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Unlike so many so-called independent acts of late, the South Florida-birthed quintet New Found Glory never wanted to be the next big thing. The musicians didn't worry about getting a major record deal, nor did they bother with clever outfits or b(r)and image. The band happily spent its formative years playing less-than-glamorous venues including the deck of the University of Miami pool.
And yet, some twelve years after forming, New Found Glory remains the biggest, unlikeliest contemporary success story in South Florida rock. Since 1997 the band has released two EPs, two cover albums and six studio albums. Three of those full-lengths went gold, and even one album of covers charted on the Billboard Hot 100. That's not to mention its two documentary/live films, all the scattered one-off tracks and side projects.
And all of this has been accomplished with generally the same setup through the years. Of the band's five current members, four have been along for the ride since the beginning, lasting through a 2001 relocation to LA. Its musical style — a fast, pop-punk hybrid with dashes of hardcore — has evolved, but rarely wavered. New Found Glory's success has come from working hard as opposed to trying hard — rather than chasing sub-subgenre trends, the band has mostly stuck to its guns. Consequently, New Found Glory occupies the rarefied privilege of moving units and packing bodies into its shows while still enjoying something of a cult status bolstered by healthy punk-scene cred.
"When we started playing our music, there weren't really many bigger punk bands. We wrote for ourselves. We weren't expecting to get a record deal or get on the radio. And nothing has changed," says Chad Gilbert, the band's bassist, on a recent afternoon. "We don't change with the times because we write from the heart. We don't need to change our image to sell records because that's not why we do this." A few minutes later, our phone conversation is interrupted by a call from the band's manager: New Found Glory's sixth and latest album, Not Without a Fight, which was released in March, has charted again on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 12.
No doubt the band's pluck and longevity largely stem from the members' youth at its inception. After a brief stint fronting the hardcore act Shai Hulud, Gilbert cofounded New Found Glory at age sixteen. Frontman Jordan Pundik was barely legal, and the rest of the guys were similarly fresh-faced. With singularly teenage energy, the band hit the local all-ages circuit hard (I remember its second show ever, seeing when the band members shouted out their mothers, who were watching from the back). Gilbert points to the anything-goes, zillion-band-and-genre bills of that scene as a decided early influence on the group's sound.
"The scene in South Florida when we were growing up, it wasn't divided," Gilbert recalls. "It wasn't different scenes. If you played loud or crazy music, you were on the same show. We would play with bands like Poopy Pants, which was a punk/ska band, and we'd play with Morning Again, which was a metal/hardcore band. We would go in between all that, and I think that definitely influenced our sound. We have a little hardcore sound in our guitars, but we also have melodic vocals."
It was a fertile period for New Found Glory's circle of musical friends in South Florida. Shai Hulud would eventually migrate north, to Poughkeepsie, New York, but would become a metalcore titan along the way. Gilbert's buddy Chris Carrabba would gain pop-rock superstardom with Dashboard Confessional. And New Found Glory's 1997 debut EP, It's All About the Girls, which gained the band its first label deal with Eulogy Recordings.
To recap: Eulogy put out the band's debut full-length, Nothing Gold Can Stay, which in turn was picked up by the major-distributed Drive-Thru Records. Through Drive-Thru, the band's next two albums, 2000's New Found Glory and 2002's Sticks and Stones, were distributed by MCA and certified gold. In 2004, the harder-sounding Catalyst was released through Drive-Thru and Geffen, and was also certified gold.
The band's travel schedule was relentless, as it crisscrossed the globe on high-profile, corporate-sponsored tours and wooed teenage girls via MTV. But by 2006, when the band's fifth studio album, Coming Home, was released, the major-label grind was wearing thin.
"The deal with Geffen was, a new label president came in, and the status of the music industry is crazy right now, and he knew nothing about our band," Gilbert says. "All the people who were involved in the success of our older albums weren't at the label anymore because of the new president. So we just split off. They wanted us to negotiate our contract on some other subdivision of Geffen. We said no and started from scratch."
For a band versed in the do-it-yourself spirit, this was no problem. For a while, it considered releasing its own music, and eventually issued a couple of short releases on Bridge 9, a hardcore-centric indie label out of Boston. But eventually the ultimate punk pseudo-major, Epitaph, came calling. "We didn't say yes then because we had just gotten off the label and we wanted to tour and meet some people," Gilbert says. "But we came back to Epitaph because they're a label that knows how to expose a band but stay true to our fans, and that's what we care most about."
Those fans will not be disappointed by New Found Glory's first release for Epitaph, Not Without a Fight. Much like the band itself, the album is more of the same, but just as good as ever. The twelve tracks were produced by a contemporary pop-punk demigod, Mark Hoppus of Blink-182. Eschewing most of the effects muck-drowning the current crop of Warped Tour stars, Hoppus opted for a relatively stripped-down approach focused on the "rock" part of "pop-rock." The grit at the heart of the songs floats back to the surface. As before, the band shines brightest with the formula it has perfected, that of anthemic melodies and sing-along choruses infused with a hint of bittersweet tang.
"Since the last album, we've had a couple of big breakups, and split from our label, and had a lot of personal struggles in our lives," Gilbert says. "But it's not meant to be all negative. It's sort of an inspirational record to try to make people get through their crap."
And New Found Glory knows about survival. Not even 30 years old, the members boast careers twice as long as most acts that have reached similar commercial and critical peaks. And they intend to keep at it. "This is our sixth full-length album, and most bands only have two or three," Gilbert says. "Compared to other bands who have been around the same length of time as us, we're still younger dudes. We just love what we do, and put our band before everything else in our lives.
"The band will always be our number-one, and I don't see it ever stopping. We love playing, so why would we want to stop?"