Within the realm of pop-punk – particularly the modern revival of the genre that drifts more towards ’90s emo bands than the big names of the mid-2000s – there are sad songs, and then there are the kinds of sad songs that Cameron Boucher of New Hampshire band Sorority Noise writes. The 23-year-old sings about depression, anxiety and mental illness with a unique frankness, capturing the uncomfortable thoughts that often swim around an unhinged brain and laying them out for listeners in a deeply relatable way without ever crossing into the cringe-worthy territory frequented by other writers of the genre. On the band’s upcoming EP It Kindly Stopped For Me, Boucher tackles suicide and its aftershocks with a bird’s-eye view, exploring largely undiscussed dimensions of the issue from a different perspective than he has before. We chat with the guitarist about honesty, Julien Baker and the deeper meaning behind Broken Social Scene’s “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl.”
What’s your typical songwriting process like?
It’s been different lately because I’ve started to score music. I scored a film and this new documentary for Modern Baseball that just came out. It’s interesting to be able to do that. I have really bad anxiety, so when I’m writing songs for my band it’s usually born of a panic attack. I can’t just sit down and think “I want to write a song.” I sit and mumble into my iPhone and strum my guitar for half an hour until I get over it or write through it. I used to not believe in editing at all – I would record an acoustic demo to my phone and that was the song. This EP was the first time I’ve ever edited a song after it was written. It’s been nice to delve a little deeper. I was so stubborn in thinking that the most raw emotion comes out initially.
Do you ever take on other personalities when you write?
Right now, music for me is so selfish. I’m just writing for myself. I’m not thinking, “Man, I can’t wait for people to sing along to this chorus.” That’s so far removed from my thought process. But maybe inherently people that don’t write music or don’t know how will take what you say and apply it to themselves and it becomes less than selfish. It has that power to do that – that’s the cool thing about music. On the new record, there’s a song called “A Will” that was written from the perspective of my friend Sean. We lost him this summer. All through high school, he was one of the most incredible people and a beam of light.
The song is from the perspective of a 21 year old. You might have some racist family member you hate being around, or a great aunt who lives in California who you never see, but they’re gonna leave you something when they die. But when you’re 21 and you die, the will you leave takes from others instead of giving something to them, so that song focused on the idea of what I imagined Sean would want if he could come back – the things he wouldn’t have wanted to give up, or wished to keep for himself. That was one of the first times I wrote with the idea of someone else in mind. The idea interests me, but I think it’s so hard. My music is so personal. I mention specific times or locations, and that’s just how I know how to do it. I think what Father John Misty does is really cool – he’ll sometimes go into different voices and I think that’s awesome. Tom Waits did the same thing. That could be cool to try eventually.
How long have you been writing songs?
Since eighth grade, probably? I’ve been playing the saxophone since I was in fourth grade and started playing piano and guitar when I was in eighth grade. I joined a band when I was in the summer of eighth or ninth grade. I guess that’s about eight or nine years now? If you were to ask me how long I’ve been writing music for, I would say three years, just in terms of things I can look back on and say, “I’m proud of this.” Before that it was a lot of bullshit. I was making things up and not singing about real elements of my life. It takes a while to figure out who you are as a songwriter. I was listening to Dance Gavin Dance and The Devil Wears Prada and a bunch of metalcore bands when I first started, and then I was listening to strictly ‘90s screamo so I started a screamo band. I think whatever I’m listening to is kind of what I start writing like. Then again, Regina Spektor is my favorite songwriter and that hasn’t really shone through yet, but I guess we’ll see.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yeah, it was so bad. It was a song I wrote with our merch guy Zach Ickes. It was with a band called 31 To Go or No Man Is An Island – that band had a lot of different names. The song was called “In Memory Of.” I think I was listening to a lot of Rise Against at the time.
What do you think is the hardest thing about writing songs?
Being real. There are so many things you don’t want to tell yourself. We’re about to release a new 7”, and now that it’s coming out, looking back, I wish I bailed on it. Sometimes you get too real. I’m at the point now where I get too real and kinda scare myself. I have to look back and go, “Okay, do I really feel that way?” When I’m writing I try to turn off the floodgates and figure out the problem I’m dealing with right then, but it takes a lot to come to terms with that.
On your last album, there’s a part in the song “Mononokay” where you say “So I called to apologize/for every night/I told you I didn’t want to live my life/But I hung up/Before you could pick up/Because I changed my mind,” but on this new EP you’re kind of looking at suicide from the opposite end of that. How do you think your songwriting has changed since that last album because of the experiences you had leading up to this EP?
I think it’s always changing. I’ve had a lot of friends commit suicide between the last album and this EP. On Joy, Departed, we wrote a song called “Using” that focused specifically on me moving towards a more positive life. I’ve made a point to talk about that at every show. As we were touring over the summer, I was losing friends back home, and it was strange because I had been working so hard on making sure I was still alive. People didn’t know to speak out or tell me that they needed help, even though I would have been there in a moment, so I definitely saw that part of life where I was like, “Ok, I can continue to get better, but I also need to bring my friends there with me and tell the people that love me that I love them.” I’ve been doing my best to see my friends as much as I can and check on people as much as I can. It’s important. You have to do that. I think that’s really made a huge difference.
Is that something you take into consideration more now when you’re writing? The message people will take from what you’re saying?
Well, I’m in another band called Old Gray, and we’re finishing up a record right now and my writing on that is one of the darkest things I’ve ever been a part of. The lyrics I’ve been working on lately are so fucking miserable. But that’s what I need to get through those thoughts. Obviously I’m not planning on killing myself, but I am reflecting on other peoples’ deaths and really holding nothing back because I think that’s important. But yeah, with Sorority Noise there definitely is an idea that I would like to help people through the band and show people that you can get through mental illness.
What song of yours have people connected to the most?
Probably “Using”. I guess it was the first song I wrote that didn’t end on a bad note. There’s a key change in the last chorus that – even though we play it every night – still has the same punch to me every time I hear it. People have reacted really well to that.
Who are your favorite songwriters, other than Regina Spektor?
João Gilberto is dope, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. We listen to a lot of bossa nova in the van. I come from a jazz background, so I listen to a lot of Chet Baker. Jack McClain and Billie Holliday were incredible musicians. Elliot Smith and Nick Drake are two big ones. Jesse Lacey is an incredible writer. Isaac Brock, Ben Gibbard… anything either of those people have touched. They’re both honest and I’m huge about that. Evan Hall, my friend who plays in Pinegrove, is incredible. The new Julien Baker record is incredible. She’s probably one of my favorite songwriters right now. Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak from The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die knows how to write a fucking song. That band brought me up. They’re the people I consider to be my punk “advisors”. They put out records of mine that I didn’t even believe in, and they put them on vinyl. We’ve done a lot of very cool things together. Brendan Lukens [of Modern Baseball] is my roommate and one of my best friends and also one of my favorite songwriters. Alex G is great. I have a Smiths tattoo. I mean, Broken Social Scene, Joanna Newsom… there are so many great people. I’m constantly intrigued by people and what they do. People playing music constantly challenge you to challenge yourself. I just love music and I’m lucky to be friends with people who play music and be able to be pushed by them but also be in awe of what they’re doing.
What’s a song by someone else that you wish you had written?
“Good News” by Julien Baker. I told her recently that that’s a song I never could have written. I guess maybe I don’t wish I had written it – I’m glad someone else wrote it. I don’t wish I could have written any song, because I write the songs I write, but there are some great songs. “A Better Son/Daughter” by Rilo Kiley is a phenomenal song. Those are two that make a lot of sense to me. There’s a song on the new Modern Baseball record called “Him” that Jake Ewald wrote that’s incredible too.
What advice would you give a young songwriter who’s just starting out?
Play a short set. Play a short, short set. Play three or four songs so you can make someone go, “What the fuck?” afterward. If you can, play a few songs that mean the world to you, put them out there and then get offstage and leave everyone going, “I wanna hear that again!” Play as much as you can, too.
What’s the best song ever written and why?
I was gonna say “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus, but it’s “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl” by Broken Social Scene. That song is phenomenal. I have the lyrics “Park that car/Drop that phone/Sleep on the floor/Dream about me” tattooed on me. It’s an example of something where I think I took the lyrics to mean something totally differently than they were intended to. I don’t know what they meant, but I always took it as an anti-suicide thing. I’ve had to talk to people at desperate times and I guess I always took those lines to mean, “Stop whatever it is you’re doing or are about to do and just think about me.” So if you look at my calf, you’re probably gonna be like “this guy’s a douchebag” because of the “dream about me” thing, but to me it means so much more than the narcissistic tendencies that phrase usually has. “Just For The Night” by Zanders is an incredible song too. It’s a song about a one night stand, but I’d never heard one from a female’s perspective before. It says “Let me get dressed/Before you turn on the lights/If it’s just for the night.” She’s phenomenal and that song is really great.