Niall O’S: I’ve summoned you all here to discuss what you will soon discover is a very sensitive topic for me, emo music; more specifically ‘does emo have serious artistic merit?’. Sometimes I think it’s my life’s mission to bring emo to the masses; and by emo I am talking about anything that can be directly tied to Sunny Day Real Estate, American Football etc. To make sure we’re all on the same page here, please refer to the website isthisbandemo.com before claiming an act is emo. So, for instance, searching Everyone Everywhere will rightly inform you they are emo, whereas it will tell you My Chemical Romance are not.
Matthew D: It’s honestly so difficult to be an emo fan these days because when you mention that cursed word, everyone’s minds immediately jump to MCR, teen phases and edgy makeup. If your brand of emo doesn’t involve fucked-up tunings and plenty of tapping then count me out. If you’ve never drunk-cried to Mineral, you can’t be my friend. The technicalities of the genre are seriously impressive – just listen to any Tiny Moving Parts song if you want to feel utterly inadequate at guitar. There’s a ridiculous amount of talent on offer in the scene these days, and it’s growing at a hell of a rate. I firmly believe emo has serious artistic merit.
NO’S: We need to launch a public awareness campaign or something. I think that the association of emo with ‘scene’ bands just stems from the absence of any other reference point. As soon as an unenlightened hears the strained vocals with a twinge of an American accent, their mind jumps to Fall Out Boy. Like you said Matthew, they’re then missing out on some really experimental musical ideas like the open tunings, complicated time signatures and the horns, the most overlooked aspect of the genre in my opinion. Also, those cliché vocals are not a part of every emo act, look at Foxing for instance; in another world, they’re at the peak of the sad-boy indie mountain with the National and TV on the Radio.
Joe D’Arcy: Just because music has emotion does not make it ‘emo’. The National are so much more thoughtful than an emo band I’ve heard. I also have a problem with some emo fans, thinking exclusively of Niall here, that won’t accept that there might be a reason why Foxing aren’t at the level of the National or Interpol.
NO’S: Critical acclaim or touring successfully is dependent on so many more factors than mere talent; managers and labels are far more concerned with good marketing, getting onto the right websites and newspapers (like the College Tribune) and ensuring their band is at the right festivals. There’s a whole lot of luck involved too.
JD: I genuinely believe that the reason your favourite emo bands aren’t as successful as you think they should be is that the genre isn’t interesting enough to appeal a wide variety of people. Even if people were willing to give it a chance, I don’t think the general, radio-listening public would hear anything catchy enough to like it.
NO’S: But I’m not interested in those kinds of fans- I find it frustrating that fans of bands like the National, whose later work has exhibited many of the characteristics of emo, would immediately reject an act because of the negative associations of the genre with MCR, FOB etc.
MO’S: Hey, Let’s not get down on bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy either, they were worthy kings of their own subgenres back in the day. In fact, Gerard Way of MCR was well aware that his band were not emo and he was adamant in correcting anyone who said so. But I do agree, this brand of ‘pure’ emo that you’re thinking of is hugely underappreciated in the mainstream. I think a lot of music revolves around a smooth, or even autotuned, vocal, so often the moment a listen hears those cracking vocals, they’re turned off.
MD: I can’t say I was a huge fan of either of those back in the day, but I’m not going to throw them under the bus either – I do love to poke fun at them, but they’re still pretty talented bands in their own right. I’d say you’ve hit the nail on the head with your point about the vocals, I feel like it’s definitely a bit of a love-hate type of deal when it comes to the type of emo we’re talking about. The unexpected switch from relatively milquetoast delivery to the absolute impressive screaming some vocalists can let out could definitely throw a new listener off.
MO’S: Musicality aside, the defining feature of emo music and the origin of the name emo is the emotional lyrics; the confessional and often encroaching, vulnerable lyrics always pull me into emo songs, because there’s a level of introspection and genuine emotion that contrasts with a lot of the hyper-masculinity often produced by men in other music genres.
JD: As someone who’s only ever been an outside observer to the genre, the lyrics have always come across as being one-dimensional and repetitive to me. It’s the guys who are making albums about being cheated on when they were 15 who turn into the misogynists of the future. Maybe the money being spent on renting out recording studios would be better put to use on therapy.
MD: You’ve got some strongly defined opinions for a self-proclaimed outside observer, have you actually listened to enough of the genre to make these broad and frankly kind of ridiculous statements? It’s extremely reductive to brand emo as a bunch of woman-hating sadboys.
NO’S: This is such an unfair and inaccurate representation about emo. Yes, the lyrics are generally ‘emotional’, but the emotion in question is often something far more complex than just sadness, anger or grief. Just as an example, ‘Sun’ by the Hotelier is an exhilarating depiction of the dizzying early stages of a relationship. Actually, that whole album is almost completely free of any minor keys.
JD: The Hotelier are a band I actually know and don’t completely hate but you made a mistake bringing them up. ‘Your Deep Rest’ is just about the most depressing thing I have ever heard: “I called in sick from your funeral/ the sight of your family made me feel responsible”. If an alien came to Earth to learn about grief, I’d probably show them this song.
NO’S: You’ve kinda made my point there. That song captures the emotional experience of processing death so vividly. Even that lyric you’ve quoted, there’s so much more to it than just despair; the narrator decides to miss their friend’s funeral because they can’t process the onslaught of mixed emotions.
By Niall O’Shaughnessy – Music Editor
With Matthew Derwin, Muireann O’Shea and Joe D’Arcy