Photo by Erik Rojas
Since their kickoff in 2010, Sleeping With Sirens became one of the leading bands in the emo, pop-punk parade that dominated the early millennium. Their faces were plastered on issues of Alternative Press, often half hidden in angular haircuts and high-contrast music videos. In early albums like With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear and Let’s Cheers to This, frontman Kellin Quinn was all anguish and attitude–lingering between self deprecating emotional battles with his father, scornful lovers, doubtful industry personas and a fuck-the-world assuredness that aimed to condemn them all. Full of the rage and swagger of the genre, it was all the more accessible to audiences set to Quinn’s unique falsetto.
In their latest work, Gossip, the band is far more pop than–if at all–punk.
“At some point, you have to grow up and do something different. I didn’t want us to be that band who keeps trying to do the same thing over and over again. We’re not 18 anymore,” Quinn said. “Being 31, I had to be closer to my age. There are a lot of bands out there trying to be 18 and it’s silly. I can’t sing about that stuff anymore.”
Gossip doesn’t even touch what the band churned out in their early 20s. There are no throat-scratching screams, no messages of youthful rebellion, no pining. But there are stories of overcome hurdles, lessons learned and discovered strength. Fans of their debut album, and the two to three sonically similar works that followed, wouldn’t recognize this band. For its lead singer, that thought is as scary as it is cleansing.
“I have mixed emotions about this record and message. I think it’s a positive thing for us, we’re just going through growing pains right now,” he said.
Quinn says the album maintains important themes such as loneliness and mental illness.
“That’s something that I go through, I deal with depression and anxiety every day. I think everybody does. For some reason, there’s something in the water,” he laughs. “There are people who wake up with thoughts, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ You have to stop yourself and deal with the things you can do today.”
Writing about his own experiences helps Quinn maintain the powerful connection and healing experience that young audiences have had with pop-punk songwriting. It’s what makes the genre so iconic as the music for the loners and standouts.
“Our audience isn’t the ‘norm’, you know, they don’t fit in everywhere. It should be celebrated,” Quinn said. “It’s a lifestyle. I can’t relate to the music on the radio, I don’t see any substance in the songs. I would say the legacy of this music is that it’s there for people who need it.”
It’s what pulled Quinn into the genre during his adolescence. Today, he still revisits the discography of bands like The Starting Line, reminding himself of what helped influence and shape him.
“The first records I listened to got me through some tough times,” he said. “I’ll go back to those records now and that’s what I want our band to be. I want us to be the band for people to go back to.”
In working on Gossip and planning the band’s future, the frontman in in search for something meaningful.
“It’s important to have a message. If you don’t have much to say, there’s no reason to be on stage, in my opinion. Not to be critical of other bands and musicians but it’s important to stay motivated, to use your voice for the right reasons. For me, it’s important to bring that energy, to get on stage and feel at home there because for a while, I didn’t feel that way. For a period of time, I didn’t even want to be a musician,” he pauses. “In dealing with that depression, that anxiety, I think I’ve learned not to hold on too tight and try to control everything.”
Though the golden years of pop-punk seemed to have died down–even the famed Vans Warped Tour meets its end this year–groups are still setting out on reunion and record anniversary tours.
This band doesn’t plan to live in the shadow of their first albums. They recently hopped off of a UK tour with Rise Against–playing a few shows to thousands, playing others to audiences who didn’t know (or seem to care) about Sleeping With Sirens.
“There’s a mix of fear and excitement in those shows, but it’s great to feel like you’ve won over the crowd after a few songs. [Europe is] a hard area to break,” Quinn said.
Audiences who catch the band on their Gossip tour at Upstate Concert Hall can expect a variety of tracks from the Sleeping With Sirens discography, from the crowd-pleasing “If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn,” to the bittersweet and satisfying “If You Can’t Hang.”
“It’s important for us to go back to that nostalgia, to those messages and remember why they matter, that’s where we get that sing-along element. The community is really important. I hear stories all the time about people who meet their best friends at these shows, To come to a show and hear music that you love and you end up making friends for life? It’s awesome.”
Quinn is quiet after being asked about their upcoming tour. Then, as if realizing it for the first time, he says slowly: “I think this year, in 2018, I’ll fall in love with everything again.”
Sleeping With Sirens play Upstate Concert Hall on Tuesday, January 23.