Collingswood, New Jersey
When people think back of their pandemic years, they will likely remember how often they ordered from their favorite restaurant, the stretch of their mask over their nose, the haunting smell of hand sanitizer—and, of course, the anxieties and uncertainties of an unseen and highly contagious virus. They may not remember how hard the pandemic hit musicians and performers, how so many lost their day jobs and their passion projects seemingly overnight. Though some musicians struggled to create during their quarantine, others used their music to make sense of the circumstances unfolding around them.
Controlled Burn, the fourth EP by Graduation Speech, is not a pandemic record, though it includes songs written during and inspired by the world’s shutdown. “The pandemic had just started and I was furloughed from work almost immediately,” says Kevin Day. "During my month-long furlough, I tried my best to write and record a song a day. I think those songs in particular lean into the uncertainty of what to expect from a lockdown and how long things will last.”
Preceded by 2021’s Private Anxieties, an album that added additional musicians for more of a full-band sound, Controlled Burn revives the modesty that made his first two EPs so intimate and personal. Some songs, like the opening track “Climb,” is beautiful in its simplicity, with it’s open guitar chords and tip-toeing piano. Other songs, like the EP's first single “Patterns,” feel folkier, spurred by a shuffling acoustic guitar and accented with distorted, droning chords, a trademark of Day’s decades of songwriting. “‘Patterns’ was written while I was furloughed at the start of the pandemic,” Day says. “It’s honestly just about killing time and admiring your partner from afar.” Still, there’s something warm in this tableau that listeners will relate to, that captures something real and human, that makes a simple song seem so much bigger.
Day, who also fronts the pop-punk band Aspiga, has always considered Graduation Speech a solo project, and his previous releases demonstrate this. 2017’s Quiet and Calm features just Day with his acoustic playing spacious, somber songs; on 2019’s Maintenance Required, he adds additional layers—streaks of guitars, daubs of piano, percussive textures—but the final result still feels like a solo album. Controlled Burn, however, shows Day leaning further into this space, with songs that feel instantly comfortable and familiar.
“I don’t know that I’ll ever be as proud as another project as I am with Aspiga,” Day concludes, “but the mindset for Graduation Speech has always been to do things at the pace that I’m comfortable with. I had zero expectations when recording the first EP. It was recorded in two different homes in Philly and next thing you know Alt Press was covering it. I ended playing a bunch of shows and I just felt connected again. It was a reminder that music could still be rewarding.”
And, additionally, a reminder that music could be curative—a means of managing uncertainty, a way of bringing friends together after too much time apart, and an opportunity to turn this terrible and unprecedented pandemic into something productive and powerful.
Graduation Speech is...
Kevin Day - Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Pat Pie - Drums, Percussion
Billy Bollinger - Lead Guitar
Brandon Iacometta - Bass