On November 23rd 2014, Set It Off and fellow musicians, Black Veil Brides, Falling in Reverse, and Drama Club played a sold-out show on the New York leg of their Black Mass Tour. After their set, Set It Off front man, Cody Carson, sat down with Music Existence to discuss the band’s origin, influences, fans, Duality, and life on tour.
ME: Set It Off just finished playing its set for the night. How are you feeling after the performance?
CODY: Pretty good. It was a lot of fun. The adrenaline was pretty crazy and I kind of think that’s what drives us the most live performance-wise, so it was a really good experience being surrounded by a lot of friends and a lot of new faces. The only bummer is that we’re used to being able to go out and talk to fans at the merch table as soon as we’re done playing, but the venue wouldn’t let us today, so as soon as the show’s over, I’m gonna stand outside and talk to everybody. We want to make sure we’re able to connect to every person that we meet, old or new, so I’m glad we still get that opportunity. But the show in general was just fantastic.
ME: This was my first time seeing Set It Off live, and I can definitely say I was pretty blown away.
CODY: Ok, first impressions: what were your thoughts, beginning to end?
ME: On a scale from 1 to 10: I’d give it a 9.85. The only reason it wasn’t a 10 is because you weren’t crowd walking on my hands, but you guys were so energetic; it was contagious! I have these insane pictures of you in mid-jump jumping from that giant black speaker.
CODY: Every time I climb something like that I always know I have to jump off. Like, you can’t climb down. If you climb down, it just looks lame. So everything I climb up there I’m like, “today’s gonna be the day that I break both of my knee caps because here we go.” Somehow my joints are still staying together, so I’m happy about that.
ME: (laughs) So, is that a personal goal of yours?
CODY: Oh, not at all. No death wish, no broken knees, but I always enjoy when we get to a venue and we’re doing sound check, all of us will kind of assess the stage, and we’ll be like, “Ok, well, I’m jumping on that.” One show sticks out in my mind in particular where we played in Jacksonville, Florida, with Pierce The Veil and as soon as we got on stage, I noticed towards the back of the venue there was a pole with this mini table surrounding it where people could put their drinks. Since I like to crowd walk, which is [the fans] will put their hands up and help me walk across the crowd, my goal now was to get to that pole and sing the song from there. I remember telling Mike Fuentes of Pierce The Veil, “You see that place right there? I’m getting there.” Everyone was laughing about it, but I did it! It’s moments like that that make me happy and I know that it’ll make the crowd excited and give them something to talk about when they go home. Growing up, when we would go to shows, that was your opportunity to just erase everything that you were going through; nothing else existed except the show that you were currently at. So, we constantly try to make our shows very entertaining, not only for the fact that it pleases us, but for the fact that it helps the fans escape and it pleases them as well.
ME: So let’s take it back to the very beginning for a moment. When did Set It Off become a reality? How did the band begin?
CODY: I was in college at Oberlin Music Conservatory as a clarinet performance major; I was going to be a classical musician clarinet player. I dropped out because that’s not where my love was. I had met Dan, our guitarist, in our high school marching band. I connected with Zach and Austin because we played shows together before in the past. Maxx auditioned for the band, but it feels like we’ve known him forever. Since then, we’ve just been going hard, working our asses off, and that’s kind of where we are now.
Why the name Set It Off? What’s the meaning behind your name?
CODY: Collectively, our favorite band of all time is Fall Out Boy. They’re a huge influence to us, and on their album, Take This to Your Grave, there’s a song called “Calm Before the Storm,” and the chorus goes “Calm before the storm, set it off.” We like what we felt it meant, because we knew we wanted to be a very energetic, in-your-face kind of band; we wanted to set things off. Also the fact that the rhythm of the name: Fall-Out-Boy, All-Time-Low, Set-It-Off, it just made sense to us. It’s very rare that we all agree on the same thing because we’re all five completely different people, but when we all heard [those lyrics] we were all like, “Yeah, that’s it.”
ME: With a band of five different people, how does each of your personalities help define Set It Off as a whole?
CODY: We’re the most chaotic puzzle in the world. If you were to take an actual jigsaw puzzle, close your eyes, and fling the pieces around, that’s kind of who we are. We all believe in different beliefs, religions and political views. We’re all different races, we have different ways of handling life, but in the end, we’re all just best friends. We understand just how different we all are and it’s helped us learn a lot about life and how to communicate with others. If we can understand how different we are, we can communicate with anybody and that’s one thing we really apply to our band, so if we ever have problems with each other, we talk to each other about it. Every band fights and we’ll have our little tiffs, but they’re ended in like 30 seconds. That’s what makes this so enjoyable for us. That’s why we’ve been doing this for six years and we’re not even close to being jaded and we’re just happy. We’re very different people but that’s what makes us who we are.
ME: In the beginning, how did Set It Off get its name out there?
CODY: Collectively, our favorite TV Show is South Park, and there’s a documentary called 6 Days to Air. [The writers] don’t get to sit next to every person when the episodes coms out, they only know the episode is going to be successful if they’re laughing hysterically in the writer’s room. So if Dan and I or whoever is writing at that time is in the room writing a song, jamming, smiling, high fiving, and getting along with the song in general, then we know we have something there. We don’t want to create music that we think other people would love; what it really comes down to is writing music that we love, that we can get behind, and it started to catch on. We just pay attention to what’s going on in general in the world of music and try to stay ahead of the curve and after learning many lessons, and not necessarily having the most successful approach in the past, you kind of learn from your mistakes. We’ve learned a lot of lessons and that’s set us up for success, to be more proactive, to help us take advantage of our future, and to set the bar, so that’s what we’re trying to do now.
ME: Who are some of your major influences, both past and present?
CODY: We’re definitely heavily influenced by Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, My Chemical Romance, New Found Glory—those influences were like our primary influences. Growing up though, that’s not what I listened to; it was whatever my sister had in her closet so Destiny’s Child, N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, TLC, Boyz To Men, Céline Dion, Whitney Houston, or whatever my mom and dad were playing. We’re all over the place as far as influences go, so we got a lot of influences we were able to derive for this next record. Before, it was mostly just pop-rock influence. Now, we’re able to mix that current pop-rock with 90s and oldies, so I feel like that helps us create our own individual sound that we’ve really fallen in love with and is so fun to play live.
ME: With so many influences, are there any specific musicians you’d like to collaborate with?
CODY: Pop writer, Max Martin. I love his style, and the number of songs he’s written is insane. He basically controls the pop scene; he’s behind so much. I also really love Bruno Mars. He brings back that sort of old school of the 70s. He mixes the Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown vibes that I like so much, with pop and it’s so cool. It’s duality, old with the new, and that’s the sort of thing that I’m really attracted to. I have so much respect for many of these artists that are so involved in pop, that write their own stuff, so I would love to write with them. I know he may not be a very popular person, but Kanye West is very innovative when it comes to writing, and I think doing a collaboration with someone like that would be an interesting end result, so that’s someone I’d love to write with, too. Max Martin, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran too, he’s really great, those are definitely people I’d like to work with.
ME: You guys seem to be all about chasing your dreams, being yourself, doing whatever it is you want to do, and you make that message well known to your fans, whom you call “Dream Catchers.” Of all names, why did you decide to call your fans Dream Catchers?
CODY: On our last album, Cinematics, we had a song called “Dream Catchers.” What’s so ironic about that song, is Dan came to us with that beginning riff because he dreamt it, and in the dream, we were playing the song he was writing at our biggest hometown venue, Tampa Bay Forum. When that happened, I remember writing on the road and just playing [Dan’s song] while we were doing voice check on the PA, and I’d start writing. We just started experiencing life, thinking about where we came from, how we had nothing to how we’re on this tour. Now we’re on tour with Black Veil Brides, playing for thousands of fans every night. NYC is sold out, Boston was sold out, and looking back, you see the progression and sometimes you can take that for granted and we just always want to make sure we stay grounded, so “Dream Catcher” was pretty much about that. Occasionally, I’ll do a speech that tells people I’m no different than they are, the only difference is that there’s an elevated surface and a three-foot barrier and that’s it. If there’s someone who says you can’t do something, then fuck ’em. Don’t let them tear you down or tell you that you can’t do it. Take that as a challenge: “OK cool. I’m glad you don’t believe in me. I’m going to make you feel sorry for thinking that.” We want everyone else to have that same kind of tenacity, and that drive, that passion. I think people connected to that, and they get behind that message. So “Dream Catcher” seemed to be appropriate and it was a fan favorite.
ME: For a band that is so supportive of its fans, when you’re on stage, what is it like to hear them singing your songs back to you?
CODY: It’s a drug. It’s an absolute drug. The way I realized I wanted to drop out of college was in 2008, All Time Low, who was my favorite band at the time, let me sing “Coffee Shop Soundtrack” on stage with them. It wasn’t even my song, but the crowd was just screaming the words back at me and I got goose bumps over that. I’ll never forget this year we played with We Are The In Crowd in Chicago and that was a huge realization in my life because it was so loud, it was deafening and I was like, this is catching on! Everyone is screaming the words in this huge venue and there are so many fans they’re losing their minds! They’re acting like how I act when I go to shows so its surreal. That’s the only way I can think to describe it – overwhelming.
ME: Currently, you’re on The Black Mass tour with Black Veil Brides, Falling in Reverse, and Drama Club. The idea of being in a different city every other night must feel insane. How do you handle the chaos of being on tour?
CODY: We’ve been doing this since 2008. There’s a lot of ups and downs that you go through. If you want to date somebody, if you want to keep in touch with family, you have to learn how to keep that balanced. Also, when you first start out with a fifteen-passenger van, getting sleep is tough, so we used to stay at a fan’s house every night. It’s just learning how to survive. I remember starting out where we had no money and we were siting on the corner of a Howie’s eating one five dollar Hot-N-Ready between the five of us because we just needed to do that to survive. At the same time, it’s like life is in fast-forward and you can look at this as a time to give up and we’re going to prove to everyone that we can do this, we can get through it, and that’s tour in general. It’s just a bunch of life lessons thrown at you so quick and you have to be able to pick up on them and move on.
ME: One thing that really stood out to me when I listened to your latest album and again when I watched your set was your lyrics. Musicians tend to use a lot of metaphors and the meaning is hidden within the lyrics, but you guys have a very straight-forward approach and in some ways, I think that’s why as a band, Set It Off is so relatable.
CODY: My philosophy is “poetically to the point.” I got that influence from New Found Glory. Honestly, Sticks and Stones is a big influence to me, and you really don’t have to listen to the lyrics of that record a thousand times to understand what he [Jordan Pundik] was talking about. He told a story and it was theatrical, and that is what we try to aim for—we want to tell you a story. We could go along the route and try to find a way to make it more dark and cryptic, so you have to think about it, but I don’t like that, and honestly that’s kind of one of the reasons I really like pop music. I don’t like it when it’s dumbed down to the point of, “we’re in the club, bottle full of bubs,” but I like the idea of singing a pop song with honest traits and making it to where it’s easily understandable but not dumb, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to do.
ME: So then what does “Duality” mean to you?
CODY: That was something that really became apparent to us during our most previous album, Cinematics. I know how goofy we are as a band, we joke all the time, sing the stupidest dick and fart jokes, but as soon as we have to have a band talk about something serious or concerning our future, we’re just totally in the moment. When we have to go on stage, we have this stupid pre-show Dragon Ball Z ritual, and as soon as it’s done, boom! We’re right in the mode, we’re in the zone, a switch flips on. That’s where it started, with this mentality that people are very different, they have two different sides—a side you choose to show to others and a side that you keep hidden from everyone else. As time has gone on, we realized that we’re becoming more comfortable in our own skin, that those sides are starting to merge, and everyone is getting to know us by who we are, by seeing us on stage and seeing us in those different stages in our lives. I always used to feel like I had to censor myself with what I would say, for fear I would offend someone with how I am or react to certain things. I was done with that; it was too stressful for me. I figured that I was going to be the most honest I could be and people connect to that, and relate to that, and appreciate that because everyone is afraid to step outside of their own heads and comfort zone and truly be themselves. That’s what duality is all about, the whole juxtaposition of those two polar opposites and accepting that you are this, you’re the Ying and Yang, you’re the dark and the light, and realizing that’s just part of being a human.
ME: In what ways have you seen this concept of duality on tour and within everyday life?
CODY: In the music industry, we’ve met people who’ve come up to our faces and been like, “Hey nice to meet you! We’re going to work really well together,” and then turn around and stab us really hard in the back. That’s a very negative version of that, but it’s everywhere. We had a song called “143,” and still today we see that number wherever we go. As soon as you start to think of something, it appears everywhere and now I see [Duality]. I became really obsessed with the idea and how common it is: it’s in life, it’s on tour, in our album.
ME: So do you think any of the life lessons you’ve learned on tour will show up on the next album?
CODY: Oh yeah, that’s one thing we pride ourselves on – we never write about what we think people want to hear, only things that we’ve gone through. I swear to myself when we wrote our old EP, Calm Before the Storm, that I would never write relationship songs again, but I just went through a really rough relationship, and I just needed an outlet, and it just started coming out in a really aggressive way, and the rest of the band was like, “We don’t care; it fits the song.” So, Set It Off is always going to be about real things, real problems, real optimism. It’s going to be about who we are, and that’s important to us because we want to be honest. We don’t want to do this larger-than-life-we’re-bigger-than-you bullshit. We want to show you this is who we are, either like us or you don’t.
ME: Of all the challenges in life and on tour, as a band, you just seem to like to have fun! Since you’re with so many great musicians on this tour, just for fun, if you could cover one song from any band on this tour what song would you cover?
CODY: “Fashionably Late” by Falling In Reverse. I think it’s so damn catchy. I was talking to Ronnie about it and we were trying to find a time to rehearse it, but we were talking of me coming to sing on stage with him. We have some ideas we were going back and forth about. Oh, I also love “In The End” by Black Veil Brides. They’re both just such well written songs, very catchy, I’m all about catchiness and melody and the melodies in those songs are just on point. Those would be my two favorites.
ME: What’s next for Set It Off after this tour ends?
CODY: More touring. We don’t stop! That’s one thing we’re notorious for—we’re constantly on the road, and that’s what it takes. We never want to be left out or forgotten, and whenever we have a new album or something going for us, we just constantly go, go, go. So when we finish this tour, we will spend the holidays with our families for once, which is nice. When that’s all over, we’re going to go overseas with Crown The Empire. We have some more touring ideas that we will announce soon, so look out for spring and summer because we have something coming your way.