The first few lines of Survival Pop, the latest album from Worriers, might be the best possible introduction for those unfamiliar with the melodic pop-punk band fronted by Lauren Denitzio. Before a single word is sung, chords ring out from a piano that sounds like it’s on the far side of a large, empty room, alerting you that the pop sensibilities on this album go beyond what you might expect based on a description like ‘melodic pop-punk.’ Then over that haunting piano, Lauren sings:
“I see the circles under your eyes and it’s been years.
I’ve got questions and you’ve gone grey since you moved here.
But our seats at the bar feel the same.
We can run but we’re back here anyway.
Smile at the worst of things. Laugh when I hate everything.”
As that fifth line ends, bass, drums, and a chunky, palm-muted guitar pick up in place of the piano and the album takes off running from there. I could go on and cite more lyrics from specific songs – moments of somber introspection, upbeat outlooks, and the challenges of self-actualization and overcoming societal norms – but the album is so full of lines worth mentioning that we simply don’t have the time.
In a similar way, I would gladly present you with a thousand words on the fantastic give and take between the guitars and Lauren’s vocal melodies on Survival Pop; then another thousand words of adoration for the sound and shape of Lou Hanman’s guitar parts throughout the album.
Thankfully though, what follows is a conversation Lauren and I had at Local 44, a bar in West Philadelphia with an excellent local draft list, about being on tour, beer labels (Lauren is also an accomplished visual artist), and the process of writing an album as powerful as Survival Pop.
Who are the Worriers?
Worriers are myself, Lou Hanman [guitar], Nick Psillas [bass], and Mikey Erg [drums].
You just finished a national tour for Survival Pop – how’d that go?
It was fun. We had just toured the states in the summer so it was really nice to go back to a lot of those places. It was really nice to play the new songs and have people actually know them and kind of get people’s reaction to them.
What do Worriers listen to while out on the road?
We listen to a lot of podcasts – we’re one of those bands that listens to a ton of podcasts. We ended up listening to a lot of Pod Save America, Beautiful/Anonymous, and My Favorite Murder. We ended up listening to the new St. Vincent record a lot. We were really excited when that came out. And the new Iron Chic.
And then what about beer when you're on tour? Like right now, you’re drinking a [Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company] Churchville Lager and I have a 2SP [Brewing Company] Biscuit Bitter – we have two local Philly beers here – did you have any beers from a given area that were memorable? Or is there more of a ‘beer staple’ while on tour?
Well, I will say this is not the fanciest beer, but when we were still living in Brooklyn before going on tour, one of our neighbors told us about Fat Tire. And we had never had Fat Tire because it wasn't distributed in New York, like you really couldn't get it in New York City at the time, and so it was something that became a fun regional thing that when we were in New Belgium territory that we would be able to get Fat Tire. And now when we moved here, obviously you can get everywhere. So I kind of discovered that as a more regional beer on tour.
I can't remember anything else off the top of my head but it is always nice when venues do specifically give you local beer. I feel like my local beer knowledge is from Philadelphia, more so than from tour.
When did you move to Philly, from Brooklyn?
About a year and half ago
Do you have a favorite local beer down here?
Probably just something from Neshaminy Creek [Brewing Company]. I feel like from their support of music and things I just ended up having a lot of their beer. It’s always my go-to, especially on menus you like this, I just look for that. They have the JAWN.
Juicy Ale With Nugget – that’s a great beer! Have you had any Tired Hands?
It sounds familiar but I don’t think I have actually.
They’re out in Ardmore. They do some pretty tasty, interesting stuff, but they also have really interesting visual art, different from Neshaminy, but interesting.
Oh cool, that always gets me.
Have you ever thought about making a beer label?
No actually! And it’s funny, because J.P. [Flexner] who does all the Neshaminy Creek beer labels, has filled in on drums for Worriers. So I’ve seen him drawing beer labels. I mean I haven’t thought about it, but it would be really cool. I would love to do something like that.
When I look at some of your work on Instagram (@lauren_denitzio), if I saw that on a beer can I would be interested in that beer.
I would be so into that. Maybe one day.
What about Michigan beer? Survival Pop was recorded in Michigan. Any beers that made regular appearances during the recording process?
Oh, I wish I could remember because Marc [Jacob Hudson], who recorded [Survival Pop], he had his stash of Guinness and then there was leftover beer from the Against Me! Tour that he had been on, so there were all these beers that were local beers that he had brought home from that tour. I wish could remember. And then cheap beer also, like just whatever we could get.
A slight change of direction here, but I’m really into tree diagrams, almost like family trees, to chart things out. For example, how someone, specifically me, came across your music. Like how did I get here? So I’ve put a lot of thought into it and traced it back: it started for me with Plow United, a band I’ve listened to since high school, they got back together and put out two records, and then Joel [Tannenbaum of Plow United] started to do the Rentiers, and Mikey was in the Rentiers for at least one of their lineup iterations, which led me to [Mikey Erg’s record] Tentative Decisions, and then to Jeff Rosenstock..
[Jeff] produced Mikey’s record...
Exactly! So then Jeff Rosenstock appeared, which led me to Antarctigo Vespucci and Chris Farren, and one of those guys put something out on social media about a new Worriers record. And that is how I found Worriers.
And so the question is… do you have a similar progression that you can trace back that led to this record, Survival Pop?
Oh. Yes? I mean, I think it was… do you mean like bands?
It could be anything. Even in the world of beer, we could follow the progression of a brewery or the creation of a beer – like this person got their start at Brewery X, and then eventually moved over to Brewery Y, and now they are opening their own brewery. So everyone seems to have some sort of progression or lineage in some way. And with this record, what started the process of writing those songs, and then to go to Michigan to record with Marc – what led you there
Well with that in mind, we recorded the last record, Imaginary Life, with Marc Jacob Hudson. Laura Jane Grace [of Against Me!] produced that, and she was the person that introduced us to Marc, and after that record, I at the very least knew we were going to record the next one with Marc if he would do it.
I mean it sounds really obvious, but I think it was a lot of ‘okay, these are the bands that I really like listening to right now, this is the music that I want to see more of,’ and finally feeling like I was with a group of people, that I mentioned earlier, who are Worriers, that really felt like a cohesive group to write this batch of songs with.
We played shows with John K. Sampson [of the Weakerthans] after recording the record – but I had been in touch with him before we recorded it – and I feel like being in communication with people like John, with Laura Jane Grace, and Brendan Kelly who brought us on tour with [Chicago based punk band] The Falcon, and then meeting Dan Andriano [of Alkaline Trio and The Falcon] in that band, and I feel like I’m name dropping, but I think it was more that all of a sudden I found contact with people who just make music. That is what they do for a living. It’s what they do with their life, and trying to put my music in that context and putting it into practice – if I’m just going to do this all the time, what is this record going to sound like?
I feel like the phrase ‘Survival Pop’ is the way I think of punk music.”
What were you listening to during the writing of Survival Pop?
In addition to the bigger things that I’ll get to in a minute, I was listening to Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab for Cutie, and I was listening to, and keep listening to, a lot of Florence and the Machine, listening to Neko Case, and the latest Menzingers record, and more [bands] that are friends. But then I’ve always just listened to a lot of Against Me! and the Weakerthans.
Can you describe that moment during the whole process when it was decided that you were naming this record Survival Pop.
I wish I could remember. It was before all the songs were written. Which was the opposite for Imaginary Life. I could not think of a title for Imaginary Life. But Survival Pop was something that I knew was happening well before I was done with the songs and I sat on it and wouldn’t tell anyone for a long time.
Why did you know that that was going to be the name? What is Survival Pop, that title, about?
I think a lot of my approach to this record had me thinking about what music has done for me in the long run. How being a fan of music and listening to music has been important to getting through a lot of things in life. And I think it was obvious to me when I thought of that phrase that this is how I relate to music or this is how I relate to my own song writing process.
I think there is a lot in the label of punk that is political and has this resistant feel to it that I wanted to also be thinking about how pop music has done a lot, or in the way that I relate to it. I feel like the phrase ‘Survival Pop’ is the way I think of punk music.
I don’t think I’ve necessarily put it into words like that before.
Thanks to Kenneth Bachor for the header image.