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Past Lives, Future Me: Worriers' Lauren Denitzio On 'Survival Pop'

Tuesday, 26 September 2017 Written by Huw Baines

It feels stupid to describe this year as a good one for jean jackets in punk. Honestly, every year’s pretty solid.

But it has been. In February, the Menzingers’ Greg Barnett used one as a mile-marker on the nostalgic title track from ‘After The Party’, while this summer Propagandhi’s Chris Hannah smirked at their ubiquity when firing questions to the heavens on Victory Lap. Denim jackets still sit on alternating sets of shoulders at shows but for a couple of lines a night, they are the show.

On Future Me, the first single from Worriers’ new LP, ‘Survival Pop’, Lauren Denitzio completes a trio. They stand on the corner of 5th and Berkeley in Brooklyn wearing “glorified canvas socks and a shredded jean jacket”. They survey old haunts and lingering memories, having stumbled on them again without thinking.

The jacket and shoes aren’t vital to the story. But they ground it. Throughout the record Denitzio views the past through a prism of their present self, dulling some sharp edges with hard-won hindsight and finding that others still pierce the skin.

It’s wistful, but at no point is it at all sentimental. “When I leave, you’ll never notice it,” they sing in the song’s chorus. “But I relive those years like phantom limbs. Your indecision, your lack of empathy. I should have left, should have settled for lonely.”

“It is striking to me that I don’t think any of the songs, consciously anyway, are trying to recapture a past time,” Denitzio says. “I don’t really have that sense of longing for a past part of my life. It’s really more reflecting or commenting on it, rather than wishing I was still there.”

On ‘Survival Pop’, time isn’t a linear thing. Denitzio’s writing here is in service to old selves and events, from episodes of anxiety to health problems and the death of close friends. The idea that we still have access to moments (major or minor) that have been gathering dust on a shelf is a powerful one.

“I wrote the majority of the songs on this record thinking about what kinds of songs past versions of myself would’ve needed,” Denitzio said back in August. That’s the kicker in the album’s title. 

“How I tend to write is project-based,” they say. “It’s not that I sat down with the very first song already thinking of a theme, but it came together as I was working. It seemed like the natural progression. I started to narrow down things from there and frame the songs that came out of that with the record as a whole in mind.

“When I realised how much I was writing about getting through certain things, about the loss of friends, I realised a little bit more the theme that was becoming apparent. Once the record started to come together, once it wasn’t just me writing songs, it was really clear to me what was on my mind.”

On The Possibility, Denitzio sends a message back to teenage Lauren at the Freehold Mall in New Jersey, who needs to hear a love song that isn’t a heteronormative stroll up the shore. The scene is set a few miles from where Bruce Springsteen grew up, but it isn’t a widescreen, idealised song of escapism.

Denitzio bounces between highways and cul-de-sacs, their frustration welling up into something anthemic. “I’m just one of the boys, you see,” they sing. “You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll grow up to be somebody’s waitress.”

“That was, if anything, a response to overly nostalgic longing for adolescence,” they say. “Actively thinking about something and understanding hindsight can be a really interesting process…[having] that level of self-awareness.”

‘Survival Pop’ is certainly the first time that Denitzio has focused a whole record on an appraisal of their past. But it’s nevertheless a facet of their writing that has been apparent since the earliest Worriers songs.

Never Were, from the ‘Cruel Optimist’ EP, is a take on political views from now to then and back again, while Plans and Unwritten (a highlight on ‘Imaginary Life’ cribbed from Denitzio’s days fronting the Measure [SA]) trained the same analytical eye on relationship dynamics.

“I think Past Lives, the first song I ever wrote with Worriers, was thinking about that,” Denitzio says. “The feeling that past parts or past phases of your life can seem completely detached from who you are now. That disjointed feeling of an entirely different lifetime.

“That’s what’s been really fun about the writing process for ‘Imaginary Life’ and ‘Survival Pop’. When I’m not collaborating with other songwriters, when I’m the person in the group initiating the content, it’s finding that voice and having creative control. It’s been really fulfilling.”

Worriers operates a revolving cast policy and on ‘Survival Pop’, Denitzio is backed by drummer and all-round pop-punk legend Mikey Erg, Caves guitarist and vocalist Lou Hanman, guitarist John McLean and bassist Nick Psillas. It’s a stacked line up - Erg and Hanman have both put out stellar records in the last two years - but they are all kept on message by the power of the writing.

Across two full lengths and a handful of 7”s and EPs, Denitzio has built a style that maintains the ragged punk edge of their work with the Measure [SA] while delving further into more complex, emotionally resonant territory.

Much like John K. Samson, both solo and with the Weakerthans, Denitzio employs a sort of melodic enjambment that takes some pulling off. There’s no reason for this many words to fit so well around a pop hook, but time and again they do.

“I’m lucky to work with people who are really talented in their own right,” Denitzio says. “But they’re also people who are willing to collaborate in service of the song. If I have a certain sound in mind or a certain vibe, even a melody, they are open to working within certain confines and parameters.

“I try to be really faithful to the songs live. If we have fill-ins occasionally, everyone’s still playing what’s on the record. It’s about finding the right people and finding folks that understand it’s not entirely about their personal style. They’re just excited to make music. It’s not necessarily about what your favourite guitar tone is.”

“What doesn’t kill you just makes you a mess, but no-one ever wants to tell you that,” Denitzio sang on Cruel Optimist. The song found them interrogating societal structures and notions of success: the things that we think we need to understand our day-to-day. ‘Survival Pop’ doesn’t feel like an ending to that train of thought, rather another page turned. Here our pasts, presents and futures are our own.

‘Survival Pop’ is out on September 29 through SideOneDummy.

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