The American Standard
On a rainy Wednesday evening, I made my way over the Burlington Bristol bridge to the practice space/studio that The American Standard calls home. We had a chance to sit down and discuss the origins of the band, their goals for the future, their thoughts on music and the DIY musician experience.
So, how did you guys come up with The American Standard?
Sean: I know I originally came up with the name because I saw it on a toilet. Right?
Greg: Yeah, I specifically remember him saying “We should be called The American Standard.” I said “Why?” and he said, “Because we’re shit.”
Sean: We’re shit, sometimes the country’s real shit, it just seems to have so many layers, you know? Also, the marketing couldn’t be better. Every time somebody takes a piss, there we are.
Greg: The majority of pictures we get sent or tagged in are just from somebody in some bathroom.
AJ: Something like, “Oh, we just renovated our bathroom with American Standard toilets!”
Greg: “Oh, you guys are getting around!” Usually it’s my dad.
Sean: Yeah, we should specify that the only things we get tagged in are from our own parents.
Greg: All the comments on our shows, my mom.
Sean: So yeah, that was the name. I think at the time we had a couple of shitty names we were trying to decide between.
Greg: The names we had at the time weren’t necessarily bad; it was just like, “This works”. They were really cringey, really corny.
How did you all meet?
Sean: Greg and I met in seventh grade, so we’ve known each other a really long time, but I didn’t even officially meet AJ until-
AJ: Until I recorded the American Standard’s first EP.
Greg: That was what like four years ago, five years ago?
AJ: It would have been like 2015 or 2014. Somewhere between ’14 and ’16, I think.
Sean: Well, it was released December of 2014, so we met you right before that. But, yeah, I’ve known Greg since he was a little spring chicken.
Greg: I was like 4’4″. All you saw was a backpack just walking. So, I met AJ when I was in another band in high school. I was friends with a guy who grew up around where he lived and he was in a band, and we were like rival bands. Even though we never spoke a word to each other, it was just somebody in the middle of it like, “Hey, those guys think you suck” and we were like, “They fucking suck.” That’s pretty much how I met AJ. I think after that I just hit you up randomly to record because I heard you did that.
AJ: Well, I had tried out for The American Standard once before at that point, and you guys had said, “Well, we wound up going with someone else, but we’d love it if you’d record our EP”
Greg: Yeah, that’s true.
Sean: This is the first I’m hearing of that.
Greg: Well, when we first met, we had another drummer and we knew another guy, but he could never do it because he was also in a cover band.
Sean: Man, could you imagine that now. Passing up AJ Viana?
AJ: He still wishes he could do that to this day.
Greg: Now it’s become the ol’ ball and chain.
Sean: I think our other drummer went the way of cover band and then AJ signed on full time.
Greg: Actually, he filled in! Yeah, we were a band for like two years, never had a show. Then the day we get our very first show, our drummer quits.
AJ: Yeah, you guys were like, “Hey, can you fill in for this show” and then at the end of it you were like, “So, could you like…be our drummer?”
Sean: Would you be our girlfriend?
AJ: It was a note that was passed to me across the bar that said, “Would you be our drummer? Yes, no?”
Well, considering all that, what are your goals for the future of the band?
AJ: Hopefully release this album by 2022. Sean is so like, done, with us in the time that it’s taken us to work on this record.
Sean: Next month it will have been a year since I’ve recorded my bass parts for this album. But it’s understandable because AJ is so fucking busy here. There’s us who take advantage of being able to be here and then there’s people who pay to be here and they’ve got to come first.
Greg: They take priority when they wave money around.
Sean: They take priority and we’re just standard mail.
I see what you did there.
AJ: The American Standard is that option on Amazon, the “No Rush” shipping.
Greg: Two weeks to six months, like a shirt coming from China.
And you get it, and it’s the wrong shirt.
AJ: The big thing is to get the record out and I mean, it’s on the cusp of getting done. There are just some last minute things that we want to change up as far as tracking and some mix stuff that we want to really make sure are good when it comes out. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to.
Greg: Technically, I’m not done tracking vocals yet. There’s one line. It’s one line that I just can’t figure out how to make it work and then I want to rewrite the whole second. So there’s like one section that has been undone for like, nine months.
Sean: It’s the bane of my existence, that one line.
Greg: I’ll probably just write some gibberish and just be like, “That works, send it out.”
Sean: And then beyond this album coming out, I think the ultimate goal is to knock Billie Eilish down a peg. Knock her out of the limelight, let us take over.
Greg: That’s our biggest competition. We’re one and two, back and forth.
AJ: You know, between her and her brother: ten Grammys, and us: not even a nomination. We’re neck and neck.
Sean: I mean, we’re closer than we’ve ever been before, if you really think about it.
Greg: Yeah, but we definitely want to get the album released this year. The singles we want to release are done. So, we just want to do some last minute mix things and get those out in the next few months. There’s possibly a video in the works, maybe. It’s in the works.
Sean: Yes, I’m figuring it out now.
Greg: We want to maybe play outside of Philly, but like where people will be. Not like, in the woods. The first single’s probably going to be a big way point for us to see the kind of response we get. See if anybody’s going to care or not.
So, in the time that you guys have been a band, what is the best show you’ve played, worst show, and a dream show you would like to play?
AJ: I think our best and worst shows were both at Bourbon and Branch.
Greg: What was the worst one?
AJ: The one where we cut the set like three songs early.
Greg: Because I was drunk?
AJ: Because you were like, super drunk. The crowd was just not into it. We had like seven songs planned and we got about four songs in and we were like ” Let’s just wrap this up. We’re done here”.
Greg: That’s not my worst show. I don’t remember that show.
AJ: Or it could have been that Connie’s Ric Rac show where we blew out the PA.
Sean: That was where we met you!
Greg: No, that was fun for me. That was fun. It was my birthday.
Sean: That was a lot of fun. It was your birthday and Only On Weekends had that really great set despite the sound totally going out.
AJ: It was just drums. The only thing functioning without power on the stage.
Sean: And people kept singing because they were playing that Offspring cover.
Greg: Oh shit, you were there.
I sure was.
Greg: No, worst show we ever had was Rosemont.
Sean: Oh yeah…that was pretty bad.
AJ: So, we played to a filled room of people who wished we weren’t there.
Sean: It was a little worse than playing drunk in front of people who kinda want you to be there.
Greg: We played a solid twenty and then we were like, “You know what, we’re all tired”.
AJ: And then our best show would have probably also been at Bourbon and Branch. It was packed from stage to door.
Greg: Yeah, it was packed. People were singing and dancing, and people knew the words. That was a great show. That was probably the best show.
AJ: But like, circling back to the worst show…
Greg: So he (Sean) went to Rosemont College and they were throwing like a talent show?
Sean: Yeah. This is all my fault. It bears a little bit of background. It’s a really small school so it’s already hard to get people to go to shit. Like “Do you want to go to this thing? No, probably not. Okay. But what else are we gonna do?”
AJ: This college is maybe fifteen minutes from Villanova?
Sean: Oh no. It’s literally one mile.
AJ: So they’re already upset by the fact that they’re not at Villanova, but still wanted to be in the area.
Sean: It’s basically six-hundred angry people who didn’t get into Villanova. But also, none of them were anywhere near into our type of music. I mean, they couldn’t care less about the shit we were playing. Plus, it was for a talent show. So the way it was sold to me – and I thought it would be a good opportunity for us – is that it would be in the middle of the judges deliberating for the talent show. They basically said, “So we heard you’re in a band” which is never a good sign. Not, “We heard your band” just, “We heard you’re in a band.”
AJ: Red flag number one.
Sean: So they wanted us to perform while the judges deliberated and fill the silence, but they didn’t know how to set up for a band. Our first fifteen minutes on stage was spent just setting up.
AJ: We had to bring our own microphones. I remember having to bring my drums, but also everything that was necessary to mic my drums.
Greg: We waited outside of your house. Me and you sat out front of his house because we had to wait for you to get home and give us all the cables and shit that you had to take.
Greg: You don’t remember that?
Sean: I don’t, but I’m sure it happened.
Greg: Well I do. We were in your dad’s van!
Sean: Oh yeah. It was a Chrysler. Town and Country.
AJ: But yeah, then we get there and they’re like, “Do you have everything you need? You guys should have your instruments, drums, microphones,” and we’re like, “Yup, we got everything. Just show us where to plug it all in.” They’re like, “Oh, uh, I don’t know”.
Greg: Nobody knew how to run the soundboard, they just turned it on for us.
AJ: Someone was like “The inputs for the mics are somewhere on the stage.” It was a shit show. So we mic’d up the bass cab, guitar cab and drums. But it was very obvious that none of them knew how to work the soundboard because they’d be like, “Okay, can we hear the guitar?” and the guitar would be so loud, like you could hear it across town, and then back again, and then off. “Alright, sounds good!” and then just on to the next thing.
Sean: Yeah, so we wasted a bunch of time just setting up. We needed extension cords, they didn’t know where those were. It just turned into a shit show. Once we eventually started playing, nobody gave a fuck. And even before we started playing, we’re back there behind closed curtains setting all this up, they had two hosts, neither of which had any comedic timing whatsoever. They’re trying to kill just minutes and minutes of silence and by the time we eventually started, the judges were probably already done doing what they had to do. It was just so nonsensical to do it. I apologize again.
Greg: So, obviously, we’re up there and we just know that nobody else wants us there. We were only supposed to play like three songs. We got done and were like, “Okay, we’re done,” and they looked at us like, “Keep going, you can play more.” So, I was like, “Who wants to hear more songs?” and nobody responded. I was like, “Good enough!” and we played two or three more.
Sean: We played two of the heaviest songs we had.
Greg: Yeah, the two heaviest we had written at the time.
Sean: Both of them have off-time shit, like, nothing anybody wanted to hear.
AJ: And at the end, both of the people that were hosting it were like “Yo, that was awesome!” and we were like, “Really? Everyone that was out there looked like they literally wished they were anywhere else.”
Except for that one guy in the back with his arms crossed bobbing his head.
Sean: So, I thought maybe, if anything there was this one guy who was their friend who may have enjoyed this. I remember saying something to one of you, just like, “Oh, how did Nick like it?” and one of you said, “Oh, he said ‘the bass was too loud.'” And I was just like, “That’s the feedback?”
Like, “You guys were a little pitchy.”
Greg: I think that was like our second show, or third show. Dream show would definitely be Bayside or Thrice or something like that.
Sean: Had we won that competition to open up for Bayside, I would have shit my pants.
I voted for you guys. I did.
Sean: Thank you. So did my mom.
Greg: Well, a lot of people who were probably robots voted for somebody else. A band from like, Florida won.
And not from Philadelphia, where they would be drawing support from?
Sean: If it ain’t meant to be, it ain’t meant to be. But anyway, sorry, I got really carried away with the answers.
No, that’s fine, gives me more to write about.
Greg: I can see the headline now: “American Standard singer: drunk? Show after show cancelled because of his alcoholism.”
Alright, so favorite non-musical pass time?
Sean: Probably playing NHL, to be honest.
AJ: For me, it’s very light cooking, and mostly “vidja” games.
Greg: I prefer video games, but they play “vidja games.”
Sean: Yeah, I like video games and hockey. Those are probably the three biggest things in my life: music, video games and hockey.
Greg: I can’t stand video games-
Sean: We played NHL a couple of times.
Greg: So, instead, I sit on the couch and I watch Chopped, and I cook a lot.
Sean: Because he got tired of getting his ass whooped in NHL.
Greg: Yeah, but when I would win those two or three times-
AJ: It meant something.
Greg: I would refuse to play again. Let him dwell on it. I get texts in all caps like, “REMATCH.”
Sean: “Sleep with one eye open, nerd.”
Greg: Yeah, I just like to cook. That’s really the only thing I like to do though. I cook for like three hours every Sunday, like three or four hours.
Do you have a specialty dish?
Greg: Um, chicken?
Just any kind of chicken.
Greg: If it’s chicken thighs in an InstaPot you want, well then, you’ve got it, my man. There’s this, like, teriyaki chicken glaze that I’ve been making. I like wine, I like The Good Place. I watch a lot of documentaries, I cook a lot of food, and I go to work.
AJ: It’s a simple life, but it’s an honest life.
What is the melody or riff that got you into playing?
Sean: Probably Dookie. Probably anything on Dookie. Or something from the Beach Boys.
Greg: I never kind of associated it like that. There was never a song like, “I want to play guitar.” I don’t think I ever had that train of thought like, “Oh, I could play guitar.” I knew my uncles played guitar. It was all Green Day, The Offspring. But when I started playing guitar, the one thing was the pinch harmonic riff in Cemetery Gates. I remember when I figured out how to pinch harmonic, it was over.
AJ: Pantera all day every day.
Greg: Eleven-year-old me would say “Yes.”
AJ: For me, it was that my parents wanted me to join the band, like the school band in middle school or something. I said that “If I’m gonna do it, I want to play the drums, because they seem to do the least amount of work.” All they do is they carry around a pair of sticks, their drum pad and their music and they just show up to places and they’re like, “Alright, I’m ready to play now.”
Greg: I can’t wait until we’re on tour and you show up with just sticks.
AJ: But yeah, my parents were like, “Absolutely not. You’re not playing the drums. Play like, the trumpet or something.” But I was like, “But I gotta learn notes?” and that’s just so much harder than like, “I can just play this rhythm.” Then once I was in it, there was probably like, I don’t know, some kind of Pink Floyd song where I was like, “That’s a solid groove.”
Greg: For me, it was more like there were stages of it. My uncle played guitar. He showed me like two chords and I was in. Then he showed me the bass part in Have You Ever by The Offspring off Americana, he showed me how to play that on guitar, and then that sunk me in. Then he’d show me something else and that would sink me in deeper. Then, like, the Pantera thing would sink me in deeper. The end solo for November Rain, like, that’s when I got into playing lead. Like I said, it was more stages as opposed to one thing.
AJ: I actually started playing music on guitar. Before I had a drum set or any semblance of drum things, I was playing guitar. I probably still, somewhere, have this busted ass, like, first act guitar sitting around in my parents’ house.
Greg: I wanted to play drums and my mom told me, “It doesn’t have a volume knob. Go have your uncle show you guitar.”
Sean: My brother played drums and guitar, so it seemed like the only logical thing was-
AJ: To not do that.
Sean: Yeah, exactly.
Greg: Your interest in music has nothing to do with your bass player father. Nothing at all.
Sean: It’s funny though, I just found out recently that he wanted me to get into it for the longest time, like right away when I was really little and I didn’t. I think I started playing when I was nine. He said he was really worried I wasn’t going to like music that much because he was really into wrestling. Like, “He just really loved the WWF, and I thought he was just gonna be obsessed with that forever and then never learn to play.”
Greg: Did your dad have like no idea how children work? Like, “Fuck, he likes this? I guess he’s just gonna like it for the rest of his life.”
Sean: Well, if you see like photo albums of me and my brother, he was always holding toy guitars and stuff and I had those battery powered beat-em-up dolls of wrestlers. They made noise when you hit them and I’d go off the top rope, AKA the couch arm, which I was told repeatedly not to do. I swear, the amount of times I hit my head on the ceiling because I had to lay one into Sting… Anyway, eventually I got over that.
Greg: You should have seen the look on his father’s face. “What am I gonna do with these wrestling boots? He’s got a meet-and-greet with Stone Cold in an hour! It cost a fortune.”
Like the day you decide to play bass.
Sean: He did take me to Smack Down once.
Greg: My dad took me to Sunday Night Heat. He loved you more. Fucking Sunday Night Heat. I feel like we’re giving you too much to write.
No, this is all great stuff.
Greg: You’re recording right?
Ironically, the tape did stop around this time and I had to start a new voice memo. Just in time for the last question of the night.
Are you the musician you hoped you’d be when you started? Not quite there yet?
AJ: With me, I started playing drums really into pop punk, but never played any of it. I was into playing death metal, the faster the better. That kinda nonsense bullshit.
Sounds like you really still love it.
AJ: I mean, I feel like with me, and most musicians, that you kinda go through phases. Like, early on, I was really into pop punk, but not playing it. I was just really into the songs. Then I got really into death metal. Then pretty much as soon as I joined The American Standard, I stopped playing death metal for like three years. So, I was only doing pop punk stuff. I feel like there’s always a new level that you kind of chase and then once you’re there, you go, “Okay, I want to do that now.” So, I’m probably closer to where I wanted to be when I was younger, but I don’t think there will ever be a moment where I’m like, “Okay, I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do in music.”
Sean: Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Not for me anyway. All I remember when I was younger was that I wanted to be Matt Freeman so fucking bad. I mean, I’m closer now than I’ve ever been. It’s not crazy now to think that I could get to that level if I honestly just practice more. So, having that much confidence to say that I could play a lot of that crazy Matt Freeman punk shit, yeah, I feel good about it. I agree though. I don’t think there’s ever gonna be a point where I’m like, “Finally!”
AJ: I’ve arrived!
Sean: I’ve surpassed John Myung and Victor Wooten.
You’re over here like “Victor…Who-ten?”
Sean: Will, get the fuck out of here.
Okay, that’s my time.
Greg: I think I gave up on that like a long time ago. When I first started playing, I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t athletic. The only thing I was good at was music. So, I’d come home and I’d practice for like six or eight hours a day. That’s all I ever did was play guitar, and I was into metal. So I was doing all this down picking and super fast riffs because I was into heavier music.
Then I went to college, and I really didn’t play for like a year, year-and-a-half, and that’s when I started getting into pop punk, punk and hardcore, and music where I wasn’t playing a different time signature, or like a thousand notes. I lost a lot of that really tight playing and I never really got it back. But, I always just wanted to be able to play whatever I wanted to play. Like, if I hear a riff in my head, I have the know how and the technique enough to do it. I feel like I’m there.
I don’t really have any sort of goals. I don’t look at it like, “By the end of the month I want to be able to play this John Petrucci solo.” I gave up on that shit in high school. I used to be like that. “I want to learn this entire album and play it front to back, no stopping.” It was stuff like that, and I don’t do that anymore. I don’t even like sitting and playing along with songs anymore. I think it’s boring. But if I write something for The American Standard or another band or whatever, I just want to be confident enough that if I want to take a solo, if I wanna have this riff, that I can play what’s in my head. Which, I seem to be able to do.
Sean: It’s funny that you mention that, because we’re getting ready to do this Alkaline Trio cover set, and I’ve had so much fun learning these almost unbearably simple bass lines. It reminds me that I don’t really sit down and just learn songs, I usually just sit around and practice our stuff, which is hard enough for me. But, sitting down and learning these songs, it really takes me back to middle school and high school. And now, years later, being able to just sit with it for two minutes and learn it by ear, it’s so much fun to learn that simple pop punk song. I get more enjoyment out of that than trying to best myself every chance I get.
Greg: I remember just hearing a chord progression for the first time, like a chromatic C-C#-D, and thinking that was so cool and just like, “How the fuck do I do that?” Just trying to figure things out on my own, before Youtube, and I wish I could do that shit again. Now, I’m just like, “Ugh.”
Sean: That’s the fun part of being a young musician, hearing something that’s so crazy. Like, “How the hell did they do that?”.
AJ: It’s one of those things where it’s like when you’re just starting to get into something, you’re finding so much excitement in the minutia of it all, and there’s always something new to you to figure out. Whereas, once you’ve been doing it for a while, it’s up to you to go and find new shit to keep you interested.
Greg: I find it beneficial to play with better musicians. I remember when we first started, I would write the guitars and program bass or just play root notes, but bring it to them and hear what they come up with, and I would have never come up with that.
Sean: I wouldn’t be a third the musician I am if not for playing with these guys. Playing with people who are better or at least a different musical background and seeing what they have to offer. It forces you to kinda compensate and figure it out as you go.
AJ: Even just from running the studio here, I’ll have a band come in and I’ll listen to stuff that they’ve done before and I’m like, “You know what, it’s not the craziest thing I’ve ever heard before”, but you can watch them playing and build their songs up in a way that I’d never thought of. Surrounding yourself with other musicians, whether they’re better, worse, or about the same, you can always pick something up.
The American Standard can be found on social media at:
They are also on Instagram and Twitter @theamstand. Their music is available on all streaming platforms and through Bandcamp.