On 16th February, the Army of Freshmen performed at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. They opened the show for The Aquabats and Bowling for Soup. Before they stormed the stage, I met up with singer, Chris Jay, and bass player, Kai Dodson to discuss their 20-year career as a band and their connection with the much-loved event known as The Get Happy Tour.
Hi guys, what can you tell me about the tour so far, what have been some of the highlights?
Kai: It’s been going great; the highlights have been every night. There hasn’t been one bad show. The Manchester show, was one of the best, one of the best nights of my entire life.
Chris: Yeah, I thought it was one of the best shows of the tour, I mean it was a little bigger than the other ones, the shows have been big, but this one a little bigger. It was in a legendary venue. We saw a lot of old friends and fans of Army of Freshmen that night. They all got there early and down the front. Sometimes shows feel like shows, and other times shows can feel like concerts, and last night felt like a concert. I don’t know if that makes any sense. Bowling for Soup, that’s their favourite place to play. They have a real connection with that city, and we definitely experienced that, last night. Man that was the best show we played in Manchester, and we have played in Manchester a lot.
Kai: Yeah, we have played a lot of good shows in Manchester, but last night was on another level. It was like a handful and a lifetime kind of night.
Chris: Then we wake up today, and we are getting ready to play an arena, a legitimate arena! It’s like what the heck!
Will this be the biggest show you have played in your career?
Chris: We have played a lot of bigger places at festivals, but yeah this is pretty big for a tour. Some of the earlier Get Happy’s we played big rooms. The one with Zebrahead and Bloodhound Gang. That was like a scale down sized arena. In Brighton and Brixton, I mean oddly enough Brixton is bigger than this place, but they had scaled it down, if that makes sense?
Yeah totally, so how did the ‘Get Happy Tour’ return?
Chris: It started when Jaret (singer of Bowling for Soup) posted something very nice about the Get Happy Tour and Army of Freshmen. He got a really good response, so I think, from the response that he got, he then reached out to me and asked what I thought about next year and about trying to bring it back, it felt like the right time. We responded to him by saying yes instantly.
Kai: We packed our bags then –
Chris: Yeah, we had been waiting for like eight months, so there was no question in our minds, because it was our 20th Anniversary this year, we wanted to do something cool and exciting. We just didn’t know what it was yet. We hadn’t figured it out yet, but when this opportunity came up, we said that’s it. I couldn’t think of anything else we would rather do.
Kai: Same man, and to do it with as well, to go out with Bowling for Soup again, I mean it’s been a long time. Them, and The Aquabats it’s just everybody’s friends, everybody knows each other.
Chris: On tour with two bands you’re friends with, two bands you listen to, on a tour we are most associated with. I mean for our anniversary, we just can’t beat it. It’s been absolutely perfect.
How did the Get Happy Tour come about originally?
Chris: It was a combination between myself and Jaret. It started off when Bowling for Soup was heading out for a summer tour. They wanted to have us to come to open the shows, and they were trying to come up with a name for the tour. It was Kai who suggested naming it ‘Get Happy.’
Kai: It was one of their songs, and I loved that song. It suited the vibe of the tour and the bands that would be appearing on it.
Chris: Jaret was like, ‘Yeah that’s the name of it.’ What happened that was interesting was that it took on a life of its own. What I mean by that was that it wasn’t like a normal tour. It was very interactive, especially in the States where we had kickball games and hang outs, and special deals every night. We had people going to multiple shows. It became this real bonding thing, with the audience.
Kai: People would show up with homemade shirts and instead of writing Bowling for Soup, Army of Freshmen or whatever bands were on the bill, they would write Get Happy on them. It kept happening more and more, which then led to Get Happy Tour Tattoos.
Chris: When we brought it to the UK, obviously with Bowling for Soup being bigger over here, then Boom! It was a huge hit, and they were able to attract bigger bands. The first Get Happy in the states we had Lucky Boys Confusion and Punchline which were bands that we loved. But over here in the UK we were able to get bands such as Wheatus and Son of Dork. The second one in the states we had Melee and Quiet Drive but then back for the second Get Happy in the UK we had Zebrahead and Bloodhound Gang, and that’s when it kinda peaked. That was in 2007, and then in 2008 the economy and everything kind of took a huge dump and a lot of things changed in the music industry. Because of this ‘Get Happy’ kind of faded away, all the bands were in flux. It was a strange time for the music industry, we had big plans to make it bigger at one point. It’s great to have ‘Get Happy’ back, I mean we know it’s a nostalgic thing, were not naïve. It’s great to be a part of that, in some ways people are more into it.
So, let’s talk Army of Freshmen. How did you guys originally get together?
Chris: Man, that’s a long tale. The quick version is basically I graduated high school. I wanted to do the music thing, I went to Ventura, California. I went to open mics and started writing songs. I was just a kid.
Kai: He was a singer/songwriter, just a kid with an acoustic guitar.
Chris: Yeah, I wanted to do the whole Bob Dylan thing. I had a band in high school, but it was such a nightmare working with other people, I was like, I am never going to do that again. Low and behold, I met these guys, who are mainly the ones in the band now. The first years were growing pains, we didn’t really find our sound straight away. We got the double keyboard thing going and everything started to fall in place. Kai joined shortly after that and then Mike joined to play drums a bit after that. It was organic, I didn’t go to Ventura, California to set up a Power Pop Punk band at all. It just happened, I guess that’s life in general. But here I am sitting on a tour bus, talking to you, in the UK, about to play an arena. 20 years later, I mean I can’t complain. I complain about a lot of things, but I can’t complain about this.
Have you guys been able to get back to songwriting, will we be hearing new material from you anytime soon?
Kai: We have been throwing some ideas around. Whether they will become finished songs is anybody’s guess.
Chris: Yeah totally, I mean to be fair, we have been on a hiatus for three years, well I wouldn’t even call it that. It’s just nothing was really going on, to be blunt the phone wasn’t ringing, you know what I mean. We got very busy, in our personal lives we all had different changes. A lot of good ones and a lot of bad ones. Some of the guys had kids, and divorces, which got in the way a little bit. It was a good healthy break, so to come back in this fashion was more than we could imagine. So, we are taking it one step at a time, at this point, we just want to get through this tour in one piece. We have definitely talked about doing a show in Ventura for our 20th Anniversary. Tours tend to lead to tours, so you know if the phone rings for another opportunity, maybe you know, not even necessarily anytime soon, we would do something once a year if there comes a cool opportunity. Like Kai said, there could definitely be a chance for more Army of Freshmen music. We just don’t want to promise it, we’d rather say maybe and blow people’s mind with releasing a new song.
Kai: We are the best of friends and will always be in this band in some shape or form.
Thank you guys so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Check out Army of Freshmen’s Facebook page for any updates from the band