We’re Not Afraid: An Interview With Set It Off

Through lineup changes, experimenting with musical elements and personal plights, Set It Off has always been the band to look on the bright side. So it only makes sense that the pop rock quartet—vocalist Cody Carson, lead guitarist Dan Clermont, rhythm guitarist Zach DeWall, and drummer Maxx Danziger—channel that energy into their latest album, Upside Down. With a collection of tracks that boast catchy melodies and an uplifting message, their positivity is contagious. As Set It Off sets out on tour, Cody took a few minutes to discuss growing as a band, lyrical inspirations and carrying on through difficult times.

What was the band’s mindset as you began to record Upside Down?

It was kind of an evolutionary mindset in the sense that before, in our previous album Duality, we were essentially an entirely different band sonically. When we were listening back it really opens your eyes, and ears I guess, to what’s been going on. And what I mean by that is before that sound, we were a more poppy band and we felt that we were in an oversaturated market.

So we intentionally tried to create a sound that was darker and utilized our background in classical music. And that was fine and all, but after a while we began to feel exhausted from playing that sound because when would write we had barriers. Like, we have to write this style, every song has to hit all these checkmarks before it can be on a Set It Off album. And I hated that because it was never about different influences, it was never about the best songs, it was about what kind of song.

So Duality was our first approach of trying to get outside of that and just focus on the best song. We obviously couldn’t fully go into that coming out of Cinematics so that was kind of just like dipping our toes into the pool, feeling it out, and it went really well for us. So because of that, with us right now, we’re diving in headfirst. It doesn’t matter what kind of influence it has, what kind of genre it might go into; if we’re writing a song and we think it’s a damn good song, we’re going to put it on our record.

And that’s what it all comes down to: we want amazing melodies, we want great lyrics, we want a good song in general. So having that sort of creative freedom when writing an album is so helpful and so conducive in creating a great record because there are no inhibitions you’re just writing to write because you love to write, and it made it a lot more fun.

Set it Off’s last two albums made the Billboard 200. Have you felt pressure to outdo yourselves with your third?

Well of course! You’ve got to move forward, you’ve got to progress. So the goal would absolutely be to do better so I’m hoping we do (laughs). But if we do not, I don’t know if that’s a reflection of our band’s progression or maybe lack of marketing or what. But that’s all you can do is just work your ass off and hope for the best. Whatever the outcome is you correct your mistakes and move forward from there. You can’t put too much pressure on you because some things are just out of your control. But I have faith that it will be alright.

There’s a theme of rising through dark times on the new record, notably on tracks like “Crutch” and “Life Afraid”. What was the inspiration behind these?

For “Life Afraid” the actual inspiration for that song is the attacks on Paris. We wrote that the same day as those attacks. But when it happened I didn’t want to write at all. I felt sick to my stomach; I didn’t want to write about anything. Because the venue where they held those hostages, Le Bataclan, we’ve played that venue. Actually, the first time we played overseas we played with Yellowcard, and the finale of the tour was at Le Bataclan in Paris, France.

So we have a lot of memories there, we had drinks backstage in the green room, like I know that place like the back of my hand. So to hear that that happened, it’s like it could have just as easily been us. That could have been our fans that were murdered, it could have been us having to have known that we brought those people there and then that happened. It drove me insane. I’m an over-analyzer already, I have issues with anxiety, and then you put that together with that situation and I was a wreck that day. I was talking to Brandon, our producer, and Dan from our band whom I write with and I was like, “I don’t think I can write today.” And they said okay and they respected it, and Dan felt the same way.

But we went out to eat and we started talking about it and we were like right now, I know the whole cliché of, “Don’t let the terrorists win,” but I was like, that’s how I feel and that’s what they want. They want that fear to take over us. They want that fear to get in the way of how we live our lives. And I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to go on tour and live in fear of that. I won’t and I refuse to because this is my passion and I will live it to its fullest.

So we went back that night and we had our friend come over, Rogét [Chahayed], who’s a very talented keyboardist who also helped us on the track “Hypnotized”. Anyway he started playing around on his keyboard, which you can hear in the background of the song in the verses, and the melodies just came out like immediately. There was no thinking twice about it, when we started jamming we knew that was the right stuff. Then we started writing down the lyrics the following day, but the whole general core of the song was written on that day, so it was really emotional and it really poured out in the session.

But the point is, what you’re seeing about overcoming dark times, that’s kind of the theme of this record. That’s why we called it Upside Down because the song “Upside Down” is about that as well. It’s a more lighthearted song about a guy having the worst day of his life and he still manages to find the positivity in those shitty situations because that’s how I am and that’s how we are as a band.

Do you have anything to say to the fans coming out to see Set It Off in NJ?

First of all, I don’t know if we can curse or not but we fucking love New Jersey! I say that just because we’ve been through the smallest shows in New Jersey. We played at The Meatlocker and it’s like no AC, sweaty, underground, and right across from a pizza place that has penne pasta on it (laughs). So basically I’m excited to see our fans again, I’m excited to see our rowdy New Jersey crowd again!


You can catch Set It Off at Loud Fest at GameChanger World in Howell, NJ on Oct. 15. They will also be playing at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ on Oct. 15 and Looney Tunes in West Babylon, NY on Oct. 17. The band’s new album, Upside Down, is available now through Equal Vision Records. For more information, visit their website setitoffband.com.