When we catch up with the So So Glos’ Zach Staggers, the band is on the West Coast doing a college tour. These scruffy Brooklyn punk rockers were never really cut out for college -- they’re far too independent and (sometimes calamitously) self-directed. But they’re the perfect act for kids discovering DIY punk rock for the first time, combining the tunefulness of the Descendants, the bounding energy of Rancid and the unhinged abandon of old-school icons the Dead Boys.
It’s an appealing mix that really comes together on their second full-length, Blowout, a 12-song, 40-minute blast of adrenaline dedicated to youthful animal spirits. Tunes range from the noisy title track surf-punk throwdown to the wiry, pop-punk call-and-response guitar-rocker “Diss Town” and the impossibly catchy distortion-drenched freakout “Wrecking Ball,” which subtly recalls Rancid’s “Roots Radical.”
“What we tried to do with Blowout was make a record that if we heard that when we were first getting into punk rock it would’ve blown our minds,” says Staggers. “I hope Blowout feels like that for people. Seeing these young kids come out to shows and singing every lyric, I think that it’s a really good sign.
“It’s funny; we played a college show yesterday and this girl was like, ‘I saw you guys five years ago when I was13 and you played in my high school friend’s basement,’” he continues. “It’s true. We used to play in high school girls’ basements. We were, like, 20, and it was awesome.”
Of course, they’ve been playing the underground circuit a lot longer than that. The So So Glos are something of a family business, featuring Staggers’ stepbrothers singer/guitarist Alex Levine and bassist Ryan Levine. They began playing together in their basement when they were five, four, and six, respectively.
“We didn’t know how to play anything yet. We couldn’t play a beat. Me and Ryan would just be making some noise,” Staggers says. “Alex would craft these actual melodies above this horrendous sound (which we have plenty of recordings of) and Alex would be singing a verse and a chorus. We would be writing songs essentially, though every time we played them they would be different.”
From the beginning they were troublemakers. Staggers recalls a story from their time in the New York burbs where they went joyriding on golf carts, playing bumper cars, finally crashing one into a creek. But the evening wasn’t over. The teens wandered along the rail tracks and found an empty warehouse with filing cabinets full of old restaurant matches, which as rebellious teens they naturally set on fire. In the process, the warehouse accidentally caught fire.
“Ryan jumped out this window; it was a first-floor thing. He’s across the tracks, and the fire is starting to rage now,” he recalls. “I jump out and right when I jump out there was one of those movie fire explosion things. The whole thing went up as I was jumping out. Then the train comes by and we just jet. We hear the sirens. I don’t know what wound up happening to that warehouse, but it wasn’t us.”
They played under several names over the years before adopting their current moniker in 2007. It’s a description, Staggers says, of “a postmodern narcissist who’s more into their own glow than any moral, social, or political cause.
Since their self-titled 2007 debut, the So So Glos have released a couple of EPs, as well as the new full-length, and have toured exhaustively across the country playing basements, VFW halls, or anyplace that would have them. But their impact is even greater in the New York area, where for the last several years they’ve operated one of the few all-ages venues in town, Shea Stadium.
Shea’s a combination practice space, recording studio, BYOB club, crash pad and refuge for rambunctious outcasts such as themselves. After founding the Market Hotel in 2008 with popular New York DIY promoter/DJ Todd P., they desired a real headquarters of their own and went their separate ways.
A year later they began Shea with childhood friend/sometime -- So So Glos member Adam Reich, who moonlights in Titus Andronicus. Reich has set it up so nearly every show in the space is recorded and the website features roughly 85% of the 3,000 bands to perform there to date.
“It kind of works like a communal thing where everyone involved does some part of work and you don’t get paid in money, you get access to the space,” Staggers says. “We really just wanted our own HQ because we didn’t want to listen to anyone else’s rules.”
The same thing goes for weed. Staggers is the most dedicated smoker, but they all engage during our photo shoot, in between rocking out to the Pogues on the stereo. There’s a sense about them that pot might help them with their obvious ADD issues, something that Staggers, a drummer, confirms, at least in his case. (It’s been noted before that anyone whose work involves doing a different thing with each of their limbs probably suffers from ADD.)
“Weed’s been an important part of my life as a medication forever,” he says. “For me, it does everything from take away headaches to improve conversation and concentration. I praise California for what they’re doing and I hope that New York follows suit.”
But Staggers has found a fly in the local ointment. A user of NYC’s (since busted) Cartoon Network delivery service while still in high school, he’s noted new interlopers in Brooklyn driving up delivery prices with gentrified product.
“He comes over and he’s this clean-looking white kid that doesn’t look like he’s from New York. He’s wearing a polo shirt, skinny jeans, black thick-rimmed glasses and a hipster fedora hat. No joke. He had a suitcase like a yuppie,” Staggers laughs. “He comes in and opens this suitcase and is acting like a waiter at a fancy restaurant. ‘This is the Fat Jack Herrer, a very special sativa, with a mild undertone of oak and red wine.’
“It’s so expensive too. I think they’re selling like 2 grams for $60,” he says. “It’s like artisanal weed delivery. They’re curating the marijuana. And these people are never going to get caught. When it was Cartoon Network it was always Puerto Rican high school kids rolling up and knocking on the door.”
If you live in the New York area, you can catch the So So Glos at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar on December 21.
Photos by Bryon Miller