Some bands take a few years and a few albums to finally piece everything together and get it right. For pop punk/rock act The Starting Line, it has taken two full-length albums and a pair of EPs to finally find their direction.Combining elements of their previous releases while implementing new sounds that reflect the maturity of the band, Direction is The Starting Line’s finest work to date and the listeners agree. The album debuted at No. 30 on the Billboard 200, selling close to 20,000 copies in its first week.
Guitarist Matt Watts recently took some time out of his hectic schedule this summer on the Warped Tour to talk with us about the band’s newest release, the excitement of being on a new label, as well as what the future holds for the band as well as himself and band mates.
It seems on Direction the band took bits and pieces of all your previous albums and mashed them together. Is that a fair assessment?
Watts: I would say if Say It Like You Mean It and Based On A True Story got married and had a very good-looking, intelligent, talented baby, then it would be Direction. Musically, we tried to challenge ourselves while keeping the structures very straight forward, with the same good old TSL hooks.
I also noticed that Direction seems to have more of an edge to it, especially with the vocals. Was this a natural progression for the band or something that just fell into place?
Watts: Everything on Direction happened in a totally natural, organic way. We’re not a band that really tries to force things.
On your previous album, Based On A True Story, there were some problems with your label at the time (Geffen) during the writing and recording process. How different were things this time around?
Watts: We’re lucky to be on a new label (Virgin) and it’s like night and day from our previous label experience. The people at Virgin are TSL fans, they respect our vision and understand what we set to achieve with each record. It’s a great relationship, and we value their opinion as well. They also come out to any show they can, which is something I can’t say for our previous label who never actually made it out to a show.
After Geffen granted the band a release, how cautious were you guys when signing a new deal? Was there ever any thought of staying away from the majors?
Watts: We were very selective in trying to find the right place, we were in a great situation and able to really pick and choose and wanted to make sure we got the right deal. After meeting (with) Virgin, it was a no brainer. We just clicked.
After having such a negative experience recording with Geffen, was it refreshing this time to just put an album together with no strings attached?
Watts: It was such a positive experience all around … sort of surreal.
Now that the album is out, how proud is the band of it compared to your previous work?
Watts: I feel like the band is always at a different place mentally when we have a record released. With Say It Like You Mean It, we were just excited to have a record out and in stores. With Based On A True Story, we were just happy that those songs saw the light of day and that we were able to have people hear the songs, and glad that there were a few f-you’s to the label in there. With Direction, it’s been such a positive experience all around and such an optimistic record and it really suits us. So, we’re thrilled.
Having accomplished so much in so little time, does the band find it difficult to keep growing as musicians while still being a pop-rock band so to speak?
Watts: I feel like no matter what genre you’re in, you should be moving forward. I really hate it as a listener when bands put out the same record twice. When I hear bands that really push the limit musically, it totally inspires me, and us.
Most of the band is embarking on side projects. What are you guys up to and what are the main reasons for you guys getting into these projects?
Watts: Tom (Gryskewicz – drummer) and I started The Seventy Six for fun; we were home for almost a year and wanted to write pop songs with our good friends. As far as Kenny’s (Vasoli – bass and vocals) project, Person L, I feel like he just really wanted a creative outlet for the songs that he was writing that weren’t exactly TSL songs … the Person L stuff is really rad.
Is there any fear that with these new projects that The Starting Line gets pushed on the back burner for a little bit?
Watts: Not at all, TSL is everyone’s first priority, but music is supposed to be fun and we’re all about making different kinds of music when we can.
You also have a growing management company (Art Is Hard Management). Was part of your decision to do this because of securing your future for life after TSL?
Watts: I really took an interest in music business and the music industry when TSL first signed to Drive Thru Records. I was always the business guy and always wanted to pursue management at some point. When I heard New Atlantic, I thought they had a ton of potential and felt like we could all grow together … which we have.
How much longer do you see The Starting Line putting album after album out?
Watts: I don’t want to put a number on it, but we don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
What are your long terms goals for the band as well as yourself?
Watts: I would love to keep putting out records that we’re all proud of, and to keep things moving forward. As far as myself, my long-term goals are to achieve everything that I want for TSL, as well as the bands I work for.