WE CAUGHT UP WITH ARMY OF FRESHMEN FRONTMAN CHRIS JAY AFTER THE FIRST DATE OF THE “GET HAPPY” TOUR IN GLASGOW TO CHAT ALL THINGS MUSIC, LIFE, AND HOW HE’S A BOXING CHAMPION
THE MODERN RECORD: Let’s kick things off with the usual interview starter! How did the Army Of Freshmen start?
Chris: Okay! I was seventeen years old and I graduated high school in New Jersey on the East Coast in the United States. I literally got my parents van, that was the graduation present they gave me their used minivan, and I drove cross country to California basically to do music and I initially wanted to do a solo singer-songwriter thing. I’d been in a band in high school, being in a band is a pain in the ass, all the different people and relationships so I figured I’ll go to California and do the solo singer-songwriter thing and just young man goes West. There’s still a thing in the US of the further West you go, there’s hope there’s a promise, there’s California goldrush like nothings changed.
So, anyway, long story short I got out there and I started playing some open mics like solo shows and what happened was I ended up meeting a couple of friends who almost became a default band it was like accidental. Initially, I was playing as “Chris Jay and the Army Of Freshmen” and there was no Army Of Freshmen it was just me with an acoustic guitar, like wanting to be Bob Dylan. But then when I made some friends it was like what if you become Army Of Freshmen. So then after a couple of months, it was like dude we’re a band now so f**k the Chris Jay name let’s kick you out and we’re just called “Army Of Freshmen”. That’s basically how it started you could say it was accidental, you know so I didn’t go to California to start a band I went to California to be a solo singer-songwriter, and it became a band. If you ever told me I would be playing pop-punk with keyboards I would be like “you’re f**king crazy dude! I’m gonna sound like Bob Dylan” but it just wasn’t in the cards for me.
THE MODERN RECORD: It’s such a change, like from one extreme to another
Chris: Absolutely, it just kinda naturally happened. We were very experimental when we first started. Dan (Dan Clark-keyboards) and Aaron (Aaron Goldberg-guitar) played horns and I was like we’ll be this cool band and every song will be a different genre, but no one would understand that. People would be like “what the f**k is going on here?!” so eventually we put Dan and Aaron on the keyboards and guitar cause they could both play and then it became sorta like okay, I think we have a sound now, and that’s kinda the sound that people know us for now. Initially, if you woulda saw us in 1998 you would have been like “what the f**k is going on here?!” you know what I mean? It took us 2 years or so to kind of figure it out, which is a bummer because sometimes I wish we would have figured it out 2 years before because had we hit in like 98/99 as opposed to like 2001/2002/2003, the music industry was different so we probably could have snuck in on a major label and been living the dream, but we were just f**king around with all these different styles you know but hey, it is what it is.
THE MODERN RECORD: You say the name started off as “Chris Jay and the Army Of Freshmen”, why the Army Of Freshmen?
Chris: It was initially a fake name when I would play acoustic at like Starbucks and stuff to sound like a big band so my joke was so if somebody passed the poster, Chris Jay and Army Of Freshmen, they must be a huge band and it would just be me. So I’d introduce no one, like “hey, this is Army Of Freshmen”. It was a bad joke, but when the people came in it suddenly became like “oh, we’ll just go with that name”. I didn’t think I’d be doing it when I was close to 40 (laughs). I’d have had a different name, you know Army Of Freshmen sounds like a young band now we’re all f**king old but you roll with what you got.
THE MODERN RECORD: Last time you were in the UK was supporting LIT in 2014, how psyched are you to be over here again?
Chris: It’s a great man! I really reached a point where I didn’t know if we’d ever come back here, just because everything had changed. Guys got jobs, we were older, you know people got married people had kids, so I was just kind of like aww man if we ever do anything again it’ll probably be for our 20th Anniversary.
So when the phone call came in from Jaret (Jaret Reddick-Bowling For Soup) back in May, “do you wanna do something next year, do you wanna bring Get Happy back?” it was like oh my God! We could do our 20th Anniversary on a huge tour and play in big venues like this so it was a no brainer. So I said yes! I didn’t even ask the guys I said yes, absolutely, let’s do it. It’s very exciting to be back. I don’t know what the future’s gonna hold if we do more if we don’t do anything if we do a little bit of stuff but if this is the culmination of it, dude it can’t be better! You and I are hanging out talking in a f***ing tour bus. I’m gonna go home and have a regular job and bills and all that kinda stuff, but right now this is the dream. This is what I always wanted so gotta just roll with it and enjoy it.
THE MODERN RECORD: How did it all come about? You mention Jaret got in touch with you, I first caught you guys on the last Get Happy tour in 2007, that’s what turned me onto you guys. How did you get in touch with Jaret, how did you find each other in the first place back in the day?
Chris: We met Bowling For Soup in 2003 on the Warped Tour. They were starting to do really well, we were just kinda coming up, we became friends, we met and hung out after a show and kept in touch. At the end of 2003, I sent him an email as they were doing a big tour and I said “hey man, you’re doing this tour can we play a couple shows with you?” basically just begging and he to his everlasting credit said, “yeah, I’ll get you on a show or two”. Most big bands don’t do that they say “the bill is the bill sorry we can’t help you out” blah blah blah. He literally said, “I’ll put you on a couple of shows”. We played a couple of shows with them and it went so well, the audience reacted so well and they said: “we’re gonna keep you on for the rest of the tour”. It was winning the lottery man, it was like oh my God! After that, we did the whole tour with them. We became friends, we went to the UK with them, we were playing with them all the time. We were just very close friends and what ended up happening was in 2006 he was looking to do a name for his tour and Kai (Kai Dodson-Bass), in our band Army Of Freshmen, suggested “Get Happy” and we were gonna be on the tour. A great name for a tour, that was the name of a Bowling For Soup song, so he used the name and basically we created kind of an interactive tour.
We needed fun bands like we didn’t want the screamo thing that was happening at the time, we wanted upbeat, just people coming to have a good time. You could bring your kids, you could bring your Mum or your Dad. That’s what Get Happy formed around. There were 4 Get Happy tours, two in 2006 and then two in 2007. Two in the US and then two in the UK. It was amazing but what happened was by the end of it we were talking about doing some bigger stuff maybe making it like a festival like Warped Tour or something, like 8 bands and 2 stages but dude the music industry just hit a wall. It was like 2008 that’s when the stock market crashed everything got f***ed up so the idea of doing a new package tour when nobody was going to shows, it was a difficult concept so it just went away. Bowling For Soup did their thing and we did our thing we drifted away. Then in May he hit me up and said “hey, what do you think about bringing it back and going back to the UK with it?” so I just I didn’t even talk to anybody I just said yes. We had our 20th Anniversary coming, if not we’re gonna be over here in Glasgow playing at the Cathouse in front of 7 people, we’ll be cool to go play the Academy with you! That was a good trade. Doors may be early, we may not get the whole crowd. We’re talking on the first night of the tour, the first night’s always like what’s going on?! There are sound checks and all that sort of bullshit. We noticed when we started it was very light but by the end of the show we had the full crowd, so I’m just hoping as the shows go on we start with a bigger crowd. People warm up to us if they don’t know us after a couple of songs. It’s almost like they’re like what’s going on here? There are keyboards, you guys are running around so usually, we get em by the end which worked tonight, but I like to get em a little earlier. I wanna grab em like 2nd or 3rd song, tonight it took like the 5th song to get em. What’s tough is tonight’s stage was very small so I can’t do the stuff I wanna do. I wanna jump off stuff, I wanna flip off stuff, it’s on. Tonight I woulda killed somebody. Tonight was like this little line and we just kinda had to run in front of the lines. I’m hoping that there are other shows where we’re not like if I move my foot an inch forward I smack into the monitor. We like big stages, but hey we’re just happy to be here we’re not gonna complain. It’s just about a good time.
THE MODERN RECORD: Going back to the subject of you guys and Jaret, on ‘Under The Radar’ on the song ‘At The End Of The Day’ Jaret does guest vocals on that, how did that come about?
Chris: We were really close, I think we asked him. We did an ‘At The End Of The Day’ EP in 2005 and we just kinda said “hey man, would you produce it?” We were just asking him to produce the actual EP and he did that which is great and when we made the whole record we had him come on and do some vocals. It’s just a friendship. Jaret and I were very close for a period of time and just like anybody in life you’ve got periods where you’re really tight with somebody then it kinda goes away but you’re still friends. Jaret and I were very very tight, like 2006/2007 we were very very close friends and it’s great to be able to, years later, go back and still have a friendship with somebody as opposed to being like “I was friends with that guy back in the day, but we don’t kick it anymore”. That’s what’s nice about this. I was talking to Jaret earlier tonight and I’m like this f***ing feels great, it fits like a glove in a nice way. It feels like 2007 and we’re on the Get Happy tour and we’re just having a good time.
I’m very very excited for the next couple shows. I will always look at the first night as a test night, figure stuff out. From merch to doors to band set times to the show and then you just try and keep making it better. Like night 1 is like what the f**k’s going on and then night 2, night 3, night 4 you just try to be great so by the time you get to the end of it you’re just kicking ass. I feel bad for Glasgow because they got the test show, and that’s not for us that’s for all the bands. There’s lots of insanity going on backstage and I like to think that as the shows go on we’ll get a little better. There are only 9 shows, but you give us 8 more shows I mean if you were to come to London for instance, we’re gonna f***ing rock. We’re taking the house down, it’s on. Tonight was just like shaking off the cobwebs.
THE MODERN RECORD: If you were that good tonight then London is in for a treat. If you can take that and multiply it 8 shows later that’s gonna be insane!
Chris: Thanks Paul, thank you very much.
THE MODERN RECORD: These are the first shows you guys have played in a while. Since the LIT tour and roundabout that kind of time there was no Army Of Freshmen shows at all between 2014-2017, why?
Chris: You know, 2 things. Number 1 we were burnt out. We had done it for years and we made no money and we were in debt. That’s a difficult thing to not only be in a band and make nothing but also to owe people money. We had signed to an indie label that was a brand new label and the ball was rolling for like a month or 2, this is going back to like 2009 or something, and they went belly up when the economy hit. They left us with a lot of debt. Basically they put a lot of things in our name that we weren’t aware of. Instead of the labels name, they put it in our name. We owed a lot of money, so we were a little frustrated. Mike (Mike Milligan-drummer) got married and decided to move back to Chicago where he was originally from, and that was a tough blow. It was like dude, he’s the drummer man and he’s moving halfway across the country. We got another drummer to come in and we made “Happy To Be Alive” and we were really proud of it. It was our last record and we loved it and thought it was a really good record, and nobody heard the mother f***er! Straight up, nobody f***ing heard it! That was really painful because we were like this is the best record we’ve ever made and nobody knew it existed. People weren’t buying records anymore. That was really difficult so I think all of that combined was just kind of like where do we go? We’d reached a place where we didn’t know what door to open anymore. We had tried every single door and we were still stuck in the hallway.
I think naturally we just kinda chilled out for a while. Owen (Owen Bucey-keyboard) and Kai joined other bands, Aaron and I made a movie, which we’re really really proud of. It’s a real legitimate film which has just come out in the UK on iTunes. Indie movie, silly stupid comedy for guys. Lots of profanity and you know shenanigans, but we’re proud of it. Aaron and I threw us all into the movie, ‘The Bet’, which we wrote and produced. That’s kind of where our energy went so I didn’t know if there was gonna be another Army Of Freshmen thing and that was very hard for me. There was a period in my life where I was like what am I doing? I spent years trying to make this work, we travelled the world and had amazing experiences. We did all this great s**t, but we could never make a living. That was really difficult because if you were to tell me 15 years ago “yo Chris, you’re gonna go to Japan. You’re gonna go to China. You’re gonna go to the UK 20 times, you’re gonna make 5 records” my first thought would be you mean I’m rich?! You’d be like “no, you’re actually broke as f**k!” We were the weird band that would always never make any money, I’m being brutally honest with you. We were always the opening act that would just make enough to get to the next show.
THE MODERN RECORD: In that downtime with you and Aaron making the film, how did that come about? Have you got a film background, have you guys done film studies before?
Chris: Not at all. I’ve written a bunch, I’ve written for newspaper and I’ve written a couple of video treatments but I had an idea for a movie so I’m like you know what, it’d be cool because we’ve got some time on our hands I’m gonna make a screenplay. I asked Aaron because we’re partners in a lot of creative stuff, would you wanna write it with me? He said “yeah let’s try”, so we did. We just started writing a movie. Dude, we didn’t go to film school, I don’t have any background in screenplays or anything like that. We surrounded ourselves with good people. I contacted a producer and I contacted a director I knew and said: “hey, help us and guide us through this process”. We wrote the whole thing by ourselves and then when it was done we said we wanna make a movie. We spent so many years begging A&R guys to sign us, I’m not gonna spend the next 15 years begging a production company or a studio to make a movie. Who is going to read the script of 2 guys in a pop-punk band that they’ve never heard of, and it’s a raunchy guy comedy? It’s not gonna happen! We just said we’re better off doing it ourselves. We went out there, we raised the money and we made the film and it came out pretty f***ing good. I mean listen, is it a million-dollar movie? No. But does it suck? No, it doesn’t suck. It’s not a student film it’s not like a hunk of junk. It’s a movie and we had some famous wrestlers in it, we had a couple really good up and coming actors and comedians so we’re really proud of it. We wrote our second film which is called ‘Wedding Or Not’, the first one was called ‘The Bet’ this one is called ‘Wedding Or Not’ and this one is girls behaving badly. The first one was guys behaving badly but dude we got distribution, it came out a little bit and it got a little bit of love, not as much as we wanted, but go figure I was in Indie music and that ship was sinking and I said: “well there’s another ship out there it’s an Indie film”. I swam out to the f***er and I crawled on board and I said “I’m so thankful to be on board because I used to be on Indie music and it just sunk” and then the guy that was the Captain of the Indie film ship said, “this f***er’s sinking too!”. Downloading hit music first and then it hit film second and it hit us, go figure, it hit right when we were trying to put the film out. Again I’m not complaining, it’s just like the music I got to do something amazing. I went to a premiere in Hollywood on a big ass screen and watched a movie that I co-wrote. That movie was in my head, like something that was in my head suddenly was on a massive screen and there were 100 people watching it, which was awesome! Did it make any money? No, it didn’t. You can see the theme here. My parents always say my family was cursed by gipsies. I’m of Polish Czechoslovakian descent, so 200 years ago some gipsy cruised into this town in Poland and said “the entire family here will always be poor forever” and here I am 200 years later talking to you, and I have nothing. Like when the interviews over “can you give me £5?” (laughs) I’m trying to be funny but you still have to do what you love! My whole life is I didn’t make any money, but I did things I loved and I got a lot of great experiences. I tell people I’m very rich in experience. In terms of experience, I will put my life up against 9 out of 10 people. Finances I will put my life up against 1 out of 10! I’m the poorest guy in the room but if when it’s all said and done if you’re worth is valued on what you’ve experienced and what you’ve contributed, I think I’m gonna do good. But if it’s based on what you have, it’s gonna be pretty rough! Hopefully, St Peter has a sense of humour.
THE MODERN RECORD: One last question, in “Juliet” you sing about “taking up karate and saving for a tatt”… how’s the karate going and did that tatt ever happen?
Chris: I will answer this in-depth for you, for asking such a good question! I have no tattoos. Not a single tattoo, but I have a theory. In a couple of years, dudes without tattoo’s are gonna be considered incredibly hot. You know how to tattoo’s got big, it was just like girls love guys with tattoos. Dudes were getting sleeves, neck tattoos and face tattoos. My theory is like right about now, we’re close, it will be like the most incredibly attractive thing for anybody in their 20’s or 30’s to not have a tattoo because they’ll look at me and they’ll say when I say “they” like these playmates I’m talking about, will be like “how did you get through the ’90s and the 2000s and how did you do it?! Like everybody else succumbed to it, what gave you that insight to be like I have no tattoo’s”. So I think women will be like, you know how women say “you have tattoo’s, I gotta see em!”, it’s done! For me, it’s gonna be “you don’t have tattoos? I gotta see it!” That’s my hope, I don’t know if it’ll come true.
As for the karate, I will tell you a very long and bizarre story to finish. I was in my early 30’s, I was going through a fat Elvis stage. The band was slowing down, we’re talking around 2013/2014, and I was way out of shape and I hate working out. Thought working out was the worst thing in the world like despised it like it was for idiots. When I was a little kid I loved boxing, always wanted to have an amateur boxing fight. I lived in a town where there was no boxing gym, it just wasn’t gonna happen. My parents were hippies, I found music and that was it. Years later I fell in with some guys that were boxers and boxing trainers. We became friends and I wrote a couple of articles about me and I became obsessed with boxing again, kind of fell in love with the sport. Keep in mind, huge wuss and I’m totally out of shape. So one day the trainer said, “dude you’ve been talking about wanting to work out again, you’ve been talking about losing weight, why don’t you box instead of going to a fitness gym?” Okay, it was like I was waiting, I’d been waiting my whole life for somebody to ask me to do this. I got into boxing, I started training and then training led to running, and then the running led to losing weight, and then I started to get better. I started sparring and after I’d starting sparring for a while I was like I wanna compete, I wanna say I’ve won an amateur fight. I just wanted to say I did it. For the 10-year-old inside of me, I wanted to say I had a fight. I did, 3 years ago I had an amateur fight which I lost. I went the distance it was like Rocky, like “yo Adrian, I just wanna go the distance”. I went the distance and then I had another fight and I entered a tournament and went to Kansas and I won the whole tournament in my division. I’m the 160-pound novice masters amateur boxer champion in America. You have to understand that’s very low on the totem pole, like maybe as low as you get. I don’t give a f**k! I had a little belt! It’s a bunch of dudes in a mid-life crisis, I’m not stupid. It’s a bunch of 40-year-olds like “I wanna fight somebody” but damn it that was me! I ended up winning that. So to answer your question, I train fighters now, I manage fighters I’ve really gotten into boxing it’s kind of like a real passion of mine. Music, movies, boxing there’s nothing else, that’s it. I know it’s 3 weird things, but my heart and soul is in those 3 things. I really don’t care about anything else. With that said I have not taken up karate but I have taken up boxing and it’s gone very well. I’ve yet to score Juliet, but I’m on my way!
THE MODERN RECORD: Thanks for that, it’s been a pleasure!
Chris: Thanks man, you too. Thanks for hanging out!