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FRND CRCL aren’t trying to be cool on Suburban Dictionary

A good band makes you wish you were in it. A great band makes you want to start your own. It’s hard not to imagine a lot of bands being started by those who get FRND CRCL’s third studio album, Suburban Dictionary, stuck in their lungs this summer. From the opening promise to “play this […]

The post FRND CRCL aren’t trying to be cool on Suburban Dictionary appeared first on Alt Press.



A good band makes you wish you were in it. A great band makes you want to start your own.

It’s hard not to imagine a lot of bands being started by those who get FRND CRCL’s third studio album, Suburban Dictionary, stuck in their lungs this summer. From the opening promise to “play this like your favorite song” on the under-a-minute curtain-raiser “7AM” to the genre trope-subverting gem “Fuck California,” it’s clear the New Jersey trio is destined for ubiquity.

Read more: ZAND’s misfit pop keeps growing

Key to their appeal is an authenticity to the writing that sets the songs apart from — in the band’s own words — those who are more concerned with “lyrically pandering to the pop-punk community.”

In an interview with AP that began as a DM slide, FRND CRCL’s sincerity remained at the forefront as vocalist/guitarist Zac Johnson opened up about the sessions behind the band’s new album and the confident vision they have for what’s sure to be ahead.

How’s it going? For those who may be unfamiliar with the FRND CRCL experience, let them know who all takes part in FRND CRCL and where they reside.

ZAC JOHNSON: Brothers Zac and Nick Johnson, and Aaron Smith from Dirty South Jersey.

Tell us about where FRND CRCL was born. How supportive (or not) is everyone in your hometown about your band in general, but also punk-centered music specifically?

JOHNSON: Sometimes I feel like Vineland and South Jersey couldn’t give two fucks about us but then someone comes out of the woodwork to prove us wrong. The scene here is a buried relic. It was once so prominent during the MySpace era but venues have closed and bands drift apart. The spirit of punk still lives on in the streets of Vineland, but there’s nowhere for it to congregate.

[Photo by Jesse Gennett]

Do you come from musical families?

JOHNSON: Not in the professional sense. And certainly not in the sense of starting our musical journey from a position of privilege. Our mom’s brothers Dave and Jack Winslow were passionately inclined in music and in life always supported our musical development. Our drummer Aaron sparked an interest in music on his own as well. 

When did you start writing what would eventually become Suburban Dictionary? Do you remember which song was the first to be written?

JOHNSON: I’m always writing music. I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write an album today.” Some of these song ideas were preconceived right after Internet Noise because I wanted to supercharge our sound. The ideas for “47,” “No Bad Days,” and “Kids” were the first to surface. We spent a lot of time reworking ideas in order to make these songs the best they could be. Once we felt satisfied, we pushed ourselves to write two more songs: “Clinically Insane” and “Fuck California.”

If you can, elaborate a bit on your writing process. Do you follow an extensive demoing process at all, or do you largely record the songs as you write them? How collaborative is this process, or is it more of a “here’s a song I wrote, now I’m going to show you how to play it” approach? 

JOHNSON: We demoed the shit out of these songs (which is something we’ve never done before). We write our own music and have a strong hand in the overall production, so a good portion of the sounds we crafted in the demos were used in the record. Every song is approached differently; some are more collaborative, some are mostly written before they’re even brought to the table. Sometimes they’re altered and sometimes they’re not. We just do what’s best for the song and the band.

Which song on Suburban Dictionary was the hardest to get over the finish line and why?

JOHNSON: “No Bad Days.” We toiled over the structure meticulously. The song’s root is built around the chorus which has a gospel-like, nursery-rhyme-esque melody. It’s got a lot of soul. 

A fun flip on the record is that instead of going the oft-memed-about approach of “I hate my hometown and I wanna get the fuck out,” on “Fuck California,” you lay out a manifesto of sorts against the state that’s most often posited as the quintessential escape plan for songwriters. Where did the idea for “Fuck California” come from? Personal experience?

JOHNSON: It’s a mindset more than anything. It’s a statement against people being fake for their own personal gain, especially in the music industry. I’m not throwing shade, I just don’t operate like that. We’re musicians first, business-minded networking try-hards last. In that sense, “Fuck California” is saying fuck people who use people. Jersey fam always keeps it real and that’s where we belong. The music industry is a game, and we got no hate for the player, but fuck the game and “Fuck California” too. 

It could be argued this is a concept album. At what point in the writing process were you able to say, Hey, I think we may be telling a larger story here?

JOHNSON: Once I started writing the track names down on a piece of paper is when I started to visualize the end goal. It’s a part of my process. The album title didn’t come until the final days of recording. 

This is likely an impossible question, but why do you think this album has caught fire so quickly and widely? I’ve seen it being roundly praised on Chorus FM (f.k.a. Absolute Punk), Twitter, Threads, etc. Clearly, you’ve tapped into something special here.

JOHNSON: It’s authentic. We’re not pandering to an audience trying to be something we’re not. There’s so many people out there lyrically pandering to the pop punk community and it’s going to burn out fast — there’s no depth to it. We’re not cool. We’re a bunch of fucking losers that started a band. Before this album was released, our team offered some opportunities to have multiple guest features on our songs that we ultimately turned down. As a developing artist, we didn’t want to give anyone any reason to discredit the hard work that went into this album. We wrote it ourselves and we wanted to show the world what we’re capable of.

Ambition is an important part of the creative process; or, at least, it should be. What is your wildest ambition for Suburban Dictionary?

JOHNSON: Touring the album in other countries. We get a lot of love from the UK and Japan so that would be a dream. Other than that, I want to make a Suburban Dictionary-themed graffiti art mural happen in our hometown.  

I know you’ve mentioned blink-182 as a key influence in your songwriting. Who else would you point to as important in the development of the FRND CRCL sound?

JOHNSON: The 1975, Wiz Khalifa, The Band Camino, Mac Miller, Green Day, Eminem, Sum 41, The Offspring, Between You & Me.

Tyler Skye produced the record. As a producer, how did he challenge you in the studio when recording what would eventually become Suburban Dictionary?

JOHNSON: Tyler is the next Tom Lord-Alge. He’s got a grip on the sound we are, the sound we may want, and the sound we could have. He’s positive as hell but he’s not afraid to give you pushback when it’s necessary. 

[Photo by Jesse Gennett]

What’s your most cherished Nashville memory from the Suburban Dictionary sessions with Tyler?

JOHNSON: I think just being in Nashville with someone who lives there is a great experience because you get to see all the cool spots off the beaten path. Some nights we nerded out, got buzzed, and played Ocarina of Time for hours. One night, we ended up at a Christmas in July party at Dino’s Bar & Grill. It’s a beautiful city and the sunsets are amazing. 10/10 recommend. 

What did you learn about yourselves (both as people and as artists) through the process of writing, recording, and ultimately releasing this album?

JOHNSON: Trusting our vision as songwriters, artists, and as an independent band.

From my understanding, FRND CRCL initially launched back in 2016. What has changed since then? What has stayed the same?

JOHNSON: We’re always moving forward. We’re operating more smoothly now than ever. Our musical ambitions and songwriting process changes in the sense that we learn from each project, forever building on the brand.

Adding to that, where do you see yourselves in another seven years?

JOHNSON: Making more FRND CRCL music and playing more FRND CRCL shows.

For anyone reading this who’s about to embark on recording a new album of their own, whether at a studio or in their bedroom, what’s one piece of advice you’d share that you wish someone would have told you when you first started writing and recording your own songs?

JOHNSON: Figure out your personal definition of what’s cool and exciting for you. Once you find that out and why, the rest will write itself.


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