Over a year ago, I published “Patrick Stump Knows What Songs I Sing In The Dark,” a blog openly admitting the absolute terror I felt while “living the dream” that is Stories Told, set to the soundtrack of Fall Out Boy‘s “comeback” album, Save Rock and Roll. That year, FOB was on my Spotify “Year In Music, and I looped Young Volcanoes endlessly, clinging to the desperate, hard-won optimism in Stump’s voice like a life-raft in a sea I hadn’t yet learned to navigate.
A lot’s happened since then. For one thing–and ST‘s none to shy about admitting this to international press–the band nearly broke up. We hit a rough patch near the one year mark of the band, a point when I think all of us weren’t satisfied with the sound we had–“prog-rock fusion” we called it, but honestly it was sort of that cliché loud guitar-driven madness you hear everywhere–but were sort of stubborn and trying to stick with it while not being honest about what we really enjoyed (especially me, as I was reluctant to make waves and risk losing my dream). By that point, I’d sunk into a deep depression, with Stories Told feeling more like a job than a genuine expression of myself artistically. I started dabbling in side projects, frantically trying to build for myself the same network ST had so I could work up the courage to cut myself loose from the band and go off on my own.
As fate would have it, none of those efforts panned out, and Jian preempted my “resignation speech” by admitting what I’d felt all along–the band had lost its center, and needed to regroup. So we did. We made the executive decision to ditch nearly all the songs we’d written that year–except for Surprise Me–then took a break over the holidays, intending to start fresh in 2015. In January, we took on two new members–alternate bassist Yogi, and rhythm guitarist Aned–managed to crack the code of Surprise Me, and resumed operations with a bang by taking on the battle of the bands circuit. Somewhere in between, we’d managed to find our sound: a mix of mine and Aned’s shared emocore/pop-punk roots with my Broadway/Bareilles vocals (and confessional poetry), wrapped in Jian and Jedd’s slick decade-spanning pop-rock influence. It’s not a stretch to say we emerged a completely different band from where we started, and while it wasn’t the band any of us had said we wanted, it was the sort of compromise that left everyone feeling extremely excited instead of upset.
Fast forward to now. We’ve signed with Amplify, released two singles, shot a music video, and have an EP launch scheduled for January 2016. The trajectory at which we’d managed to go from struggling posers to something resembling an actual band has surprised us all, and no one more than me.
Back then, as the face of a band whose genre I did not even listen to outside of band rehearsals, I was constantly afraid of being unmasked as a farce–a singer for hire made to play the part of frontwoman. I went through the motions, aping the bravado–sometimes outright arrogance–that Jian, Jedd, and Dan seemed to exude as they chugged away at their instruments, but deep inside I felt compelled to hide behind the mic instead of own it. It all felt wrong, and I knew it felt wrong precisely because of Fall Out Boy.
To help me with my stage fright, Jian had given me the “assignment” of watching other frontmen take the stage, so I could learn by example. After running through his list of suggestions, I’d landed on Live in London video of Patrick joyfully sing-howling the opening to “Young Volcanoes,” and stayed there, “like a moth getting trapped in the light by fixation.”
(Sorry, the opportunity was Irresistible.)
(Okay, okay, I’ll stop.)
I couldn’t help it. As I said in my blog last year, they looked so happy.
As I looped the video over and over and over had only one thought: this is exactly how being in the band should feel like. I wanted to crawl into the screen and jump and and stomp and clap and spin and shout along with the sweaty masses in front of the stage, as Patrick and Pete and Andy and Joe led us through that reckless, beautiful cry of “We are wild! We are like young volcanoes!” It didn’t look like a performance–it looked like a party, like a present, like a bunch of people swept up together in a wave of relief and euphoria and joy that “We’ve already won.”
All of that was a far cry from what performances looked looked and felt for me–nervous posturing around a mic stand that always seemed to be in some form of disrepair, microphone cord wound too tightly around a microphone that always felt awkward and heavy in my hand. What Live in London looked like was a bunch of guys who no longer cared if they looked “right” or “cool”–all that mattered was that they were in this adventure together, a single unit revelling in the experience, the joy of declaring “In poisoned places, we’re antivenom!“
Try as I might, though, I could not bring myself to stop caring. Not then, at least. But the seed was planted. Every time I doubted myself I turned to it to remind me of what right would feel like: raw giving, without self-consciousness. We are stupid and young and taking a trust fall into the music.
It took more gigs singing songs I probably had no business doing (and, honestly, should have admitted instead of powering through, too proud and too scared to be honest about my limitations), tons of passive-aggressive SMS/FB message battles, and one dramatic band confrontation that turned out to be our best decision ever before I could take that trust fall, but in the end, we made it out alive. And part of the reason is because of that song, that feeling that remains burned into my brain as THE GOAL. I won’t pretend I’m there yet–my band’s pretty close, but I’ve always been a little ways behind them–but together we’re closer. When I’m standing on that stage I don’t feel like an antelope facing a pride of lions–I know, can physically feel, that I’m part of a unit and we’re in this together. And that makes me less afraid, more willing to play. I dance onstage when I want to. I run around Aned to try to force a reaction out of him. One time, during a battle of the bands, my wireless mic cut out (which is probably why Jian still favors wired ones), and I didn’t feel panic. Instead, backed by nods from my bandmates, I marched into the crowd (it was a small venue) and sang at the top of my lungs–recalling every single choir director who’d screamed at me to “PROJECT!”–until someone finally handed me a working microphone.
I’ve also learned how to bury bodies. The boys don’t exactly know how to feel about that. (Photo (c) Jemimah Hope)
These were things I would never have managed to do before, if not for the lessons I picked up from that one live recording, a year and eternity ago: You don’t need to care if they liked you better fat or thin. You don’t need to worry if you’re cool or not. Give what you’ve come to give, then let yourself go. The music, if you’ve learned to trust it, will catch you. And never forget that you’re in this together.
Last night, our office had our annual Christmas party. The theme this year was AMAs, so obviously we were all asked to dress up as musicians and perform. After looping Carly Rae Jepsen‘s E•MO•TION (a vastly underrated pop album, IMHO) four or five thousand times, I’d resolved to go as the Run Away With Me singer. But, at the last minute, I changed my mind. Instead, I nipped out, bought a fedora and some light-brown hairspray-paint, threw on some hipster glasses and a leather jacket, and with my very best chest voice belted out the official national anthem of every millennial raised on the very best pop-punk/emocore: Sugar We’re Going Down. I hit about a gazillion wrong notes–headbanging while trying to keep all your hair stuffed into your hat on can do that–and possibly looked like I was having an epileptic episode, but I didn’t care. I closed my eyes, pretend it was ST behind me, and let go. And, for a few glorious minutes, it felt like I was living that Live In London video.
I went to bed thinking of one thing: I can’t wait until the EP launch gig.