Alt/rock close to home
New Jersey and Philly may be a small part of the East coast, and an even smaller part of the country, but a lot of talent has come out of such a little area. Most northeasterners explain where they’re from using TV show references, like “I’m from the Jersey Shore, but not the part where Snookie and JWow lived.” For me it’s more like, “I’m about ten miles from The Gaslight Anthem’s hometown.” We live in a kind of hub for pop punk and alt rock, and I believe it to be a disservice to explain my home in any other way.
Most locals are aware that talent breeds in the area, but a lot of successful and well known artists in the pop punk and alternative rock scene that hail from just a few miles away even surprised me upon learning their origins. So, here are some of my favorite local bands who made it big that you may have known are from the area, and some that may be a surprise.
The Gaslight Anthem
A folksy, yet upbeat and high energy band featuring singer Brian Fallon as the frontman, The Gaslight Anthem comes from New Brunswick, NJ. Most people, I’ve found, either know them well or don’t know them at all. When the band came through New Jersey for their 10 year album anniversary tour two summers ago, the first two shows sold out The Stone Pony summer stage almost instantly and a third was added for fans who just couldn’t miss out. Their hometown roots are reflected in a lot of their lyrics with mentions of Jersey that can make any resident feel nostalgic.
My Chemical Romance
Emo kings of Newark, NJ recently ignited a fire in scene kids’ of the early 2000’s hearts when they announced a string of upcoming reunion shows in their home state, also adding a third show due to high demand. Known for their flare for the dramatic and brutally sad and honest lyrics, My Chem sparked a lot of the darkness of the emo revolution. Everything was black and skeletal; eyeliner was a staple for women as well as men. It was a dark time, but in the best way possible- and every East Coast pop punk fan felt like My Chem belonged to them.
In the early stages of “screamo,” Senses fail took the spotlight. From Ridgewood, NJ, the band’s fandom was like a secret club; you were either in or out. Their lyrics were perfect to scream out when you felt rejected by your middle school crush, or your parents wouldn’t let you go to that concert; when it felt like your life as an adolescent was simply over. They were dramatic in a simpler way and fans loved it.
Admittedly, I never indulged in this band during their prime. But many of my friends did because they were from New Jersey, they were getting a lot of attention, and they were good. They sold out their first headlining concert at Rutgers less than six months after they released their first album. Members of the band had been involved in the NJ ska community before Streetlight’s inception separately, but forming this band together let them rise to success in and out of NJ.
Saves the Day
Saves the Day from Princeton, NJ formed in the late 90s and has left an impression on the music scene today (i.e. Yellowcard’s “With You Around” from When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, 2011). Frontman Chris Conley has expanded his musicianship since 1997, playing with members of Say Anything in a completely separate project as well. Most people know Saves the Day for their lyrics seeded with sporadic poetic moments like in At Your Funeral where Conley sings “I will sing the requiem,” followed immediately with more urgent words, “it would hurt too much to watch you die.”
The Wonder Years
Dan “Soupy” Campbell from Lansdale, PA references Philly in one of The Wonder Years’ most successful singles, “Came Out Swinging.” One of the things Campbell is best at is describing moments in detail that lets the listener put themselves in the moment. In the song he describes himself in a “south Philly basement caked in stale beer and sweat” before bringing in the more hard hitting self reflective lyrics. Knowing how big the music scene is in Philadelphia, it’s easy to visualize and relate to the moment. These raw moments, I believe, are what brought TWY their success.
More recently popular in the pop punk scene are Grayscale from Philadelphia, starting in 2011 and gaining popularity since. In 2017 they released their biggest single to date, “Forever Yours.” They also released a music video for the single not long after, and it was touchingly sad. Their latest album Nella Vita, 2019, even includes a song called “Asbury.” Is this a reference to New Jersey’s beach town? I couldn’t find enough information to validate an answer, but being so close to the shore it’s not such a far fetched hypothesis.
These are certainly not the only notable bands hailing from the northeast area most known for its rising music scene; but some of the most impactful, I think. Regardless of where a band is from, listening to the music first is the most important step for both artists and fans. However, it is pretty cool to say you know where they got their start. And who knows, if they made it, maybe we can make it too.