Interview: Set Your Goals (Matt Wilson)
A few weeks ago we saw a Tweet from Set Your Goals vocalist Matt Wilson in which he said that the band had never received a dime for their debut full-length, Mutiny, an album that sold nearly 50,000 copies via an indie label. Couple that with the old rumors suggesting that the same label was paid $100,000+ to release Set Your Goals from their contract, and we thought there was an interesting story to tell. So, we asked Mr. Wilson to tell it.
I'd like to preface this interview with a disclaimer that I have the worst memory out of anyone in the band, hands down. I may actually be the worst person to ask about any of this but I'll do my best. You've been warned.
It was almost a decade ago now and the details are blurry, but I believe it was for two full-length albums and a DVD.
We'd already released the demo on a small hardcore label called Straight On Records, and Eulogy wanted to re-release it with a bonus track (we used a Jawbreaker cover we'd recorded for a Bay Area comp that was never released), which came to be known as "The Reset EP."
Jordan had expressed an interest in making us a tour DVD, so John Wylie bought the band a Macbook Pro and either bought video editing software or gave Jordan money to make the DVD, I can't remember which. Most people probably don't know this, but Jordan was quite the video wiz at the time, and ended up creating this incredible "Work In Progress" DVD about our first few years as a band. The reason I'm telling you this is because it was turned in way past the deadline, which soured the relationship between the band and the label.
John claimed that most of the footage couldn't be used because there was copyrighted music all over it (Michael Jackson played in the background, people were singing along to pop songs, etc.). We knew this was total B.S. and that John was just saying this to be spiteful, because every Eulogy DVD release we'd seen up until that point had contained copyrighted major label music. Jordan and John developed some pretty bad blood over this whole ordeal, and Jordan flew out to Florida to show John the DVD, convinced that once he saw it he'd come to his senses. John refused to meet with him.
Another issue was that the footage wasn't formatted for DVD so some of the clips were the wrong dimensions and would have to be reformatted to fit the screen, and once they were, the video was so pixelated you could no longer read the text on the screen.
The final product ended up being a Frankenstein version of the original DVD, poorly formatted and pixelated, with tons of scenes removed due to copyrighted material content. The released version was the "Mutiny! in the UK" DVD. It truly was a shame because the original DVD was so beautifully done, and no one would ever see it. All we were left with was this poor representation of our band being sold in stores. The band had considered just putting the original version of the DVD up online for free, or even pressing it ourselves and selling it at shows, but in the end the consensus was not to do either for lack of funds and fear of legal repercussion from big bad Wylie.
There were a few. I can't remember them all but I do remember Victory and Abacus wanting to sign us. Pete Wentz had gotten in touch with Jordan and expressed interest in signing SYG to his label Decaydance, and brought us all on Fall Out Boy's bus when they came through town to pitch the idea. During their set that night, Jordan stage dove and knocked a monitor off the stage, which ended up being billed to Fall Out Boy. Their tour manager cornered Jordan backstage demanding payment, but we were all total broke asses at the time and Jordan couldn't afford to pay him. I think the monitor was $400.
After that night Pete never returned any emails, and ended up signing Four Year Strong instead. We never got an answer from Pete as to why, but we were told from a reliable source later on that it was because of the monitor.
I'm sure it recouped very well, and then some! John just didn't pay us our mechanicals, and we couldn't afford to audit him. I remember when we requested an accounting statement from the label, once we finally got one it was laughable. All of the numbers were fabricated and the costs were inflated. I wish I still had the statement.
One of the many tricks he used I think he stole from Victory, where he takes out a full-page ad in a magazine and splits it into four quarter-page ads (one for each band), then charges each band for a full-page ad, therefore requiring 4x the cost of what he actually paid in order to "recoup."
We were young and naïve at the time, and didn't realize that hiring Dave Crisafi, an employee of the label, as our manager was a huge conflict of interest. Dave would always side with Eulogy whenever payment was brought up, and once we learned that this isn't the way things are usually done, we fired him. We'd developed a friendship with him and everyone at the label, so this was not an easy tie to sever.
One of our closest friends at Eulogy was Anthony Amor, who worked mailorder. He knew Eulogy was ripping us off, and would tell us about how much of our merch was being sold. He said he couldn't keep our merch on the shelves, and that ours and Casey Jones' merch were the top sellers in the Eulogy webstore. Our contract stated that Eulogy got a certain amount of designs per release (I think it was two), but what we didn't realize was that those designs could be printed on any type of physical good, and that album artwork didn't count as a design. The result? A handful of designs where we'd expected only two, and each design being printed on everything you could think of. Rather than just being one shirt design, it was one design used over and over on shirts, hats, sweatshirts, sweatpants, etc. Eulogy was also contracted to pay us around $1 per item sold, which we never got a dime of either, because they were still supposedly "recouping."
Because Anthony was exposing Eulogy's crooked business to us and was outspoken in our defense at every label meeting, a rift formed between himself and the label. This escalated until he was finally fired from Eulogy, so we gave him a job as our merch guy and brought him on tour.
As far as I know, none of it was Lumberjack's fault.
Our manager did not buy us out. He had considered it because he knew that we were going to crash and burn if we stayed with Eulogy for another record, but John had learned his lesson with New Found Glory (he sold them for way less than they were worth, I think it was around $30K), a mistake he would not repeat with us.
Tensions between band and label at this point were at an all-time high, and we were out of ideas. John wanted an astronomical amount of money to let us go, but if we stayed we were doomed. Keith (our manager) got in contact with Epitaph Records, who were interested in buying out the remainder of our contract. That pretty much bailed us out of our situation. The amount exceeded $100K, a portion of which was paid up-front, and the rest was to be recouped through sales of our second full-length.
There was a clause in the contract that stated we could not pursue legal action in search of any money owed by Eulogy, royalties or otherwise, or something to that effect. John knew how badly we wanted off his label and he knew that we were going to do whatever it took, so he decided to make sure things were all covered on his end. Nowadays this is the most aggravating part for me because it would've felt great to audit him, but in the end the band's future was more important than getting paid what we were owed.
We were very worried about a loss of momentum. Three years is a long time between records, especially when your band is at its peak. We kept getting so many good tour offers that it was tough to start turning them down in order to book studio time. Another factor was that Jordan, the driving force behind all the band's songwriting, wasn't really able to write on the road. We'd been on tour 10 months per year since Mutiny! was released, and once we did make time to buckle down and write, he felt an enormous amount of pressure to do so. This also hindered the writing process. That being said, it didn't seem to matter once the record was done. It did better than Mutiny! due to having the resources of a bigger label behind it with a bigger budget, which meant better production and better marketing. The songs were more well written now that we'd developed our sound.
At the time of the album's release, our fanbase was split half and half between our diehard hardcore kid fanbase, and the new crowd of "Warped Tour" fans we'd acquired through touring outside of the hardcore music realm and delving into the more mainstream world of pop-punk. I remember seeing a poll on AbsolutePunk asking which album was your favorite, and it was split down the middle. In the end I think it was 49% Mutiny! and 51% TWBTDOU. The frustrating thing for the band was that even though we went over on our studio time, the whole recording process felt rushed because most of the album was written in the studio and we couldn't help but wonder how much bigger the record would've been had we gone into the studio prepared, or released it a year earlier.
Naturally, we wrote a couple songs about our entire experience with John and Eulogy, and titled the tracks "The Fallen..." and "The Few That Remain," after an EP of the same name, released by his old band, Morning Again.
There were some very heavy circumstances around why that album didn't succeed, which I am not going to get into. All I will say is that we knew going into the studio that it wasn't going to be up to par, and we knew that a lot of that was out of our control. Once again we booked extra time in the studio and when even that ran out, we had to finish tracking vocals in LA with Mike Green and Kyle Black. We worked harder on BABE than anything else we had probably ever done in our lives, and almost gave up many many times along the way. In the end it still wasn't enough because certain elements weren't there, which was an EXTREMELY frustrating situation for everyone involved. What successes we did have following the album's release came as a pleasant surprise.
I don't like calling it a "failure" because it wasn't, but it wasn't our best work, and we knew that we weren't reaching our potential as songwriters or as a band. We knew it wouldn't sound like us, we knew Epitaph wouldn't push it as hard as they pushed TWBTDOU, and we knew why. We knew that everything from then on would be an uphill battle for the band but we all loved doing the band so much that we did it anyway. And we wrote a lot of the lyrics with all of this in mind.
Are we extremely proud of BABE? Yes. Did our fans deserve better? Also yes. It's a very complicated situation, and one that is impossible to explain fully without throwing certain people "under the bus" so to speak, which I am not willing to do.
When I think back on it now it still brings up a lot of frustrations for me, but I understand the reasons why and I no longer harbor any ill will toward anyone for it, nor do I regret any of my experiences with Set Your Goals. We exceeded so many of our dreams, got flown out to play places we never thought we'd get to visit in our lives, and played with some of our favorite bands who we never thought we'd even get to see live. Yes there were some missteps along the way, but I am only one person and part of growing up is learning to let go of a lot of things.
For me, it's been about letting go of many of the factors behind SYG not getting as big as people felt we "should have been," and understanding that they were beyond my control, and sometimes even the entire band's.
I could say that just enjoying the ride and not treating it like a business would have been the biggest mistake, but it's also what kept it fun and made it not feel like a "job" most of the time, so it's not a mistake I regret making. Would we have been a much bigger band had we behaved as a corporation set on profit above experience? Sure. Would we have enjoyed it as much? Probably not.
If you look at it that way, then the biggest mistake was involving some of the people we did from the get go. But who knows? Had certain people not been involved, would we have been driven to succeed as far as we did? It's hard to say. Some of the most destructive forces to this band were also the most creative.
Things were left in a very uncertain state at the end of 2012. We'd recorded two songs with Chad Gilbert, which were held in much higher regard than BABE by critics across the board. We had planned on recording a full-length with him as well, although differences between Jordan and Mike had made further writing impossible for the time being as we had just parted ways with Mike. We had just played one of Mikey's last shows when Jordan snapped his Achilles' tendon. We'd planned on slowing down our touring once the album was done and we had finished the tour cycle, but didn't quite make it that far. Jordan's injury launched "Operation: Adult Life" into fast forward. Jordan had surgery and went back to school, everyone got real jobs, Dan got married, Junior had a kid, etc. From there, everyone started playing in other bands and moving away.
Last time I talked to everyone about the band we all seemed receptive to the idea of playing shows again when it makes sense. 2016 marks ten years since the release of Mutiny! so maybe we'll play some shows then? Our band has always sort of flown by the seat of our pants, so it's hard to say this far in advance, but we've all agreed it's best to leave the door open.