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Teenage Wasteland 

The Academy Is … Recalls Its High-school Years

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When the guys in the Academy Is … decided to name their third album Fast Times at Barrington High, they were referring to the collective nostalgia for their blurry high-school days. It really had nothing to do with unleashing their inner Spicolis. "The past just disappeared from my mind," says bassist Adam Siska. "That can easily happen when you're spending five years on the road. Every day's almost the same: You wake up, you have a soundcheck, you have the show."

And if high school was anything like the pop-punk band's recent creative spurt - Fast Times is its second album in as many years - you really can't blame Siska for being a bit hazy on the details. "Music took us away from [our pasts]," he says. "We never had a chance to look back; we were always moving forward."

Siska, frontman William Beckett and guitarist Michael Carden formed the Academy Is … five years ago in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates. Most of them were still in high school at the time. (Siska, 20, is the youngest member.) A year later, they recorded an EP, which caught the attention of emo/pop-punk powerhouse Fueled by Ramen, the record company that's put out albums by Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco and Paramore.

In 2005, the quintet released its debut CD, Almost Here, and spent most of the year on the road with Fall Out Boy, Motion City Soundtrack and Plain White T's. The following year it joined the Warped Tour and started gathering ideas for its second album, Santi, which came out last year. A tougher, more abrasive and decidedly more experimental record than its teen-friendly predecessor, Santi took punches from both critics and fans. But Siska says the group doesn't regret the CD's darker tone. "Everyone was saying how it sounds different," he says. "But that was our statement: We're a band; we can put out what we want. Some records are going to sound like this, some records are going to sound like that. We don't want to repeat ourselves."

Reeling from yet another year of constant touring - this time with +44, Cobra Starship and Fall Out Boy again - the Academy Is … quickly began work on Fast Times at Barrington High. "We had a lot of creative energy," says Siska.

Fast Times is way closer to Almost Here's hormone-spiked bounce than Santi's dark, brooding crawl. It's a swift, breezy ride through high school's highs and lows: peer pressure, girl problems, getting hit on by an older lady - they're all here.

But there's a sort of post-emo self-assurance this time around. The first single, "About a Girl," starts out as a pop-punk love song ("I can't breathe when I'm around her") but soon turns into a rallying anthem for guys who aren't going to sit around and mope any longer: "I'm not gonna waste these words about a girl," sings Beckett.

"William was infatuated with every girl in high school," laughs Siska. "You build love up when you're that age. But you don't know love when you're 15. Time passes, and you forget about all of that."

The band even gets a bit reflective for the old days - you know, four or so years ago - on "After the Last Midtown Show," a hand-holding ballad about sneaking sex when Mom and Dad are away. "It's a very nostalgic song," says Siska. "It's very dreamy. Every time we play that song, it fills me with a lot of hope.

"I hope I can look back on these years as some of my best," he concludes. "I just hope I don't have to get that tattoo of the band removed 15 years from now."

mgallucci@clevescene.com

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