June 23, 2016 Interview – Brandon Kellum of American Standards
Anything worth achieving takes a mass of hard work. An old school motto of the USA, while much of the new generation often walk around looking for hand outs, Arizona based band American Standards rather earn their due. Come together back in 2011, their musical style rooted in Technical Hardcore with strong elements of Punk and Metal is brought together by socially charged topics ranging from materialism, life in the technology age, and more. Not concerned with labels, American Standards continue to attract attention with their raw sound and intense live shows. Showing no signs of slowing down, we recently had a chance to sit down with Lead Vocalist Brandon Kellum to talk the band’s message, plans for the future, influence, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – American Standards has roots in the state of Arizona, but first, tell us, where did each member originate?
Brandon Kellum – We’re pretty evenly scattered throughout the U.S. Corey’s from Chicago, Steven’s from New York, then both Mitch and I were born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona.
CrypticRock.com – That is a pretty broad spectrum of the country. You said you have musical influences which are wide and varied, from Tom Waits, to Led Zeppelin, to Rob Zombie, and beyond. How have you taken these variations and applied them to American Standards sound?
Brandon Kellum – I think it keeps things interesting. A lot of bands stick to a few influences, and in doing so, may limit their potential for creating something new and unique. We all grew up on a pretty eclectic mix, so each seems to find their way in our writing in some form or another. Whether it be the lyrical genius of Tom Waits or the larger-than-life stage presence of Rob Zombie.
CrypticRock.com – Right, it is good to keep your horizons open with music. You never know what will inspire you. Your debut, full-length album, Still Life, was released in 2012, and after listening to 2014’s Hungry Hands, there is a definite lyrical social structure involved. Is that an accurate assessment?
Brandon Kellum – Yeah, I think a lot of the lyrical content comes innately. I’ve never been one to sit down and say that I need to write a song. When I write, it comes more organically. It’s like the words are already there and I just need to put them to paper. When it comes time to record, I like to sit back and take in the mood and dynamics of the song, and then match them to the lyrics and ideas that complement it best.
CrypticRock.com – That is an interesting way to right. While labels can be limiting, American Standard is categorized as a Metalcore band. Although, the lyrics scream Punk. Where do you yourselves define your responsibility as artists to the sound creations and your fans?
Brandon Kellum – That’s a good question. You know, I don’t think we’re held to being anything more than honest, giving the people that come to see us a show that’s rooted in a genuine passion for what we’re doing and the message we’re putting out there. Whether it gets labeled as Punk, Metal or otherwise, it doesn’t really get much attention in our writing process.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, music is music. Digging around you and listening to your lyrics, you can find some pretty heavy reflections on America. For example, the words on the track “Harvester,” where you say, “We’re overwhelmed with the underwhelming. Overfed and starving for more. Buying all the pitch is selling…” Where do you see us heading as a country? Do you find hope in any aspects?
Brandon Kellum – Absolutely. I think, now more than ever, America’s youth is starting to actively engage in the political discussion. We’re in a click and share culture that allows us to share our thoughts to a larger audience quicker than ever. That’s something that should be encouraged and, in itself, is a reason to be optimistic. With Millennial now making up the largest portion of the population, though, this new found interest brings responsibility. I think where we have opportunity is in how we consume and react to the media that ultimately shapes our beliefs. Although technology allows us to filter down to exactly who or what we want to see, it also allows us to blind ourselves to those with a different perspective. That effect further separates people into an “us vs them” tribe mentality where one side is automatically the “good” guys and the other, the “bad.”
We can’t fight hate with hate. It only polarizes further. I think what we need to do is start on the other side and slowly work our way back until we have a true understanding of where they’re coming from and why. That common ground will go further than any act of protest or misdirected passion.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very interesting point. We shall see how everything shakes out as the country moves forward. Over the past ten years, as you reflect on each album American Standards created, what do you feel has been your greatest asset in developing as musicians?
Brandon Kellum – As simple as it sounds, age and the experience that comes with it. I think when you’re younger, you’re far more impressionable to the latest trend. It’s easier to follow rather than lead. At least for me, that put me in a spot where I felt I was competing to be the fastest, heaviest, or most technical. As I’ve grown, though, I’ve really found an appreciation for dynamics, the contrast between parts and good structure. I think a good song is rooted in interesting ideas – not the complexity of playing them. With that realization, though, is also the understanding that not everyone will like or appreciate what you’re doing, and that’s okay.
CrypticRock.com – Well everyone has different perspectives, but you have to do what works best for you as an artist. The band took a unique approach to the distribution of Hungry Hands. How did you find the route you took to work overall, and are you considering doing something similar again?
Brandon Kellum – It was a blessing and a curse. American Standards has always had a DIY mindset at its very core. I think much of our message coincides with the idea that you can take control of your life and be the change that you want to see in the world. So, self-releasing the album was liberating in a sense that we were working on our own timeline and completely responsible for the end product. It was also awesome to connect with fans in a new way and really have this overwhelming sense of community and support.
It was a lot of work though. We spent several sleepless nights creating all the perks packages, mailing out, and trying to really show people how much we appreciated their vote of confidence. In the end, it was all worth it and we learned a lot from the experience.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a lot of work, but indeed a learning experience, as you stated. When might listeners expect a new album from American Standard?
Brandon Kellum – Soon! We’ll actually be back in California through June and much of July recording at Kingsize Soundlabs (The Mars Volta, LetLive, OFF!). The goal is to have a full-length out by the end of 2016.
CrypticRock.com – That is excellent news. You and Corey Skowronski are the two original founding members of American Standard. How did the two of begin working together?
Brandon Kellum – It’s funny story. Initially, Corey had responded to a Craigslist ad we had up for a bassist. We already had some local shows lined up and the day of his audition we had a photographer lined up to take some promo shots. What we did was take one set with him and one set without just in case things didn’t work out.
Fast forward five years and I stumble across an email, even prior to American Standards, in which apparently the two of us had traded some emails back and forth about starting a band years before we had met. Didn’t work out at the time, but glad it all came full circle.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, you just never know what the future will hold. This industry can be very tough, but that does not deter the hardest working musicians from trying. What keeps the momentum going forward for the band?
Brandon Kellum – I think we just have the right group of guys that respect each other and share the same vision and values. A lot of people think you need money or fame to be happy. I think we’re proof that neither holds weight. We also don’t have the looks and our talent is debatable. What we have is a passion that we’re not afraid to follow as far as it’ll take us.
Anyone with the same drive can do the same and should. Following our dreams pushes us forward. The experiences we have along the way is the payoff.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good attitude to have. How challenging is it to get everyone on board and focused on the same dream?
Brandon Kellum – It’s tough. I’ve got to be honest. Anyone that’s started a band knows that finding people with the same drive that aren’t already up to their neck in other projects is nearly impossible. When you do, though, it comes easy.
CrypticRock.com – Well, it is great that American Standard has that. You will soon be sharing the stage with the band ’68. What else and where else are you planning on taking American Standard fans through 2016 and 2017?
Brandon Kellum – We’re already planning a West Coast and Midwest run for 2016. Early 2017, we’ll be doing the East Coast in support of the new album and, if everything works out, the U.K. won’t be far behind.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like the band has a busy road ahead. My last question for you is pertaining to films. CrypticRock.com covers both music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have and favorites?
Brandon Kellum – I’m a huge fan of Horror films, which in a time like now, it can be hard. I try to see every movie that hits my radar, but I feel I’m disappointed more often than not – especially when gore is used in place of plot development and real scares. As for classics, I love The Shinning (1980) as a Psychological Thriller. The Evil Dead (1981) has also always held a special place in my heart as the perfect blend of Horror and Comedy. As for recent hidden gems – REC (2007), It Follows (2014), Dead Snow (2009), and even 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)were all innovative films that are a must see in my book. For Sci-Fi, I’m a huge nerd for Rod Serling, and The Twilight Zone has always been my favorite series. I find myself re-watching it often. Along the same anthology format, Black Mirror, The Outer Limits, and Tales From The Crypt are all great!