CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

After George W. Bush left office in 2008, punk rock lost much of its political edge. With Barack Obama ascending, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, and the country inching its way out of a major recession, the anti-Bush ferocity of bands like NOFX and Anti-Flag started to ebb in favor of a more personal brand of songwriting.

But Brooklyn’s The So So Glos went in the other direction: Brothers Alex and Ryan Levine and stepbrother Zach Staggers started playing together when they were four, five, and six, writing pop-punk songs about Markie the wheelchair-bound junkie and grandmothers jumping off the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Everything in The So So Glos’ oeuvre felt incredibly close to their NYC-bred bones — until new album Kamikaze, a brooding, weighty, yet life-affirming sonic blast that takes the human race to task for its inexhaustible ability to destroy the planet.

“It’s a continuation of a lot of our older themes,” lead singer Alex Levine tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “But it goes farther. The darks are darker — it’s heavier and angrier. And people are responding to that. Now more than ever it feels like, as a people, a nation, and a world, that we’re collectively on a suicidal path. And we need to turn things around — redefine the world in a progress way. That adds some urgency to the record.”

Of course, that urgency has always existed for The So So Glos. Their 2013 album Blowout begins and ends with a song they recorded in 1994 memorializing and excoriating Kurt Cobain. In the late 2000s, struggling to book shows around a noise rock- and electronica-obsessed New York, they took matters into their own hands and founded two seminal DIY all-ages spaces, Market Hotel and Shea Stadium. All of those efforts, Levine says, are about connection and emotion.

“New York is ever-changing, but no matter how much it changes, we can hang on to our sense of humanity,” he adds. “That’s what our live shows have always been about: empathy, real life emotion, and encouraging people to get as rowdy as possible. It’s an all-inclusive party where people can come with open minds and assert themselves in a creative way so that they don’t turn toward violence or anything.”

Although that hopeful outlook weaves through everything The So So Glos do, there’s an undercurrent of anger that lights up their music, particularly on Kamikaze. That may be due to expert production work from Mike Mogis and John Reis, who polish The So So Glos’ abrasive sound to a spit-shine. And the messages harbor that sort of self-aware unease; even when Levine delivers a blistering rant against technology on “A.D.D. Life,” he juxtaposes it with the realization that he’s “a too-much-information-generation cliché.” Then there’s “Kings Country II: Ballad of a So So Glo,” which shoots for the rock-opera stars while relating the tale of two selfie-obsessed narcissists — before Levine lets on that “I am a lot more like those two than I’d like to admit.”

Which provides the perfect opportunity to point out that the band’s name originated from a derogatory quip about early 2000s New York scenesters. The definition of that slippery term continues to evolve — much like what it means to be a fiercely DIY punk band from an ever-changing Brooklyn continues to change.

“A lot of what we write is very personal, but I like it to be interpreted in a variety of ways,” Levine says. “I like how the meaning of some of our songs has changed as the times have changed, while some haven’t. That reflects the world and our attitudes about the lack of empathy or anti-technology. What we’re doing now isn’t really too different — it’s just more extreme. And that’s because we’re heading to a more extreme place.”

About FOLIO

X
X