News Column

Beyond covers: A Social State's original songs open up local music scene to alternatives

July 29, 2013

YellowBrix

July 29--It isn't easy for a band to keep its profile on high ground when its drummer lives nearly 900 miles away, but Scranton rockers A Social State have done just that.

The band's reputation as a hardworking and entertaining outfit is testament to the talent that thrives in the alternative-indie-rock group.

Still, it hasn't been an easy road.

Founding member and singer/guitarist/lyricist Ed Cuozzo said all members of A Social State started in other local bands before coming together to write original music.

"I used to play in a band for eight years called Melded, and started another band called A Fire With Friends," Mr. Cuozzo said.

Fun time

Guitarist CJ Williams and bassist Jon Fletcher were in Livingston, and drummer Nick Ogonosky was playing with Losing Caufield in 2009 when they first started hanging out as friends.

"I thought I played with really good drummers before, and I went and saw Nick and I was blown away by the kid. He's unreal. He could be playing with national acts if he wanted to," Mr. Cuozzo said.

"We said, 'We gotta jam just for fun,'" he continued, noting the first session featured a former guitar player with the band. "I had a riff and lyric ideas, and the song 'Faceless' came out of nowhere. And we wrote another one and another one, and at the end of rehearsal, we looked at each other and said 'We gotta be in a band together.' We just had lots of fun."

Though each had moderate success and fun in their former bands, those lineups just didn't work out.

"We all wanted to do something different, something more our own taste," Mr. Cuozzo said. "CJ entered the band and really solidified our sound.

"We were playing heavier rock and moved into spacey and experimental sounding music, more Radiohead-influenced and honed that sound."

"We don't really play catchy, upbeat, happy music; it's more straight-up rock," Mr. Fletcher said. "I hope (people) take away that they just saw a really tight, well-versed band that's been working at this for years and years now."

Mr. Williams modestly suggested that the band's approach to writing music is one of honesty and genuine emotion, rather than ambition.

"We're not reinventing the wheel, but we're not trying to copy anything or stick with any type of label or genre (either)," Mr. Williams said. "We've never written songs and said 'Let's do this or that,' so what that brings to the local scene is showing people they don't have to restrict themselves to what their fanbase is.

"It's definitely kind of like a mission statement to not pigeonhole ourselves and be as real as possible," Mr. Williams added. "We just try to translate what normal, everyday people feel into something musical."

Once the band members had their philosophy in place, they released a record of live analog tape called "Everyone's Your Friend."

"Everyone seemed to like it," Mr. Cuozzo said. "It picked up great local reception and even (played) on local radio stations."

But circumstances soon changed, when Mr. Ogonosky injured his wrist and began to prepare to move to Georgia for school.

"We were at a crossroads," Mr. Cuozzo said. "We've played with 14 fill-in drummers. It's been one of the most painful processes. They're such nice people and (Mr. Ogonsky) gets it, and we're so grateful for all of them, but nothing was ever like playing with him.

"It's something the four of us have together," Mr. Cuozzo said.

Turning point

A Social State played when and where it could, and it vied for A&R attention to help its record but didn't get too far. Then, one day, an email came to the group from producer Steve Haigler of Vudu Studios in Port Jefferson, N.Y.

"He gave us kudos and called it very impressive," Mr. Cuozzo said. "I checked out his studio online, and I thought they were all these covers (songs and bands), but then I looked at the client list and Steve had produced or co-produced all these acts, like Brand New and the Pixies."

The band didn't have much to go on financially, but the members' determination to work with Mr. Haigler led to the decision to cut a six-song EP (with Mr. Ogonosky on drums) to start.

"We organized time when we knew (Nick) would be in from Georgia and went to Vudu for six days," Mr. Cuozzo said. "I had something like 24 songs ready to go, but after all preproduction, it ended up being six, plus one we wrote while there, so seven all together.

"After we heard the quality, we were blown away," he added. "But by the end of the six days, we weren't close to being done."

Instead, A Social State opted to make a full-length record, so Mr. Cuozzo began making demos on his computer and emailing them to Mr. Ogonosky in Georgia.

"I would send Nick a crappy quality mp3 and pray he would get what I was trying to do and understand the structure," he explained. "We worked through it. And within five minutes of going through it with CJ and Jon, the songs came to life. But there was zero rehearsal. That's why I think we have something really special. I've done that with other bands and it never really worked out."

A Social State's album has been mixed and mastered by Mr. Haigler and Thomas Happel, and the guys have the finished product in hand, but they have been hesitant to put it out until they can put together a full rollout plan including a CD release event in the fall.

"We're trying to make the right steps, finally actually talking to management companies, trying to get support of a label behind us," Mr. Cuozzo said. "(Steve and Thomas) worked hard, and we all respect what they did for us. It would tarnish that if we didn't put as much tender loving care in the project."

Venues like the Vintage Theater, The Keys, The Irish Wolf Pub and New Visions Studio & Gallery in Scranton, plus the former Cafe Metropolis in Wilkes-Barre have all supported the band in its quest to put out original music, but the battle for the chance to play unknown songs is not an easy one, Mr. Cuozzo said.

"There's a want for (original music) in the community, and I think it's something so important. There's a hunger for it," he said.

There's the flip side, too, he added: bars and venues that will only employ cover artists.

"I think there could be a lot more support coming for it," Mr. Cuozzo said. "I understand there's a business and a personal gain these people need, but there has to be a level of community or else how does the music scene, the art scene, come to thrive?"

"The hope is to get out of the life we have to endure to make music," Mr. Williams agreed. "We don't want to be the biggest thing on earth. It's the simple fact of we just want to make music a career."

With increased exposure, original music could actually prove to be a boon for the region, Mr. Fletcher argued.

"I hope that with our new album coming out it brings our band to the next level of playing out more ... getting out of Scranton more to see how it will affect the scene," he said. "It seems like we could start drawing more fans to the area."

Whether A Social State succeeds in this goal remains to be seen, but Mr. Cuozzo said he hopes at the very least that his band will pave the way for up-and-comers.

"We have a wonderful fan base and really great friends in other bands who keep it going. I'm proud of the music I write, but also what all my best friends write. But I think the best is still coming up: these 16-year-old kids in nooks no one knows about," he said.

"I wish there was more the scene could do to help them and give them a platform to share their art," Mr. Cuozzo said. "I don't want the younger generation who are better than all of us to go through feeling belittled or alienated by a scene that should make them feel welcome and excited."

Contact the writer: pwilding@timesshamrock.com, @pwildingTT on Twitter

Meet A Social State

Founded: 2009

Genre: Alternative indie rock

Members: Ed Cuozzo, guitar/vocals; Jon Fletcher, bass and backup vocals; CJ Williams, guitar; Nick Ogonosky, drums

For fans of: Radiohead, Saves the Day, Nirvana and Manchester Orchestra

Online: Facebook fan page: facebook.com/ asocialstatemusic; or find the band on YouTube or ReverbNation.com

Up next: Liberty Music Fest in Philadelphia (date TBD); and CD release event is planned for the fall.

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(c)2013 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)

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