Asked what it is he wants audiences to take away from “FISSION”, the forthcoming second album from Dead Poet Society, Jack Underkofler offers eight small but powerful words: “We want to leave them with the truth.”
The affable and engaging 30-year-old delivers these words with the forthrightness that marks his discussions about the band he fronts, completed by Jack Collins (guitar), Will Goodroad (drums) and Dylan Brenner (bass), and the art this collective of college friends have exhaustively dedicated themselves moulding, too often to their own detriment.
It’s an answer that epitomises the dedication with which the quartet approach their craft, and the search for its purest, most meaningful form. “It’s not as simple as saying we want our music to leave people with a positive outlook,” Underkofler explains. “You want music to speak to wherever you find yourself. We want to leave people feeling that whatever they are experiencing is valid, no matter what place they are at in their lives.”
After a decade defining, redefining and perfecting their art, where Dead Poet Society find themselves on the eve of their sophomore release is much clearer. Make no mistake: Dead Poet Society are a uniquely captivating group, rock’s next great breakout act, with “FISSION” set to capture the hearts and challenge the minds of fans old and new on the journey ahead.
Following on the heels of their acclaimed debut full-length “–!–“ (2021), “FISSION” seeks to unpack the personal journey its creators have been on during that ride to date. “FISSION”, as its title hints, is a 13-track study of personal change and the turbulence of growth that, as Underkofler attests, takes “a microscopic and broad look at the events that changed who we are.” To that end, there are deep rakings over the coals of relationship breakdowns, examinations of addiction in all its guises, ruminations on the responsibilities and challenges of adulthood, and struggles with the evolution, loss and continual search for self. “In a lot of ways this album is about unpacking those emotional pains that come with being an adult,” Underkofler says.
“The past few years have left me in a constant state of growth through the life events of which I’ve had little control, or which didn’t pan out the way I wanted them to,” the frontman admits. “There’s a ‘before’ you, and an ‘after’ you, and there’s no going back. Life tends to force your hand, and it’s futile to fight it. You have to accept that things that happen to you will change you, and let them build you into the next phase of who you are.
“There is a constant battle to not mourn who I was, because the things you go through define you as a person and turn you into a person worth being,” he adds. “But that can be difficult to wrestle with. There is a positive to it, but it is birthed through a lot of pain.”
“It’s both exciting – ‘Fuck you. I’m gonna take this head on’ – and at the same time, you’re terrified how you’re going to get through the next month,” adds Goodroad. “One day you’re super confident about where life is going, the next you’re second-guessing everything. It’s like the myth of Sisyphus: it’s a boulder you have to push up the hill every day.”
Twinned lead singles “Running In Circles” and “Hurt” weave through fears of following the wrong path while hiding behind false fronts. “How Could I Love You” and “I Hope You Hate Me” tackle the sometimes bittersweet, more often simply bitter fallout from a tumultuous relationship. “81 Tonnes”, meanwhile, sees Underkofler revisit a time of particular helplessness and instability. ’I need peace now slow my body down can you pull me out?’ he pleads. ‘Too afraid of fission and faith to save me from myself.’
It’s that track which gave guitarist Collins his clearest understanding of the emotions he and his bandmates share, which were coming to the fore in song. “Jack described “81 Tonnes” to us as about being left with ‘a permanently altered state of mind’, which felt like the perfect summary of so many of those songs on the album to me,” he says. ”They all lead you to the finish line of, ‘I’m a different person now because of all this…’”
To some extent, through “FISSION”’s creation Dead Poet Society have become a different band, too. A more attuned one; more accomplished, certainly. “We were really trying to define our sound more on this record,” Collins nods. “We worked a lot more on guitar tones, bass tones and drum sounds, and paid close attention to melody. The aim was to make our sound bigger – we wanted a more dynamic record, where you could hear the best representation of us live. I feel like the evolution is us maturing a little bit, and wanting to create a sound that was less an obvious reflection of our influences – Muse, Queens Of The Stone Age, Nothing But Thieves, Royal Blood – and more definitively our own. We don’t control where the inspiration comes from. We just had to obey the songs and what they were telling us to do next.”
“We hone in on a feeling, rather than a sound,” adds Underkofler. “This album is the defining moment of when we truly became Dead Poet Society. It’s the closest we’ve come to realising the essence of the ideas we’ve always had for this band.”
The result is a compelling record of depth and substance, which weaves through the spectrum of anthemic alternative, dark hard rock and progressive indie. “FISSION“ is at once comfortingly familiar and disconcertingly alien; raw and analogue – “Profoundly human,” as Goodroad says – while possessing a colder, digital inflection. Unexpected turns and deviations reveal themselves often; repeat listens reveal greater secrets yet. It’s a multifaceted record of contrast and cohesion, on which the bright glow of the ballad “Tipping Point” and album-highlight “My Condition” – the sort of infuriatingly hooky earworm anthem with which alternative radio airwaves are dominated – can coalesce with the industrial-leaning mechanics of the piston-driven “Hard To Be God” and “KOET”.
“I think the best way to make other people feel something is to make yourself feel something. The best songwriters are people who can take a particular emotion and feeling, and create the most narrow translation when someone hears that song,” Underkofler says. “If someone hearing a song can be taken to the exact headspace that the person who wrote it was in at the time, for me that is the mark of a great songwriter. And I feel with these songs, we’ve achieved that better than we ever have before.”
It’s a headspace you’re left to ruminate in long after Underkofler is finished protesting ‘But what if I’m always alone? / And I don’t like who I am anymore’ on the closing “Black And Gold”. Because when all is said and done, the truth is that the impact of “FISSION” and Dead Poet Society will reverberate now and in years to come.
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