Ten years ago, Emo enjoyed a time in the spotlight that’s hard to overstate. As sociologists write reams on our “post-subcultural” landscape, it’s come to represent one of the last mass expressions of youth identity.
The concurrent demise of nu-metal and cartoonish pop-punk, the emergence of social media (epitomised by the fleeting popularity of MySpace) and the sudden, enormous success of bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance converged to create a pop-culture phenomenon which lasted only as long as the average album cycle.
But during that time, hardcore kids became stadium stars; your favourite punk bands could be heard on daytime radio, and The Daily Mail mounted a moral panic against a movement which ultimately amounted to little more than a sense of community, bad poetry, and a statistically significant uptick in sales of black hair dye. A textbook youth movement: it was brief, it burned brightly, and it baffled the tabloids.
New York pop-punks Bayside wanted nothing to do with it.
“In 2007, our genre was having a real moment. It was really taking off. But because we stretched out and added all this weird, technical stuff, it set us apart from all that.”
Frontman Anthony Raneri is speaking to me from Bayside’s practice space, where the band are preparing for the first date of their The Walking Wounded tour, celebrating ten years since their breakout album. He’s reflecting on the past decade, and his band’s very deliberate efforts to distance themselves from any particular scene or genre.
Every choice they make, he tells me, musical, stylistic, even haircuts: “We try to ask ourselves, will we be embarrassed by this in ten years?”
It’s clear from Raneri’s tone – and the fact that the band are about to spend two months playing the record in full every night – that Bayside are every bit as proud of The Walking Wounded as they were when it came out.
“This is a celebration! The Walking Wounded was a really important moment. It was a real breakout record for us, career-wise. It was the first time we got to do a lot of things. And it was an important record for us musically.”
Released 2 years after a tragic tour bus accident which claimed the life of drummer John Holohan, The Walking Wounded was a symbolic rebirth for Bayside. It not only demonstrated the band’s tenacity in the face of adversity, but it solidified what became their trademark sound: Raneri’s unique voice, gliding over eclectically-constructed pop songs, supercharged by Jack O’Shea’s heavy-metal inflected guitar playing. Taking in influences from punk rock, chart pop, and even Eastern European Klezmer music, it’s recognisably pop-punk, yet entirely unique within the genre.
“There are a lot of things that we learned how to do musically while we were making The Walking Wounded that have become an important staple in our sound. It took me a year to write the title track – going back to it, rewriting it and rewriting it, trying to figure out how to get those key changes in. But fast-forward ten years and you’ll be hard pushed to find a Bayside song that stays in one key.”
Preparing for what is unequivocally a nostalgia tour – for an album that came out when the genre around it was having a mainstream moment – might suggest that they’re not over it. That the band are living in the past. But as Raneri explains, that’s far from the truth.
“We’re proud of not being a nostalgia band. That’s what we’ve planned for a really long time. We don’t want to be a flash in the pan – we want to be doing this in twenty years.”
Bayside, he says, want to be like Dropkick Murphys. Like Bad Religion. And a big part of that is actively avoiding associating with trends, and thinking about how the images and actions of today will be perceived further down the line – what Raneri describes as “trying to be timeless.” It’s a strategy the band consider to have paid off.
“People still listen to our new records, and our tours now are bigger than they ever were. So we never really wanted to give in to the nostalgia angle. We just decided we were gonna do the tour on a smaller scale – we’re only playing ten or fifteen shows altogether, all over the world. And we’re playing smaller venues than we usually do.”
The one exception to this is in the UK, where Bayside are only playing in 4 cities – London, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham – but doing so in venues 3-4 times bigger than on their last headline tour in 2015 (London’s 600-capacity garage, vs the 250-capacity Oslo). The frontman makes no bones about the reason for this.
“Every time we’ve ever been to the UK, we’ve taken profits out of other tours to foot the bill because so far, they haven’t paid for themselves. The approach with the last tour was to play small venues in every corner and get everyone out – the casual fans, the ones who maybe won’t make the trip out to somewhere else. But now we’re coming back and only doing 4 shows, and it’s already the best-selling UK tour we’ve ever had.”
Stripped of tone, that might sound cynical. But after 15 years in the business, it’s hard to begrudge Bayside having a commercial view of touring. They’ve been coming to the UK for years and, for whatever reason, we’ve decided that we don’t really care. Some of us, it seems, made that decision a long time ago.
“The UK’s always been a tough one for us,” reflects Raneri, offering an anecdote about the 2006 Victory Records tour, on which Bayside played main support to Aiden, with The Sleeping and The Audition opening.
“Aiden were having a real moment there at the time, and it was a really great tour, but we felt like we didn’t deserve main support. I mean, we would’ve been headlining that tour in the US but we got over to the UK and realised we were the smallest band on it. I remember Kerrang! came out to do features on the tour. And they did a full page on every band on the tour… except us.”
There’s no bitterness in his voice, nor any detectable regret. But he admits it’s been “a tough nut for us to crack.”
“But we love it! We love being there, and we love it as a place. It’s a great excuse to go to a place we love for work. The fans are great.”
The fans may be great, but they’re not exactly numerous. At many of the shows on their last headline tour here, they were playing to sometimes half-capacity crowds in clubs the tenth the size of the ones they’re used to playing elsewhere. One particularly undersold show saw them take the stage at Southampton’s Joiners for “the smallest show we’d played in ten years.”
“There couldn’t have been 150 people at that show – but it was a blast! It’s fun to do stuff like that. But it’s not like the US and Australia,” he concedes. “There, we can just say ‘We have a new record coming out, let’s do a tour!’ With the UK, we’re looking for reasons we can make it work.”
As Raneri acknowledges, though, it’s all relative. And whatever the size of your band, there’s always the question of whether you could be bigger.
“I’ve had conversations with Amy from Evanescence, Pete Wentz, people who’ve achieved it all. And they still kinda feel like they haven’t arrived. You can always ask yourself that question. But we’re going to come to the UK and there’s going to be five or six hundred people at the shows. So many people would die to play one show to 500 people, y’know?”
As a fan of the band, it’s reassuring to know that they’re looking for excuses to come and play for us. But the ever-increasing demands of marriages, children, and secondary businesses (bassist Nick Ghanbarian and drummer Chris Guglielmo recently started coffee-roasting company Legal Speed) inevitably mean that Bayside will be making that transatlantic trip less and less frequently.
Anthony Raneri doesn’t seem too fazed by any of this, what he calls the “ugly side, the nuts and bolts” of the reality of the modern music industry. “We live very good lives,” he explains. “We want for nothing, and it all comes from getting on stage and playing our instruments. So how could you ever complain?”
“There’s a 17-year-old kid in his bedroom right now, writing songs, hoping that one day someone will listen to them. If I ever complained about anything I have to do, he’d tell me to go fuck myself.”.
Catch Bayside performing The Walking Wounded on the following dates:
Dec 6 – The Garage, London
Dec 7 – Academy 3, Manchester
Dec 8 – Cathouse, Glasgow
Dec 9 – O2 Institute 3, Birmingham