Everything In Transit: Somos talks anxiety, depression and shedding their skin

photo: Jim Trocchio

If you watched the music video released back in December for “Alright, I’ll Wait,” the first single from Somos’ new album, First Day Back, you’ve probably seen more of it than their own frontman.

“Our new video, I’m really in it,” Somos’ vocalist/bassist Michael Fiorentino says with a bit of disbelief and fear in his voice. He’s sitting in the driver’s seat of his band’s van right in front of Brighton Music Hall in Allston, Massachusetts, where the band just played, opening for Bayside on their annual run of holiday shows. “My face,” he specifies, and that’s true: Fiorentino’s mug is front and center for much of the video, which is full of quick and highly stylized shots of urban cityscapes, black backgrounds and layered graphic visualizations. “I have yet to watch it all the way through. I just saw the first clip and was like, ‘All right, I get this.’ ­­I can’t read any of the comments on the video either. I feel a little bit more on edge now that we’re on a larger platform.”

Fiorentino has been rather open with his band’s small fanbase as it’s grown. Somos had a tour scheduled in February 2015 with emo duo Dads, but announced a month prior they were dropping off due to Fiorentino’s mental health, explaining via social media the band would take a few months off while he dealt with his ongoing anxiety and depression.

Fiorentino wrestled with these issues growing up as well, and they persist to this day. “It’s definitely something I struggle with,” he divulges. “I’m always nervous. ­­I get really worked up in my head before every show­­. Sometimes I feel paranoid because I know ­­internally, I have judgmental thoughts about bands sometimes—I’ll think, ‘This is terrible,’ and I know that we are getting a little bit of that now. I know there’s people who hate us and probably think we’re terrible.”

That’s hard to believe, as Somos has always been far from terrible. Their 2012 demo introduced an accomplished quartet of music school-educated, politically and socially aware 20-somethings that could craft memorable, melodic emo-punk in the vein of Polar Bear Club and Piebald with the best of them. It wasn’t long before the rest of the world started to take notice, with the cultishly beloved Tiny Engines label scooping them up to issue their excellent full-length debut, Temple Of Plenty, in 2014.

“Our record coming out right after the Hotelier record came out [was huge for us],” Fiorentino says of their fellow Massachusetts friends, who themselves were finding instant gratification with the release of their sophomore album, Home, Like Noplace Is There. “Getting in Pitchfork was an unexpected break. I think the next qualitative step forward [after that] was getting the tour with Modern Baseball.”

The band were thrust into a hyped package tour lineup that filled many of the approximately 1,000-capacity venues it visited, with Somos getting a large hometown response when the tour came to Boston in December 2014.

“The problem with the Dads [tour] is I just wasn’t seeking any type of treatment, and it got out control,” Fiorentino explains while recalling the initial pangs of anxiety during the Modern Baseball headliner. “It was a struggle touring the U.S. for the first time.” When early 2015 came, Fiorentino says “a general feeling of ‘I can’t accomplish anything’” set in. “Just in a rut. Unable to do anything. It was pretty bleak, but then I got myself straightened out­­.” He went back to therapy and received medicinal prescription, and says he’s in a much better place now.

“I learned that you can’t just let that stuff go,” he espouses. “You have to be proactive. That’s the biggest lesson I learned from it. I don’t want it to slow me down. I don’t want to slow the band down or anything else I do in life.”

When it came time to record their new album in August 2015, a newly stabilized Fiorentino was likely put further at ease with producer Jay Maas, known for his work with punk and hardcore acts like Title Fight, Bane and Defeater, but appealing to Somos based on the indie-rock clarity of his work for Foreign Tongues’ Fragile, As Said Before, and Getaway Studios’ vicinity to Boston (less than an hour’s drive).

The band spent 20 days with Maas to record what seems to be a very painstakingly crafted 27 minutes. “­­Jay’s whole thing was, whatever idea we had, he was like ‘Let’s try it,’” Fiorentino elaborates. “He was very much like­­, ‘Yes, let’s give it a shot.’ Sometimes it didn’t work out, but then sometimes it did, and that was a really good dynamic to have.”

Though Fiorentino insists the change wasn’t deliberate, he must be feeling much better to have his band go and shed their musical skin just about entirely on their sophomore full-length, First Day Back (Fiorentino only discovered the Braid song of the same name looking up his band’s new album on Spotify—“not the worst coincidence,” he says). Somos offers crisp, often subdued and highly melodic indie rock, trebly treasures with sporadic electronics (sometimes entirely making up the backbone of a song), finger-tapped guitars and a couple huge choruses. The result is something in the vein of Minus The Bear or the American Scene’s HAZE, but otherwise largely unique.

“We tried to write songs we wanted to hear,” Fiorentino says, adding that they drew upon dancey, contemporary indie/alternative acts like Tokyo Police Club, Phoenix and the 1975. “I guess it definitely did come out differently. There’s some experimentation with new sounds [and] ideas. It felt really good to just say, ‘This is what we want to do? Let’s do it.’ Regardless of any type of convention. But we didn’t go into it like, ‘We have to make it a different record.’ But I think it did come out that way.”

One thing that did remain the same is Fiorentino’s lyrical approach. Somos is a socially and politically aware band, but if not for live and social media shoutouts to modern firebrands like Chelsea Manning and Black Lives Matter, it’d be hard to ascertain from their open-ended lyrics. “I­­ was reading a lot of stuff about the [Syrian] refugee crisis, and that really kinda captured my imagination,” he recalls about early writing sessions for First Day Back.

Asked about “Alright, I’ll Wait,” he responds, “that song’s basically just about a general feeling of desire, yearning for something that just doesn’t come. And also the melancholy that comes with just the economy facing people. There’s a sense of ‘good times are right around the corner,’ and it never necessarily materializes.”

But how anyone interprets the songs is fine by him. “It’s funny what people latch onto with the lyrics. It’s never what I expect. A lot of people thought Temple songs were about breakups­­. But that’s fine, because you’re writing in such a broad way. There’s the intention and then there’s the way people run with it, and if people can apply it in a different way, that’s almost better than [saying] ‘This is what the song is about.’ I thought that was a cool thing.”

Fiorentino will have plenty of more opportunities to see how Somos’ songs translate to fans as they embark on a headlining tour in March with support from Petal and the Superweaks. It’s the band’s first real test of their draw, and while Fiorentino expresses a little anxiety about it, it’s mostly kept at bay. “We’re actually excited to take that step and see how real this is,” he says with wonder. “Like how much of it’s an internet buzz thing, and how much it is people will actually show up and see us headline, so we hope that’s a modest success. We hope we don’t lose momentum.” S

A version of this story was originally published in Substream #50.