Carmen Cirignano hopes putting on his band’s new record can provide a very certain kind of feeling.
He relates it to taking a trip to his grandmother’s house. Whenever he visited her, he’d feel a certain way and have very distinct memories. It’s an idea of being somewhere familiar that’s not exactly home.
“I wanted a cohesive, kind of flowing record that made sense from the beginning to the end and felt like a tangible thing, in a way,” Cirignano says. “I wanted people, when they listened to it or put it on, to be able to go somewhere, go to a place, wherever that place is to whoever listens to it. It could be different for everybody. I wanted it to have that feeling, like it was something as a whole rather than just a collection of songs.”
Cirignano, frontman for Young Statues, is sitting at an outside table at Old City’s Ole Café, having just driven downtown from his home in Prospect Park. He’s joined by bassist Tom Ryan, who has just driven in from across the bridge in New Jersey. They’re both joined by Ryan’s sister’s small dog, who remains mostly quiet as the two discuss the past and present history of the band.
Cirignano and Ryan had played together in Makeout Party before Cirigano took a trip to Athens, Georgia, where he had a massive writing suport. Upon returning home, he called on Ryan and drummer Dan Bogan to help him record.
“It was very organic, the process of how the band formed,” Cirignano recalls. “People who ended up playing on the album, I was friends with already and had already had experience playing in a band with. When the record was done, we were just kind of like, “Alright, I guess we start playing shows,” and it just kept going into now.”
Though organic, Young Statues hasn’t had the most cohesive and collaborative experiences writing and recording. The songs for the band’s self-titled debut were mostly written before they entered New Jersey’s Gradwell House Recording Studio with friend Steve Poponi, but Ryan says he enjoyed working on the material Cirignano had developed.
“It just hit the right chords, and everything happened so naturally,” Ryan says, most notably mentioning the song “Half Light,” which he says “spawned a lot for all of us.”
While recording their last EP, Age Isn’t Ours, Cirignano says he took more of a backseat to heavy-handed outside opinions, which guided the recording process. This also proved detrimental to the band’s growth.
“That was another lesson learned where like, fuck this, I’m not letting anybody else tell me what to do other than when we’re writing songs and there are musical suggestions,” Cirignano says. “But on method and songwriting stuff, I’m just going to trust my gut like I did the first time around. We got away from that, and that was stupid, it was so stupid.”
So for The Flatlands Are Your Friend – the band’s second full-length record released Tuesday on Run For Cover Records – things were going to be different. Young Statues traveled to Athens, Georgia as a full band to make what would become a cohesive, vibrant record that elicits the exact kind of emotions Cirignano was aiming for this time around.
“I’m a comfort guy,” says Ryan. “I like what I know, and I initially was not totally stoked about going outside the box and doing something I wasn’t comfortable with. That’s where that really helped us out having Carmen push us to all going to Georgia together, because once I was finally there and we were all in the room together working on these songs, it felt natural versus prior albums where it felt forced. [Before], it felt like we were doing something that wasn’t true to us, it wasn’t natural, in my opinion. So it was cool to get outside of the box and get outside of my comfort zone, more importantly, and I think that was the case for everybody.”
“Going there just wiped the slate clean, and it was a fresh kind of start,” adds Cirignano.
The frontman opted to travel south a week before the rest of the band to work on song structure with album co-producer Andy LeMaster of Chase Park Transduction Studio. The night the rest of the band drove down, Cirignano sent them the outlines of the songs they’d be spending the next few weeks bringing to life.
“That was the first we were hearing the structured songs, and even some of the demoed stuff had totally changed,” Ryan said. “So it was sort of scary at first. But it was cool to drive down with the guys, hear some of these songs, a couple of which we had never heard before. That’s always an exciting experience. It’s like listening to your band for the first time, which is a weird thing to say.”
Upon the band’s arrival, fears subsided when they were able to dive right into recording for hours on end, day after day, with few distractions. Co-producer Drew Vandenberg pushed the band to track the album live, which Ryan says allowed them to catch an element of performance on the record.
It was doing things differently, and going out on a limb, that allowed Young Statues to step outside of themselves and grow as musicians, hopefully to the admiration of their fans.
“If you’re not trying to evolve and be different and grow as a musician and do anything different, then your time is going to come,’ says Cirgnano. “For me, I’ll be playing music forever. We don’t look at our band like, ‘We have a five-year shelf life to get huge and then we’re done.’ We’re just taking it a step at a time. We try to have pure motives behind everything.”
Not only did the band approach the process differently, but the content of Flatlands is heavier and more rock-driven as opposed to the indie pop façade of their previous material. Ryan says he’s happy the band has the support of both a record label and fans who know they are going to do surprising, dramatically different things with each release instead of putting out the same stuff over and over.
“I know for me and definitely a lot of people at the label, this new album is a sleeper in the respect of your first run-through,” he says. “You’re going to be like, ‘That’s different, that’s weird, that’s not Young Statues.’ But then, like, my favorite albums are always the ones I’m not totally into at first. But after the fifth or sixth listen to it, I can’t stop. I think we did that with this record because it’s just so dramatically different.
“I know we’re going to lose some fans on this stuff,” he adds, “but I’m ok with that because you have to lose some to make some.”
Lyrically, Cirgnano said he channeled the romanticization of every day life that Bruce Springsteen employed on Nebraska. He wanted to write about the things he remembers and has gone through, but in an indirect way that says something about society as a whole.
“I don’t think there’s anybody right now who really speaks for our generation of youth in the way that we grew up and the kind of the things that affect us,” Cirignano says. “I’m not saying that that’s me or that I’m aspiring to do that. I’m saying that I wanted to write from that angle… I have a lot of friends and know people I’ve grown up with that have battled things in their life. I come from an area that is a nice area where I grew up, but there is so much fucked up shit that goes on. It’s that way I feel like all over this country now.”
For an indie band with punk crossover, Young Statues has cultivated an intersected fan base. Their local draw of support should be apparent at their record release show Friday at Kung Fu Necktie, where they’ll celebrate alongside fellow local acts Dryjacket and Mohican.
Though Young Statues has a ton of love for their home music scene, choosing to record elsewhere felt a little bit like escaping the arms race that is perpetuated by the ever-changing and growing pool of talent Philly has to offer.
“They’re there for music down there, and that’s what was cool,” Ryan says of other bands and industry professionals they came across in Athens. “We got to experience some other bands that came through I the other studio. We definitely, after a few days of recording, got out on the town and went out to dinner a few nights and just kind of got the vibe of the city. … Down there, everybody is helping each other be awesome at music.”
A place to feel comfortable, supported and understood – that’s all the feeling of “home” really is, isn’t it?
The Flatlands Are Your Friend is the featured album in this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the single “Got The Knife” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch an in-studio documentary in yesterday’s post and check back tomorrow for more.
Run for Cover Records, The Flatlands Are Your Friend, Unlocked, Young Statues