When one eventually looks back on whatever chapters in the annals of punk rock history encapsulate the last couple of decades, there will undoubtedly be more hand-wringing over the sections labeled “emo” than in the remaining portions combined. No term, or genre, within the collective umbrella of the punk and DIY and indie rock worlds has been more maligned, more ostracized, more negatively stereotyped than that of “emo.” Seriously; run an “emo” Google image search or run the term through the search feature on such varied websites as Buzzfeed and Pinterest and Wikihow and Dictionary.com and the results, while redundant in their theme, will be seemingly relentless in the lack of seriousness with which they approach the style or the culture or, most importantly, the music.
But that wasn’t always the case. Somewhere along the the way to the Forum, something happened to the term and the image and the subculture. Through mainstream media outlets and suburban shopping mall-based clothing stores of the early aughts, “emo” got bastardized, stripped of its original context and transformed into something wholly unrecognizable from its origins.
The last small handful of years, however, have seen a bit of not only an emo resurgence, but an emo reclamation. Not the emo of the Hot Topic era, mind you, but from an earlier time. The Get Up Kids and Braid and Rainer Maria got back together, put out new albums, and continue to tour periodically. Texas Is The Reason reunited for a while. American Football reunited. Knapsack and The Promise Ring reunited and then reunited again. Cap’n Jazz played for the first time in seven years. Hell, Jawbreaker played Riot Fest a couple months ago and you know this because all 689 people you follow on Instagram were there and live streaming and so-this-happened-ing. And perhaps nobody has been flying the original emo flag higher and prouder over the last decade as Tom Mullen.
Mullen, a native of Vermont, has been working for a variety of labels and entertainment industry outlets by day since the turn of the century. In his spare time and due to an unwavering love of the earlier days of the emo years, he launched the Washed Up Emo podcast in 2007. He’s interviewed well over a hundred scene veterans in the decade since, and recently published his first book, The Anthology of Emo – Volume One, that compiles transcriptions of about a dozen interviews from the podcasts that help shine a light on what the term meant and, more importantly, what the music meant. There are chats with some of the pillars of an earlier time, like Mineral’s Chris Simpson, Christie Front Drive’s Eric Richter, Norman Brannon from Texas Is The Reason and, of course, Mike Kinsella who’s been in basically all the bands. There are also higher-profile, crossover names like Chris Carrabba and Matt Pryor, as well as Rainer Maria, who’ve seen a bit of a resurgence lately, and Blair Shehan from Knapsack, The Jealous Sound, and more recently Racquet Club.
Like the Washed Up Emo podcast and its related offshoots like the hilarious IsThisBandEmo.com, The Anthology of Emo – Volume One is a labor of love that draws direct inspiration from the creative breeding ground that was Burlington, Vermont, in Mullen’s formative, DIY years. There’s little profit involved — most money made from the sale of Volume One will go directly into the publication of Volume Two, already in the works — but that’s obviously not the point. The conversations are authentic, with Mullen and his subjects thoughtfully and sometimes humorously retelling stories that demonstrate the interconnectedness and passion and creativity and – I can’t stress the point enough – the authenticity that drove the scene in the early days and that have inspired a groundswell of not just Emo Nights at your local club but a new legion of bands flying the emo battle flag.
Head below to check out our full conversation with Mullen. He and I are roughly the same age and grew up in neighboring (some might say Shrine Bowl arch-rivaling) states and have a lot of overlapping experiences in spote of the different, circuitous routes we took to get to this conversation. Oh, and make sure you pick up Anthology of Emo: Volume One here!
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So this is a really fun book. Let me just lead by saying that. I don’t make any money doing this so I have the luxury of cherry-picking getting to talk to people that I think are really interesting or that are doing stuff that I find compelling, so this was a really fun read, and it brought back a lot of memories and restoked my interest in a couple of bands I had kinda filed away for whatever reason. It was cool to go back and relive some of this stuff. So thanks!
Tom Mullen (Washed Up Emo podcast): Yeah, I don’t make any money either at it! (*both laugh*)
Right, so we’re in the same boat! One of the things I wanted to start with quickly…you grew up in Vermont, correct?
Yeah. I grew up in New Hampshire, and we’re roughly in the same age bracket, so we have a lot of overlapping experiences to say the least.
I don’t know if you have listened to the whole podcast or if you just read the book, but there’s an interview that I do with Cameron from Sorority Noise and we start talking about the Shrine Bowl…
..and all these people in the room with us were like “what the fuck are you talking about?” And we’re like “you shut up, man. You don’t get it!”
Right, totally! God, I don’t think I have thought about the Shrine Bowl in the twenty years since I graduated high school.
See! I told you! (*both laugh*)
Where in Vermont did you grow up?
I was born in Morrisville, so Northeast Kingdom, and I spent most of my time in Jericho, like forty minutes outside of Burlington. On the way to Stowe.
Oh okay. As someone who’s never skied, that reference is completely lost on me. I’m like the one guy from New Hampshire who’s never set foot on a pair of skis.
Neither did I! I’ve never skied down a mountain. I snowboarded once in college. That was it. I never had the money. So basically, if you look at Burlington, I was like thirty minutes east.
Oh that makes sense. It’s actually kinda sad how little time I spent in Vermont given that I grew up right next door.
I don’t get to go back anymore because most people have moved away — some of my friends are still there — but I definitely still miss it.
Where was the scene (for shows and music) when you were growing up? Was it in Burlington, or was it like people’s basements in the woods? How did this whole love of punk music and emo music and hardcore start? Where did it start?
For me it was at 242 Main, which is, as of this year before they closed it down because Memorial Auditorium which was the bigger building that this venue was in was shut down for structural problems, but it was actually longer-running than Gilman Street, meaning that it was the longest running all ages venue in the country. Now, fun fact is guess who started it? Bernie Sanders soon-to-be wife. When Bernie was mayor, his wife started this teen center, 242 Main, and it wasn’t just punk rock, it was all kinds of stuff. It was an after school place, they did painting, a bunch of things. But it started having all these punk rock shows. When I was going to shows, that’s where everything was. It was a super small space, no drugs, no alcohol. That’s where I cut my teeth. That’s where I started to see punk and hardcore. I started with the DIY (scene) because I didn’t go to see arena shows. No arena shows came up to Vermont; you had to go to Montreal or drive to Boston. I was seeing I thought the biggest bands because they were playing small venue.
Would touring bands come through and play 242 Main?
HELL YEAH!! Hell yeah. It wasn’t just local. Sick Of It All would come through, bands from all over. There was another show place called Club Toast that was in downtown Burlington that had some of the bigger shows. For the most part it was those two venues. Sometimes kids would drive to Albany — I never did — to see some of the bigger shows. But it was kinda fun, throughout my high school it was all about punk and hardcore.
Was there a lot of that in the area? Like, a lot of the kids that went to the punk and hardcore shows, would they go to a lot of the other things that were going on at places like 242 Main as well, or did people sorta stay territorial with their music.
It was all over the place. There could be a billing where there was a hardcore band, a post-hardcore band, a punk band, a ska band and an emo band all at one show. So sure people were in to certain genres, but for the most part, if there was a show, you pretty much just showed up and hung out. That’s when you saw your friends. And what was cool for me, being in high school is that you kind of are in your own little world. It’s not like you were hanging out with other high schools like you might do sports-wise, like you might meet somebody at a track meet or something, but you’re not really interacting. I was interacting with kids from all different parts of the state who were coming to shows, and I started making friends around the state because we all went to this one place. I thought that was kinda cool. You didn’t have to stay stuck in your own high school world, which I felt kinda good about. You can kinda get stuck in that right.
Yeah, totally. I grew in a city…well, if New Hampshire has a city, it’s Manchester and then Nashua, but we didn’t have that sort of a thing. We didn’t really have a solid coffeehouse space or an independent show space. There was a club that opened up inside a dance club for a while that had bands like Sam Black Church and Tree play, but they closed down a long time ago and there wasn’t really a “scene.” We didn’t have that same sort of space that you did, and in hindsight, I really wish we did.
It was really important. There was – god, I can’t remember if it was a Vice article, but somebody wrote about Bernie Sanders’ wife starting the teen center. And there’s also a documentary for 242 Main that’s going to be coming out. I was definitely lucky to have that. I was lucky to have that intro to music from the independent eye versus going to shows at the FleetCenter.
Was it in Vermont that you first heard the term “emo?” I know you ask people all the time where they first heard the term, but did that come up in Vermont or was that not til you moved to New York or wherever?
It was definitely when I was in Vermont, and it was at a show. Somebody had mention that word and they were either mentioning the Get Up Kids or Mineral or something, and I thought “oh, that sounds cool.” And then at the time, I was really in to hardcore and, like, aggressive screamo – the “actual screamo” as I like to say. Bands that basically were playing as if their band was going to break at any moment. That’s what I call screamo. And so, I got into that, and then I started down the rabbit hole, and it’s the same thing that all the artists say on the podcast – you’re looking at liner notes and you’re asking your friends and you’re learning about the other labels and bands and scenes. That was really it for me, being able to dive in and learn about these bands and hear them. When I moved – I went to school in North Carolina and I had never been down there in my entire life, and like my second day, I was at the radio station on my second day, and I was like “I want to have a show, I want to be a part of this.” I had been in to radio when I was in high school, I had my own pirate radio station.
And so I got (to college) and the guy was like “oh sure, sign up for this, we’ll get you a specialty show, blah blah blah. And there’s a box of giveaways on the shelf, go through it and take anything.” And I look at it, and it started my emo collection. The guy had no idea what was in there. He had Jimmy Eat World’s first album on vinyl, a bunch of 7-inches, Mineral, it was insane. And I go “can I have all of this?” And he said “sure.” So that started me — being at the radio station, I then started calling all the labels and saying “I have an emo/punk/hardcore show, send me your records.” And that’s how I met — I still talk to people that I talked to that first year of college. It was fun! It was fun to do that kind of discovery and research, which you and I now have at our fingertips, and to do it organically. And I love it now; I love searching and finding new things through Discogs, but I definitely enjoyed it back then.
So what years are we talking? Where in the stream did you jump into the emo scene?
I mean, I got into in high school, so ‘94, ‘95, ‘96 probably. From 1996 on, it was like off to the races — having the college radio station, being in college, going to shows. The thing about North Carolina is there were all these big cities that you could drive to, and they were all like 45 minutes away from where I was going to school, and gas was like a dollar (a gallon) and I had a Honda Civic that got fifty miles to the gallon, so I could drive three nights a week, five nights a week. And it’s funny, my parents actually threatened me, they said “you’re going to too many shows;” because I was literally going three or four nights a week.” So I said “alright, how about this, I will go to as many shows as I can next semester, and I’m going to get the best grades that I’ve ever gotten, and you’re going to leave me alone.” And they said “okay.” So I got President’s List and I went to four shows a week for the whole semester and they left me alone!
Oh, I had a similar conversation! (*laughs*)
Which was a good impetus to my career, because I’m out all night and then I have to work all day, so I was grooming myself already for the music business! (*both laugh*)
Exactly! Although, trying to tell a parent that twenty years ago when you’re just out of high school that you’re going to have a career in the music business — you can almost hear their eyes rolling, you know?
Yeah! I remember my mom saying to my dad, when I was downstairs practicing with a band in high school, my mom was like “if he’s going to do it that much, is that really going to be his career?” And it’s fine, they’re parents, they want you to go the normal route, but I quickly showed them when I was in school and I started to get good grades and making connections and getting in to the career. I really think it was the scene itself – emo itself – was a fun thing in the late ‘90s. Some bands had email, it still felt pretty organic, you had to do some work to search for bands, I enjoyed that. That made it really fun.
That’s an experience that people that are probably any younger than us – I’m 38 – so people that are probably even just five or certainly ten years younger than us, they didn’t have that sort of experience. They didn’t discover music the same way. I know you talk about that a lot in the book and you talk to people about that sort of “Encino Man” concept of those bands that reunited especially, it’s a whole new world for people. And I think kids now don’t realize what it was like back in the day – and I hate to use the phrase “back in the day” and I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually used it out loud before — but I feel for people that don’t have that kind of experience that we did.
And that was the last time that that happened. There’s no going back. There’s no way to go back to that moment of looking at a CD booklet, looking at a band, going to the store and buying something site unseen. Maybe people still do that, but we have everything at our fingertips to see what a band looks like, what they sound like, their past bands; you literally know everything about a band before you show up (to see them). I loved not knowing that, for sure. BUT, if I was a kid then and I had the internet, I would tell the people older than me that they were old as shit and I would have loved it. I’m just happy I know both.
When do you think it (the emo scene) changed? We grew up listening to at least some of the same bands before I seem to have taken a turn somewhere, and Tito (Belis, press guru) reached out and sent me the press copy of the book and said “would you want to read this,” because he knows some of my tendencies. And I said to myself “boy…an emo anthology…” it’s become such a negative word that I’ve been almost a little gun-shy about revisiting the old heyday for whatever dumb reason. So when do you think that it changed, when did it take on that bad connotation?
When the mainstream media really grabbed on to it. I call the dividing line pre-Bleed American, post-Bleed American. Once that hit was when the feeding frenzy was on. I was at a label, I was super young, and people were asking me what band I was listening to and what shows I was going to. Presidents were inviting me to their office to tell them what I was listening to. It was crazy. So ‘04, ‘05, I was at an indie label then with some similar sounding bands and we were getting calls answered by MTV, and I was able to get things right up next to major labels. It was crazy, and it was the music that was leading it. These bands were striking chords with kids that were young. I would say that it got horrible in ‘07 or ‘08. It just got derivative and ridiculous and more and more bands were sounding alike. Nothing was sounding new. It was all derivative, and so that was the impetus of the website. I started it in October 2007 just because so frustrated with people not knowing what the term actually meant. And we’ve come full circle, where ten years later, we’re dealing with it again.
What emo became and what emo started out as are two wildly different things, so I think when we saw “emo” to people, we’re talking about an entirely different thing than what it was. To me, the sound that it became wasn’t even derivative, it just became something different. I’ve used not so much Jimmy Eat World by My Chemical Romance. At least around here, I think they, and everything after them, became known as “emo,” fairly or not. And I think you sort of forget that bands like The Jealous Sound and Braid and bands like that are an entirely different thing. I don’t know why it became what it did.
What happened is the mainstream media had an easy way to — the Hot Topic look, the hair in the face, the cutting, all those things that have nothing to do with music was attached to it. I blame the UK a little bit. Their magazines and their press are kind of ridiculous, and they really grabbed on to the goth part of it and attached that to it and said, you know, “this guy with his black hair and his eyeliner and his look (is emo).” And the word was taken. And since the mainstream media is what most people see, if you ask ten people on the street right now “what is emo”” they’re going to say “My Chemical Romance” or “Fall Out Boy.” For those guys, it paid off handsomely. They are fine. Whatever music they make, they’re fine, because they’ve gotten that sort of lift from the mainstream, and that’s what people think.
And so, the idea behind the site, the book, the podcast, IsThisBandEmo.com, all those things put together to help someone who is searching and realizes A) there’s someone that’s not going to make a snarky remark at the end of the review — because I think emo bands still, to this day, are considered sort of “less than,” or not as respected. I treat it as sort of the Comedy (genre) for the Oscars, where they’re never really respected like the dramas. For some reason, indie rock is fine, but if you call yourself emo, the writer is going to make a crack about how you’re crying. That has nothing to do with the music. Nothing! So that’s where it went wrong. We’re still dealing with it today. There are still articles today and people talking about bands and if you say that you’re emo, they’re going to make a snide comment. That’s why bands shy away. Nobody that’s ever been on the podcast has ever liked the word “emo” or having their band associated with it.
See, I wanted to ask about that. Somebody, I forget who it was, maybe Matt Pryor, talks about it being basically a scarlet letter that he wears, which I thought was a poignant thing and it’s obviously funny, but it’s also sort of sad. Of all the people you’ve had on the podcast, the hundred-and-however-many, if you’re doing a spectrum of people who most embrace it versus the people who are totally against the word and the label “emo,” what are the opposite ends of that spectrum?
Most people dismiss it. They’re going to be like “don’t label us, we’re just a rock band.” And then there’s some really young band that loves it and wants to be associated with it but then at some point they shed it and want to move on. It’s seen as a juvenile genre, when in reality, it was actually, when it first started — it was definitely made fun of from day one. There’s even video of Ian Mackaye calling it “emo-core” in a snide way. There’s always been that thing, and I think it’s coming from the tough-guy hardcore world. Like, “oh, you’re not tough? You’re going to play emo music?” Like bullying. But I would say if a band’s making a shitload of money or if a DJ night is making a shitload of money, of course they’ll love that it’s going to be called emo. Anybody else, and I think there’s a marginalization that their music will get and it won’t get reviewed. It won’t get covered. You’ll have media that’ll treat it differently because of what it’s classified as. And sure, there’s other genres that have gone through this, metal and things like that, but I don’t think there’s a more hated word when it comes to bands. I don’t think so.
Oh no, absolutely. I totally agree with you. I’ve been doing the Dying Scene thing for six or seven years now, and any time an emo show comes up that I go to or when I tell people I’m reading this book or doing this interview, if they don’t know the music but they have an image in their head of what punk is because of Green Day or what metal is…if you say “emo” to them, they laugh at you. It’s this really weird, unfortunate thing and I wish it didn’t still happen.
Or there’s an understanding – like if I tell someone I have an emo blog or website or podcast, they’re going to be like “oh cool, My Chem!” or “Fall Out Boy!” Which is fine. I know those guys I make fun of a lot, but that is what people think it is, unfortunately. I wish they just said one other band. I wish they said “Oh, Sunny Day Real Estate!” or “oh, there was this other era from the 90’s that also is Get Up Kids, or new bands like The Hotelier or Foxing.” But no, it’s “this is what this is – it’s only these four years and that’s it.” Unfortunately, that’s my life’s goal – to have people understand, if there’s an encyclopedia when I’m dead, whatever that form is, whether it’s Wikipedia or whatever, I hope that people have a second line where it mentions those bands. I hope.
Is there a backlash from the older school bands – American Football or Sunny Day Real Estate or bands like that toward the Fall Out Boy/My Chemical Romance-style bands?
No, they’re not going to be outwardly about that. They’ve all been pretty chill. I think there are some people that are frustrated about it, but those guys like a lot of the bands. That’s the problem. Like, the drummer from Fall Out Boy was in hardcore bands, but they’re so ridiculous at this point, writing sports anthems and I don’t even know if they play their instruments. Whatever the sound is, it’s fine; bands can change. Panic! At The Disco doesn’t sound anything like they did on their first record. And it’s not like I hate bands from that era, it just got so derivative so quickly, and unfortunately, they hit the moment where the Get Up Kids didn’t get huge, those bands did, so that’s what people assume the sound is. And again, that’s why for years and years and years I’ve spent explaining what else the music sounds like. So that’s like the book looks the way it does. It’s serious, it’s supposed to look academic. It’s supposed to look like something that is substantial and isn’t a joke.
It does look like that! I made note when I was reading it – I printed most of it out to read it because I’m old-fashioned that way and because I haven’t quite gotten used to reading books on a computer screen; it just doesn’t feel the same.
And sorry we couldn’t get you one. We literally only had those .pdfs. I didn’t even have one when you had that (*both laugh*)
That’s funny! Yeah, I printed it out and I wrote a little comment right at the beginning about how this looks like a journal. It looks academic, even just the front cover of it. So you totally nailed what you were going for.
Thank you! Yeah, it was definitely that we couldn’t go with the usual Alternative Press/Hot Topic kind of a thing.
Does it take a lot to get people to do the podcast? Are there people who are gun-shy about doing the Washed Up Emo podcast? I’m sure it’s less likely now, but ten years ago…
Oh for sure. Chris Simpson (Mineral) took a long time to convince. It was a lot of mutual friends…like, someone introduced me to Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World) personally, it wasn’t through a publicist or a manager. It was those kind of things were people would say “hey Tom’s cool, he does this cool thing, I know the name is terrible but…” (*both laugh*) Most people are open to talking. They’re open to talking about the past. You know, when I first started, a lot of bands did not want to talk yet. It was too soon from their word being dragged through the mud. Over the years – there’s still a handful of people that I have in my Rolodex and they’ve said no, they’re not ready yet. And I’ll keep asking, whenever they’re ready.
But for the most part, new and old, bands are excited to be a part of it and talk about it. Some were skeptical at the beginning but by the end, they’re like “man, that was really fun! I haven’t done that in forever!” That’s the best part. And again, I didn’t know when I started the podcast how to even do podcasts, and now, years later it’s like “a thing,” so it’s fun to be a bit ahead of the curve in doing it. Hopefully, I think, that’s been the most fun. Having people hear it years later. That’s why they’re so evergreen, the podcasts. You listen to the first ones, and sure it might be outdated for bands who are current, but the stories aren’t (outdated). The stories are the same.
What went into picking the interviews that you ended up using for the first anthology?
I was trying to hit all the different eras. Having Chris Carrabba from Dashboard (was important). I wanted Promise Ring just because I thought that was a great one. Rainer Maria because they put out a new record recently. (Eric) Richter from Christie Front Drive who’s responsible for so many bands being signed and is hugely influential. Chris Simpson. Volume Two, there are some people that I’ve already sort of thought about. I thought it was a good way to show that there’s a bigger scene and a bigger thing than people might realize. It was a good first swing. For the next one, I’ve got a few people that I held back that I thought would be a good fit. But also, these people I’ve spoken to a lot and they were open to it.
Do you circle back to people when it was time to put the anthology together and say “hey, we talked a few years ago for the podcast, is it cool if I use it in a book now?” Or is there just the assumption that if you talked, it’s going in the book?
I have emails from everybody. I said, like, “hey Mike Kinsella, I’ve got this book idea that I really want to do. I think it’s really rad and I think it’ll promote you and your artists.” And I let them know that all the money that I make is put back into the next book. Everyone said yes. It was instant. So, I’m happy that happened, where I’m able to come to that point where, literally, this book I paid for out of my own pocket. All I wanted to do with what I get from it is do another one. So, I hope that that continues and I hope that the people that I ask next will be just as cool as the first round!
What’s the official release date for the book? I don’t think I actually saw it anywhere, although I know that pre-orders were up…
It’s out now! It was buyable on October 10th, it just didn’t ship until I got the copies right after Thanksgiving. People have been starting to get them these first couple of weeks (of December). And then next year, because of the interest, there’s going to be more places where you can find it. But for the moment, it’s still at AnthologyOfEmo.com. Hopefully in January there will be more news of where you can get it physically.
Have you gotten feedback from people that are in the book or people that you know in the scene about the book yet?
Yeah, I haven’t heard from some of the artists. They’re sometimes gun-shy to support something with “emo” on it, but most people that I wrote to and said “hey I want to send you a copy” to were stoked. I think Chris Leo from The Van Pelt was super excited. Rainer Maria, Chris Carrabba was rad. The Promise Ring. A bunch of those guys were super supportive and they’re happy that they’re kind of a part of it, and to be included and hopefully remembered is I think what they were stoked on.
There’s a statement that I thought was interesting, I think it was Kaia from Rainer Maria. She talks about after they broke up – although I guess it was a hiatus in hindsight – and she went to school and was cloistered from the music scene and what was going on for a long time. I sort of felt like that with the emo scene for a while. I went through my own phase of being sort of cloistered from a lot of music, so this was a cool way to reconnect with some of that stuff. I just kinda drifted away, but this reminded me, like, how rad American Football was for example! I haven’t listened to that band in a while and now I kick myself for the fact that I hadn’t. So really, thank you for writing this book! It was a really fun thing to dig in to.
Oh rad! Yeah, that’s what it is. The best part is like at DJ night, when someone comes up and they might have requested a mid-2000s band, or even the opposite, a kid requests a new school band or an emo revival band, and they come up and say “oh, what was that that you just played?” And I’m like “oh, it’s Motion City Soundtrack!” And they’ll say “that was a cool song, I’ll have to check it out. Hey, have you heard blah-blah-blah band?” And I’ll say “no, tell me about them!” And I’ll write it down and go listen to it. That person-to-person connection with fans, and hearing something that you like and being open to hearing something new, those are the people that I connect with the most. There’s someone that only wants four songs from Taking Back Sunday and that’s all they want to hear, I’m not going to be chilling with them. But if you’re open and like “hey, I heard this other band, you might dig it” or “what should I be listening to?” that’s kind of the secret sauce about the scene and about the book and what I hope got passed along.
That was actually how I got into some of the bands in the book, like a lot of Blair’s work. I’ve been a Samiam forever, and never in a million years did I lump Samiam in with “emo” bands although I guess people to in retrospect. But then, getting to know Sergie a little bit and getting into his other bands, that introduced me to Knapsack and then to Jealous Sound and then obviously to Racquet Club more recently. I love that concept, it’s a cool thing. That’s what it’s all about.
Oh cool! Yeah, totally. It’s a cool time; it’s really stressful because there’s a lot of people that are talking about the word, there’s a lot of misinformation about what it is again and the mainstream media covering not the full part, not the entire story, and I hope this book is another way for people to see the whole story.
What do you think spawned the emo revival – or at least the good emo revival – thing of the last handful of years where bands have been able to come out and do reunion shows or, like you said Rainer Maria had a new album. What do you think spawned that after a period of inactivity? I don’t know that you would necessarily take credit for it, but because you’ve been flying the flag so prominently for years now, do you take any sort of credit for it?
That’s a good question, because I think a lot of people don’t ask that. There’s two things; one, in ‘09, when I saw these things starting to happen in Philly, it’s literally just kids in a basement figuring it out. That’s what emo spawned from. We talked about that at the beginning; independent thought in music, wanting to be loud and angry and that’s what comes out. When I heard about these labels and this community, I flipped out and I reached out to all of them and I said “guys, you totally would have existed in 1996! You would have existed in 1986! Oh my god this is amazing! How can I help? How can I help?” And these bands are making great music! And they’re continuing to make great music! Hotelier, Sorority Noise, Foxing, all these bands – there’s so many bands, I wish I could list them all, that are making amazing music. So when I heard all this, I was like ‘oh my god, they’re not just doing derivative music, they’re back to the basement.’ That made me stoked. It was just kids in a basement figuring it out and having the right mindset.
The second thing, about taking credit for it, there’s definitely people that have talked about it over the years, whether it was Absolute Punk or Punknews or Property of Zack, those guys have talked about all these bands. But I think when it comes to really championing some of this stuff and coming out first, I think there are a lot of times where I was first on a few things, which was fun. Like, I got to premier Foxing’s first video, when everybody said no, and that was awesome. And to hear them last week play that song last and have everyone flip out, that was fun. But I’m just putting it out there. The whole thing about the site too is that I’m not a news site. It’s not like you’re going to go there and hear everything. It’s that I really like this band and I’m going to champion them. That’s what I’ve kind of done, where I’ve picked certain bands that I thought deserved to be brought to the forefront, and hopefully that helps them. Sometimes it has. The coolest part for me in all of this is that I’m asked my opinion about things by bands that I’ve idolized for years. That’s been the best part. Having people ask “hey what do you think” or “what should we do for this?” You couldn’t ask for a a crazier story!
Doesn’t that just add another thing though? Like, you cross a cool thing off that list, but it just adds another thing, like “well, if I could do this or I could get so and so on the podcast, maybe I can get so and so else on!”
Yeah, I mean, it’s lead to a few things, which is really rad. I definitely get really excited when I’m able to help, and literally, this isn’t even my job. People think it’s my job, which is kinda funny. I have a full-time job!
Yeah! I know! I’ve had that very conversation more times than I can count! (*both laugh*) Like with family, when I post articles on Facebook of interviews I did or pictures I took, they’re like “you’ve never made a single dime from that?” And I’m like “nope, that’s not what it’s about.” And people that don’t understand the punk rock, DIY community that we come from can’t quite wrap their heads around that part. Like, “really, you just do it as a hobby?” And it’s like, “yeah, pretty much, because I love the bands and I love the people and I’ve met some of the most rad people ever through this scene, so why not keep doing it?”
Exactly. That’s the thing. The podcast, I don’t really make any money on. I make enough to pay for the server and do whatever and I sell some t-shirts and the book, but all of these things are leading to other things. Like, there’s a couple things that I want to do, some video things that are being talked about. And definitely volume 2, what bands and who to include and where to get cool photos. Hopefully this leads to the second volume and people digging it again.
Do you have a plan to address, through interviews in the book, the sort of weird period that it became, or is the focus going to stay on the people who built the scene from the mid-80s through the mid-90s?
Yeah. I’m trying to go into who I want, I don’t have any set thing. And sometimes they’ve said no just because they’re huge. They don’t have time for me. Like, I’ve asked Hayley from Paramore a bunch of times. She follows me on Twitter. But there’s people that I’ve asked but it wasn’t the right time period or they weren’t ready to talk. There’s been some. It’s just all about scheduling, but when someone’s available to do it, I’ll do it. I would love to have their take on all these things and have them tell me I’m wrong or to agree with me and tell me it was ridiculous. Kenny from The Starting Line is a fun one to listen to because he was right in the thick of it and to hear his stories — it was pretty fun to do that one.
I’m glad you included Carrabba right off the bat. For me, the first time I remember being cognizant of the word “emo” was one of those first tours that Carrabba did as Dashboard Confessional, I think was the Face To Face/H2O/Snapcase tour…
Yeah, I saw that at Roseland!
Yeah, I saw it up here I think at Axis or Avalon. I had known of him from before and we had peripherally some mutual acquaintances, and I remember hearing that he was doing this thing just playing an acoustic guitar, and I feel like that was the first time I vividly remember the term emo, being associated with that particular performance. I know he got shit a lot on that tour, pennies thrown at him and shit like that, but I remember thinking that it was perfect A) because of the Vagrant Records connection and B) because I’ve always thought as Trever from Face To Face as one of the emo songwriting godfathers that I know, even though they were never considered an emo band. To me, he was one of the pillars of that part of the scene from a songwriting perspective. So when Chris was touring with them, I thought that totally made sense. So that was my starting point with what became “emo,” so it was cool to have him involved with the first anthology. Like, I didn’t miss that much!
Yeah! I’ve had a lot of people go, like, “where’s Rites Of Spring?” or “there better be Moss Icon in here!” and they obviously didn’t click on the website. They didn’t realize that it was interviews, they just thought it was supposed to be a history, which it’s not. I am not a good writer. I struggled with the intro to this book for months. So, I’d rather have someone else speak and me just transcribe it out, so this is definitely not to be seen as a history book, but that’s what some people thought it was supposed to be, which is fine.
Yeah, I don’t think it was necessarily billed that way…
But that’s what some people think that it is. Like, they see the word “Anthology” and they think…
That you’re just going to do the timeline of emo or whatever.
Oh, I’m glad you didn’t do that. That would be boring.
I agree. I think there’s a way to do that, but not necessarily if I’m utilizing the podcast. It was easier for me to do this.
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