By Nicholas Jason Lopez
A callback to the catchy choruses and anthemic melodies of early 2000’s pop-punk with a modern touchup, Gainesville, Fla.-based independent outfit Signs Of Progress recently dropped their self-released debut EP ‘Safe Haven.’
The EP was produced and mastered by Lee Dyess of Earthsound Recording, known for his work with acts like Mayday Parade, Against Me! and From First To Last.
Currently supported by singles “Admit It” and “Bones Exposed,” ‘Safe Haven’ exemplifies why the group should fit right in on any pop-punk extraordinaire’s playlist.
Signs Of Progress are Jarred McKinney, vocalist Sage Viscovi, bassist/backing vocalist Trent Fraley and guitarist Justin Burger.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with the band about ‘Safe Haven’ and more.
Music Bugle – How did you guys decide the band name?
Jarred McKinney – Signs Of Progress was actually not the first band name we decided on. Back in 2012, it started out under the name “When Men & Mountains Meet.” The sound was more metal-inspired at the time, but since we’ve switched over to pop punk, we felt that the name should change to reflect that, too. “Signs Of Progress” means never giving up. We’ve had our fair share of lineup changes over the years, some amicable and some not-so-amicable. Nonetheless, we always wanted to keep pushing forward despite our hardships and the name just felt right.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about pop punk?
Jarred McKinney – What excites us about pop punk is that it is ever-evolving. Most people tend to have this cookie-cutter image in their brain about what pop punk is based on what it was like when it was topping the charts over a decade ago. The pop punk you are hearing today is far different from that of back then! It still remains as energetic and oftentimes filled with angst as it always has been, but we look forward to where this genre continues to go and hope we are able to contribute to that evolution.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Gainesville, Florida to someone who has never been there before?
Jarred McKinney – Gainesville, while being a college town filled with tons of small bars and venues, has some pretty tough acts to follow when it comes to music. Bands like Hot Water Music, Less Than Jake, Against Me! and Tom Petty all originated here. Gainesville is also home to The Fest, an annual music festival, during which tons of great bands ranging from all sorts of punk-inspired genres travel the world to play here for the week. Sadly, The Fest didn’t get to happen this year because of the pandemic, but once things are back to normal, you can bet we’ll be trying to get on it!
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your debut EP ‘Safe Haven’?
Jarred McKinney – Since there is the factor of distance between our members – our lead singer Sage lives in New York, communication was and still remains key. There was tons of back-and-forth over social media about how we wanted the music and lyrics to come together, but in the end, we found that our ideas meshed together quite well.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Justin Burger – I listen to a good bit of Blink-182 and State Champs and my personal album of the year goes to ‘Brain Pain’ from Four Year Strong. I’m also a big fan of some heavier acts, such as August Burns Red, Periphery and Silent Planet and enjoy instrumental artists like Plini and Angel Vivaldi. That being said, I have no problem slowing it down and listening to John Mayer for hours on end.
Trent Fraley – Right now, I have really been vibing with the new Knuckle Puck and Bring Me The Horizon albums. Those have basically been on repeat since they dropped. If I am in the mood though, I’ll toss on some rap every now and then – no shame there!
Jarred McKinney – I listen to a lot of early 2000s pop punk – New Found Glory, Blink-182, Sum 41, Yellowcard, Good Charlotte, etc.. That’s my daily music, but I do switch it up and listen to metal and hardcore – Killswitch Engage, Impending Doom, Counterparts, Comeback Kid, As I Lay Dying, Unearth, etc.. I explore other genres when I’m in the mood for new inspiration.
Sage Viscovi – For me, the sky’s the limit – I’ll listen to basically anything as long as it’s got a good, catchy melody! I grew up on pop punk/emo music, but I also listen to Top 40, alternative pop and recently? Lots of K-pop. The pandemic hit and I pretty much became a BTS A.R.M.Y. overnight – Trent and I even share the same bias!
Music Bugle – What made you guys want to put out “Admit It” and “Bones Exposed” as singles?
Jarred McKinney – “Admit It” and “Bones Exposed,” as songs, are entirely different. In mood, in sound and in inspiration, they are total opposites. The only two things they really share in common is their tempo, both being fast-paced and how quickly we clung onto them as songs. From the very beginning stages of writing, we knew that these two songs were strong contenders as the lead singles. We were able to achieve what we wanted out of them early on, whereas some of the other songs required some more development to get to where they are now.
Music Bugle – What would you say are some of the biggest challenges in being an independent band?
Jarred McKinney – For the most part, we do everything ourselves. We designed the ‘Safe Haven’ cover ourselves, we made our own merch, we shot the music video for “Bones Exposed” ourselves and we manage our own social media. We’re really lucky to not only have such dedicated members, but also creative members to help support our band in these areas. As far as the business side of things, we are learning as we go and taking it one day at a time. We all work regular jobs, so finding time and delegating roles between us has been crucial.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you feel the need to escape?
Justin Burger – As weird as it sounds, I enjoy walking. My wife and I are both nocturnal, so we regularly go for walks in the middle of the night outside of town and just enjoy the night sky and fresh air – sometimes in complete silence. Things are so hectic these days and being outside on a quiet night just helps put the rush of life into perspective.
Trent Fraley – Really for me, I like to be home alone and have my personal space. Hanging out in front of my PC and chilling with some video games is where I feel the most comfy!
Jarred McKinney – Gaming helps me decompress, but music is my true escape. Whether it’s practicing, writing a new song or just cranking music so loud it shakes the walls, music is the only thing that keeps me moving forward.
Sage Viscovi – Now’s not really the time to be escaping anywhere in a pandemic, is it? All joking aside, I try to keep my mind busy with my other creative endeavors. I also run a YouTube channel – and by staying in touch with my loved ones!
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Jarred McKinney – As previously mentioned, our members are based across two states over a thousand miles apart. That being said, travel has been incredibly difficult. We actually needed to book two recording sessions, one for instrumentals and the other for vocals, because Sage’s flights kept getting cancelled. Additionally, at the time, I was living in St. Louis right up until the end of September. Nonetheless, we remained patient and eventually got everyone here enough times to get everything done.
Music Bugle – How would you define the year 2020?
Justin Burger – 2020 has obviously been a year of change. When it becomes more difficult to be a part of activities, it really makes you choose what is and isn’t worth putting your time and effort into. Obviously, being in a long distance band has been rough this year, but pushing through it together just made us all stronger as a group. It put things in a new light and made us be more creative with our approaches in ways we might not have otherwise thought of. Since we were living in three states for most of the year, we’ve really valued our time together and have become a lot more focused in our workflow. As bad as 2020 has been, it’s forced us to harden ourselves and become more determined and I’m proud of us for it.
Trent Fraley – Man, this year sure has been crazy, hasn’t it? Aside from the pandemic and working from home a lot, putting in so much work trying to put out this EP after everything finally came together was definitely one of the highlights for sure! Jarred and I basically worked the longest together on this release and it’s been a long ride. To finally see it come to fruition and actually happen felt incredible.
Jarred McKinney – Everyone agrees 2020 is a dumpster fire. For me personally, it’s been a year of dichotomy. I lost a job to COVID-19 that I moved across the country for last year and was stranded in the Midwest alone until I could come back to Florida, but at the same time, we launched a band on a professional level entirely on our own. We recorded an EP from across three different states, we built a website from scratch, we designed a merch store, we filmed multiple music videos – as well as a ton of YouTube content over the course of only a few short weeks when we could all be together – and we did all of it with sheer force of will. This band has struggled for almost eight years and we refused to let another year stop us from making this happen. If 2020 can’t defeat us, nothing can.
Sage Viscovi – Oof… tumultuous, but not necessarily in a bad way! Don’t get me wrong – this year has had a number of challenges beyond just COVID-19 – the election, losing my job, losing a family member etc., but the fact that this band and this EP release were here to keep me sane was a blessing in disguise. I don’t know where my head would be at if it wasn’t for Signs Of Progress. I can’t imagine it being a good place. I am so proud of all of us for putting this together in such extreme circumstances. My only hope moving forward is that people will hear the sincerity of our journey through our music!