Some things never change. Frisbees will always sail through the air. Beer will always taste best cold. And sensitive emo boys will always feel out of place when they play DIY shows stacked with crust-punk bands.
That's how it was when I was a highschooler more than a decade ago, and that's how it went down in Orlando, Florida, when indie-rockers You Blew It! were making the local rounds in the late '00s and early '10s. Booking shows at pizza parlors, crummy bars, basements, kitchens— basically, wherever they could—they often ended up sandwiched between bands that sounded absolutely nothing like them, performing in front of meager audiences that couldn't give a shit about their complex guitar parts or soul-searching lyrics.
"We got shunned so much," recalls singer-guitarist Tanner Jones, "just because I wasn't wearing a jean jacket with an Op Ivy patch on it."
These days, life isn't so tough for the five piece (Jones, guitarist Andy Anaya, guitarist / vocalist Trevor O'Hare, drummer Matt Nissley and bassist Andy Vila, all in their early- to mid-20s). Riding on the crest of the so-called "emo revival"—a somewhat loaded term referring to a recent crop of bands inspired by '90s /early '00s emotional indierock bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and American Football—the band's spent the past few years touring regularly, garnering critical love and playing bigger, professional venues to eager fans.
"Playing to bigger crowds gets me way less nervous than playing to 10 people. Once it gets past a certain point of people in the room, it just turns into a blanket. You're just playing to an inanimate object of audience members," Jones says. "Whereas, if you're playing to 10 people, you see everyone's faces. You see everyone's disapproval."
But just as You Blew It! were once confronted with challenges unique to the DIY scene, they were also strongly shaped by them. On the band's excellent 2014 album, Keep Doing What You're Doing, Jones' voice teeters between a murmur and a half-scream as he struggles to make sense of a failed relationship. His voice is raw and mixed low, letting the guitars share in the tears—an approach that reflects that band's older days, when he'd often have to sing through a bass amp wheeled into the venue 15 minutes before the show started, due to lack of professional stage equipment.
"In those venues, we were playing to people that could only hear the instruments," Jones says, speaking by phone a few hours' drive outside of Orlando, after picking up the band's trailer from his parents' house to get ready for a new tour. "Those are the things that shine to us, obviously, because that's the only thing we hear."
That's not to say Jones neglects the lyrics. When he listens to music, he pays close attention to the words, especially with strong writers like Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Into It. Over It.'s Evan Weiss—another "emo revival" luminary and producer of Keep Doing What You're Doing. In his own writing, Jones works hard to pen memorable lines, and what comes out occasionally makes him seem oddly polite. "I had the displeasure of enduring your lack of manners!" he cries in "Rock Springs," sounding like a Downton Abbey cast member gone punk-rock.
But on the whole, his lyrics offer a refreshing departure from the sexist tone found in the music of so many emotional indie-rock bands. As the music critic Jessica Hopper wrote in her 2003 essay, "Emo: Where the Girls Aren't," the tag "emo" has long been associated with heartbroken adolescent boys hurling accusations at flimsily drawn female caricatures. Thankfully, unlike the whiners of Dashboard Confessional caliber, Jones airs his anger only to turn the lens on himself: "OK, I'll admit it / This past year I've been kind of an idiot," he sings in album closer "Better to Best."
You Blew It! plays Feb. 5 at House of Blues' Voodoo Lounge
"Blame is so subjective," he says. "Everything that comes out of my mouth, I'm thinking about it continuously. I'm thinking about how I could've done it better, how I could've done it differently. And I feel like that reflects also in how I interact outwardly. Apparently, it very much shows through in my songwriting."
You Blew It! started as a side project in 2009, and the band's gone through a lot in the six years since—including something like 12 lineup changes, Jones says. Members have left to pursue other jobs and careers, and the band itself is growing up, too. They used to piece songs together riff by riff, but with their new, three-song Pioneer of Nothing EP (released on Jade Tree on Jan. 27), they thought about each song as a whole, giving the music a better sense of structure and direction.
As for their live show, they're embracing change. And aside from the larger audiences and better stage equipment, Jones is just happy he doesn't have to try to impress judgmental crust-punks anymore.
"You feel more comfortable going outside of yourself," he says about playing bigger venues. "Putting that foot up on the monitor as a joke. Focusing more on how the vocals sound, rather than how people are perceiving your heart. It's more performance based, which is something that's weird to get used to, but it's kind of a nice change."
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