2015 is already full of many great albums, one of which comes from Ohio rockers The Sidekicks. The Cleveland punk band has been active since 2007 and have released four albums, including this year’s breakthrough Runners In The Nerved World. The album’s reflective lyrics are matched by a melodic and layered sound that has evolved from their early punk years, and it’s a giant leap forward for the band.
In preparation for their Bloomington, IN show tomorrow (which I’ll be in attendance), I asked singer/guitarists Steve Ciolek ten questions via email about dealing with new success, how the band developed its sound, Phil Ek’s involvement on the record, and more:
Brady W. Gerber (HN): The album cover for Runners in the Nerved World – someone looking out at a pier with his back turned to us – seems to match the mood of the album, which to me is reflective and calm on the outside but possibly more internally tense and anxious when you look closer. Is this a proper takeaway feel from this album or the recording process?
Steve Ciolek (SC): There’s a level of introspection on the album, sure. It’s about the inertia experienced post “growing up” when one is left to find ways to simulate movement or growth. The characters in the songs do that in different ways, whether that be physically moving (a song about driving like “Blissfield, MI”), chemically altering their state (songs about drinking like “Summer”), or virtual movement (songs about devices like “Spinning Seat”). The photo though I think just kind of felt right, I took it a few years ago in Seattle (it’s our bassist Ryan), and it seemed relevant to an album about creating moving to have a photo of a “traveler” such as he.
HN: What was it like working with Phil Ek as producer (Built to Spill, the Shins, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty) and how much of a direct influence was he?
SC: It rocked, he’s a master of his craft and that craft is making great sounding records. He seemed to have a solid vision of the overall feel the record should take on so each step of the way he knew what each piece or tone should sound like. We worked off each other well in making decisions, but he generally was trying to get the best performances out of us and guiding the overall character of the record each step of the way.
HN: I think that many of your new fans that discovered you through Runners in the Nerved World would be surprised that, in addition to being a band for such a long time, your early sound was pretty straightforward punk. That change from the punk sound to the more layered and melodic touches that’s all over the new album already seemed to be happening on your second album Weight of Air (I’m thinking of a song like “Looking”). What do you think has been the reason for this change?
SC: I guess just getting older and understanding songs better. Understanding the things about pop songs that I like and wanting to inject those ideas into Sidekicks songs. I’ve gotten into a lot of artists who I feel build great melodic motifs that recur throughout songs like Elliott Smith or Bruce Springsteen, and have been focusing on that idea heavily on the past two records (Awkward Breeds and this one). I like the cinematic or storytelling effect that recurring melodies can bring (especially when not just a vocal melody), almost signifying new characters or new ideas without needing to use words.
HN: With all those years of touring, how does it feel to get recognized by a major publication like Pitchfork, or do you not try and let that get to your head and affect the band’s attitude towards the music?
SC: I think it’s fine, those things are cool but also not really a goal of ours. We just wanna play for people/have people listen to us that might like it. And if the people that read a website enjoy it, that’s cool but I’m not going to bank on it leading to as much as making real connections at shows or otherwise.
HN: How much of being a band from the Midwest affects your outlook on performing music for a living and touring with other bands that might not be from the Midwest? I’m from Indiana so my heart goes out to y’all and Ohio.
SC: I think the stereotype of Midwestern people is that they are honest and nice and I think that generally holds true, and is something we try to embody. There’s less of a desperation to try to ‘make it’ if you’re from a place like OH than if you live in a big city and are surrounded by the competition and industry of music.
HN: What do you think of this “Emocore Revival” that’s being thrown around at a lot of bands late last year and even still in 2015? I’m thinking of bands like Beach Slang, Cloakroom, Title Fight, and you guys to an extent. To me, it seems like a bunch of critics had just discovered American Football and decided that they’re now influencing all current pop-punk bands.
SC: I guess it’s fine since it means more of my friends’ bands are being covered in websites, but yeah I don’t consider myself to be a fan of emo. Especially the type that is generally men complaining about what they didn’t get and self pitying. I suppose the majority of the subject matter doesn’t interest me, though there are exceptions of course.
HN: What do you think the future of the band will look like?
SC: Positive jams.
HN: What is a band that you wished more people knew about?
SC: All Dogs, they have a new record coming this year and it’s absurdly good.