Growing up is weird. Very few of us ever end up doing that thing for a living that we imagined we might when we were kids. Even fewer end up doing the same thing for the rest of our lives that we were doing as teenagers, even if that thing happens to be making music with our friends. In the case of The Sidekicks, a teenage affinity for playing propulsive punk rock somehow, against all odds, managed to turn into a full-time life pursuit. After nearly a decade of making noisy rock music, The Sidekicks have the audacity to finally grow up and their newfound maturity is at the very core of their excellent new album, Runners in the Nerved World.
â€œThis band essentially started when we were kids, when we were fifteen,â€ recalls front man Steve Ciolek. â€œEvery time we make a new record I always stop and ask myself if weâ€™re even the same band now. We were in high school, you know? We loved bands like Against Me! and thatâ€™s where we were coming from. Over the years weâ€™ve all grown and changedâ€”like anyone doesâ€”and you want the art you make to reflect that. Itâ€™s just funny sometimes to think about it. The Sidekicks feels like an arbitrary moniker sometimes, you know? Weâ€™re certainly not the same people we were back then.â€
Formed in Cleveland, Ohio in 2006, The Sidekicks paid their dues according to the old-fashion punk rock modelâ€”by playing lots and lots of shows, sleeping on floors, and generally devoting themselves to recording and touring at the expense of any other kind of life. The bands earliest recorded effortsâ€”2007â€™s So Long, Soggy Dog and 2009â€™s Weight of Airâ€”reflected this. By the time they released 2012â€™s Awkward Breeds, the romance of punk rock was beginning to wane and the influence of pop music began to creep in. â€œTo me the appeal of punk rock was that there werenâ€™t any rules,â€ says Ciolek. â€œNow the word â€œpunkâ€ has changed so much. I still like the whole spirit of punk rock, but itâ€™s crazy to spend so many years on the road playing with so many bands that all sound exactly the same, like they are all working within this very rigid formula. A lot of our music now feels like a reaction to that, to having been around that for so many years. This record was really about trying to get away from that punk format, even though I have a lot of respect for that music.â€
For the recording of Runners in the Nerved World the bandâ€” Steve Ciolek (Vocals & Guitar), Matt Climer (Drums), and Ryan Starinsky (Bass)â€”decamped to Seattle to work with famed indie-rock producer Phil Ek, a pairing that proved to be something of a dream come true for Ciolek. â€œThe dream from the very beginning was to work with Phil Ek,â€ says Ciolek, â€œWhen that became a reality it was almost too good to be true. It was working with Phil that really shaped the sound of the record. Up until this point weâ€™d just go into a studio for a week and record everything live and that would be it. This time around I just really wanted to make a great pop record. I was ready to abandon that idea that weâ€™re a punk band and everything has to sound like weâ€™re a punk band playing in a basement somewhere. I wanted to let the songs just go wherever they needed to go, which was liberating. This time we got to spend six weeks on the songs instead of just one.â€
According to Ciolek, the songs that eventually found their way onto the new record represented a period of growth for the band, which is obvious from the beginning of album-opener â€œHell is Warmâ€â€”a track whose feather light guitar lines give way to charging drums and Ciolekâ€™s soaring vocals asking the question â€œHow do we not get lost?â€ It seems a fitting question to open an album all about piloting new and mysterious paths. Tracks like â€œThe Kid Who Broke His Wristâ€ and â€œDeerâ€ bring to mind the kind of jangly pop euphoria of early Band of Horses or old Built to Spill records, while â€œEverything in Twosâ€ is the kind of pop punk jam seemingly tailor made for singing along in a car at peak volume. According to Ciolek, the album offers a variety of firsts for the band. â€œ â€˜Satellite Words and Meâ€™ is kind of the first ballad weâ€™ve ever written, like our version of â€œThe Long and Winding Roadâ€ or something,â€ he explains. â€œAlso, â€˜Jesus Christ Supermallsâ€™ is kind of our way of taking a step towards making a real pop song. We werenâ€™t trying to get all symphonic or Phil Spector on this record, but there wasnâ€™t any rule that we couldnâ€™t use strings and things like that. For the first time ever we really let ourselves explore the possibilities of a studio. Plus, Phil Ek really knows how to make guitars sound great and I think he really enjoyed the opportunity to make a real rock record.â€œ The end result is an album that feels deceptively effortless; a collection of songs about the need to move forward, packed with buoyant melodies and razor-sharp hooks that go on for days and days.
â€œAt its core, Runners in the Nerved World is about getting past the excitement of growing up and finding new ways to simulate that movement,â€ says Ciolek. â€œHow that movement manifest itself varies from song to song--whether it be chemically (basically all the drinking references), physically (â€œBlissfield, MIâ€), or even by having new romantic partners. The point the record is supposed to make is that itâ€™s often pretty arbitrary how that movement is simulated. Regardless of the situation, inevitably the characters in these songs just get stuck in those cycles. The record tries to deconstruct that inertia--that constant motivation to run.â€
As for what happens next for The Sidekicks, Ciolek and the rest of the band look forward to getting back on the road and playing shows that reflect the bands increasingly varied back catalog. â€œEverything weâ€™ve done in the past is still relevant for us,â€ says Ciolek. â€œItâ€™s just weird to think about how something just becomes your lifeâ€™s work, you know? It just happens without you even realizing it. Maybe thatâ€™s what some of these new songs are kind of about. You know, sometimes itâ€™s scary to think about doing this when Iâ€™m 30 and Iâ€™ll have been doing this for fifteen years at that point. Itâ€™s wild. The Sidekicks could be a totally different kind of band by then, which is fine as long as weâ€™re still having a good time.â€
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