Brooklyn-native punk rockers The So So Glos’ new record, Blowout—their best—will be released on April 23 by a new label they’ve helped put together, Shea Stadium Records, an outgrowth of the Williamsburg DIY venue where they live and work. In late March, I sat down at Shea with singer and bassist Alex Levine, guitarists Ryan Levine and Matt Elkin, and drummer Zach Staggers, plus producer and fifth Beatle Adam Reich; they quickly assembled a pop-up living room by the door, with couches and a coffee table, around which they sat drinking beers, rolling cigarettes, and passing a pipe. We talked about the new record, and also the last decade in New York, from the post-9/11 Strokes Era on the Lower East Side to DIY Brooklyn.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where you’re from.
Zach: We were born in Bay Ridge. I was born in 1986. Actually I was born in Manhattan. I was, I was born in Manhattan in 1986, lived in Bay Ridge from ages zero to six, seven, eight was when the whole turmoil was going on with our parents. Before that, we met each other at…
Ryan: Carousel Corner.
Zach: That was preschool.
Ryan: We were in the twos and threes together.
Zach: I think we were in separate classrooms, though.
Ryan: But I used to go into his classroom. For some reason, I got to go into his classroom.
Zach: I remember sneaking in also to your classroom. So we met, and we started playing and hanging out.
Ryan: We started a band.
Zach: Pretty much.
Ryan: It all started at Once Upon a Sundae, actually. Zach lived on 78th between Third and Ridge and we lived on 77th between Third and Ridge, and we ran into each other at Once Upon a Sundae, which was on the corner of 77th and Third. And we ran up to each other and that’s how our parents met and that’s how we fucked everything up. At about five years old. Five years old. 1990 is when our parents got divorced. Separated. It took like 15 years for them to get a divorce. But 1990 is when they got separated, and we started playing music soon after, together. Concerts for our parents in the living room. We were called The Dinosaurs. And we all had names: one of us was T-Rex, one of us was Velociraptor, and one of us was like Brontosaurus?
Zach: No, Stegosaurus.
Matt: I’ve never drawn so many correlations between your childhood and mine until this very moment. My first guitar was a PV Raptor. You had a PV amp and you called yourself a Raptor? Yeah, my mom bought it for me for like 100 bucks at a guitar place. A really shitty guitar. She wouldn’t let me get the Fender. I said, “I want the Fender.” She’s like—brands. Still have it. Still a great guitar. My parents also took like 15 years to divorce. Happened in the 90s, although later in my life. I’m still reeling from that. It was really tough on me. I still feel like an orphan. I guess we all do in a way; that’s why we found each other. I also grew up in Bay Ridge. [laughs]
Alex: Those are the real roots of the band. Even when we’d go over to Adam’s… our dads were friends. We would record records. On tapes. That’s what we did whenever we saw Adam—we’d record a record.
Adam: When I was growing up on 88th and Fort Hamilton Parkway I had that box that was a karaoke machine that you could plug two microphones in and a two-tape deck so you could record. And we’d plug the two microphones in and fight for it. Like whoever just grab it, sing into it, put it up to a guitar.
Ryan: Adam had one of those and then we got one, cuz he had one. We were like, “that’s what you do.” We probably got a karaoke machine for Christmas, and we were always very, very serious about our music. When we were seven-year-olds, we recording albums. Full albums.
Alex: And we made covers…
Adam: Yeah, remember that fat little conductor? The fat conductor guy?
Alex: That’s the cover! That’s the cover of every record.
Adam: It was like a make-your-own-cassette-cover program, and I was like seven, and I didn’t know, and the only guy was like this generic image of a fat conductor, and that was the cover for every one. The titles would change.
Alex: There were so many volumes.
Adam: But it was fat conductor all the time.
Matt: I had a My First SONY, and I used to play Michael Jackson tapes, and New Kids on the Block Tapes, and Metallica tapes, and do like concerts for my parents. I remember headbanging so much that I threw up all night. I used to record a lot, but more so I used to just make albums. I remember when Doggie Style came out I was really obsessed with the cover art. Cuz my mom said it was naughty, and I didn’t know why, because I didn’t know what doggie style meant. So I made an album about dogs. And I drew a cover, and I wrote all these songs about the life of dogs. I wonder if my dad still has that…
Ryan: An album was done when the tape was over. Both sides of the tape were filled. That’s when an album was done. I remember this one time we had finished an album. And this was like, yeah, our third album, you know? And we kept track, and it was serious. And I remember this one time we had finished this album and the fucking machine ate the tape. And it was like months and months of work, and it got ruined. And it was a really traumatic thing.
Alex: Probably one day of work, really. I recently went through all our childhood tapes, cuz we were looking for samples for [Blowout], almost a year ago. But I put them all onto this computer. And there’s a lot of it. I didn’t even get through a quarter of it. It was just so many records. A lot of repeating songs.
Ryan: They evolved. Our first hit was called “Red Hot Sun.”
Zach: First hit!
Ryan: And we played that for years. And there was a certain point where we were like, “well, this song’s not that good. We have to retire this song.” That was by middle school.
Photo by Boogie