Sneaking Into Funeral Parlors With You Blew It!
"Are we even allowed to be in here?"
"I don't think so. But whatever. No harm."
So begins my chat with You Blew It!'s Tanner Jones, in a hushed funeral parlor-cum-mausoleum at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. Aside from his manager and girlfriend waiting patiently in the chapel, we're completely alone — unless you count the spirits of those long since passed, contained within ornate urns and marble tombs. Outside, the wind roars, while the setting sun transforms the gravestones into morbid monoliths and once-peaceful angel statues into lifelike emissaries of death, dotting the landscape with shadows and gloom. It's an eerie sort of beauty, but it's stunning nonetheless.
The same could be said for Abendrot, You Blew It!'s darkest, most detailed effort to date. Released last week via the venerable Triple Crown, it's a record distinguished by reverence, but also danger — namely, the existential pall begat by all the doubts and deferred dreams that run rampant in our 20s. Jones, who is 26, knows the complexities of these feelings all too well, and accordingly, recognizes the limits inherent in expressing them through the band's usual aggro-emo m.o. It's no surprise, then, that YBI! named their record Abendrot, the German term for the brilliant, blood-red afterglow that heralds the sunset — it's a vibrant, explosive transition into the unknown.
And so, on the day that You Blew It!'s new album enters the world, Mr. Jones and I — a pair of agnostics — sit on the couches in the bereavement room, where we touch upon a number of topics, including politics, religion, love, loss and nosy neighbors.
When did you start writing this record?
We’ve always been playing with ideas since the last record [2014's Keep Doing What You're Doing], but I’d say we officially started writing this in March 2015. We rented a cabin — I’m the only one who lives in Orlando, Fla., anymore. Everyone else lives in Arizona, Philadelphia, and spread out through Pennsylvania and Virginia.
We rented a cabin in upstate Florida, almost on the panhandle. Florida is a home base for everyone — we’re all born and raised there — so it was just kind of a good excuse for everyone to meet there, see family and kind of make it a business trip as well. I put "business" in quotes.
Were you isolated?
We were isolated, but not as isolated as we would’ve thought. We didn’t have service. It was so far out, which was a blessing in disguise, but we definitely had neighbors. We got noise complaints around day four or five; the neighbors come around like, “We came here from Boston to get peace and quiet, and you guys are banging songs out.” So, we had to cut it short a bit early. Other than that, compared to city life, it was great for sure.
Florida has played such a big role in the 2016 election. What are your reflections on how it all played out?
I identify as a liberal, so sitting there watching [the election results], I was almost positive it would swing blue, because it had in 2012 and 2008. I was kind of convinced that it would happen again this year, and watching the red numbers go higher and higher was disappointing, in a sense — not necessarily people voting the way they did, but people not voting the way they should have. I feel like there were so many people — from my perspective, so many logical people — that were supporting who I felt was the right candidate, but didn’t go out and vote. Knowing that the amount of people that were angry and motivated to go out and vote outnumbered the people — in my case, logical — who decided not to vote was just so disheartening.
It was a big blow to the ego. We’ve always had in our Twitter bio, “Florida doesn’t suck,” because we love this state. I can’t say enough good things about it. But that night, watching it all go down, we had to turn it off at a certain point.
In previous interviews, you’ve touched upon the importance of shows as safe spaces and urged bands to step up to the plate and take a stand against intolerance. Given the increasing polarization in this country — which, sadly, has accompanied an uptick in hate speech and even violence — do you think that artists have a responsibility to rebuke such a culture? How do we reconcile our current political differences with the scene at large?
You know, it’s hard. I believe in the good in all people. I prefer to trust people first, and then have them betray my trust. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around Trump, but you have to believe that if you support someone, you’re doing it for reasons that you think are altruistic.
I don’t think we as a band would personally go so far as to say, “We don’t want any Trump supporters or people who believe in certain things to come out to our shows,” but I think you definitely have to set a precedent. If you’re holding any type of event, if you’re displaying anything, you’ve got to lay down some ground rules, or at the very least make it known what you as a presenter thinks it should look like. I think that it’s the artist’s responsibility to set that precedent, to set those ground rules. If someone breaks them, you have a responsibility to get them out of there. I mean, we’ve got a reputation for crowd-surfing and stage-diving, which we do enjoy in the correct moments. I think we’ve done a good job of portraying that — at least I hope so. We want everyone to have a good time. If someone wants to stage-dive in the pit and is cool with it, then go ahead. But if we’re opening for Taking Back Sunday and everybody is there just getting to know us, and someone stage-dives, I feel like it’s reasonable for us to kick them out, because nobody wants that.
Anyway, back to Abendrot. You’re moving away from the raucous sound of the past. To me, this album is a lot more intricately detailed. Was that a group decision, or a product of your lyricism, which you’ve traditionally done on your own?
It goes both ways. We’ve always been a band that gets together and writes together, and then I go home and put lyrics on top of it. I have a firm belief that the lyrics are there already, and I’m just plucking them out of the air; those feelings that the songs express were there already, and we were writing from that mindset.
But also, we wanted to make a conscious effort to do something different, at least to an extent. We could sit around all day in alternate tunings, moving our fingers around, layering guitar parts on guitar parts — doing what we have done over the past couple of years — and come out with something that sounds pretty good, like the last couple of records. But I don’t think we owed that to ourselves, or the fans who have supported us for so long. I think they deserve — and we deserve — to crack our shell a little bit and come out of that. Challenge ourselves, and challenge other people. We’re just slaves to our emotions.
Where was your head at as a songwriter when it came time to come up with the lyrics? Did you opt for a stream-of-consciousness approach, or was it more thought-out?
Typically, the way I write songs is that a lyric will come, and I’ll enjoy the way the words sound together, the way the message gets across. And once I tap into that, it all flows out. Historically, what I’ve done in the past is to grieve through songwriting: break-ups and friends who don’t necessarily feel like friends anymore. This one was more reflective, personally. For the first time in a long, long time, I was happy — I have a girlfriend whom I love; we moved in together. I was becoming an adult that I saw myself being as a child, and that was a very happy time. I didn’t have anything to grieve about, so being a perfectionist — and being someone who really, really enjoys using songs as a diary — I didn’t have anything to write about in my diary. That either brought on mental issues, or uncovered mental issues — they say in your mid-20s are when you notice all these things.
I can relate.
It all comes out. [The record] is mostly about that — learning to live with that, but also flailing in your early-to-mid 20s, trying to become the adult you want to be.
It’s not until you attain some kind of happiness that you realize how depressed you were before.
Exactly. And not only that, but it’s like ... I don’t want to blame this on social media, but it’s always about comparing yourself to others.
What type of art were you consuming when you were making this record? It doesn’t have to be music — I’m talking books, films …
I was influenced by cinema more than ever before. It’s weird how it happens. I’m sure you’re the same way with journalism; you’ll read something you really enjoyed, like, “I really like the style this was written in,” and you’ll emulate that style from the ground up. Watching movies, you’re more influenced by moods, or vibes, or emotion. You have that big overarching umbrella you try to build from the top down. You try to fit pieces in and build them up, piece by piece by piece. It was really fun to quantify.
What movies were you watching?
Historically, I was a sucker for big action movies, but this past year, I got really into your typical indie movies, low-budget films. Anything on Netflix that I hadn’t watched before, that intrigued me — their covers. This sounds stupid, but I read those listicles, like “The Top 10 Movies on Netflix This Month.” The thing that always comes to mind is Paul Thomas Anderson, Michel Gondry ... things like that: whimsical, but restrained.
One of the lines on this record that really stood out to me was on “Autotheology,” where you proclaim, “When God dies, I’ll skip the funeral.” How do you identify spiritually?
I consider myself an agnostic, which I’ve always considered a kind of cop-out, but ... you don’t know. I think it’s always been important to immerse yourself in other people’s beliefs. Whenever I have downtime between books, I try to read something from the Bible. That song [“Autotheology”] is about a vengeful Job. It’s the story of Job from the Bible, amped up.
The story of Job feels so relevant this year. Everything goes to shit, and God’s solution is, more or less, to be like, “Shut up and deal with it.”
[Laughs] Yeah. Exactly.