It’s a scary thought, but most people who grew up on the early Vagrant and Drive-Thru Records discographies are now in their mid- to late-20s. Some of those people have turned their backs on pop-punk for hipper pastures, returning only due to occasional bouts of nostalgia, but others remain faithful to the genre that first got them excited about music. Yale, Massachusetts is updating that era of pop-punk and, according to bassist Jeremy Hertz, they’re doing it for the most genuine of reasons: “We had nothing better to do.”
Yale, MA released its first material in 2011: a four-song demo and the Act Like You’ve Been There 7″, which crams five songs on a tiny piece of vinyl. The two recordings are sort of a pop-punk genre exercise: Act Like You’ve Been There sounds like a mix of NOFX and early Thermals, and it’s hard to listen to the band’s demo without thinking about Piebald. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” jokes guitarist and primary singer Roger Lussier when the Piebald comparison is brought up. Yale, MA was actually formed by three of Lussier’s friends–Hertz, drummer Ben Barr and guitarist PJ Marshalka–before he joined, but he already had some songs written that he imagined would be performed in a more pop-punk style. Since his songs had fit the band’s style, they decided to come together as one. “That’s just the music we all grew up listening to,” explains Lussier.
But isn’t playing pop-punk in 2012 sort of an anachronistic move? After all, it’s been a while since pop-punk had what many perceive as its most recent heyday around the turn of the century with the success of bands like New Found Glory. But bassist Jeremy Hertz disagrees. “I don’t think that pop-punk is dying, but I think that it’s in two factions…the New Found Glory-influenced stuff and then the Fest-type stuff with maybe more of a NOFX influence,” says Hertz. “I think what gets lost in the fray is sort of what we do, which is a little bit of all that stuff.” And as for the popularity and perceived hipness of pop-punk, the musician says, “It might not be music that’s really ‘hip’ right now, but the name ‘pop-punk’ has gotten a not-so-good name recently because there are so many ways that people use the genre to define their music. Music that’s good and not good are both defined as pop-punk. The genre definition is sort of polarizing itself.” Lussier likens this to how every band with horns in 1997 was considered “ska” or how every band with a screaming vocalist in 2003 was considered “emo.” But genre technicalities aside, Jeremy simply concludes, “We play the music that we like to play.” A sentiment that the other band members agree with.
Act Like You’ve Been There is rounded out with its highlight “Keep it Shitty,” a pointed attack at the indifference some people can feel toward the city they live in (the chorus: “There’s no one here asking you to stay / So if you don’t like it you can just leave”). The title of the song refers to graffiti that was written on an Allston-area Urban Outfitters that opened a couple of years ago–graffiti that said, most notably, “Stay the fuck out of Allston.” But the song wasn’t written in support of the people who wrote the graffiti. Lussier, who wrote the song’s lyrics, explains: “All these people do is complain and they never offer any positive repair for what is out there. It just bugs me.” But he clarifies, “And I’m not without blame in doing that. I was one of those bummers three, four years ago.” Hertz’s take? “The idea of hating on where you live is sort of another trend within pop-punk, and I think part of where that song came from is we’re all getting older and we’ve all gone though those phases of saying how much a place sucks, but we’ve all grown out of those phases. Now we’re seeing it in other people and realizing how it can be a really silly thing sometimes.” So ultimately, the band hopes the song conveys a positive message; the song’s less about how terrible terrible people are and more about trying to contribute something of value to your community instead of criticizing it. “It’s posi-core. That’s a thing, right?” Hertz jokes.
The band has recently received lots of positive attention for its video for the song, “Danger City: Population Me.” The video has been posted on absolutepunk.net and punknews.org–two of the most well-known websites covering punk-oriented music–and it was also mentioned in Deadspin’s “Blood Week” feature. What might seem like well-organized social media success was the result of a happy accident.
“Our friend Daniel Danger posted online that he had access to 200 records,” Lussier explains. “The guy who was giving them away said, ‘If you’re going to use these, please destroy them.'” Daniel wanted to shoot a video showing the destruction, and the band volunteered to be victims. The video was shot in a day, and Daniel Danger edited it in five hours. “We wrapped the shoot at 10, and he emailed us at 1:30 AM saying that he was almost done with it. I was like a little kid on Christmas Eve. I was just sitting in bed and waiting for him to email us again.”
Hertz admits the video was a silly idea, but says the experience was worth it. “The video worked out because it wasn’t something we set out to do. Also, our songs are super short and that lends itself to a very simple visual idea. Plus,” he adds with some self-deprecation, “we have friends who are willing to throw stuff at us.”
See for yourself:
Yale, MA has all its music available for free download online, even though Act Like You’ve Been There was released on vinyl and the demo was released on cassette. The band provides the MP3 option more for practical reasons than for idealistic ones, such as financial necessity. The members of the group (like most musicians today) can’t sustain themselves on playing music alone, so they can’t spend too much money for the release of their record.
“I don’t think it’s worth paying money to have your music downloadable for pay on a website like iTunes,” explains Lussier. “It’s such a hassle.” And referring to how little money bands actually receive from iTunes downloads, “I don’t really need the ten cents each that we’ll get for one download. I’d rather get it out there and if people out of state like it, maybe we can tour to those places. It’s more about getting the music to ears. I’d pull my hair out if I were counting on people purchasing the 7″ or paying to download.”
Hertz expounds: “We only pressed the record on vinyl and we only did the demo on tape. People who buy vinyl are going to buy it anyway, regardless of whether they can get it online for free or not, and the people who don’t buy vinyl won’t.” It’s a good strategy for a band whose main goal is to just have fun playing its music rather than trying to monetize it.
What’s to Come
The four friends plan on keeping Yale, MA at least as active in 2012 as it was in 2011, despite the fact that the members of the band have other projects going on; Lussier will be on tour with Pretty & Nice for most of March and Hertz and Barr also play in Shambles. “I think Yale is our number one priority musically because it’s the thing we all started together,” says Hertz, and the rest of the band agrees. “Every time a song comes together, it’s really exciting, ” says Lussier. “Not to sound egotistic, but I think our songs are really good. I like to play them and I like to listen to them. I have a lot of fun playing in this band.” They have two more songs ready to go that they want to release on a 7″ sometime this summer, and the band has a show booked at Great Scott in Allston on March 25. They hope to book more shows soon: “If we can book shows for after Roger comes back from tour,” Ben jokes, “we definitely won’t break up.”
Again, the band’s music is all available for free online. Enjoy.