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Emo For Life

In Music
SAD SONGS: Shannon Taylor, the singer and songwriter for Awakebutstillinbed, says she's already working on a follow up to the band's latest release.  Photo By Tommy Ly

SAD SONGS: Shannon Taylor, the singer and songwriter for Awakebutstillinbed, says she's already working on a follow up to the band's latest release. Photo By Tommy Ly

On Christmas Day, San Jose emo group Awakebutstillinbed surprised fans with new EP, Stay Who You Are, their first new set of songs since 2018’s striking debut album What People Call Low Self-esteem is Really Just Seeing Yourself the Way Others See You (the band stylizes its name and album titles in lower-case letters).

Last week, the band announced a vinyl version of the new EP, now available to order from North Carolina label Acrobat Unstable Records.

That there is new Awakebutstillinbed (absib) music in 2021 is not only exciting for emo fans, it is something of a miracle. Three years after the release of Low Self-esteem, singer/songerwriter Shannon Taylor says the band’s debut was originally intended as a suicide note.

“When I say that album saved my life, I mean that as literally as you can imagine,” Taylor says. “I was going to release it and kill myself.”
Instead, the writing process brought healing.

“Through writing it, I changed my mind and by the end, it was this very positive, almost optimistic album about overcoming,” Taylor says. “Something about writing about all these things that were making me feel so fucked up and so helpless, sitting down and looking at them–going through that really changed my mindset.”

Taylor calls the lyrics on Low Self-esteem “diary-level personal,” but the album’s raw vulnerability and brutal honesty rang true for many listeners.

“The best album on earth <3,” reads one supporter’s Bandcamp comment. “You don’t have to see yourself in these words for them to resonate with you,” says another.

It was a fan of Low Self-esteem’s intense emotional honesty who decided to give the album some press on the (sadly defunct) Grey Estates blog, and then another who brought the band international attention with a glowing Pitchfork review, celebrating the album’s “seismic impact.” This December, it was another fan who asked Taylor to contribute a song to Chillwavve Records’ third annual 12 Days of Chillmas compilation.

“I was like, actually, yeah, I’ll try that. That sounds fun,” Taylor says. “I’d never done that before–try to write a song with a specific theme in mind.”

From there, the EP began to take shape. Scattered around the country and sequestered during the pandemic, the band’s members each recorded their parts at home and sent them to Taylor, who recorded her own either at home, or at San Jose’s Art Boutiki–depending on volume.

“Leave,” absib’s song for the 12 Days of Chillmas comp, does mention the recently-passed holiday, but it is far from a novelty song (Taylor stresses stay who you are is not a Christmas album). Musically, “Leave” is the closest absib have come so far to what might be called “trad-emo,” trading out their standard panic-inducing energy for warm acoustics like pre-Transatlanticism Death Cab for Cutie.

The final song on the EP, “Mirror” similarly expands the band’s sound, a tender–though despondent–ballad whose plucked acoustic suddenly slides into a wintry lo-fi hip-hop beat programmed by Portland-based musician Cat Egbert (Saoirse Dream). Taylor’s brother, electronic musician jpegstripes, also contributes to the album, playing drums and synth on “Leave.”

“That was really cool,” she says. “I had thought that maybe one day we could write something together, but our tastes in music are so different. Doing the album this way, the production was pretty open ended. It gave me some opportunities I wouldn’t normally have had.”

While “Stay Who You Are” gently expands absib’s musical palette, one thing that hasn’t changed is the band’s raw emotion. Throughout opener “beauty” (the song that most resembles Low Self-esteem) Taylor circles back to the question “Is there hidden beauty in this life?” in increasingly uncertain tones. “Leave,” the song written for the Christmas comp, is about being alone on Christmas. The lyrics begin: “Every winter it’s the same fear.”

“I only listen to sad music,” Taylor says, before admitting to listening to “some pop” as well. “The music that I get really attached to is stuff that makes me feel. The kind where I listen and look at the lyrics and it sends a tingle down my spine.”

Fellow lovers of sad music will be paradoxically happy to that note Taylor says Low Self-esteem’s formal follow-up is already mostly written. Continuing to write music, she says, is not a choice.

“I play music because I have to. I mean, I want to, but it feels more like a need than a desire,” Taylor says. “I think most musicians feel that way.”

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