I Went to High School with the Leader of the So-Called Emo Revival
Catching up with classmate Evan Weiss about Sunny Day Real Estate, Miley Cyrus, and John C. Reilly.
I’m not related to Evan Weiss a.k.a. Into It. Over It., a.k.a. the most prolific breakout star of the so-called “Midwestern Emo Revival” that’s become such a recent phenom that even Village Voice dedicated a Pazz & Jop essay to it during year-end season. But before he moved to Chicago, we went to the same high school in Cherry Hill, NJ, and played at the same Battle of the Bands, and he first personally introduced me to “emo” by way of a mixtape in ninth grade that included Sunny Day Real Estate, who blew my mind, and a bunch of other well-chosen songs (shout out to the Milwaukees’ “Drink Soviet Champagne” and Losing Touch’s “Communist”) by bands who mostly didn’t.
I never did become much of an emo fan, but I loved Weiss’ band J.A.R. in high school, who later became the Progress, who were more well-known outside of South Jersey, before going solo and hooking up with dozens of other bands before and between his own, most well-known project, which released Intersection last year to a positive Pitchfork review and a surprising amount of interest from The A.V. Club, SPIN and Carson Daly, who gave Weiss his live TV debut. As it’s been more than a decade since he became somewhat of a household name (in emo households anyway) and I became a music journalist, and since our ten-year high school reunion was this past Thanksgiving, it seemed like prime time to cross paths again and find out just how an entire movement springs up. Listening back to J.A.R. now, I can hear the missing link between Silverchair and Sunny Day Real Estate. So Noisey spoke with Weiss about first discovering emo, writing songs about Jersey diners, and meeting John C. Reilly.
Nosey: You made me a mixtape in 9th grade with Sunny Day Real Estate, Braid, and Far on it, the first I’d ever heard of “emo.”
What first exposed you to the term and bands associated with it?
My first exposure was…well, this interview’s gonna be interesting because I’m gonna be able to make really specific references to things we had growing up in Cherry Hill. Do you remember John Ryan?
Ah man, that name sounds familiar but it’s also kind of generic so…
[Laughs] The first exposure was like, a beach vacation with Matt Williamson, you might remember Matt Williamson.
Yeah, I remember him.
We were in seventh grade and we went down the shore and I went to Tunes on the Dunes, and Sunny Day Real Estate was playing in there, LP2, on the record store stereo. They told me what it was, and I went to the Marlton Tunes the next day, the day we got back—
I was just there, literally yesterday.
[Laughs] Is it still there?
I don’t know why it’s still there, but it’s still there.
So we went to that one and bought every Sunny Day record that they had. And after that I just went back with my allowance money and bought whatever CDs looked kinda similar, that had similar art or was on a similar record label, or I would buy stuff that was on the same label as that band. Jade Tree stuff, Polyvinyl stuff, you’d just find stuff that fit the bill. Sometimes you’d strike out and sometimes you wouldn’t. Then I’d go to local shows, hear about stuff going on in Philadelphia and have my mom drop me off. [Laughs]
How would you describe the local music scene we grew up with in high school?
I thought our music scene, comparatively—especially after traveling so much and hearing what a lot of other people experienced or saw or maybe had growing up where they lived—I thought ours was really good in comparison. Really strong, really exciting. A lot of local bands doing really cool stuff. You go to other communities and nobody has that. But that time in South Jersey in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was really booming. It was pretty cool.
When did you first become aware that bands didn’t like the word “emo” describing their music?
It wasn’t until after I think a lot of bands had co-opted it, a lot of music writers had co-opted it and thought it was something it wasn’t. Dan uses that term “mallcore,” which I think is really accurate and I think kind of ruined this thing we all kind of took seriously. I think that was the first time that got fucked up for the rest of us. And that word doesn’t mean anything…for me, it’s just indie rock music that has kind of a punk ethic, a DIY ethic. Bands with that work ethic that just aren’t playing hardcore punk.
What do you think is making people embrace the word again?
Because the bands are good! [Laughs] That’s really it. The bands are good, they’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s actually kind of what it had originally been, setting the record straight. For me, it’s just a fucking word. It doesn’t really have that much weight as far as I’m concerned. You play shows and you meet people that are excited about making music for the same reasons you’re excited about it. If that means it’s emo then whatever. [Laughs]
What is the biggest misconception about the bands and the scene under the “emo” umbrella?
That we’re like, sensitive wussies, maybe? Or that this is the only kind of music we listen to or are excited about? I think that’s a big misconception, everyone listens to all kinds of music and is excited about different things. It’s not exclusive, it’s not a boy's club.
You did some reunion stuff with the Progress in 2012, the guys from high school that I mostly knew your music from. You’re one of the only people I know who tried to make a living out of music, so at what point did you realize you’d have to go solo to do that?
Well, the Progress wasn’t doing anything. I so avidly wanted to pursue that band seriously and really make it a priority. The other guys had school, jobs, other stuff going on and they weren’t willing to do that. It just became clear to me the only way I could begin to really approach it the way I wanted to and really go all-out was to do it completely alone. Which was awesome because I could set my own schedule, I could do whatever wanted, if I wanted to go on tour, if I didn’t want to go on tour…I didn’t have to call up a group of people. If I wanted to do this, I could do it. There’s something about being completely self-reliant that just makes everything way easier.
Did you think Into It. Over It. would become your primary project or just something in between bands?
At first, I thought it would just be something between bands, but after two weeks of an Into It. Over It. tour, coming back to Chicago and not having a job anymore, I thought if I don’t go for this all the way now, I may not get another shot at it ever. So that was kind of the line in the sand with the whole thing. And I figured if it didn’t work, I could go back to having a job and at least say I tried and had something to show for it.
What was the last day job that you ended up having?
I worked for Threadless, the stores in Chicago. I was a manager there, worked there for a year, came back from the tour and they were like, "Oh yeah, your position has been filled."
I think one of the last times I saw you was when CD World in Cherry Hill closed, I think we worked in the same one.
Oh yeah, I was like, 19.
You made a song a week for a record called 52 Weeks, the kind of project people would now do via YouTube or something. What kind of difficulty went into that? How relieved were you when it was over?
Not as much difficulty as you would think. Once we figured out a rhythm, the whole project came together really, really easily. It became something I knew how to plan for weekly, how to budget my time. That said, I was so relieved when it was over. Such a massive relief when it was finished. Toward the last few weeks, I started playing bass in a band and had to do the last two songs when we were on tour. I booked recording time once a week, every week for a whole year. I want to say between weeks 7 and 47 it was real easy, we locked into a system. But the first five and the last five were tough.
Did you cheat at all or have anything saved up for it?
Not at all, that was a big thing going into it. I tried the first week like, "Oh, maybe I’ll come up with stuff ahead of time." But when it came down to the wire I ended up using something I wrote the day before the studio the first week.
How many of those do you think are good enough for a more edited album?
None! Well, two of them. But also I’m not a big fan of harping on the past. It’s cool that it was a moment in time. But think that going back to revisit it would be unfair to the project itself and what was so cool about it.
You also made Twelve Towns, about 12 towns. Would you ever do a record with conceptual limitations again? Is it more tiring or easier with the rules?
Every record so far has had a set of rules, they’re just been different. Like, Proper was all about a specific two-month time, and they were all about Chicago. And with [2013’s] Intersection, the songs were based off of previous songs that I’d written.
Me and my friend looked up Their/They’re/There’s “572 Cuthbert Blvd” on Google Maps before this interview—is that the bowling alley or the Crystal Lake Diner?
It’s about the Crystal Lake Diner. [Laughs]
Oh yeah, mini-meals. Cheap as hell.
So with Intersections, you’ve been reviewed by Pitchfork and gone on Carson Daly. Were you surprised at the amount of attention this one got, or has your success been a totally gradual process all along?
I think it’s been a little bit of both. Some of the things were totally surprising…being on NBC was a total mindfuck. Seeing that hard work can really pay off…I mean I’ve been on tour constantly since 2010. To see that there is some reward to really busting your ass is really fucking cool. There was some stuff we’d planned that would hopefully come together, that certain publications would start talking about the band. It’s really cool just when a plan comes together. Talking to [Pitchfork’s] Ian Cohen, his opinion is just like, “Well you know, the records are better.” And I would say that that’s true, I think a lot of the bands involved are writing really great records now and figuring out who they want to be in the end, how they want the shit to sound. We’re all in uncharted territory.
When did you start to realize that the “emo revival” thing was taking place outside of the usual crowd of fans?
Well, I’ve been calling it the “good music revival.” [Laughs] I actually didn’t realize at all. There’d been awesome shit going on this whole time, an awesome thing I’m part of, so it didn’t seem like anything came out of nowhere.
Then you get a call from Carson.
[Laughs] Yes, yeah. People are talking about it who didn’t talk about it before. And we’re excited about sharing the music with as many people as possible.
I found a Chart Attack article saying you’re the breakout star of this phase, because people might compare you to Dashboard Confessional. Do you think you’d be able to embrace unexpected crossover success?
[Snickers] I haven’t really thought about that. I think we’re gonna get weirder and weirder, not poppier and sillier.
What’s your favorite music that has nothing to do with the kind you make?
I listen to a lot of jazz at home…a lot of Miles Davis, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins. And in the apartment we really listen to a lot of Harold Budd and Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois. A lot of pretty engaging instrumental stuff. Grouper. When I’m at home I don’t really listen to anything like what I write. A lot of the bands I grew up listening to that at one point were a pretty huge influence on what I do now, I love all the songs but I don’t play them as much now.
Is it weird when you’ve grown up with a record by someone you’re friends with now?
Yeah, I mean, there are bands I listened to growing up that I met who turned out to be total dicks. And then on the flipside of that, bands I had put away for a while, after meeting them and they turned out to be awesome, I re-fell in love with records I ignored or put away for a long time.
I saw on Facebook you’re a Miley fan.
Well, let me clarify that. I think flying into a fucking stadium on a fucking hot dog is awesome. Nothing’s going to make me not think that’s awesome, whether she knows it or not, whether someone else is making her decisions or not, whether she enjoys it or even understands what she’s doing. It’s still rad that she can wear a cannabis onesie. That doesn’t mean I agree with what she says or if she’s ignorant or if she’s into racially stereotyping people. But flying into a 20,000-head arena on a hot dog…
So if you become the Dashboard of the “good music revival” you promise to fly in on a giant hot dog in a cannabis onesie…
Well, I’d have to come up with another onesie, don’t want to be a copycat.
Who’s the most famous person you’ve gotten to meet?
Hmmm. I mean, I met John C. Reilly at the airport one time. But that had nothing to do with any of this…I was in London and walking to my flight and he looked like he’d just gotten off a flight. So I run up to him like, “Oh my god, you’re John C. Reilly!” And I can tell immediately that he’s totally jet-lagged and tired, so immediately I had regrets. But he goes, “I am!” So I asked for a photo and I’m fumbling with my fucking phone and I felt awful because the second I walked away he got mobbed by 20 to 30 people.
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