Music: Sophomoric Stress

Members of The Academy Is... went through a lot to make their second album, but they're happy with the results

Fueled By Ramen

The Academy Is ...: Another fine Chicago export

There are a lot of clichés in Rock, like the drugs, like the sex, like the drugs while having sex with a room of women, men, possibly goats ... also doing drugs.

But no cliché is more prevalent than the one that says sophomore albums define careers. That means all critics and self-righteous music aficionados have to spend inordinate amounts of their time in reviews and private conversation with other so-called aficionados discussing how much better or worse the new work is compared to the debut. It's sort of like how folks are always saying movie sequels are considerably less effective than the originals — even though we know that is not always the case.

For Emo rockers The Academy Is..., a Chicago-based outfit that used to be called just The Academy before the threat of lawsuits from similarly named bands forced them to add a verb and some annoying ellipses, the cliché was a reason for them to damn near kill themselves during the making of their second album, Santi. Maybe even literally if you believe some reports.

"Enh, it was overblown, way overblown," guitarist Mike Carden says of the articles that have made it sound like The Academy Is... almost imploded while recording the follow-up to 2005's little engine that could, Almost Here. "It was probably a good read, though."

There was even the suggestion by one rag that frontman William Beckett contemplated suicide rather than face up to the expectations of others. Carden chuckles at that, but doesn't outright deny it.

"A lot of times, with a second album, you can over-think things," he explains.

Consider Almost Here, which was recorded in 2004, two years after the band formed out of a union of two former rivals on the Chicago Rock scene, Carden and Beckett.

"With little or no money, with little or no pressure, the next thing you know, you have something that's relatively successful. It was a very organic record," Carden says.

When it came time to hit the studio for Santi, named after a former school bully who tormented Beckett, Carden tries to summarize, but can't quite figure out how to say it this succinctly: A lot of things changed for the band between Almost Here and Santi.

"I think with the first record, there are all these goals and dreams of going on tour, but then you start doing it," he explains. "When we came home after (being on the road), I had a reality check when I saw, with my friends, life went on. In a strange way, it's like you're totally disconnected from everyone."

This is the Rock equivalent of returning home from war, shell-shocked by the things you've seen and done. You begin to question who you were, like the person you were when you recorded your suddenly beloved debut.

"Then you realize everyone pretty much wants the same things, and then you start making music for those reasons — which would be companionship, friendship," Carden says. "All the normal things that, when you boil it down, everyone wants. That's what we realized. A lot of our society is so built on success and the idea that success builds happiness. If you have all these things, then you'll become a happier, better person.

"With touring," he adds, "you learn that isn't necessarily the case."

Those with dreams or delusions about becoming a Rock star or living the Rock star's oft-troubled life could misinterpret Carden's comments for ingratitude. But that's not at all the case, it seems.

"A lot of people never get here or get to experience this, so I'm not complaining at all," he insists. "But, yeah, making music kind of changed for me. At first, you want a bus, you want to sign autographs, but once you get past that, you realize you just want to make music. And I think that's where we are."

Carden can speak with some authority on the subject of success and its attendant wealth not being enough to sustain a person's happiness. His friends are pretty much the entire Fueled by Ramen and, more importantly, DecayDance labels' artists like Fall Out Boy, whose bassist, Pete Wentz, actually got them signed to Ramen. Don't forget the Gym Class Heroes or last year's darlings Panic! at the Disco. Many of these folks actually grew up with Carden and Beckett in Chicago, where a Punk scene was bubbling as a result of more and more kids turning away from mainstream Rock and Rap Rock.

"Fall Out Boy was around, so I've known Pete longer than I've known William," Carden says. "Pete was always around, always trying to start Fall Out Boy and some of his Hardcore stuff. We were just all in it together. We would open up for them, Fall Out Boy would open up for my band. It was just part of the fun, what was happening."

Back then, Carden and Beckett were in rival bands. The two grew up two towns apart, but would often meet outside venues where both of their bands would be playing that night. After years of this friendly competition, the two realized they basically hated all the same music and struck up a friendship that became The Academy Is...

"We've just known each other so long, it's definitely like family to a certain extent," he says, referring to the constant incestuous touring the bands have done together.

"At the time, no one imagined Fall Out Boy would become band they've become, you know what I mean?" he continues. "It's hard to imagine all that as you're doing it. Not much has changed in the attitude, just different levels of success if you have to measure it."

Considering the reviews Santi has received, it might not be long before The Academy Is ... finds themselves achieving similar success. You know, if you have to measure it.

THE ACADEMY IS... plays Bogart's Friday. See performance times, buy tickets and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

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