Off With Their Heads’ new album, Be Good, distinguishes itself from the rest of the band’s catalog with one very unique characteristic: It’s actually good. Frontman Ryan Young thinks so, anyway.
“It’s the first record I’ve ever made that I like,” laughs Young. “Because there was no reason to make it anything other than what I wanted it to be.”
The band has been relatively quiet over the last few years, largely because Young was tending to an ill family member who ultimately passed away last year. But through mourning came inspiration.
“She was a photographer, and at the wake were all these photos she took,” he remembers. One of those photos struck him immediately. It shows a Mennonite family enjoying a sunny day at the beach while an ominous cooling tower looms in the background. “I said: That’s gonna be the cover of the album that doesn’t exist yet.”
That photo captures the spirit of Be Good. While all of Off With Their Heads’ previous work shares a common thread of being rooted in Young’s fatalistic view of the world, Be Good at least allows a tiny glimmer of hope to peek through.
“All the other records were about moping around and feeling sorry for yourself,” says Young. “This one is less about feeling sorry for yourself and more about accepting how goddamn miserable you are.”
Forced acceptance is big theme of Be Good, though it’s a hard-learned one, often emerging in the form of primal screams in the band’s trademark style of gruff-punk. “Hands up to the sky and shout at the top of your lungs, til the floor falls out!” Young yells on the title track, sounding somewhere between motivational speaker and hard-nosed therapist.
Much of the self-deprecation that defined the band’s previous work has been adjusted. It was the years spent out of the van, developing a life at home in Chicago, that gave Young his newfound, slightly more positive perspective. “Not being on the road 250 days a year, actually trying to develop some sort of life outside of playing shows and drinking, you’d be surprised what that does,” he says. “I’ve lost a bunch of weight, I’ve been going to a gym every day, trying not to kill myself all the time.”
Young and the band members—bassist Robbie Smartwood, guitarist John Polydoros, and new drummer Kyle Manning—holed up for two and a half weeks at Pachyderm Studios, a mid-century mansion in Minnesota where Nirvana recorded In Utero, to make Be Good. Young produced the record himself, and it was the first time he enjoyed the process, or at least tolerated it. “I don’t like how the old records sound, and I hate recording so much,” he says. “You could just hear all the dumb shit on them where I was like, whatever, just let it go, I want to get out of here.”