Q&A: Forever The Sickest Kids' Jonathan Cook Talks About Finally Having The Time To Make The Record His Band Wanted With Its Latest.
A funny thing happened last week when Dallas pop-punk outfit Forever The Sickest Kids released their self-titled, second full-length album -- namely, that the response to the album was huge, with sales figures placing the band's album in the iTunes top 10 sales chart almost immediately. Even more surprising, though, was that it stayed there -- which, even the band now admits, kind of caught them off-guard, especially after the lackluster response to their last release, the EP follow-up to their 2008 debut, Underdog Alma Mater, 2009's The Weekend: Friday.
The new album, already, has reached as high as No. 8 on Billboard's rock album chart -- a full five slots higher than their debut, which peaked at No. 13. In other words, the response, frontman Jonathan Cook told us when we caught up with him over the phone yesterday as his band prepared to take the stage at Boston University as part of its promotional tour, has been overwhelming.
But it's not altogether surprising. For the first time, well, ever, really, in the band's history, they had time to work on this release -- a stark difference from their earlier efforts, which found the band rushing to complete albums and capitalize on the grassroots buzz they'd earned immediately after forming as a band. And that much shows: Forever The Sickest Kids is by far the most cohesive thing the band has ever produced, a more complete product that focuses less on blatant hooks (although, to be fair, those are still plentiful) and far more on the overall musicianship at play. In next week's issue of the Observer, we'll have a full review of the disc, but, in the meantime, check out our conversation with Cook in full after the jump.
First off, congrats on the new album and the early iTunes success. What was that like, seeing those early sales last week?
Man, that was crazy. We had certain expectations based on our last album. But those expectations were all blown out of the water. I woke up on Wednesday morning and we were No. 6 on iTunes. And then we had the No. 1 album on the pop charts for like three days. When you're going up against people like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber and people like that in the pop world -- those are huge people to compete against for a band like us. It was overwhelming. And then it continued through the week. And then it just continued -- we were in the top 20 all week and in the top 10 for, like, five days. It was like, "Oh my God."
What does something like that do to your mentality as a band?
It's made us come together as a band more. We're having, like, these brainstorming meetings every day backstage, talking about different things we can do, like viral videos or whatever, to further progress the band off the tidal wave of success that we're having on this album.
But it's not your first sniff of success. Your first album did pretty well, too. And even the way that the first album came about -- getting your song "Hey Brittany" onto the front page of PureVolume and then getting signed, like, the next day, and the quick turnaround on that album and everything. How does that first record compare to this one. I imagine the biggest difference was just having more time?
Yeah, that was definitely the biggest difference between the quality of this music and both the first album and The Weekend: Friday.
I wanted to ask about The Weekend: Friday, actually. What happened there? It was an EP of sorts, and the plan was to release three of them, all along. But then now we have this record...
It was supposed to be three five-song EPs. And then we put out the first one and had five songs and then added a sixth song and then added a seventh song. So we were just like, "Man, this will take forever if we put out three of them." 21 songs is a lot more than 15, obviously. The initial idea kind of changed, and, also, we realized the difference in reception between an EP and a full-length album. The EP was only selling certain amounts when we wanted it to do what a full-length album would. So that was another reason that we said, "Whoa, let's re-think this." So when we were working on The Weekend: Saturday, we realized that the songs were better than anything we'd ever done before and decided to release it as a full-length album -- mostly so that these songs would get the attention they deserve. So we demoed out another certain number of songs, and pretty sure we had 11 songs that we were passionate about, and we just went ahead with the full-length album.
So does that mean that the Weekend series is no scrapped?
Maybe. We might have a Saturday or a Sunday down the line. Who knows?
I imagine, after the quick turnaround of the first album and the the quick release of Friday, that you guys have a better sense of yourselves these days.
Yeah. That's definitely fair to say. And it's a good feeling to have, and it's a good mindset to be in. Especially after the reaction that this new record has had. It's like, "Holy cow, this is working!" So now is the time for us to be really marketing ourselves and coming up with creative ways to garner new fans as well.
Is that something you think about? Is it a concern of the band's? Because I know that a few other bands that reveled in similar sounds as FTSK have gone through a lot of sonic changes over the past few years, partially as a means of themselves growing up, but also, I think, as a reaction to their audience growing up.
Not really. I'm not really familiar with those other band's changes, but I know of similar situations. I know that whenever we get into a room, the music that we put out can go in so many different directions. And that really doesn't scare us. We could very easily put out a folk album if we wanted to, or a country album if we wanted to, or an electro album if we wanted to, or a dance album, or just a pop album or a rock 'n' roll album -- we've got the ability to put out harmony guitars and three-part vocals and everybody is good, thoughtful writers in the band. I think we've seen, as we write songs that may lean toward different genres, that whatever we put out, our fans will like, just so long as they can tell that we're passionate about what we're playing.
One thing I'm always curious about is when you see a self-titled record that isn't the debut release. What was the thought process there with your decision to just make this a self-titled release. Is it the obvious answer? That you think that this is a better representation of who the band is?
I'd say so. We decided to name it self-titled kind of in the fourth quarter, just before all was said and done. We were trying to come up with different album names and just nothing was sticking. So we said that this should be our self-titled album. It's the one we worked the hardest on and the one we spent the longest time on. Like you said, the biggest difference between this album and every other release from Forever The Sickest Kids was the amount of time we put into this work.
I know in the past you've recorded a lot in the region. Was that true with this record?
This record was done partly in New Jersey, partly in New York, parting in Irving and partly in Fort Worth. The first five songs were done in New Jersey with David Bendeth and John Bender, who did Breaking Benjamin and the Elvis Presley greatest hits album's mastering and Paramore's Riot -- and it was Whitney Houston's old studio, too, so there was a lot of history.
Was that a factor in inspiring you guys?
Definitely. David Bendeth, the way that he works, as all of his artists will tell you, is that he just has such an attention for detail, which is why he's produced so many multi-platinum albums. You don't even start recording until you've spent a certain amount of time in his boot camp, I'll call it. During pre-production, he was asking us questions like, "Who is the most talented in the band?" and "Who is the best songwriter in the band?" and totally calling us out in front of each other and getting down to the nuts and bolts of how we were going to do this thing. He set the record straight right away and said we were going to work hard and have fun, but that we were going to be spending at least ten hours a day in the studio, and that everything that came out of those sessions were going to be exactly how we wanted it.
Were you guys prepared for that kind of honesty?
We were. We'd done our research. We'd gotten to talk to Hayley [Williams] and the Paramore guys at Bamboozle and asked them about what it was like to work with him, and we got to talk to the Papa Roach guys and the Mayday Parade guys, and they all shared their insight. It was pretty uniform on the response. The answer was that he was going to kick our butts and that he was going to try and break up our band and that we'd better be ready for it. And that if we were strong enough as a band, we will break up before the record comes out. it was definitely a test, but any time you get through a test and you finish it up without failure, it feels great. So, whether or not this album sells exceedingly well, we still know that we as a band got stronger and better as a result of recording with David Bendeth.
I guess it's the obvious follow-up to that anecdote, but who is the best songwriter and most talented member of the band?
Well, we all had mixed answers.
What's your opinion, though?
[Laughs.] No comment!
Since you mentioned that Bendeth might break up your band, I've got to ask about keyboardist Kent Garrison leaving the band. What happened there?
Well, we're still good friends. He still lives in Dallas. We've actually hung out since he left the band, so there's no hard feelings there. And everything he did when he left the band was respectable. It's a time in everybody's life where they finish an album and they realize that there's going to be extensive touring and extensive promotion to come and you've got to look at your own life and decide if it's how you want to spend your next year, year and a half. So Kent just decided, and explain in a general email to us that thanked us for everthing, that he didn't see Forever The Sickest Kids in his future any more. It was very respectful how did things. So no hard feelings, really.
Did that kind of rock the band's world at all when it happened? I've seen you guys interacting off stage, and I know you're all pretty tight.
Well, the timing of it could have been better. it happened a week before the photo deadline for the album. We'd already done all the photo shoots and he was in all of them. And all of our social networking photos had been done, so the Facebook and Myspace pics had to come, so it was kind of a hassle. But it could've been worse.
I know he still shares some songwriting credits on the album, too. So back to the music: The album definitely seems like a natural progression for you all, and it definitely seems more thought-out than previous releases, musically.
Thank you so much. We tried. We really tried to accomplish that. So I really appreciate hearing that. We were just trying to put out an album that was a progression for us. Like, with the first albums, we were just getting our feet under ourselves. Some of us hadn't even really met each other before the first song was written. [Guitarists] Marc [Stewart] and Austin [Bello] hadn't even met before the band formed. So we still had to learn how each other writes music, and how we all react to different personalities. The longer we're together, the more we learn about each other and the more realize what works and how we need to do things. And -- oh, wow.
What just happened?
Our drummer just did something smelly.
Well, on that note, I'll let you go.
[Laughs.] God bless the Dallas Observer!
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.