By Roy Kasten
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For those creative types facing indifferent audiences in half-filled dives while trying to make it big with their bands, day jobs are a necessary evil. The members of the hard-edged quintet Story of the Year are riding high on the radio charts with the single "Until the Day I Die," but they were once no different from any other struggling artists. While striving to solidify a like-minded lineup and fine-tune their sound, the St. Louis upstarts bonded over a Midwest college-frat staple: They delivered pizza.
"If you ever need a new guitar player, look at various pizza-delivery places -- you'll find one, definitely," says vocalist Dan Marsala. "Me, Ryan [Phillips, guitarist] and Josh [Wills, drummer], we all worked at Papa John's. Actually, our guitar tech, our drum tech and our tour manager -- everybody -- we all worked at Papa John's.
"Pizza delivery is the way to go for band members," Marsala continues. "You can drive around and listen to music all night, or work on music. Like, if we'd write a song, we'd record a crappy version, and then I'd just drive around and deliver all night and sing along to it, try to write stuff. It's a good job to have for band members."
First performing under the moniker Big Blue Monkey ("The worst name ever," groans Marsala), the group released a handful of EPs and evolved into a local favorite in and around St. Louis. After some personnel changes -- the main shift being that Marsala, originally the band's drummer, became the singer -- the young band eventually settled on a lineup and decided to move to California in pursuit of a record deal. If nothing else, there were pizza jobs there too.
But the relocation paid off handsomely for Story of the Year. The band adopted its more optimistic moniker and picked up a deal with Warner Brothers affiliate Maverick Records. In fact, the label signed Story of the Year the same day the band played an early-morning showcase at the Viper Room. The club sits on the infamous Sunset Strip -- ground zero for hair metal, which Marsala admits was a major influence.
"Early on I was all about Skid Row and Guns N' Roses," he says. "Skid Row has always been my favorite band from the '80s, definitely. That's what really got me into music. Later on it was Nirvana and Pearl Jam and all that stuff. But then [punk] bands like H2O, Sick of It All, Pennywise, NOFX -- that's the stuff that really got me wanting to be in a band and do things for the right reasons."
Punk's quicksilver tempos and jagged chords can certainly be heard on Story of the Year's major-label debut, Page Avenue-- particularly the furious, hardcore lightning-bolt "Falling Down," which features vocals from H2O singer Toby Morse and Youth of Today's Ray Cappo. The album, produced by Goldfinger's John Feldmann, fits in seamlessly with today's prevailing radio trends: "Anthem of Our Dying Day" and "Dive Right In" resemble the moody fretwork of A.F.I. and Thrice, while Marsala's vocal cord-obliterating interludes on "And the Hero Will Drown" and "In the Shadows" have brought justifiable comparisons to screamo ragamuffins the Used -- although the angst stems from a different place.
"Pretty much every song has something to do with us missing our friends at home, 'cause we wrote a lot of it while we lived in Orange County," Marsala explains. "'Sidewalks' is a lot about our friends back home in St. Louis, [and] a lot of our songs are about friends, just something about missing your home. I don't know. We're not too mad about anything. We're happy guys who just want to write about friends and having a good time, so a lot of it came out like that."
Now that Story of the Year has moved back home, the band's St. Louis roots are even more apparent. The Page Avenue of the album title is a place where "there's not much to do, so pretty much all we did [growing up] was either listen to music, play music or skateboard," Marsala says. In addition to introducing them to crushing boredom, the bandmates' heartland roots instilled an earthbound, old-fashioned work ethic.
"We'd wake up, we'd practice all day, we'd all go to work at night -- then we'd get off work, we'd go promote the band somewhere, [and] we'd go hand out fliers or CDs at a show," he explains. "It was constantly having two or thee jobs, including the band as a job. We always knew that's what we wanted to do, and we always just knew in the back of our heads that if we worked hard enough, it was gonna happen. We weren't afraid of hard work, and we just knew that we weren't gonna give up."
All the pavement-pounding led to the band's big break. After being selected to play at Pointfest, an annual music event sponsored by local alt-rock radio station the Point (105.7 FM), the bandmates slipped CDs and copies of a demo video onto Goldfinger's tour bus. Their at-the-time ridiculous moniker at first turned off vocalist Feldmann, who supposedly threw away the disc before even giving it a spin. But he eventually saw the tape of the group's circus-worthy live exploits -- which involve backflips and other acrobatics -- and was impressed enough to offer an opening slot on a Goldfinger tour.