Frontman Cody Carson, from orchestral/punk band Set It Off, believes that a show is more than just people playing music. In his own words, “If I wanted to watch you stand still on stage and play your music, I’d buy a CD.” Together with Dan Clearmont (guitar and vocals), Zach DeWall (guitar), Austin Kerr (bass), Maxx Danziger (drums), the band is determined to give you more for your money. By combining music with storytelling, the song “Partners in Crime” became the basis for a story that spans the entire set. The lyrics extol the sad end of lovers on the wrong side of the law, “You never took us alive/We live as ghost among these streets/Lovers and partners/Partners in crime”. Using that song as the ending, Carson fit other Set It Off songs into the story, providing a continuous musical tale, complete with a spoken segue at each turn.
Entertainment is a state of mind. I was struck by the performance of Set It Off when I saw them live at The Grog Shoppe in Cleveland, Ohio. The small college bar is unassuming with low ceilings and graffiti lined walls. There are no fancy stage sets, just a simple backdrop behind the band. It is not a place where one would expect to be mesmerized by forty-five minutes of heart-stopping action. And yet, from the moment Carson takes the spotlight, it is impossible to turn away. Carson says, “(They) Don’t depend on neat lights or an amazing stage to provide all the entertainment.” The music is compelling, with orchestral string tracks and synthesizers that fill out the traditional elements in the pop-punk genre. However, the story captivates the audience and their reaction is what drives Carson and his bandmates to create bigger and better shows with every tour. Carson remarked, “The crowd is everything, they’re the reason we exist and I will not rest until the name Set It Off is on each and every one of their minds.” They strive to deliver a ’total’ experience, and make sure that each person walks away satisfied that they got their money’s worth.
Success comes with responsibility. Carson attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and attributes his achievements to his music education. He explained, “ I am who I am today because of that program. It shaped how hard I work, how I work with others, my standard for performing, and way more.” In keeping with his dedication to music education, Set It Off partnered with VH1’s Save the Music Foundation, donating a substantial amount of money to keep music instruction alive in schools across the nation. Carson understands the effect that band programs have on kids, believing that they are a haven for musicians to grow and bond together as a family. His success is repayment for the education that shaped his career.
Exceptional songwriting is personal. The themes on Horrible Kids and Cinematics hit close to home with Set It Off fans for a reason. Carson is a man that wears his emotions on his sleeve, but can repress small issues until he reaches a boiling point. Songwriting affords an outlet that allows Carson to channel his energy into artistic expression. He says, “My goal is to write about real topics I’ve gone through in hopes other people can latch on and that it can help them through their lives and inspire them.” After all, Carson knows that everyone is going to have highs and lows during their life, and thinks it is best to use them to our advantage, instead of letting them get us down.
The story is the same, while constantly changing. The secret to keeping music fresh is organization and planning. Carson put it this way, “I like to really sketch out our records and make sure no one is hearing the same song twice on the same record. I want each song to bring its own thing to the table to create a complete, diverse yet cohesive sound.” It works for me. I have seen them perform more than once and although I recognize the story and familiar music, it never gets old. There is always something new to see and hear. Set It Off will co-headline The Come Alive Tour with Our Last Night, and promises that the excitement and theatrics of their stage show is again – worth the money.