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Off With Their Heads’ new album, Be Good, distinguishes itself from the rest of the band’s catalog with one very unique characteristic: It’s actually good. Frontman Ryan Young thinks so, anyway.
“It’s the first record I’ve ever made that I like,” laughs Young. “Because there was no
reason to make it anything other than what I wanted it to be.”
The band has been relatively quiet over the last few years, largely because Young was
tending to an ill family member who ultimately passed away last year.
But through mourning came inspiration.
“She was a photographer, and at the wake were all these photos she took,” he
remembers. One of those photos struck him immediately. It shows a Mennonite family
enjoying a sunny day at the beach while an ominous cooling tower looms in the
background. “I said: That’s gonna be the cover of the album that doesn’t exist yet.”
That photo captures the spirit of Be Good. While all of Off With Their Heads’ previous
work shares a common thread of being rooted in Young’s fatalistic view of the world, Be
Good at least allows a tiny glimmer of hope to peek through.
“All the other records were about moping around and feeling sorry for yourself,” says
Young. “This one is less about feeling sorry for yourself and more about accepting how
goddamn miserable you are.”
Forced acceptance is big theme of Be Good, though it’s a hard-learned one, often
emerging in the form of primal screams in the band’s trademark style of gruff-punk.
“Hands up to the sky and shout at the top of your lungs, til the floor falls out!” Young yells
on the title track, sounding somewhere between motivational speaker and hard-nosed therapist.
Much of the self-deprecation that defined the band’s previous work has been adjusted. It
was the years spent out of the van, developing a life at home in Chicago, that gave
Young his newfound, slightly more positive perspective. “Not being on the road 250 days
a year, actually trying to develop some sort of life outside of playing shows and drinking,
you’d be surprised what that does,” he says. “I’ve lost a bunch of weight, I’ve been going to a gym every day, trying not to kill myself all the time.”
Young and the band members—bassist Robbie Smartwood, guitarist John Polydoros,
and new drummer Kyle Manning—holed up for two and a half weeks at Pachyderm
Studios, a mid-century mansion in Minnesota where Nirvana recorded In Utero, to make
Be Good. Young produced the record himself, and it was the first time he enjoyed the
process, or at least tolerated it. “I don’t like how the old records sound, and I hate
recording so much,” he says. “You could just hear all the dumb shit on them where I was
like, whatever, just let it go, I want to get out of here.”
Be Good will be released by Epitaph Records on August 16 and, if ever there was a time
for Ryan Young’s distinct brand on cautious optimism, it’s now. “The title is an answer to
that question of what you’re supposed to do now that the world is so awful and the
climate of this stupid country is so shitty,” he says. “Be good, be loud—that’s sometimes
all you can do, I guess, as cheesy as that sounds.”