Rich Howells

VIDEO PREMIERE: Stroudsburg pop punks Don’t Panic won’t waste time with ‘Woe I’

VIDEO PREMIERE: Stroudsburg pop punks Don’t Panic won’t waste time with ‘Woe I’
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In 2020, the best laid plans didn’t just go awry – they went right out the window. However, living up to their name, Stroudsburg power pop/punk rock band Don’t Panic managed to keep calm and carry on during the pandemic, releasing their debut album and several music videos, playing full band and acoustic live streams, interacting with fans in creative ways, booking shows with national acts, and writing and recording a full-length follow-up that will be out just nine months after their first LP, “See Through It All.”

It helped that the response to that record was, “in one word… incredible,” vocalist/guitarist Ted Felicetti told NEPA Scene.

“People really took to the album, which was a huge relief for me personally. I had been out of songwriting for so long that there was a lot of anxiety and self-doubt tied to that record which, consequently, was the theme of a lot of the songs, particularly the first few singles we released off it (“Fall of ’99,” “Regret Is a Terrible Roommate,” “Sheep in Wolves Clothing,” and “No Time for Second Chances”) were big hits with our fans and really garnered us a ton of new fans as well. The album still honestly feels pretty new to us because, right as the first two singles were released, the pandemic hit and we never had a chance to tour or play shows in support of the album.”

NEPA Scene was there to exclusively premiere their first single and lyric video and interview Felicetti on the NEPA Scene Podcast just before the initial COVID-19 shutdown, so today, we’re premiering the first single from their next album, “Woe I,” along with a lyric video that will hopefully be the start of a true album cycle in 2021.

“The song is mostly about how I’ve personally found that, a large amount of the time, people like to blame their mistakes or shortcomings on things outside of their control. They rarely seem to want to just look in the mirror and say, ‘I can do better,’ or “I can be better.” I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I know I made them. Even though sometimes circumstances may have made those things hard to avoid, it’s still on me to do the right thing and take responsibility for stuff. I’m just really over the whole ‘I’m a victim’ culture that’s spewing out everywhere. If you are constantly the perpetual victim, then you will never grow or move forward or persevere, so ‘Woe I’ was basically my take on ‘Oh woe is me,'” he explained.

“Because of the very nature of social media, releasing music has had to become an equally visual thing as it is sonic, so we always like to have a little video, no matter how modest, to coincide with our releases. A great designer named Jason Lugo who does most of our lyric videos did this one for us, just basically the single’s artwork.”

True to those lyrics, Felicetti didn’t spend time feeling sorry for himself when COVID-19 upended his life.

“The pandemic had a pretty huge impact on my life and my job. I am a booking agent for my day job. I have several clients I work for exclusively, and I am in charge of setting up/booking and contracting their tours and live performances. Since no bands were able to tour or perform for the past 15 months, it has meant I have no job. At first, I spent the months trying to find what to do with myself. I don’t like wasting time or sitting around. Eventually, I started just focusing on Don’t Panic stuff – writing new songs, making videos, and coming up with content for our social media. Also spent a lot of my time exercising and fixing up my home since I had not much of a choice but to spend all of my time there,” he recalled.

“We had a pretty big 2020 planned when the year started. We had just finished recording our first full-length album. Filmed a music video. Had spring and summer tour dates planned supporting The Ataris and then Richie Ramone. Obviously, the pandemic shut down all those live plans. It was pretty difficult at first coming up with ideas on how to keep momentum going when you can’t go out and play live and meet your old and new fans face to face, but we managed. Instead of live shows, we did some streaming concerts, acoustic performances, and then we even started just doing a monthly ‘Jeopardy’ game between the band members that we’d stream on Facebook. People really seemed to like those. It was hard to keep everyone’s interest up, especially with every other band and form of entertainment all turning to focusing their efforts on online events and appearances.”

Even before the release of all 11 tracks on Nov. 27, he started making new ones.

“I initially started writing new songs back in September of last year. I was working on writing some songs for my brother’s band [Bowling for Soup] when they were going into the studio to work on their new record and that kind of got the ball rolling for me. I started with one. Then another. And eventually I had 20 song ideas all tracked in my little home basement studio. My process is different for each song, for sure. Usually all of my best ideas come when I am in the shower, though. No distractions, ya know? I’ll hum an idea or a line or a guitar riff. Then, when I have a moment, I’ll grab my phone and hit record and sing it. Then I will come back to it later with my guitar and track that idea and build off it,” he said.

“Our first album was mostly about me coming to terms with my feelings of inadequacies and self-doubts in regards to making music again. This one has certainly come from a much more centered place. I got to kind of really dig in and write some songs about looking forward, a little more optimistic. But there’s of course the occasional song about a bad relationship or friendship, or about losing a friend to depression. There’s even a song about ‘Twin Peaks’ on the album, so it’s kind of all over thematically.”

Thankfully, his band members – bassist Keith Slader, guitarist AJ Larsen, and drummer Anthony Paesano – all live close to each other, so they were able to trust each other to stay safe and get together when needed to develop the new music and record at Soundmine Recording Studio in East Stroudsburg, where they also played a live streaming fundraiser for MusiCares, a nonprofit that helped fellow musicians who lost income due to the COVID.

“I maintain Soundmine is the best studio around. Everything sounds amazing coming out of there,” Felicetti emphasized. They were then able to perform for Ionic Development’s streaming Juicebox Sessions series in Scranton a few months later.

“We have been blessed to have an amazing crew of people we collaborate with who have made [the live streams] possible in the first place. It was paramount above all else that it looked and sounded top-notch, which I am glad to say I think it did. In general, we had a fun time doing them. However, nothing compares to playing to a crowd of people and drawing energy from them. It’s an irreplaceable experience.”

Don’t Panic also worked with Ionic on some fun music videos like “Fall of ’99,” which won Music Video of the Year in the 2020 Steamtown Music Awards.

“We love having fun when making them. I see music videos as just a commercial for your band or the song, and I have always hated those videos of the bands in a warehouse with light shining through cracks in the walls looking all serious, like whatever they’re doing is the most important or serious thing ever. We are making music and having fun, so that’s what I want reflected,” he noted.

“That being said, the videos do need to match the tone of the tune they represent as well. We are going to be filming a full music video for our song ‘Watership Down,’ which will be coming out along with the album’s release in September with the Ionic Development gang. The other songs we release in the summer are going to have lyric videos. Then we might do another full video for another song towards the end of the room.”

Several singles will drop throughout the summer, and the new album, called “Dark Horse,” is due out Friday, Sept. 3. It will feature 12 songs, with a special 13th track that will only be available via digital download for fans who pre-order it online. Despite the success they’ve had so far, the title reflects Felicetti’s feelings on finding their way in Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond.

“I have always felt – and still feel – like I was on the outside looking in, especially when it came to the music scene. Never felt included no matter how hard I fought to be, so I had to carve my own path and create my own opportunities for myself and our musical career. A dark horse is someone who is unknown and not expected to win or succeed but invariably does in the end. That’s how I like to think of our ‘little band that could,'” he shared.

When comparing it to their debut LP, he said, “This one is much better,” with a laugh.

“I think the biggest difference was our first full-length was a mix of all material we had written through several years of playing, as well as some new songs we started writing once we came back from our hiatus. And it was us trying to find and identify the sound we wanted to put out there. Now we know what that is, and ‘Dark Horse’ is a coherent compilation of that. It feels like a fully realized band and sound this time.”

That has given them the confidence to book a tour with The Queers in September, as well as shows opening for Face to Face and Bowling for Soup.

“We are super excited to be going out with those guys [in The Queers]. They are pioneers of that Lookout Records kind of pop punk sound from the ’80s, so it’s a big honor. I’ve been friends with Joe [Queer], their singer, for the past six or so years, who I met through my friends in The Ataris. When he heard I started getting back into making music and touring, he invited us to come do some shows with them. Who are we to refuse?” he said.

“For anyone who knows me, the Face to Face show is an actual dream come true. They have been my favorite band since I was 16 years old and heard ‘Disconnected’ for the first time. It was seriously just dumb luck that got us on that show, but I’ll take it any day of the week. As for Bowling for Soup, those guys are our family, literally and figuratively. My brother Rob [Felicetti] is the bass player. But Jaret [Reddick], their singer, is like an older brother to me and has been mentoring our band since we started it up in 2019. I love all of those guys and spending time with them. We can’t wait till the end of the summer when we get to spend a week with those dudes playing in the northeast.”

Additionally, Don’t Panic has their hometown record release show planned at the Sherman Theater (524 Main St., Stroudsburg) on Saturday, Aug. 28; tickets are on sale now via shermantheater.com and Etix. It’s a proper in-person concert this time, and one they certainly earned after this past year.

“The guys at the Sherman Theater are great, and we are super thankful they wanted to host our record release show there. We plan on playing the new album in its entirety as well as people’s favorite songs from our last record, so a nice healthy set. We will be selling vinyls and CDs a week before its release there as well for any early birds. We will also be joined by two awesome Poconos bands, Head Spell and The Fading Season. For the people who can’t attend the show or who live too far, we will also be live streaming it right on Veeps,” Felicetti left off.

“We still have a lot more shows and even tours that we will be announcing in the coming weeks, along with the singles we will be releasing all summer. This is going to be a great year for our band, and even though the last 15 months have been a huge challenge for us all, I think it will make all of us appreciate the next 15 even that much more.”

Learn more about the band and Felicetti in Episode 131 of the NEPA Scene Podcast: