In 2000 The Juliana Theory made their mark on the pop-punk scene with their sophomore album, Emotion is Dead. But after just a few years, founders Brett Detar and Josh Fiedler called it quits. It was not for lack of success—life just happened, other opportunities came knocking and The Juliana Theory got pushed to the wayside. However, it was the success from their first five years that would demand a reunion years later.
In 2019, after 13 years apart, the duo rekindled their energy as songwriters together on an acoustic tour. They immediately realized they had unfinished business with The Juliana Theory.
“We kind of had a false start with some things we were trying to do a couple years ago, and I just really felt like we had some unfinished business to take care of,” Detar told American Songwriter. “Josh and I just had such a great time on that tour and we just reconnected. And every night we would talk to people who came out to the shows and they would always ask, ‘when are you going to make new music?’ So it just sort of seemed like some of the pieces were falling into place.”
After completing the acoustic run, the duo felt invigorated and ready to look to a new chapter of the band. Officially reuniting, under support of new label Equal Vision Records, they kicked the new chapter off with their first new song in over 15 years, “Can’t Go Home.” A stripped-down piano snippet of the song first appeared on the band’s Instagram before it was fully realized. And the initial demo and instrumentation concepts were in part inspired from the acoustic tour. Stripping down their older songs on the acoustic tour offered Detar and Fiedler a new way to examine songs and formulate bullet-proof insight.
“The acoustic tour ties into this because stripping down our songs to softer, very intimate acoustic versions helped us to see the actual songs as they truly are at their core without all the elements of production and arrangements,” Detar said. “That’s why, for the past 10-plus years every time I am writing a song, no matter what style of music it is or how large the production is, I always play it on just a piano or guitar and sing it to make sure the song itself is right—without anything else to compensate or cloud my vision.”
The Juliana Theory spent much of their early years writing quite differently, mostly in studio with lots of overdubbing and effects. And it was something that they easily got carried away with on records like Emotion is Dead.
“I think there was a little bit of time where I let production, sonics and overdubbing take over for the act of actual songwriting,” Detar explained. “That stuff can be really fun, but you have to be mindful that no amount of studio magic can make up for a weak song.”
This gift of insight came from some of Johnny Cash’s early recordings with Rick Rubin, which Detar was listening to heavily. And afterwards he realized everything after basic chords progressions and storytelling were just glitz. “Hearing those records fundamentally changed the way I think about songwriting by reminding me of what I inherently knew as a child writing songs at my piano, that all the other stuff is just icing on the cake.”
“Can’t Go Home” was a natural song to test out the theory, due to its strong piano foundation. And it also fit the criteria of the most crucial aspects of the band at its finest.
“Now we have the benefit of hindsight,” Detar said. “Being able to look back on music that we made years ago, I can be less attached to it. I think I can see it more for what it is with all that distance. One of the main things I’ve realized is that I truly believe the band was at its best when we were making music that wasn’t overly aggressive and when the songs were more pop-rock leaning, where concise arrangements and hooks were crucial to the song. ‘Can’t Go Home’ fits in that lineage.”
And the simplicity in “Can’t Go Home” allowed for the strongest element to ascend, the lyrics. Built on a pop structure and minimal, yet catchy riffs, Detar sings lines that are relatable, and representative of the uncertain times of society. “I called it ‘wayward stranger days’ at one point. The song wasn’t written to be so reflective of 2020 and the weird year this is for so many of us, but songs can change their meanings. ‘We turn to run now/our turn to face the unknown,’ has a completely different meaning to me now than what it meant when I wrote it.”
But even 15 years later and 15 years wiser, the one thing Detar and Fiedler continue to keep with them and in their music from the early days, is the experimentation and the journey of music and creativity. And they really hate repeating themselves. Even Emotion is Dead was very genre-fluid. One song would be gutter-punk bliss and the next would be a pop ballad. And that’s the idea and perspective they want to continue with, regardless of what their music sounds like.
“The Juliana Theory at its best, always had a sense of defiance and adventure,” Detar said. “We liked to keep people guessing. ‘We knew you’d hate this before we wrote it’ was the first lyric in the song ‘To the Tune of 5,000 Screaming Children’ off of ‘Emotion Is Dead’ and at the time, that’s what I honestly thought.
“’Can’t Go Home’ might sound a bit different from any of the different eras of the band’s catalog but we tried to do that with every single thing we ever put out,” he continued. “That’s kind of the hallmark of The Juliana Theory. To me, at its core, ‘Can’t Go Home’ has the emotional landscape and bittersweet approach that a lot of our best songs had.”
Another song ushering in the reunion, is their most recent release, “Better Now,” officially out today. To really mix up the concepts and styles, “Better Now” has a much more somber tone with lyrics about addiction and life’s hard times. After a casual hangout with a dear friend, Detar felt more than compelled to write about what he empathetically felt about their conversation. And it ultimately ended up resonating with him in his own unique ways, growing into a song about what happens after rock-bottom.
“One night, not long ago, a friend that I care about deeply, who had been struggling, came over to my little music studio,” Detar recalled. “Although they didn’t say a lot with words, it didn’t matter. I knew they were really hurting, and I was especially struck by the visceral feeling I got from just a few telling glances.
“The look of hurt I saw resonated with me throughout the night and when I woke up the next morning it was still just as resonant,” he added. “I’m not always the best at speaking things in the right way. I wanted to encourage my friend, but maybe I was too afraid to be vulnerable enough to say what I felt. So, when I woke, I wrote these lyrics—the words I wanted to say to my friend the night before—words of hope. The truth is, I needed to speak a lot of these words to myself as 2020 dealt me a level of depression and anxiety that I had never felt before. It’s ok to need help and ask for help. It’s ok to feel hopeless. It likely won’t happen overnight, but just know that things will get better. Hold on and don’t speak the word ‘surrender.’”
“Better Now,” with its hope latent persona, was the best suited song to start off a new year. The video, directed by Jesse Korman, follows the story of three different characters facing equal struggles and suffering. But the underlying message of hope and change is what Detar really wants you to pay attention to, alongside the new phase of The Juliana Theory. And there is still more to come.
“’Better Now’ is the most hope-filled song we’ve ever released” Detar says. “Don’t get me wrong— this isn’t a feel-good song or video. I wrote it from a place of pain and struggle, a black hole, the lowest of the low. And maybe I’m a dreamer, but I still believe in the power of art to help us heal. So, if you’re looking for some encouragement, please watch the beautiful video. Here’s to new beginnings.”