Set It Off: The Right Side Up
Florida pop-rockers Set It Off have been in the scene for three studio albums now, and you’ll be delighted to know that even though they haven’t made it to Australia yet, they are planning to. BLUNT caught up with frontman Cody Carson to talk about the ins and outs of their new full-length, Upside Down, playing pop songs in a Warped Tour world, and how he hopes his enemies hear what he’s got to say about them.
The new album sounds like it’s engineered to a live setting, was that something you did intentionally?
When writing, there’s always that point where you fantasise about what it’s going to be like live. And two songs that stuck out to me as far as that, from what we’ve released, are definitely “Upside Down” and “Life Afraid”. “Life Afraid” has a tempo that you can like, jump comfortably to – I call that ‘jump tempo’. It gets me really excited. We haven’t played “Upside Down” live yet, so I’m really stoked to see what the reaction’s gonna be like for that one. But I mean, the online reaction has been fantastic, so I’m hoping the live reaction is the same.
It has! You guys once again feature on the cover of this record, and that’s definitely not something a lot of bands do in the alternative scene. Why is that important for you?
Within the scene, everyone has a mark, or some sort of symbol or artpiece, and they’re starting to blend together to me. No one really does the old school, you’re on the cover, anymore. So that’s the first part, something that used to be done is not being done anymore, so let’s try to bring that back. And the nthe second part is the idea of having people…making us easier to recognise, I guess? Visually, you know, this is who we are as a band. Because who we are as people is a huge part of this band. But here’s the thing you know, I don’t want them to just be pictures of us. The mistake with Duality’s cover art was that we were on the cover of that one but the concept was so rushed that it just didn’t turn out how we wanted it to. This time we wanted to really contextualise, knowing that it was going to be called Upside Down. I’m a terrible drawer, and I got this piece of paper and I drew stick figures, I still have it! It’s hilarious. And I knew what I wanted to do with it and everyone was like it’s impossible to do, and I was determined. I had arguments with our team about it, and I ended up going on Craigslist and getting the furniture myself. We painted it blue. We fought for this album art because we knew it would look awesome when it was put together. And I’m really proud of it – I’m really happy with how it came out.
It certainly stands out. Something you’ve also done with this record has been retaining the weighty pop element that you have in your music, which I would say takes a lot of integrity when you’re in the scene you’re in – is it rough to be on Warped playing pop songs with hardcore and heavy bands or is that a benefit in terms of standing out?
I love it. We used to write stuff that’s more alternative but we felt like we were writing music that everybody else wanted to hear because we were writing to a specific scene. Every song that we wrote had like a box around it, it was like, “Okay, it has to have a tonne of aggression, a full orchestra, it has to be eerie, and that’s the sound we developed.” We were like, “This is our brand, and they want spooky, so we’ll give them spooky.” And it felt contrived after awhile. We were exhausted with putting on this show where we just didn’t do it ourselves so Duality was our first chance to just go out there and use every influence we had. So now it’s just about using those influences. And I’m a nerd, I listen to everything. My parents raised me on oldies…and then my sister had all of her CDs, Destiny’s Child, Usher, Boyz II Men…and then I found NSYNC and I was a massive fan, and then pop punk took over and nu metal took over. I’ve been all over, and we get to mix every single one of those artists to get to Set It Off.
“You have no idea how badly we’ve been wanting to go to Australia.”
Do you have fans who say they don’t like what you’re doing now, but they used to like you?
People don’t really say that stuff to your face. Like people won’t really come up and say, “I don’t like this stuff you put out.” Whether it’s older or newer, or anything. You’ll see it in YouTube comments. The way it works is like this – I have a theory. Usually, the stuff you end up liking is the stuff you first discovered them with. Whether the band writes the same album over and over again or not, someone will always say, “I like their older stuff,” because usually the album hits you at a point of nostalgia in your life. Nothing can match that. So you’re just going to hold onto thinking that it’s a sound issue when it’s really just a nostalgia issue. I’m really not concerned if people like the old stuff or the new stuff, right now what I’m concerned with is that we’re playing and writing music that we feel comfortable with.
You’ve mentioned that R&B/hip hop influence, and you often write lyrics and songs that are quite assertive and confident, something that’s not really a trait of the pop punk/rock scene. Is it fair to say that the R&B influence informs that assertiveness on songs like “Uncontainable”?
Oh absolutely. Lyrically, that song is influenced by a lot of rap songs that I’m into. You’ll hear the reference “taking the crown” on a lot of rap songs and a lot of R&B. And I like that. I enjoy lyrics that kind of empower you to feel invincible, and I think more people need that in their lives, and not just assertion from one genre that can give it to you. I wanna be able to do for people and also for ourselves. “Uncontainable” is about all the people trying to give us the hardest time of our lives and trying to fuck over our band and how, regardless of all that, we’re not gonna let anyone slow us down. So it’s an exciting and empowering song.
In a similar way, “Hypnotized” was kind of an aggressive song, is there a story behind that?
There is! I can’t go too into detail but basically it’s about two different people in the same song, but they both were basically doing the same thing. I was writing a song where the story was going to basically be about being hypnotised by someone’s body. And right in the middle of writing the song I got some bad news about people that used to be very close to me. People that I knew very dearly and who basically turned their backs on me entirely, who stabbed me in the back. Maybe I’m too trusting, I don’t know, but when it happened I was just livid. It was like, “You know what? We gotta change the topic of the song.” And I just started writing out lyrics, like not melodies first because I usually do melodies first and it kind of had a very rhythmic, rap-based, rhyme-based foundation. In that situation is where I write my best angry lyrics, right in the heat of the moment, so everything you’re hearing is right when I was feeling it. The rhythm is the first time I’ve ever tried to ever go to rap and I was nervous about it, but through trial and error we realised it actually worked. I’m really excited about how it came out, but those people who the song’s about are absolutely gonna know it’s about them when they hear it.
Is that something you’re worried about?
Oh, I hope they do.
To wrap up, I have to ask – is there an Australian tour in the works for Set It Off?
Oh my god, I wish I could tell you that it’s being booked right now. You have no idea how badly we’ve been wanting to go to Australia. When Soundwave was around, I followed the dude and started tweeting at him. Like, we wanna go there, we just have to get the right tour, and financial justification to be able to go there and come back and be like, “This was financially worth it as well as physically worth it.” Of course we want to go there. As soon as the right tour lines up, you can bet your ass we’ll be there ASAP.