At one time or another every band reaches a turning point when they have to decide who they are and what direction they want to forge ahead with. Over the course of their past two records Almost Here and Santi, The Academy Is... have became one of the most creative acts in the pop- punk circuit--however not even the band's most strident supporters would predict the evolution they'd undergo with their third album, Fast Times At Barrington High, a collection of songs takes its moniker from the high school that frontman William Beckett and bassist Adam T. Siska attended in the suburbs of Chicago and not only bookends the first chapter of the band's history, but also looks toward the future. In other words, if the Academy were Almost Here three years ago, they've finally arrived.
"Recording [this album] was a really cool process because it was like the Replacements making Tim or Let It Be, where they went in and wrote the songs and recorded them in a week or two and it felt really spontaneous," Siska explains when asked why the band decided to release Fast Times At Barrington High just over a year after their last disc. "A month or two after releasing Santi we already had a lot more to say, so I think all along we wanted to put out this record a lot faster," he elaborates. "We wanted to go back to the sixties where if you had the songs in you, you wanted to get them out; I'd like say that we'll be recording another record a year from now."
Beckett is quick to stress that the process behind the recording of Fast Times At Barrington High was also instrumental to its sound. Essentially, Beckett roamed his Windy City stomping grounds to pull inspiration, while the rest of the band holed up in Los Angeles to perfect their own batch of pop anthem. When it came time to record, the band went to a makeshift studio in the their management office in Manhattan to lay the songs onto tape with the help of producers Sam Hollander and Dave Katz (Gym Class Heroes, We The Kings, Metro Station.), who Beckett met while making a guest appearance on Cobra Starship's "Snakes On A Plane."
"Having our management company around gave us a big support system and we felt like we had a family every day whereas out in Los Angeles we didn't really know anyone," Siska explains. "We're a lot more reclusive than a lot of bands, so going to New York just gave us this big breath of fresh air." "I think one of the biggest differences is that we've always done records in a relaxed environment and New York is definitely not relaxed; there's an energy there and I think that energy is really evident in these recordings," Carden adds. Mrotek adds that initially tracking drums with engineer Claudius Mittendorfer (Franz Ferdinand, Muse) at the legendary Avatar Recording Studio (Jimmy Eat World, Stone Temple Pilots) in midtown Manhattan also had a huge effect on the album's end result. "Claudius was such a huge inspiration to me and the other guys because he was really open to letting us do whatever we wanted," explains Mrotek, who was so relaxed that he recorded all of the drum tracks for Fast Times At Barrington High in two days. "He kept things really cool in the studio, which helped us forget our anxiety and focus on the music."
This type of newfound freedom is evident in the songwriting on Fast Times At Barrington High as well. For example, the impossibly catchy "About A Girl" has a strong pop sensibility that recalls acts like the Beach Boys; "Coppertone" features harmonizing guitars, pianos and an inventive synthesizer line; "After The Last Midtown Show" is a piano ballad that's the most romantic song the band have written to date (and also features Jack's Mannequin frontman Andrew McMahon) and "Automatic Eyes" is vintage TAI but with an atmospheric edge that recalls stadium-filling acts like U2. "I think over the last few years we've really grown as players and as far as knowing what we want to play," Siska explains. "This record is what Almost Here could have been if we had all the elements to make a great-sounding record--and this is also our first album in the sense we got to experiment with everything we ever wanted to try."
Lyrically, Fast Times At Barrington High is also far more optimistic than the band's previous albums. "The reason we started writing songs is because it made me happy and it was therapeutic--and I think that optimism and energy was a lot of the appeal of our band in the first place," the frontman explains, adding that if there's one overreaching theme of the band's latest disc it's to appreciate the glory of youth. "We're still a very young band and we still have a lot to learn and experience, so it was important on this album for me to try and convey that the present is something that shouldn't be looked at as if it's some meaningless precursor to something more important," he elaborates.
"I can't really describe it, but when William got to New York he seemed so inspired that it reminded me of the first time I met him when I came to his house to audition for the band," Mrotek explains when asked about Beckett's leadership role in The Academy Is... . "I feel like on this record he's tapped into a part of him that you can't fake and I think that made all of us want to sound better," he continues, adding that Beckett's attitude ultimately reminded the other members of why they started playing music in the first place. "He reintroduced me to having fun again on this record and that's what we're here for," Mrotek summarizes. "I think he did a very integral thing for this band that we're all grateful for--and I think the record shows it in so many different ways."
Another huge progression with Fast Times At Barrington High is the full collaboration of Chislett, who joined the band right before the recording of Santi and has had the past year to find his niche in The Academy Is... "He's basically putting in what was missing from our band and musically taking us to the next level, because I've never felt stronger about any other collection of songs," Beckett explains. "He's a really smart guitar player and I think having him in the band took the band in a different sonic direction," Siska concurs, adding that the good-natured Chislett helped alleviate some of the stress in the studio that the perfectionists in The Academy Is... inevitably stir up. "It was definitely the best time we've had making a record."
"Michael is an amazing musician and while Santi has some undertones that are a bit negative, he was one of those people [during that recording] who was going, 'things aren't so bad, man' and at that point we really needed that," Carden says, adding that although the band are still extremely proud of their last record they feel like they've captured a new electricity this time around. "Some people have said that this record sounds like Almost Here, but I think it sounds like we've had a new breath," Mrotek explains, stating that Chislett was involved in everything from riff-writing to helping program drum parts this time around. "I think without Michael this record wouldn't be what it is; he's one of those guys that's so talented, that having that confidence behind you helps things flow."
Now that The Academy Is... have finally made the record that they want to make, all they can do is sit back and hope that people find the songs as inspiring as the band do. "It's impossible to say what's going to happen with the album, all we can say is that we love playing live and it doesn't really matter what other people say, because at the end of the day it's still going to be us playing songs--and if people like them that's amazing and if they don't, we're used to that, too," Beckett summarizes with a laugh. "All I can say is that I think it's going to be hard to stop this train from moving."