Photo Credit: Jacob Reynolds
American Standards usually center their records around social commentary, and while there is still a healthy amount of that on the Arizona band’s new record Anti-Melody, they’ve also endeavored to try something completely new for them. As tragedy after tragedy befell the band members during the writing process of this record, they realized that they couldn’t put out an honest album without being open about their personal experiences.
“There’s three or four songs that have very personal meanings to me,” vocalist Brandon Kellum starts, “about my father passing away with cancer, about our guitarist [Cody Conrad] committing suicide, another about my mother; she’s kind of been a victim of the medical industry. At first I was kind of hesitant to include any of that with the lyrics just because this band has never really taken a personal tone; it’s normally more looking outward and kind of commenting on other things outside of us. So bringing the band to be something more personal, especially personal for me, was a little bit hard.”
Despite the challenge, the move has proved beneficial for the band who are now hearing from fans in a way they never have before. Upon the album’s release at the end of April, the vocalist awoke one morning to more messages than he expected from people who had also gone through major struggles in their lives. “I realized how much of a different connection we have with people because of it,” Kellum explains. “I hope maybe we expose ourselves to a new audience.”
Still, American Standards haven’t lost their talent for social criticism. In addition to lamenting their own personal misfortunes, they lament the current state of our culture and how it breeds separation and hatred. “The path that we’re going only leads to one place,” Kellum states, “and that’s to escalate and escalate until there’s a breaking point. And the culture that we built kind of promotes that, right? For [the song] “Broken Culture, I think the biggest theme in there is right now we’ve got so many things that bring us together in a sense, like the internet and social media, phones and text messaging, and all these ways to bring each other together, and it’s almost like we’ve used those to tear each other apart.”
It’s true, the global social and political climate, especially in the United States these past few years, has been marked by some of the most antagonizing rhetoric and behavior in recent memory. But staying focused solely on the problem does nothing to solve it. What we need now more than anything are solutions. And the antidote to this bipartisan problem is as simple as it is formidable: Talking to one another.
“We surround ourselves with people that have the exact same views as we have so we never do anything different,” Kellum says. “So you don’t challenge your way of thinking. [People] stay away from talking to other people entirely, or if they do engage with those people, instead of trying to understand why they believe that way they just put them down. And by putting them down, what it does is it doesn’t make them think differently, it makes them more polarized.” In short, the arts of true debate and critical conversation have been totally forsaken for yelling and screaming, which does nothing but exacerbate already existing hot issues.
“Everything that we’ve always tried to do over the years has been not to tell somebody, ‘This is what we believe’ or ‘This is the right way to believe.’ It’s more to think critically about things, because I think that’s important. It’s not my place to say that you should or shouldn’t believe in religion or should or shouldn’t be in a political faction or whatever it may be.” Aside from the fact that that’s just not their style, the band have a strategic reason for not being overly aggressive with their stance, despite how aggressive their music sounds. The point, after all, is to get people to listen.
Some people think that the arts can only do so little (or nothing at all) to impact society in a meaningful way, but Kellum sees music as a veritable tool for change. “You see people on a corner yelling about religion or yelling about politics, you pass by that person and you’re like, ‘Oh, what’s wrong with this guy?’ But if you’re able to entertain people and tap into their sense of humor or sense of mystery or drama, it doesn’t turn them off. I don’t think it changes minds as quickly as if I were to go out there and break a few windows and get people to look at me, but I also don’t think it’s as polarizing.”
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the band’s latest full-length is that, unlike our society, it is not split in two – one half personal and the other half commentary. It’s the point at which these two experiences intersect that is the essence of the record. Individual and systemic problems are more closely linked than the majority of people may think. Personal suffering and societal suffering are interconnected. Change on a large scale begins with change at the individual level. As Kellum puts it, “If you can’t fix yourself, there’s no way you can change anything else.” So do American Standards (and everyone else) a favor, the next time you vehemently disagree with someone, have a legitimate conversation with them instead of rushing to anger and resentment. The more this happens, we might just get ourselves back on track.