Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

The Academy Is... enjoyed one of the more prolific careers of any band to surface during the emo/pop-punk heyday of the mid-2000s. Selling over half a million records in the United States with three well-received full-length albums between 2005 and 2008, the group made its case as one of the most integral parts of Fueled By Ramen Records' dominance throughout that time. 

Central to their success was William Beckett, the band's core songwriter and charismatic frontman. The Chicago native was a force during TAI's prominence, bringing to the stage an energy and showmanship that provided lasting memories for fans. So naturally, when TAI called it quits in 2011, many wondered when the decorated songwriter would be back in action. 

The wait wasn't long. Less than a year after his band split, Beckett embarked on a new chapter by releasing his first solo EP, Walk the Talk. A year and two Eps later, Beckett is turning that walk into a sprint by releasing his debut full-length, Genuine and Counterfeit, via new label Equal Vision Records. 

Fuse talked to Beckett shortly after the LP's release about the challenges of going solo, writing songs alone and his new outlook on managing his career. And, of course, we look back on his prime years with The Academy Is.... 

'Genuine and Counterfeit' album cover

You've now released three EPs and a debut LP, Genuine and Counterfeit. What are the differences between writing songs solo and with The Academy Is...

I wrote all the songs in The Academy Is... with the guitar player, Mike [Carden]. There isn't big difference with the process now. The biggest difference is that I'm able to explore more than I was ever able to in the past, because when you're in a band, you have five different opinions and five different views of what the direction is going to be. A lot of times that can turn a great idea into a watered-down idea. I've been on a writing frenzy and I've been able to fully embrace my instincts as a writer, as a human being, as an artist. I write what makes me feel better and what is a true reflection of my experiences, as opposed to things being checked, edited and corrected at every turn. 

Are you a more prolific writer now than you were with The Academy Is...?

Yes. I think both in terms of quantity and quality. A lot of times I would get stifled by peoples' expectations of what a song was supposed to be or by rewrites and rewrites and rewrites of the same song. These days, I fully commit to an idea. I write a whole song with one vision. I'm definitely writing more and writing better. The reality is that it's better for me. 

“A lot of times I would get stifled by peoples’ expectations of what a song was supposed to be...these days, I fully commit to an idea.”

Fuse premiered the music video for "Benny & Joon," and parts of that song recall The Academy Is…. But there are also Americana sounds in there. What new influences have seeped into your solo material?

It's really exciting as a solo artist now. With my band, we were kind of limited, to a certain extent, by what we had done in the past. If you make an album that's successful, people come to have expectations of you. As a solo artist, I was able to experiment and explore different vibes on each song. Tom Petty is definitely an influence. From a songwriting, arrangement and lyrical standpoint, he's one of the best in modern times. There are David Bowie influences, too. Bowie would make a record that had vastly different songs on the same album. I wanted to make a bold album that incorporated a multitude of influences. 

You've been writing songs for over a decade, but did it take time to discover a unique sound for your solo releases?

That was the fun thing about making the EPs. I was able to try out different things and experiment with production and vocal techniques. Now for the full length, I've finally found it. I definitely did some things that the band would never do, in an exciting way. For instance, I wrote a song called "Girl, You Should Have Been A Drummer" and I know the band would never have done it. It would have been, "Well, I don't know, it's too this or too that." I say f-ck it because that's a fun song that has a lot of swagger and reminds me of my favorite singers. 

Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

When TAI called it quits did you have moments of hesitation about continuing your music career? 

Absolutely not. It was my decision to stop the band. It wasn't a decision I made lightly, either. When I had the conversation with Mike, it was an absolute. It wasn't a lukewarm thing. It was like, "This is what I'm doing, this is why I'm doing it, and that's all." There was no hesitation.

The gap between the end of TAI and your first solo release wasn't long...

I already had songs that were ready to be heard. When you're writing a record on a major label, that process can take a long time and I was ready for that process to end. I wanted to put music out [more regularly]. Especially in today's day and age, if you take forever to put music out, people are going to forget about you. If you post a tweet in the morning, it's gone in 10 minutes. That sort of just reflects how our society works now. 

You're very active on Twitter now...

It's really important to be active on social networks and to interact with fans, who are the only people that matter at the end of the day. They keep our careers and our lives moving. When you take in other factors – like people that have this seemingly perfect marketing plan that might include the mystery of not tweeting for two weeks – I think that's an archaic way of thinking and a recipe for failure. 

Will you release music regularly for the foreseeable future? Will you have something new every year?

I think that it depends on the album. Because if you truly believe in an album, you don't want to toss it aside and try something else right away. There are so many examples. One of the best examples I can think of is the Plain White T's. They put "Hey There Delilah" on every one of their early releases; it was on like five records before that song actually broke. They believed so much in that song and they were right about it. The song was a giant hit. 

This is my debut record as a solo artist so naturally I want to keep writing. In a lot of ways, it's like a big stepping stone to what's next. It’s hard to think that way when it just came out, though. It's a great question but there isn't really a blanket answer.

Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

With this new album, are you consistently reconnecting with young music listeners or expanding your audience?

What I’ve seen so far is that this record transcends the age thing. I think naturally, just based on me and my past, younger people will be drawn towards it. But really, the lyrics are not about high school; they’re about real relationships in real life and real situations that high schoolers go through, middle schoolers go through, 40-year-olds go through and widowers go through. I think the new record is about the nitty gritty about what's real in life as opposed to trying to make something poppy for someone else. 

We talked about older influences that are impacting your songwriting; what modern songs are drawing your interest right now?

I love what’s happening on alternative radio right now with Passion Pit, Beach House and Chvrches. There's a bunch of really exciting pop-based alternative music. These are poppy songs that just have their own identity; it's like this thumb print of uniqueness. Some may say it's a fad but I feel like some of these songs will really last. 

Either way, it's an exciting door that has been opened for artists to do stuff that is different and incorporates more influences from the past. It’s clear that theres a huge 80s influence in a lot of what's popular in music right now and I’m a huge 80s kid. It's right there in my music. Things change, but the importance of a great song will never change. That's what’s exciting to me as a writer and as someone who isn't closed-minded. I’m not one of those guys who is jaded and thinks that everything that's new sucks. That's simply not true.

Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

Rumors abound about The Academy Is… releasing Almost Here on vinyl. In a year and a half that record will turn 10 years old...

Yeah! We're talking to Hot Topic about doing a reissue for it which will be the first time its been on vinyl. I love vinyl. I feel like the hesitation to go with that format for a lot of albums has been the, "Oh, there's no demand for it" argument. But it's clear that people want it now. Particularly that album because it means a lot to people.

Is there any chance of TAI reuniting to do something surrounding that reissue? Perhaps a 10-year anniversary tour?

It's a very, very, very distant possibility. Emphasis on "very distant." I really don't see it happening personally, but things change. It's a while out still and if I've learned anything from Justin Bieber and his infinite wisdom, it's "never say never."