Pet Symmetry Mean Business
The Chicago band proves that it's much more than a side project. Or even just a band.
Earth is fucked.
That’s sort of an ongoing theme of the new Pet Symmetry album, Future Suits, out today on Asian Man Records and Storm Chasers Ltd.
The record, like pretty much every release these days, was recorded at least in part during the pandemic. The band got instrumentals recorded just before shit hit the fan, but vocalist/bassist Evan Weiss had to start writing and recording vocals, which happened under the dome of quarantine.
Yes, a lot of is about how the Earth is fucked. That’s why the band threw on their … um … future suits there and blasted into space.
But Future Suits also an album with a lot of happiness injected into it. It kind of had to be, for the band’s sake. When Weiss, guitarist Erik Czaja and drummer Marcus Nuccio found themselves stuck at home like the rest of us in 2020, with only their day jobs and apartments, Pet Symmetry gave them an opportunity to work with friends, play with some fun ideas they might not use for other projects and provide the soundtrack for walks around the neighborhood.
Pet Symmetry was always sort of a side project from the get-go. All three are involved with other well-known bands like Into It. Over It., Ratboys and Dowsing.
“Every once in a while, we trot out the Sym, and the stakes are low,” Weiss said. “Everything we do as a band, it's almost the opposite of what bands think they need to do to gain success.”
When the pandemic hit, Pet Symmetry, which was always supposed to be the project with the lowest stakes, became the way to break the monotony.
And Weiss can say all he wants that their decisions are the opposite of what other bands do to achieve success, but the rollout of Future Suits is a case study in how to get eyes and ears on your work.
For one thing, the Storm Chasers Ltd. project is a way to use their other creative skills. In addition to releasing music, both theirs and others’, Storm Chasers Ltd. has released videos like “Emo Hot Ones” with Ratboys’ Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan and music videos for bands within their orbit.
The Future Suits marketing effort also includes a retro video game where you navigate their spaceship/van to the gig on an alien world. This ties in nicely with their latest single, “2021: A Personal Space Odyssey.”
Oh, and the album cover is a working QR code, from which the band can direct you to anything they want on that particular day. (For now it takes you to the band’s site.)
“Three years from now, you might scan the QR code and it might take you to a different thing,” Weiss said. “The idea is an evolving piece of art. It’s not a stagnant experience.”
That album title Future Suits refers to the literal reflective suits they’re wearing in the video, and the professional white-collar-job life they’ve had to spend 2020 in lieu of touring. It might be tongue-in-cheek for the band to say that they’re going to be (or are) “suits,” but the lengths Pet Symmetry has gone for what is supposed to be a “just for fun” project is actually a pretty impressive exercise in creative marketing and content strategy.
It’s pretty damn far from a stagnant experience.
They can make jokes about being future CEOs and COOs of the Pet Symmetry Corporate Empire and “Pet Synergy,” but in addition to Future Suits being a hell of a solid album, the Pet Sym guys know how to navigate the modern media landscape. (And wouldn’t I know best? Game recognize game.)
I caught up with Nuccio about how they used Pet Symmetry to work through the doldrums of quarantine, playing with new musical styles, growing Storm Chasers Ltd., and Pet Symmetry’s extremely serious business expansion.
Brendan: Is it as blisteringly hot in Chicago right now as it is in Philly?
Marcus Nuccio: It is hot and sticky, and it’s been thunder storming for like three days straight.
Sounds awesome. That’s what it’s been like here.
Classic Midwest shit.
That kind of feeds into my first question, actually, about the Storm Chasers Ltd. thing you guys have been doing. Can you tell me a little bit about that whole thing? How long has that been in existence?
For sure. Actually, we celebrated our one-year anniversary two days ago.
Yeah. We started it August 10 last year, and there was severe weather that day as well. It kind of came from a place of Evan, the singer of Pet Symmetry, who also has a project called Into It. Over It., he was releasing his record Figure, and it kind of started with that and kind of kept running with it. We all contributed to it and built this awesome little community of people.
It’s a lot more than just a record label. I saw you guys had “Emo Hot Ones” and videos like that. Do you guys have a background in … I don’t want to say “content marketing” or something, but it’s obvious that you guys have that world on lock - You’re pivoting to video, you have the music.
Honestly, kind of. All of us kind of have 9-to-5’s. So, Evan’s 9-to-5 is he’s the business developer for Reverb.com, so he already oversees a lot of content for that website. I used to work at The Onion/The A/V Club, and our guy Corey on our team used to work at Schur and now he works at Reverb as well making content. We all kind of have some experience and some connections that makes it able for us to make these things.
So I saw that a lot of the impetus behind this album and the name Future Suits, or Future suits, depending on how you want to say it, is about living that double life of being in a band and having a job. Can you tell me a little bit more about that side of the record?
Yeah, sure. We started making this record, like, started making demos for it a long time ago. And kind of the way that Pet Symmetry operates often is we’ll go in and write all of the music, all of the instrumentals, and kind of get the structure of the songs in a place that we like, and then we’ll go into the studio and actually record all of the instrumentals first. And then Evan will take all those instrumental tracks, and write and record lyrics to it. So, all the music was done and recorded pre-COVID, and then he had just started to track the vocals when COVID hit. So one or two of the songs were written before COVID, but most it was kind of in the midst of it. I think we were all coming from a place of, like, “Shit, now we have to, like, be trapped kind of at these jobs that we … some of us like, some of us are kind of trapped in this job environment.” I don’t know. I felt very … what’s the word … not “apocalyptic,” but, like …
I mean, it was kind of the apocalypse.
We were living in this dystopia currently, doing work that we don’t really care about, but we need to survive. So, we have this goofy band that has always been a source of fun and is our way of kind of escaping that dystopian world. So, we were like, “How can we create this alternate universe?”
What was it like taking that band that is supposed to be loose and for fun, obviously since you all have other irons in the fire, and adding this “serious element” in terms of discussing the difficult mindset of being stuck in that reality you don’t want to necessarily be in?
We kind of just saw it as a form of release. You can’t really help but talk about what’s happening in the world lyrically, especially these days. Even though the lyrics, like, read negatively, I feel like when a listener is experiencing them as part of the song, it comes out a little more of a release or a catharsis. So it can be more positive, not necessarily doom and gloom. Our single “Pet Sympathy,” the lyrics are pretty negative and dark, but the song is so bouncy and it’s got that Latin feel. And it’s like, “Hey, this is fucked up, but we’re trying to do something at least.”
Yeah, let’s talk about that song. That was the first single off the album, and having listened to Pet Symmetry for so long, I heard it and at first was like, “OK, yeah, this is definitely a Pet Symmetry song.” And then it comes in with that Bossa Nova sound. How did you land on that as an idea?
We are good friends with another local band called Monobody. They’re really, really incredible. They’re all like jazz musicians. If you’ve ever heard of the artist NNAMDÏ – he’s from Chicago – he’s the drummer. There’s just really amazing musicians in that band. We kind of had that bossa nova idea a little bit, like doubling down on what we were saying, with all of us in this state of madness. And then, sometimes you’re sitting around the house during quarantine, and it’s just kind of, like, slap-happiness or something. Like if you stay up all night and just feel insane. I think we were just feeling insane. So we were like, “How can we make the song sound a little bit more unhinged?” So we hit up our boy Collin [Clauson] from Monobody, and he added the really, kind of, spicy keyboard leads throughout the songs. And then we approached our friend Seth [Engel], who plays in another really amazing band called Options here in Chicago. Seth’s whole thing the last couple of years is that he loves to play the bongos. So we were like, “Yo, Seth, why don’t you put some bongos on this wacky track?” And then his bongo and shakers and all the Latin percussion elements really glued that whole concept together, and we just kind of ran with it.
Does it feel like, since Pet Symmetry is supposed to be a, not easy, but fun project for you guys, that you can just do things like that? Follow any creative path you want and not feel like, “Oh, we’re fucking with the aesthetic of this,” or “People are expecting something else.” Do you feel like that gives you more freedom because of the nature of the band?
Yeah, I think that’s exactly it. It’s like, this project we designed ourselves to be like, this is where we can go and be sometimes our most creative selves without, like you said, fear of how it will be perceived or what our expectations are. Obviously, we’re striving to make good music. This isn’t, like, a joke. But it’s like, Hey, let’s put bongos all over the song because I actually think it’ll be kind of tight. But I don’t think that would necessarily work in an Into It. Over It. song.
It might! You take the gamble on this because you’re not afraid to, but then it really works out. So you said you had most of the instrumentals done for Future Suits before lockdown, but then Evan had to do the vocals afterwards. Did you really run into any hurdles in that production process when things shut down and you couldn’t be in the same room together anymore?
Yeah. I mean, we definitely pressed pause for a couple months of course. We were all definitely just sitting in our own apartments. But, luckily, in our little Chicago universe here, Evan and the drummer of Into It. Over It., Adam Beck, they co-own a studio here in Chicago. So, luckily, we kind of have our own studio at our disposal, and our engineer/producer Mark Michalik, he lives close by, and they were able to work it out so the vocal booth and the control room are two separate rooms, and they would arrive at slightly different times and be in their own rooms, and they could just start tracking without ever even being in the same space as each other.
Mentally, did you guys have any roadblocks of just releasing art or doing anything creative when the world felt like it was falling apart? I think a lot of people, myself included, can fall into that trap of, like, “What’s the fucking point?”
Dude, yeah. Luckily, this project kept us going throughout the pandemic, cause we were focused on vocals and kind of auxiliary things and then mixing. It kind of kept us going. But, outside of Pet Symmetry, personally at least, yeah, it was hard to do anything. I’m a visual artist and graphic designer professionally, and doing anything just didn’t feel like it made any sense. It took a while to get out of that funk for sure.
There were a lot of days where I’d think, “You know, maybe I should just be a construction worker.”
Oh, my god. I’ve had that thought so many times. Just like, Yo, I’ll just paint houses and, you know, be fine. I would destroy my body, but who cares?
I’ll go to work, you tell me where to dig the hole, and then I’ll go home.
Straight up. Straight … up. But, yeah, I was definitely using this record – I would just go on my daily quarantine walk around the block, and I’d throw on the latest mixes of the album and that would get me going and focused. If anything, we made a good record for us to listen to.
That can be the most important thing – making music for yourself.
So you guys retrofitted your van to look like a spaceship. Is that just for the video, or do you think you’ll keep that for the future?
[Laughs] That’s just for the video. What you can’t see in the video behind the scenes is that we were applying copious amounts of duct tape to hold all that stuff on while we were shooting. Yeah, that came right off. We don’t want it to come off on the highway and injure an innocent civilian.
I do want to talk a little bit more about the Storm Chasers thing. Do you think more bands might do something like this? Obviously people who make videos sometimes also go into videos, and musicians obviously need to have social media presence. Do you see this as something Pet Symmetry will continue to become sort of a multi-platform project, or just something you want to do for other people?
This Pet Symmetry release on Storm Chasers is the first new release that Storm Chasers has done. Previously it was mostly reissuing old projects or digging up unreleased things. But this is the first, like, new album that’s being completely funneled through Storm Chasers. Without giving too much away, we’re definitely going to be doing more of that, like we’ve got some more new releases and brand new projects coming up. And now that we’re rounding our one-year anniversary, we’re kind of like, OK, what should we do now? Now it’s becoming much more than just a pandemic project, now it’s becoming a legitimate thing. To answer your question, we’re definitely going to be releasing more stuff for other bands, even outside of our immediate circle, and just trying to maintain this community aspect.
On press materials, you guys leaned heavily into the Big Business, “future suits” theme, and Evan was listed as Future COO, Erik is listed as Future CEO. Do you have a C-Suite title you’re looking forward to?
Was I not listed in the C-suite?
I don’t … see it. Oh, no! You’re Future VP.
That’s right. Future VP. All of these roles are interchangeable. Our corporate structure is not rigid. We all switch roles often.
It’s a very Millennial business platform.
We all wear multiple hats at once.
Is there anything else about Storm Chasers or the new album that I haven’t asked about?
I don’t think so. We’re just really excited to put it out and start playing some shows when we can. Our live show is probably the loudest band you’ve ever seen before. Hopefully we get some more cities next year.
Yeah! How exciting is it to get back on tour? When was the last time you did that?
Pet Symmetry has never really toured that often. We always do little runs here and there. So the last time we even played a show was April 2019. So, when we can finally play shows again, it’s gonna feel really, really good. We have a couple booked in October and November down to Fest and back.
Who’s that with?
That is with Ratboys.
That makes sense!
Yep! Double duty for me, so that’ll be easy.
Today’s Snakes and Sparklers musical guest is Strand of Oaks.
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