Had I heard last years Awkward Breeds LP without knowing anything about the people who created it, I would not have guessed that Columbus, Ohio four-piece The Sidekicks had such strong ties to the punk / hardcore world. The DIY group plays basements and house shows, releases split 7″ singles with bands like Tiger’s Jaw, makes the annual pilgrimage to Gainesville, Florida for Fest, and are generally scuzzy and raw performers. The album, on the other hand – polished production, total hooks, very poppy and infectious, connecting the dots between Weezer, The Replacements and Elvis Costello. (That split actually has a fantastic cover of the latter’s “Angel’s Wanna Wear My Red Shoes.”)

The band is currently on a late summer tour with Philly’s Hop Along – the two were also tourmates this spring on a run of European dates. Tonight they make their way through Philly to play the First Unitarian Church, and I swapped emails with singer-guitarist Steve Ciolek about Columbus, new music and The Sidekicks’ place in the punk rock world.

The Key: Tell me about the Columbus scene. The only other current band I know from there is the folk-ish group Saintseneca, which is also very DIY but with a totally different sound. Is there much cross-pollination between the different DIY players? Does OSU wind up being a hub?

Steve Ciolek: Columbus is great, there’s really a lot of different little scenes depending on what you’re into. But yeah, we definitely have existed more in the house-show DIY scene there until more recently when we’ve been playing a couple clubs and stuff. I’ve been playing with Saintseneca for the past couple years (as have a lot of other Columbus folks intermittently), so you’d be right about the cross-pollination. Our band has also had various players in the underground scene fill in at shows for us (including Saintseneca members actually). It’s pretty awesome how many different bands include members of other bands too. Ryan (Starinsky, bassist) plays in a band called Nasty Habit with the drummer of Tin Armor, and there’s lots of bands that offshoot from the pop punk band Delay, intermingling with all sorts of folks. OSU keeps things fresh and keeps the punk scene from being too samey and jaded.

TK: As a pop / rock band, where do you see yourselves fitting into the punk world? How do you feel the umbrella of “punk” has expanded in the five years you’ve been together?

SC: I think we fit in with punk because of our approach to playing live. The records have more of a pop kind of sound, but live we try to play a lot faster and with more energy and stuff. Punk seems like more about what sorts of ideas your band may be associated and what kind of shows you play than a specific style aesthetic these days. And yeah, I really think punk has become a pretty hazy term these days. It’s more of something that a band can claim than something that they get tagged with. Which is cool, it leaves it open for music to have more possibilities in that scene.

TK: Tell me about the Costello cover. What made you decide to cover him and why did you choose that song?

SC: Elvis Costello is a great example of someone who has ties to punk but really just makes weird pop albums. I haven’t seen him live but videos of him with The Attractions are amazing, their drummer played so fast and Elvis obviously he has this ridiculously good attitude when he’s singing. “Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes” was a song we wanted to try cause we could sort of do what The Attractions did live and put the pop song through the punk ringer of sorts. Make it have a little more urgency and stuff.

TK: You play a huge variety of venues. Ultra-DIY places and basements, to things like Fest, all the way to this tour you’re about to do with Gaslight, which will certainly be big nightclubby size rooms. What’s it like working that much of a range? What are your favorite types of places to play?

SC: It’s cool allowing each venue kinda have to take shape to what you’re doing, provide the setting of sorts for the show you’re trying to put on. I like doing different things, keeps playing in a band from feeling too much like Groundhog Day. I still really like playing basements cause that’s what we’re used to and it’s the most exciting way to see a band.

TK: What are your plans to follow up Awkward Breeds? Will we hear new material on this tour?

SC: New album next year at some point, we’re playing a couple songs that will probably appear on the LP. The one song is more of a constant groove and the other is one of the most to the point pop songs we have.

TK: How did you come to tour with Hop Along again this fall? What do you like about being on the road with them?

SC: We were just thinking of bands to tour with on our way out to the other tour and touring Europe with them was so great we just asked em again. It’s great seeing them with their second guitar player Joe, he adds an element of excitement to the show cause when he’s playing guitar there are several moments when he seems like he’s about to fall into his amp.

The Sidekicks perform tonight at the First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut Street, with Hop Along, Ma Jolie and Luther. Tickets and more information on the all-ages show are available via the R5 Productions website.