Getting Happy With Army of Freshmen

Getting Happy With Army of Freshmen

By Louis Kerry

Mar 15, 2018 11:32

There has always been a golden tier of bands in the pop punk circle who are forever in the ‘top ten bands of your childhood’ lists or are always topping nostalgic festival lineups. You have the Green Day’s, the Blink's, the Sum 41’s etc. The real beauty of the pop punk / rock / edgy noughties bands is that alongside the gargantuan headliners we still hear about every day, there’s always been layer upon layer of pop punk bands helping to fly the flag who, may lack in recognition, are still loved by many.

Most pop punk bands in the last twenty years have at one stage or another, gone on some sort of hiatus or maybe even ‘break up’, but when they inevitably come back, they are welcomed back with open arms, like a distant family member, having never been forgotten about. Just look at the ridiculous love for bands like The Audition and Madina Lake who have made their returns to the UK in the last year. There’s no better example than Army of Freshmen, having just returned to the UK in celebration of their 20 year anniversary.

Despite, having literally experienced everything the music industry can throw at a band, Army of Freshmen remain the happiest of bands in all of rock. Recently returning to the UK as co-founder of the Get Happy tour with Bowling For Soup, playing to thousands of fans (something they thought they might never get to experience again), singer Chris Jay reflects on the highs and lows of his career.

Not only have the Get Happy tours been some of Chris’ fondest memories for his band, but they’ve always been like a family reunion for him in the UK as he explains “Every single tour, there was four tours in total, all the bands got along. No egos, no one too cool to hang. It was a family on all of them and I think that was a big thing that appealed to the audience. You could tell everyone was having a blast and got along. Every day you woke up it was a full on adventure. You never knew what the heck was gonna happen.”

For any bands to have gone on for twenty years, you’ll certainly learn more than enough tricks to sustaining longevity, as unlikely as twenty years may seem to some, Army of Freshman are the perfect example of how it is very accomplishable. Chris shares that there might not be as much to it as you imagine “We’re friends. Plain and simple. When I started the band I didn’t look for great musicians or songwriters, I looked for great people. Aaron and Dan were invited into the band because I thought they were hilarious. I will never forget when they came to audition or more so to practice. They were playing horns and they sucked but they were dancing around a garage and smashing into things. I couldn’t play I was laughing so loud. I was like, “these guys HAVE to be in the band”. It is pretty surreal though how long we’ve been together. They’re brothers now not friends. Yeah, they can piss you off. Yeah, you can piss them off. But you know each other so well you deal with it.”

Even with their family like bond though, it has certainly not made them immune from the pressures of life in a band. Army of Freshemen have gone through many battles with the music industry as trends and ways of earning a living through it have shape-shifted time and time again in their career span. Ten years on from perhaps the point where they could have hit their next big stepping stone into pop punk stardom after the release of their fourth album ‘Above the Atmosphere’, Chris explains how it all went just about the opposite direction in an unfortunately perfect example of just how unlucky this industry can be. “Above The Atmosphere was an interesting time because it came out right as the music industry and the economy went to shit. We were so proud of the record and we really though it was gonna break us especially in the UK. We were bubbling, starting to be able to do our own headliners but right in the middle of it all hell broke loose. We signed to an up start indie label that went bankrupt while we were pushing the record. Not only did we not get to do a second single, they left us with some heavy duty bills that nearly ruined us. So for me, ATA is bittersweet, we thought it was gonna be the one and it turned out to in some ways to get lost, or at least not get the push we had hoped for.”

With the state of the industry having changed so dramatically, Chris does share some brutal truths about what it’s like now compared to when he started and how financially it is tougher than ever “I’m not talking about greed or getting rich or anything like that. I’m talking straight up survival. Small example. Facebook ads and boosted posts. It’s the new flyer run right? Instead of spending 20 or 30 bucks at a copy shop and 10 bucks on gas driving around putting them up or passing them out, you now make a Facebook ad and promote for x amount of dollars or no one will see it, even the people who follow you and want to see it. It gets expensive. No one is buying music anymore. It’s all streaming and Spotify, YouTube and Soundcloud. The devalue of music from a financial standpoint was devastating to indie artists. I used to give advice to bands, get the van! Tour your ass off. Something will happen. Not promising you the world but damn it stay out there long enough and people will notice. Now it’s the exact opposite advice. Touring dive bars and pubs and playing for 50 bucks when gas and lodgings will be 200 bucks is suicide. You can not convince me being in a band in 2018 is better than it was in the 80s, 90s or even early 2000s. There’s less places to play. Less press, less radio, less TV time. Not saying people don’t listen to music more than ever, they just don’t pay for it or take the time to appreciate it as much as they used to.” Yet Chris is certainly not one to dwell, even looking at times when the going got tough he still speaks with pride over everything Army of Freshmen accomplished “Most of my dreams with the band have come true, international tours, festivals, songs in TV and movies, making several records, getting mentioned in a book, etc.”

More recently, the band have found a formula that works best for everyone in happiness, health and finances: Going part time has meant the band have been able to do some incredible things and then tour or hit the studio when the time and money is just right. Chris shares a few things that he’s been up to including the launch of his full length feature film ‘The Bet.’ “I thought of a movie and few years later I was in a theatre in LA at a premiere watching it on a big screen. That’s the stuff money can’t buy.” And then there’s also the small matter of him becoming an amateur boxer “Besides music and film, boxing has became my passion. I manage a professional fighter, help train amateurs and even work pro corners now. It was a real lifesaver for me.”

Whether you’re just starting out in a band, hitting a rough patch or looking to wind it down, Army of Freshmen should be the band you can take inspiration from. Having taken the punches of so many of the changes this industry has endured and even with many ‘so close but so far’ moments in his career, Chris is still standing, looking back on them in fondness as he offers some reminiscent advice.“If you need to make music, and you need to play shows and you need to be in a band for whatever reason. Do it for the love of it. If something good comes from it, then you win. If not, well you’re doing what you love and there’s a lot worse you can do with your life and time. Not enough real artists these days. Go be one and make the world a little bit better.”

Louis Kerry


Army of Freshmen’s latest album ‘Happy to Be Alive’ is available now.