Can a song change the world? Who can say for sure, but thankfully, there will always be a handful of bands that recognize that power. Driven by a desire to create honest and influential music, Midtown formed in the fall of '98 while freshman at Rutgers University, and have since enjoyed an unexpected and exceptionally fast ascent. January '99: Midtown plays its first show in a New Brunswick, NJ basement in front of 40 people. Summer '01: Midtown is on tour with blink-182 playing in arenas to 15,000 people a night. This whirlwind rise may have sent a weaker band off course, but Midtown's strong foundation in DIY ethics helped keep them grounded every step of the way. Their eclectic musical style, political consciousness, and ahead-of-the-curve aesthetic sensibility has put them at the forefront of the underground rock movement and earned them a worldwide fanbase. With a highly-regarded indie album behind them, Midtown is more than ready to take the next step with the release of their new Drive-Thru/MCA album, LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE.
Produced by Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World, blink-182, Drive Like Jehu), the new album builds on the themes that have always inspired Midtown's music: betrayal, forgiveness, loyalty, love and power. "Our music is catchy, aggressive, and fun," says bassist Gabe Saporta, one of the band's main songwriters. "But we talk about serious things inside and outside the lyrics. The fun stuff draws people in; the serious stuff keeps them there."
How fun? Item: last year, the two-story Canal Club in Richmond, VA nearly collapses under the weight of a hard-rocking Midtown performance and a packed room, full of sweaty fans (officials stop the show and evacuate the premises). Item: midway through a recent Midtown concert, the band careens about the stage so recklessly Gabe's bass smacks him across the face after he throws it around his neck. Blood is pouring out of the gash above his eye, but the show goes on, the band continues to play, and they never miss a beat.
How serious? First off, each member is an ardent vegetarian and animal rights supporter. Gabe speaks strongly on the subject. "I've always seen music as a vehicle to help express ideas. Animal rights is something that we've all felt adamant about since day one. If having literature at our shows or information in our CD booklet can help expose new people to these ideas, then we've accomplished something positive." As for the lyrics, the subject matter is never light-hearted or tongue-in-cheek. Gabe adds, "We write songs to help us deal with difficult situations, and it serves as a catharsis for us. Hopefully people will be able to take something from our music and apply it to their own lives."
Staying true to oneself and doing things for the right reasons have been Midtown's hallmark since their formative days as underclassmen at Rutgers. Recalls Gabe, "I had been friends with Tyler and Rob because our old bands played shows together. But we all felt like our former bands didn't have the appropriate internal dynamics we had hoped for, and we wanted to start a new band based on friendship; based on something real and meaningful." Midtown spent their entire first semester fostering that friendship by writing songs. Heath joined the band a few months afterwards, and in December they recorded a 5-song demo that was later released as The Sacrifice of Life EP on Jersey indie Pinball Records in February of '99.
By playing shows every weekend throughout the Northeast, Midtown gained fans who gravitated to their thoughtful lyrics, tuneful melodies and raucous stage persona. One of the things that really set Midtown apart was the revolving lead vocal; Gabe, Tyler and Heath all sing leads interlaced in different parts of different songs. Show after show, Midtown refined its harmonies and kept fans intrigued with a sound that combined the best elements of emo and punk. After hearing the EP, California indie Drive-Thru Records quickly snatched up Midtown, and arranged for the band to tour out to LA to record their debut full length. While the album was in production, Midtown returned to Rutgers for what was to be their last semester in the fall of '99. In January '00, they left their college life behind to tour full time. Save The World, Lose The Girl was released that February, and has to date sold over 50,000 copies as well as drawing rapt attention from fans, critics, and peers across the nation - correction - across the nation and across the globe.
In September of 2000, Midtown was ecstatic at the opportunity to tour Japan. Gabe comments "when we first started, my dream was to be able to go to any city in America, and have a couple hundred kids come out and sing our songs. As far as I'm concerned, we've already accomplished our dreams, so everything above that, such as touring Japan, is just icing on the rock 'n roll cake." After Japan, the band came back to support New Found Glory on a full U.S. Tour. They then headed off to Europe in the bitter-cold winter of '01 for seven weeks. The band returned home, and without having even enough time to catch their collective breath, launched their first national headlining U.S. tour. This was followed by a stint on the Warped Tour 2001 and then blink-182's '01 summer arena tour. To date, the band has shared the bill with the likes of the Get Up Kids, New Found Glory, Saves the Day, Jimmy Eat World, blink-182, Dashboard Confessional, Thursday, The Hives, The International Noise Conspiracy, H20 and many more.
After a month of playing to 15,000 fans a night, and again without even going home, the band headed straight to Los Angeles to begin recording Living Well is the Best Revenge. "Since Save the World Lose the Girl came out, we've been on tour non-stop" Gabe remembers. "We've only been home long enough to un-pack and re-pack for the next tour. Literally! So most of the new album was written on a shitty acoustic guitar in the back of the van, while driving in between cities like Chapel Hill and Richmond." Maybe it was being stuck awake on the hundreds of all-night drives, or the stale air sifting in the van after months on the road, or the paradoxical sort of loneliness you feel when you are surrounded by people 24-7, but never have a minute to yourself. Whatever it was, Midtown were somehow able to make an album so pre-meditated, so well-written, so transcendent, so genre-defying, so aggressive, so emotional, and so melodic, that fans of all different sorts of music will find something to love on Living Well is the Best Revenge.
The new album is a marked evolutionary step for Midtown, both in terms of style and substance. Everyone in Midtown composes, though Gabe tends to write most of the lyrics. "Our lyrics aren't political per se," notes Gabe. "They're more about personal politics, about being true to yourself - returning to a sense of honesty you don't see much anymore." Stylistically, the varied tempos, ranging from manic to mellow, combined with layered harmonies and melodically infectious choruses nail down eleven songs in a sonically consistent package that still allows the band to cross several rock genres.
The album kicks off with the fast and furious "Become What You Hate," an insightful diatribe on people losing sight of what they once were ("It's not that your friendship was a front/It's just that I can't see the real in you"). The eloquent "Perfect" describes the balance of power with love in a ¾ time ballad, and "Like A Movie," a structurally perfect pop song, tells of a troubled girl who wishes she could replace reality with its Hollywood counterpart.
"Still Trying," "A Faulty Foundation," and "One Last Time" reveal differing views of a relationship fresh out of second chances, while "You Should Know" and "Get It Together" prove Midtown can write about the joys love can bring in a sophisticated way. The autobiographical "In The Songs" is an unabashed testament to faith and friendship, while the album's closer, "Find Comfort in Yourself," is a frantic meditation on karma and the meaning of identity ("And know that what you have is not what you are").
If it all sounds weightier than your average joy-riding pop-punk band, it is, and by design. "The world is changing," notes Gabe. "People are looking for something with a little more substance and less metal posturing. The bands that most influenced us - bands like Superchunk, Nirvana and Fugazi - were just regular people playing music that was real and tangible, and therefore had a positive influence on the listener. We just want to be able to continue with that same tradition of honesty and positivity."