Have you ever gone into the studio to record an EP and take that next step for your band, only to end up having life step all over you, leading to a seventeen month delay in the release and production of your project? Yeah. Life can be a bitch. But Safe, So Simple persevered and walked away with their best release to date, a five-track EP that spans every area of the pop-punk spectrum from classic staples like Blink-182 and Sum 41, all the way to modern pop-punk outfits (Neck Deep) and easycore (Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!). I got to speak with Derek of Safe, So Simple about recording the EP, working with Cameron Mizell, and pushing through the bullshit when life tries to get you down.
[Editor's Note: The day I was scheduled to do an interview with Derek of Safe, So Simple, I got in a car crash a mere fifteen minutes before we were scheduled to chat. I felt like life was pretty much stepping on top of me. Numerous other things in life were going on in life, and I pretty much felt like giving up. It was rather serendipitous that we were able to do an interview together, because their EP (and even their band name) addressed a number of the things that I was feeling. My point with saying all of this is 1) read the interview below and 2) never give up. Seriously. If there's something you want to do and are passionate about, go out and do it.]
When you guys were going in to record “Too Close To Closure”, what was the process like for you guys in terms of stepping into the studio and knowing what you wanted to do? Did you have an idea of what you wanted the EP to be, or did it have to develop over time?
Going into it, we were just off the completion of our very first EP, which was very underground. We went to a legitimate producer, but it’s one of those things that our fans talk about later, like “oh I’ve been with them since then,” you know? Honestly, we had just written one song “Ghost in My Backseat”, and we went in with Matt Good (of From First To Last). Unbeknownst to us, from that position that we started, we didn’t know the process would take seventeen months. We didn’t know all of the things we would encounter over that time period.
Our intentions were purely to go and make new music, but then it lent itself to ending the process with Cameron Mizell, and actually recording the final song with him. He mixed and mastered everything. It became the culmination of our experiences in that time, from never thinking the project was even going to happen, to almost hanging it up as a band a couple of times. There were times where we thought, “this is going to be cheaper and easier for us to just put this aside”. We were pushing through that and then ended it in the best possible way.
What ended up happening is that Matt (Good) got the new album for The Word Alive. We’re an unsigned band, so I get it. I don’t consider it unprofessional or anything like that on his part; he was extraordinary with us in the studio. When you get something like that across your plate, you take that. If you’re going to be a producer and something like that falls in your lap, you take it. Shortly thereafter, he got the new Memphis May Fire record, which he is finishing up now. [Our EP] wasn’t as urgent; we weren’t up the totem pole at that point.
We had to put everything on the back burner at that point. Jeremy Tremp got us in with Cameron; he called in a favor and everything came together. We really started writing about our experiences through that process. “Teeth Like Sharks” is a perfect representation of that, where we’re talking about some people we had experiences with in the local industry. We talked about staying in Even like the title track, “Too Close To Closure”, says: “Too close to closure to forfeit now/if I gave up halfway through, I’d never live this down”. Knowing that we would never have that sense of satisfaction of finishing something that we’d started was really where everything stemmed from.
It ended up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in that regard, because we just knew that we needed to finish it. That’s really what the whole EP is about.
You said it took seventeen months to put together the EP. Is that kind of where the title “Well, Better Luck Next Year” came from?
(laughs) Absolutely. We started with “Ghost In My Backseat”, which we didn’t realize at the time would be such a perfect song to have on the EP. That song is entirely about the representation of having a ghost in your backseat, but it’s the ghost of yourself overlooking the man that you’ve become. It’s asking you about doing all of the things that you wanted to do, asking you “did you reach that goal or that sense of completion? Were you successful? Have you lost sense of yourself in the obscurity of living life and the mundane things?”
Our minds were like, “man, it would be great to have Joe Candelaria (of Forever Came Calling) on there.” We ended up playing a show with their band, and he was all about it. Talk about just a constant professional. We wrote his bars in the song driving up to Phoenix with an acoustic guitar. It was just one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Everything went completely south, and then literally everything just fell back into place. I wouldn’t have planned it that way, because it ended up costing us a lot more money, but the experiences I gained from it I wouldn’t change for anything.
That seems to be the exact definition of the industry. It’ll go completely south, and then completely stabilize.
Exactly. We started from very humble beginnings, to working with one of the best producers in the industry. You could have told us that in the beginning, and I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have called you a liar to your face. (laughs)
What was it about the easycore genre, and that heavier pop-punk feel, that gravitated towards you guys as a band? It’s sometimes hard to settle on a specific sound, because there’s so many places you could start with as a band.
So there’s a time gap between respective members and the three of us that have been constant. We’ve kind of had a revolving door with our fourth member, be it a bassist or a drummer. I’ve happened to fill both of those respectively, at any given time, but I’ve written and recorded all of the bass.
I turned thirty in January. I very much lived the pop-punk syndicate of Blink-182, MXPX, and that very primal roots era of pop-punk. The band I was in during high school actually influenced our next guitarist, who is about four or five years younger than I am. He was very much in that transitional phase, with listening to artists like Mayday Parade. But then you had The Used, and it was kind of that transition into what would become post-hardcore music, as it’s so defined in newer music.
Josh, who is a couple year younger as well, was very, very acquainted with A Day To Remember and some of the mainstream pop-punk that was coming out at that time. He’s very much into Seaway, Neck Deep, bands like this. Never once has it been our intention to be like, “let’s sit down and write a track like Neck Deep.”
I think if you listen through the entirety of the EP, you can see that we draw from a pretty vast background of music. Rather than not moving forward with or entertaining an idea, we try to seamlessly put it together. The reality is to be creative and, in the industy, find all of the niche areas that you do well in, and then emphasizing them through your music. I think stylistically (and I’m probably going to kick myself in the butt for saying this), we’ve heard just about everything that’s out there and exists. There’s some phenomenal things happening musically, and with saturation as a whole, throughout all genres as a whole, you just have to do what you do so well that it just elevates you to that next level. That’s really our intention.
The music is almost mall-punk at times, but then with new modern breakdowns and some of those nuances. We consider it very much a crossbreed of all of the things that we listen to.
What kind of message, if any, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
We’re very much advocates of people being individuals, being in constant pursuit of your dreams despite adversity. It’s very real to us, and it’s where our band name stems from. We, at various points in our lives, have played it safe and made the easier decision because it was simple. It was the easier thing to do, and then life just kind of walked on top of us. We were willing to go to those extra lengths and measures in pursuit of the things that could really make us happy. We pursued more of a social norm, and I feel like I’m the perfect representation of that now. I’m thirty, I’m married, and I have two kids. There’s nothing socially normal about my pursuit of music in my thirties with my wife and two kids, but I feel like if I’m not willing to take these opportunities and these chances that have presented themselves, I will only live the rest of my life with regret. So if thirty is the pinnacle of my music career, but I make it to seventy or eighty, I can say that for this five year window that I’ve really given myself to make something happen, to make sure that I plant every foot forward as firmly as I can and walk away, even in the event of failure or what others would deem “success”, I can walk away with that success and completion, knowing that I did everything that I could to make that possible. I feel like that translates in all walks of life, not just the music industry. If you’re passionate about something, go and do it. Don’t let anything hold you back. Don’t hold to caution. Let loose a little bit.
Again, I have the rest of my life to make money. The last track on the EP, “Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try” is about living my life on a tightrope, trying to satisfy the needs and responsibilites as a husband and a father, paying bills and doing all of these things. But my wife, knowing me, has even said “if you don’t do this, you will only live the rest of your life regretting the chances that you could have taken”.
Don’t let anyone’s perception of what “normal” is define what you have the capacity to do.
What does music mean to you?
Music is absolutely everything. I get too emotional here, but it’s the only reason I really have a relationship with my father at this point. My parents divorced very late in life, after thirty-two years of marriage. The only thing growing up that my father and I could connect on was music. My mom was always in show theater and choir, so it’s absolutely been the backbone for me. It’s been pivotal, all the way through my life. I’ve been in choir and played in band. I was in theater. The idea of performing and having music be the primary aspect of performing has been an absolute constant. It means everything to me. It means absolutely everything.
This has been another Shameless Promotion.