By Brian Kindle
“We’ll be your wrecking ball tonight!” Alex Levine of the So So Glos is fond of proclaiming at live shows, followed immediately by an imperative to “get up on your feet!” Backed by urgent, jangling guitar, a galloping rhythm section, and Alex’s own infectious energy, it becomes an invitation that’s damn near impossible for audiences to resist. The right crowd will react with wild enthusiasm, moving like they just got hit with, well, a wrecking ball.
The four guys in the So So Glos (lead singer and guitarist Alex Levine, drummer Zach Staggers, and bassist Matt Elkins) seem to thrive on creating these moments of connection, when the wall between performer and audience breaks down and listeners become participants in the show. A tight-knit crew from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the Glos are torchbearers for the nobler dreams of punk and indie culture, in a way that’s so committed and unpretentious that it’s almost wholesome. They strive mightily to make the vast majority of their shows all-ages, play benefit concerts for local orgs, and release their music through Green Owl, an environmentally-conscious record label.
Coolest of all, the Glos help start up and operate DIY concert venues in their home city; ramshackle and semi-illegal performance and arts spaces that are, of course, all-ages inclusive. Their latest venture, Shea Stadium, is rapidly earning a rep as a hot spot for live music and a haven for young people with loud guitars.
Extracurriculars aside, the Glos are first and foremost an awesome, vital rock band. Sonically, they crib the energy, speed and urgency of punk and spike it with everything from ska breakdowns to tricky tempo shifts, chanted refrains and blasts of saxophone. Lyrically, songs tackle consumerism, fake rebelliousness and racist cops in a way that’s smart and subtle enough to be endlessly listenable. And they’re getting better: their latest EP, Low Back Chain Shift, might be the best thing the So So Glos have ever released. Lead singer Alex Levine was kind enough to talk to with Origivation via e-mail about live vibes, the power of subtext, and the importance of reaching the kids.
O: The So So Glos put on one of the most energetic live shows I’ve ever seen, and it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re playing a packed concert hall or a basement with 10 people. How do you sustain that level of energy, regardless of the venue or the size of the crowd?
AL: A live performance is a conversation. Of course there’s a clearly defined boss, be it whomever is on the platform with a microphone, but really they’re just pushing forward whatever energy already exists in the room, and amping it. Every show is a different energy, just as every crowd is a different group of people, packed with imperfections. This is what makes a live show beautiful and new every time.
O: Seems like you guys are really committed to keeping it all-ages, both at your shows and especially at the venues you help run. Why do you work so hard to include younger kids?
AL: I’d say because rock n’ roll, hip-hop, and all music of protest belongs first to the youth. It comes from the kids and speaks to them. As we get older sometimes we tend to look back at things we used to hold very important and laugh at them or be embarrassed by how important or unimportant they seemed. The belief that music can bring about some form of change in this fucked-up world isn’t one of those things that I look back on and feel different about.
O: Did you guys have all-ages venues or spaces you would frequent when you were younger?
AL: Yea tons: Wetlands, ABC No Rio, etc.
O: The political and social content in So So Glos songs tends to be more anecdotal or indirect, rather than flat out calling a politician an asshole, for example. What’s the advantage of being indirect in your social commentary?
AL: When you’re trying to get a message through, there are a lot of ways to do it. I love the power of subtext, and how it can be used. A two-minute punk or pop song is really good way to reach as many people as possible in a quick and infectious way. It beats trying to get them all to read a book. It spreads, it breeds ideas, provokes thought and all kinds of movement (if its danceable).
On Low Back Chain Shift especially, a lot of focus was paid to this subtext tip. Tons of the vocabulary was discussing change in the modern world and fucked-up things without actually pointing the finger in someone’s face like we’ve done in the past.
O: I’ve heard someone in the So So Glos describe your music as “protest pop,”and while you guys often sound pissed, you never come across as cynical. How do you write songs about how the world’s a mess and still leave the listener feeling energized instead of depressed?
AL: The whole thing is bittersweet, really…you need to know depression to appreciate feeling good and cynicism to truly have hope. All of these opposite emotions and feelings are very close together in the scheme of things. Music walks the thin line.
O: How’s Shea Stadium going?
AL: Shea da best…I’ll just take this time to plug the new site: www.liveatsheastadium.com
O: Judging by your music, you guys have a complicated relationship with your hometown- NYC and its culture are alternately panned and celebrated in a lot of your songs. What’s your take on present-day New York, and how does that play out in your music?
AL: We’re all products of our environment. NYC is a really difficult place to pinpoint. It’s ever changing and equally inspiring as it is crippling. Just in my 23 years growing up in and around NYC I’ve seen a lot of changes in neighborhoods, but NY will always be NY. I guess now it seems like a pretty tame place, but it’s still very easy to get lost in the madness of it. Sometimesit feels like its a microcosm of the world, at other times it seems easy to forget that life goes on outside the city.
O: Since we are a Philly-based mag, any good Philly-related stories to tell? Want to rep any Philly bands or venues?
AL: We played a show at Danger Danger Gallery in Philly a couple months back with our friends The Carnivores from ATL. The folks at Danger Danger do wonderful things with that space. The show was great, but we were mostly just playing to the Carnivores. It was a playoff night for the Phillies. I guess everyone heard we were Mets fans.
O: What’s next for the So So Glos? Any upcoming tours, albums, or an event you’re particularly stoked about?
AL: We’re locked up, recording a big batch of demos for the next album. Looking forward.