Gilbert, AZ. Population: not too many. Hedged away in the Arizona dustbowl, Gilbert is the kind of small, desolate suburb where the overworked end up retiring. While it may seem shocking to hear now, two years ago then-impending high school graduates Scary Kids Scaring Kids decided that they were ready for a retirement of their own. "We just sort of fizzled out," remembers now-20-year-old drummer Peter Costa. "We recorded our first EP during our senior year of high school and then we put out it out on our own that June. I don't think any of us thought for sure that this band had a future."
And, sure enough, by the summer of 2003, they were in a holding pattern, resulting in one of the shortest-lived successes in Gilbert's tiny music scene. Months earlier Costa and guitarist Chad Crawford had formed the band with their fellow classmates, guitarist DJ Wilson and singer Tyson Stevens -- borrowing the Scary Kids name from a song by influential emo band Cap'n Jazz, and quickly honing their notoriously raucous live set. Those shows, especially early on, found the band carelessly smashing and recklessly lighting their instruments ablaze. "It just got insane," Costa recalls. "I remember one time we almost lit the basement of [defunct local rock club] the Nile on fire!"
By the time that Scary Kids recorded their first, independently released EP, After Dark, with local luminary Bob Hoag (Recover, The Format), they were operating on borrowed time. Costa - who was also acting as the band's de facto manager -- had decided to return to his first love, the piano; seeking out a career as a concert pianist. While Costa began pecking away for eight hours a day his bandmates shrugged, registering for classes at their respective local universities instead. For all intents and purposes, the Scary Kids story should have ended here. But in reality, it had just begun.
By the fall of 2003 (and with virtually no effort on their behalf) the growing interest in the band began to grow. Influential webzine AbsolutePunk.net posted After Dark on their site and, unexpectedly, the calls started pouring in. Immortal Records eventually won out, re- releasing After Dark in 2004 and signing on for The City Sleeps In Flames, the band's highly anticipated debut. "I didn't know very much about the music business going into this," Costa admits sheepishly. "But I knew I couldn't do one or the other. Steve had a scholarship. He gave that up. We stopped everything."
Decamping to Salad Days studios in Maryland this past February, the band began a five-week recording excursion with renowned underground producer Brian Mcternan (Thrice, Cave In, Snapcase). Now joined by second guitarist Steve Kirby as well as keyboardist Pouyan Afkary, the band's once-refined heavy rock sound had grown more anthemic and dramatic in scope. "Our attitude isn't totally serious," Costa insists, "But I think Brian did a good job at making the music mature for our age. It still sounds fun. But he made us realize how to make, as he would say, a better 'bed' for everything."
The songs on The City Sleeps In Flames indulge in new wave's careless spirit, post-hardcore's lacerating dynamics, and the moody atmospherics of heady guitar rock bands. But also of note is Stevens, who has risen to new heights lyrically- exposing the kind of earnest vulnerability on songs like "Faith In The Knife" and "Just A Taste" that you wouldn't expect from a songwriter that's still only 19 years old. "Over two years things can change a lot," Costa says casually. "Everyone is a lot more motivated to play music, we've been doing it so much now. I think this is just the beginning."
And, essentially that's what The City Sleeps In Flames reflects-a blazing starting point, if not the realization of the bright future they nearly left behind. With years ahead of them (and countless miles out on the road already booked) this is a band that is still in the midst of something bigger. As Stevens sings above a layer of warm snyths on "Empty Glasses," often in this life "with a flash the moment is gone." On The City Sleeps In Flames, Scary Kids Scaring Kids have undeniably entered their moment -- and it's one that's seems sure to stay.