To take something small and give it action, reaction and finally, more importance—that is what drives artists to create, that is what inspires a generation. The social expectations associated with modern life can be a startling revelation to some, as we continue to grow and recognize the eye-opening power that a culture possesses and all its innate capabilities to profess emotions, images and messages into the innermost sanctums of the heart and soul. Me and most to all of the other scholars out there would whole-heartedly agree that the arts are paramount in defining and shaping a culture, made evident from the headlines on newspapers and blogs and the music made popular at the time. It is up to us, as people who exist in time and space, to mark our place in the fabric of the universe. While one could scream into the void to state their existence, others choose to use their music as a mode to channel their feelings, thoughts and emotions into emotional data that the listeners receive as a song, fit with melodies and lyrics that provoke or incite us to feel or act a specific way. Emotions and music — you can’t have one without the other.
In a recent conversation with All Systems Go, a pop-punk band of cool young dudes based out of southern New Jersey, we talked at length about the difficulties of being a collegiate musician and how that has played into their musical career. ASG vocalist and guitarist Matt Pezza attends Rowan University‘s MBA program alongside bassist August Baptista, who is also attending Rowan and working to complete his B.A. in Computing and Informatics. Drummer Joe Codispoti goes to Millersville University in pursuit of a BSE in Music Education and guitarist Devin Kollmar works in the area full-time. The four of them said that their gigs are usually seasonal (summer/winter) in the form of tours (8-12 shows at a time) but that this year promises to be a year for the books.
You guys have members pursuing degrees across three different universities. What kinds of difficulties have you faced as student-musicians since you started as a band?
August: I’ve had a bit of a tumultuous school life over the last five years, and in the time we’ve been together as a band, I thankfully have only been in full time classes for one semester. Joe by far has had the most work to do as a student and musician and I can’t even begin to describe how much we appreciate what he’s given us.
Matt: Collectively I think our biggest difficulty is we can’t really be active in the music scene year-round. August and I are both balancing work with classes at Rowan/Rowan College at Burlington County, Joe is student teaching two hours away at Millersville, and Devin has an irregular work schedule. Our peers have noticed we do a ton of planning in advance, and this is the main reason why. When we are all home we put a ton of effort into the band but it’s been like this since the beginning and there have been a ton of slow spots.
Joe: I think one of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced has been staying active and ‘on the map’ during the semester. We do most of our gigging in the summer and during the winter months when colleges are on break. While classes are in session, we try to stay relevant by posting a lot on social media, booking gigs (Matt does that), getting some writing or recording done to prepare for those gigs, and just generally keeping in touch and planning ahead as much as we can. The other challenge for me is my location. The other three guys are all local to the South Jersey/Philly area throughout the year, but I’ve been completing my Bachelors at Millersville University, just outside of Lancaster, PA. If we do want to gig or record while classes are in session, I have to drive four hours round trip to come back to New Jersey and then make it back to Lancaster for classes on Monday morning.
Devin: College was hard, I did not succeed.
Your last album, Garden State Skies was released earlier this year. What can you tell our readers about writing/recording this? What was the inspiration?
August: When it comes to recording, we went in almost completely clueless. We bought some equipment we didn’t need, had to backtrack, recorded everything in quick bursts of time. If you’re gonna record a full album, either do some heavy research or find a studio. Matt had to spend weeks of his own time trying to clean up the songs before we sent them to our producer, and ultimately our producer did his thing anyway. Writing wise, the ideas came from some of our old high school band, just re-imagined to fit our lives at the time. Matt wrote a lot of the songs from his experiences away at school. It’s a collection of experiences, and it meant a lot to us to put it out there. It took way longer than we ever thought, but the feedback and support has been tremendous.
Matt: My songs on the album were inspired by things that I think most college kids can relate to: Mario Kart, secret crushes, breakups, being drunk at crowded parties, and also experiences living overseas for a semester. The recording process was fun until we handed in the tracks to be mixed and realized we did a ton of things wrong, which led to mixing complications and delays. However, once we sat down and listened to the final product we were satisfied. We put in the work and now our music is finally out there.
Joe: The recording process for Garden State Skies was long and tedious. We tried to remain self sufficient throughout the process, only sending our recordings out to be mixed. We handled the recording, editing, and mastering responsibilities. But the end product is a fun and energetic 9-track album about living life as a young 20-something in suburban New Jersey. We’re happy with our debut album and we’re looking forward to making our music even better for our listeners going forward.
Devin: When it came to the writing process of our first album, it was all constant pen on paper. There where many ideas built up from our time away from each other as well as new personal experiences. As a result we were able to get an album ready for studio (pre-production) within no time. As for the recording process, it was a long and impatient wait.
As seen on your social media pages, you cover classic rock songs as part of your setlist. Who are your greatest influences and why? What song(s), if any, are your favorite to cover?
August: My personal greatest influences are Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge of blink-182. I can’t even begin to explain how much I’m a fan of theirs, I even have a blink-182 tattoo! We definitely mix in some older stuff, and I think my all time favorite cover that we do is “Interstate Love Song” by Stone Temple Pilots. We’ve been playing it solidly for 8 years now, and it’s always been a hit.
Matt: My two greatest influences are entirely different from one another. My favorite band has always been A Day to Remember, and I feel like you can hear some of that in our music. Lyrically I’ve always been a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. My dad first got me into music when I was a little kid and would always play “Born to Run” in the car. To this day I think Bruce has to be one of the best storytellers in the music world. And my favorite cover of ours is “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down.
Joe: We take a lot of influence from pop punk groups like blink-182, Green Day, Yellowcard, and State Champs to name a few. However, we also mix in a bluesy rock and roll flavor into our music. Our lead guitarist is a big fan of Led Zeppelin, and I imagine that’s where that comes from. We also each have our own personal tastes that influence our sound. For example, my biggest influences as a drummer are Zac Farro’s playing with Paramore and my experiences playing jazz drums in school.
Devin: When it comes to the music that we write if its rock and roll then it’s an influence. We grab sounds from many bands across the pop-punk genre including Blink-182, Green Day, The Story So Far, Mom Jeans and many more. Even with all the influences we do our best to try and bring to the table sounds that have never been heard before.
You guys are currently recording a 5-track EP that includes songs that either didn’t make the final cut to Garden State Skies, or that you wrote while you were waiting to complete the album. What’s the concept for the record?
August: To me, the concept of the record draws from the post-college life. GSS had a lot of roots in college experience, and the situations we wrote about on this EP are about what comes next. Mostly about girls because hey, it’s pop punk, but on a much stronger level. It even features a song our drummer Joe wrote, which is going to be awesome because this is his first real experience writing with us.
Matt: The album was more or less me or Devin instructing the rest of the band how to play our finished ideas, but for this EP all four of us built each of the songs from the ground up. Similar to the album, the songs are fully based on personal experiences. There’s no central concept to the record either, which has made choosing a title all the more difficult for us. Still, if I had to decide on an overall theme, I’d say “high points and low points.”
Joe: There wasn’t really a concept picked out going into this album. We wrote each song first, then tried to find some similarities and themes to tie everything together. All of the songs are about expressing powerful emotions, so currently the concept is strong feelings and lack of a stable middle ground. This will be more solidified when we actually decide on a title.
Devin: This upcoming EP is what I’d like to consider our adolescence. With a more developed and mature sound it feels good to have music that we are extremely proud of and that holds up to a modern standard of rock n’ roll.
What is your most memorable show and why? Any gigs coming up that might outshine that memory?
August: Hmm. Over the winter we played a show at The Barbary in Philly with 3rd Time’s a Charm, Ditz, and Dead Robins and it was just an absolute blast. It’s always wonderful to play a local show like some of ours at Curran’s in Palmyra, where we’ve had some big draws. I’m looking forward to any of our summer shows because we have so much more material to share with the people now.
Matt: I think my most memorable show was playing a full night at Curran’s in Palmyra in winter of 2018. That bar was pretty much where we got our start at open mics. I’ll always prefer original sets over full cover band nights, but being the house-band for the first time, and also for a packed house was really cool. Right now I’m just excited to start playing shows again so I’m most looking forward to playing Harper’s Pub in Clementon at the beginning of our June tour. The venue itself is really cool and the past few times I’ve been there (whether it be for an ASG show or watching other bands) it’s always a fun time.
Joe: To me, one of the most memorable shows was when we played The Trocadero Theatre in Philly on a Sunday at the beginning of the summer of 2018. If I remember correctly, this was our first gig in Philly, which was a big step for us. It was also the first gig of the summer after I came home from school, and I remember feeling happy to be back behind the kit with the guys. Oh… and we also ended up lugging my drum set down a few blocks of Chinatown because I parked in the wrong parking garage. I think I’d definitely describe that part as memorable! I’m looking forward to playing an outdoor show in Lancaster, PA this summer. I’ve had the pleasure to practically live there over the past four years and it’s such a great area and an amazing music scene.
Devin: For me the most memorable show has to be our very first show. After not only walking away from music for a while but also the close friends I use to make the music with, it felt surreal to be sitting on a stage again in front of an audience. Once the show came and went I was eager for nothing more then show after show after show.
In a sentence, how would you describe your local music scene?
August: “Love the local scene.” There’s some absolutely fantastic bands out there, and we’ve made some really great friends over the last year. Sweep Echo, Drive Theory to name a few.
Matt: “Every aspect of our music scene is wonderful.” I’m glad that we’ve been able to be a part of it these past few years.
Joe: “The local music scene in South Jersey/Philly has lots of variety and is growing rapidly.”
Devin: “Our local music scene is almost like a family.” We find ourselves constantly either playing with bands that we have already played with or attending some of the amazing shows put on in the tri-state area. We’ve made many friends along the way and I’m looking extremely forward to meeting many more talents and especially some peculiar characters.
Anything else you want our readers to know?
August: Thanks for taking the time to read about us, and I hope you’re looking forward to our EP as much as we are.
Matt: Thanks for reading the article and supporting our music! If you want to see us live, our next run of shows starts June 1.
Joe: I encourage everyone to check out their local music scene. I didn’t until I was a part of it with ASG, and I had no idea what I was missing. It has been a cool journey learning to become a fan as well as a performer, and I’ve seen so many great live shows in the past few years. I hope that you enjoy our music and take something out of it, whether it’s a deep emotional connection or just a big smile. Thanks for reading about us and maybe we’ll meet you at a show sometime.
Devin: If you love music, don’t lose it–you may find it to be your light in the dark.
All Systems Go goes on a 2-week tour this Saturday. Be sure to check them out and follow them on social media as they rock up and down the east coast.