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!