Army Of Freshmen

By paul

Army of Freshmen are back.
On the evening of May 30th, they played their fourth London show in 2007, and we’re barely even halfway through the year yet. Beforehand, I caught up with Chris Jay (vocals), Kai Dodson (bass) and Dan Clark (keyboard) to talk bands, touring, sixth grade girlfriends and the current state of the music industry.

“Last time we saw you, we told you our plan was to make the UK our priority this year. I’m glad to say we actually stuck to it!” – Chris Jay

Back in January, I first met Chris and Kai at the Hammersmith Palais, where they laid down their plans for 2007 to me. They had one focus this year, and that was to make the UK a priority. Returning to London for the fourth time in five months, and with a Download Festival slot on the horizon, it seems that things have panned out nicely for the Californian sextet. Chris explains: “It sounds weird but our whole plan has worked out. We knew we were coming back for ‘Good to Go’, then almost as soon as we got back, we got the email inviting us to Download because one of their main guys saw us on the Get Happy Tour in Birmingham. It’s literally become a dream come true, it’s like this is exactly what we wanted. The problem was we had the G2G Tour at the beginning of May, and then we had Download in June, and we had no idea what we were going to do in between. We couldn’t afford to fly back to the States, and come back a few weeks later, so we were all like ‘What in God’s name are going to do? We’re screwed’.

Fortunately, something of a blessing came for the band when Reel Big Fish offered them the main support on their UK and Europe tour. Chris explains, “We literally just scored with the Reel Big Fish thing, it was just a Slam Dunk! On top of that it was Europe too and it was at the exact time we needed as well.”

When suggested that the whole streak could be seen as something of effortless on their part, Chris is adamant to protest. “I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t think that word should ever be attached to this band” And rightly so. With over a record nine hundred shows spanning six countries, a personally run-myspace and website as well as their own internet TV channel, you can hardly say the band are lazy. Despite being a full-time job that likely pays less than it should, Chris is adamant that the Army of Freshmen way, is THE way to run your band. “I have guys in other bands who are telling me they want to be in my band. That’s just insane for me. I’ve said it before man, the industry is falling apart, especially in the States. When Warped Tour first came around, the whole music scene had fractured. You either listened to emo, or you listened to hardcore, or you listened to pop-punk, you didn’t like anything else. It’s completely different over here in England though. We had our worries that the ska thing may get in the way on this tour. In the States, when we play with Reel Big Fish, the crowds are pretty lukewarm.”

Kai agrees; “Anyone who went to see them over there wanted to see Reel Big Fish OR another ska band, and not us. Because the backlash was so big against ska when it first happened in the states, the people that hung onto it are super dedicated.”

The subject of playing with Reel Big Fish continues to provoke untold ecstasy from the three band members, especially Kai. “Reel Big Fish are a real hand-me down band, they’ve been handed down for generations. You see these kids singing the songs that we were singing when we were their age, and you realise that Reel Big Fish, along with Less Than Jake are the defining ska bands in the scene. It’s amazing to be playing with them, it always is.”

All this talk about Less than Jake and Reel Big Fish in their heyday begins to veer conversation towards the topic of music and its importance in life, especially when you’re a kid growing up, a subject Chris has one story in particular about. “Music is literally the soundtrack of life. It’s always there in all those important moments you have and captures the mood. For example, I will always remember that Vanessa Williams song, Save the Best for Last. It transports me back to Sixth Grade, where I’m making the hell out of Christine Lombardo. I had visions of showing up at her wedding years later and just blasting that song out of a stereo! If someone ever feels that way about one of our songs, that’d be the coolest thing.”

Constantly touring, and entirely self-sufficient, Army of Freshmen are a band that you cannot help but respect. While there may be bands that claim they have the DIY ethic, you’ll struggle to find one that has it down to a tee as much as AOF, something which they are rightly proud of. Kai adds, “We really try to make the most of what we do. A lot of bands just hop on the tourbus, and not that they don’t appreciate it, but it’s just another day for them, it’s just work. I mean we may never be in Berlin again, who knows? We might as well do it all while we can and share it with the fans too. Most of all though, I love the fact that we’re still having fun after all these years. I can proudly and honestly say there’s no-one in the band who is tired of being on tour or tired of being in Army of Freshmen.”

Andy R

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