“Bringing different worlds together has always been a pillar of Against The Current’s career,” says vocalist Chrissy Costanza from her L.A. home.
The band formed in 2011 in the Poughkeepsie basement of drummer Will Ferri. The day they released their first single ‘Thinking’ in 2012, they also shared a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Good Time’ featuring Youtube musician Alex Goot. For the next few years, the band carried on sharing original songs and collaborating with Youtubers on covers.
“We were straddling these two worlds,” explains Costanza. “And it was tough because people from the typical musical community really had no respect for us. They didn’t think we were a real band, just because we were also on Youtube.”
By 2015, the trio had signed to Fueled By Ramen (Paramore, Twenty One Pilots) and released their second pop-rock EP ‘Gravity’, followed by a four-month headline tour that visited Europe, North America and Asia. “It was small rooms but it sold out and people were pissed about it. They thought we needed to pay our dues, to play to 30 people a night – which we have done,” promises Costanza. “People just dismissed us as ‘The Youtube Band’,” but that didn’t stop their fans from giving a shit or connecting with the music.
Against The Current were then invited on travelling punk festival Warped Tour in 2016, playing 41 shows in 50 days and sharing a stage with the likes of Waterparks. But even then, Costanza still had people talking down to her. Bands would come up and say Warped Tour was a chance for ATC to ‘earn their cred’ and how nice it must be for them to play gigs to actual people. “It was really discouraging,” admits Costanza.
“People just didn’t like how we did things and it felt like we needed to bring ourselves down, dismiss our own achievements, just to be accepted. I see the same thing now with a new generation of artists blowing up on TikTok. People are constantly criticising the content industry but really, they just hate what they don’t understand. I’m sure bands 20, 30 years ago were also doing innovative things that whoever had come before, also hated.”
Which brings us to 2022. By now, Against The Current have released two full-length albums (2016’s ‘In Our Bones’ and 2018’s ‘Past Lives’), toured with Fall Out Boy and played the Main Stage of Reading & Leeds Festivals. They’ve also remained active members of online worlds. To kick off the new year, the trio teamed up with The League Of Legends’ European Championship to release urgent new track ‘Wildfire’ and a version featuring eSport casters Andrew ‘Vedius’ Day and Daniel ‘Drakos’.
It’s the third time the band have collaborated with League Of Legends. Against The Current wrote and performed ‘Legends Never Die’, the incredible, stadium-sized anthem for the league’s 2017 World Championship while Costanza also provided vocals for 2019 anthem ‘Phoenix’, a slow-burning chunk of hope and determination.
Creating ‘Wildfire’ was “less pressure than a World’s anthem because there’s such a high expectation around those,” says Costanza before noting that the LEC typically make comedic or ironic music. “This was a departure from that, just because it was more serious. It meant Vedius and Drakos were outside their comfort zone but we looked after them.”
The track was originally written for the follow-up to Against The Current’s 2021 mini-album ‘Fever’ (which is due out this year) but it didn’t quite fit. The track was co-written by Mako, who scored Netflix’s Arcane and has written every League Of Legends anthem, so when the LEC reached out, asking to collab, “it was a no brainer” to rehome ‘Wildfire’.
Lyrically, ‘Wildfire’ is about “fantasising how people are going to talk about you when you’ve ‘made it’,” explains Costanza. “Whether that’s being a rock star playing in front of thousands of people or an Esports player out to win the championship, it’s that daydream of ‘just wait until you see what I’m going to do’.”
Chrissy Costanza has been a gamer since she was 3 years old. At first there were lots of CD-Roms (ask a millennial friend) but the first game that really stole her heart was Runescape. “That was the first game that really ignited my love of online gaming and introduced me to an online community. I really lost myself in Runescape.”
Then, following their collaborations together, Costanza was introduced to League Of Legends by Goot. “That’s the game that cemented me as a gamer. It was also the first time I made friends through gaming.”
On recent Twitch streams, Costanza’s been playing LOL spin-off Teamfight Tactics (when she’s not building a Lego Millennium Falcon) and she’s dabbled with New World. “I had a lot of fun but they need to fix a lot of things before I go back,” she explains. “I also always have a fantasy RPG on the backburner, like Dragon Age.”
“It’s really awesome that gaming has been part of our career and such a massive part of our success,” says Costanza. Getting to work with the LEC has felt like the band “reconnecting to their roots” and gaming “has given us such an identity, that we really feel we belong here.”
“Music and gaming are the two things I love most,” she continues. It’s why Against The Current keeps getting offered the opportunities they do “because we hang out in the scene and do whatever we can to give back. That’s why it’s worked so well for us, because it’s something that’s very genuine. We’re not here just because gaming is the hot new trend.”
When the pandemic made touring impossible, Costanza received numerous messages from artists who wanted to know how to stream – something she’d been doing for years. It was the same people who’d criticised her for using Youtube and “giving me shit for getting popular through League Of Legends”.
Costanza goes on to explain how “there’s a lot of musicians who’ll just take the paycheck from Riot and never mention gaming again” but for the whole of Against The Current, “we’ve really found a home here”. Guitarist Dan Gow is just as obsessed with gaming as Costanza while Ferri is always the first to set up Mario Kart or Super Mario Party on the tour bus.
“Gaming communities are really welcoming but they’re also protective of being exploited,” says Costanza. “People like people that make them feel like what they’re doing is cool. No one wants to feel like someone came in, took a check but didn’t actually respect what they were doing.”
Which seems like a good time to bring up the viral video of Costanza teaching a senior citizen how to play League Of Legends. “We stan Glenn,” she grins. “He was the same adorable old man off and on camera. I would take a bullet for him.”
Worried about watching Arcane without knowing about League of Legends?
— Netflix (@netflix) November 24, 2021
She admits that LOL perhaps isn’t as easy to pick up as the video suggests “but they have just released Wild Rift on mobile which is the perfect introduction.”
She believes the music industry could learn a thing or two from gaming’s openness to collaborations.
“Music has this weird scarcity complex and everything has this weird competitive edge whereas in gaming, it’s all about working together. I keep expecting someone to ice me out but everyone I’ve spoken to about streaming, making TikToks or gaming videos with has been really nice.”
“Why can’t we have the same mentality in music, where it’s just about bringing each other up? The music industry could afford to take a couple of tips from the gaming industry. There’s a lot more room at the top than you think.”
Costanza has been regularly streaming throughout the pandemic on Twitch, just because she was sitting around playing League for hours at a time anyway. “I can be a very authentic version of myself when I’m streaming,” she explains. “I’m just sitting around in sweatpants and minimal makeup, compared to the glammed up, heighted version of myself I need to be when I play shows with Against The Current.” During the streams, she’ll talk about the upcoming European tour (which kicks off March 31 in Brighton) and discuss setlists, new music and gaming with fans. “It’s been a really fun way for us to connect with our community. We’ve always been close, but now more than ever, it feels like a family.” She attributes that to gaming.
Costanza sees Against The Current on the edge of their scene. “We have fans that are very much fans of pop punk and that world, and we have fans that want nothing to do with it,” she explains.
Costanza has fronted the band since she was 16 and has had to grow up in the public eye. Last year on the Babes Behind The Beats podcast, Costanza admitted that “there was a point where I so badly wanted to be one of the guys but at some point I realised, I’m not a dude. So, I started to own the things that made me different. I stopped trying to bury my femininity.”
Again, that’s something that was helped by the wider gaming community. She found the “rise of the girl gamer really inspiring” and loves the whole egirl aesthetic. “Because I went to an all-girls high school, girls terrify me. But I’ve met so many female friends through gaming, which has always been hard for me but I feel like I’m just being myself around them, which has been great.”
Against The Current have built their career on straddling the worlds between video game culture and the rock scene. In the past few years though, those worlds have got closer with virtual concerts and soundtracks having a real impact on a band’s career. The relationship between gaming and music “is going to become more and more intertwined,” says Costanza who believes people have finally started to take gaming seriously, especially when they hear how much money can be made.
“We already know that music is the backbone of film, TV and commercials – it really does provide the soundtrack to our entire lives. And gaming is no different,” explains Costanza. “Rocket League has a long history of breaking indie artists through their ingame playlists and Fortnite Radio is becoming so important to a band like ours.”
“Gaming is going to continue to be such a vital part of the music industry, and vice versa,” Costanza says. “Hopefully people try to understand the community behind it though.”
The Fever Tour takes place in April 2022.