As the members of SoTheySay walk into Meshuggah on a recent weekday afternoon, they look unmistakably like a band. Guitarist Nick Walters wears an orange Gatsby's American Dream T-shirt, drummer Justin Hanson sports two-tone dyed hair -- a mixture of blond and black -- while other members casually display piercings, tattoos and rock-star sunglasses.
But although they share appearances with other bands in heavy rotation on Fuse and MTV2, the guys in this local quintet are anything but cookie-cutter emo drones. Inside jokes, laughter and good-natured ribbing fly across the table with ease, and the bandmates express gratitude for the support of family members -- and bravely admit to liking such artists as, say, Cinderella or Yanni.
More important, there's a significant lack of ego or pretension in SoTheySay's collective demeanor, an attitude that certainly colors its definition of success.
"A lot of the St. Louis bands live in what we like to call the 'Story of the Year shadow,'" says vocalist Dave Schroeder, who sports a Houston Astros jersey and a punkish quasi-mullet. "It happens. They're a very big, successful band. You kind of have to sit back -- if that's going to be your path, it's going to come. We don't have to force anything. I'd like to have genuine fans. I really wouldn't want to have fans 'cause I wear cool skateboarding sneakers or because I have an awesome haircut or something."
He pauses, then laughs.
"Yeah, you know, whatever. I do have an awesome haircut."
Justin Hanson, the band's charmingly earnest drummer, chimes in: "I hope that's the vibe people get, that we're up there trying to rock. It's not about what we're wearing or how we look or how many thirteen-year-old girls like us. We have to prove ourselves; we have to put in our dues. Some bands don't have to do that, but those bands learn that they should have when their career's only a year or two long. We're definitely trying to reach for longevity and all that."
Even though the band is roughly eighteen months old, such a goal looks attainable. Its self-titled debut EP on the national label Fearless sold over 200 copies during a midnight sale/in-store at Vintage Vinyl in June, making it the best-selling CD in the shop for that week.
"It was like, 'We beat Foo Fighters?'" laughs bassist Chris Dickey incredulously.
But the band -- categorized, for lack of a better term, as a driving punk outfit with pop overtones and faint hints of screamo lurking beneath -- isn't just finding success in the Lou. Thanks to its heavily viewed profiles on MySpace.com and purevolume.com, SoTheySay is gaining quite a national buzz.
In fact, it was a gushing post about the band on another Web site, absolutepunk .net, that first brought SoTheySay to the attention of Fearless.
"When I initially heard the band, I found myself wanting to sing along, yet I didn't know the words," says the writer, Caleb Cattivera. "That's how catchy their music is."
Label owner Bob Becker saw the kudos and left the band a MySpace message with his phone number, which eventually led to the guys driving 36 hours to play a showcase in California and snag their record deal.
The story of how SoTheySay formed isn't quite so easily explained. Founding member and ex-New Empire guitarist Mikey Guffey found Hanson via word of mouth and added Schroeder on vocals -- but only after the latter's high school pal, Joe Hamilton, turned down the singing spot.
California transplant Dickey, whom Hanson met via stlpunk.com, joined next, as did ex-Shall We Dance member Nick Walters. Hamilton -- the former vocalist for Modern Day Hero -- ironically got a second chance to join SoTheySay after the band saw him with Loser's Luck at the St. Louis Warped Tour date in June. He replaced Guffey, who left the band because of what Schroeder calls "different musical paths," adding, "It wasn't anybody's fault."
Indeed, unlike the complaint aired by many in the scene, Dickey is quick to point out how supportive their punk peers have been.
"What's really cool about the scene," he says, "is when you start playing and stuff and you have all these friends in other bands -- and after you get signed, whatever, things start happening -- you still see those people in the bands that you kind of looked up to. Everybody's friends.
"At the CD-release show we had kids from Novella, kids from Westcott, lowercase, Rushmore Academy. Every local band, there was a kid from a band at that show. Which was really cool and we really see that, really appreciate that."
It doesn't hurt that SoTheySay's live show is as energetic as it is entertaining. At a July Hi-Pointe show, the venue seemed too small to contain the jumping and whirling band -- perhaps because of the larger Warped Tour dates it played this summer.
Rest assured, however, that the band's humility is firmly intact -- as when Schroeder tells the story of having a member of the Starting Line, one of his favorite bands, see SoTheySay in action.
"First day of Warped Tour, the singer, Kenny [Vasoli], was watching our whole set from like twenty feet away, just by himself, watching," Schroeder recalls. "That was kind of like, 'Whoa.'
"You really look at that guy like a professional; he's been doing it since he was fifteen -- touring, doing what I'm doing now at [age] twenty for five years before me. To be able to meet a guy like that -- and then have him say he likes and appreciates what you're doing..... That's good news."
More good news involves the band's plans for their upcoming full-length debut, which they plan to record with upstart producer Matt Squire in Maryland in November. This forward momentum ensures SoTheySay won't have to go back to day jobs -- which included delivering pizza, working as a union carpenter and being a punch-press operator.
The bandmates' ability to handle success is evident in how much they laugh about the flak they get, teasing that often takes the form of riffing on their name -- variations have included "So They're Gay," "So We're Pretty" and, perhaps most cleverly, "So They Said."
"It's so silly to say that [stuff], though," Hanson says. "That doesn't even faze me, 'cause that's totally rooted from jealousy. All these guys have put in their dues in other bands, and we've all busted our ass working on our instruments and thinking things out."
So they say.