How does one begin to encapsulate the meteoric rise of lead vocalist Nate Ruess’s career? Like most stories, you start at the very beginning. The Format (Nate Ruess and multi-instrumentalist Sam Means) formed in February 2002, and while their friendship goes as far back as grade school, their band chemistry was felt almost immediately. That electric-charged feeling of when a group of talented musicians come together to make art was felt far and wide in The Format. I first got wind of this band when they opened up for Jimmy Eat World and Paramore, and I found their charming mix of emo, pop, and Beach Boys-esque melodies to be immediately infectious. The Format was signed to Elektra Records for what would become their debut LP, Interventions + Lullabies, and much like many other major label artists during this period of time, the merging of record companies led to conflicts on whom the executives found worth pushing on radio, MTV, etc. The Format were ultimately left on the outside looking in when Warner Brothers (and finally Atlantic Records) had the rights to the band’s music. “The First Single” was the only song to be promoted during this album cycle, and it would remain a staple in the band’s set until their breakup in 2008.
Interventions + Lullabies was released 20 years ago over the weekend, and still with very little fanfare or recognition from the band’s social media accounts on this birthday, I decided to take it upon myself to give this special record its moment in the sun. While Nate Ruess would become a household name with fun., you never forget where you came from. The Format would tug on all the right heartstrings on their all-too-brief music period that plateaued with their opus, Dog Problems.
This album correctly kicks off with “The First Single,” that features the memorable chorus hook of, “You know me, or you think you do,” that finds that early magic between Ruess/Means at an all-time high. “Wait, Wait, Wait” continues the momentum train on the right track with another up-tempo song that showcases the mature lyrical prowess of Ruess at such a young age. The second verse of, “And these chords remain / We’ll use them to exploit the friends / We’ve since forgot / Those friends we’ve lost / You all know just who you are / Cause I’ve since made graves / But I’m too scared to etch the names / For fear that I’m the one who’s changed,” is crisp, talented wordplay.
Other early standouts like “Give It Up,” with its memorable hook of, “So give it up / Throw your hats in the air / And change just as they land as you’re saying, ‘we’ll get out of here'” remind me of the reason why I became so enamored with this band in the first place. While “Tie The Rope” deserved to be released as a radio single with its pop-bliss first verse of, “I’m in envy of addicts, you’re obsessed with stars / Don’t, don’t you sound so excited just showing me your vanity / Whisper it once, just a little bit / C’mon whisper it twice / I cant stand to see the spotlight shine one more night / It’s killing me to see you.” Plus the ode to the radio anthem of “Tune Out” that bleeds gracefully into the heartfelt “I’m Ready, I Am” as Ruess admits, “I’m trying to find truth in words, in rhymes, in notes / In all the things I wish I’d wrote / ’cause I feel like I’ve been losing you.”
The band continues to spread their wings on the back half with the more somber “On Your Porch,” the rock n’ roll emo-ringed anthem of “Sore Thumb,” and the reflective “A Mess To Be Made.” “Let’s Make This Moment a Crime” is a good enough title to be etched in emo lore history, and the song “Career Day” should’ve been the track to close out Interventions + Lullabies since “A Save Situation” is too somber to remember all the good times that were had while listening to this album.
Nate Ruess and Sam Means would find moderate success with their sophomore follow-up, Dog Problems, that put their band chemistry and expansive musical creativity on a fully realized display. Interventions + Lullabies is a worthy debut LP that deserved to put onto so many more iPods and CD players in 2003, and my wish is for this record to continue to be a cult favorite in our scene.