The So So Glos Carry the Torch for New York Rock and Roll
It's a Thursday night at Shea Stadium, and a girl goes by on roller skates while the So So Glos play. The place isn't packed, but it's a party anyway. The band careens around the stage while dropping straight power punk crammed with voice cracks and smart middle eights, wearing leather jackets, and looking straight from central casting in the best possible way. The crowd (save a few hippie-twirlers) careens similarly.
The scene ripples with irresistible giddiness, from the quartet's songs to the DIY venue they operate. The East Williamsburg spot is almost devoid of decoration, save a wall-mounted thrift-store swordfish and a hand-painted Mets logo over a schematic of the team's former ballpark. "STOP BLOG ROCK," reads a stop sign atop the stairs.
This week, the quartet travels across the river to play the Gramercy Theatre as part of the CBGB Festival. Like the Ramones, the So So Glos can stake themselves as an actual New York band; the members were born in Bay Ridge, and in a way are equally genuine heirs to the departed venue's much-exploited legacy. Unlike the Ramones, the Glos—Ryan and Alex Levine, plus stepbro Zach Staggers and honorary bro Matt Elkin—actually are brothers. Minus Elkin, they have been a band in some form for 20 years.
First, when Ryan was six and Alex was four, they were the Dinosaurs. "It wasn't a contrived thing," says Ryan, now 26. "We just liked dinosaurs."
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"I was calling myself T. rex," says Alex, who quickly established himself as the frontman. "We were drowning out fragments of divorce."
"They were drowning out divorce, too," Ryan says of their parents. Their father had owned a record store in pre-hardcore-era D.C., and they soon sang along to every word of the Nirvana, Sex Pistols, and Jackson 5 tapes in Zach's dad's car. Eventually, they were exiled to the dreaded suburbs.
As SPITT, they churned out a ready-to-anthologize catalog of outsider kid-punk. "We were always really serious," Ryan says. "We'd be like, 'We've got to make an album,' so we'd get out the karaoke machine. An album was done when the tape was done—both sides of the tape. Then we would make a cover for it."
In the late '90s, after a few more name changes (plus forays into rap-rock and ska), they auditioned at CBGB and invited everybody they knew. While the venue's prestige might have declined by then, it remained an entry point for any band that wanted a gig, and the proto-Glos quickly wrote themselves into the club's complicated late-period legacy. "We got kicked out after we played," says Zach, who was 14 at the time. "I was buying drinks, and our friends came in drunk."
Even when Ryan moved to Israel for a spell, music remained the focus. When he came back, the band became the So So Glos. "Are we going to change our name again?" Elkin asks. The brothers laugh.
It almost doesn't matter, just as it wouldn't matter if they were expelled from Shea for any of the reasons that do-it-yourself venues usually get expelled from their homes. "It's an idea that can't really be broken," Alex says. He's talking about DIY, but he could be talking about his own band.
Sick of playing the Lower East Side meat markets, they struck out on their own with the encouragement of Joe Ahearn, a founder of the free concert-listings broadsheet Showpaper and homesteader at Silent Barn. They organized a cross-country jaunt via MySpace (Elkin: "some Outward Bound shit for troubled youth") and, when they returned, moved into a new communal pad in Bushwick. With the help of promoter Todd Patrick, they turned it into Market Hotel. A two-year relationship with the EMI subsidiary Green Owl resulted in a pair of rush-recorded releases, heart and headaches, and eventually DIY re-entrenchment.
In 2009, the lifelong Mets fans opened Shea Stadium—meaning that William Shea, a crony of community-destroying Robert Moses, had inadvertently given his family name to a community-building punk venue. The Friday of Johan Santana's no-hitter, they partied well into the night and invited their Twitter followers over to celebrate. This kind of chaos might erupt anytime around the So So Glos; it's equally inherent in the collective life they live and the music they make, their childhood intuitions only barely reined in by the song forms they've ingested.
They have a new album, Blowout, ready to go, and would be happy to release it themselves—at least in part to accommodate the follow-up they recently laid down in the home studio built at Shea by childhood pal Adam Reich.
"You guys have always lived together," Elkin half-asks.
"We've always lived together," Alex, Ryan, and Zach say—the same words, almost at the same time.
The So So Glos play Gramercy Theatre on July 6.
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