To the Academy Is …, the name “Santi” means many things, none of which make very much sense.
“Adam [Siska], our bass player, had this enemy in high school whose last name was Santiago, but everyone called him Santi, and he had associates called, like, Panti, Canti and Fruscianti or something,” drummer Andy “the Butcher” Mrotek explained. “Adam always hated the name Santi, so to annoy him, we all started saying it instead of ‘thank you’ or ‘cheers’ or anything. So it started out as this incredibly stupid thing, the kind of stupid thing you do in a band on the road.
“But then it got even stupider, because I got it tattooed on my ass, which wasn’t the brightest idea in the world. The deal was that everyone else was gonna get it tattooed on their asses, but none of them did,” he continued. “So fast-forward to today, and we’re trying to think of titles for the new album. For some reason Santi just made sense, even though it totally doesn’t make any sense. I mean, when you think about it, the name ‘the Academy Is …’ doesn’t make much sense, you know?”
We know. And as if that weren’t nonsensical enough, the band upped the inanity by deciding that “Santi” was also worthy of a series of bizarre acronyms, including “Scenesters Are Never Too Indie” – which their good pal Pete Wentz wore on a T-shirt during Fall Out Boy’s Infinity Flight 206 promotional jaunt – and “Something Something Nordic Tantric Something.” (“I’m really bad at remembering them,” Mrotek laughed.)
But all joking aside, over the next few months there are going to be several definitions of Santi – due April 3 – thrown about by critics and fans alike: Expect to hear terms like “genre-busting,” “career-making” and, conversely, “career-breaking.” Because the new record is everything TAI’s previous efforts weren’t. It’s a glammy, hammy slab of cocksure rock and roll, brimming with spot-the-influences moments (Marc Bolan’s guitars, the thudding drum work of Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll, Pt. 2”) and the sounds of a band finding its footing. And TAI are painfully aware of it.
“We’re a little nervous because we don’t really know what our fans are going to think,” Mrotek said. “This one is nothing like the old record, but we all know that this is the record we wanted to make. For me personally, I wouldn’t listen to our last record [2005’s Almost Here], even though I think it’s good. This record is the kind of record I’d listen to. But I wonder if it’s going to go over kids’ heads or if they’re going to think it’s the smartest thing ever.”
There’s plenty for people to pick apart. Album opener “Same Blood” showcases frontman William Beckett’s developing upper register and general feyness. First single “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands” is full of velvety, ultra-amped guitar work, reminiscent of Slade or T. Rex. And “Bulls in Brooklyn” is powered by Mrotek’s stomping drums (he wrote it to sound like Glitter’s stadium-uniting “Rock & Roll”). Produced by the suddenly everywhere Butch Walker, it’s an accomplished, polished effort that pushes the boundaries of the whole emo/pop-punk genre, and one that’s sure to both unite and divide.
In short, it’s the kind of album a band makes when it’s gunning for the stars. Whether or not TAI make it remains to be seen.
“We were on a headlining tour with Panic! at the Disco opening up for us, and they’d have a better crowd reaction than us, and it was a weird thing. That was the last time we’ll ever be above them on the bill, and that made us feel a little weird, to be honest,” Mrotek said. “That feeling has inspired this record, even though we never intended it to be like that. But this album doesn’t represent anything on [record label] Fueled by Ramen or anything from the Fall Out Boy family of bands. We’re gonna be out there on our own with this one. And that’s kind of scary, but we’re going to run with it and just see what happens.”