There’s only one way to describe the experience of being backstage with the guys of Patent Pending: noise.
Video games blaring at full volume on two small television screens, rap music blasting out of some unseen speakers, rowdy boys on bean bag chairs howling over boyish things and a colorful-headed guy sitting next to me on the couch shouting his life story into my recorder – all over three other garage bands shredding it on stage just on the other side of the wall.
It was an experience to say the least, but after going back through the audio from my chat with vocalist Joe Ragosta — who, for the general record, speaks about a mile a minute with impressively few breathers in between — it occurred to me that no other experience could better describe this hyper-energetic five-and-a-half-man (the sixth doesn’t perform live shows with them) pop punk outfit and the chaotic perfection of their multi-faceted discography.
For those just tuning in, Patent Pending first formed in New York in 2001 and has since put out a solid twelve albums of varying lengths over the course of their thirteen years as a band. Their latest work, the eclectic full-length album Brighter, dropped last October and features everything from Motown-inspired jams filled with bouncy harmonies (“Let Go”) to straight-up rap equipped with its own sassy female-sung chorus (“All-Star Hipster”). Oh, and don’t forget that one song that consists almost entirely of video game noises (“Hey Mario”). That’s pretty impressive, too.
However, within his first five sentences to me, Ragosta quickly pointed out that the band is far more than a bunch of fun-loving guys roughing it up on stage: alongside their songs about douchebags, video games and pizza, they also do a lot of work with anti-depression and suicide prevention.
“We like to remind people – because of experiences that we’ve had in the past personally – … that life tries to get in the way, but it doesn’t mean you have to let it,” he said. “There’s ways to handle it other than self-harm or suicidal thoughts, and that’s through music.”
When asked, he didn’t hesitate to hash out the details: When he was younger, one of his close family members dealt with serious self-harm that eventually led to hospitalization, he said. He recalled how his family at first didn’t know how to handle the situation and struggled to communicate with each other about it. However, eventually they began to get very vocal about the issues surrounding self-harm and depression.
Today, Patent Pending’s music channels that sentiment, he explained. The band has what they now refer to as the “Second Family,” a term that references their title of their last full-length album.
“It’s this community that we’ve always wanted to build, and it’s working,” he said.
Ragosta explained it by telling me the story of a girl from England who had emailed him a little while ago, saying she was going to kill herself.
“I was like, ‘Hey, man, you can’t fucking do that.’ We had a very, very long, painful discussion about [it],” he said, eventually telling her the following: “I need you to do me a favor. I need you to join Tumblr. I need you to go on there and search the “second family” hashtag and just say you need help.”
Within an hour, he explained, at least 15 people “came to her rescue” from all over the world and who now regularly keep in touch with her.
“It’s bizarre to see the life that it’s take,” Ragosta said. “It went from something we said on stage to the name of an album to a song, and now it’s this community.”
In this way, Patent Pending is a two-sided coin: half roller coaster ride with instruments, half the connecting point of a growing international support network.
“It’s very odd in that we can be singing a song about Super Mario, and then the next second we’re talking about really serious issues,” he explained. “Not that Super Mario is not a serious issue. Let’s not gloss over that. That’s some important stuff.”
Ragosta was like that: As he could sit there telling me about the most painful of times between him, his family and his fans, but then he would swing back in full force with a playful joke. He could flip the switch on and off, and both sides were equally sincere – equally him.
Tying it all together, he told me he sees his band’s music in exactly the same way. In an effort to be as true to real people’s lives as possible, Patent Pending does not attempt to restrict itself to a single mood or genre, he said. Rather than having songs on each album necessarily matching thematically, they prefer to allow each song to represent one of many sides of a person’s character. Moreover, Ragosta stresses the importance of “fearlessness” in experimentation with new types of sounds, despite any genre labels the band may be given over the years.
“There are bands playing main stage at Warped Tour that exist. I don’t have to exist also as the same band. They already have that band,” he said. “I can be the band I wanna be.”
In the U.K., their do-what-we-want rock style has gotten them far – Patent Pending’s music has played across U.K. radio stations, television channels and other media outlets. Here in the states, they won the 2012 Billboard Battle of the Bands and performed live at ABC’s 2012 Billboard Music Awards. Last year, they opened for Bowling For Soup in a huge tour across the U.K.
Ragosta said he hopes the band can match the success they’ve had in the U.K. back here in the U.S., no matter how long it takes.
“You shoot for the sky, and you sometimes settle for the sidewalk. But you keep going,” he said with the same confident smile he wore throughout every moment of our conversation, silly and serious alike. You just couldn’t kill it. “With bands like us you have to dream, or else it’s never gonna happen.”