Algernon Cadwallader’s DIY Legacy
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Back in 2011, I was in a pop punk band, and I was sitting with a bandmate taking turns showing each other what we wanted to sound like. I showed him Transit, but then he played Grown Ups, and I was stumped. It was a sound that alluded to more; house parties, basement shows: a camaraderie of sorts that up until then I was unfamiliar with. I fell in love and couldn’t get enough. He showed me Snowing next, of course – and then I was hooked. All I had ever been exposed to as a 17-year-old was attending House Of Blues shows and playing pay to play gigs in local dive bars. It was lame, we could already feel the disconnect between where we were and where we wanted to be. But watching videos of these newfound artists playing to packed basements and friends crowdsurfing over their PBR-wielding peers, this was different. Then, I saw Algernon playing in a city park and looking like they’re having the time of their lives doing it. This was exactly where I wanted to be.
Digging deeper into their discography, I stumbled upon “Look Down (Because the Ground Is Easier to Understand and Doesn’t Take So Much Work to Figure Out But I’d Rather Not Know Where I’m Standing and Have An Idea of What Life Is All About)”. The eclectic title wasn’t just a song; it became my credo, or as one could say, a motivational song (I promise that’s the only joke I’ll make in this piece).
After that night I started paying attention. Here was this group of friends who, without much help from the “industry” or even the internet, were doing things themselves. They started a label to release their own records. They booked their own tours and lived on their own terms. It was the coolest, craziest, most inspiring thing I had ever heard of, so I followed suit.
We recorded in an attic. We bought cardboard cd sleeves and drew our own covers on an 8 hour drive to Pennsylvania to see these bands and pass out demos to as many like minded folks as we could. I started a label with some friends. We did everything in house, from cutting our own j-cards to driving ourselves to Walmart at midnight to buy clear nail polish to replace my mom’s after we used it all to glue rainbow glitter to some cassette tapes.
I went on tour. We booked it ourselves with some friends, and eventually we even made it to some random South Philly basement (it flooded before our set so we actually played the living room). During that summer, four years after that fortuitous night in my bedroom, I finally felt like I was there. I was in it.
I couldn’t tell you how many hundreds of miles we drove, six of us packed into a Honda Pilot racing down the interstate. I couldn’t tell you how many angry looks my mailman gave me as I greeted him at the end of my driveway, trudging through a foot and a half of snow with a crate full of mailorder every Saturday morning. But I can tell you about the first time I saw my friends band play out of state on our very first tour together. I can still vividly describe the sunset I watched from a pizza shop in New Brunswick right after I got my first impromptu tattoo. The first time I heard my music on vinyl surrounded by my bandmates I got a little too emotional, and I remember that brief moment of vulnerability and how long that goddamn hug felt.
Algernon Cadwallader helped craft youthful energy and desire into something achievable. They did it, and they did it so goddamn well, so why the heck couldn’t I? It may not mean much to anyone important, but that’s kind of the point. Joe, Matt, and Peter had an idea of what life was all about and they were chasing it with everything they had. Their music speaks for itself, but their actions really were what mattered most.
Luckily I wasn’t the only one who was inspired. Disillusioned emo kids around the world were listening. Starting their own bands, building their own DIY scenes, and learning from Algernon Cadwalder and the other bands that had carried the emo flag through the desert of the late 2000’s. Maybe Algernon weren’t the best band ever, but they might be one of the most important because of how many kids they inspired to keep doing the thing.
This winter their 2 LPs, along with a bunch of B-Sides and rare demos and covers are being repressed for the first time in the longest, and I think most of us who found Algernon way back then, hope these songs reach the hands of a new hopeful generation of kids who think DIY is the coolest shit they’ve seen since YouTube videos of cops yelling at skateboarders. I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I know I’ll be building sunsets with a pile of sticks, just to break your heart with it.
Think I’m exaggerating? Check out what some other musicians had to say:
“For MJ at least, Algernon was one of the first bands that Austin and I bonded over when we first met in college and were starting to write songs for MJ. We both liked the obvious bands like Mobo and Joyce Manor and American Football and stuff, but Algernon was one of the first bands that we really bonded over, like it seemed that nobody except for the two of us really liked that band. That mutual love for a pure-ass band that none of our other friends cared about was sort of the jumping off point for me musically where I started to explore a lot more outside just what my friends were listening to, and try to find new things that would get myself and Austin stoked probably a common sentiment, but our band likely wouldn’t exists/wouldn’t sound the way we do if we hadn’t found Algernon, not to mention the fact that they’re still to this day a super influential band that gets kids into starting bands. Even as individuals, their current/more projects continue to put out some of the best music imaginable. Their records are just old friends that convinced us that we could probably do it too.”
– Eric of Mom Jeans
“I grew up in NJ and was lucky enough to see and book Algernon a few times. The first time I saw them was at my house. My friend Jon had told me his friends needed a show and he swore they were really good. The lineup was Algernon Cadwallader, Boy Problems, Street Smart Cyclist, Know Think, and Deer Friends (original flyer). I was blown away, and that show definitely got me into that style of music. I’m hoping these re-presses inspire them to play some shows again so I can feel young.”
– Randy of Dikembe
“I’m super thankful to have played with Algernon on some of my first tours with My Heart To Joy and TWIABP. They were super influential to me, and I loved the positive atmosphere at their shows. Tons of bands tried to copy their sound, but they did it best. Joe’s guitar work has always been a favorite of mine whether it was in this band or Hop Along”
– Chris of The World Is A Beautiful Place
“Algernon Cadwallader was one of the first twinkly bands I was ever aware of. My cousin showed me them when I was in like 6th grad, and I was like “damn you’re allowed to do this on guitar?” That music kinda got me hip to alternate tunings on guitar, and the emo revival scene as a whole. When I revisit those records, I’m always amazed at the cohesive mix of twinkly guitars, unique vocal melodies, and intricate song structures that they combined in their music. There are these pop sensibilities hidden underneath the raw sound they were able to produce, and that’s something I’ve really tried to incorporate into my own music. I think Algernon is one of those bands you can listen to with their aggressive twinkle parts and just jam tf out to, and then realize after the song is over like “fuck that was actually beautiful the whole time.”
– Origami Angel
Honestly, Algernon was our primary source of inspiration. Their energy and melody was so infectious! We drove like 6 hours to see them for the first time. When I found out about them, I immediately knew I wanted to start a band just like that and we did. We toured all across the country and made so many amazing friends and memories. To top it all off, we got to play with Algernon a couple times and even got to record our album Bottle Rockets at Headroom with Joe Reinhart. Joe, Peter, and Tank remain good friends of ours to this day!
– The Ground Is Lava
To me, Algernon Cadwallader is one of the greatest bands of all time. They are the best of the best at writing twinkly riffs and making catchy yet extremely intricate music. They’re by far one of our biggest influences, but we don’t strive to be as good as Algernon Cadwallader; we can barely even strive to be half as good as they are.
– Surely Temple
Chris Musser | @ChrisMustard
All photos by Chris Teti
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