Florida musician Cody Carson experienced a defining moment of his life in 2008 at the Cleveland House of Blues. That's when he performed with All Time Low, saluting frontman Alex Gaskarth and commanding attention from a sold-out crowd of onlookers who seemed to be thinking, "Who the hell is this kid?" "It was an incredible feeling," remembers Carson, now the vocalist and songwriter of Set It Off. "I knew that this was what I wanted to do for sure. Nothing was going to stop me, I was going to chase that feeling."
At the time, Carson was a first-year student in classical clarinet at Oberlin Music Conservatory in Ohio who'd begun losing his enthusiasm for music in the sterile classroom atmosphere. "I loved performing, performing was my passion, but you don't get much of a reaction," Carson explains. "You just kind of got a golf clap and then they'd sit back down."
He spent much of his time in his dorm room making videos of himself singing and playing acoustic guitar covers that he posted to YouTube. The first was All Time Low's "Remembering Sunday," and the overwhelmingly positive response prompted Carson to continue posting his videos and maybe get the attention of some of those artists who inspired him most. Eventually, a series of fortunate YouTube video exchanges with Gaskarth nabbed the aspiring young artist his slot in the Cleveland show performing "Coffeeshop Soundtrack" with All Time Low. "They were really the most down-to-earth guys ever," Carson gushed.
Though his parents didn't necessarily support his dream to start a rock band — he was going to school for classical music, after all — they gave him their blessing to take a year off college and go for it after they saw footage of the performance.
He headed back home to Clearwater and started writing material and putting together a band. "There was an initial point where I could have been like, I'm just going to do a solo project," Carson admits. "But I wanted it to be a more collaborative effort, like it is now." The current Set If Off line-up includes guitarists Dan Clermont and Zach DeWall, bassist Austin Kerr and newest member, drummer Maxx Danziger.
The band's name is drawn from a Fall Out Boy song, "Calm Before The Storm," also the title of their 2009 EP. Carson says Fall Out Boy helped him through his angst-filled high school years and credits New Found Glory's Jordan Pundik as the artist who most influenced his lyrical style. "I wanted to be the lyricist who, when people are having a rough day, they go and turn on our songs and the lyrics bring them up. I like to write about as real stuff as possible."
Set It Off clocked some time in a North Carolina studio this past March to record their new album, Horrible Kids, a well-produced eight-track EP showcasing their sound — compelling, symphonic-flecked punk-emo rock marked by Carson's powerfully dramatic wails. The band spent a couple weeks perfecting and recording the songs with producer Brandon "B-Real" Ham of Mercy Mercedes.
"If you're a local band, it's hard to get 'street cred' when you're not signed. You have to do everything in your power to seem legitimate," explained Carson. "So when it comes to website layouts, photo shoots, records, merchandise and everything representing your band, you have to make sure you are doing exactly what the professionals are doing." This includes making sure to produce pristine recordings.
Despite being unsigned, Set It Off have done a lot with social networking — they have more than 11,000 "likes" on their Facebook band page and more than 28,000 "friends" on MySpace — and they keep fans informed and the buzz going by constantly updating their web content. "We are a D.I.Y. band, everything we promote, we promote ourselves. YouTube is such a good source, Twitter as well. It's important to keep them updated."
Since its formation less than three years ago, Set It Off has played 16 American tours, released three EPs (Horrible Kids dropped June 14), and is primed to take the country by storm with another full-fledged "I Get Around Tour" tour of the U.S. that started June 9 and lands in Tampa Bay June 28 for the CD release show.