By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
The Speed of Punk to Come
Set Your Goals don’t slow down for their sophomore release
Set Your Goals made enough of a splash with 2006’s Mutiny! that releasing a follow-up could easily have spooked the San Francisco six-piece. It didn’t. The rocketing pop-punk outfit signed to Epitaph and took more time recording This Will Be the Death of Us, a second outing that’s no less caffeinated than its punchy predecessor. By waiting long enough between albums, the guys avoided the enormous pressure that typically follows early success.
“It seemed like there was a lot less pressure,” says drummer Michael Ambrose, “because we didn’t release it at the height of the Mutiny! hype. That had a little bit to do with why the record was called what it was. We really had nothing to lose. It was either going to take us back up or be the death of us.”
“We didn’t set the bar as high as we could have with Mutiny! just because we didn’t have a lot of studio time,” adds vocalist Matt Wilson. “With the new record, we had triple the amount. So we had more time to shape the songs to our liking.”
“That’s definitely in mind when we write songs,” Ambrose says. “We’re a band that thrives on the live show. Slower songs have proven not to be as fun to play. We’re a high-energy band, and I don’t think we’re ever going to have success writing songs that aren’t energetic and fun live.”
That realization has made for a second album that—despite some atmospheric moments throughout—maintains the Mutiny! energy level, from the feedback-squealing title track to the closing “Our Ethos: A Legacy to Pass On.” Wilson and Brown do the dual-vocal thing with fluid ease, driving home catchy mantras as the four instruments behind them coalesce and erupt. It’s a tightly wound approach that owes something to the likes of New Found Glory, Kid Dynamite and Lifetime; blinding us with whooping vocal melodies while maintaining a drive that’s unmistakably punk.
Ambrose acknowledges the influence of those bands as well as Revelation Records legends such as Gorilla Biscuits and CIV, whose first album gave Set Your Goals its name. He recalls the band’s founding as an attempt to write “fast, hardcore-influenced song structures with a lighter vocal style.”
“The rest was just writing what would be fun to play live, and having vocals that weren’t screaming,” he adds.
That’s not the only way Set Your Goals pay homage to their influences. Death of Us features prominent vocal cameos by Paramore’s Hayley Williams (“The Few That Remain”), New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert (“Our Ethos: A Legacy to Pass On”), I Am the Avalanche’s Vinnie Caruana (title track) and Turmoil’s Jon Gula (“Gaia Bleeds (Make Way for Man).” They’re all friends and former tour mates.
“We’re honored to have each one of their unique voices on the record,” Ambrose says. “Each of the songs fit their vocal styles, oddly enough. It was a no-brainer.”
While the band are able to re-create Gilbert and Caruana’s guest turns live with Wilson and Brown, and Flores Jr. screams Gulag’s part while Brown plays guitar, Williams’s bold appearance is impossible to duplicate. Arguably the album’s centerpiece, it’s a swaggering takeover inspired by hip-hop. Williams half-raps her part, which is left-field enough to work.
“We wanted to challenge the guests to do something outside their comfort zone,” Wilson explains. “With Hayley’s part, we had her do a hip-hop-style vocal. And we had Chad sing his part rather than scream, because he’s always screaming.”
The creative cameos prove that although Set Your Goals have outgrown the joke-y song titles of Mutiny! (such as “We Do It for the Money, OBVIOUSLY!”), there’s still a lot of fun to be had on Death of Us. The same goes for the sextet’s rollicking live show and relentless touring, which puts all six members in a single tour bus.
“Our van is like a traveling tree fort,” jokes Ambrose. “We have three levels of bunks. It’s a standard-size van, but we’ve built it out to accommodate our large number of band members. It’s a circus.”
Set Your Goals with Four Year Strong, Polar Bear Club, Fireworks and Drive A at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Thurs., Aug. 20, 6:30 p.m. $15. All ages.