With the bonds of childhood friendship and the musical chemistry to match, The Story So Far caught fire in the pop punk world with their debut album Under Soil and Dirt. Never complacent, the Walnut Creek natives have continued to press the bounds of convention with each successive album. In this episode we speak with Kelen Capener, Kevin Geyer, and Will Levy about high school, songwriting, quarantine, Pure Noise Records, and more.
Evan Ball: (00:18)
Hello and welcome to Ernie Ball's Striking a Chord Podcast. I'm Evan Ball. Today we have The Story So Far on the show, three of them actually. We have Kevin, Will, and Kelen, guitar, guitar, bass. So we'll talk about how they all go way back, growing up and playing music together, in some cases, all the way back to playing intermissions at seventh grade plays. We talk about Pure Noise Records, the label they've been on from the beginning and grown in tandem with. They reflect on the success they've achieved, they talk about getting along as a band, hanging out at the mall on days off, and more. Sound is a little rough at times, but without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, The Story So Far.
Evan Ball: (01:02)
Kevin, Will, and Kelen. Welcome to the podcast.
Will Levy: (01:05)
Kevin Geyer: (01:05)
Kelen Capener: (01:06)
Thanks for having us.
Evan Ball: (01:07)
Yeah. All right. So I know you guys are from Walnut Creek. Where are you guys now?
Will Levy: (01:12)
I'm in Berkeley, California.
Evan Ball: (01:14)
Okay. So that's Will, so our listeners can try to pair names and voices. How about you, Kevin?
Kevin Geyer: (01:19)
I'm in Los Angeles, California.
Evan Ball: (01:21)
Kelen Capener: (01:22)
And I'm in Austin, Texas.
Evan Ball: (01:24)
Oh, dang. Okay. You guys are all split up.
Kelen Capener: (01:27)
Yeah, it's kind of sad, huh?
Evan Ball: (01:28)
Yeah. So how are you guys passing the time in the age of COVID-19?
Kevin Geyer: (01:37)
Well, today I got a new kitchen table, and yesterday I got a AC unit, so I've been doing a lot of interior decorating I guess you could say.
Evan Ball: (01:48)
There you go. I think everyone's going to come out of this with just pristine closets and fresh paint on the walls.
Kelen Capener: (01:53)
That's funny. Well, funny enough, I was doing paint projects before this all kicked off, and now I just have nothing but time to get it all done. I thankfully too had a mask because I was already painting, so now I wear it in the house, and I wear it out of the house.
Evan Ball: (02:10)
There you go.
Kelen Capener: (02:11)
Evan Ball: (02:11)
All right, any time for music at this point?
Will Levy: (02:13)
Kevin Geyer: (02:14)
Kelen Capener: (02:15)
I mean nothing but time, I suppose.
Will Levy: (02:18)
Yeah. I've gotten bored of playing guitar.
Evan Ball: (02:21)
Kelen Capener: (02:21)
Will Levy: (02:21)
Kind of, I think I just tell myself to keep playing every day, and then I hit a wall and I'm like, "I don't even want to look at you."
Evan Ball: (02:29)
So it looks like you have some guitars on the wall, so it's easy to just pick them up when you're sitting around and start strumming.
Will Levy: (02:34)
Yeah, I put those up the other day.
Kevin Geyer: (02:37)
Oh, nice. That looks good, Will.
Will Levy: (02:38)
Inspired by Kev.
Kelen Capener: (02:40)
There you go. I hung a guitar as well the other day. You might know that one right there if you can see it.
Evan Ball: (02:46)
Oh, it looks like a Ernie Ball Music Man, Stingray.
Kelen Capener: (02:49)
It is. It actually matches my bed frame, so it's perfect.
Evan Ball: (02:52)
Will Levy: (02:53)
Evan Ball: (02:56)
All right. Let's get some history. So when did you guys first playing music together?
Kevin Geyer: (03:00)
Our first show was like 2007, and myself and our original guitarist, Kevin Ambrose started jamming when we were in like eighth grade, so that was like early 2007. And then we met Ryan Torf, and he started drumming with us. And then I knew Kelen through high school, and he started jamming with us. And then when Kevin Ambrose went away to college, we got Will in the picture.
Evan Ball: (03:26)
Okay, and you already knew Will, right? Did you guys go to high school together?
Will Levy: (03:30)
We grew up in the same neighborhood. Me and Kelen were actually in a band together in middle school.
Kelen Capener: (03:35)
We were in our first, yeah, my first band together.
Will Levy: (03:38)
Yeah, my first band. Yeah.
Kelen Capener: (03:39)
And we kicked Will out.
Evan Ball: (03:42)
What did he do?
Kelen Capener: (03:44)
He plagiarized a song.
Will Levy: (03:50)
Well, I also just didn't do my homework, so my parents wouldn't let me practice. So if I couldn't practice, I couldn't really be in a band.
Kelen Capener: (03:57)
So there was strife at home and at school with-
Will Levy: (04:01)
[crosstalk 00:04:01] But I also plagiarized a song. I lied and I said I wrote a riff. And then later that night, Kelen goes home, he turns the TV on and sees the music video for said song.
Kelen Capener: (04:13)
I just think it was just a really funny story because he came in with this song and we were like, "Oh my God, how is this guy writing songs this good?" Because our songs kind of sucked. And then I literally went home and turned on the TV, and I heard this song we had just wrote together, which was so funny to me.
Will Levy: (04:34)
Evan Ball: (04:36)
How close to it was it? Was it like-
Kelen Capener: (04:37)
It was it.
Evan Ball: (04:37)
Will Levy: (04:39)
It was just the actual riff. I had learned it on tabs earlier, probably-
Will Levy: (04:43)
Kelen Capener: (04:43)
I was like, "This is crazy. We just wrote that song, and it's already on TV."
Evan Ball: (04:47)
That's pretty funny. So what are some of these early band names?
Will Levy: (04:50)
This was Admit One.
Kelen Capener: (04:52)
Admit One. Yeah, it was called Admit One. And then I think there was a brief moment where it was called Mass Hysteria.
Kevin Geyer: (05:02)
I don't remember that one. I saw you guys play the intermission at the seventh grade play.
Kelen Capener: (05:05)
We did. I think we played two intermissions at the school, and I think that was the end of our career.
Evan Ball: (05:11)
Good for you though. Seventh grade, that's pretty early.
Kelen Capener: (05:13)
Evan Ball: (05:14)
Those are actually decent band names. I was hoping for worse.
Kelen Capener: (05:17)
I know. I'm sorry.
Kevin Geyer: (05:18)
Oh, I was in a band called Expedition of the Mind, so I'll cover the bad band names for us.
Will Levy: (05:24)
And actually, I believe I messaged you guys on MySpace to play drums for you guys.
Kevin Geyer: (05:30)
You did, and I don't know what happened. I think we already found a drummer by then. And you were like this weird guy reaching out to us online who played drums.
Will Levy: (05:38)
I just wanted to be in bands.
Evan Ball: (05:41)
Well, that's cool. You guys have such early connections. So when does The Story So Far come about?
Kevin Geyer: (05:47)
A few years later, not that much later. I was in eighth grade, and I'm a year behind these guys. So when they were doing seventh-grade plays, I was in sixth grade watching them. And then eighth grade came around, and like I said, I met our original guitars, and we just kind of started jamming. Not more than a year after that, we were playing shows.
Evan Ball: (06:05)
Nice. So what did these early gigs look like?
Kelen Capener: (06:08)
The first one was good.
Kevin Geyer: (06:09)
The first few are pretty sick. We played at Blake's in Berkeley, which is no longer a venue, I don't think. But Kevin Ambrose's older brother was in Set Your Goals, which is another pop-punk hardcore band from the East Bay. So we jumped on their shows in Berkeley and such. And that was how we got our foot in the door for this whole scene.
Evan Ball: (06:34)
And you guys are what, 15? 16?
Kevin Geyer: (06:36)
Yeah. I wasn't driving at the time. I think Kelen was the only driver.
Kelen Capener: (06:41)
I think Will was, actually because actually, I didn't get my license until I was like 17.
Kevin Geyer: (06:45)
True, yeah. Will, you had the old Volvo.
Will Levy: (06:47)
I had the Volvo, but I wasn't even in the band. I was there as an attendee of the concert.
Kelen Capener: (06:53)
This is super embarrassing. Well, A, I didn't have a car at the time, but, B, I failed my written portion of my driver's test like six times.
Evan Ball: (07:05)
Will Levy: (07:05)
I didn't know that.
Kelen Capener: (07:05)
Because I would always change the answer to what people actually do answer instead of the law. It'd be like, "The speed limit is 70 miles per hour. Do you go 70 miles per hour, or the flow of traffic?" I'd be like, "The flow of traffic." And then I'd not get my license.
Evan Ball: (07:21)
You're too honest. So what kinds of bands are you playing with? Is there a scene you're in during high school?
Kevin Geyer: (07:28)
It was a lot of pop-punk bands, a lot of hardcore beat down bands, just all over the map, wherever we could play and whoever with.
Kelen Capener: (07:40)
Yeah, that was happening while we were doing the local scene stuff. Well, it's funny, Will and I actually connected because we were both wearing Less than Jake shirts. We both liked a lot of punk bands, and there was actually really good local bands in our scene too. There was this band called Interpret This. And it's funny because those bands never went on to become anything, but to us, being young and impressionable and seeing these kids that were not too much older than us doing things that we wanted to do was largely inspirational, I think, to us. So just a lot of punk music in the mix at that time.
Evan Ball: (08:20)
Yeah. And being that young, I would think you'd have a lot of impressed fellow high school students. Did you have a loyal friend base being that young, playing all these gigs?
Kevin Geyer: (08:29)
Here and there, yeah. I feel that it was a little bit the opposite at times where it was like, "Oh, that's cute. You guys are in a band." That was more of the-
Will Levy: (08:40)
Yeah, it was like shock value, like, "Oh, that's what happens at your shows? Wow! That's scary." You're like, "Sure."
Evan Ball: (08:48)
Were you playing high school parties too, or even at school?
Kelen Capener: (08:51)
No, I don't even think I went to a high school party.
Will Levy: (08:53)
That's not true.
Kevin Geyer: (08:54)
We did play one birthday party.
Kelen Capener: (08:56)
Yeah. No, it's funny. It's like, I think people thought it was silly or goofy like, "Hey, come to our show." And they were like, "Oh, that's not my scene." And then when we started actually becoming, when things got legitimate, then I would get text messages like, "Oh my God, I see your band all the time." Or, "You guys are coming here." And I'm like, "Yeah, remember when I asked you to come to our show and you're like, 'That sounds like it sucks?'"
Will Levy: (09:22)
I think in high school we were playing a lot of churches that would host shows and weird barns, and just random shit that nope, nobody in our high school ever wanted to go and hang out there.
Kelen Capener: (09:36)
Yeah, that's true. I mean, it would be kind of a weird thing to walk into if you didn't know what you were walking into. Just going to a DIY punk or hardcore show would be kind of a shock, I think, if you just had no idea.
Evan Ball: (09:51)
Did you guys face a crossroads after high school? Was there a band versus college dilemma?
Kelen Capener: (09:56)
To a degree? Well, I think everyone did at least community college. Ryan and I both missed a year of touring. He was at UC Santa Barbara.
Will Levy: (10:08)
Kelen Capener: (10:09)
And then I was at Sonoma State and then BYU because, well, I graduated three years before Ryan was even going to graduate. So I went to school just knowing he wasn't even going to be out of high school for a couple of years.
Kevin Geyer: (10:22)
Yeah, we're all separated by age by a year or two, so by the time Will and Kelen had graduated, they were doing their college thing. And then me and Parker graduated and just were working jobs until Ryan graduated.
Will Levy: (10:37)
I think the goal was like was pretty minimal of like, "Let's put out a record, let's go and tour the States." And then that was with Kelen doing that summer tour. We had a fill-in drummer because Ryan had just been like, "I want to record and that's it." And we were like, "Cool. See ya. Thank you. We had fun." And then we kept getting tour offers for during what would be a school term. Some of us just said, "Fuck school, we'll go and tour because this opportunity only comes once." And so everyone kind of said, "Hey, I still want to be in a band, but I need to finish the school thing." So a few of us went off touring, a few stayed behind and did some school until it got to a point where we needed everyone in the band. And I think everybody wanted to actually go on tour and be in the band and just go for it, make it full of-
Evan Ball: (11:30)
It was probably apparent at that point that there was actually a road forward for you guys. Things were happening, there was opportunity. So you weren't leaving college with nothing. It looked like maybe a promising future?
Kelen Capener: (11:41)
I don't know how Ryan felt about it. I was already committed. I was stuck in this. I'd already paid and done all this stuff, so I was in a position where I had to go or just waste a bunch of money I couldn't pay back. It was a long year because these guys were touring, and I just remember it was a weird year because I knew I was going to drop out at the end of it, and I just had to complete this year. And I think I immediately went to England. It was like a week after I dropped out. I feel like we were already going to England. And things were definitely materializing. We were getting legitimate tour offers throughout that whole time.
Kevin Geyer: (12:15)
Yeah. I think it took a couple tours for us to be like, "Oh, we could actually like keep doing this."
Evan Ball: (12:21)
Yeah. Yeah. Well, let's move over to Pure Noise Records. How did this come about because I think you both kind of teamed up on the ground floor of each other's projects, correct?
Will Levy: (12:29)
Yeah. I think we knew Jake through the music scene. He was in bands, and
Kelen Capener: (12:35)
What was his band, again?
Kevin Geyer: (12:36)
Will Levy: (12:38)
Kelen Capener: (12:38)
Yeah, we played shows together.
Will Levy: (12:40)
Yeah, and had-
Evan Ball: (12:41)
This is Jake Round. The founder of-
Kelen Capener: (12:43)
Yeah, Pure Noise Records. He was in a band called Radio Suicide. I'm trying to remember what kind of band they were, but ...
Kevin Geyer: (12:50)
They were kind of like screamo, a little more like punk.
Kelen Capener: (12:54)
I was going to say screamo, but I didn't know what kind of impression that would leave on people.
Will Levy: (12:59)
Kelen Capener: (13:00)
Yeah. He had communicated with us that he was looking to start a record label and was interested in putting out Story So Far's music. And we didn't know anybody in the music industry. We didn't even know what a record deal really meant or was. And we just, "Hey, you're our friend. Sounds cool, let's do it."
Evan Ball: (13:19)
How much older is he than you guys?
Kelen Capener: (13:22)
Probably like seven years older, six years older than us, maybe not that much.
Kevin Geyer: (13:27)
Yeah. I am not sure how old Jake is.
Kelen Capener: (13:30)
I remember getting the first contract and Kevin being super paranoid about it and giving it to Mike, his brother, who was in Set Your Rules because they had had a really bad experience with a record contract. And so I remember getting that and then just really scrutinizing it. But we ultimately signed it, and we still are owned by Jake Round.
Evan Ball: (13:55)
Yeah. So you record after signing with Pure Noise, and then how does your music get out to the people initially?
Kelen Capener: (14:02)
Facebook? I don't know.
Will Levy: (14:03)
Yeah, I think it's like MySpace, Facebook, the tours that we were doing, or the small little runs of shows.
Evan Ball: (14:10)
Did you hit the road pretty quickly after the first record, first recording?
Will Levy: (14:14)
I think we left-
Kevin Geyer: (14:15)
It came out when we're on tour, I think.
Evan Ball: (14:17)
Kevin Geyer: (14:18)
And within the space of that tour, we went from opening the show to closing by the end of the show. It was pretty much like a pretty exponential rise within those-
Evan Ball: (14:30)
Kelen Capener: (14:31)
We saw it happen in real time.
Will Levy: (14:32)
It was pretty apparent something was happening.
Evan Ball: (14:34)
So if you guys had to speculate, what do you think accounts for your relatively quick success, songs, stage presence?
Kevin Geyer: (14:42)
Definitely not stage presence.
Kelen Capener: (14:45)
You know, I think it's pretty isolated because the only thing we could rely on interesting people to come out to the shows was the album we had just released. So in a funny way, it kind of went viral. A lot of people just shared it, and then it just caught their attention. And then we just, we were on the road at that time. So, I mean, we just saw, as the shows progressed, more people coming and going.
Evan Ball: (15:10)
That's awesome. So it's basically word of mouth.
Kelen Capener: (15:12)
[crosstalk 00:15:12] this album. Yeah.
Evan Ball: (15:12)
Kelen Capener: (15:14)
That's all I could think it would be.
Evan Ball: (15:16)
Were there are other periods where you had a big boost in popularity if you look back across all your years?
Will Levy: (15:22)
I think locally, there was a time when it came to a point where it was like, "Holy shit, there's people here to see our band." But I think it was around that same time of that record coming out, like maybe early 2011.
Evan Ball: (15:37)
Will Levy: (15:37)
Of all that kind of just heating up.
Evan Ball: (15:41)
Yeah. So it seems like you guys grew in tandem with Pure Noise.
Kelen Capener: (15:47)
A hundred percent.
Evan Ball: (15:47)
Was there a temptation to go to a bigger label at some point?
Will Levy: (15:52)
Evan Ball: (15:52)
So you guys feel like you grew together and it worked well.
Will Levy: (15:55)
We trusted him, and we still do. And that was a big part of why we felt the need to stay with him versus feeling a need to go bigger. We had seen from our peers and people we looked up to going to a bigger label and losing your identity and having somebody else create it for you. Whereas Jake was our friend, and he was willing to let us orchestrate our lives and careers the way we wanted to.
Kelen Capener: (16:26)
It's funny because, if anything, I think, if I remember correctly, Jake came to us and was like, "I don't know if I can handle this."
Will Levy: (16:32)
Kelen Capener: (16:33)
He was trying to say just other labels for us just because I think he had this moment where he felt like things were getting too big for him.
Will Levy: (16:43)
I think he was a managing us at the same time.
Kevin Geyer: (16:46)
It came down to he said it was a conflict of interest to run the record label as well as be our acting manager. So it was kind of like, "I can either continue to put out your records on Pure Noise, or I can get you on another label and continue to manage you."
Kelen Capener: (17:02)
So we spoke to a few labels and then ultimately, just ended up getting a different manager and sticking with Pure Noise.
Evan Ball: (17:10)
All right. I have a few random questions here. You guys found success fairly early on as we talked about, basically from high school on. So after a decade or so of road life, adoring fans, traveling the world, how have all these experiences changed you guys? That's good tea.
Will Levy: (17:27)
I mean, I feel like I'm living out my dream from when I was a kid. And I'd say it's made me that much more grateful for any opportunity that I've been given and grateful for the life that I've been able to live.
Evan Ball: (17:45)
Kevin Geyer: (17:45)
I have to remind myself that most days, that is how we were able to make money to live on our own, just have our own lives. And we've never really had to compromise that, so we're very lucky. And it's definitely, for me, at least, it's a struggle to remember that on a day to day basis, but it's an incredible opportunity we were able to have for sure.
Evan Ball: (18:11)
So was it easier to realize that when it was first happening, or now after you've had some time to live it?
Will Levy: (18:17)
I think now. I think in the moment, I had no idea what the fuck was going on. You know? You're just in the moment, and it's so fast paced that there's no time to ... And you're so young, there's no time or understanding to take a step back and appreciate it until years and years later, at least for me.
Kelen Capener: (18:43)
I think it's easier to hear from other people too because I think at the end of the day, we all go home to ourselves and it's hard to sometimes recognize your impact or the influence of what you do because you separate it from your personal life, and after a long tour, years of touring, I guess. I don't know, it's probably easier to get a sense of the impact from other people on the outside because it's hard when you're living inside of it, your perspective anyway.
Evan Ball: (19:13)
Do any of you have a happiest band moment?
Kevin Geyer: (19:16)
I do remember on the note of the last question, there was one moment when Will and I had first bought our van. And we were smoking weed in the van or something, and then I had just had a weird realization. I was like, "This could be it. This is like what we want to do, and we're doing it. So that'd be really sick if this all worked out." And then ever since then, that moment has stuck in my mind of like, "Well, it's all in our power, we've just got to do it and keep doing it." And it's a reassuring thing because we've just done it ourselves since day one.
Evan Ball: (19:54)
Kevin Geyer: (19:55)
You need to be able to do it that way.
Evan Ball: (19:56)
Kelen Capener: (19:59)
I don't know. There's definitely moments where it hits you. This is, I guess, relevant to this podcast. I just think this is really cool because when I was growing up buying strings for my instruments, you'd get the Ernie Ball packages, and they'd list all the bands on the back, all these cool bands. Right? And I remember the day that ours got listed on there and just thinking that was so fucking cool. Just a little thing, but just being like ... It's weird because when you're on the inside of it, for whatever reason, even if things are super legit, they just don't feel that way because it's like you and these friends of yours who have done this thing, and I just thought that was cool.
Evan Ball: (20:42)
Yeah, that is awesome. I like hearing that. I mean, that's some pretty good company on that string pack.
Kelen Capener: (20:46)
No, I know.
Kevin Geyer: (20:47)
Seeing your name next to Jimmy Page, and Van Halen, and stuff, it's pretty cool.
Kelen Capener: (20:51)
There's little moments like that. I hate to downplay the moment and say it wasn't my happiest moment of being in this band, but it was certainly a happy one.
Kevin Geyer: (21:01)
Yeah. I think just playing shows too and actually seeing people respond was a cool step-up from just being like a band in high school playing local shows, and that's like your thing, to seeing that people actually cared about it.
Kelen Capener: (21:17)
Each of us remember individually from others just having that level of energy that just seems impossible because of something you did.
Evan Ball: (21:29)
Yeah. All right, let's take a quick break and we'll be back with more from The Story So Far.
Evan Ball: (21:34)
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Evan Ball: (21:55)
You guys probably listen to a lot of the same music I would think, but does anyone in the band have notably different tastes?
Will Levy: (22:02)
I'd say Kelen.
Kelen Capener: (22:02)
I listen to a lot of stuff that if I put on in the van, I'm sure they're going to tell me to turn it off.
Kevin Geyer: (22:10)
Parker is into rap too, which I think, not that any of us don't like it, but he's definitely more-
Evan Ball: (22:17)
More into it.
Kevin Geyer: (22:18)
... identified into that whole scene.
Kelen Capener: (22:21)
Yeah, I listen to some weird stuff. I think at the time too. It's funny because when I joined the band, I was super into metal or some shit. I was just, I mean, we listen to a lot of the same bands, but as an aside, I was probably trying to learn Black Dahlia Murder songs and things like that.
Evan Ball: (22:38)
Yeah. So what were you guys referencing for Kelen? What's different about his tastes? What kind of stuff?
Will Levy: (22:44)
He likes a lot of loud punk music. I don't know. That's very broad, but there's some shit that the songs are like 35 seconds long. And Kelen?
Kelen Capener: (22:58)
I don't know, I like a lot of yeah, just noisy stuff.
Will Levy: (23:02)
I remember you really liking Fall of Troy and there being like a m