you need are really talented people – which St. Louis has a shit ton, and a vision. And if you care enough and are willing to get your hands dirty, you don’t need tons of money and a huge record label. That’s how we roll, anyway. We are involved in every aspect of the creative process, from music videos to merch to album covers and band photos.
The video for ‘Tear Me To Pieces’ is heavily involving skateboarding and other extreme sports, and I know there is love for Story Of The Year in that scene as well. Do you feel like this is a two-way street? How involved are you in that scene as a band, but also personally?
Ryan: We were skateboard buddies long before we were Story Of The Year. Dan, Josh, and I have been skateboarding together since we were like fourteen – without skateboarding there is no Story Of The Year. ‘Tear Me To Pieces’ is paying homage to those roots, and we did our best to portray the sport in an organic way that didn’t look like a Target commercial. We approached it with the utmost level of respect.
This Summer, you have quite a few shows all across the US with Yellowcard. Can your Canadian fans expect some love too? Any plans for bringing your new album up North?
Ryan: Oh yeah! We haven’t announced yet, but I would look for Story Of The Year in Canada this Fall!