Continuously on tour throughout the past two years, Illinois-based band the Graduate has been gaining quite some attention. From stints on Warped Tour and Germany’s Rock am See festival to tours with Jack’s Mannequin, Simple Plan and currently Secondhand Serenade, the Graduate has definitely been keeping busy.
Frontman Corey Warning was nice enough to sit down with me before their show last week in New York to talk about the band, their music and what it feels like while performing: “It’s a different feeling being onstage. As reserved as I can be in person, being onstage is definitely an empowering feeling,” Corey said. “That’s one of the best parts about being on tour too. If something bad is happening I feel like I can work that out onstage, even if it’s just pounding on a drum or strumming a guitar for a while. It just has this power to work out whatever you need to work out.”
Read below for the rest of my interview with Corey as well as some MP3's and videos of their songs. Be sure to check them out on MySpace for when they’re on tour near you — you won't be disappointed.
How did the Graduate begin?
We were all in different bands before the Graduate. Myself and Jared who plays bass, we were in a band together for about three years and Max, Matt and Tim were all in another band. We all played shows around the central Illinois area for a few years and we all knew each other from trading shows back and forth. Both of our old bands had broken up around the same time and there were still a handful of us that wanted to keep pursing music so we got together and wrote the song “Sit and Sink.” After that we decided it was something we all wanted to follow through with so we came up with a band name and made a MySpace page and just started getting serious with it. We wrote our Horror Show EP in a few months after getting together and recorded that with a friend. After we put that out online we started getting response from labels. We realized it was getting more serious than we had thought it was going to a lot faster, so all of us dropped out of school and pursued it full time.
Horror Show was the EP that eventually had you featured on the cover of CMJ Magazine after being the number one most added in college radio the end of 2006. How was that experience for you?
It was all pretty strange to us. People who we were working with were telling us how great these things were that were happening and we didn’t know anything about what was really going on. We’re all just small town kids and were clueless at the time so we were excited, but I don’t think we really realized how much that was giving us a head start. We had got that feature when we were in the studio, so before we put out the album we already had our foot in the door and people had their eyes on us and realized who we were and what we were trying to do, so we were really lucky for that.
You guys have been on tour non-stop for the past few years. How do you keep going?
It’s just something that we jumped into head first. We all kind of knew what to expect before we got going out. We grew up with bands like Junior Varsity and the Park who were always on tour all the time and we just knew that was going to be the road that we were going to be taking. At the same time, I don’t think you can really prepare yourself for something like that. It’s a little bit more exhausting than you’d think, but it’s fun. It’s definitely a very different way to live your life. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be able to wake up in a new city everyday and see parts of the country and even the world that we might not have ever gotten the chance to visit.
What’s the most memorable aspect of touring?
I think so far for us, one of the biggest things was that we got to go overseas last year. That’s something that I didn’t think I would ever get the opportunity to do. Our first day over there we drove to Germany and we opened up a festival called Rock am See. We opened up for Nine Inch Nails and the whole day we felt a little out of place. It was definitely a really humbling experience for us and we’re very grateful for that opportunity.
Did you get to chill with Nine Inch Nails?
No. [Laughs]. Our dressing room was actually right next to theirs and we all had talked about, “Should we go say hi? Our friends are going to think we’re idiots if we don’t try to talk to them.” But, we’re pretty shy guys and I think we were too scared that we were going to embarrass ourselves or something like that.
How was your experience performing at Rock am See?
It was really strange. There were probably about 5,000 people there when we played. We have pictures that I can look at and it’s still so hard to believe that’s something we did. This was in the same year that we were going on tours and sometimes we’d play for 50 people, sometimes we’d play for three people and we went to a country that we had never stepped foot in and there are 5,000 people. I remember there was one moment onstage after we played our first song and I wanted to see if I could get everybody clapping and just kind of gage how we were doing and almost the entire crowd was going with their arms with us. That was definitely one of the best feelings I’ve ever had onstage.
What was your worst moment onstage?
I think one of the worst was when we were playing a show in Delaware. At the end of our set, sometimes we bring out additional percussion and we have a drum off and sometimes we like to pour water on the drums for an added visual affect. So we did this and the stage was soaking wet and it was a hardwood floor and I took a step and just slipped and fell flat on my back in front of a crowd. That was probably most embarrassing, for myself at least. I think the only thing that really hurt was my pride.
So tell me about your album, Anhedonia. How did you come up with that title? It’s so unique.
Anhedonia is a condition where you can’t feel normal emotion or things that give you pleasure. When we were writing the album I had a bad case of writers block and everybody that we were involved with was saying, “Write about what you’re feeling.” I was just feeling pretty empty and hollow. We came across the word from our producer’s wife when we were talking about different album titles and it just really struck me on how I was feeling at that time. I ended up writing the title track that day and it really felt like that fit the feel for the rest of the album.
Did you have a certain concept for the rest of the album or did the title mostly affect the rest of the album’s writing process?
I think that all the songs on the record are really just about everything that was going on during that time. We had just signed with a label and we all quit school and quit our jobs and we had spent three months holed up in a basement writing the record, no contact from our friends or family. Everything was just a lot different for us. The record is mainly about all the things that were going on in my life and the different changes and how it was affecting all of our relationships.
Are you the main writer?
No. It’s definitely a five-part process. Everyone writes. I write the lyrics, but as far as music and the songs go, all five of us contribute to every song.
Where do you find inspiration for the lyrics?
The more I’m reading books the more I tend to write. It’s always different for me. I can watch a movie and sometimes I’ll pull something out of that that will make me think of something that’s happened in my life. I always try to write things from a personal perspective. I usually try to make it so if somebody else listens to it, they can relate to it so it’s not too personal where nobody knows what I’m singing about. I always want there to be that connection with the listener.
Do you tend to write more while you’re in a relationship or after a break-up looking back on it?
I’m kind of a moody person and I always let whatever is going on in my life affect everything. So, if I’m writing a song then yeah, a lot of that will get put into it. Even if we’re getting ready to go onstage and something’s happened back home that’s affected me, that’ll come out onstage too. A lot of times I can be like a sponge and anything that’s going on I just soak up and let affect me. I think that’s a good thing because I don’t think people that are frozen can really put themselves out there and write good music.
I really like your song “Doppelganger.” How did you come up with it? [You can listen to the song here.]
Well, there’s a myth that somewhere in the world there is your exact copy going around. When I wrote that song I was just in a transition in my life and I was going in and out of a relationship and there were parts of me that I felt like were changing and sometimes I felt like another person. The song had this eerie feel to it and a lot of times what will kick in with me with songwriting, I can just get inspired by the music the guys will write and show to me. For some reason I had been thinking about that that day and it just felt like everything was clicking. That song is about me changing and feeling like I had almost another personality.
I really like "The City That Reads." I was curious about the story behind it.
I wrote “The City That Reads” last minute in Baltimore. The song almost didn’t make the record. I stayed behind while the band left to spend the holidays with their families. I never realized how important that time of the year was to me until that year.
What would you be doing if it wasn’t for music? Did you grow up thinking, “This is what I want to do”?
Absolutely not. When I was 16 there was a girl that I had a crush on in high school and I had no musical background at all. I never even took piano lessons when I was a kid or anything. This girl was selling her acoustic guitar and I figured if I could get that and learn how to play it, maybe I could win her over. That didn’t happen, but I learned how to play guitar. It kind of spiraled from there. I had a couple friends that I was working with that played music and they wanted to start a band. It’s actually not something that I really saw myself doing. I’m not always the most outgoing person and being on the stage in front of people is terrifying to me. I finally got talked into it and it just moved on from there. I really don’t know what I would be doing if I weren’t in a band. Ever since we got going it’s just something that really intrigued me. Being able to put yourself out there like that was kind of a cool experience for me. Once we started writing songs I was able to get onstage and express myself like that, it kind of changed everything. I guess if I wasn’t doing this I would be bagging groceries or something like that, I really don’t know.
Do you still have stage fright? How do you move past it every night?
Sometimes. It’s something that I just worked out after time. There’s always those moments onstage. It could be as simple as making eye contact with someone you see that maybe you don’t think you’re connecting with and then all of a sudden you get paranoid and think maybe everybody else isn’t paying attention. Sometimes when that happens I just close my eyes and get through the set. But most of the time all it really takes to keep me going is just seeing that one person that is really into it and I can get over it pretty easily. The crowd always makes such a huge difference on how we play onstage. I think a lot of times too, how we are with each other. If we had a good night the night before that could really affect it because we really play to each other when we’re onstage. There’s a lot of collaboration with us onstage. If everybody’s doing different things you can get really into it. Sometimes in a set there’s something real small that can set us off. Tim can just do some quick fill that everybody thinks is badass and that’ll just set us all off into badass mode I guess.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
That is the hardest question that everyone always asks and I just don’t know how to put it. I think the reason that it’s hard for me is because when we got together we never really said, “We want to sound like this” or “We like this band, so let’s try to sound like this band.” I guess I would just say that we’re youthful, emotional rock, trying to steer clear of the emo. We get thrown into it so much and when I was younger it wasn’t anything that I ever cringed at. It just has such bad ideas that come with it now with guys crying and wearing eyeliner and all that kind of stuff.
What is your ultimate goal with the Graduate?
We’re kind of getting close to where we’re going to start the next record and my hope is that we can distinguish ourselves more on the next record to get out of some shticks that we have right now. Maybe they’ve heard one song of ours and they’ve already made up their mind about our band. I think one of my biggest hopes is to get some of the people who are on the fence with us on the music that we write. Just try to step it up on the next record.
Do you have any songs written already?
We have a lot of ideas and concepts right now. We’ve been on tour so steady for the past two years that it’s been tough for us to actually sit down and write. I’m hoping that we can start getting real heavy on it at the end of this year.
Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written?
I think so far “Anhedonia” is probably my favorite, which is kind of why we went with that for the title of the album too. That song kind of got me out of a really bad funk that I was in so that song is just my favorite because it just pushed me over the edge that I needed. [Listen to "Anhedonia" here.]
How do you feel the Graduate stands out from other bands coming out now?
From what a lot of our fans have told us recently, they always say, “I heard your CD and I liked it and I thought you guys sounded cool.” But, a lot of people say that they come to our show and see us live and that’s what really pushes them over the edge for us. I guess just from what we’ve heard and the responses from people that come to our shows, our live show is what makes us stand out. We try to be as genuine as possible live without being too over the top and fake, trying to manipulate the crowd or anything like that. It’s actually kind of weird if we see people crowd surfing or moshing or anything like that. It always makes me feel uncomfortable, I don’t know why. I guess it just seems so strange to me. I think the best way for me to gage if the crowd is into it is we can always tell on people’s faces if they’re really paying attention. That’s always the best feeling for me, just to look out. Nobody has to be jumping up and down or pushing people over their heads or anything like that. If somebody’s paying attention or just the little nod of the head is all it really takes for us.
What about those nights that you don’t feel like you’re getting their attention? How does that affect your performance?
I think a lot of times I let it affect my performance too much. I think I tend to focus on it and freak myself out and sometimes I’ll get this real blasé attitude and just try to close my eyes and get through the set. That’s something I’m trying to work myself out of because I feel like that’s definitely not the right attitude towards the show. Just because you see one person that might not be getting into it, there’s no reason to take it out on the rest of the crowd. You just have to work past your insecurities.
What is your advice to aspiring musicians?
The reason I always have a hard time with this is because I still feel like I’m learning so much. We’ve been touring for two years but I still feel really new to this. I think that my biggest advice to bands that are starting out is, as cliché as this sounds, just be honest and don’t try too hard. Don’t try to fit into what you think is popular right now or anything like that. I think the best music comes from people that are just being honest. Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun.
For more on the Graduate check out their Website or MySpace and watch their most recent video for "I Survive." For Windows, click here. For Quicktime click here. Or, if you just want to listen to the MP3 feel free to check it out here. Enjoy!