By Maggie Dickman
Sorority Noise frontman Cameron Boucher has had one hell of a year. Touring almost constantly since the release of their 2015 record Joy, Departed, he has experienced his fair share of highs and lows. In the run up to the release of their new album, I want to ask him how both the new record and his own perspective have been affected by his experiences. A potentially uncomfortable conversation – which is made all the more difficult by the fact that he doesn’t answer his phone.
“I apologize for not picking up the first time,” Boucher offers, when the call finally connects. “My roommate and I went to go smoke a cigarette and got a gun aimed at us. There were probably 40 riot police officers on my street earlier. They told us to go back inside, and then I totally lost track of that because everything was chaos.”
An intense situation by anyone’s standards, but Boucher is surprisingly calm. Fortunately, he is heading to the studio to write: that’s his cathartic release, his way of making sense of it all. He scribbles down his lyrics in a matter of minutes, each track conveying genuine emotion. This impromptu approach to songwriting is the driving force behind the intense honesty of forthcoming album, You’re Not As ____ As You Think.
Last year’s It Kindly Stopped For Me EP was an honest look at loss, wrapping introspection in a lullaby-inspired instrumental ambiance and a quiet-but-poignant feeling of heartache. But You’re Not As _____ As You Think expands on that exploration – and this time, there is no holding back. Guitar cries harder. Rhythms linger with a resounding punch. And Boucher’s vocals come as a cry to the world for the friends who are gone too soon. The record is a page from Boucher’s most personal diary entry—an open look at the love and loss from his past year.
“My friend Sean, who most of this record is about—we were incredibly close all throughout high school,” Boucher explains. “We’d play in the jazz band and the marching band and the school band and hang out all the time. He was a trombone player and a cross country runner. But then he went to college, and I went to college, and I started focusing on different things. We’d keep up, but I had no idea he was going through such a hard time to have to end his life.”
Boucher’s style of writing ensures that all Sorority Noise records are deeply personal, but their new album feels particularly intimate. The process of confronting loss, asking questions, and living through it all is a message that everyone can relate to in some way. It’s also what makes this record so damn important.
“There are days where I do feel like I’m living my life the best way I can to be a continuation of the lives that have been cut short,” Boucher says. “But other days I find it hard and I get stuck because I feel like I’m not living my life the best way that I can. So I think that it’s a constant everyday struggle to maintain that positivity, but in saying it, it’s kind of a cathartic reassurance to know that if I felt that way once, then I should be able to feel that way consistently.”
This internal conflict is a theme that is present throughout the album. Opener ‘No Halo’ exposes Boucher’s exasperation as to why he’s still here and his friends aren’t: “I didn’t show up to your funeral, but I showed up to your house… And I swore I saw you in there, but I was looking at myself.”
And he pleads for an answer when “your best friend dies and your next friend dies and your best friend’s friend takes his life” in ‘First Letter From St. Sean’.
From the outside, You’re Not As _____ As You Think is an exercise in catharsis and an ode to friends fallen. But through it all, the record carries a message of hope. Tracks like ‘A Portrait Of’ hint at a desire to make the most of life in tribute to those who no longer can. In a haunting burst of introspection, Boucher screams, “But I have to make sure that I have to live my life as a continuation of theirs lost. I have to do everything in my fucking power to be the person that I can be and live my life the best way I fucking can, but some days it’s so hard.”
This proclamation, much like the rest of the album, is a look at what was going through Boucher’s mind at that particular point in time.
“That part I went in and made up on the spot,” Boucher explains. “ I wanted the end of that song to be an encapsulation of how I felt exactly in that moment and bring some permanence to it, so I just told Mike [Sapone], who helped produce the record, ‘give me one take,’ and I just went in and said exactly what was on my mind.”
The end result: The band’s most poignant record to date.
“It’s important to have people to talk to, and one of the hardest parts about dealing with loss or grief or mental illness, or even the three of those combined, is talking to people about it and having friends that are willing and open to have a dialogue with you about where you’re at,” Boucher says. “So I’m really grateful to have lots of friends kind of be able to talk to, especially my bandmates. My bandmates are more than incredible. I could never ask for a better group of people.”
Importantly for Boucher, the album also serves as a celebration of the friendships he has strengthened this year, rather than dwelling solely on those he has lost. And you don’t have to look very hard to find his nods to those people that mean the most to him. Increasingly, his songwriting is also becoming a way for him to acknowledge some of his best friends and the important work they’re creating.
“I’m a jazz musician by nature. In a lot of jazz music, you will quote something and make a nod to it, and people will go, ‘oh cool, that person is checking out this, that’s sweet. Good reference,’” Boucher says. “But in American songwriting, it usually gets an, ‘oh, they’re plagiarizing. That person stole that.’”
While some might see it as derivative or a lack of creativity, that doesn’t stop him from sprinkling in references along the way. Take, for instance, the Julien Baker mention in ‘A Better Sun’ (“This is the part where I’m a marathon runner and both my ankles are sprained”):
“I tried to make it as explicitly JB as possible, and the two lines before that are Modern Baseball and Into It. Over It. references,” Boucher says. “I think I do it like 25 times on the record, in different places.”
And it’s not as though these shout outs should come as a surprise. Music breeds friendship, and these bands have become more than just a source of creative inspiration for Boucher. He’s built a recording studio with Modern Baseball’s Ian Farmer and Jake Ewald. He’s roommates with Brendan Lukens. He cites PWR BTTM’s Ben Hopkins as one of his closest friends. And let’s not forget that “JB” reference. And as he explains, life as touring musician inevitably leads to the kind of close and immediate bond that is not found in many other walks of life…
“With music and touring, you create these relationships with people so quickly and you go all the way in,” he says, “because you don’t know when you’re going to see them again. So over a month, I may become closer to a person I’ve toured with than other people I’ve known my whole life because you spend a month of unadulterated time together… and that’s just the nature of the beast.”
And the name drops in the new record serve as more than just an acknowledgement of his friends’ successes (“This sounds weird, but most of my friends’ bands are more popular than mine, and watching them grow makes me feel fatherly, you know?”). Music, and the people who have come into his life because of it, have been his support system. It’s helped him find solace in a world that, at times, feels like it’s caving in around him. By making the references to his friends as explicit as possible, he hopes that listeners, too, will appreciate the celebration as well as the heartache: “Usually it’s just like hey, this kid’s friend died, that’s some Homeward Bound shit. I have a difficult time because I don’t want to tokenize the friends I lost.”
As we reach the end of our conversation, Boucher’s hectic morning has started to settle. After having a gun thrust in their face, a lot of people might – understandably – decide to take a day off, but instead Boucher is already in the studio working on new music for one of his many other bands, Small Circle. His relentless productivity (You’re Not… is his third full-length album in 2 years) offers much-needed catharsis and it’s clear that Cam Boucher is going to keep on keeping on. And there’s nothing that life, death, or police officers can do about it.
You’re Not As ___ As You Think is released on 17th March 2017 through Triple Crown Records.