Sorority Noise doesn't write set lists.
The Connecticut-based punk band prefers the impromptu freedom to veer into the ambient or anthemic sides of its catalog, and besides, once realizing Cameron Boucher's voice or guitar starts each song, the quartet conceded its frontman was, in fact, its own living, breathing set list.
Before the onset of Sorority Noise's excellent third album You're Not As _____ As You Think -- out today on Triple Crown Records -- the only constant across their sets was "Using," a shout-along rocker with a cathartic key change, written about the natural catharsis that comes from self-acceptance instead of substance. It resonated with a heart-on-sleeve forefather, Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba, who poignantly covered it under Boucher's blessing. They forged a friendship through "Using," which almost feels a prerequisite for putting one's own spin on such an intensely personal song.
Boucher is manic depressive. It's something he speaks openly about -- often before performing "Using," almost always somewhere across the improvisational sets he leads the band through. But on the eve of their biggest release yet, it was some of their closest friends who needed care.
Back on Feb. 21, Philly punks Modern Baseball canceled their North American spring tour, citing band-wide mental health concerns that revealed themselves after co-frontman Brendan Lukens (an open proponent of his own triumphs over addiction) took a sabbatical from a prior European tour. Sorority Noise was booked for support across the 2017 trek, which would have started today -- the same day their new album drops.
"The most important thing [Modern Baseball] can do is take care of themselves," Boucher tells Billboard, taking a follow-up call from our initial interview, reacting to the sobering news that came to light shortly after he first delved into You're Not As _____ As You Think at Billboard's New York office. He's not frustrated or bitter; doing whatever it takes to find that visceral will to live is what his own band is built on. "That's a thing -- being involved with them for a while -- that they all struggle with, and we struggle with as well," Boucher admits. "It's important to take care of yourself."
For Sorority Noise, the show goes on. On March 8 -- the same afternoon as our follow-up chat -- the band announced a completely re-routed tour, thrown together by Boucher and his bandmates over the two weeks following the bad news. This one's a headlining trip, starting just a month after the original and running through mid-June with six alternating openers.
"I've had my hard times but they usually happen on the tour," Boucher explains, mentioning a six-day depressive episode he once endured while traversing Europe. Foreign places, foreign languages and routines that shift daily tend to exacerbate such symptoms. His anxiety was so severe, he could hardly eat, or even speak to his bandmates. "There's been times where I thought about leaving tours and going home just because I'm in such a low place. But for me, music is the utmost therapy."
Touring behind the new album, Boucher will have plenty of new lead-ins for the life-affirming onstage pep talks that have become a staple of the Sorority Noise show. Fast-charging opening track "No Halo" finds Boucher struggling to get himself out of bed, then striving to deal with the loss of a close childhood friend named Sean, whom he lost to suicide: "The same things that plagued you, still plaguing me." It's heavy stuff, but as his pals in Modern Baseball illustrate, not uncommon in this breed of band. If you've ever felt the energy in the crowd while Boucher introduces "Using" (as seen in the above video), you know why.
The next line, though -- "God called you to fulfill a vacancy/ I tried to see why it wasn't me" -- that's earnest religious sentiment, heard far less often from basement punk shows. Boucher was raised Catholic and confirmed as a teenager before the church's non-inclusiveness drove him away. But then, mortality hit. While grappling with his own struggles, there were losses like Sean and Corey Bernard, the former bassist for the Philly band Superweaks, whose inspiration also breathes life into the new record.
"If I didn't believe in an afterlife or a God, they were just gonna be rotting in the ground," Boucher explains. He thinks about his Aunt Anna, who recently died at 104: "Her funeral was like a celebration -- she lived a very great life." Boucher has paid his respects to loved ones far younger, settings where the mood differs starkly. "If everyone passed away at 104 -- if no one died ever -- there might be more of that questioning of faith."
"No Halo" absolutely rips, by the way; there's a massive, shout-along refrain that for the next several months will have kids screaming along about how Boucher skipped Sean's funeral so he could drive by his old house. The new album is intensely personal, though the lyrics that keep Boucher up at night become oddly infectious when Sorority Noise slips from brooding verse to crunching chorus.
With the kids behind him, Boucher insists he's "good… in the grander scheme of things," and that he's grateful to be asked. In fact, the new album title is a coping mechanism in itself: You're Not As _____ As You Think. "I always wanted to get it tattooed on my arm so I could just look at it… You can put any word in there and it can level you out: 'You're not as smart as you think.' Or you could also put, 'You're not as dumb.'"
It's an extension of that same catharsis that comes from a Sorority Noise show. "Do I still have moments and days where I think I'm not worthwhile?" Boucher demands. "Or difficulty doing things because my anxiety is so bad? Totally, one hundred percent, all the time, every day... When I talk onstage, I [say] that everyone has a life worth living, one hundred percent. And it took me a long time to realize that."
In other words, you're not as alone as you think.