First off, give us the story of how the band came to be.
Joanna: Well, actually, Justin and I have known each other for ten years and he was interning at Interscope when I first got signed there 10 years ago and we have always been really close friends. Justin wasn't working with Interscope anymore and I wasn't signed to Interscope anymore; I was just working on my solo stuff. We got into a conversation about direction and I was telling him I didn't really like my own music. I didn't listen to my music. I would never listen to it in the car while driving or anything. So we started talking about the music that I listen to and what I'm inspired by and the stuff that I really like and it was so completely different from the music I had been making for the past 10 years. So after that we were just in the studio when we first kind of started with one of Justin's friends that he went to Berklee with. His name's Frogs. He's the other guy in the band. He started to track to some kind of out there, shoegazy stuff and Justin was like, "Let's try to write some melodies and lyrics to it and see what happens." It was just an experiment, and then slowly but surely it became a real thing. Mark Hoppus heard some music very early on through Justin and really dug it, and the whole thing just grew from there.
Justin: Six months later we had twelve songs.
For the people who are unfamiliar with you guys, can you give us a background story of where you came from and who everybody is in the band and what they do? Sort of a catch me up, if you will.
Justin: Do you want to say your own, kiddo?
Joanna: I don't know if we have enough time for that (laughs). I'm from Philly originally and I grew up in a super blue collar family and was into musical theater as a kid and moved out to L.A. when I was 16, when I got signed. But. before that. there were a few obstacles that have happened in my life. I have been a singer my whole entire life. I started young, and that was something that my parents never agreed on at all. But when I was 11, I was part of a national search for Broadway Annie and I got the part and then I was publicly fired when I was 11. So there was that obstacle that I came across. Then I moved to L.A. when I was 16, sat at Geffen for 5 years and we put a record out which was shelved almost instantly. Then it was dropped and I moved to Michigan and was almost married. As I was sitting in the middle of Michigan, I found out about a tryout for American Idol and my family had been huge fans of the show and I didn't really have any other options, so I auditioned for the show. I made it to the top 36 and then was disqualified because I had been signed before and they didn't like that. It was a blessing that I didn't make it any further to be honest, but it got me back to LA and got Justin and I back in touch, and thankfully, we started making music again.
Justin: I started playing music when I was 8 and played in bands all through growing up. I grew up in South Florida, and my band at the time got to play locally with bands like New Found Glory and The Vacant Andys (Chris Carrabba's first band). I ended up going to Berklee college of music which is where I met Frogs and Riz. I played in a band with those guys and it took us all out to LA directly after Berklee. I decided to take a break from playing, and I went to work at Interscope for Ron Fair for about 7 years. I worked on a bunch of pop albums, and enjoyed being on the business side for a while. I ultimately left Interscope to start my own company, where I signed Leighton Meester among a handful of other acts. I did that for a couple years, but when this project started, I remembered how much I loved playing and how much I loved creating and it was an easy decision to jump back into the creative side of things and be in a band again.
Frogs is from Massachusetts; western Mass to be more accurate. He grew up playing bass, which is actually kind of funny. He grew up playing bass and is now playing guitar and I grew up playing drums and now I'm playing bass. I did play drums on the album though, as Mark is playing bass. But back to Frogs... he grew up playing bass in bands, one of which ended up becoming a band called Reveille who was signed and did some national tours and whatnot. We met at Berklee and were in two bands together and moved out here together. We always worked on projects together throughout my time at the label. Frogs is very gifted when it comes to production and songwriting, and has some very cool left of center influences. So when I was kind of searching for something to do and for something to work on, I heard the beginnings of these songs and fell in love with them and instantly started collaborating with Frogs and Joanna on these shoegazy kind of tracks and that's how the project started.
The 4th member of the band is Drew Langan. We met him through mutual friends. He's from Orange County. He's a southern California boy through and through. He's an incredibly great guy and an incredibly great drummer. We literally knew after one night of playing with him that we wanted him in the band. He's the youngest of the group and I think quite possibly the most gullible. I'm sure that theory will be tested many times.
Lastly, there's Riz who I also met at Berklee, he's not an official member, but he'll be on tour with us on and off. He played a big role in making the album and is easily one of the craziest and most fun people I know, another great human.
So, basically, everything fell into place.
Justin: The whole process felt incredibly organic from the beginning of the project to now.
Can you explain the whole ordeal with Mark Hoppus and how he was/is involved with the whole band?
Joanna: Well, like we said earlier, Frogs, Justin and I happened to be working on these songs which were more shoegazy and weird. He heard it through Justin as they were looking to work on something together and he dug it. So he started writing, co-writing, playing and producing. He's been such a huge part of this which is insane because I have always been such a huge fan of him and Blink, and so has Justin. So just the idea of working with him was/is amazing. Aside from his talent, he's an awesome person. We had the most incredible time working with him.
Justin: I will definitely second that. The genesis of his involvement is really organic, even how I know him. I've been friends with Mark for a short while, before this project started, obviously. I met him through Pete and Ashlee (Wentz). I A&R'd Ashley's third record -- which is a fantastic record by the way -- but I digress, that's how I met Pete who is another wonderful person. Pete introduced me to Mark and we ended up becoming really good friends and we were hanging out a great deal and really wanted to do something together. That opportunity arose where Frogs and I were working on these songs and I asked Mark if he wanted to check them out and he listened to them and started laying bass down that day. From then on we were in the studio for over 6 months, everyday recording, writing and producing. I had so much fun working with him. I've never laughed so hard so consistently in my whole life. It really was and continues to be a dream come true, and I feel lucky that we got the opportunity to work with him.
What about the songs with Mark and Alex Gaskarth? That's going to be on the album, right? And were there any more contributions on the album?
Justin: Yeah, the whole Alex and Mark thing came together when we were thinking of some ideas for songs. We were listening to beginnings of old songs that Mark had laying around and there was the one song that Mark had co-written with Alex. They only had a verse and the chorus done and we heard it in the studio and loved the song and we asked Mark if we could work on it and get it on our record. So I got in touch with All Time Low's management and got a day where everyone could be in the studio and finish the song. So Alex and Jack came into the studio, which is one of, if not the first time I met them and so we clowned around and didn't get any work done until the end of the day, which happened to foreshadow our current relationship with those guys. But we finished the song and it came out fantastic and we ended up writing two more songs with Alex, who is so ridiculously talented. He's become a great friend of ours, as has the rest of the band. As far as other outside collaborators, we wrote with Nelson Lindsley, who was in a band called Red Skeleton, Chris Holmes who is Mark's main engineer and an incredibly gifted songwriter, and Pete came in and helped out on a song as well. I can't mention collaborators without talking about our engineer, Eddie Jackson, who had a lot to do with how great this music came out.
Where did the band name come from?
Justin: When Frogs and I were in college we were big fans of a website called Homestar Runner. We went through a couple band name changes, this whole project was sort of like an ameoba and morphed as time went on. We went through 3 name changes: Ten Hours at the Machine, Trousdale Press and then City (Comma) State. I was looking on the site and I hadn't been on it in a really long time and I saw one of the last cartoons they did and it made fun of independent films. And the name of the independent film was City (Comma) State. I was like, "That is a great name for a band." And it bothered me so much over the next two weeks that I had to bring it up and everyone dug it and we decided to change the name.
Yeah, that band name definitely struck a chord more with people then any other that the project had.
Justin: Yeah, having this whole project happen in front of the public and Mark's fans had its positives and negatives, but it was cool to be able to see what was clicking out there and what wasn't.
What can we expect from the songs/album? You said it started out shoegazy and changed.
Justin: Yeah, we played the album for a bunch of friends and the first thing they said was there was a lot of depth, which I thought was a great compliment. There is still one of the early shoegazy songs that made it to the record. It's definitely cohesive and runs together, but then has some songs that pull in some interesting directions. Having such great and talented people work on this, helped make it a really interesting album. Mark and Alex do their thing and then there is Joanna who takes a completely different spin on things and has very different influences. I think that the collaboration between everyone adds a lot of depth and makes for some great music with interesting lyrics and I think there is a lot that people will be able to sink their teeth into.
How would you describe your music in your own words?
Justin: Obviously there is Mark's influence which isn't just Blink. He's a got a ton of musical knowledge from indie rock too and that whole scene. Then there is Frogs who brings the shoegaze and all kinds of weird influences. Joanna brings the pop elements that are very melodic and easy to listen to. I'm kind of all over the place, I grew up listening to 90's punk bands like Rancid, NOFX, Bad Religion, Face to Face, but then I have my experience in pop music from working at the record label, so it's a really cool mix of influences. I'm really just excited for everyone to hear it.
Joanna: We have had our hands in this for so long so it's hard to actually to have someone else hear it for the first time and know what they are gonna think. It's so eclectic and like Justin and a lot of people have said, it has a lot of depth to it. Like some of the lyrics take a few listens to actually understand what they are actually about. But it really makes you feel something.
What about labels? Have you been in any talks with any?
Justin: Yeah, we have been talking with a few labels. We have been taking our time and going about it the right way. We want to build a really solid fan base and not overlook the people who really matter, who are the fans of the music. That's who we want to cater to first and then we will figure everything else out.
Joanna: Justin and I have had experience with record labels. So we definitely want to be cautious.
Justin: Joanna knows the pitfalls of being an artist signed to a label and I know the pitfalls from the other side. With both of our experience we want to be really smart about where we do our deal and how we do our deal.
Joanna: It comes down to whoever is just as passionate about this as we are.
When can people expect to see you on tour?
Justin: We are going on tour decently soon, and that's all I can say about it right now.
Any last things you want to say or tell people?
Justin: Be excited. The wait is over. I'm just excited to have the music out there and to get out there and start having the opportunity to make new fans and new friends.
Joanna: The wait is over but now there's a little more waiting (laughs).
i still dont understand how we shouldve known who these people were before reading this interview... and the fact that justin said ashley wentz's third album is fantastic kinda blew any hype of this album for me