Dropout Year is a local band to the Baltimore area, and the Maryland areas that surround. The band, having been together for five years, has been working immensely in order to throw their music “out there”. The band has been through ups and downs, and recently added a new drummer, bass player, and singer to the line-up. Although their newest album has just recently released, fans and other curious local music dwellers can expect something never heard from Dropout Year in the past. I recently had the chance to sit down with Steve Reter, the newly added vocalist to the band and although new to the stage, he has been around since the band’s early beginnings.
What can your fans expect to get out of The Way We Play?
Steve: I think the biggest thing with this CD is a lot of variety. On some of our older CDs, before I was singing in the band, I used to be involved like managing the band, and even with a lot of the writing and there was a lot of like… I feel like our old CDs were very much more like a one way street almost. Like there was a lot of just pop-rock, there wasn’t a whole lot of variety outside of like ballads and like fast songs. But like on this CD, we definitely have some of those pop-rock, pop-punk songs still. We have a ballad and an acoustic… like a piano driven ballad, we have some like more rock songs which we’ve never really had before, which really has like amped up our live set a lot, like a lot more energy. I think, it’s funny, I think it’s like kind of expanded our fan base into the more… the males. A lot of girls like the band, you know it’s like poppy and like a lot of our lyrics are about relationships. But some of our lyrics on this CD are a little darker, still not like, you know, hardcore band but are more about relationship things a lot of people don’t like to address, you know like being cheated on, or falling in love with someone while you’re still with someone else, you know, things like that that people don’t talk about in songs all the time. So I think this CD, we’ve definitely had kind of like a no holds bar approach to what we were gonna write about and by doing that we definitely came out with songs that were a lot more like various than I feel like we’ve had on any other CD, if that makes sense.
Were you managing the band before you took vocals?
Steve: I’ve managed the band since the band started. My brother, Brandon is the guitarist in the band. Since the band started, I’ve managed the band, like I handled all the booking and like, you know, just manager stuff. All the back behind the scenes things, and Adam Henderson and I, our old vocalist, he and I wrote all the songs lyrically, Brandon writes a lot of the music, and I was kind of just behind the scenes. I even sang on the old CDs, like background vocals on the old CDs so I was still involved, like then, but not like I am now. And with this CD, like Dan, our new bass player, had a hand in writing some of the songs with me as well, and, you know, I think it comes through in a lot of the songs too, a different take on some things that we touched on before, but like a whole different take on it know.
You guys were recently in the studio with Rob Freeman. Do you think you will be returning again?
Steve: I honestly don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t. Rob was a great choice for us because he is like all about pop music. He has a really great ear for like melodies and harmonies, just like what sounds right in each section of the song. Like we went in the studio with, I think, eleven songs, and we did an EP so he recorded eight of them. And like he was really great at like helping us realize what were our strongest parts of each song and, you know, helped us decide which eight songs to record, and once we decided that, you know, helped us really get in there, and tear them apart, you know. Like “That bridge sucked,” like “We need to rewrite that” and, you know, not to say that our previous recorders or producers didn’t do that, but he’s had a great ear for like what we were trying to accomplish but may have been missing in some parts. And I mean that, and that he’s a great guy, you know my brother and I, Brandon, like we grew up loving Hidden in Plain View, which is his old band. He used to be on Drive Thru Records like back in the day. So it was really an honor to work for him and be able to like sing for him and, you know, play guitar for him, it was really great. And we’ve recommended him to a lot of our friends around here. I think a couple of them are recording with him over the summer so, you know, I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t go back to record with him, he’s a great dude.
What did you like most about being in the studio?
Steve: Honestly it’s just the… the chemistry, you know, like writing a song, like we have practice like two or three times a week and we’d write together, or, you know, we’d write in our rooms and bring it to practice but when you’re in the studio for like two weeks with everyone like 24/7 – well not in the studio 24/7 but like we were with each other because we were up in Jersey. You know, we were in the studio for like twelve hours a day, and then the rest of the day we were just like hanging out. And like the chemistry really spikes then. You know, we’ve wrote one of the songs in the studio, we fix all the songs in the studio, like we just came up with all these great ideas while we were in the studio and I think that it was just the environment that Rob had. It was very laid back, it was like an old warehouse type of vibe Like he just gutted it out, like really high ceilings and, all the acoustics and natural reverb in the studio were just incredible and, you know, he makes it cool for bands too because, you know, he has like the gaming systems and, you know, we just take it easy and realize that we are a band, but we’re also like really good friends, you know, like we’re hanging out having a great time doing something that matters a lot to us and that’s a great feeling.
You guys write a lot about the dynamics of relationships. Why have you developed your music around this?
Steve: Honestly I think it’s because it’s the most universal theme. I think that in pop music, any genre of music that you wanna pick, but especially in pop-rock music, or rock music I mean whichever you wanna choose, everyone has some take on a relationship. Everyone has been in a relationship, you know, the majority of people have experienced ups and downs, you know, the great times the bad times. And, you know, with that, singing about that and writing about that, that makes our music relatable. You know, like songs that we’ve written out of personal experience like really bad times or really good times, like to be able to record a song and put it on the CD and somebody buys it in like California or Japan, and they send you a message and say “Oh my God, this song, I can totally relate to that.” That’s why, honestly, because everyone can relate to these songs, even some of the darker ones like I’ve said earlier I feel like a lot of people have been through some of that stuff but don’t really talk about it sometimes. So I mean, we can write about… There’s a song on the CD about touring, about being on the road with one another. And it’s just like… some people can relate to that. Some people can relate to like living their life in the moment. But I think everybody has had some sort of experience, like being in love, or liking someone, or, you know, being in a relationship. It’s just universal I mean everybody can relate to it so it’s just like why not write about it?
Since you are all very close friends, how dos that contribute to life on tour?
Steve: Oh, it’s great. I mean like we uhh… I mean it’s fun, and that’s the most important thing is that it’s fun. And, you know, we just really strive to realize that like Brandon’s my brother and he’s the guitarist in the band. Adam, the other guitarist, and I have been great friends for a long time. And even the newer members like Dan and Jordan, you know, like even though they’re new to us, we’ve known them for a little while. And, you know, being on tour with everyone is just a blast. Like I said when we were in the studio, we just got to have a good time, and it’s just like “Wow, we get to play music like every night” and, you know, like get in the van and go to wherever we’re staying, and you know be friends and have a good time. So I mean, every time we tour it’s just like another wake up call, “Oh you know I get to hang out with best friends every day.” So it’s pretty sweet.
Are you all very fan oriented?
Steve: Oh, absolutely. I mean, from the beginning, this band has been all about like the fans, like we’re all about word of mouth and grass root stuff like going out to shows and meeting as many people as we can. You know, we run our MySpace, we all have like personal Twitters and Facebooks and everything to try to do anything that we can really to keep in touch with people. Every comment that we get, every message that we get, we try to write back as soon as we can. And at shows, you know, we’re not one of those bands that like hangs out in the back or, you know, is illusive or whatever. If you’re coming to see us play, we’d love to hang out with you and if you support us and our music or buy our albums or whatever, that means everything to us. So the least we can do is spend time with our fans and, you know, chit chat with them.
What is your favorite venue to play?
Steve: Oh, wow. It would probably be the Recher Theater, honestly. It’s a great venue, they have a really great sound system, it holds eight hundred people. A lot of our following is around this Baltimore area, so when we play here, we have a really great turn out, like tonight’s show is sold out. So, you know, it kinda just feels like coming home when you play here.
While on stage, could you describe what goes through your mind?
Steve: Me personally, I’m a ball of nerves. I have horrible, horrible stage fright, so like the first couple songs, I’m just trying to wrap my mind around, like one I’m singing for the band now, and two, I’m actually singing in front of all these people. But usually when we get into the set I loosen up a little bit and it’s really just about having fun. I mean, I look to my left and my right and I see my friends, I look in front of me and I see my supporters and our friends, and I see it at shows all the time so it’s like I’m in good company. I really, kind of live in the moment once I get to that point and just live it up and have a good time and, you know, do as good of a job as I can, singing the songs and entertaining everyone.
It kind of reminds me of a band called My Chemical Romance. Their drummer was their camera man before he was the drummer. Sort of backstage to on stage.
Steve: Yeah, I mean like before in the band like I was always like “We gotta make sure we do this, make sure we do that” like this is important, you know as a manager. And now that I’m up there, I’m like “Holy hell” like all this stuff is just like running through my head, literally like anxiety just going crazy. With every show we’ve done since I’ve joined the band, it’s gotten a little less and less each time so eventually, hopefully I can knock that out.
What’s the next step for Dropout Year at this point?
Steve: Well, we have the CD out so we’re gonna try and do some touring, we’re probably gonna follow the Warped tour a little bit like we have the past couple of years, just, you know going out and selling our CD, giving out flyers, you know, walking around with our ipods getting people to buy our album. That’s like I said earlier like grass roots and word of mouth is like everything to a band like us who doesn’t have a label, who doesn’t have money behind us. It’s really about what we’re willing to do to get the band’s name out there. So this summer is gonna mean a lot to us, and just try to get out as much as we can, you know, we’ve kinda been in and out of the scene a little bit in the past year like recording, and then like trying to establish ourselves again so we’ll definitely be playing a lot more shows around here and reestablishing a fan base here, you know, so we won’t forget those people around here. But, you know, like trying to get out on tour and, you know, up and down the east coast a couple times, you know just trying to get out there again and reconnect with people that have seen us before, you know, that we have fans and relationships with and also meeting as many new people as we can.
Do you have any advice for a striving new band?
Steve: Honestly, my biggest suggestion and like word of wisdom to anybody, having been with this band for five years now, is like word of mouth, and grass roots. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but seriously, like it really is true. Like if you’re willing to work your asses off, and as hard as you possibly can, you can make something happen for your band. Weather it’s getting signed to a label, or like getting to tour with Fall Out Boy or Warped tour or whatever, you know, and I’m not sure to what degree you have to get to, but in the least, if you set goals for yourselves, and, you know, realize you have a ladder, and you know, it has baby steps, you can achieve those things if you’re willing to do the work. Some bands are lucky enough, you know, they just happen to know the right person or they’re in the right place at the right time, and it just happens for them. Bur seriously, that’s probably like one percent of bands that make it. The rest of them are bands that have been a band for a long time, that have been working their asses off, have been going to shows giving out flyers, and they’ve been sitting online trying to find fans through MySpace or Facebook, and that really is what pays off. This show tonight is sold out because we’ve been out the past three weeks delivering tickets to people, meeting people at the malls around here, going to other shows and promoting the show. And through that hard work, you know, just the passion that we have for wanting to make this show special and this album means a lot to us. Like now we’re happy to say that the show is sold out. So I think bands can achieve that, you know, as long as you have that will and the drive and the belief in your music, and truly believe that you do make good music, and you feel your music and you connect with it, that’s a golden rule in my book. Nothing ever just comes to people, you know. Unless you’re like that lucky one percent. Like me and you, or most people that I know are hard working people that have worked their asses off just to get a piece of what they want. And it’s the same thing for bands, you know. That’s the best bet. [ END ]