When pop-punk permeated the mainstream in the early 2000s, frenetic power chords, glossy girl-trouble choruses and spiked hairdos were as essential to MTV for a time as Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake. But if Blink-182 was the Babe Ruth of that era’s Murderer’s Row, spinning off some of the genre’s biggest hits with their turn-of-the-millennium blockbusters, then New Found Glory was the Lou Gehrig, an unwavering workhorse of a band that, to this day, is at its best when the spotlight is shone elsewhere.
The rollicking South Florida band, who snagged millions of fans with their crisp, MTV-favored singles “Hit Or Miss” and “My Friends Over You,” is arguably the prevailing outfit of the genre’s heyday. A Day To Remember, All Time Low, The Story So Far and many other “new generation” pop-punk bands take cues — some even their names — from NFG.
It’s been more than a decade since the subgenre surrendered its hit-radio slots to incoming “emo” crossovers, and bands like Fall Out Boy sent the riffing pseudo-subversives back to the clubs and basements from Wentz they came. But once most casual listeners stopped paying attention, these hook-happy dudes unleashed the most potently addictive tunes in their catalog. The electricity of largely overlooked New Found Glory LPs Not Without a Fight (2009), Radiosurgery (2013) and Resurrection (2015) has substantiated cultish devotion for NFG, with an underdog mentality that exceeds the support for nearly other band that rode the pop-punk wave. Take their 2013 live album Kill It Live, a live album loaded with mania-driven fan audio, as gospel — New Found Glory’s fans worship them.
The group’s diehards have spent all winter waiting for March 22, which marks opening night for New Found Glory’s feverishly anticipated 20th anniversary tour. The trek features two of the band’s first six albums played top-to-bottom each night — the LPs played vary from show to show — and the prolific formula has forced band members back to the lab.
“I went and bought a couple of new pedals and I’m in my living room, playing 75 different songs and practicing guitar leads we haven’t played in years,” guitarist Chad Gilbert tells Billboard. “We aren’t phoning this in, like, ‘Cool, we just get to play old songs.’ It’s more like, ‘How do we do this and blow people’s minds?’”
“There are a lot of songs we haven’t played since we recorded them,” singer Jordan Pundik adds. “The later songs on [2006’s] Coming Home and [2004’s] Catalyst — listening to those records again, I find myself thinking, “Man, these sounded good!” I’m pumped.”
At New Found Glory’s commercial zenith, following 2002’s gold-certified Sticks and Stones, the band co-headlined arenas across the globe. With a big-draw opener and the promise of classic tunes, perhaps the band could have parlayed the anniversary tour into a summer amphitheater roadshow.
But Gilbert and Pundik emphasize that the tour is “all about the fans,” and the plan from the jump was to celebrate in small clubs, like The Troubadour in West Hollywood (capacity 500) or The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. (1,000), where the guys and their closest fans could mix it up and sing the oldies like they did at Cheers — the Miami bar where NFG (then A New Found Glory) played its first show in 1997.
“We were still in high school, and I remember telling all my friends about it, so most of the crowd was people that we knew — my parents were there,” Pundik says. “But I remember not looking at the crowd, I had my back turned the whole time because I was reading lyrics on the floor.”
Bassist Ian Grushka tells a more complete tale of the maiden voyage in “Stories of a Different Kind,” a new 128-page coffee-table book released by the band last summer, which features dozens of tour flyers and firsthand accounts of the band’s rise, from the South Florida local scene to MTV and stadium festivals, to an “insane” chance meeting with major movie star.
“I never get starstruck, but I couldn’t breathe,” Gilbert says. “People don’t know what star-struck is until they’ve met Tom Hanks.” The story goes like this: The son of New Found Glory’s A&R guy at MCA Records (now Universal Music Group) wanted to learn “Hit or Miss” for a talent show, and while the band was visiting the MCA exec’s house and teaching him the song, the son’s friend — Hanks’ son — stopped by, with Hanks himself as chaperone.
“He was like ‘What are you guys working on?…’ I was like, “Hey man, I gotta give you a hug,’” Gilbert laughs. “And Ian yelled to him how Bachelor Party was his favorite movie. But Tom Hanks probably didn’t want his kids to know what Bachelor Party was!”
On Wednesday (Mar. 22), the band is set to open its largely sold-out anniversary tour in Baltimore and play as it has since 2014 — a four-piece, rounded out by drummer Cyrus Bolooki. The band cut ties with rhythm guitar and co-founding member Steve Klein in December 2013, after Klein was charged with multiple counts of lewd conduct with a minor, and the group has not chosen to tour with a second guitarist.
Gilbert remains unfazed by the change, and despite all early NFG songs having been written for multiple guitar parts, the band uses no backing tracks.
“If you’ve seen us in the last three years, we’ve played most of these songs,” he says. “‘My Friends Over You’ has two guitars, but if you listen to us live, it’s the same… I know how to hit a rhythm note and play lead at the same time. I know which points in a CD you’re going to want to hear live.”
The tour runs until May before the band heads to Australia and the U.K. for more throwback shows through October. As if the boys aren’t busy enough, woven within all the reminiscing is the upcoming release of New Found Glory’s ninth LP Makes Me Sick, out April 28 on Hopeless Records.
The record more follows standard NFG procedure, with soaring guitar work and big, bright, occasionally even tropical hooks, but with enough teeth to entice — “Party On Apocalypse” throttles YOLO culture and the single “Happy Being Miserable” is a punchy breakup jam — and bursts of keyboard and synth to contrast its more bare-bones, Resurrection predecessor.
“We always try to make the next record better than the last … and not worry so much that it has to sound like one guitar, one bass, etc.,” Pundik says. “For every record I feel like there’s always a freshness to it, I feel like a new band every time we put out a new record.”
“The goal is never be a copycat of ourselves,” Gilbert adds. “It’s more along the lines of taking risks in our music. You think of your first album, when we had no clue what we were doing, we had no clue if people were going to like it or not, we did it because we love it. And that went into Makes Me Sick, what we put into every record is never settling for what people expect of us. To keep growing and doing it in a new way, that’s the goal.”