Symphony of Distraction: Skate-punk, zebra-stripes and dollar-store artwork [Interview]

Article by Alan Corcoran.

Symphony of Distraction are a skate-punk quartet from New York via California, who deal in songs that storm out of your speakers like a sugared-up Tasmanian devil. They’ll leave you dazed with a melody in your head for days.

The band have recently released their second full length album, Horse, on Less Talk, More Records and Interpunk. I talked with guitarist and vocalist Jay Stewart about the writing and recording of the album, that iconic artwork and we may have gotten into jazz piano a bit too…

Congrats on the new album Horse. Are you happy with how it turned out?

Thanks! Yes, we’re happy with how it turned out. We would not have released it until we had it in a place we were happy with. We don’t have any set deadlines or anything like that so we can take our time with it.

How did this one come together by comparison to Call It Off, John?

The biggest difference with how this one came together is that I live 3000 miles away from everyone else in the band now. On the previous albums, we lived relatively close to each other for the majority of the recording process so we could just work on it whenever we wanted. This time we did all of the tracking in Brooklyn over a couple of weeks or so. This mainly changed how Steve’s songs came together because he had to have his songs in a more completed state before we started recording.

What gear did you use this time?

We are not gear heads at all. We use whatever we have around. All of the bass on all 3 records was recorded on a $79 piece of shit bass I bought 10 years ago. We’ve used the same SM58 for the vocals on all 3 records that I’ve probably had for 15 years. It’s fun to try to get good sounds out of shitty equipment.

When mixing, I’ll revisit the SecondShot records I did with Ryan Greene since it gives me a really professional recording reference that I was the singer on.

Symphony of Distraction Live

This album seems to have a little more experimentation in guitar sounds; I’m thinking of Once and Future and United Failure for example… was this a conscious decision or did it just come from messing around with pedals?

We use a lot of computer plugins for that kind of stuff. I’m not a good enough producer to know exactly what I want something to sound like when we’re recording so we do a lot of DI which allows me to mess around with sounds later. It also saves time during the tracking process.

There’s still a feeling of restlessness and alienation in the lyrics… is this fair to say or do you think the lyrical themes and influences have changed over the years?

When we started working on Horse, Steve had just gotten out of a really long relationship and was really struggling with that. A lot of his lyrics are related to dealing with all of that bullshit. He’s always been really great at writing lyrics that are personal to whatever he’s going through. On the previous albums it was a lot about how he hated his job and social anxiety. As far as lyrical influences, I can’t really speak for Steve, but I am comically bad when it comes to understanding the words in songs, so I rarely even know what the songs I listen to are about. Usually the only time I really notice lyrics is if they are terrible, which can completely ruin a song that I would have otherwise liked. That being the case, I usually just try to write lyrics that don’t ruin the song.

Drinking comes up a fair bit… What’s your poison?

I almost exclusively drink tequila. I might throw in a beer if I need to slow myself down. Steve almost exclusively drinks cheap beer.

What’s the story behind the album name and artwork?

I don’t even really remember how the name Horse was decided on. I think we were just tossing around ideas until we agreed on something. It was supposed to be called Cut The Shit. All of the files on my computer are still organised under that name.

As far as the artwork goes, I took the photo of the zebra years ago and immediately texted it to Steve saying that it would be a great album cover. I had kind of forgotten about it until Steve brought it up after we decided on the name Horse. It took a while to go back and find it.

The rest of it was Steve’s idea. He wanted to make all of the art out of things he got from the dollar store and then just take pictures of it after it was completely assembled. There’s no Photoshop or anything involved in making it. A lot of people seem to hate it, but we love it. I have the original framed and hanging on my wall.

Symphony of Distraction Promo.jpg

Was there a time when it seemed like you’d never get this album out to the people; From what I can see you guys were working on this around 2017? Or were there older songs too?

It probably felt more like that from your perspective. The album was actually done way before we put it out. Steve took a long time on the art and we took some time trying to see if we could find a label. I think I sent the first demo song I wrote over to Steve towards the end of 2016 to see if he was up for writing and recording an album and it was completely mixed and mastered by June 2017. All of the songs were written for Horse, there were no old songs. Although United Failure is a song I started writing for SecondShot forever ago that I just never finished until now.

What’s your favourite song on Horse?

My favorite of Steve’s is You’re Not Crazy. Of my own, probably Once And Future or Piece of Shit.

How did you guys get working with Less Talk, More Records in Europe?

I had some communication with Seb from LTMR in the past. He expressed an interest in helping to release the record.

And you’re selling through Interpunk in America – what was it like seeing your older CDs sell so well on there in the lead up to the release of Horse?

That was a surprise. I honestly didn’t realize there were people that wanted them. I had a big box of CDs just sitting around for years. I think the fact that they were near impossible to find for a few years created some demand for them or something. Obviously we were excited to see them sell so fast. Unfortunately, now they are sold out for real.




Is it weird seeing people with SOD tattoos?

Yeah man. Weird and amazing. It’s not a very profitable venture for us to do this band. We do it because we like making the music and it gives us an excuse to get together. The fact that it connects with anybody on a level that they want to ink us into their skin gives it a level of validation I would have never expected. It definitely helps with finding the motivation to put out something new.

Any plans for tours or merch that your fans can get tattooed on themselves in future?

As far as tours and merch, those will both happen, we’re just not sure when.

What are you listening to these days?

I’m probably the lamest person you could ask that since I’m terrible about keeping up with new music. I listen to a lot of old jazz when I’m working. I’ve been playing a lot of piano lately so I’ve been trying to find and listen to rock musicians that play piano. There are surprisingly few, so I’ll end up listening to Ben Folds or Elton John. If I put on punk, I still mainly listen to a lot of the same records I listened to 10 years ago. My most listened to currently active bands are probably Odd Robot, Car Seat Headrest and Sorority Noise.

I’ve just put it together that you’re playing piano on the song Progress, what was that process like?

Jazz piano has been something I’ve been spending time with on and off for the last 7 years or so. A couple years ago I had even put together a lounge set where I arranged a bunch of 90s songs in lounge style and got a band together to play it live. We did songs like NOFX’s All Outta Angst, and Weezer’s Why Bother. It was a ton of work to get it together, and then we only played one show. I plan on recording some of it eventually. So anyways, I don’t remember how the idea came up to put a jazz part into the Progress, but the process of arranging it was the same as the stuff I had done with that band. It’s a pretty basic reharmonization of the first verse, and then production wise it seemed natural to thin out the frequency range so it sounded like an old recording.

You can pick up the latest Symphony of Distraction release Horse direct from Less Talk More Records, or direct from the band.

Article by Alan Corcoran.



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