The Say So does not stand on ceremony.
Actually, right now, the four twenty-something dudes who make up the band aren't "standing" at all. Tucked into the corners of mostly stable, occasionally footless chairs, the guys are sprawled across the living room of guitarist Noah Fisher's Capitol Hill apartment, which is decorated like a post-grad frat house and interspersed with guitars and a piano. Between bites of $5 pizza, they discuss their image.
"I look like I'm the focus, which I shouldn't be," says bassist Chris Beeble, dismissing the shots from a recent photo shoot, in a full-mouth mumble. "Plus, they're just too happy for us." Fisher fully agrees. "That's what I thought. They're a little too, 'Good morning!'"
Even in their small talk, these guys — Fisher, Beeble, drummer Robbie Spradling and singer Sean Palmer — spend as much time in their heads as in their hearts. The same translates to the textured, soaring melodies of their first full-length album, The Romantic, which regularly shifts between ambitious storytelling and emotional drama at the turn of a phrase, with hooks pinned to cerebral insights.
The band's earliest incarnation was cemented in the seventh grade, when Spradling and Beeble met and formed a series of short-lived teenage bands they categorize as "experimental pop," followed by one "jam band." All of the members of the Say So are generous with air quotes, both physical and implied. At Ralston Valley High School in Arvada, the duo "enlisted" Palmer, two grades older, to join the "beta version" of the Say So, then called En Plein Air, and when their guitarist dropped out of the lineup, they tried and failed as a threesome (a word that is not in quotes — though it does earn some grins). Fisher joined the band a few years after beating his bandmates: The former Faith Christian Academy teen auditioned for the outfit a few weeks after his band trounced theirs in a battle of the bands. "They kind of cheated," Spradling points out. "Their drummer knocked over the drums and started playing on them, and that's just cheap."
With Fisher on board, the act loosened its tight grip on melody and experimented with effects pedals, introducing drone and echo into the fluid rotation of the newly christened Say So. As they grew into the broader dynamic, the guys healed some of their tunnel vision, repositioning their emphasis from music to lyrics and adopting a more collaborative approach to songwriting.
Three years and one EP later, the Say So is set to release a full-length album, The Romantic, which was a little over a year in the making. The band began recording in April 2011 and split the tracks over ten studio days strung out over two months at the University of Denver, where Beeble earned a degree in audio production. Unlike Something Like Wild, the Say So's 2010 EP, on which the band worked haphazardly, settling on songs just because they were finished, there was a more concerted effort here.
"The act of being intentional was actually the biggest change in direction," Fisher notes. "And our process is very unique to us. When we're writing, we get an idea, musical or lyrical, and we get together and try to form a movie, this video montage in our minds."
The Romantic's title remains its most ambitious concept, and it provided the fodder for the ethereal artwork that grew alongside it. "Just like the Romantic period in history, we obsessed over our work, we lost ourselves in it and we found our way out," Fisher recalls. "We were living that." Throughout a series of blunt band meetings, the group called in friend (and Fisher roommate) Zach Johnson, who documented the album's discontent in a cover painting inspired by a room even more sparsely furnished than theirs: Lounging on a red sofa, gorgeous, dolled-up representatives of both genders stare out.
From there, the album developed gradually through a string of stylized and painfully self-aware themes: Before working on each new song, the guys created a collective image in their minds. "It's like if we were writing a music video for it together," Beeble says. "This verse feels like this, and she would be sitting in a room by herself, and then this would happen."
For "Safe to Say," the guys borrowed from It's Kind of a Funny Story, the Zach Galifianakis movie about a suicidal teen who checks into rehab. From a timid lullaby intro, the track builds into a hoarse, raucous chorus that pleas with listeners to "Say I'm okay. Say I'm okay. Say I'm okay." Watching the film from home, Palmer drew inspiration from its story of recovery, which he and the other bandmembers can track back to their own histories. The most true-to-life the stories get are, well, vaguely so — meaning that close friends might be able to match songs with stories, but never with faces.
The same sort of sentiment holds true for "Wake Up Your Eyes," the shape-shifting sing-along the group wrote last in rotation and saved for the album's closer. Most of the lyrics stemmed from an episode of Planet Earth, but the themes are even more nebulous: birth and life. The song is bigger than itself, and frustratingly so. To channel its rising rhythm and delayed crescendo, "we asked ourselves, 'If you could speak to your newborn child to prepare it for this world, what would you say?'" says Beeble. "And it's not like we're trying to answer that question. The question is the entire song."
Because they intended the album to outline their change in identity, their newly intentional sense of self, the guys spent two tedious months editing and mastering it. Beeble, who works as a recording engineer at Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins, slept only three hours a night during much of the process. The guys fought frequently. Beeble totaled his own car and crashed his girlfriend's, both accidents the result of a lack of sleep. And when they finally felt comfortable, the Say So collaborated with Beeble's studio mentor, Andrew Berlin (Rise Against, Tickle Me Pink, Stick to Your Guns), who mixed the final tracks in August.
The intervening months have marked an adjustment to the new sounds and a wait for the moment to release them. And if the band doesn't "happen" as a result of the album, it will move on only as far as the next one.
"I feel like we finally narrowed down a living, breathing style in the middle of all these landscapes and concepts and stories," Palmer concludes. "It feels nice to know who we are."