As Aidan Yoh tells it, Jail Socks began with a bang — quite a few of them, actually. Years before Yoh became guitarist and co-lead vocalist for pop punk trio Jail Socks, they were 16 years old, getting into trouble with their friends by shooting off fireworks from the roof of a middle school.
“I ended up getting arrested,” Yoh says. “I got charged with two felonies — for stupid stuff.”
Yoh was booked and told to hand over their clothes to the jailer. The only item Yoh didn’t give up was their favorite pair of socks. All night, Yoh paced the grimy floor of their cell in their prized socks, which quickly became indescribably filthy. By 4 a.m., Yoh was deliriously tired. Yoh became convinced that they could never wear that pair of socks again.
“They were my jail socks,” Yoh says. “They were bad luck.”
The cursed socks became a joke, one that eventually transformed into the name of Yoh’s band. But Jail Socks, a melodic, emo-tinged punky power trio comprised of Yoh, drummer Colman O’Brien and bassist Jake Thomas, didn’t explode upon the local music scene directly after Yoh’s ill-considered fireworks display. To get where it is today, Jail Socks had to go through a nearly four-year growth period that included a line-up change, a record label switch and a musical and artistic rejuvenation with the right producer.
Drummer O’Brien hopes fans of the band’s earlier music will keep an open mind toward the fresh material on the new album. He thinks they’ll hear three players that have matured as musicians and songwriters, while pulling together to improve as a band.
The advance single for the album, “Peace of Mind,” draws on the soaring guitars, propulsive rhythms and aching vulnerability the band established on previous releases, ramping up those elements to craft a spacious, anthemic guitar-driven tune with an arrangement that sounds just right while incorporating inventive twists and turns. Jail Socks rips through the rocking, plaintive three-minute song with nary a wasted chord, drumbeat or howl.
Growing pains in Jail Socks
Today, Yoh shares lyric writing chores with bassist Thomas, but in Jail Socks’ early days, Yoh was the primary songwriter. Many of those songs were fueled by the compressed, foregrounded nostalgia people often feel as they move out of their teens and into their 20s, a time when experiences are deeply felt and long remembered.
“A lot of the music I write is nostalgia-based and [about] coming to terms with growing up,” Yoh says, pointing out that they are now 21, and started seriously making music at 17. “A lot changes in those years.”
Yoh was primed to appreciate music long before that pivotal period. Although born in Mechanicsburgh, Pennsylvania, Yoh was 4 years old when their family moved to Charlotte. Yoh’s parents weren’t musicians, but they kept a musical household.
“My dad grew up a punk and my mom was a goth kid,” Yoh says. Growing up, Yoh’s tastes progressed through commercial alt rock of the 2000s like Limp Bizkit and System of a Down into heavy metal, before they embraced emo in high school. This was also the time when Yoh’s run-in with the law provided them with a temporary band name that never went away.
Yoh formed the first version of Jail Socks as a two-piece comprised of himself and a drummer. That lineup released the single “No Promises” as an online demo in January 2018. In the meantime, Yoh had become a fan of a local band called Placeholder. They were particularly impressed with the band’s drummer, Colman O’Brien, and its bassist, Jake Thomas.
Unlike Yoh, O’Brien was born and raised in Charlotte, and he grew up in a family that was only marginally interested in music. Early on, he went against the familial grain. Through skateboarding, O’Brien discovered the power of punk, the pastime’s soundtrack.
“[Punk] seemed so accessible,” O’Brien says. “I thought, ‘This seems easy to play, and [it’s] the coolest music I’ve ever heard.’”
O’Brien dove headfirst into his newfound musical obsession and surfaced in Placeholder. On June 14, 2018, Jail Socks and Placeholder released a split seven-inch EP. The track list consisted of two songs by Placeholder and two by Jail Socks.
“On the split seven-inch, Jake and myself were playing on the Placeholder side of the seven-inch, and Aidan and the drummer were playing on the Jail Socks side,” O’Brien offers.
Both bands began touring behind the EP, and O’Brien gradually shifted from playing in Placeholder to playing in Jail Socks. Thomas shortly followed suit. Placeholder dissolved as O’Brien and Thomas shifted their energy and creative focus toward playing with Yoh. The new Jail Socks lineup became official by August 2018.
“We felt more creatively fulfilled doing Jail Socks,” O’Brien says. The band’s new lineup gelled, with everyone sharing a dedication to making music and being a successful band. The band’s bond extends to day-to-day living, as all three members currently share an apartment in Charlotte.
In some ways, the band’s first release with the current lineup, the six-song EP It’s Not Forever, which dropped in September 2019, was the last collection of material heard from what Yoh calls “the old Jail Socks.” Yoh had already written most of the songs on the EP before O’Brien and Thomas came into the band. Although the drummer and bassist contributed musical input, a large part of practice sessions consisted of Yoh showing the new band members how the songs went.
With increased input from O’Brien and Thomas, the songwriting dynamic and the band’s sound changed. As Jail Socks prepped the EP, the band members decided to hold on to their newer songs for a future project, and release just the older Yoh-penned material on the EP.
“We just took what we considered to be the old Jail Socks sound and put that on the EP to get that out there,” Yoh says.
Perspective and inspiration
A shift becomes apparent on the material developed after It’s Not Forever. Yoh’s lyrics and points of view were deepening and becoming richer.
“I’ve seen Aidan grow from 17 to 21, not only as a person, but as a songwriter as well,” says O’Brien, who is 24 years old. “[The songs] are storytelling from someone who is becoming an adult.”
Yoh agrees that their lyrics have grown in maturity.
“On It’s Not Forever, a lot of it’s about putting the blame on other people for bad shit going on in life,” Yoh says. “With Coming Down, growing up is realizing, ‘Oh, I can be a shitty person too, and some of this is my fault.’”
Another shift in the new album’s outlook is due to an added perspective. While Yoh was sole vocalist in the past, Jail Socks now bills itself as a group with dual lead vocalists.
Yoh and Thomas split lead vocal duties on the new record, and Thomas contributes lyrics. The listener gets Thomas’ take on their experiences, as well as Yoh’s musings on their life.
It’s a shift that helps catapult Jail Socks’ songs to the universal while remaining tethered to the personal.
When it came time to develop material for Coming Down, the band decided to take a more collaborative approach to songwriting. Before they had the album written, the band members set aside time to record material at their practice space in Huntersville.
They met for day-long sessions where they would try to write songs together. A lot of the lyrics were written in the studio, a collaboration between Yoh and Thomas.
“We were trying to get more than one person’s ideas on the table,” Yoh says.
O’Brien and Thomas would act as co-songwriters, suggesting arrangements, vocal melodies, riffs or chord changes. The goal was to relieve Yoh of the burden of producing an entire album’s worth of material.
After the band had worked out the arrangements, they recorded full demos of each of the songs, O’Brien says.
The plan was to go into another studio with the completed demos, and then re-record the songs as written and arranged while adding some production polish.
It didn’t work out that way.
Jail Socks took their demos to The Barber Shop Studios in Hopatcong, New Jersey, to work with producer Brett Romnes from Aug. 17 through Sept. 5, 2020.
Romnes is also an audio engineer, mixer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who plays with Brooklyn-based punk band I Am the Avalanche. Working with him proved to be a revelation for Jail Socks. Yoh says the producer brought an entirely new perspective to the table.
“It changed our lives as musicians,” Yoh says.
“[Romnes] understands the kind of music we want to be making, because he comes from the pop-punk world,” O’Brien says.
Any notions the band had that they were just going to show up and record the album the way they had done the demos went out the window.
Sessions would start with the band and producer listening to one of the prerecorded demos. Romnes would jot down notes through the first listen. Then he would jump up, tell the group to grab their instruments and start reworking the songs. Everything — changing arrangements, shortening parts, lengthening parts, doing double choruses — was on the table.
O’Brien credits Romnes with bringing Jail Socks’ music to a new level in terms of songwriting, harmonies, vocal melodies and layering.
“We ended up thinking, ‘I can’t believe we almost recorded the album the way that it was, because all these songs are a million times better,’” O’Brien says.
Yoh, O’Brien and Thomas came away believing what they once dismissed as a rock music cliché: The producer really was like another member of the band.
Yoh says Romnes pushed the band to do more than they thought they could.
“It just made us feel like we were capable of more,” he says. “It was inspiring.”
Old time rock ‘n’ roll
Not all of Jail Socks’ inspirations are as paradigm-shifting as the methods used in their collaboration with Romnes.
While writing Coming Down, Yoh revived their enthusiasm for what they affectionately call “shitty ’90s big alt-rock bands,” heavy yet hook-laden bands like Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind.
The band wasn’t afraid to do things they liked because of what someone might think, a consideration that may have hampered their choices in the past. Instead, Jail Socks went all out, using wah-wah pedals and chorus pedals, and throwing heroic guitar solos onto songs. Yoh even consciously copied the guitar tone off of Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut record for Coming Down.
“I feel like we got into the tongue-in-cheek nature of rock ‘n’ roll,” Yoh says.
“We’re digging deeper, and we wanted to have more of a pop sensibility to the songwriting, because we love that kind of stuff,” O’Brien says.
With an unencumbered view of what they can do musically, plus a renewed sense of rock ‘n’ roll fun, Jail Socks looks forward to the release of their most adventurous music to date.
At the same time, a few business matters have been wrapped up. In May, the band severed its ties to its first label, No Sleep Records, and signed with Counter Intuitive Records. The band’s fall tour kicks off Nov. 12 in Greenville, South Carolina.
For touring purposes, Yoh and O’Brien feel the band is ideally located in Charlotte, strategically situated to tour up and down the East Coast easily, while vital markets like Nashville remain within striking distance.
This tour marks the first time Jail Socks will play in Brooklyn and Chicago. In many of their stops, it is the first time the band will play 200- to 300-seat clubs as opposed to house parties or other D.I.Y. spaces.
Yoh and O’Brien express their concern about preparing a tour in a landscape still ravaged by the ongoing COVID pandemic, but they’re also philosophical about life’s slings and arrows.
“It all feels so up in the air about what’s going to happen,” Yoh says.
“I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best at this point.” O’Brien says.
They say they’re not worried if the clubs they play are restricted to half or even quarter capacity. After surviving the 2020 shutdown, the band is just happy to play for audiences in a beer-and-sweat-soaked club.
With far more sincerity than irony, Yoh makes a rock ‘n’ roll pronouncement: “If five people are there and they give a shit…”
“…Then it’s worth it,” O’Brien concludes.