Originally published: Faster Louder, August 2007.
If you watch the video for We've Got a Big Mess On Our Hands by The Academy is..., you might catch a split second shot showing the screen of a phone, complete with number. Sharp-eyed fans discovered that calling it really did dial up the band, and it very quickly became a phenomenon.
"We'd do this thing where we'd be like 'okay, you ready? One, two, three!" Michael Guy Chislett says. "We'd turn it on and instantly it would ring."
"It was crazy," agrees Mike Carden. "We got one of our sponsors to give us six months of credit so people could call us. It looked a little better on paper. We did a week and a half, two weeks, where we were pretty much always on the phone. Then it just got out of hand."
Carden and Chislett are the Chicago band's two guitarists; Carden is one of the founding members, Chislett is a Sydney native and the most recent addition to the line-up. The band's interactions with fans don't end with giving out their number; they've just started a fan club as well.
"It's more of an experiment for us," says Carden. "It's a chance for us to make sure that fans are taken care of. We hear horror stories of how much kids pay for tickets from scalpers, and I've had to do that for bands I've gone to see. So it's to give fans tickets at the legit cost, simple things like that."
As well as their phone experiments and fledgling club, The Academy is... gives its fans TAI TV, a weekly YouTube show starring the band. All these avenues bring the audience and performers closer together, but the potential downside to a technologically adept fanbase is the increased chances they'll engage in music sharing.
Lead singer William Beckett asks each crowd on the Australian tour how many own the band's albums, then - without any bitterness or cynicism evident in his tone - how many downloaded them.
"I think it's a good thing," says Chislett. "If they can listen to us or listen to someone else for free, I'd rather they listen to us. CDs are like cassette tapes to a lot of people now, they're such old technology."
"The first album wasn't properly released in Australia," Carden agrees. "But there was buzz on the internet and the files were out there for people to hear us. We're spreading our message all different ways, not just through marketing. People find out about us off their friends' iPods."
There's also word-of-mouth between fans of the various Fuelled by Ramen bands, as the label's performers tend to guest-star in each other's videos and on each other's albums.
"It's all part of the fun," says Carden. "We've been on Fuelled by Ramen for so long, and done our own thing. Press sometimes wants to put Panic! at the Disco, Gym Class Heroes and The Academy is... all in one lump, and I could give you a lot of better examples of bands we sound like than those. But I understand the need for the small press clipping which lumps them all, where they say 'oh, so Pete Wentz signed you', and it's like 'well... no!' But I'm not going to get worried over it."
I ask Chislett about his early years as an Australian musician, and his subsequent shift overseas.
"I've been playing since I was twelve, and I grew up watching musicians. David Moyse of Air Supply taught me a whole bunch of stuff. I came back to Sydney about two weeks ago and I've seen three of my friends play, and it's a very creative, healthy environment for them here.
"I moved to the UK originally just because I didn't want to work at Starbucks and then play guitar at night. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Australian music scene. I love Australia so much, but at the same time I love guitar so much that I don't want to work at McDonald's half my time.
"It's just hard, because guys like You Am I, they deserve to be massive but there's something about the culture in Australia which means they're still kind of struggling. It's quite sad. But I love Australia so much."
"I hate that this tour is going to end in two days," Carden says. "This is my first time in Australia and it really suits me in a lot of ways. We'd love to come back."