The Midwest punk band shares life lessons with a slightly positive outlook on 'Be Good'
Artist bios — those press releases publicists send out when their clients have a new album to promote — are notoriously overwritten and underreported. But when Off With Their Heads frontman Ryan Young is quoted in the band’s bio as describing its new album, Be Good, as “less about feeling sorry for yourself and more about accepting how goddamn miserable you are,” you can take those words at face value.
Sad songs about being “anxious and angry,” also the name of Young’s podcast, are Off With Their Heads’ bread and butter. They’ve sustained the Midwest punk band through four albums, endless touring and a rotating cast of members. Young, the sole constant member, started the band in 2002 in Minneapolis. Today’s lineup includes bassist Robbie Smartwood, guitarist John Polydoros, and drummer Kyle Manning. All of them reside in Chicago, except Smartwood who lives in New York City.
That isn’t to say Off With Their Heads fifth album is “about sunshine and rainbows and kitties and stuff like that,” guitarist John Polydoros said. But there is a shift, however small, toward a slightly sunnier outlook. Even the album title is a marked departure from 2008’s From the Bottom and 2016’s Won't Be Missed.Stay a "head" of the crowd and get entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
“After a while, that sort of material just wears on your soul a little bit,” Polydoros said. “There has to be something, even if the message is just ‘walk the fuck away from everything for a minute and just get some space.’”
This message comes through as soon as the album opens. “I should have seen this from the start/I should have always been on my own/Now it’s perfect clear I never should have stayed here I should have just disappeared,” Young sings on lead track “Disappear.”
On “No Love,” a driving, drum-heavy number, Young is defiant as he proclaims, “I wash my hands of you tonight/There’s nothing I can say that’s ever gonna make it right.”
A little gloomy, sure, but there’s also something uplifting about acknowledging your mistakes and moving away from them, even if the move is a messy, tedious one.
“At this point it's about accountability and [redemption] and how you're tired of people making excuses for themselves and never really mak[ing] changes,” Polydoros said. “And [it’s] even reflective on yourself. You can keep pushing out the same nonsense of, ‘Well I'm just like this because everything's like this and everyone made me like this, so I'm just gonna be like this.’ At some point in time you have to say, ‘I don't have to be like this.’”
Something else the band’s bio mentions is Be Good is Young’s favorite Off With Their Heads album. It’s another tried and true bit, but it’s something Polydoros reiterated. He joined the band in 2013, and Be Good is his first album with Off With Their Heads.
“I wouldn't personally involve myself with anything that felt phony or contrived or fake or doing it just for the sake of doing it,” said Polydoros, who, at age 43 has been playing in bands for 27 years. “I feel really good about the content and the feeling and the theme. This is the closest thing to a theme record that a band like us will probably do. It's a very cohesive thing. The work that got put into that record is why it's like that.”