Reflecting On: The Devil Wears Prada – Plagues

The Devil Wears Prada are the last band I can remember discovering in a magazine. For most of my youth, I was exposed to new music through a variety of print publications – Alternative Press, Spin, HM and many others. As a communications major and journalism nerd, the fading medium remained valuable to me even as new and exciting forms of online media began to blossom.

You can buy Plagues on iTunes.

On a particular summer day in 2007, I flipped through the new issue of Alternative Press and landed on one of those one-page features dedicated to up-and-coming bands. The RIYL section mentioned Underoath and I remember the write-up talking about how the band formed after the members were collectively inspired by The Changing of Times. I laid down the magazine, booted up my dinosaur of a laptop and navigated to the band’s MySpace page where I streamed “Hey John, What’s Your Name Again?” Soon after, I purchased a copy of Plagues at Best Buy.

I share this story because it’s the last time such a series of events would unfold in my life. It makes me miss the excitement that younger version of myself felt in those moments of discovery. It also reminds me how much fun I had in the fall of 2007 listening to that album.

The Devil Wears Prada were my first peek into the new wave of metalcore bands that had sprouted in the wake of my favorite band’s influence. While there are certainly a number of similarities between Underoath and The Devil Wears Prada, Prada were anything but a carbon copy – they were soon to be the flagship band for a burgeoning sub-genre.

Of course, growing pains were part of the process. It’s easy to poke holes in Plagues – the horror movie synthesizers, vocalist Mike Hranica’s spastic screeches and growls, the cheesy, br00tal breakdowns. Nevertheless, early signs of technical gifts were evident, particularly in Chris Rubey and Jeremy DePoyster’s guitar work and Daniel Williams’ drumming. Additionally, Joey Sturgis’ production style found throughout the album would soon spread like wildfire, making him the most sought after producer in the scene.

While Plagues would be far from the band’s best work (hand that designation to Dead Throne or the Zombie EP), it laid the groundwork for a sub-cultural shift across the Warped Tour scene and helped make heavy music decidedly cool. Not into having your bones rattled from bass drops and drop-D tuning? Just wait until DePoyster’s croon pierces through the speakers. The fleeting moments of melody across Plagues are impeccably placed and impossible to ignore. To this day, no one has been able to achieve that balance quite like The Devil Wears Prada.

Personally, Plagues offered a welcome soundtrack to a period of transition in my life. Having just moved halfway across the country to a new city with no acquaintances, Plagues proved to be a valuable friend and a fitting backdrop to my own wrestlings with faith. Behind the bright neon t-shirts and goofy song titles was a surprising amount of depth for such a young band. Plagues speaks to the fleeting nature of our existence and the danger of letting it slip away.

That commitment to conviction would prove to be a cornerstone that set The Devil Wears Prada apart from many of their contemporaries. Soon, the band’s intense focus on perfecting their craft would gain them acceptance in the greater metal community, allowing them to share the stage with heralded acts like Killswitch Engage, Slayer and Slipknot. In hindsight, Plagues was much more than a fleeting stab at cultural cache – it was an early chapter of a band with a lot more to prove.

I guess it makes sense to me that a band I discovered through my old school methods would become a torchbearer for a new generation of bands in the scene. It also makes sense that The Devil Wears Prada wouldn’t be content with the ground explored on their early work, which was certainly powerful in its own right. For the band with the silly name and cool haircuts, the best was yet to come.

Still, I can’t help but reflect fondly on those days, flipping through Alternative Press and with Plagues blasting in the background, ushering in a new phase of my own musical journey.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Remembering Chester Bennington of Linkin Park

To the best of my memory, my first real feelings of depression surfaced sometime in early high school. By the time a friend handed me a burned copy of Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory during my junior year, I had already acted upon impulses to harm myself. It was a strange and very lonely feeling – a presumed weakness in myself that I didn’t want anyone to know about. Words like “mental illness” and “depression” had never crossed my mind.

I share this because Chester Bennington’s lyrics on Hybrid Theory were the first to vocalize what I was feeling at the time. Maybe I wasn’t weird. Maybe I wasn’t crazy. Maybe I wasn’t alone.

The memory of this turning point made the news of Chester Bennington’s suicide all the more devastating. Depression is not biased and is not deterred by fame or status. It is a crushingly cruel disease that is far too often too easily hidden.

Like many others, I’ve been listening to a lot of Linkin Park lately, finding reminders of how deeply those early albums impacted me. In some ways, it’s odd that Chester’s voice became so meaningful to me. As an avid hip hop listener, I was initially attracted to the band because of Mike Shinoda’s rapping. While Shinoda’s voice gets the most airtime on those early albums, it’s Bennington’s painful howls that deliver the greatest impact.

Linkin Park would prove to be a gateway for me into heavy rock music. Chester’s screams weren’t grating – they were comforting in their familiarity. Those words and that voice encapsulated feelings that I hadn’t been able to vocalize. A few years later, I cried in my car on a campus parking lot after purchasing Meteora from a local Wal-Mart on the day of its release. I can still vividly remember hearing Chester’s cries on the chorus of “Somewhere I Belong” for the first time that day:

“I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real
I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long
(Erase all the pain ’til it’s gone)
I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along
Somewhere I belong”

My interest in Linkin Park faded after Meteora as I began discovering a variety of new bands that also spoke my language. Having not paid the band much mind for several years, I attended one of their shows in Indianapolis in 2012 with a few friends who were big fans. That night, standing at the front of the stage with my camera, I was in awe of the band’s performance and reminded of how much Chester’s words had meant to me.

Listening to those songs over the past week have resulted in complicated feelings. I’m pained by the loss of someone whose struggle is so near to my own and many others. I’m frustrated in my lack of progress in my own battle with depression. I’m hopeful that, just maybe, there’s still light at the end of this dark tunnel. I’m thankful that Hybrid Theory was placed in my hands that day back in 2000.

Each time these kinds of tragedies strike, it’s a stark reminder to love those around us and talk to each other, even when it’s painful and uncomfortable. Remembering the music is easy. Reaching out for help or offering an ear can often be much harder.

So many of us were impacted by the words and songs of Chester Bennington –  it is truly a tragedy to lose him so soon. Rest in peace, Chester.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Wolves at the Gate: The Message of Rise Against

rise_against

I fell in love with Rise Against in the middle of college, during the height of the Bush era. To say it was similar to the political climate of today seems quaint, but I remember the boiling of my blood at the discussion of laws to ban gay marriage, of the sick feeling of being in war or watching the economy catch flame. The Sufferer & The Witness was the first album I had ever heard that took a deep dive into politics (not counting my beloved American Idiot). Appeal to Reason and Siren Song of the Counter Culture quickly became new favorites.

The band released three albums during the Obama years (counting a B-Side album). But I can’t say that I listened to them more than a couple of times, and I stopped listening to their older works almost entirely. I don’t have a reason – it could be that I had gotten tired of ‘revolting’, that they started to sound mainstream or the idea of revolutionary punk rock seemed old hat.

Wolves, the band’s newest release came out over a month ago. I picked up a copy on release day, and didn’t listen to it for weeks. Again, I don’t have a reason other than politics these days is a maddening topic, and the idea of listening to rebel songs when the entire world seems up in arms just feels draining.

I listened to Wolves on a road trip, once our other albums had run out, after I had read some ironically hilarious news about an unfortunate meeting the president’s son had last year. Wolves won me back almost instantly. The hooks were less alternative, and screamed of the raging punk aesthetic I originally loved about the band. More than that, it revived my interest in Rise Against completely. From their first album through Wolves, they are the only band I have been listening to, even the albums I never originally went back to. It’s as though I am listening to the band for the first time again.

So why the change? Wolves is a great record, and feels like a return to basics in many ways. There isn’t as much of an alternative edge to it as The Black Market, instead falling back to a more ‘classic’ style punk. The politics aren’t as razor sharp or as damning as they could be given the last seven months. Instead, this is all common practice, as vocalist Tim McIlrath sings , “Stand by to switch on / We fire on all pistons / We’re singing along but no one is listening / From dusk until dawn, we stay up to carry the flame”, on “Mourning in Amerika”.

Throughout their discography, Rise Against maintain the same themes they have had since at least Siren Song, which is railing against injustice and singing ahead of the army as it grows. During the Bush era, when the news made me red with rage, the lyrics from “Bricks” (Sufferer) rang with me: “We’re setting the fires to light the way / We’re burning it all to begin again / With hope in our hearts, and bricks in our hands / We sing for change”.

To say I was pleased with Obama’s America wouldn’t be entirely accurate, but the fire of anger didn’t burn in me. Rise Against’s fury and rebellion didn’t excite me, because it wasn’t needed. I became much more introspective, obsessing over new waves of punk like The Wonder Years. I rediscovered old favorites that I had set aside because they seemed childish when compared to the political climate (Homegrown and The Ataris). As the Occupy movement climaxed, and Black Lives Matter took to the streets, Rise Against felt redundant, almost unneeded. Why should I listen to rebellion when I am seeing it? Why listen to anthems against oppression when it seemed like Obama was more or less on my side?

Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been as into the band as I had been in youth, but it felt like Rise Against weren’t as effective or as evocative during progressive times. The fight doesn’t seem as just, because the message is already being heard. But in the Trump era, it seems like every hour there is something new to be mad about or annoyed at, someone else perverting the country while the rest of the world leads. There is constantly something else to laugh at because sometimes, that is all that’s left.

All the while, Rise Against sang on.

Perhaps it is personal opinion, or a minor slump in their writing or just that songs of rebellion sound petty when the world seems like it could be on the upward tick. It would have been simple, maybe even beneath them to attack the Trump administration with the rage and venom that Rise Against is fully capable of. Wolves doesn’t go out of its way to attack in the same way that “State of the Union” (Siren Song) does, or tackle hard topics like euthanasia (“Injection”, Sufferer), which poked at the heart of morality.

Where Wolves finds its strength is reminding us that although this administration may seem extreme, it is still just politics. But the country seems awake now and ready to resist. Wolves feels like a culmination of the message the band has spent their career leading the march towards. For a band nearly two decades deep, the album seems to relish in the basics. The guitars are loud, but practical. Sonically, this could have been any one of their earlier albums. The production is flatter than Sufferer or Endgame.

The difference is that is that for what feels like the first time in my lifetime, the country is actually standing at attention and actively watching the world. The message doesn’t have to be as cutting or dramatic, because the people are actually pushing back. Whereas a rallying cry on older albums felt like wishful liberal thinking, lyrics like, “We are the wolves at the gate, our numbers growing everyday, yeah ./ You can’t fight us all, no / You can’t fight”, (“Wolves”) feel more charged and dangerous than they ever could have before.

The Russia scandal and sea of constantly updating news makes a song like “Bullshit” something that has a weight it wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. “But this is bullshit / It’s finally coming into focus / You’re lying and I think you know it but you’re too afraid / To face the storm you helped create / Yeah, this is bullshit / And did you think I wouldn’t notice? / Cracks in your theory are showing like a broken vase / Your grip around me dissipates”.

I meant to review Wolves when it came out, but I just couldn’t; the idea of investing in anything remotely more political than necessary just seemed like masochism. But this album isn’t a political hit piece. It’s a reminder that Rise Against have preached the same message for years about not tolerating injustice and recognizing the fight for culture. The difference is that this time, it seems like the country is listening. I am listening.

And on they’ll sing.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and just watched his cat throw up on a pillow… Cuz why make sick on something easy to clean?

Superet: The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of

It’s something you hear for years, but it appears to be an inevitability: no matter how much you try, it’s just harder to get into newer bands when you get older. It’s something that has had a slow build-up in me for the last few years. There are a crazy amount of up-and-comers that have potential, but at 30 years old, it takes more than teenage angst to catch my attention.

Another inevitability is the feeling that the best albums you’ll ever hear are already behind you. There are some magical works of art that come out every year, but it has been half of a decade since something has shattered my world the way that The Fratellis’ Costello Music did when it forced me to park my car and finish a song because I couldn’t focus on anything else. Nothing has fueled my system with the energy of hearing Green Day’s American Idiot, or truly found my soul like The Wonder Years for so long.

But every now and then, you find something truly amazing.

A month ago, I attended the Chicago show for Dreamcar, the supergroup of AFI’s Davy Havok and the members of No Doubt filling out the rest of the band. It was truly a great show. But what I took away from it, arguably more than anything is that a month later, I am still reliving their opening band’s set, even though I literally only know one of their songs.

Superet is a band I had never heard of before that night. They took the stage as the only opening band, with two keyboards on either side of the stage, and fuzzy haired vocalist Matt Blitzer sporting a tight jacket. From the very start, they shattered my world.

The only way I know how to describe their sound, from memory, is that it was as if Jack White had penned his own version of Costello Music. The energy, the hypnotic percussion and the attitude paid off in ways that would seem hacky for a lesser band. It’s as if the indie rock of 2006 had been maturing like a fine wine, finally exploding with the craze of Hot Hot Heat and the temperament of Jon Fratelli.

No instrument or talent felt wasted. Guitarist Isaac Tamburino jumped instantly from guitar to tambourine to keyboards and back within a single song. Every song was more impressive than the one before it, with one breakdown reminding me of a more frantic rock version of the second half of Motion City Soundtrack’s “Time Turned Fragile”.

It took a long time to realize just how obsessed I was with the band, mostly due to noticing just how often I was Googling their name for a release date of any music. Currently, there is only one single, “Pay It Later”. It was my least favorite of their songs, and my current play count for that song alone is nearing 60 after just a few weeks.

It’s a relief to find a band that reaffirms your love of music from time to time. Age can wear down enthusiasm, but it can never kill it. And I am enthused. I am hunting for any information about an EP, or an LP, or even another single.

I truly believe that a band that is, with one single, represented by the same press company as Green Day and Panic! At the Disco (literally the only information I could find other than a Facebook page), Superet is on the verge of becoming either one of the most talked about under-the-radar bands out there, or one of the biggest.

Check out the band’s new seizure-infused video for “Pay It Later” and get a free download of the song at their site. Just thought you should know.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago is a creep. Really, what a no good person. Throw apples at his face if you can.

Reflecting On: Paramore – Riot!

I was sitting in my first apartment at a TV tray, which served as a desk for my old, rickety laptop, when I first heard “Misery Business” over a pair of shitty $10 headphones. Although far from an audiophile’s dream scenario for such a moment, I immediately understood its importance. I can’t remember if anyone else was in the room, but I vividly remember saying aloud, “Paramore is about to be the biggest band on the planet.”

I bought Paramore’s debut album All We Know is Falling because of the recommendation attached to the shrink wrap of the CD’s jewel case. Copeland vocalist Aaron Marsh made a similar proclamation on that sticker to the one I would make two years later in my apartment, and it was enough to provoke an unexpected purchase. I ended up loving that album with its raw production and youthful energy. Even then, with all of the apparent promise attached to the band, it was hard to foresee what would come next.

You can buy Riot! on iTunes.

A decade later, I’m not 100% certain that Riot! is Paramore’s greatest achievement, but I won’t argue with anyone who feels that way. It’s undeniably one of the most explosive and important albums to come from the scene and the defining example of the sound of an era.

I drove an hour and a half from Enid, Oklahoma, to Oklahoma City on the day of Riot!’s release to purchase the CD at a Hot Topic and enjoy the album from front to back on the drive home. I remember being immediately struck by David Bendeth’s production, which had literally taken the band to a whole new level. I also remember being surprised at the diversity of sound throughout the record’s 11 tracks. “Misery Business” will forever be attached to Riot!’s success, but this album is still a goldmine of hits.

Nevertheless, it was that first single that changed everything. It was hard to go anywhere in the summer of 2007 without hearing that unforgettable opening riff or Hayley Williams’ chorus of, “Woah! I never meant to brag”. Add in an unforgettable music video, striking bright colors attached to the album’s marketing, and the unrivaled energy of the band’s live performance, and Paramore had concocted the perfect cocktail for success. Riot! would move one million copies within a year before eventually going double platinum.

Just a few months prior, Fall Out Boy had appeared to set the standard for scene bands on the big stage with the release of Infinity on High, but were suddenly rivaled in the most unexpected of ways by a band that would outlast the rest of their competition. One of the things that makes Riot! so unique a decade later is that the band has actually gotten much better since the release of its signature album. Good luck naming an active band from that era that can make the same claim.

Yet for all of the excitement surrounding Riot!’s success and, sadly, the ensuing inter-band drama that would become intertwined with Paramore’s narrative, it’s important to acknowledge the uphill battle that Paramore, and more importantly, Hayley Williams, have climbed amidst their continued success.

In a scene that has consistently been plagued with persistent sexism and misogyny, it’s difficult to look back and not grimace at some of the painful conversations surrounding Paramore in 2007. Still, Williams persevered and undoubtedly impacted the community around her in ways that are still blooming. There’s much more work to be done, but the call for elevating women’s voices in the scene continues to rise, often led by Williams herself.

Riot! is not only a hallmark album for the 2000s pop punk scene, it’s a testament to a voice that refused to be ignored. Only 18 years old at the time of the album’s release, Williams commanded our attention with confidence and drive well beyond her years.

I love Riot!. I still own and wear the t-shirt I bought along with the CD that day back in 2007 and remember my initial excitement every time I put the album on. However, I cannot express how delighted I am that it was only the beginning of what was to come – the music and the progress.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

10 Classic Music Videos Turning 10 in 2017

There are two kinds of memorable music videos: Those that stand the test of time as artistic genius that defined an era (think Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and those that serve as stark reminders that times change quickly and mercilessly (think Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time”).

However, even if your favorite band’s best music video feels a little goofy in hindsight, there’s still pleasure in chuckling with nostalgia. We’ve taken a look back at some of the most memorable music videos from 2007, each with their own quirks and flashes of brilliance. Enjoy!

Paramore – “Misery Business”

There’s an argument to be made for “Misery Business” as not only the defining music video of 2007, but maybe the scene as a whole. Who can forget the Riot!-covered set inspired by the album cover, Hayley Williams’ fire-orange hair whipping about, and the band’s over-the-top head-banging performance? The video served as the grand introduction for Paramore to the general public, and proved to the rest of us that this band had what it would take to take over the rock world.

The Academy Is – “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands”

“We’ve Got a Big Mess” is one of my favorite music videos of all time. A heart-breaking story of an artist’s internal battle, the video goes from amusing to agonizing in its final moments, as William Beckett goes to war against himself. And who can forget the Pete Wentz cameo that serves as a conceptual bridge to Fall Out Boy’s “Thnks fr th Mmrs” video? Admit it, you wanted to be a part of the Fueled By Ramen Friends Club in 2007.

Fall Out Boy – “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race”

Speaking of Fall Out Boy, it’s hard to pick just one video from Infinity on High to make this list, but “This Ain’t a Scene” has to be the clear winner. Full of call-backs to past Fall Out Boy videos and littered with humorous references to the members’ various exploits, this clip is a perfect example of Fall Out Boy’s unparalleled self-awareness and serves as the perfect video for one of the best singles of the year.

The Almost – “Say This Sooner”

By 2007, Underoath had become one of the biggest rock bands around, which probably made it the perfect time for drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie to branch out with this solo project, The Almost. His first video finds him traveling time and dimensions as he gets the chance to walk in various strangers’ shoes. We’re still not sure how he managed to get back to his own body, but the video is a fun ride nonetheless.

Mayday Parade – “Jamie All Over”

The biggest problem facing Mayday Parade music videos in 2007 was the absence of Jason Lancaster, who left the band before the release of A Lesson in Romantics. In the band’s videos, various members take over mock-singing duties, with Jeremy Lenzo drawing the straw for “Jamie All Over”. It’s hard not to wonder if their Vegas gambling rollercoaster concept inspired Katy Perry’s almost identical “Waking Up in Vegas” video. Has anyone ever investigated this?

The Devil Wears Prada – “Hey John, What’s Your Name Again?”

Plagues became the coming out party for metalcore stars The Devil Wears Prada, and it all started with their video for “Hey John”. The clip explores a young boy’s regret and redemption, but also gives us our first glimpse of the band’s incredible energy, driven by vocalist Mike Hranica. By the end of the video, Hranica appears exhausted from the performance – either that or he’s really relieved that bird didn’t actually die.

All Time Low – “Dear Maria, Count Me In”

Remember when All Time Low were just a bunch of bratty pop punk kids with bad haircuts singing about strippers? If not, the video for “Dear Maria” should jog your memory. One thing’s for certain about 2007 All Time Low – they loved dressing up in costumes in their videos. Or maybe they just couldn’t afford more than one extra for each shoot. Whatever the case, this song still features one of the best choruses of all time.

We the Kings – “Check Yes, Juliet”

While we’re on the topic of chorus heavy pop punk, We the Kings made their way onto the stage in 200y with “Check Yes, Juliet” – a single that still happens to be the band’s most popular song (for good reason). The video re-hashes an oft-used Romeo and Juliet storyline and is hella cheesy but…wait, is this video actually good? Too late. It’s on the list.

MxPx – “Shut it Down”

2007 turned out to be a year of revival for pop punk legends MxPx as they returned home to Tooth and Nail Records. In hindsight, this song sounds a lot like your dad giving you a hard time for staring at your cell phone, but it’s pretty fun to watch these guys smash a variety of electronics with baseball bats. Oh, and that close up shot of Mike Herrera’s “PUNK RAWK” knuckle tattoos is kinda perfect.

Kanye West – “Stronger”

The plot of this video essentially consists of the members of Daft Punk engineering a new and improved Kanye, which is a little scary, but also exciting. The video for “Stronger” also introduces us to the visor shades that became his ironic calling card for a few years, so that’s pretty good. If you’re still asking why this video made the list, it’s because the song is incredible and the video is so tacky and absurd that it’s hard not to laugh while you dance. So there.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Saying Goodbye to Letlive.

My first experience with letlive. was unintentional. On a hot July evening in Louisville, Kentucky, I was in attendance to cover my favorite band, Underoath, in support of their new album Ø (Disambiguation). It was mid-2011 and I was unaware of letlive.’s existence before their placement as the opener on the tour, though that night would prove to be the most enraptured I have ever been while watching an opening act.

Within moments of taking the stage, vocalist Jason Aalon Butler leaped into the docile crowd, screaming the repeated refrain of, “There are no martyrs in resolution / Remain still, don’t expect restitution / Stand up, stand up, stand up”. From there, the energy only escalated. Before the band’s set came to an end, Butler would be pulled from the stage by two venue security guards and dragged out of the building for his response to their abuse of a spectator. Feedback blared over the house speakers as the crowd looked around in bewilderment, unsure what it had just witnessed.

In so many ways, it was the perfect introduction to a band delivering an unwavering wake-up call, resolute in its cry against injustice.

Hanging with Jason after a 2012 concert in Indianapolis.

That night, I purchased Fake History, their breakthrough album, which had just been re-released by Epitaph Records. In the years that followed, I made it my ambition to share the news of letlive. at every possible opportunity, framing them as the west-coast spiritual successors to New York hardcore kings, Glassjaw.

For all of the criticism aimed in the direction of modern punk music, perhaps none is more valid than the idea that the genre has lost its teeth: misdirected passion with no resounding political or social message; no voice. It was, and still is, my belief that letlive. encapsulated the spirit of the punk community in a way that very few bands have dared in recent decades.

Fake History is a manic display of outrage directed toward systematic oppression and collective rejection of truth. Topics range from religious denial of evolution to the pitfalls of capitalism. On “Casino Columbus”, Butler takes aim at the pillaging of Native Americans and their culture, shrieking, “I want to be the bourgeoisie, but I don’t have blue blood in my veins / My eyes did see the vampirous pilgrim drop a few red drips from his fangs” before closing with, “Stick your finger down the throat of your freedoms / And let it all purge on out”.

The raw, post-hardcore violence of Fake History, coupled with grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing around the band’s live performances brought letlive. to scene attention, complete with magazine covers and features that showcased the delicate, thoughtful off-stage personality of Butler – a man determined to deliver his message at any cost. It was that organic rise to attention to made 2013’s The Blackest Beautiful all the more impactful.

I’m a firm believer that The Blackest Beautiful is one of the most important rock albums the genre has produced in recent memory. In addition to refining their sonic chaos, Butler delivers an inspired performance, targeting systematic racism, the broken healthcare system, and a misplaced worship of celebrity. It’s the punk album that letlive. had earned more than enough cache to deliver, and it is close to perfect.

That summer was a whirlwind, with letlive. leading a long-overdue conversation in an often-complacent scene. One of the personal highlights of my career came while covering the band on that summer’s Warped Tour, writing a feature on a band that had put the genre I love on notice in all the right ways. It felt like validation.

As I’ve learned so many times in my life, though, it’s easy to take good things for granted. I largely shrugged at last year’s If I’m the Devil…, an album that I felt lacked the bite of letlive.’s previous work, even if it did contain some interesting new tricks and important discussion. It never crossed my mind that we might have heard the last from a band that I presumed would lead the genre forward for years to come.

The news of letlive.’s demise is hard to swallow and even harder to believe. The mission statement and idea behind the very website you’re reading is based largely off of the spirit of letlive. – a commitment to praise authenticy, progress and positivity. In a scene that still shamefully struggles with misogyny, gender and racial imbalance, and general apathy, it’s hard not to feel a giant hole. Nevertheless, I know this community benefited greatly from letlive. and I firmly believe that others will carry their torch.

I feel fortunate to have been at that show in Louisville in 2011 and even more fortunate to have watched the band play countless times after, seeing something new with each performance. I’m grateful to the band for their music, their message and their humbleness. Finally, I feel confident than their spirit of empowerment and justice will carry on. After all, according to Butler at every show I attended, letlive. was composed of more than just the members on stage – it was all of us.

“We got an army for us versus them, but look, it’s not us versus them / It’s just us, my friend”

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Reflecting On: The Academy Is… – Santi

It’s been 10 years and I’m still not completely sure how to use the word “Santi” in a sentence. Employing an inside joke from your high school days as the title of your sophomore release and potential mainstream breakthrough is admittedly curious, but The Academy Is always seemed to have an affinity for doing things their own way.

Two years before Santi’s release, the Chicago rock act had their breakthrough on Fueled by Ramen with Almost Here – a scene classic that helped define an era of snide emo pop, even as the album itself remained a relatively underground gem. The ensuing years would see a cast of the band’s label mates rise to pop radio stardom (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Paramore, Gym Class Heroes) while The Academy Is seemingly remained a buzz band on the brink.

You can buy Santi on iTunes.

Enter Santi – an album that seemed primed for success. With a stellar debut under their belt, one of the most exciting young frontmen in music behind the mic, and the benefit of rising Fueled by Ramen stock in their pocket, The Academy Is tabbed the legendary Butch Walker to produce the record. The resulting effort remains the band’s most divisive album to date, but is arguably their best.

I still remember purchasing Santi on the day of its release at a Hasting’s book store in Enid, Oklahoma. As a huge fan of Almost Here and a firm believer that the band was destined for stardom, I was giddy to see the CD’s front and center placement when I walked into the store. I also remember those subsequent first listens as I tried to process what I was hearing. Despite spinning the album for weeks on end, I couldn’t decide if I actually liked it.

Everything about Santi (aside from its peculiar title) seemed primed for a breakthrough. The album’s cover, featuring the band’s name in flashy neon lights. The Pete Wentz cameo in the band’s video for first single “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands” (which was later referenced in a Fall Out Boy video). A prime slot on the summer’s premier Honda Civic Tour. William Beckett’s cocky swagger blossoming even further, placing ruminations on impending fame to tape: “It was a big bang and a bright white light from nowhere / It turned my coach class window to a first class seat on the evening news on NBC”.

Despite all of the signs, Santi never quite took off. True to the band’s free and unconventional tendencies, the album was a complete departure from their debut. Gone were the pop punk leanings and snappy production of Almost Here, replaced by gritty guitars and stark changes of pace that gave Santi a garage or indie rock type feel. As the scene around the band began embracing the successful sheen of pop radio, Santi may have been ahead of its time, simply by avoiding an obvious approach.

If you were to dare administer criticism in the direction of Almost Here, you might draw attention to its lack of variety. That debut, for all of its worthy praise, avoided diversity at all costs, choosing to play to one very commendable strength. Santi, on the other hand, is so full of range that it’s hard to pin the album down to one particular genre.

While rich melody is present throughout, its presentation changes from track to track. Here you’ll find homages to classic rock (“Bulls in Brooklyn”), dance-y post-punk (“Same Blood”), mid-90s alt rock (“You Might Have Noticed”) and even a gentle ballad (“Everything We Had”). A signature Butch Walker underbelly of raw guitars serves as Santi’s refrain, even as the songs themselves vary wildly.

It is my firm belief that there is not a bad song on Santi. In fact, many of the album’s tracks would quietly prove to be the best work The Academy Is produced during their eight year run. Unfortunately, a lack of cohesiveness accompanied by a hard right turn from the sound that put the band on the map made Santi a tough pill to swallow for most fans, even though most seemed to have softened on the record over the course of the past decade.

The Academy Is released three very different albums during their short existence, each showcasing the kind of range that many bands could only dream of. In the case of The Academy Is, this penchant for variety potentially hamstrung the band from cashing in on a definitive sound that could have propelled them to greater heights. Instead, they remain mysterious legends, respected for their refusal to follow the crowd. If I had to make a guess, the band would likely say that they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Honestly, I don’t think I would either. On a warm, sunny summer day, Almost Here can be found in regular rotation on my stereo – the perfect background music for the season. But when I want to remember how great of a band The Academy Is truly was and ponder on what could have been, I reach for Santi.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Reviving the Future: An Interview with Ryan Fergus of Lucky Boys Confusion

Last week, Lucky Boys Confusion released their first new single in nearly a decade. “It’s After Midnight” is an aggressive rock song that finds a slick balance of crunching harmonies balanced against a swirling story of a relationship spiraling out of control.

As a long-time fan of Lucky Boys Confusion, the song is a refreshing answer to the curiosity of what a band that hasn’t written a full record for almost 15 years looks to create, and how it balances against the rest of their career. For a smaller band, Lucky Boys Confusion has an exceptionally strong and loyal fan base that follows them from show to show, and “It’s After Midnight” certainly beckons their attention.

With just a month until the release of new album Stormchasers, I spoke with drummer Ryan Fergus about the build up leading to its creation and what it means for the future.

***

First off, “It’s After Midnight” is awesome. I’ve been listening to it since it was released and it really feels organic for the band. Do you think it reflects how the album sounds stylistically, or does it branch and venture out more?

Oh thanks! Yeah, we’re really excited about it and it’s been getting a lot of really great feedback. You know, when you go away for as long as we did, and we really created this record in a vacuum, you get a little bit nervous. We really love this, we’re really jacked about this but we don’t know how people are going to receive it. It was such a relief to finally get at least one song out there to kind of show people what we’ve been working on, and the reception has been really positive, which is really encouraging for the rest of the record.

To answer your question, it would definitely be a song that we thought would kind of bridge the gap, so to speak, in terms that it does sound reminiscent of a lot of songs off of Commitment or Throwing the Game. It’s really reminiscent of the How to Get Out Alive EP, but it is a bridge. There are a lot of songs on the record that sound like the older stuff, but there is some modernization and maturity to it and we’re trying different things.

It’s probably our most cohesive record. It’s very fortuitous that we’re talking today, as we just got the final master of the whole record back today. To hear everything together as one rolling, cohesive piece, I’m just on cloud nine right now. We’re really pumped up about it.

That’s fantastic! I was going to say, the single reminds me of How to Get Out Alive. It’s interesting that it’s more cohesive. Closing Arguments, I know it was a mix of demos and B-sides, but it did feel like a patchwork of songs.

Yeah, it wasn’t as coherent. It was basically seeds of what would have been the next record, and obviously that would have changed a lot. And we had a chance to start fresh. We didn’t revisit any of those old pieces so this is all new ideas and arrangements. All new ideas we really cooked up in the last year, year and a half. Once we started working on it and decided that we could do this, it all came together very quickly. It does feel like one piece. There’s no little skips, there’s no 30-second interludes – it’s 12 songs, and it’s a story.

Really, it’s closure in a lot of ways. That’s not to imply that this is the last thing we’re ever going to do, because if anything, we’re more invigorated than ever. What I mean by that is everything that happened to us over the last four of five years, we didn’t really comment publicly on it. Most notably, our guitarist, Joe Sell died suddenly, tragically and very young. I think we left a lot of people in a lurch. We didn’t really have a way of addressing everything we’ve been through in the last few years.

This is kind of our statement to everything that has gone down and what we’ve been through, and there were some pretty dark times, I won’t lie. But I think this has been really therapeutic for us, and we’re all in a really good place. And we’re excited to be working together. We really couldn’t be more pleased with how everything came out.

Everyone has been kind of focused on their side projects for quite some time. Was it natural to be writing together again? Especially since Stubhy (Pandav) and Adam (Krier) went their own way for a while and wrote in their own ways for so long, did things mesh well when everyone came together again?

Yeah, it felt like home, I think, a lot for all of us. Especially for the two of them from a song writing perspective. What happened after Joe passed, it kind of spun us all out in different directions. For Jason (Schultejann) and Adam, they started AM Taxi. Stubhy had multiple projects that he was involved in. My project was kind of having a normal life. Having a job, getting married, having two great kids and living a more normal day-to-day. To do that and then come back into this, and bring a lot of lessons learned with maturity, the things we’ve gone through and bring those together… It was comforting.

The joke of it is, the creative part of this thing has been the easy part. The songs really came together quick, we didn’t have a lot of knock-down, drag-out arguments about arrangements. Even the recording process was a really smooth situation. Honestly, the difficult part for us has been everything else.

We’re doing this completely self-sufficient. There’s no label, there’s no manager, nobody. If anything, the difficult aspect of setting this up and launching it is that we’re doing everything on our own. Every day is a thousand tiny decisions with a constant text thread between the four of us during all hours of the night, starting at 7:30 in the morning. It’s just an ongoing dialogue for a year of, “Hey, did you call that guy?” or “Johnny K (producer) needs an answer today for the mix.” The difficult part has just been the little technical aspects. The creative part was actually quite wonderful and really did feel like coming home again.

Listening to “It’s After Midnight”, the lyrics are about a pained relationship, and they’re fairly vindictive. Lucky Boys have been known for a slight storytelling aspect as much as you are for party songs. With everything that has happened, is Stormchasers more of a serious record, then?

It’s not a kind record, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. If anything, it’s a celebration record. It’s celebrating life, death, love, losing love. All the aspects that kind of make up the human condition. There are darker aspects and you can make the claim that the world is going in a darker direction than it was five or 10 years ago. It’s definitely a reflection, and I think people will see a lot of things they identify with on the record.

There’s a lot of stuff about Stubhy’s marriage, which he’s been very open about and I’m proud of him that it’s out there. But his marriage ended. He’s since fallen in love again, engaged and getting married this summer so it’s been this roller coaster in a lot of ways. He’s been very transparent about that. There are a lot of lines on the record, where you just go, “Wow, he went there.” And I’m so proud of him for not holding that back and not pulling punches.

In that regard, I think people will be surprised at the lengths we’ve gone with some of this stuff and ultimately, it’s a lot of things people will identify with. We got older, but a lot of the folks that are listening to us have been along for the ride and gotten older too. They’ve got responsibilities, they’ve got relationships they’re maintaining and dealing with, someone in their family that have been through some pretty tough times as well. It’s stuff people can relate to, tear apart and identify with.

Speaking of the fan base, I just moved to Chicago a few years ago, and everyone I’ve met who has any kind of interest in rock music knows who Lucky Boys Confusion are. A lot of them seem to have the same type of story, where it’s almost an urban legend where someone finds a copy of Throwing the Game tucked away in a closet somewhere and just falls in love with it after listening to it. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed being at live shows, it’s a lot of the same people coming again and again, talking about past shows. Do you pick up on that from the fan base in general?

It’s stunning to me. It’s stunning to all of us. I’m not sure that you know this, but this year is actually our 20 year anniversary. We started this band when we were 18 years old and just out of high school, and there are a lot of people who have been there since year one or year two. It’s unbelievable. We’re starting to get to the point where some of these folks are starting to bring their kids. Their kids are old enough to go to shows now. It’s definitely a surreal thing.

But you’re right, there are so many stories about, “my older brother left the CD with me before he went to college and then I got into you guys.” It’s really been amazing, and what we’ve kind of said all along is that if they keep coming, then we’re going to keep showing up.

Especially for this long stretch here where we weren’t putting out any new content and you start to think, it’s gotta be here, right? You’re gonna start to see a drop off, kids are going to stop coming and we’re kind of back where we started, playing for 30 people. But so far, that hasn’t happened.

That was definitely in the back of our minds, but these folks have been coming out to hear the same older songs for however long now and we owe them something new. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that we wanted to come out with something new, especially for the folks that have been around for so long and have been patient and just waiting. We thought maybe there never would be a record. We’re excited to make that happen for the diehards throughout the many years and we’re just so appreciative of that.

I know it’s a hack question, but do you have a favorite song off of the new record?

[sigh] No, it’s a great question. [laughs]

No, it’s probably changing by the day. Again, it’s a record that finally feels like a whole thing. But we’ve got a song called “Sun In My Eyes” that’s probably going to be our next single. That’s going to come out this month, actually when the preorder goes up on iTunes and whatnot. But I think it’s going to throw some people for a curve ball. It’s a bit more different than anything we’re really tried. “It’s After Midnight” is a call to arms and the announcement that we’re back and Lucky Boys are grown up. “Sun In My Eyes”, I think is something totally different. It’s poppy, kind of a mystical tune but it really crunches, it really rocks. It still feels like us, and I’m really digging that right now.

We close the record with a tune called “Candle in the Window” and it’s the same thing, it’s really different. It sound kind of like an old Elvis Costello B-side or something. It’s really powerful and kind of punctuates the record. And there are a lot of different fields and different directions. Listening to it today as a cohesive piece, it really feels like one statement. I’m really excited to get it out there.

Lastly, what do you think Stormchasers means for the future of Lucky Boys Confusion, especially after you said everyone seems more invigorated now than they have been for a while?

You know, its funny. I like serial dramas on Hulu, like “The Americans” and shows like that, and a lot of these shows are in a bubble. They don’t always know if they’re going to be renewed, so what they do is have this year end finale that wraps up the current storyline and resolves those problems, but it leaves the door open for more story. I think it’s an analog to Stormchasers in that, if it ends up being the last record, I think it’s turning the last pages of the book.

But it’s not a full resolve. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of time, a lot of hard work, a lot of intense moments here and there, but overall this was a really pleasant, really great experience. A lot of that was based on working with our producer, Johnny K, who is just amazing. He produced it, engineered it, mixed it so that this became one single vision.

I would feel very open, and I think the way the guys are feeling right now, that they would probably agree that there’s no reason that this couldn’t be the beginning of a really nice creative era for us. This year is really about the new record, and celebrating the 20 year anniversary. We really want to mark that and will probably be doing some stuff later in the year to mark that. It’s kind of a big deal – not many bands get to 20 years.

But there’s nothing saying that there couldn’t be more in the future, especially with as excited as everybody is right now. It’s definitely viable.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has been to a Lucky Boys Confusion show at least once every year for a decade. Their shows have never once gotten stale in that time. It really was an honor to talk to someone who has kept the attention of myself and my nonsense friends for that long. My apartment suddenly smells like spray paint, and that can’t be great.

Reflecting On: Anberlin – Cities

anberlin_photo_2007

While Cities is widely regarded as Anberlin’s best album, the argument can be made that it never fully received its due. However, it’s quite possible that both the band and its fans would have suffered if it had.

Leading up to 2007, the Florida rock act had quickly ascended the ranks, becoming one of the most revered bands in the scene. Anberlin spent their first two albums, Blueprints for the Black Market and Never Take Friendship Personal, honing their sound and bridging the gap between the popular emo leanings of the time and full-on alt-rock. By the time Cities dropped, it was clear that Anberlin had carved their own niche.

You can buy Cities on iTunes.

You can buy Cities on iTunes.

Cities can’t quite be classified as a concept album, but is certainly far more than a collection of songs. The album’s tracks are intertwined by themes of pain and frustration – an acknowledgement of the depravity that affects every community and relationship. Yet amidst the brokenness lies a will to continue the search for hope.

Not only was Cities a deep thematic success, the album showcased a band that had refined its sound to perfection. Underneath the album’s crisp production lied evidence that Anberlin had become a new leader in the genre, no longer following in the footsteps of others. Even 10 years later, Cities sounds unique for its time. If it were released today, it would still sound just as fresh and compelling.

However, just a few short months after its release, and before fans could fully digest the record, the band announced some shocking news. Having completed their contract with indie label Tooth and Nail Records, the band had been courted and signed by Universal Republic and would return to the studio to begin crafting their major label debut.

Although both the promotional and touring cycles for Cities were cut short, fan excitement for the band heightened. Soon, rumors spread that Universal Republic might re-release Cities to a wider audience or that the band might even re-record the album with new guitarist Christian McAlhaney now in their ranks. The events that followed are almost stranger than fiction, but somehow elevated the band to heights that no one expected.

There would be no major label lionizing of Cities. Instead, Anberlin released “Feel Good Drag” in the summer of 2008 as the lead single for New Surrender. The re-recorded song from 2005’s Never Take Friendship Personal left fans befuddled, as did the rushed writing and recording of the new album itself. Before Cities had even cooled off, the album had seemingly been replaced with what many perceived to be an inferior product.

However, “Feel Good Drag” became an unlikely breakthrough hit. During its 29-week climb to the top of Billboard’s Modern Rock Chart, the track became a record-breaker, spending more time on the chart en route to #1 than any other single in history. Suddenly a staple on rock radio and MTV, the band were booking large headlining tours, playing bigger venues, and attracting a massive new audience.

From a fan perspective, New Surrender received flack upon its release for feeling cluttered and uneven. While certainly not without its standout tracks, the album seemed to lack sonic direction, but also suffered from being quickly released on the heels of the band’s masterpiece.

In hindsight, there’s no denying that Anberlin’s major label signing and the sudden unexpected success of “Feel Good Drag” overshadowed what the band had accomplished with Cities, but it also changed the lives and careers of the band’s members. Without those events, would the band have been able to experiment to such critical success with 2010’s Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, return to their aggressive roots with 2012’s highly lauded Vital, or been able to exit on their own terms with 2014’s Lowborn?

Without the perceived slight that Cities received in 2007, the conversation surrounding one of the scene’s most successful and respected bands might be much different. Now, a decade later, we can talk about the album with full knowledge that Anberlin achieved a great deal over the course of their 16 year run, and that later albums like Dark is the Way and Vital even rival what the band accomplished with Cities.

Over the course of seven solid studio albums, it is my opinion that Cities is Anberlin’s most cohesive, focused and exemplary release. It features the band’s best song (“Dismantle. Repair.”), the most powerful album closer I’ve ever heard (“*Fin”), and best represents the band’s sound and purpose. However, if the short cycle of Cities meant the extended career and expanded audience of one of my favorite bands, who am I to complain?

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.