Punk will never die, but periodically it does recede from view, hibernating underground in VFW halls and DIY basement shows awaiting its next moment of attack. That’s the story of the So So Glos, four close-knit Brooklyn lads who’ve spent the last six years building their punk rock resumé.
Outfitted with chunky, hook-laden guitar, slinky, propulsive rhythms and a snotty spirit of carpe diem, the So So Glos blend the Clash’s fist-in-the-air energy with the Pixies’ prickly power chords and Fountains of Wayne’s sing-song tunefulness. After six years of touring and three EPs, the band’s debut full-length collection Blowout sounds like a coming out party.
“We’re starting over with this record. It’s like a fresh start,” says singer/bassist Alex Levine. “We have no manager, no booking agent, no label. We’ve completely cleared our house and started over with just us and this idea — make the best record we can, and I think we did.”
Though the band formed in 2007, its origins go back even further. Alex started the band with his guitarist brother Ryan and drummer Zach Staggers, his stepbrother since kindergarten. During that first year they recorded a self-titled EP, produced by another childhood friend Adam Reich (now the keyboardist for Titus Andronicus). Reich’s dad was best friends with Levine’s dad and all of them would hang out together.
“We’d go into Adam’s room with instruments we didn’t know how to play and sit on a little karaoke machine and record hours and hours of our songs,” Levine recalls. “We were five-year-olds listening to the Beatles and the Kinks and all that ’60s stuff.”
Levine adds, “The punk edge comes more from teaching ourselves by ear, not really being trained and not knowing what we’re doing all the time.”
Levine and his bandmates spent their first 18 months touring the country playing DIY shows anywhere that would have them. When they got back, they started their own DIY venue the Market Hotel. It was inspired by the self-run clubs they encountered touring the Midwest. But they kept heading back out on tour, which made it difficult to run the club, and so it closed.
Then in 2009 the guys in So So Glos started another club, Shea Stadium, with their old buddy Reich. It was almost a necessity. If they didn’t start their own club they wouldn’t have had any place to play. It’s still going strong today.
“People were laughing at us,” Levine says. “It was only noise and arty stuff in the DIY scene and it was that rehash Strokes-hangover stuff in the Lower East Side and we were basically not welcome in either of those places.”
Punk was too direct in a late-Aughts fashion-conscious hipster culture that wouldn’t dare sport anything as passé as a heartfelt opinion. “[During] the post-9/11 era, people got in this too-cool-for-school state of mind and were afraid to show real emotion for a good while in New York,” he says. “That’s dying down and people are realizing that we can have fun, write important music, and have a brain about it. It doesn’t have to be all one way.”
As it turned out, Shea Stadium was like a porch light to punk rock insects looking to flutter around madly. Not only is it a venue and “bar” (beer’s sold out of Igloo coolers), but also a recording studio and musician crash pad. Unmarked and without a phone number, it’s a throwback to those old-school clubs where the bands were all but anonymous but could generally be counted upon to offer an interesting performance, if not a good one.
Though Levine and his cohorts aren’t really a political band per se, there is a kind of message behind the music, and their band name in particular. So So Glos comes from their early song “Broken Mirror Baby” which savages their generation. “Basically a So So Glos is a post-modern narcissist who’s kind of more into their own glow than any moral, social, or political cause,” says Levine, who’s developed a foolproof way for spotting them. “You look into the audience and see the glowing lights on people’s faces, and they’re all So So Glos.”
The quartet spent their first few years on the environmentally responsible Warner Brothers imprint Green Owl, a decision Levine still regrets. “They didn’t really know what they were doing,” he says. Nobody heard the two EPs they released — 2008’s Tourism/Terrorism and 2010’s Low Back Chain Shift — but the rights will revert back soon, and the band will be re-releasing the music.
The experience prompted the decision to go it alone on Blowout. The So So Glos fired their manager and self-released the album. The band members actually finished recording it last year, but they took time to get everything lined up for the release. They’ve already been back in the studio to cut some new demos, and, according to Levine, they’re always writing about their personal politics.
“They’re not all topical songs all the time. When we get the most political, we disguise them as love songs,” he says. “Mostly we’re concerned with apathy and indifference. It’s about participation and shaking off the cynicism of the last 20 years or 40 years or forever.”