Social Animals have lived—and nearly died—on the road.
Driving from their hometown of Duluth, MN to Los Angeles for a gig, the band could’t breathe. Thick black smoke permeated their van after loose wires caused the back of the vehicle to go up in flames. Pulling over to the side of the highway, the band doused the fire with bottles of piss and half empty beer cans. Maybe this is a day in the life of Social Animals, but all their tribulations led them to signing to Rise Records (Placebo, Sevendust, Clint Lowery) in 2019 and releasing their first EP, Best Years.
“We always seemed right on the brink of destruction,” singer Dedric Clark tells American Songwriter. “Since then, we’ve learned which fires to extinguish and which ones to let burn.”
In some form or another Social Animals—Clark, guitarist Tony Petersen, bassist Roger Whittet, and drummer Boyd Smith—have been a unit since 2011, albeit under different names and genres. As they worked on finding their sound, and eventually decided to make music their only source of income, things got real. Social Animals were born.
They started booking their own shows, playing anywhere that would take them, says Clark. They also realized that they had to be ready to go to war for their songs.
“I know now that if I feel a tinge of embarrassment or find myself making excuses for a song while I’m showing someone, then the song isn’t ready,” he says. “I don’t feel that with any song on this album, and with the amazing team we have surrounding us now, we’re more than ready to start fanning the flames.”
First single “Bad Things” follows the theme of distance and separation that flows through most of the three-track album, Clark says, but it’s specifically about a condition the band has adopted throughout their intense highs and lows, laid out in lyrics I got used to the way I’m conditioned / Born with a Midwestern raw superstition / You don’t get used to an empty room / You just get used to hearing voices /Running over all the choices you have made.
“It’s a mode of preservation,” says Clark. “These days, when something exciting happens to the group, we always caution each other not to get excited, because it won’t shake out the way we plan. It never does. These walls we’ve built up to avoid disappointment have found their way into our personal lives as well, and it creates a distance that’s hard to put your finger on.”
For instance, the band recently landed it’s first overseas tour, which they couldn’t finish. “We were ecstatic,” says Clark. “And as luck would have it, a worldwide pandemic broke out and cut it in half. But much like the final lines of this song portray, there is always hope, and it could always be worse. We have our health and we have homes to come back to, which can’t be said for many of those hit by this virus.”
There’s a special motion to Social Animals. Built on a melodious and infectious tempo that keeps you in place with Clark’s piercing vocals, they go deeper than their indie pop, new wave cadence as each track takes you on an introspective journey.
“Best Years” touches on the breakdown of relationships after time on the road—When you’re always leaving / Nobody cares if you stay—while the more energetic “Get Over It” is a bit of a case study on how Clark dealt with isolation, separation, and addiction throughout the last decade, he says “cycling between numbness and pounding headaches, trading one addiction for another, and waiting for 9p.m. to roll around so I could feel hungry again.”
Looking back on it now, says Clark, it was still easier and less painful than dealing with the issues head on. “I was never really getting over anything while living like that,” he says. “It took me forever to realize it was because I didn’t even want to.”
When writing, melody comes first for Clark—everything from voice memos, melodies whispered and whistled, and other mismatched and scattered lyrics.
“I’m fortunate to have the privilege of free time,” says Clark. “My philosophy has been to wait until the song starts showing itself, then go into lockdown without interruptions. If I reverse that process by going into lockdown first and trying to force a song out, it never makes it past the cutting room floor.”
He adds, “The keepers tend to have their skeletons clatter out all at once, and then I slowly Frankenstein my favorite body parts from the pile to create something that can hopefully have a life of its own.”
Even though most of the band has moved out of Duluth, it’s still the most important place for them. It’s a community that has been with them since the beginning.
“I like to think growing up as a band there made me adopt a writing style that places an emphasis on efficiency,” says Clark. “Let’s get from the apartment door and across the parking lot to the car as quickly as possible, or we’re going to freeze to death. Let’s get the point and passion of this song across as simply and clearly as possible, or we’ll lose them. We want you to feel something, and we want you to feel it fast.”
Next up for the band is a new album. “We want to ride this out as far as it will take us,” says Clark. “It’s too late to do anything else anyway. I’d never put a ceiling on this band, and I don’t think it’s wise for anyone else to either.”