By Dave Schwartz
Coming from what some would consider humble beginnings can be both a curse and a blessing for aspiring musicians. Hailing from Blountsville, Florida, Neil Alday, singer and guitarist of Socialburn, understands this paradox firsthand. Together, with Brandon Bittner, Chris Cobb and Dusty Price, Alday spent two years in his upstairs bedroom writing, rehearsing and developing a craft that has lead them from life in a small town to life on the road. Along the way they have proven that many of the gifts afforded a small town upbringing - a strong work ethic, honesty of character and perseverance - are exactly the qualities necessary to overcome the many adversities of being a musician.
Recently Alday and I sat down to talk about Socialburn and what he called, "Just luck." I shared with Alday the challenge I had researching this article. At the time of this assignment, there wasn't a great deal of information about Socialburn available on the Web.
I opened the interview by teasing Alday about his first trip through the press gauntlet and asking if he was still terrified.
"No, no, I'm fine with it" Alday began. "I like it. I'm getting used to hearing the same questions and answering, it's cool." It should be getting easier then, I tease. I'll see if I can ask something new.
"There's always something new. They know so much about us," he continued. "I'm waiting for them to ask me about my dog Dexter!"
What was I to do? It seemed like a reasonable question at the moment. And suddenly the words blurted out of my mouth, I don't know about your dog Dexter!
There was obvious pregnant pause and then, suddenly, the moment was shattered with laughter.
"No, he's just a dog," Alday smirked. "Like I'm saying, it's just surprising some of the questions we've been asked and I'm like, 'where did you find out that?'"
Yes, well the Internet is a fun place! You come from a small town in Florida. Taking a band from a small town to a major label deal must have been a real challenge.
"It was definitely a challenge," Alday agreed. "We just got lucky. It was one of those things where you never know in whose hands a CD is going to end up. We passed out a bunch of CDs. It didn't seem like we would ever get to this level, but with persistence I think you can do anything. With the CD landing in the right hands, we signed a production deal with John Kurzweg (all three Creed albums; Puddle of Mud), which evolved into a bunch of labels being interested. We got a chance to do our thing and we're doing it now."
How did Elektra find you and what do you think caught their attention?
"Before we ever signed a production deal, Elektra got wind that John was interested in us. They did their homework and came down to watch us and wanted to sign us. But we weren't ready to sign yet. We wanted to sign the production deal first because we thought it was a secure move. We work well with John; he was a good guy and really takes care of us. Elektra just kept waiting on us until they knew we were ready to get signed and we knew we were ready to be signed, we were at the level where we could compete," Alday explained.
It seemed like a poignant time to ask about the new album.
"The songs are all based on people and relationships with people," Alday shared. "It's about figuring out where you belong in society and how society fits into our lives. You know, where we belong and what we are supposed to do with our lives. It's really overall what I write a song about anyway. It's about personal conflict and the decisions I make in my life, whether it's women or business relationships or whatever. I don't write about road signs or the cars on the highway! It's got nothing to do with my life."
And about the songs, stylistically, which song on the album best represents what Socialburn is all about?
"'Down', the single that's out now definitely captures the heavier side of Socialburn," Alday explained. "There are many different sides of us. There's a song called 'Ashes.' 'Ashes,' I think best defines what we do. It's all of it wrapped in one, I think. Stylistically, along with the music in it, just how it goes from a soft thing to heavier in the chorus, the lyrics are very meaningful. I think it all around captures what we like in a song no matter which direction it takes."
I understand that, at least until recently, you were still living with your family. In preparation for this interview, I read several of your previous interviews. The familial undertones of this band were very clear. Socialburn really is all about family isn't it?
"We try to keep this band as close as possible," Alday agreed. "If there is an argument we don't run for it, we attack it full speed. We get right to the point, figure out the problem and try to solve it. We are all brothers, all the way up to our management. We treat them as family too. It's all family and this is really serious to us. Why not be surrounded by your family? Everyone we work with we fully trust. We are all working toward a common goal."
So you put a band together and spend a couple of years practicing. Was your ambition to play the local watering holes or did you have bigger aspirations from the start?
"Oh no!" Alday laughed. "There was no local watering hole to play! We had to go somewhere else! It was incredible really, the only thing you could do was go to Tallahassee or Panama City. But Panama City wasn't really the kind of scene you wanted to get into to. We never heard of a band getting signed out of Panama City. Creed and a couple of others came out of Tallahassee. Tallahassee seemed like a good hotbed of music and I wanted to get into the scene, I always did since, I guess, Creed left. I started writing music about the time that happened."
Was songwriting a natural progression for you?
"Yes, once I figured out that I wanted to write songs, but I didn't play an instrument yet. I was about 17 years old and I started playing with it and it seemed natural. It doesn't come from me, it like it comes from a spirit world. It just comes out like the songs were already written." Alday shared.
I understood exactly. I shared with Alday that I had spent a number of years as a musician myself and I learned that for some, songwriting is like breathing and for others it's the most difficult thing in the world to do.
"It is. If you're like me, the hardest part is waiting for the next song to come," Alday agreed. "You never know if the last song you wrote is going to be the last song you ever write. Or the last good song anyway!"
As the interview was coming to a close, we chatted about many aspects of the music business. It was clear that Socialburn has their feet firmly planted on the ground.
"I've been surprised by everything. I mean it's amazing what all has happened." Alday commented.
And I think rightfully so. Their first single, "Down," is racing up the charts, already breaking into the Top 20. Not bad for a band from a small town in Florida! And as far as the personal accountability that a small town teaches you, "If it all ended now I would probably go home and be teased the rest of my life" Alday said.
Yes, I can hear the jokes now, "Your record only went into the Top 20!!!" Such is life. Well it isn't ending now and there are several tours on the horizon. But Alday wasn't going to get away from me that easily.
I began to badger him, "All right Neil, tell me about your dog Dexter!!!"
Maybe next time!
To find out more about Socialburn visit the Elektra Records web site.
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