In an attempt to explain the evolution from SR-71’s major-label debut to their upcoming release, singer Mitch Allan suggested a similarity to the progression from the Beatles’ Revolver to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Then he caught himself.
“Not to compare our albums to those albums,” Allan said. “Maybe it’s more like the difference between Sugar Ray’s first and second albums.”
It may not be Sgt. Pepper’s, but Allan couldn’t be happier about SR-71’s Tomorrow, which abandons the pop-punk focus of 2000’s Now You See the Inside for a more anthem-rock approach.
“When people hear the first single they’re going to take a step back and say, ‘What the hell happened to these guys?’ ” Allan said Tuesday during a break in mixing the new album. “It’s going to be great. It’s going to be our moment. Instead of staying with the status quo, we moved so far away.”
The single, Tomorrow’s title track, piles thick guitars over authoritative yet uplifting vocals. The song, which resembles P.O.D.’s “Alive” without the rap-rock twist, will hit airwaves in late August, a month before the album is due.
“We thought it had an optimistic vibe, a rebirth kind of idea behind it,” said the Baltimore band’s new addition, drummer John Allan, sitting with Mitch (no relation) in a studio lounge, sporting an Orioles T-shirt.
“We made a conscious effort to write a lot of positive songs,” added Mitch. “We didn’t like the music scene a year ago. Everyone was talking about negativity and how their parents abused them and all this other crap. None of us can relate to that, and I don’t want to listen to the radio and get depressed. Sometimes when I think of ‘Tomorrow’ I think of the ‘Annie’ song. In a way, that is the same type of idea. It’s a day away, a new start.”
SR-71 started writing songs for Tomorrow while on the road last year with Bon Jovi. Those were turning out too much like the band’s breakthrough hit, the energetic crowd favorite “Right Now,” so when SR-71 came off the road they vowed to push themselves in other directions. They flew from Boston to Washington, D.C., and drove to their Baltimore homes. Two days later planes that left the same airport become bombs in the worst terrorist attack in American history.
“I wept for weeks,” Mitch said. “It really hit me the night [David] Letterman came back on the air. That’s when I realized all the negativity on the radio, most of what I call bullsh- angst, to sell records. F– all that. It’s time to be positive, to be American. Let’s not all get depressed.”
Two tracks on Tomorrow in particular are reflections of the events of September 11: “Truth,” which Mitch calls the “closest SR-71 will ever get to sentimental,” and “The Best Is Yet to Come,” a “self-explanatory, motivational song.”
Around the same time as the attacks, Mitch was dealing with a breakup but continued to force himself to write about positive things. “When you think to yourself, ‘I just want to be happy’ and you put yourself in that position, you start talking about all of the things you are afraid of and how you want them to change,” he said. “I had a lot of passion, and that’s what music is about. The more pissed off I got, the better the songs got.”
The band’s favorite tune, “My Way,” directly addresses Mitch’s relationship struggles. “Everyone who has been stomped on in a relationship will understand it,” the singer said. “It’s about the thought process of deciding if you want to stay with the person or not. It’s about lying on your bed, bawling your eyes out and what’s going on in your head.”
When it came time to record Tomorrow, which was produced by Butch Walker (Marvelous 3) and Neil Avron (Everclear), SR-71 debated whether to ax two of the songs they wrote in the early stages that would have sounded at home on their last album. In the end they decided to keep “Lucky” and “She Was Dead.”
“They’re very much where we came from, and we feel it’s not fair to say we’re no longer this,” Mitch said. “These are great songs. Let’s let the listener figure out the chronology of how they were written.”
After they are finished at the Mix Room, where Filter just wrapped the recording of their new album, SR-71 will shoot a “Tomorrow” video for which they plan to write or co-write the treatment. Like the song, it will differ wildly from their past clips. In fact, not much will be the same about SR-71 when they resurface in the fall.
“We started out playing guitars, and now we play tubas and saxophones,” Mitch joked.