Stacked Like Pancakes is just as entertaining as you would expect it to be. As its dedicated fanbase (a.k.a. The Pancake Nation) will tell you, this self-proclaimed brass rock band is one of the most energetic groups you could possibly see on the Vans Warped Tour this summer. If you want to mosh to the jubilant sound of horns and maybe even sing along to an “All Star” cover, SLP’s set is perfect for you. Of course, the band’s also got a thoughtful side—just listen to the song “Laughing at Me”—which means that it can get you through your introspective moments as well as your more joyous ones.
When Warped Tour came to Columbia, Maryland a few days ago, we caught up with Kellen McKay, SLP’s lead singer, to chat about the band’s music and adventures on the road. Read on to learn his thoughts about the “SFDD” music video, balancing schoolwork with a music career, Zombieland, and Donald Trump.
TYF: Today is your first day on Warped Tour this year. How has that been so far?
Kellen McKay: It’s been great. Just getting into the swing of things again. First day’s kind of tough ‘cause you’re just jumping in. They do an orientation at the beginning of the tour, and we weren’t able to be a part of that. That’s cool; I mean, we’ll jump in. We’re definitely going to get a good routine in and work the lines in the morning and hustle with the rest of the tour. We’re excited. It’s going to be awesome.
TYF: You were also part of Warped Tour in 2015. How has this experience been similar or different so far?
McKay: I guess we’re coming into it more as veterans this time around. In 2015, we were on it for 10 days, and that was 10 days, 10 shows. It was the longest run of shows in the tour at the time. And we definitely learned a lot and grew a lot from there. We got a trailer since then and all kinds of new gear, equipment, merchandise. We’re just, I think, overall smarter about what it takes to be on the road for this very demanding tour. It’s extremely demanding, but extremely rewarding. Equally as rewarding. We’re very grateful for this experience, and it’s going to be a great rest of this tour.
TYF: Have you ever been to Warped Tour as an audience member?
McKay: Yes, actually, a few times. Last year, we weren’t on the tour, but we went to the Holmdel, New Jersey ones as patrons, basically, and we ended up hanging out at the barbecue after. I went a few times in middle and high school, and it’s definitely one of the reasons that I started this band to begin with. The energy, and the intimacy, too, is important to me. Everybody’s out here—tens of thousands of people—we’re all out here, all ages. We’re all out here in this heat, trying to beat it, and it’s something about the crazy weather that can kind of bring a lot of people together, even if it’s not the most ideal situation. I love that after we’ve played a set, or before, we can interact with all of our fans that we’ve met on social media. And after we play, we get to hug everybody and meet everybody and make so many more new fans. I think that getting into it again, we’re definitely more prepared this time around.
TYF: I read somewhere that the last time you guys were on Warped Tour, some of the band members were running around playing the Super Mario theme. Have you guys done any stunts like that this year? Do you have any planned?
McKay: You know, it’s funny… That was a hit. [The horns] only learned Super Mario and one or two other things [to play around the festival] two years ago, but because that went so well, the horns actually had a couple of rehearsals separately to learn a lot more music. (Laughs) They actually just left to go run around the venue and play a bunch of little horn ditties and do all they can do to get people to come to our set, ‘cause we’ve got some competition today. We’re playing at the same time as Neck Deep—I definitely want to see those guys, I think they’re awesome—and we’re also playing at the same time as GWAR.
TYF: Oh yeah, that’s a pretty tough slot.
McKay: Yeah. We’ve got some competition, but we’ll figure it out. I mean, there are so many people here for the music as a whole, so it’ll be a good time.
TYF: All right. Speaking of brass instruments, you describe your genre as brass rock. How did you all discover that you were really passionate about music featuring brass instruments?
McKay: I guess the foundation of the band was around ska music. And Kevin Lyman, he has championed us as being one of his favorite ska bands, and we’re extremely grateful for his support. (Laughs) But sure, we’re a ska band, we’re a brass rock band, we’re a rock band with brass instruments, I don’t know. However you want to say it or put it, I think the bigger we get, the more successes we have, the less I care about what genre we call ourselves or other people call us. And the less, I think, it matters, too. It’s really not about the label that you put on it. It’s about the experience that you have with the people who come out and see the shows. That’s what’s most important.
TYF: You guys just made a music video for your song “SFDD.”
McKay: Yes, we did.
TYF: What was that experience like? It was a pretty crazy video.
McKay: So we wanted to do something that was crazy (laughs), but also, I wanted to try to include our fanbase. We have a very dedicated and passionate group of fans called the Pancake Nation, and it is growing quickly. So join the Pancake Nation! But yeah, we kind of had a brainstorming session after one of our rehearsals, and we threw a bunch of “what-ifs” out there. Like, “What if we did this? What if we did this?” And it actually happened very quickly. We came up with the idea of everybody submitting one random item, but the band wouldn’t see them. Our manager collected the items, and then for the music video, we opened up this big chest of all the items—like, 50 or so items—and just interacted with each other with them, and chaos ensued.
TYF: Out of all the items, which one was your personal favorite?
McKay: Oh! That’s a good question. I love the horse mask. I actually know who submitted that. She helps us out a lot; she’s a good friend of ours. That was a good submission, and it just cracks me up whenever it gets to that part. There’s a couple of us who wear it throughout the video. I just think it’s so funny.
TYF: Another song from that same album, This Is Us, is “These Are Odd Times to Be Alive.” In your opinion, what makes these odd times to be alive?
McKay: How about the President of the United States of America? (Laughs) Let’s just leave it at that.
TYF: That’s all you need to say. (Laughs) You’ve also got the song “Rule 32.” What is Rule 32?
McKay: Rule 32 is “Enjoy the little things” or “Remember the little things.” I basically borrowed that from the movie Zombieland, where they have a list of rules that they follow throughout the course of the movie. As I was watching the movie, they got to that one—I think it’s towards the end; I haven’t seen that movie in a while, actually—and he said it, and I was like, “What if I kind of crafted a song around that?” And then these ideas came to me, and it just happened. It was going to be an instrumental song, and then it actually ended up transgressing out of the meaning with the movie, which is where it came from. It ended up being, with the lyrics that are at the end of it, a dedication to those who have served or are serving in the armed forces. It just became, as those lyrics came to me… For a while, in the process of writing that song, I knew it was gonna be an instrumental with no lyrics. And then this chant came to me, and I was just like, “I don’t wanna put it in. I don’t wanna put it in. I want it to be an instrumental.” And then it was like I didn’t have a choice. In a good way, I think. It was just like, It had to be this way.
TYF: In the past, you did a cover of the song “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. If you were to do another cover, which song do you think you would choose?
McKay: Another one of theirs?
TYF: Another cover of anyone.
McKay: Oh. Well, we’re doing a cover today that we’re stoked for…. You know, I love making Twenty One Pilots covers work for us. I’ll arrange them in a way that has horn parts that make sense, ‘cause obviously, Twenty One Pilots does not have horns. [But] I don’t know if I can name any bands specifically. It’s kind of like, I have to listen to the song, and then something will spark if I can hear a horn part in my head or something as I’m listening to the song. But what I really enjoy doing, what’s even more of a challenge, is listening to a song and kind of rearranging the song entirely to make it feel totally different, but still have its core in the original song. Instead of a direct cover, it’s more like an arrangement of the song. And that’s a lot of fun for me to put together. Way more challenging—and it doesn’t always work, too. That’s the thing. You might put so many hours into arranging a song, but once you bring it into a rehearsal, everyone’s like, “Eh, it doesn’t really feel right.” But when it does feel right, it’s usually really awesome.
TYF: Stacked Like Pancakes began while its members were college. Do you have any advice for students in college who would like to balance their schoolwork with their passion for music?
McKay: Well, the first thing I’ll say is, just know—if others won’t say it, I will say it—that it is really difficult. It’s really, really challenging. I say to people, “College was maybe the most difficult experience of my life.” Now, that is to say, I worked my ass off. I got academic and performance-based scholarships in music. I figured it out. And, to be honest, I was miserable for much of my time during college. But the challenge, the struggle, is worthwhile. Coming out of it with that degree… The things that I learned in the process of completing college have helped shape me to be a better person, a better musician, a better songwriter, all of the above. And I truly believe that the band wouldn’t be where it is today if I did not do it. So it’s extremely important to just work as hard as you can. Do it right. Get the great grades. And also, remember to [make] a good impression when you meet people, and be kind. I think some of the greatest interactions I had in college were, like, talking to the janitors and talking to teachers who had never taught me, and talking to strangers in the center for the arts. Break out of your bubble and be kind and meet new people, because that’s the basis of networking. That’s the only way you’re gonna really make it in this industry.
TYF: We’re both Marylanders, so we’ve got to let all the readers know how awesome Maryland is.
TYF: So, what is your favorite place in Maryland?
McKay: Oooh. Hmm. I guess… It’s close to where I live. It’s close to Towson, too. Towson is just such a great mini-city. They’re building it up a lot. But not too far from Towson is the Loch Raven Reservoir. If I kind of need an escape every now and then, it’s a nice place. I run quite a bit. I run a few times a week. So I’ll run there. It’s a great little park/reservoir area.
TYF: Finally, it seems like I’ve ended up talking about movies with everyone else today, so I’ve got to ask you, too: What are your favorite movies?
McKay: I think my favorite movie is Remember the Titans. Have you ever seen that movie?
TYF: I have not. I know it’s a classic, though.
McKay: Yeah. It’s actually a Disney movie. It’s with Denzel Washington. God, if I watch that movie… You don’t wanna watch that movie with me, ‘cause I’ll say every single line of every single character. (Laughs) But also, I like movies that kind of mess with your head as you’re watching them. Like, The Departed, I think, is awesome. I know that’s on the total other end of the spectrum, as far as movies go. (Laughs) I guess those are two of my favorites.
TYF: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers and the fans?
McKay: Join the Pancake Nation. And there’s really not much to that—just follow our socials. We interact with pretty much everybody on our socials, so if you want to be a part of that, that’s awesome. We also have a Facebook group, an actual Pancake Nation Facebook group. If you’re on Facebook, join that too. And look out for some plans next fall, and album #3 next year.