Artist Interview: Everyone Asked About You
Posted: by The Editor
Pretty much by definition emo is a cult genre. Even by those standards, though, Everyone Asked About You is something of a cult classic. The Little Rock five-piece only put out a handful of music between 1997 and 2000, but in the years since they’ve been gone their reputation has grown. Archival label Numero Group is reissuing a remastered discography collection called Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts, which includes all nineteen songs the band ever released, and they’re also playing a record release show at St. Vitus to celebrate. Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts is a long-overdue document of one of the more unique bands in the ’90s emo scene–even to describe them as a female-fronted emo band that pulled as much from twee pop as post-hardcore and employed Moog as much as guitar would be to sell them short. Zac spoke with guitarist/vocalist Chris Sheppard and bass player Matt Bradly about the band’s legacy, the discography collection, and returning to the songs they wrote as teenagers from an adult perspective.
How did you guys end up linking up with Numero? How did the whole reunion come to be?
Chris Sheppard: It was a couple years in the making. Most of the band was scattered across the country. I hadn’t talked to many of the folks for years–well over a decade. I’d seen Matt a few times, and whenever The Body’d come through Boston I’d see Lee, our drummer. Somewhere around mid or late 2019 or ’20 we first had Ken from Numero reach out over email. He hit up Lee and said he’d found us on YouTube and wanted to work with us. Lee sent me a screenshot on Instagram and we chuckled. There was no way he meant us, right? No one had ever really heard of us. He kept emailing us a bit, so we looped Matt into it–he’s the only one on social media–and every six months someone would hit the groupchat and ask what’s going on. It was summer ’21 or spring that Ken sent one last email and said this would be our last chance. We had a band meeting and decided we’d look into it. We had to see what source materials we still had! Late June or so we signed on for physicals–originally it would just be digital, but interest in the band grew quite a bit–somehow–so when we actually signed on Numero decided to do actual physicals. That got us even more into it. Maybe a week after we did that we got a request to join Numero Twenty, and that was a whole other series of talks. By the time of mid-July we had it all lined up.
It’s been very interesting to see how Everyone Asked About You has gained this near-mythic status. What’s that been like for you, being gone for twenty years and coming back to such hype?
Matt Bradly: It was strange! Even when Ken reached out we didn’t believe it. Nobody ever really showed interest in us before. I think, occasionally, we’d find videos of a band in Japan covering some of our songs, and they were probably barely alive when we were doing music! That was weird, was cool, but that was it. I don’t think anyone saw it coming. It was surprising to most of us–but it’s so flattering! I’m sure more so for Chris–I only joined partway through, and I play bass, and Chris is a much more primary songwriter.
CS: That initial feeling–us?–still comes up. When we first got serious about this, I didn’t Google the band or anything to see if people knew us. I just thought of it as this cool thing I did from 16 to 20, and it was cool, but just one part of my life. I quickly realized there’s 130,000 views of a vinyl rip of our first 7″! That’s not a lot for YouTube, but for us? And on Discogs, people were willing to pay lots, lots of money for records. When we did our warmup shows in Little Rock, and then again in California, we had people driving from Chicago to see us, people flying from around the world! A lot of them weren’t even born when we were active, and they all knew the words. No one knew the words when we were a band.
It’s interesting you both bring up younger people. I saw the videos from Numero Twenty, and there were so many teenagers there. What is it about Everyone Who Asked About You that you think appeals so much to young people, even people who weren’t alive when the band was active?
MB: Some of it has to do with the age we were when it was written. I didn’t write the lyrics, but I know Chris and Hannah wrote from the perspective of teenagers. I think something connects there–especially being a teenager who doesn’t fit in, maybe a queer teenager in a small town in Arkansas. I think there’s some connection to the age we all were making that music, and there’s some logic to the idea that teenagers now can find their way into. Also, too, that genre of music–the biggest band in the world now is Paramore, and they’re third generation from that scene. American Football was a precursor to them, and Sunny Day was a precursor to them–now My Chem is playing stadiums. I bet there’s some nostalgia, thinking kids in the ’90s had such a fucking awesome life. We did! It was amazing being part of that scene, and I think there’s FOMO discovering an older scene and wishing it still existed.
CS: This is half-baked, but the onslaught of the internet and how when we were a band, you still had dial-up, and everyone made their own tripod websites or whatever and it was hard to find new music–but everyone was standing around saying, “You gotta listen to this! You gotta listen to this!” I think seeing the resurgence of cassettes speaks to that nostalgia. I don’t know about you, Matt, but I loved being the first person to say, “You gotta check out this band!” when I was in high school, and I think young people are coming back to that. There’s little sonic diversity in accessible pop, and outside of mainstream culture, it can be tough to seek out music that readily speaks to you. For me then, it was going through the Arkansas CD and Record Exchange–now there’s that, plus, you know, SophiesFloorboard and archives and blogs and hashtags on YouTube. There’s a kind of dopamine you get discovering something that very few people are aware of. Plus everything Matt said! The first couple records do speak to high school feelings–big adult feelings without adult expression.
SophiesFloorboard, man, what a throwback.
CS: That’s how I got our first record! I didn’t have a copy of that 7″ until maybe five, six years ago.
That’s a really fascinating perspective, and I think you’ve got a point about that. Bands like Paramore are huge now, and American Football is opening for The 1975. I know there are emo bands going viral on TikTok. What do you think might explain the resurgence of interest in that style?
CS: I think about this sometimes. There’s something to be said, I think, for youth disenfranchisement and disenchantment with the dominant culture and power structures and the state of their communities and country–the world!–and you see these waves of creativity in all the creative realms–music, visual art–and there’s always someone doing something interesting. I can’t speak to why one band might break through versus anyone else but you see these waves–like the mid to late ’90s post-Bush and post-grunge wave of speaking what we experience, like coming up in the emotional hardcore scene–and people look for things that speak to their social and emotional views. I know I do. There are periods when I only want to hear sad music, or I only want to listen to pop, Thin Lizzy, whatever. I work with teenagers, and I think this group that was in lockdown and now back into the world, I think they’re looking for something. They see that the path they’ve been locked into isn’t all there is.
MB: I might add that certain people identify as culture hounds. To me, that came about at a pretty early age. I didn’t grow up in Little Rock, but a much smaller town–and everyone played football and listened to Aerosmith. That wasn’t for me. I got into skateboarding, and then Thrasher magazine, and that’s when things opened up for me. For me, at least, it became a significant part of my identity. You want to find your favorite band’s favorite band! Teenagers are always going through these things, and there’s pride in liking the things that other people might not. Say you like Blink-182–where did that come from? They liked The Promise Ring, Mineral, Cap’n Jazz–and that’s the scene we came up in. I think there’s a natural progression to digging back through the archives. It comes with that search for identity–and now I’m 47 years old still digging back for obscure records! I love the same shit!
CS: When you get a couple decades removed from that time period–and it happens in cycles also–any of the microgenre gatekeeping stops existing. Like, nowadays, it’s all just ’90s emo and punk. It’s all that scene and we don’t fight about what was what. In Little Rock, there wasn’t any gatekeeping about emo bands only playing emo shows and hardcore bands only playing hardcore shows–you’d do what you do because it was so small. We’d play with grindcore bands–and we’d probably share members!
When you guys go back and listen to your catalog, is there anything that stands out to you now? It could be songs, riffs, lyrics–anything that you still feel proud of today?
CS: There was probably a decade after we stopped when I wasn’t proud of any of it. I locked it away. I didn’t think it was bad but it’s just so heart-on-sleeve that it felt exposing. Now I’m more proud. “Me vs. You” is much better than we gave it credit for at the time–one of my favorites to play. It was one of the first six songs we ever wrote, and when we wrote the LP and started playing those, we dropped the 7″ songs. That one, twenty years later, is fantastic. Two guitars, a drummer, a keyboard, and Hannah? It’s so rich. As a band they way we built that crescendo–we didn’t give it credit and we didn’t play it then the way that we should’ve. Some of the ballads were more fun to revisit too, even if it wasn’t the stuff we wanted to play back then. I like it a lot now. The second half of “Taxi” is a blast–it’s always such a blast. We can really work together as a band onstage instead of doing a xerox copy of a recording.
MB: I have similar answers. I joined two years in, so the first two and a half 7″s I wasn’t on. I joined on that Shyness Clinic split. We didn’t play those old songs. I played “I Will Wait,” “Me vs. You,” “Everyone Asked About You” for the first time last year! Maybe we’d played “Sometimes Memory Fails Me Sometimes,” but it was mostly new stuff. I was a fan of the music, but my relationship to those songs is different now. I can come in as a bass player and beef it up without changing the dynamics. That’s been super fun for me to inhabit those songs. They’re straightforward songs, but they’re fun to play! I can go back to these songs without any attachment and still say that I appreciate the way that I played as a bass player. The revelation for me, though, is that the early songs are good. Fuck, I wish I’d joined earlier!
It sounds like it was really gratifying returning to these songs, and it felt pretty natural.
CS: Gratifying for sure–but it was weird. It was awkward–for me, though, I’d sold all my equipment in 2001 and I hadn’t played guitar since. When we agreed to play again I bought a new guitar and had to teach myself to play, to play and sing, to play and sing and perform. Everyone did it their own type of way, and we tried to figure out rehearsals before the LA show. Once we got into the rehearsal space at John’s offices–John our keyboard player–it was a four-day party. It was fun! No one was overly stressed and we walked in with the pressure of making a setlist, and for Little Rock we just played our whole catalog to see what worked best for LA. When I got over the awkwardness of playing guitar my challenge was relearning everything. That goal became the thing that kept me coming back. When we got back in the room–December 25, 2022, was the first time we’d all been together in a room since 2000–we were instantly taken back to our early 20s.
MB: It was effortless, I’d say–speaking for myself. I continued to play music pretty much the whole time. More often than not, though, I’m usually the singer in bands, the frontperson. I hadn’t played bass in a band since our last show. I was pleasantly surprised with how obvious my parts were to me. We never had a falling out or an acrimonious breakup, so I knew getting back in a room would be great in itself–but getting to make noise with them again, what the fuck’s better than that? It’s been seamless.
Let’s say you go back to your last show. You’re told that in twenty years, your whole catalog is getting remastered, and you’ll be playing shows across the country, including to people who hadn’t even been born yet. How do you think you’d react to that?
MB: I wouldn’t have understood it or believed it. With some exceptions, our fans were our friends. We sold enough records on tour to put gas in the band, but the idea that we had broader reach–even that midwest emo as a genre had more reach–was insane. It felt like the scene was on its way out, getting more into hardcore or math rock stuff, and there was a rise of this third generation that didn’t feel as connected. I wouldn’t believe twenty-three years later anyone would be interested in us. Maybe you’d remember Cap’n Jazz, Promise Ring, even Mineral or Sunny Day, but that’s it.
CS: We were in a band because everyone in town was in a band. I wanted to play something different than what was happening at local shows. This was all happening during the time when, like, records with barcodes weren’t punk. The Promise Ring were sellouts because they had a video on MTV! We were excited because we knew them all–but we couldn’t even fathom how you’d get there. We didn’t send our records to Merge or Matador. We did it because that was how we made gas money. If you were to tell me we’d be playing with Ida and Unwound twenty years later I’d think you’re lying! If you were to say we’d play a 3,000 cap room, you’re fucking lying! There was no way. What crystal ball are you looking in? You need to get a refund! The crumbling of the LP release took a lot of wind out of our sails, too–the gap between Jade Tree, say, versus what we did in Lee’s bedroom label, it was different worlds.
Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts is out September 8th through Numero Group.
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
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