By all appearances, there is no such thing as life after music. Bands are born into the music world, lead exciting, nomadic lives, and breathe creativity day in and day out. They may break up, sell out, reunite, burn out or fade away, but in many people’s minds, when musicians aren’t making music, their lives are suspended in animation and spent sitting motionless in the studio, poised with instrument in hand, ready to spring to life with the start of the next record cycle. The thought that performers could even have goals and aspirations outside of music is simply incomprehensible.
Reality check. Guitarist Josh Partington is sitting in a study room at Chapman University reading a constitutional law book. It has been about six years since his California alt-rock group Something Corporate has toured or released new music. In that time, Partington went back to school and finished his degree at University of California, Irvine. He’s now close to finishing law school and getting his M.B.A., with plans to take the bar exam next year.
“It’s kind of funny because for the last two and half years, I’ve been focused on doing financial services law and working at a firm in Costa Mesa that does that kind of law,” he said. “I have a paper coming out that’s being published in a law journal, but it’s dealing with financial instruments and things like that, so at times it feels like it can not be farther from the realm of music.”
Partington knows he’ll be studying hard for an upcoming final, but has already planned a study break for the weekend before—headlining the Bamboozle Festival in N.J. on May 1 with the rest of Something Corporate.
“For me especially, I’m totally looking forward to [Bamboozle] because pretty much right up until that show and right after that show, that show is really going to be my study break,” said Partington. “It’s definitely one of those things where life is a little stressful when you’re in law school. I’m really lucky that I have music to let that as an outlet, and I definitely let it be that for me.”
The break that initially led Something Corporate’s members—pianist/vocalist Andrew McMahon, bassist Kevin “Clutch” Page, drummer Brian Ireland and Partington—down their different paths was an amiable one, driven not by conflict within the group, but by an exhausting, nonstop schedule that finally caught up with them.
“I did the math once and I think in over a three year period, I was home for maybe nine months,” said Partington. “That’s really not a lot of time at home over a three-year period. So we were always touring, we were always writing music, we were always playing music.”
On top of a highly demanding schedule was the lack of results the band saw with the 2003 release of their second full-length album, North.
“I think we were really kind of frustrated with how it turned out because we had put in all this hard work and we were doing everything we could, but it felt like certain parts of the whole machine weren’t necessarily working in our favor. We had gone through a regime change from MCA into Geffen and whenever those things happen, there are certain casualties that are left from it all. Our album came out right as MCA folded and Geffen absorbed all of those bands, and there are always some sort of hiccups with all of that—that’s just to be expected, that’s just the way business is.”
Yet, in Partington’s view, the situation ended up working out for the best. In fact, Something Corporate’s break may have even saved them from the same unfortunate fate that ruined other bands that were coming up at the same time.
“As cool as it would have been to do another Something Corporate album had we not broken up, who’s to say that would have been any good? I noticed this the other day when we played The Bamboozle Left, and we were talking about these bands that we thought were going to be so big and that we were squaring with at the time. We’re thinking about how we’re headlining this Bamboozle festival, and I thought, ‘Yeah, what would have happened had that band not put out that album?’ You just see bands putting out crap when they were such good bands and they did such good stuff beforehand.
“I think back on that and I’m like, ‘Gosh, if there’s one thing I’m so happy about, it’s that we never put out a shitty album.’ I think that’s just a really cool thing for me to say. Even if I never put out a piece of music past this ‘Best of’ album again, I can say that and not a lot of musicians can say that. Josh Partington and The Beatles are the only ones that can say that.
“Don’t quote that, please don’t quote that,” Partington laughed afterwards. “I’m a rather bold guy, and that’s a pretty big statement – even for me.”
Though Partington may make big claims, the man does know the meaning of humility. After parting ways with Something Corporate and before entering law school, Partington formed the more rock-centric outfit Firescape and released the debut Dancehall Apocalypse, while bandmate McMahon went on to found the now popular Jack’s Mannequin.
“Looking back on it for me, I was humbled by that entire experience,” Partington revealed. “I can say that though being in Something Corporate taught me about hard work and dedication, I think I probably learned more from doing the Firescape project in a lot of ways than I did from Something Corporate. I learned a lot of humility from that. I learned on the one hand, just because you’re a good songwriter, that’s not everything in music. It taught me a lot about the business of music and that you can be really, really good at something, but if you’re not great at it, it’s sometimes just not enough.
“So that’s something I learned from that. It also made me appreciate Something Corporate a lot more. That was something that was really special. It’s really hard to recreate something that special the second time around. Sometimes the planets align, you guys meet in high school and that’s just kind of how bands work, whereas it’s hard to just put those things together sometimes.
“I’m really proud of that album and I really stand behind all the songs on it because I think it’s a really good snapshot of my life. But on the same token, I think that that album really stands for—not failure, because I don’t see it that way—but it kind of stands for really learning your limitations in life and just being humbled by the fact that sometimes you go out, you try things and they don’t work out the way you want them to. That album really represents to me picking myself back up and asking where you go from here.”
Now Partington has rejoined the resurrected Something Corporate for the release of the two-disc compilation album Played In Space: The Best Of Something Corporate, which includes a few new mixes and previously unreleased tracks, and for performances at Bamboozle New Jersey and Bamboozle Chicago.
Having already performed at Bamboozle Left in California earlier in the month, Something Corporate gained a fuller sense of what their piano melodies, pop-punk and alt-rock guitar musings, and poetic lyrics meant to fans back in the day and perhaps still means to fans today.
“It’s a little surreal, but getting some perspective I was like, ‘Wow, I was a part of something that really mattered to people.’ It mattered to people as much—probably not quite as much—but it mattered to people in the same way that it mattered to me. I think that was the surreal part. We haven’t played together in four years and everyone is singing along to these songs. It’s a weird deal to sit and have that, but it was great.
“And that’s the thing too—it’d be one thing if we got up there and we were just half-assing it. But we really took it seriously preparing for that show and making sure we gave a good show like we used to. We’re very focused on making sure that we’re the headliner for a festival so we’re not going to go out there and be like, ‘Here’s a bunch of songs we just remembered how to play.’ That was never who we were. If there’s one thing I learned from being in Something Corporate, it’s to work hard and be diligent. Even though it’s playing music, don’t half-ass it.”
As with any band that returns to the stage after taking an indefinite leave, the question of whether Something Corporate intends to release new music and continue touring is one that unavoidably gets asked.
“Though you definitely want to respect your fans by giving them what you want, I think a lot of those bands that I mentioned earlier put out these albums that suck,” Partington explained. “They thought they were respecting their fans by putting out an album, but we’re not really doing the world a favor by putting out an album that sucks. I don’t think we’re doing our fans any favors either. Sure, Andrew and I are good enough writers that even at our worst, there’s probably going to be three or four songs on an album that are good, but is that really worth working super hard for that? I think again it comes down to how organic it all is. If fans are going to expect anything, they should expect that we’re going to go and play these shows, and we’re going to play a Something Corporate show. You don’t ever want to be a cover band of yourself. If there’s a fair expectation they should have of us, it’s that they’re going to see a show with the same amount of energy and the same amount of passion that they saw when we were in the midst of working in album cycles.”
Though Partington doesn’t foresee Something Corporate working on a new album, he admitted a new album wasn’t entirely excluded from the realm of possibility.
“As long as Andrew, Clutch, Brian and I are all talking to each other and communicating, there’s nothing that isn’t possible coming out of all of that,” he disclosed. “That’s probably the most noncommittal answer I can give.”
While Partington and the other members of Something Corporate may be at very different places in their lives today, there are some things that still haven’t changed. As Partington tries to balance school and the band’s current bout of touring, he’s still just taking life as it comes—a strategy that clearly worked when Something Corporate was just starting out.
“My plan with everything is sort of what my plan was when I was 20 years old and I left school to get to be signed and go on the road: to work hard, be diligent, but keep your expectations open. The only thing I really expect out of myself is that I’m going to work hard, I’m going to be diligent, I’m not going to waste any time, and good things are always going to come from that.”
Something Corporate will perform at The Bamboozle New Jersey on May 1. Played In Space: The Best Of Something Corporate is out now.
Photo Credit: Kevin Knight