PropertyOfZack Interview : : Set Your Goals

by Zack Zarrillo - Jun 29, 2011


Set Your Goals just released their brand new record, Burning At Both Ends, and PropertyOfZack caught up with Matt Wilson for what turned into a great interview. Matt and I discussed the delays on the new record, the writing process behind the album, the realistic future for Set Your Goals if the album isn’t well received, and so much more. Read up and enjoy, it’s an important one!

It’s been a tough couple of months for Set Your Goals whether it be van breakdowns or getting Burning At Both Ends out in stores. Has it been difficult keeping up morals personally and for the band in general?
Not really. To be honest we’re pretty used to it at this point. I’d say bad luck is just sort of expected with us haha…Murphy’s Law always seems to apply no matter what. We just keep our heads up and continue to trudge on in hopes that someday we’ll catch a break. We all get discouraged at times but it’s important to keep that PMA!
It seemed as if everyone knew that Set Your Goals had completed Burning At Both Ends, but for weeks upon weeks and even months upon months nobody had heard any news about a release date from the band or the label. Can you just explain the difficulty you guys went through as a group to get this record out?
Writing and recording are never a simple process for us. We can’t really write on the road so we had to dedicate some time off last fall after Warped to working on the album. We took a lot longer in the studio than we’d planned, which set off a chain reaction of working around tours and other bands’ recording schedules, and even some finishing work with a secondary producer (Mike Green) and studio location when we ran out of time. Consequently, this also caused us to go over our recording budget. Getting this record to the point in the phase it’s at now has been a long, tough journey but we made it all the way through. Miraculously the album still hasn’t leaked, so somebody must’ve done something right!
When exactly did the band finish up in the studio with the album?
We took a total of ten weeks of studio time in all. We did eight with Brian McTernan in Baltimore, MD, and finished up some vocal stuff and guitar leads for a couple weeks with Mike Green in Los Angeles, CA. We began in October and finished up sometime in January I think, with some intermittent touring.
Why do you think there were struggles at all with Epitaph to put a firm release date down?
There were a number of setbacks with this album’s release. As I said before, the studio time went over schedule, plus we had the layout artist rework the artwork and Epitaph had a major change in staff around the same time, which also slowed things down a bit so the release date was pushed back a week from its originally intended schedule.
Can you talk about the writing process for Burning At Both Ends? Was it different from prior releases? Was anything going on between the band, or was it normal?
It was pretty different. The larger portion of the record of the record was written in the studio as opposed to the usual half or more being mapped out prior to arrival. Brian had us try something we’d never done before, which was singing vocal melodies with fake lyrics, then fitting our lyrics to those melodies later. As a result, we have some pretty funny demos. Right after us, Fireworks went in with Brian and we got to hear their demos which are also hilarious. As far as within the band, there was some pretty chaotic stuff going on, which is actually normal for us when we’re in the studio! If any future studio experience were to go smoothly for us, I’d be worried. I won’t get too into details here, but the studio for us is an explosive mixture of some very controlling and unstable personalities, individuals who are wired completely differently from each other, and the stress of writing on the spot. It makes for a disastrous situation, which is why we often dread it. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t come close to breaking up while recording each one of our albums (with the exception of our demo EP). 
There have been rumors that even though Brian McTernan produced the album that Mike Green actually had a role in some of the writing and producing as well. Can you clarify that?
I wouldn’t say he had much of a role in writing. Mike may have written a lead or two, but we write pretty much everything ourselves. It would feel unnatural to work with writers and it’s something that’s genuinely not really us. He did what any producer does and gave his input on guitar leads and vocal harmonies, but almost all of the ideas were already written by the time we showed up to his studio. We were just there to track things we didn’t have time for in Baltimore for the most part.
How was it working with Brian? He’s been known to be tough in a way that can benefit bands if they’re willing to work, but if not it can sometimes be unbeneficial.
Jordan carries a great deal of the writing responsibilities, and as a result he and Brian butted heads a lot. Brian was tough on us but it’s what we needed and it definitely saved our record. For that we cannot thank him enough. He kept on us about staying true to our classic sound without doing the work for us, which was exactly what we needed. At one point I remember him telling us that if we hated him when it was all done, but we had a great album to show for it, he was OK with that. To me, that is the sign of a good producer. Brian made it clear that he wasn’t there to baby us and that he was going to be honest about the music we showed him regardless of whether or not feelings were hurt. His priority was making the best record possible, and that’s what he did. I’m very proud of this record and it wouldn’t have been possible without him.
Musically, Burning At Both Ends on a whole is sort of much less “hard” than a lot of the music on Death Of Us. Was that a specific move, or just what the band was into writing at that time?
We knew that “Gaia Bleeds” would change things. It’s the heaviest song we’ve ever written and it’s different. We knew people would either love it or hate it so when it became a popular track, we knew that some people might expect more like it in the future. The truth is that song was the oddball on the record that, although uncharacteristic of a typical SYG track, didn’t necessarily mean we were branching out into this new sub-genre. “Gaia Bleeds” was just us trying out something a little different and we knew it didn’t sound like the rest of the album at the time but we liked it anyway so we kept it. Similarly, we wrote a track called “Product of the 80’s” on BABE , which is kind of like this album’s “Gaia Bleeds” in that it’s the oddball on the record. However, “Product of the 80’s” is on the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum, and is probably the poppiest song we’ve ever written. We knew when we wrote it that it didn’t sound like your usual SYG song but we loved it so we kept it on the album. We just write songs we think sound good with lyrics we feel are important and relevant to our lives without much thought as to how they’ll be received or what direction our listeners/critics will foresee our sound heading towards. We were listening to a lot of Meshuggah when we were writing TWBTDOU, and a lot of pop, mid-90’s alt-rock, and progressive rock & metal when we wrote BABE, so maybe that’s to be credited for the different sounds of each.
This Will Be The Death Of Us also featured quite a few guest appearances, but the band didn’t plan on those to necessarily be a push factor behind the album. Did you guys want to avoid that this go-around?
Yeah, we are kind of a proud band when it comes to taking credit for our own accomplishments since they never seem to come as easily for us as they do for others. For this reason, we asked Epitaph not to advertise the guest appearances on TWBTDOU because we worked hard on that record and didn’t want people to think we only had those people sing on our songs to “use them” as a tool to push the record or something weird like that. To be fair, we didn’t even intend on having as many guest vocalists as we ended up having; we started out with the idea of having a couple and then we just went sorta crazy with them! Anyway, this time around we didn’t want to overdo it. We had one perfect part for a screamy/singy vocalist in “Illuminated Youth,” and Andrew (Comeback Kid) is one of my favorite vocalists for that style and a longtime friend, so I felt he’d be perfect for the part. I think it turned out great.
While much of the lyrical content on the new record isn’t necessarily dark, some of the tracks can be read into to a certain extent about what the band was going through during the writing process. The lyrics “burning at both ends” in particular sort of paint a dark picture.
It wasn’t particularly intended to be a reflection of the writing process, but rather a type of explanation of what touring 9-10 months out of the year is really like to someone who may not otherwise experience it. Every time I come home, I encounter people who tell me about how lucky I am to be doing what I do for a living, and anytime I attend a family function I get a lot of condescending comments about how nice it must be to “party” for a living. Don’t get me wrong, I live a very fulfilling life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything at this point in time, but what people don’t understand is that touring can be just as stressful and crazy as any other job, just in completely different ways…the payoff is that when it’s enjoyable, it’s better than most other jobs out there…and I’ve worked a lot of jobs! 
The album title was taken from “Happy New Year”: a song I wrote about how 2010, despite being one of the best years in our band’s career, was the roughest of my personal life. I watched my mother die in addition to a number of other unfortunate events in my family life, many of which I dealt with while on tour or in the studio, but having a distraction like touring or recording almost made it easier for me to not dwell on things as much. It was being home that was the hardest thing for me because I was in a place emotionally where home no longer felt like home and I was constantly alone with my thoughts. I know it’s not typical SYG fashion to write a song without a positive twist at the end, but this record (and specifically that song) was more of a cathartic form of intense personal therapy to me. I always try to maintain a positive attitude and learn something from every situation I face in life, but that song was meant to illustrate how dealing with the gravity of a situation like that made it virtually impossible for me to see any of the good that was happening around me. ”Happy New Year” is probably the darkest stuff I’ve written lyrically to date, so to say it paints a dark picture would be saying the song accomplished its intended purpose.
More than ever fans are coming out of the cracks and are being particularly harsh for no apparent reason about Set Your Goals. It seems that all the vocal minority wants is another Mutiny!. Many bands deal with the issue of fans only wanting one sort of album like Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends, but can you discuss the affect that can have on you guys? Especially when you’re one week away from putting out an album.
Anytime we read comments on message boards or on music news sites, we joke around about how we should’ve just titled the new record, “Sorry we’re never going to make Mutiny! again.” When we’re in the studio I can honestly say that what people are going to think six months down the line when the record drops doesn’t have a huge effect on us because, as I said before, we write our music for us. If people want Mutiny! all they have to do is come watch us play it live. Simple as that.
If this album isn’t accepted to the point that the band hopes it to be for reasons like fans just wanting another Mutiny! or for label issues, what does that mean for the future of Set Your Goals?
If things slow down for us, regardless of the reason, we will probably attempt to piece together the lives we left at home 6 years ago when we first started touring. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’d break up but we would stop touring full time. Maybe do a tour or two a year and a festival here and there, maybe not. It’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get to it, but I will say that in many ways this is a “make or break” album for us. The reality of the matter is that if soundscans are low it will make it much more difficult for us to garner support from our label next time around, and that’s something that creates a snowball effect and reaches into touring, promotion, press, etc. The success of the album in terms of sales is in the hands of the listeners and ultimately, so is the success of our band. It all comes down to whether or not they think we’re worth shelling out $10-12 for in order to keep our band afloat among the million other bands in this backwards, dying industry they call the music business.
Set Your Goals are about to hit the road for a long summer on Warped Tour and an additional large fall tour that has yet to be unwrapped. Are you optimistic about fans responding to the new songs live?
Very much so. I’m very proud of this these songs and cannot wait to share it with the world. To me, playing new songs and having a crowd full of kids singing them back to you for the first time is the best part of making a new album and it makes any toil or hardship along the road that led up to that moment all 100% worth it. Everyone I’ve played it to outside of our band has told me that this is our best stuff yet so I’m curious to see what our listeners think.
At the end of the day, would you be content with what Set Your Goals have accomplished in your run as a band?
Absolutely. Even if we were to break up tomorrow, I’d be a little bummed out about all the things we still had yet to accomplish because I don’t feel that we’ve reached our full potential quite yet, but I’m extremely proud of all that we have accomplished and every day I am still constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to be doing what I do with my life. When we started out, we never dreamed of going on tour, signing to a label, recording a full length or anything like that, much less being able to survive doing this as a full-time job! If you were to tell me when we started this band that a few years down the line I’d be traveling the world and playing with some of my favorite bands I never would’ve believed you. It truly is a dream.

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