They say you never forget your first love. Normal people typically associate this sort of thing with say, their first crush or an unrequited romance in middle school. As for myself, boys didn’t appeal to me until I was in my junior year of high school — for years before then, I was too busy listening to (and obsessing over) The Used. Yes, that post-hardcore band from Utah. Yes, I own all of the physical editions of their music. Yes, even the DVD documentaries (I can quote BERTH from beginning to end). Yes, I also have a gnome planter pot signed by Bert McCracken and Quinn Allman. YES, I know it’s weird. I don’t care. I love this band.
In 2004, my favorite thing to do with my friends was to watch MTV2 and share commentary on all of the rock music videos back-to-back for hours at a time. One of the bands that got a TON of channel time was The Used. I remember seeing the video for “All That I’ve Got” with my friend Christina, sat next to me with a bowl of Sour Patch Kids in her lap at her mom’s apartment. “This video is gorgeous,“ I said. “I love the guy’s voice.” She laughed that laugh I know so well and spat, “Yeah, I don’t love his hair though!” Typical. I related to her disgust, but I was thrilled to discover a band where the singer looked like a literal gremlin that just rolled out of the trash (I hadn’t been introduced to Choking Victim’s Stza Crack yet, for those of you about to fight me).
This article isn’t going to be a history lesson on the band. If you’ve read this far, it reads to me that you already know the basics. I won’t bore you with my knowledge. You can read all about that on Wikipedia and scour Google if you feel so inclined. Instead, this is a celebratory piece about The Used’s second studio album In Love and Death celebrating 15 years of its inception and why, in my humble opinion, it holds up as one of the best emo-post-hardcore-pop-punk-gross-pop albums that shaped me. Damn, what a mouthful. It really is that complicated, trust me.
It’s hard to talk about how immensely great In Love and Death is without mentioning Branden Steineckert and Quinn Allman — that is, how monumental they were in forming the instrumental backbone of this album as a whole. Drums and lead guitar are quintessential, and when I sit down and listen to ILAD (after listening to it in the ballpark of 500 times), I always come back to the special sounds Allman and Steineckert were able to come up with. Quinn’s handiwork in “Light with a Sharpened Edge”: fucking magical. Branden pounding away viciously throughout the entirety of “Take It Away”: brilliant, so brilliant. I could go on and on. They were quintessential to the very base of what the album would be, and I wish the two of them could just… work together again even if it was for a different band entirely (but that’s for another article) (@ The Used: pay Branden Steineckert for his royalties already, damn) (pay Quinn Allman too like, what the fuck, guys).
Regardless of The Used’s inner turmoil, lawsuits, and general tomfoolery, they were solid as a rock in 2004. Their DVD documentary BERTH will tell you this on its own. This was a time when the group was truly in their prime, selling out massive tours for Taste of Chaos and Projekt Revolution with My Chemical Romance and Linkin Park, among others. The commercial success of ILAD was tough to ignore — they didn’t stop touring for roughly three years straight and garnered a loyal, hardcore, riotous fanbase which would follow them for decades on (I was one of those people).
In a more academic sense, In Love and Death was one of those albums that either grabbed you or it didn’t because it was abstract, yet so inherently pop at the same time. It was cryptic lyrically, but that’s Bert McCracken for you. Sometimes I wonder if he even knows what he’s talking about. Either way, it hit me hard and I didn’t fully understand why. I was 11 and still trying to understand how mathematics worked (for the record, I still don’t). Bert, in a big way, became the guy I would look to for guidance. When I was in a jam mentally and I needed an outlet for my teen angst, his music was there. He was insanely charismatic, enthusiastically interested in music of all kinds, and he was overtly accessible to me during some of the most crucial moments in my teen years.
Hearing In Love and Death for the first time was a religious experience. I recall laying on my belly in my room with the CD booklet in hand, pouring over every lyric, every guitar riff, every drum fill. Alex Pardee’s immersive art is forever burned into my corneas, with each song having its own character spotlight and individual story. I read the credits, the thank yous, the damn legal jibber. I loved everything about that CD. It has a forever-home on my bookshelf, along with all of my other Used memorabilia (which probably deserves an article of its own). The first time I saw them live was at Northern Lights in Buffalo NY on a school night. I was 14 and I made my mom drive me the six or more hours to go see them. My saintly mother, God bless her, took one glance at the bathrooms at that venue and decided (on her own accord) that taking a piss in the parking lot was more appealing. I shit you not. The Used, I guess, has that sort of strange, gross impact on people. Brings out the best in ya.
At the end of the day, The Used gets a lot of heat for not being post-hardcore enough, or rather being too pop for their genre. But for me, that’s what made them so special. In Love and Death was my gateway drug to the music world in a big way and without The Used in the picture, I really don’t know who I would be as a person. I learned about so many other bands simply because The Used mentioned them from time to time. The Decemberists, Choking Victim, Mr. Bungle, and Loveage (just to name a VERY small few) wouldn’t be in my repertoire without the influence of The Used. It goes that deep. In Love and Death remains to be in my top albums of all time. It shaped me in ways that no boy, no professor or teacher, nor any other album has. It taught me that being weird, being off-center, or not fitting in with any particular group of people was okay. And for that, I am forever thankful.
Words and photos by Ari Jindracek.
Anyone who has spoken to me since the Riot Fest lineup was announced could tell you, probably with a grimace, how excited I was for Riot Fest. The ones I talked to more would probably mention the acts I was looking forward to in the next breath. A music festival for the music I love, in the city I love? To say I was looking forward to this would be a gross understatement. However, I was not prepared, at all, for what Riot Fest would actually be like.
The first thing you need to know about Riot Fest if you’ve never gone is that it’s not just about the shows. There are carnival rides. There are people on stilts. There is more free Pedialyte than you can drink. There’s a sculpture of John Stamos made of butter for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. The official name on the stage dressings was Riot Fest and Carnival, and that’s pretty apt: I was basically going to a carnival for three straight days. Did I ride the rides, you ask? No, because it was 5 bucks for one go on the Tilt-a-Whirl. The ambiance, though, was really fun to be a part of. That probably contributed to Riot Fest being the only fest where I’ve ever made connections with people. I got two phone numbers (three if you count fellow editor Cae Rosch as someone I met at Riot Fest, even though we’d talked online beforehand) and a business card for someone’s Etsy store, and I chatted less at length with probably a dozen people. There was a real sense of kinship in the crowd. People would actually save your barricade spot, and, during Microwave on Saturday, a clump of people actually helped me fight my way forward in the crowd. Maybe it was just my crowds or my blind luck, but I felt supported at Riot Fest, both by my fellows in the front rows and by the staff who gave me extra cherry Pedialyte because I said it was my favorite.
People don’t go to Riot Fest just because of Butter Stamos, though (at least, I don’t think so). I, like everyone else, was there for the music. At the barricade before shows (and oh, was I at the barricade), people would sometimes ask each other, “Who’s your band?” Mine was Senses Fail, who, in an expression of love or maybe good publicity, were playing two sets as a way of compensating for the Chicago date they were forced to cancel during the polar vortex earlier this year. The other acts I wanted to see above others included Frank Iero and the Future Violents, Against Me!, Rise Against, and Glassjaw. I planned around these six sets; about half of the bands I cover here were bands I saw because their set was on while I was camping a stage. This is not the only approach to Riot Fest, and it probably isn’t even the best, but it’s the one I took. Due to the sheer volume of bands I saw, I will focus only on the ones I found most notable since if I wrote at length about all of them, this review would be a 20-page essay. All sets were excellent in their own way, even if they weren’t my favorites; at no point did I wish I was seeing another set, though. Every band I saw, though hugely different, was stellar. They wouldn’t be on the bill otherwise.
On day one, I missed the first band at the Radicals stage by minutes; I don’t often miss openers, so I felt awful, but the dispersal of the crowd after the set left me a wide-open spot leaning against the barricade. Here I met my first Riot Fest buddy (shout out to Salem) and saw Anti-Flag, whose music I had not heard at all before. They immediately cemented themselves in my good books, not only because their music was terrific, but also because they talked at length about the current political hell America finds itself in with a conviction that their crowd was going to change it. I almost started crying during their speech about gun violence, and again when they talked about how distraction politics are screwing over disadvantaged communities. I also collected from them my first ever setlist, by bartering for it with my first ever band guitar pick. (The setlist has a chunk ripped out of it, which is why the person next to me was willing to trade it. Their loss.)
Senses Fail was the next band up, but I’ll talk about both of their sets at the same time. After spending my time at Radicals stage, I bounced around the festival a bit: I grabbed some merch and a giant funnel cake, then tried to watch Dashboard Confessional but couldn’t get a spot that wasn’t behind the light and sound tent, where people were having drunk conversations. The next set I saw, my last of day one, was Glassjaw. I was lucky that they were playing Worship and Tribute because that’s the only one of their albums I’ve listened to enough to know any lyrics. As this was an album play set timed almost exactly to the length of the album, there wasn’t a lot of time for the band to interact with the crowd. Glassjaw played a steadier set rather than a harder set, as is their style. To my memory, there wasn’t a lot of crowd surfing or moshing (although this might not necessarily be true; I was in the outskirts of the crowd). Trappings aside, the album was amazing live. The crowd clearly knew the words to the songs – one perk of knowing the exact setlist ahead of time – and the mix of long, sustained notes with the rich instrumentals was stunning.
The second day of Riot Fest, I got to Douglas Park comfortably early (aka, before the gates were opened) and headed for Rebel Stage as soon as I could. This was 11AM. I would be camping there until about 7PM, minus a short bathroom and water break. The first band on Rebel Stage was Monarchy Over Monday, which was a notable act to me for two reasons. First of all, they were all high school students and the youngest band at this year’s Riot Fest. Second, the head of my department at work knows their parents. (The head of my department was there. Let me tell you, it’s a bit weird to see your boss’s boss’s boss in overalls and a band shirt while she tells you how to properly break in your new Docs). I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting Monarchy Over Monday to shred, but they wouldn’t be playing Riot Fest if they weren’t good, and they were very good. The only thing I thought they were really lacking was stage presence, but that was only to be expected since they didn’t have the longest history of big shows to pull from. They’re good and I’m sure they’ll learn.
The Rebel stage stayed pretty low-key until just before The Damned Things came on. Like, I would bet, a lot of the other members of the crowd, I’d heard of The Damned Things as the side project of Fall Out Boy members Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley. Beyond this, I went in aware of all of one of their songs, and I’d pulled that from the official Riot Fest playlist. (Honestly, I was only prepared for 3, maybe 4 of the sets I saw at Riot Fest. I didn’t know anything about anyone. It’s hard to research bands when your default is listening to the same album on Spotify until you wear it out). I can easily say that I enjoyed watching The Damned Things more than I’ve ever enjoyed a Fall Out Boy show, and that’s without the emotional investment and the lyrics in my head. The band played hard and the crowd went hard. The frontman chatted and joked with the audience (I can remember that he played matchmaker for a friendship between two dads who had never met) and the music, including that one song I knew, was fun to hear, to clap along with, and to sing when possible.
The colossal crowd stuck around for Microwave next (I barely remember their set, so focused was I on not falling over as I tried to claw my way back to the spot I’d asked someone to save while I got water and then over as I fought my way back to the barricade) and then Senses Fail. Now, I’ve been listening to Senses Fail with the fervor of obsession, on the day of writing this, since August, with breaks of a few days at the most. I’m not the best at learning lyrics, but I could sing at least the chorus of every single song they pulled out over two sets. Three of their members keep liking my tweets. You could say I’m biased in Senses Fail’s favor as I write this. But, with two high energy, high caliber sets, how could I not be? On day one, they played all of Let It Enfold You, one of their most popular albums, and on day two, the remastered version of their first release, From the Depths of Dreams; the popular single “Can’t Be Saved” was also featured on both days.
The stage show featured Buddy Nielsen doing dances that clearly marked him as a dad, but, like, a cool dad, and twirling and throwing his microphone with such confidence that I never once worried he’d drop it. I will not pretend to be unbiased in my analysis of Senses Fail’s set. I have been listening to their music in days-long bursts since July. I had tickets to see their canceled show over the winter. Senses Fail’s sets were the ones I was most looking forward to, and I was not disappointed. True, like Glassjaw, they did not have much time to interact with fans. Beyond introducing the band and a few songs, there was hardly any audience interaction (I managed to interact with the band, though, since I was at barricade; during one of the songs on From the Depths of Dreams, I gave frontman Buddy Nielsen a little wave and he waved back at me in abject confusion). I can hardly remember looking anywhere other than back to see if I needed to hold anyone or up at the dervish that was Buddy Nielsen for the two sets.
Everyone on stage looked like they were having the time of their lives; I would routinely catch them smiling bright, though they’d usually get back into their music before I could get a picture. It wasn’t just a good set musically, it was fun to watch and fun to be a part of. I happened to make friends before Senses Fail on both days, too (shout out to Salem and Jace), so I was enjoying the show with people I knew. In my crowning moment of Riot Fest glory, I got a hand on Senses Fail’s day two setlist; I ended up sharing it with my new concert pal, because I’m a nice person, but I don’t think I have ever cherished a piece of paper more. If Senses Fail had played on Sunday, too, or any other day after Riot Fest, I would drop anything to go see them (as of writing, they’re still on tour, so go see them and record a video for me if they play “Blackout”).
The final act I saw on day two was Rise Against, the only band on the lineup I’ve covered before. This marked the third time I had seen Rise Against in a single year, and it was, for obvious reasons, drastically different than the other two sets of theirs I had seen. What I remember most isn’t the songs they played – singles, mostly, as one does at Riot Fest – but the way they talked about their hometown of Chicago. Frontman Tim said that he grew up near Douglas Park, the site of the festival, and later talked about writing “Swing Life Away” (my favorite Rise Against song) in a neighborhood near the one I currently live in. As a resident of Chicago, I always love hearing people talk about it and hearing the joy with which the frontman of the band talked about his home, which had come out to support him in a big way, was more powerful to me than hearing “Savior” again. The music was great, obviously. The music was just not what I was thinking about; I was thinking about my place in time, at my first music festival in the city I consider my home.
On the third day, I arrived early again, got water, and made a beeline for the only stage I had not yet spent any time at, the Rise stage, to camp out for Frank Iero and the Future Violents. I got there maybe fifteen minutes after the first people were admitted for the day and couldn’t get a spot at the barricade. Two bands (Ultra Q, which I had heard of in former incarnation Mt. Eddy, and highly-sensual ska band Save Ferris) played beforehand, but the crowd didn’t thin as people, myself included, craned their necks, searching for the Future Violents’ uniforms. The crowd was different than the acts I had been front-and-center for on the previous two days: they were louder before the band actually came on, cheering for the band members as they came on stage to check their levels, and more subdued for the first half of the set, refraining from mosh pits and crowd surfing entirely, despite the cutthroat wave of people trying to get as far forward as possible, crushing me and the others in the second row. The crowd turned around when the band played “Medicine Square Garden,” my favorite song of the Frank Iero solo era, and the crowd surfing became nearly constant. It was almost dangerous; I saw someone get kicked in the face, and I wrenched my shoulder trying to hoist a crowd surfer into security’s arms. The band had middling audience interaction, somewhere between Rise Against and Glassjaw, but the crowd would’ve gone wild with or without it, so in love were they with the band.
Despite knowing very few songs by Against Me!, I was amped to see them. I caught their set at Wicker Park Fest last year and live close enough to Laura Jane Grace that, in theory, I could pass her on the street. After the Future Violents set and, you know, the other two days of Riot Fest, I thought it might be prudent for me to chill in the back of the crowd and not fight my way into the pit, especially since I was not prepared to sing along. Despite the fact that this was also a packed set – the band was playing not one but two big-ticket albums, Reinventing Axl Rose and Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and this was after they had played two albums the night before – the band took their time between songs for Laura to reiterate that Riot Fest was her favorite festival two or three times, and their set was even over early. A well-oiled machine of punk rock, they drove through the albums with finesse, excellent musicianship, and help from the screaming crowd. The only weird thing about the set was that, halfway through, a chunk of people peeled away to go see the B-52s, which wasn’t about Against Me! but about how Riot Fest schedules their acts. I’ve known for some time that I need to know way more about Against Me!, but after having the time of my life singing along to “True Trans Soul Rebel,” which is one of the handful of their songs I remember, I know that next time an opportunity comes around for me to catch one of their sets, I’m going to be ready.
This was where my Riot Fest adventure ended for the weekend. I had intended to check out Taking Back Sunday, but when faced with the choice between sticking around and getting home at midnight only to wake up for work at five the next morning, I made the choice that got my blistered feet out of my brand new Docs faster. I regret that on and off, but I had experienced so many things in three days that I am still overwhelmed by it. In trying to remember even my favorite sets from Riot Fest, I just get a blur of things in my mind: reaching over the barricade for a setlist, holding up crowd surfers, feeling like I was about to cry and laughing like a freak with adrenaline; meeting eyes with performers, shaking hands with new friends, waiting for unfortunate amounts of time to fill my crumpled water bottle so I could turn it into cherry Pedialyte. There’s a reason why people from all over come to Riot Fest, and it’s that, within that blur of memories, I know I had the best time of my life. I’m already looking forward to next year’s lineup.
In German poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s 1919 nonfiction essay Primal Sound, he ponders what sound the coronal suture (the transverse suture in the skull separating the frontal bone from the parietal bones) would make because it closely resembles a sound wave. Rilke proposes that this process of combining what seems like disparate elements initially to create something that the world has never heard is a model for making good art:
“The coronal suture of the skull (this would first have to be investigated) has-let us assume -a certain similarity to the closely wavy line which the needle of a phonograph engraves on the receiving, rotating cylinder of the apparatus. What if one changed the needle and directed it on its return journey along a tracing which was not derived from the graphic translation of sound, but existed of itself naturally-well, to put it plainly, along the coronal suture, for example. What would happen? A sound would necessarily result, a series of sounds, music… Feelings-which? Incredulity, timidity, fear, awe-which of all feelings here possible prevents me from suggesting a name for the primal sound which would then make its appearance in the world…“
There’s something really visceral about raw sound – sound that defies what we often hear on the radio in the vein of pop hooks and pleasant harmonies. When we hear something that is touching, genuine, desperate, and chock full of a yearning to belong and be understood, it resonates. Deeply.
Which brings me to the latest installment by New Jersey hardcore punk titans, School Drugs, who continue without fail to bring the primal sound theory to life. What if we took the most deplorable and pathetic feelings we find within ourselves and utilize them for the sake of sonic art? What would that sound like? Enter: Modern Medicine. The album art alone reminded me of the primal sound theory, and I immediately pictured some psychotic surgeon taking a record player needle to a patient’s skull, just to test the hypothesis. But that’s just the start of what you’ll actually hear on Modern Medicine. The rest is as turbulent as the art makes it out to be.
The title track is the first thing we hear and it’s as frantic as it is rock n roll; a combination that is frightening to say the least. Vocalist Josh Jurk gets more and more out of control as the song rolls on and there are parts of the track that seem to fade in and out, creating a monumentally physical experience. The mix is pristine. School Drugs have always touted themes of mental illness medication hand-in-hand with the woes of being alive, and this song is no different. In comes “Pathetic Desperate” which School Drugs’ fans are already familiar with, only this time, it has a bit of a bass-ier tone and a more violent drawl and boy, is it solid in timing. “Nervous Eyes” marks a change in direction for the band, with a section that echoes off with vocal distortion in a way that reminds me of some old school CKY tracks (random, I know, but hear me out and listen for it when Modern Medicine drops). I love the verses in particular – the way they’re composed and arranged makes it feel like I’m in a maze and I have no hope of getting out: happy things, but it’s also just a super fuckin’ catchy one of the bunch. “Nothing Grows” has some seriously fun lead guitar (reminiscent of the tapping way that I would hear in say, a Posers record) and it slowly and precariously shines through to a bizarre shuffle into “Overrated Life” which showcases the band’s ability to play with subtle breakdowns and bridges that sound like they could be part of an entirely different song altogether. These deep guttural vocals can be found on “Overrated Life” again but they lay in stark contrast to the higher-pitched guitars, making for a really fascinating listen.
Side B to Modern Medicine begins with the track “Validation” and School Drugs are going full-throttle here. It’s more in the vein with their earlier work, particularly their self-titled debut, but some of the vocals are a clear distinction from what they’ve done before. I’m having a hard time figuring out who is Josh Jurk and who is a literal demon on this song. “Destined Days” begins with, “What can I say? I’m a miserable, worthless hunk of slime.” Peachy keen, amiright? The drums grabbed me on this track and next, the swirling microcosm that is the full instrumentals of it kicking in. With Jurk’s vocal display layered over “Destined Days,” it’s a vortex of good old fashioned hardcore, but it’s also packed with delicious gang vocals (I’m a sucker for this sort of thing). “Gimme Doubt” makes for a fantastic later track, mostly because at this point on the album, you don’t know what to expect and this one delivers more of the inner corners and hallways that exist on Modern Medicine. “Wash Away” is more in line with classic 80′s hardcore which is the backbone of the band, so if you’re looking for say, something that is more expected, this is the one for you. “Joyless” is the best song on here and I’m glad it’s the last track because not only does it play into the whole idea of “primal sound” but it’s also some of the most wonderfully layered work I’ve heard on a hardcore album. Ever. Jurk’s dynamic voice along with the demons (as I like to call them) in the background end where a sullen piano is played, finishing off the journey through violent soul-searching and a vendetta against “modern medicine” and perhaps our worst enemy: ourselves.
Maybe, just maybe, making good art does involve a bit of destruction with a needle. Directly to the skull. Or, maybe you can take that feeling and turn it into what you think that may sound like. Either way, I can’t think of a better band that comes to mind and brings the hypothesis of primal sound to life other than School Drugs. With each release, they impress. With each track, they disturb. And with each intricate noise and sound they radiate, they infiltrate your psyche in a way that is more than simply good hardcore. It is indeed, primal. It is indeed as desperate as they make it out to be. Making good art isn’t just something you do – it is what you are, and if it’s truly good, it will have to be just that: primal.
School Drugs will perform their album release show for Modern Medicine on Friday, September 27 at 7PM at Asbury Park Brewery. Be there or be lame as fuck. You can check out the event on Facebook here.
To read more about the primal sound theory, read the full essay here.
Young punk band from the Isle of Wright, UK, Grade 2 will release their third album and Hellcat debut, Graveyard Island, on October 11th. The album was recorded and produced by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong at Armstrong’s Shiprec Studios and mixed by The Interrupters’ Kevin Bivona. Today, the band unveils the video for Graveyard Island’s title track.
Grade 2 is vocalist & bassist Sid Ryan, vocalist & guitarist Jack Chatfield, and drummer Jacob Hull. Formed in 2013, the band met at school where they would spend their lunch break playing covers of classic punk tunes together in the music room. Since their formation, the band has released several EPs and two studio albums; Mainstream View (2016) and Break The Routine (2017).
While touring, the band met Lars Frederiksen (Rancid) who took an interest in Grade 2 and ultimately played some of their music videos to his bandmate Tim Armstrong. Armstrong liked what he saw and not only agreed to produce the band’s forthcoming record but signed them to Hellcat. Last December, Grade 2 flew to Los Angeles, and, over the course of two weeks, tracked the dozen songs that comprise Graveyard Island. “He’s one of the most efficient people we’ve ever worked with. He knows exactly what he wants. In the studio, he wanted to capture how we sound on stage, so we were tracking songs live with a scratch vocal,” vocalist/bassist Sid Ryan said on working with Armstrong.
Graveyard Island offers proof that punk rock is still as relevant in 2019 as it was in 1976. “Although we’re more than forty years on from when punk began, I actually think the times are very similar now to how they were back then,” says Sid Ryan. “The political climate today means that people see the worst in everything, which means that for us there’s a lot to write about. Everything in the country is pretty much turning to shit! There are certain parts of our record that would make sense were it released in 1976.”
Check out the music video below, and be on the lookout for when Grade 2 release their latest record on October 11.
There’s a lot to say about the music that came out in 2004. That’s not sarcasm. I’m very serious. Pop-punk, in particular, took a major upturn that year. Whatever your opinion is on pop-punk, bands like Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, New Found Glory, and The Used were tough to ignore and all getting heavy radio play along with endless streams of music videos shown across MTV and MTV2. Warped Tour was perhaps at it’s most attended around this time and it appeared that the new age of punk rock had appeared swiftly – it had catchy melodies and charismatic people backing them all up too, making for a perfect storm to establish fandoms of all makes and models.
One of these bands (and perhaps the biggest underdog) was Say Anything. They first blipped onto my radar when they released …Is A Real Boy on August 3, 2004 with an ironic turn of phrase and just enough venom to shoot directly at the faces of every pop-punk kid with a superiority complex. Fifteen years later, it carries the same beautiful amount of ironic animosity.
While 2004 was a time of admittedly great music in the scene, it was also invaded by kids who were more interested in being cool and saying and wearing the right things than a genuine appreciation for the music and the community that it birthed. “Scene kids” became the new “in” fashion statement; not quite punk, but just off-center enough to piss off your parents. Neon colors became the new black, flatirons and choppy layered haircuts were the next best thing since studded belts, and people said “rawr” with no remorse or self-awareness. It was equally embarrassing as it was a renaissance of modern rock music.
But, enter Say Anything: a band built on the scene created by a love for punk rock and catchy melody, but with the bark and bite of a revenge-seeking maniac with a vendetta against the very scene that would raise them. …Is A Real Boy is a concept album about a young man in an unsuccessful band forced to express his deepest feelings “in the form of fully orchestrated rock anthems” – irony within irony within irony, it is furthermore ironic that this record became so successful and fifteen years later it continues to stand so strong.
Each song on …Is A Real Boy was conceived from one brain: Max Bemis. An impressive feat considering how eclectic, well-composed, and endlessly fun this whole record is, it’s important to note that Bemis also performed every instrument on the album aside from the percussion. What god created Max Bemis, and how do we get them to create another version of him with the same drive and ambition for future generations to adore?
“Belt” is a special opening track stone by stone – just enough pop to go along with Bemis’ fascinating delivery vocally. It’s just the spark to a release that speaks volumes about hypocrisy, scene politics, and the modernization and commodification of a community that was once so underground. Gang vocals, delicious harmonies, melody, and perfect storytelling are rife here. “Woe” was the first track on this album that really drew me in though – again, another example of unapologetic clear storytelling and characterization with backing instrumentation that takes one through corners and paths that are so unexpected. Bemis intended for …Is A Real Boy to be a rock opera, and he nailed it.
“Alive With The Glory Of Love” is easily the most recognizable song on the record, known like the back of their hand by just about every former emo kid who grew up loving alt music in the mid-2000s. It’s as entertaining as it is magnificent with it’s effortless and unapologetic lines of grandeur and deplorable acts. “I Want To Know Your Plans” reminds us that Say Anything is as loveable and warm as you always imagined they would be, but forgot they are. “Every Man Has A Molly” makes it clear what it’s truly like to be a girl who is dating a band-guy and getting inappropriate and questionable songs written about her. Classic.
Perhaps what I love the most about Say Anything is the excessive attention paid to the lyrical content – the focal point is the color and texture within the lyrics, sending listeners like me on an adventure through tangible and real environments that I’ve actually been a part of. Scenes wrought with pompousness and rudeness with no apparent point. False masks and false idols. A yearning for true human connection amongst fans and bands alike, without the need for being or not being cool.
Fifteen years after this album was released, punk politics and scene politics still saturate our communities and take hold of so many people who would otherwise be bearable if they weren’t so concerned about the way they looked and how other people perceived them. It’s a far cry from the best album of 2004, but damn, it’s as hard-pressed as being one of the most honest and brutally accurate. I listen to it with the same roll-of-the-eyes and deep-seated-sighs at the core dudes that I did back in the day.
…Is A Real Boy is a sarcastic take on a music scene that Say Anything is actually categorized in, but when Bemis is pointing the fingers, he’s leaving his band out of the debacle. It’s an album about a band, and most of the songs are about songs. It’s a reflection of the times, but it’s also just as relatable and one can sympathize with the spite of it’s content to this day, 15 years later.
It’s a metaphor, fool.
FFO: Free Throw, This Town Needs Guns, Modern Baseball, Mom Jeans
Take a little melodic post-hardcore and a little midwest emo math rock and you have Wall Pose – a band as big as their sound. Their latest EP For Donna clocks in at just about seven and a half minutes and it’s a trip; it’s been a long time since I’ve listened to something as eclectic and well-rounded with just two tracks to pick apart. Each member of Wall Pose hails from a different corner of the Inland Empire and now congregates in Pomona, CA. They emphasize the importance of using music as a way to build a community where you’re free to feel and express yourself emotionally – which is the embodiment of their motto “So Cal, So Sad.” The title For Donna was named in memory of a late friend who died during the recording of this EP.
“I Hope You Enjoyed Your Time on the Road” takes over the first half of this tiny EP and it ebbs and flows through a hypnotic set of three (3) guitars and the mellow intro transitions perfectly into an upbeat masterpiece of all six band members crashing together with some magic and bite. There’s a really nice juxtaposition of quiet lulls and bombastic post-hardcore screams on this first song and lyrically, I think it’s the strongest. Near the conclusion, Wall Pose come together like a well-oiled machine and singing along comes easy with a chorus so repetitious, yet so magnetic.
“Whirlwind” is the second and final track and it’s a weird one, but in a good way. There are breaks in guitar work here that match with group screams. The pure simplicity of the instrumentals and the vicious and yet distant yelps and shouts make for a fascinating journey of a song – it really is a story within a story, and the layered nature of “Whirlwind” is likened to a warm blanket. The way it ends with just a group chorus backed by nothing in a rolling sort of way is partly cheerful and partly nostalgic. I feel feelings when I hear this song.
Not simply experimental, nor is it a run-of-the-mill emo record, For Donna places Wall Pose in the circle of proper alt greats; it’s the ideal balance between the recesses of the mind and the fractured tangibility of reality. It is as real as it is crafted from dreams and it is the grey space of love and loss. Intelligent, demanding, and oh-so-soft.
Before you read this article, please step in and check out my article about the Rockstar Disrupt festival, where I had this experience. You see where I totally missed Circa Survive? This, the coolest experience of my life so far, is why. But I’m not here to talk to you about the signatures and the hugs or to tell that The Used is composed of great dudes. I have recounted that enough times, both to others and to myself. (You can email me if you want to know more. God knows I will absolutely talk about it again.) Instead, I am going to try to be objective and possible and tell you what you might be able to expect at something like this, and what made it worth the $150 I dropped to be able to get Jeph Howard to photobomb me.
The first thing about the meet and greet, which might not be the case for everything but was certainly the case for this, was that it involved less chatting and more waiting. We waited at the meet-up spot for ten minutes after we were told to be there, then walked through the backstage area (catching a first glimpse of The Used as we passed, and glimpses of other performers who we weren’t allowed to take pictures of.) Once we got to the area where the signing would actually occur, we waited for ten more minutes. That was plenty of time to talk to some of my linemates (shout out to Alicia who had been into The Used for 12 years and took a selfie with me but didn’t get any of my social media details) and start freaking out in earnest. Freaking out isn’t a universal experience. The band members you’re meeting probably won’t hate you forever.
The actual setup, as explained by the woman in charge of the whole thing, was as follows: we chosen few got in a line and (after our wait was over) went past the signing table twice: once for signatures and once for pictures. We got to talk to the band during either of those two windows, but hogging their time would be frowned upon, so realistically, you got a minute maybe two, per pass. After everyone had their pictures, we got back in the same line to leave. You got to get a maximum of two things autographed and someone would take a picture for you if you weren’t feeling a selfie, but you could get both. They didn’t tell us not to be creeps, but it was kind of implied. As far as I could tell, no one was a creep, anyway.
When the band actually walked in and smiled at us and sat down in their chairs, everything went pretty smoothly. I was a mess for the first pass, but there was enough time between that and my second pass for me to chill out for a second, but I didn’t have to wait long. Probably seven minutes or so passed between my first stammered thanks to Bert blowing me a kiss before I got back in line. It definitely felt like an efficient assembly line more than a chat, and it certainly wasn’t an interview, but hey, coolest seven minutes I have yet to experience.
Meeting The Used was more humanizing for me than I expected it to be. On one hand, these people wrote and performed music that made me happy and had helped me through hard times. On the other hand, I’m taller than Bert McCracken. You can read all you want about people, but I’m not sure you’ll ever be fully prepared to be taller than them. I really started to actually agree with my mom and my friends and everyone who was telling me to chill for once in my life: they’re just people, and nice people at that. Yeah, that’s obvious, but it’s hard to realize that when you’re staring down at a tiny figure on a stage, and not so hard when they’re telling you that they’re glad you’re still alive, or making metal horns behind your back that you can’t even see in pictures.
So, final verdict: while it was obviously pretty cool, is a meet and greet worth blowing a quarter of my paycheck on? I’m generalizing based on sample size here, of course. I’ve only been to the one. I’m going to say that it’s only worth a lot of money (however you define “a lot of money”) if you really like the band. Free signing? Hell yes, please go and send me pictures. But don’t blow hundreds of dollars to meet a band you listen to but aren’t really that into, and absolutely don’t break the bank for seven minutes, six pictures, two signed posters, and one awkward hug. On the other hand, if, like me, one of your top five bands is coming to town and you can spare the cash, please go for it, because you’ll probably regret not going more than you would going and being disappointed but still having a new cool phone background. I’m not going to go wild and buy tickets to every possible meet and greet, but I’m going to treasure all the memories I collected with The Used more than I’d treasure anything else I could do with my money.
I mean, you guys, come on. I could buy a desk from Ikea, or I could get a hug from Bert McCracken.
Words and photos by Ari Jindracek
Okay, imagine this: you’re in the middle of an open field with maybe three trees in sight. You’re out of water, you didn’t put on enough sunblock, and it’s 95 degrees. You feel like you’re going to pass out if you don’t sit down right this second. However, when your heat-exhausted body slams into someone else who smiles as they push you back into the pit, you forget why you wished you could be anywhere else. Usually a Chicagoan, if you hadn’t yet noticed, I headed out to Noblesville, Indiana and the Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center to catch the Rockstar Energy Disrupt Festival (because I have family near Indy and couldn’t get to Tinley Park). At 1:30 PM, with the sun high and blinding in the sky, a small crowd kicked off nine and a half hours of music, standing belly-up to the barricade at a small stage a few minutes’ walk from the amphitheater itself. As every lead singer who took that small stage would note, it was hot as hell. However, as you can probably guess if you’re reading this, it was super worth it.
The first act on the bill was Hyro the Hero. Starting half an hour after gates opened, when a large portion of the crowd hadn’t shown up yet, Hyro nevertheless drew a lot of attention. He climbed and jumped from amps and from the drum platform, borrowed hats from other band members and switched them around, and, near the end of his unfortunately short set, climbed into the crowd to ensure that the festival was going to start out with a pit. He packed more raw energy into the opening set than some of the other bands at the festival did in twice the time. His sound was unique among the rest of the acts, too, mixing rap flow with heavy hardcore instrumentals. After ending the set with no less energy than he’d started with, Hyro was also kind enough to stop and sign merchandise for fans, including fans who didn’t expect the pit to be as big as it was and needed to support themselves on his shoulder for a few seconds while they collected their stuff. (You’re right, I absolutely should’ve known better.) I can think of no better way to kick off the rest of the long, awesome afternoon.
If Hyro brought the heat to the concert, second act Juliet Simms helped everyone chill out a little. With a country twang to her voice not necessarily unlike Dolly Parton and a tambourine at her hip, Juliet fit well into the outskirts of Noblesville, which, despite being maybe 45 minutes from Indianapolis, were essentially open country fields. By no means, however, is Simms a country act. Her music would be right at home in my friend’s favorite Spotify playlist, made up of “vaguely Southern gothic” songs. Her backing instrumentals were fantastic–I was especially interested in the drummer, who kept the tempo strong going while flipping around a curtain of blonde hair–and Simms hit all the right notes with songs about leaving demons behind you and the dubious joy of difficult relationships. As a pair of acts, she and Hyro had vastly different energies, but both brought something different onto the setlist and complemented each other as artists.
Trophy Eyes, like Juliet Simms, were a bit less of a moshing, thrashing act, and a bit calmer. Lead singer John Floreani had moments of energy, punching the air and jumping around, but largely swayed over his mic stand. Technical difficulties only a few minutes into the set briefly left the band standing on stage for five hot minutes with no sound but Floreani’s faintly-accented voice asking everyone if they were okay and giving progress reports. However, once things got underway again, the band drew the crowd right back in. Their songs felt like walking through a pop-punk hedge maze: meandering and familiar. It was easy to catch on to the words and sing along, getting caught up in swaying and clapping. As a big fan of longer songs (what can I say, I have a type), I hardly wanted to pull myself out of the music for long enough to take pictures. Despite their rocky start, Trophy Eyes brought a chillness to their set, and the crowd had fun as they did.
The energy levels picked back up with Memphis May Fire, a band that, knowing the kind of music I listen to, I definitely should have gotten into beforehand. In a return to mosh pits and horns up, Memphis came on stage to provide the hardcore sound that one might expect on the Disrupt bill, judging by their fellows in the lineup. They had quite a few long-time fans in the crowd (not surprising, given their thirteen-or-so-year long run) but gave the uninitiated a terrific show as well. The band mixed songs from their latest albums with older ones dedicated to long-term fans in the audience (singer Matty Mullins was impressed by the reactions of long-time listeners in the crowd when he asked who had been with the band for a while) and mixed slower, sweeter songs with ones that opened puts instantly. Within the first few chords of the set, I was struck by the band’s sound and knew I needed to look into them further going forward.
Andy Black is a name I’ve been faintly aware of in the emo/alternative universe for a while but hadn’t listened to his music much before this show, but the chances of me getting into his work after this are way higher. One of the first things I noticed was Black’s speaking voice, which has a tone to it that I haven’t often heard, almost like if you took a sports announcer out of the Wild West (but also nothing like that at all.) This added to his music, and you could tell there was a little something extra in the songs. On stage, Black leaned against his bandmates, paced the whole stage, and talked through his set jovially. One thing that I remember specifically is a newer slow song of his, “Ghost of Ohio,” because I could relate to it, because it explained why the backdrop of the stage was a huge picture of Ohio, and because the singing and instrumentation were stunning. Black put on a really interesting show, and I fully intend to look into his music more as I go forward.
And now I must, sadly, inform you of a great sin of mine: I spent most of Sleeping With Sirens’ no doubt excellent set in the women’s bathrooms, trying not to pass out from the heat. I saw them perform maybe one full song. This is a tragedy, not only because the crowd had clearly come out for them – this was the largest crowd at the secondary stage, more than twice the people who had been there for the first three openers, and several people boasted signed shirts or meet and greet passes–but also because I could hear their music from the distance I was at, probably a quarter-mile away and inside a building, and it sounded like something I’d be into. For the moments when I was there, I could see singer Kellin Quinn ranging the stage and checking in with his sweaty, dehydrated fans, waving along to the music with them, and beaming while he watched them. The love between the artists and the crowd was more salient, even, because it was standing room only, so the average fan was closer to Sleeping with Sirens than they would be had the band performed on the main stage.
Atreyu were the first act on the main amphitheater stage (where, finally, mercifully, there was shade) and they started off with a bang. I had briefly dipped my toe into their discography before the show, so I was prepared for some of their songs, like obvious crowd favorite “Bleeding Mascara” and their cover of “You Give Love A Bad Name”. The cover riled up the crowd and helped keep the flagging crowd engaged, even when the songs ranged into less familiar territory. I was more invested in this set than several of the others I’d seen so far that day simply because I was capable of singing along to some of their songs Guitarists Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel got to be the focus regularly and pink-haired frontman Alex Varkatzas held focus as he ranged the stage. No matter how much they knew about Atreyu’s music beforehand, the crowd seemed to be along for the ride.
Circa Survive was, unfortunately, the second set that I mostly missed. (I’ll explain why I missed it in a later article. It wasn’t the heat exhaustion this time.) Thankfully, I was able to slip in for the tail end of their performance and, while distracted, I got to enjoy a couple of songs. Circa Survive is a chiller band than Atreyu overall and you could tell it by the crowd, which, though a lot of people were standing up to watch, wasn’t moshing or headbanging very much. They had a genuinely beautiful stage setup, too, with a backdrop in the distinctive style of their album covers and light cans with three segments that could light up individually, making for an interesting effect even if it was not yet dark enough to make out the lights on stage very well. It felt like Circa Survive had set up an exquisite set and I am sorry that I missed so much of it.
Coming into the concert, I definitely did not have the right idea about Sum 41. I was aware of them as a band and, like everyone else, had heard “In Too Deep” before. If you asked me after their set if I expected that, I would say no. I had expected their pop-punk to lean more pop, but that was based on a very limited sample set. Singer Deryck Whibley walked out on stage with very 90s spiked hair and proceeded to easily control the crowd. He referred to the audience members as a “family” (usually with “bullshit” or “fucking” sprinkled in for good measure) and talked to us regularly. Every time he thanked us for coming out, he did so two or three times in succession. During the band’s cover of another song everyone knows, “We Will Rock You,” he stopped the song completely to make sure everyone poured their energy into a huge crescendo. Whibley made sure to leave his two guitarists time for solos, and actually introduced all of his bandmates by name, which most other acts did not do. As the only band with effects beyond lights and fog machines–huge pillars of smoke would occasionally erupt from the stage with a roar–Sum 41 drew eyes in. As of the publication of this article, their newest album has probably just come out, and if and when they tour it, I want tickets.
Now, we get into the part of the article where I’m biased in my reviews. I love Thrice and count them among my favorite bands, so far be it from me to say that they didn’t have a good set. They did. One thing that I noticed was that the crowd dwindled after Sum 41, and when Thrice came on, a lot of people stayed in their seats. When Thrice played “Artist in the Ambulance,” a song that is easy to mosh and scream along to, the audience was largely sedate. Thrice’s music overall is chiller than, say, The Used, but it seemed that the crowd wasn’t feeling even the heavier songs. For artists whose songs I know, I am not a good enough judge to determine if it was the artists’ stage presence that drew the audience out or if it was just that there were fewer people around to watch. The clump of people around me who were standing and screaming (myself, two girls behind me, and a guy in front of me) were into it. Thrice played a range of music from their early-2000s albums to their newest EP, dropped in April of this year, from calmer songs like “Only Us” to a headbanging rendition of “The Earth Will Shake”. They stood as a calm act between two high-power, big-name groups, and while the crowd was out getting more beer or merchandise, they missed out on a stellar set.
Even before the final set started, The Used put their own spin on it. They dropped a screen over the stage and projected an animated film with classical piano in the background and the audience watched as the blades of grass wavering in non-existent wind turned into the band’s heart logo and the screen dropped in one quick motion. The Used probably gave the single strangest performance I’ve seen at a concert. The band didn’t actually finish their second song, “The Bird and the Worm” because frontman Bert McCracken stopped the audience to tell them that he was really feeling the energy and was about to amp his own act up. At various points, he recited Shakespeare, embellished the soliloquies by opening a circle pit, hoisted a child out of the audience, and pretended to gag over his own band’s cover of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”. The giant dangling beating heart over the stage added to the ambiance. The Used exclusively played songs from their first three albums (and “Wonderwall”), despite almost twenty years worth of songs to pick from, but every song was full of energy. The crowd was at its peak, singing along and presumably moshing (I couldn’t see over all the people on their feet in front of me). It was hard to stop watching long enough to take pictures. For a short set, relative to many of the headlining bands I’ve seen who usually get an hour or more, plus encore, The Used packed a lot of work into their songs, and it was definitely a captivating performance. If you offered me a ticket to see them again tomorrow, I’d fight my way into the pit.
As someone who hasn’t been to many festivals, and, well, didn’t actually get to absorb the whole thing beginning to end as I should have, Disrupt was probably the best concert I’ve been to in years, if only because it was eleven concerts in one. I’ve found a few bands that I need to put into my regular rotation and had experiences I wouldn’t give up for love, money, or the ability to get rid of the painful heat rash that reminds me of the festival constantly, as if I wouldn’t be daydreaming about it anyway.
The provocative and “pathologically ambitious” singer-songwriter Will Wood has once again accomplished something that should not have been possible. In order to produce his upcoming album The Normal Album (featuring work by the multi-platinum producer behind Panic! At the Disco, Ariana Grande, One Direction, and The Used) Wood launched an Indiegogo campaign Friday afternoon, with a goal of $15,000 to fund recording, producing music videos, publicity, and touring. On Friday night, he reached his goal. And then he broke it.
In under ten hours, Will Wood raised nearly $17,000 in funding for the follow-up to 2016’s SELF-iSH (featuring work by members of Foxy Shazam, Dillinger Escape Plan, My Chemical Romance offshoot Frnkiero and the Cellabration) and the Indiegogo campaign is still set to run for another month. On an update on the Indiegogo Campaign’s webpage, Wood said, “This instant success says a lot about where this new era will be taking us, and has only encouraged me to become even more ambitious!” which is exactly what he would say.
What makes Wood’s campaign stand out as much as it does is not just its quick and numerically impressive success, but the sheer boldness of the perks he’s offering. In David Bowie fashion, Wood decided to sell off 10% of the album’s sales to the highest bidder as part of the campaign. And it sold for thousands. To claim some of these perks and contribute to Wood’s effort to “go further than ever before” you can visit his campaign here.
In celebration of the surprisingly quick and quirky windfall the avant-pop eccentric has stumbled into, Wood is making public a live-in-studio performance of a song slated to be featured on The Normal Album. The song is called, in classic Will Wood absurdist and wordy style, “Hurt People Hurt People. Hurt People? Hurt People!” and it was shot in front of a live studio audience at Backroom Studios in Rockaway, NJ.
Will Wood is finally gearing up to produce the follow-up to 2016’s SELF-iSH, an over-the-top intense concept record featuring work by members of Foxy Shazam, Frnkiero and the Cellabration, and the Dillinger Escape Plan. SELF-iSH and its accompanying singles were critically acclaimed, so this new record has big shoes to fill. The new album not-so-aptly titled The Normal Album, is Wood’s most ambitious project yet. The 10-track album about identity, morality, psychiatry, and what it means to be normal is slated to feature studio versions of fan favorites, new songs, and the upcoming single “Love, Me Normally,” produced by Matt Squire, the multi-platinum producer behind some of Panic! At the Disco, One Direction, Ariana Grande, and more’s biggest hits. Perfect fit, right? Normal.
To swallow what Wood himself has identified as “more than he can chew,” the notoriously eccentric and “pathologically ambitious” singer-songwriter has launched a remarkable crowdfunding campaign that is unlike any other endeavor of its kind. On Indiegogo (the revolutionary crowdfunding platform that helps artists give back to their contributors) Will Wood is offering some very unusual perks in exchange for his fans’ support. Through his Indiegogo campaign, fans can claim exclusive merch, pre-order the album, get their voice and face on the album itself, book private performances, and even… get this: purchase a share of the album’s profits. That’s right, Wood is selling portions of the album’s profits to fans. This, and all the other perks, are limited!
Will Wood has remarked “we’re not just producing a new album, we’re launching an entire new era,” and his ambitions are fully on display – he’s attempting to raise a whopping $15,000. After raising over $7,000 to produce a couple hundred vinyls of SELF-iSH in 2018, (nearly two years after its release) It might just be possible. If/when Wood hits his astronomically high goal, he plans to spend every dime on recording the album, producing a series of “shocking conceptual music videos,” hiring a PR firm to boost publicity, and touring in support of it all in the summer of 2020. In tandem with the Indiegogo campaign, Wood will also be releasing live-in-studio videos of him and his band, a group of virtuosic musicians he calls The Tapeworms, performing songs that are slated to feature on The Normal Album.
To see for yourself just how extensive this campaign is, stay in the loop, and claim your perks before it’s too late, check it out here. Watch his bizarre campaign promo video and take a look at what he’s offering. Here’s what he has to say about it all:
“Folx, everything that it looks like I’ve done is really something you’ve done. With this huge push, we can get our work further out there than ever before, and the career y'all have made for me will get to take on a new life of its own. This could be the beginning of a whole new chapter for me, you, and all the fans out there who make it all happen. I cannot thank you enough for all of your participation and support over the last few years - if we succeed, this new era could finally make it really happen. “
– Will Wood, from the description of his Indiegogo campaign