Sidekicks singer-guitarist Steve Ciolek and drummer Matt Climer met at Paudua High School in the early 2000s. Both freshmen, they shared a history class and randomly discovered that they liked the same type of music.
“I was singing a NOFX song to myself in class one day,” says Ciolek via phone from his Columbus home. The Sidekicks play a release party at 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, at Mahall’s in Lakewood
. “He knew it was NOFX. We became good friends after that. We were two of the only punk kids at school.”
The band made its debut in 2007 with So Long, Soggy Dog
, and Ciolek says it intentionally sought to make an album that featured solid songs from start to finish.
“It was fun to think about how each song would fit into a record,” he says when asked about the making of the album. “I write songs thinking about where they’ll fit in the flow of a record. The first song I wrote thinking it would be the first song. I still think about albums in that arc. We look at our collections of songs as albums. It was a fun and exciting time. It was a big light bulb moment for us. We realized that if you take the time, you can craft these songs into an album. It’s an antiquated idea. I feel like a crotchety old man when I tell people that I want them to listen to entire albums. I would encourage people to listen to our full albums. We were never the kind of band that just had one big song.”
The group continued to hone its pop-punk skills on 2012’s Awkward Breeds
and 2014’s Runners in the Nerved World
. On the latter, the band sounds more like the indie act Built to Spill than the punk band Green Day as it trades in snooty vocals and aggressive guitars for mid-tempo melodies. It recorded the album with Phil Ek (Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Built to Spill and the Shins).
“I think I started to listen to music that was less rowdy,” Ciolek says when asked about how the band developed its pop-punk sensibilities. “We listened to Ted Leo and the Replacements. There are different ways to write punk songs. I also got more comfortable with my voice. I became more interested in music that had harmonies in it, bands like the Beatles and pop music like Big Star and the Beach Boys."
Six months after Runners in the Nerved World
, Ciolek started piecing things together for what would become Happiness Hours
. The album drops on May 18.
“This one was different because I started collecting the lyrics as couplets of rhymes,” he says. “The verses are from those kind of writing sessions. That lent itself to how the album ended up being each song is its own snapshot pulled from different life experiences. It’s not necessarily autobiographical.”
Produced, engineered, and mixed by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile), the album emphasizes the band’s melodic side. "Twin's Twist" features harmony vocals and shimmering guitars as Ciolek sings about adopting a "high school state of mind."
“[Agnello] is a fun, energetic person,” says Ciolek. “He gets sounds really quickly. He’s good at working on the fly. It’s more about the vibe and getting everyone feeling good and just playing music. That’s good for our band. We like playing live and have a good energy when we’re not thinking too much. He made suggestions on how to make songs more concise. I started listening to the Rolling Stones more. I wanted songs that groove more. The Stones and the Clash were a big influence on the direction I wanted the record to go. And power pop. In my mind, we’re a punk band in the same way that Elvis Costello is. The Buzzcocks or Clash or Ramones don’t sound aggressive or heavy. It’s more the attitude and the ideas that are presented and how they perform the songs live."
Ciolek says the upbeat approach to the songs was purely intentional.
“I’m really happy with [the album],” he says. “It’s supposed to be a summer record. When I’m writing songs, it’s easy to find things that are sad, but we wanted to make a record that’s fun and positive sounding.”