Reconnecting with emo music of the mid 2000s

Recently I found myself listening to music that I used to listen to in my teenage years. Maybe that isn’t surprising, given the recent post I wrote about songs that conjure up specific memories. I practically dove into a time capsule. But when we go through phases like this, I suppose it’s worth trying to figure out what inspired it. It was my birthday not too long ago, but that didn’t really have anything to do with it.

Last year my brother told me about the “Unpopular” exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, a collection of 90s alternative music memorabilia from record producer and music promoter Stephen Pavlovic’s personal collection. It was running up until just a few days ago, and I had every intention of seeing it before it was going to end. Brandon told me about it because there was a good chunk of Nirvana memorabilia, and I was (still am) a huge fan when I was a teen. He was right to think I’d like it. I ended up going with my friend Chris and we were both talking about how we knew people who might come along and check it out, but maybe not really appreciate it as much as we did. Chris was able to identify many of the bands just from photographs alone—he’s got years on me, so I’m not surprised—and I was absolutely certain that I heard Dave Grohl’s (drummer of Nirvana and now frontman of Foo Fighters) voice in one of the audio clips, retelling the experience of a tour in Australia and making the amusing comment “scrawny vegan motherfuckers”. Hearing music and audio clips and seeing dozens of tour posters and concert tickets encouraged me to listen to Nirvana yet again. The kind of music I may not always willingly listen to, but that I would still enjoy.

There is meme after meme, Reel after Reel, TikTok after TikTok (although I don’t use the platform), of millennials listening to the same music they listened to when they were teenagers. There are accounts dedicated to specific fashion trends or aesthetics: emo, goth, punk—the real stuff, not the more polished version gen Z has re-created—and drawing in others who find the content highly relatable. There are many millennials all up in their feels and being forever nostalgic about the music that made them, them.

I am glad the exhibit felt like a catalyst to dive into my music library. It just so happens that I’m also toning down my recent experimentation with colourful clothes and honing in on darker colours… I look better in them, but I’m also adjusting my style to lean more grunge. I feel like I am re-appreciating the music I listened to when I was younger. Without a doubt, it got me through some pretty difficult days. There was a lot of metal, hard rock, and straight up emo music. When I listen back to it, I do remember when people mocked how depressing some of this music was. In school you’d almost have a divide between people who listened to heavy, loud music because it let them forget about their sorrows, and people who just didn’t. I don’t have a great way of explaining this, but I was so deep in the “emo kid” and “let me feel my feelings” camp that I couldn’t care less if someone was going to make fun of me because of the “alternative” music I listened to, and as hard as I try to think about it, it definitely wasn’t a “phase” and I wasn’t listening to that music to try and be cool.

A man and woman standing next to each other in a dimly lit bar, with their arms around each other and smiling
Meeting Ben Jorgensen, frontman of Armor for Sleep, which I blogged about back in 2011

People don’t often think about why they like the music they like. They sort of just do. It makes them move, bop their head, headbang, dance, whatever. But when asked why, it’s just hard to explain. It wasn’t until I was older that I felt like I could explain why I love metal music: it makes me feel alive. Something about the volume, the energy, and the way it makes me feel. One of my favourite bands growing up was Armor For Sleep. They aren’t so much metal as they are rock, but their lyrics have dark and sad themes. I found myself listening to the band’s music recently, including their debut album Dream To Make Believe—which just so happens to be 20 years old. The lyrics still sort of hit me the same way they did when I was younger. When I listened to Armor For Sleep in my teenage years, their music made me feel supported, like a quiet friend, even though I felt so alone, and even while I felt like I was falling. The music made me grasp onto whatever hope and positivity I felt like I had at the time.

Depression sucks. I distinctly remember feeling depressed at the time, and I think there are people out there who have a hard time wondering why people might want to listen to “sad music” when they’re sad. It’s a bit comforting. When you’re in a good mood, of course you feel like listening to something more positive. When you feel calm, you generally want to listen to a calmer piece of music. As I slowly matured into an adult, I was under the impression that emo music wasn’t going to leave a big imprint on my life. I chuckled a little bit at the domain names I registered— and, inspired by Armor For Sleep lyrics. I’d thought about getting some of those tattooed onto my body. I was likely going to get over that kind of music because it was too loud, too “depressing”, heck, maybe even triggering because of the period of my life during which I listened to it. I was certain that after I found more joy and became less depressed, I would enjoy that music far less.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I gave it enough time; listening to that kind of music in the car is a bit odd because it sounds weird, but here I am finding myself listening to those tunes over again while I work (and without the shitty Limewire audio—fuck, the sound is so clear!). I still love it. I love the energy and I love the angst. It feels different. It hits different. I hear those lyrics “dreaming less and sleeping more”; “watch me point to the sky; you laugh and say I’ll never fly”, and beyond me trying to explain what they mean to me—which is sort of pointless because it’s pretty personal and no one would really get it—I feel a pang of emotion in my heart because I remember… I remember what it was like to be fifteen and hearing those words in the music. This many years on, I remember, because it was me. I know who I was back then. Probably an entirely different person, but it was still me. And I made it here. And all of this shit—the music, the lyrics, what I went through, how I felt—made me, me.

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