Set It Off: Ambitious young punks get ready to explode
(All this week, we’re spotlighting tbt*’s 2010 Ultimate Local Artists on Soundcheck. Today: Set It Off.)
If you’re looking for a young Tampa Bay band that could break nationally, look no further than Set It Off.
In the past year, the North Pinellas fivesome released their second EP, Calm Before the Storm; played at the Warped Tour in St. Petersburg; racked up nearly a dozen endorsements and were featured in Alternative Press. They are tireless performers, racking up some 170 gigs on a half-dozen tours since July 2008; and even more voracious self-promoters, always looking for ways to connect with their many fans online.
All this, and only one member is even old enough to drink.
Now Set It Off — singer Cody Carson, 21, guitarist-keyboardist Dan Clermont, 20, guitarist Zach Something, 20, bassist Austin Kerr, 20, and drummer Benji Panic, 19 — is pushing to become the next big thing in Florida pop-punk.
“We’re just climbing this industry ladder one step at a time,” Panic said. “It’s tedious and it’s slippery at times, and you feel like you’re going to fall, but you just keep going.”
“When it comes to marketing, you want your band name to get stuck in their head,” said Carson. “You want to make people sick of hearing Set It Off.”
The band’s backstory: Two years ago, Carson, then a student at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Ohio, began uploading videos to his YouTube channel (rockmaniac89) about one of his favorite bands, All Time Low. He talked about the band, posted acoustic covers of their songs and, in 2008, after messaging them through YouTube, even got to sing with them during a concert in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Carson’s father had been battling cancer for five years. And when he passed away in the spring of 2008, Carson returned home for the funeral, where he reconnected with Kerr, Something and Clermont, fellow musicians who attended high schools in North Pinellas County. (Clermont and Carson were part of Tarpon Springs High’s prestigious Leadership Conservatory for the Arts — Carson played clarinet, Clermont played trumpet.)
The guys stayed up until 3 a.m., having a blast playing Carson’s songs. They knew they had something that could work.
By the time Panic joined the band and they played their first show, fans who had followed the band through Carson’s YouTube channel were already familiar with the band’s story and music. “At our first show, people were singing the words to our songs,” Carson said. “We were like, 'We haven’t even released this stuff yet!’”
Immediately after that show, the band hit the road hard and the Web even harder. They looked at what bands like Fall Out Boy and Tampa’s Select Start were doing online, and tried to emulate it — splashy MySpace layouts, bright photos, lots of multimedia, neon-flavored T-shirts, etc. “We didn’t think about trying to set ourselves apart, or (showing) what we were actually trying to do as a band,” said Kerr.
That changed about a year ago, when Jorge Acosta, an artist relations manager for Stereo Bear Clothing, told the band he wanted to be their manager, and outlined a plan to get them national exposure. He used his connections in the music industry to get them on punk sites and social media networks, and helped refine their image online. “It’s basically taking the product — their faces and their music — and turning it into a brand and running with it,” Acosta said.
So far, their approach seems to be working. Set It Off has more than 27,000 MySpace friends. Carson’s YouTube channel has more than 14,000 subscribers, and his videos have accumulated nearly 1.5 million views. In the past month, commenters have begged Set It Off to come to Austria and Australia. They still get comments on Carson’s earliest videos.
“It gives us a closer, more personal relationship with our fans — and I don’t even like to use the word fans, because they’re pretty much family, because they’ve been there since the beginning,” Carson said. “They’ve seen us grow.”
The band is already “financially stable,” Kerr said, thanks to their grasp of the marketing machine and their own fiscal conservatism (on the road, they receive a mere $6 per diem for food, and sleep on fans’ floors, couches and Walmart parking lots).
Next up for the band will be a new album with a bigger, more orchestral sound. The band knows they’ll be compared to Panic at the Disco, but they don’t care.
“There’s only one band that’s done (that sound), and they’ve become a household name. There’s no reason why (Set It Off) can’t be the second,” Acosta said. “They really have the potential to have multiple labels battling over them.”
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo: Luis Santana, tbt*