Words by Brooklyn Fellner Photos by Kayla Aughenbaugh
Union Transfer was particularly spooky this Halloween as they welcomed Mom Jeans, Just Friends, Retirement Party, and Awakebutstillinbed to their stage. With a large following, Mom Jeans announced on Instagram that they wanted everyone to dress up for their show. So, the Union Transfer was jam-packed with bloodied bodies, fairy princesses, and Dragon Ball Z characters that transformed the floor from pop-punk kids into a sea of disguised music lovers. The high ceilings and old architecture was the perfect setting for the holiday, as fog machines began to pump the floor with eerie faux smoke. Arriving in time for Awakebutstillinbed, I was greeted by the lead singer, Shannon Taylor in the lobby of the building next to a row of merch tables. She frantically gave me a press pass labeled “Nerd,” which I suppose was a joke made up by the box office at the UT. Shannon was then on stage setting up with her band two minutes later.
The band opened with a song about Philly, as Shannon disclosed she had lived here for some time. Paying homage to the city, Shannon credits her development as a DIY artist to the punk and emo culture that Philadelphia has to offer. A fast paced guitar mixed with a downcast melody and a hoarse, female voice radiated emo vibrations throughout the venue. Taylor’s voice resonated through UT, echoing with every scream she belted into the microphone. She moved all over the stage between verses, headbanging with her bandmates and slamming on her guitar in unison with the bassist. When it came to their third song, “fathers,” a more upbeat song with punk influences, the audience as well as the band were in sync with each other and it became clear to me that Awakebutstillinbed had a huge following in Philadelphia.
As the set went on, the music became more depressing in a thoughtful way, not a “this-is-so-sad-I-want-to-cry” type of way, but as a heartfelt connection to the feelings Shannon had. The last song played was particularly filled with emotion, and the band truly portrayed that as they played. The dark, soulful song ended with Shannon throwing her guitar under her arm, across her back and finishing with her chilling lyrics alone in the microphone. After the short set, Taylor escorted myself and Kayla backstage for an interview. There were several backstage rooms equipped with a large couch where Shannon plopped down on and began eating chicken wings. Her drummer and father accompanied us as we did the interview…. (interview at end of article).
As we wrapped up the interview, a bandmate stuck their head through the door to inform us that the next act, Just Friends, had formed a “wall of death.” The music was muffled backstage, but I could hear the blasting instruments. We walked back out to the floor to discover there were 20 people on stage alongside Just Friends, all in costume. My favorite out of the bunch had to be a man painted completely red with devil horns, a tail, and a diaper.
Just Friends had an impressive posse who were all dancing, singing and moshing alongside them onstage. Comparing themselves to a “rap group” the lead singer, Sam Kless screamed the BROCKHAMPTON lyrics, “GOLD CHAIN ON MY NECK, FLY AS A JET,” and set the crowd off into a jumping, moshing, screaming pile of kids. The horn section brought a ska, upbeat feel to the songs, practically forcing every person in the crowd to bob up and down in unison. Another vocalist accompanying Sam was Brianda Goyos León, a short energetic girl who wore devil horns during the performance. The combination of the two created an energy like no other as they screamed the lyrics together and sang ballads back and forth. The band made it a point to have their music mean more than just noise, as Sam paid tribute to Mac Miller with one of the songs. In addition to this, Sam Kless expressed his personal condolences to the victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting that took place on October 27th. As he called for a moment of silence, the performers hugged in prayer and I watched the crowd join hands as the entire venue was silent. The moment was lifted with “DON’T FORGET TO VOTE ON THE 6th!!!” After some more encouragement from Sam for the audience to vote, the band kicked back into action with even more passion and emotion than before. Towards the end, every person on the tour was dancing on stage with Just Friends and I felt like this could have been one of their best and most personal performances. Check out a snippet of the show on their Instagram @jcrewfanclub if you want to see for yourself.
About 20 minutes later, Just Friends ended their set and the Insane Clown Posse song “Homies” blared over the speaker. The song was followed by… Insane Clown Posse? A better view revealed that Mom Jeans decided to paint their faces like ICP for Halloween and the entire venue burst out laughing at the sight of them. Being a personal fan of Mom Jeans, I was impressed by the wide mix of songs they played, both old and off their new album, “Puppy Love.” Many of the band’s songs combined melodic verses with explosive choruses which encouraged collapsing mosh pits. Every so often, a trumpet player from Just Friends would come out and play along with Mom Jeans, adding to the live excitement of the concert. Even lead singer and guitarist, Eric Butler, borrowed a trombone, put down his guitar, and surprised the audience with a ska add on to the song. The Union Transfer security was surprisingly relaxed with the moshing and crowd surfing (which I may or may not have participated in), so the entire venue turned into one giant pit, with almost no room to freely move around. Whether this sounds terrifying or like a great show depends on what kind of show-goer you are. Mom Jeans definitely cultivates a very rowdy crowd, especially when performing live. Butler also took the opportunity of a young audience to stop the show an encourage the audience to vote on the 6th, something that was a focal point of both Mom Jeans and Just Friends.
As soon as the show ended, the crowd erupted in pleads for an encore. After some more cheering, Mom Jeans walked back out and played another song together. Butler then grabbed an acoustic guitar and Brianda from Just Friends joined him on stage. The two performed “now THIS is podracing,” a song off of “Puppy Love,” that features the two singing back to back and harmonizing. This mellow end to an absolutely gnarly show brought back the personable natures of all the bands which left a satisfied crowd eager for their next Philly show.
INTERVIEW WITH AWAKEBUTSTILLINBED
Brooklyn: So, first I heard you talking on stage about how you lived in Philly for a year, how was it?
Shannon: I mean, I loved it.
While you lived here did you get the chance to get into the underground DIY scene?
I did, yeah. I used to go to shows all the time cuz when I first moved to Philly, I didn’t have a job and while. I was looking for a job, like I would look for job during the day then at night I would go to shows. It was 2012 so back then it was really, really, really active and I would be going to house shows and club shows and the First Unitarian a bunch of times and The Union Transfer a bunch of times. It’s actually really wild that we’re playing at the Union Transfer because I’ve been here so many times and never in my life thought that I would play here.
Is it different from your hometown in San Jose?
Yeah, yeah, it’s not technically my hometown, it’s where I’ve lived for the past 8 years. Technically, my hometown is in Mesquite, Texas. But it’s confusing to say that all the time so we are from San Jose because all the members are from San Jose.
Here, you guys had a pretty big crowd, I saw a lot of people knew all the words to your songs which is so awesome (that’s good to hear!) It was really cool, but do you ever miss the gritty shows in stranger’s basements?
Oh absolutely! Yeah, absolutely. We still play those luckily. It’s definitely something that I am worried about missing later on down the line because more and more this year we have been playing those less and less (wipes face of chicken wings and looks to the photographer) I’m sorry! I probably look so disgusting. I’m just like so hungry! Um, yeah we still play the basement shows but we have been playing less. Actually our first Philly show wasn’t a DIY show, it was at the Trocadero balcony with Brackish and it was a pretty good turnout and a legit venue it was pretty wild.
On your guy’s bandcamp, I noticed the genre “extremo” do you wanna expand on that a little bit?
Yeah, I mean, extremo isn’t like a REAL genre, um, wait… don’t quote me on that. Um, basically, like, before this album came out, I had it and it was done like I had it on my phone but I couldn’t post it because I was waiting for the official masters from the person who I recorded it with but I didn’t have enough money to pay for it so I just had the MP3’s of it. But I couldn’t do anything with it until I had the high quality masters to put online. So I was sending it to friends being like “hey, my album is done, like, check it out.” And back then we didn’t have a following…I mean… I don’t know if you know that much about the band but this was our first release. Every single “fan” we had was mostly just like my friends who knew me from the music scene and the Bay area. I sent the album to a friend of mine who I just played with and I was asking him about how he felt what the genre was because I felt the genre was sort of like ubiquitous and confusing, like not super straight forward and he was like “no, it’s just emo” and I was like “really? Cuz I feel like there’s all these other influences. I feel like there’s a strong indie-pop influence in it and I feel like there’s a new wave influence in it” and he was like “no, it’s just emo… it’s like REALLY emo… like really, really, really emo, like extremo.” And I just thought that was really funny, like “extremo” so I just started throwing that around on our social media and it kind of… it’s caught on enough that people bring it up in interviews.
It seems like you keep a really good balance between feminine ballates and screaming choruses, how did you find that sound for yourself?
Well, first of all, I really like the way that screaming sounds, like especially screaming melodically. I’ve been listening to a lot of that since way before I got into emo. I was listening to people who do that in like, Soundgarden and Nirvana, so like, grunge bands and stuff. It’s been like a sound that I have always liked a lot and so when I was first learning how to sing, at first, obviously it was really hard to make those sounds come out of my mouth when I was first learning how to do it. My dad can tell you (motioned towards her dad) how annoying it was growing up with me cuz I was trying to teach myself how to sing, and I didn’t ever take formal lessons so I went through a lot of really weird processes trying to teach myself how to sing. But, I was in bands for like years and years and years so throughout the course of being in bands I just figured out how to make my voice do what I want, sort of. And, like, it really came into its own with this band. I basically started screaming in bands in like 2011 and I didn’t get to where I am with it now until 2014ish. It’s just hard to describe how exactly I taught myself how to do it, but basically it’s just like being in a bunch of bands where that was like the parts and just playing a bunch of shows and eventually getting to the point where I was just practicing a lot.
The title of your debut album, “what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you” seemed really personal, can you explain why?
Yeah, it’s personal in a way but I actually didn’t write the name of the title. It’s a reference to, this always sounds really corny when I say it outloud, but it’s a reference to a Facebook status that a friend of mine posted in like 2012. It was just a generic depression status. You know what i mean? When someone is like hella sad they just post a depressing status on Facebook. But for some reason, it just really struck me, and like never left me when I read it cuz I guess at the time that I read it, it felt true to me. It felt like… in 2012 I was struggling a lot with depression and stuff. It felt to me like that was some statement of reality or something. Then as I got older it still stuck with me, but the more that I think about it, it never really mattered whether or not the actual sentence is true or not. It’s just that when it feels true to you, that totally constructs your concept of reality because it’s a thought that doesn’t allow… if you truly believe that statement is true, like “what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you” if you actually believe that, inside, there’s no way to prove it wrong so it’s just like an endless loop of never allowing yourself to ever get out of your depressing state or to work on your self-image, to work on your self esteem because you basically constantly feel like your low self-esteem is validated or whatever, that it’s a valid representation of the world and anyone else trying to tell you otherwise is just like… I don’t know… bullshitting you or trying to cheer you up in a very artificial way to make you feel better to placate you or something. Does that make sense? And so it’s… you know… this is like a really long explanation but I realize that was me for a long time, that I was stuck in a loop like that where I was constantly affirming my own self-hatred and not allowing myself to believe anyone that I was not a bad person or I was not like unworthy of love or something. Does that make sense? And that’s like kind of what the whole album is about, that whole period of my life and so it felt like, I don’t know… it felt like a really appropriate title for the album. Of course, like it’s long and so everyone thinks it’s hella stupid.
Oh no, no I don’t personally think so
Hahaha thank you, I appreciate it.
So also along with that album, I hear that it started out as a solo project?
Yeah it started out as a solo project and it still, basically to some degree remains somewhat of a solo project. I mean, I always tour with a band so in that essence, it’s not really solo but I write all of the music and I write all of the songs. Originally it was just gonna be me and a guitar and nothing else and maybe I would play all the instruments, but I’m glad to have people playing with me on records and on tours so I think I’m gonna continue going down that route, so it’s kind of like a pseudo-solo project because while I’m like sort of the focal point member of the band, performances aren’t the same without the band. It’s kind of a weird in between.
You’re signed with Tiny Engines, right? Their family seems pretty close so do you guys ever collaborate as far as evolving your music or what you want to do next?
We definitely try to play with Tiny Engines bands when we are in their part of the country. Of course when you’re on a tour like this that’s not really possible, we are trying to tour with Tiny Engines bands and that’s actually gonna be happening next year, which I’m really excited about and I would love to do some guest appearances on another Tiny Engines band’s music or something that would be awesome. I don’t know if that would ever really happen but you’re right that we’re close though. Like Sarah from “Illuminati Hotties” has gone to a couple of our shows in LA and people from other bands in Tiny Engines hit us up to help book shows or I help them book shows sometimes and we all interact with each other on social media and stuff and I mean, it’s kind of like a family, I guess. It’s nice. I like all the bands in Tiny Engines a lot.
Is there anything you would like to disclose about future music?
We have another record written. We are working on it. That’s the next thing we are doing is just trying to get the album to the point where it’s ready to be recorded and at the door or whatever probably do a bunch of tours for that but that’s the next step right now, working on new material. We played this record out, like, a lot and that was something that I’ve always wanted to do, is put a lot of effort and put myself into a record which is what I do every single time I make a record. Every other band I’ve been in, that was my process too. But this is the first time that I’ve ever done that and had the space and the opportunity to really play it out for as many people as I possibly could and like that fact that I’m able to do that is great and the positive response is also great so it’s amazing for me, personally because I’ve been playing, I mean you can ask my dad, I’ve been playing music as my primary passion thing for eight years now ever since I moved to California and this is the first time I’ve ever been like doing this level stuff like touring shows to this many people consistently or like off and on and it’s, ya know, it’s really awesome to be able to do that. But I feel like I reached the point where now I wanna work on the next record. Now I wanna like, I’m done having touring as my focus and I wanna go back into it… that’s what’s next for us.