A Social State debuts 2nd LP
First Posted: 9/8/2014
“We all got in a room to jam; there was zero intention of ever starting a band,” said A Social State vocalist/guitarist Ed Cuozzo upon the release of the Scranton-based four-piece’s second full-length, third overall release, “How To Get To Heaven.”
Born from the ashes of Northeast Pennsylvania rock acts Melded, Losing Caufield, and Livingston amid those bands’ final breaths circa 2008, A Social State – very organically, mind you, came to be.
Cuozzo recalls a decent amount of frustration at the time of his band, Melded’s, swan-song days. He struck up a friendship with the guys of Livingston, particularly bassist Jon Fletcher (current A Social State four-stringer), and the pair would trail off into musical tangents involving a healthy amount of shop talk and jamming.
“For weeks we danced around it,” said Cuozzo about the idea of Fletcher and himself branching off, “and then Jon said there was a drummer I just had to hear.” The drummer in question would end up being Losing Caufield’s Nick Ogonosky – you guessed it, current A Social State drummer. The burgeoning band of mad musical scientists soon found themselves not only gelling, but creating.
“I was throwing around some riff ideas I had and we ended up writing one of our first songs, called “Faceless,” within maybe the first hour that we were together,” Cuzzo said. “It all came so easy; communication was so fluid, and it was just so much more collaborative than anything I’d been doing prior to that. I think from that point on, we all felt like it was something we had to pursue, that this was something worthwhile.”
Listening to the freshness and sonic vitality that “How To Get To Heaven” maintains, the question of how he sees A Social State’s musical evolution is posed to Ed Cuozzo. The album, which is true to the band’s recent history of ambient, melodic jangle, owing debts to their indie/alterna-edged roots, is ripe with pristine production value – vocal harmonies are precisely layered and spot-on with big hooks and swells catchier than your garden-variety pop/punk anthem.
“There have been some twists and turns along the way, but this album was a want for me to dig deeper as a songwriter and arranger,” Cuozzo said. “I don’t want to say ‘mature,’ but rather, ‘evolve.’ I really wanted to try and not only find our knack, but our strengths.”
Cuozzo said that when the band first began, they didn’t have the best ‘editorial’ mindset, for example, lyrics and melodies and such. “It was just balls-to-the-wall, as loud as possible – every vocal had to be of a pretty high register,” he laughs. “That was pretty much our self-titled release.”
When it came time for the band’s first full album, 2012’s “Everyone’s Your Friend,” it was all about scaling back.
“It was like, ‘How do we not have everyone playing the same notes?’ or ‘How do we do a drum groove that’s spacey and weird, but not straight-up lifeless?” Cuozzo said. “That middle record was about not layering, not overdubbing. Now, with “How To Get To Heaven,” I feel it’s the in-between of those two records. It meets them right in the middle, but with more focus on arrangement and hooks within the songs. There’s the experimentation of “Everyone’s your Friend,” but with the rock and the intensity of the first self-titled EP.”
Cuozzo is worried about coming off as pretentious when he reveals that when the band first started to write music, their ultimate goal was to craft tunes that were emotional and intense; always moving.
“I know that sounds lame,” he follows with a laugh, “but that’s been my goal all the while. The artists that I always responded to were the ones that stopped me dead in my tracks- either sonically, lyrically, emotionally, or even that quality that you can’t quite put your finger on sometimes when you’re listening to music. I’m just happy that we sound like this, because this record, I’m the most proud of it out of everything I’ve ever done.”
The new record, much like the band’s sound since their inception, also took some detours as far as writing and production. Cuozzo remembers that coming off of “Everyone’s Your Friend,” the band had put some new music up on social media sites, and was receiving a generally positive response, but they had yet to decide on the final form the music would take.
“We thought about putting out two EP’s,” said Cuozzo. “We’d record them at two separate studios, record one live to tape, one super polished – drop them on separate dates and then have some way of releasing them together. That was the original idea. So, we were recording one of the EP’s, having a blast, and then we went up to Vudu Studios (Port Jefferson, New York) with producer Steve Haigler – he mixed all the Pixies records with (producer) Gil Norton, like ‘Bossanova,’ ‘Doolittle,’ and ‘Trompe le Monde.’”
Cuozzo says the six-day experience the band had at Vudu was so wildly different from his studio experiences locally, and the unbridled enthusiasm that shone though in the music was so overwhelming, that the band ultimately decided upon scrapping a majority of the music they’d planned for their EP’s, and began the process of making a full-length album – new music a byproduct of the experience.
“It was really weird how we made the record, though,” Cuozzo explained. “Our drummer had gone to school at that point, and we’d played with literally 15 different fill-in drummers – they were all wonderful people trying to fill in for Nick. We wanted Nick, though, to play on the record, regardless. We booked the studio time when we knew Nick would be available, and all the while I was recording these really crappy demos – like straight to a laptop with no microphone, emailing them to Nick and CJ (Williams, A Social State guitarist) and Jon to hopefully try to get an idea, and then we’d drive up there and literally play the songs for the first time while we were recording them.”
That rather unnerving experience, Cuozzo admits, pushed the songs to new levels.
“We didn’t know if we had good songs,” he laughs. “With ‘Everyone’s Your Friend,’ we had a period of about six months where we wrote and made sure everything was tight before recording those songs. But, this new experience was such a rewarding process – I always think that sometimes there’s an enthusiasm that’s lost when a song is drilled into the ground after you’ve worked on them for so long. Here, everything felt inspired, and I think that shines through in the songs.”
The band’s new album is anything but skin deep. There is a lifetime of observation and thought reflecting within the themes of each song.
“It’s about getting older, and you see this thing that you want, and you feel that you’re right next to it,” said Cuozzo amid his revelations about the album’s lyrical content. “But, maybe that’s just your perception of it, and the truth is that maybe it’s a lot further away than it seems – what do you do if you actually get close to that thing you’ve been chasing for years. It can be success in music, or success in anything. As you get older, it gets harder, and the weight gets heavier.”
Cuozzo points out that the album’s title track fully embodies what he meant this collection of songs to be.
“That song is everything I wanted it to be, and more,” he happily passed along. “I think if somebody really sits down and listens to it with headphones, there’s something about the way the songs draws you in and takes you out as you’re listening to it. Then, there’s this crescendo and crazy build at the end – I love it, I think it’s probably the best song we’ve ever recorded.”
A Social State made the decision to stream “How To Get To Heaven” in full via an exclusive arrangement with website absolutepunk.net about a week prior to the September 6 album release party, which was held at TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton – a modest warehouse-looking building near the rear of Cooper’s Seafood. Was this a wise decision in these days of digital piracy and art as commodity? Is Ed Cuozzo at all worried about the soul being stripped from his music due to the business and tech side of what he does?
“I think it really depends on the listener,” he said. “When I was growing up, you weren’t able to dial into YouTube or Spotify and get any song you wanted to hear; you would have to dig for hours through random forms to find a song – or you’d just buy the record. I still like to buy CD’s – I’ll buy a cassette, I just like to have a tangible thing. Now, for a younger generation, its’ all instant gratification – that’s with anything, not just music.”
Cuozzo gives the example of searching for hours for that one unreleased song from a band, either online or through a pile of CD’s in a record store.
“You’ll eventually find it, and it had that special connection. Now, I could have that same song and write it off immediately. I could expose my music to the world in one click; but at the same time, it’s so over-saturated. Digital downloading is definitely a double-edged sword. For some people, I think it makes it really hard to care sometimes.”
If Cuozzo was at all worried about the response to his band’s latest work, all uncertainties were put to bed at the release party Sept. 6 – a blistering affair with support from Blinded Passenger, Eww Yaboo, and A Fire With Friends. The bands even brought fans 21 and older to an after-hours party at The Keys on Penn Ave., not far from TwentyFiveEight. Ed Cuozzo and the rest of the band seemed beside themselves with not only an unflinching gratitude toward their fans (Cuozzo instead refereed to them as friends – a crowd of more than 100 packed the venue), but a frenetic, yet firmly, grounded sense of raucousness with their performance.
“Each one of you are part of the family, the A Social State family,” said Cuozzo. Standouts included “Aging Egomaniac” off “How To Get To Heaven”, the track’s delicately picked guitar intro seguing into a Weezer-esque quirky jangle while Cuozzo’s self-deprecating passages about being a “burnt out Cobain wannabe” drag the listener into the song’s empathetic recount of the sheer restlessness of youth. The band was upfront and accessible – feeding as much off the crowd’s energy as the audience was receiving from the stage.
“It wouldn’t be the same without any one of you,” a humbled Cuozzo told fans.
“I want everyone to have their own individual experience,” he later went on to say about fans, or anyone, who should hear the new music. “I want them to be able to walk away from a show feeling good about it. I hope somebody hears a song and they go, ‘that’s me, I get it.’”
“I’d just be happy if they hear it and they say, ‘yeah, that’s not bad; these guys are cool with me.’ If they relate to it or connect to it in any way, that would make me happy. If we never do anything outside of playing locally, I’d be OK with that because I’m just so entangled in the music when I play it. I don’t get that feeling playing with anybody else but these guys.”