As a vaguely derisive catch-all term for punk's artier and more youthfully sincere strains, emocore has seen its currency increase recently, following the fortunes of bleeding-heart Wisconsin bands such as the Promise Ring and Rainer Maria. Both those groups, and the emo tag they shun, can be found splashed across four pages in this month's Spin, which asks the reader, "Remember when punk sang about passion?" and plugs a compilation of emo-associated bands, Nowcore! The Punk Rock Evolution, released by none other than K-Tel. But Jim Suptic doesn't seem the least bit perturbed to have the emo label applied to his zippy Kansas City, Missouri, punk band, the Get Up Kids.
"If you wanna call us emo, call us emo," the singer-guitarist says via cell phone from San Francisco, where his group is about to play the second of two sold-out shows. "But we're influenced by so many different bands," he adds, "from Wilco to hardcore metal. Right now the Flaming Lips is on constant rotation in the van--and the new Nine Inch Nails, which is awesome."
Trent Reznor could find something of an emotional lineage between his screech and the original emocore, that flock of wailing mid-Eighties post-hardcore bands from Washington, D.C., including Rites of Spring, Embrace, and One Last Wish (whose "lost" album has just been released on Dischord). Members of all three bands later combined to balance angst and outrage in Fugazi, whose whisper-to-a-scream tenderness has made them one of the decade's most charismatic acts. All of the above were inspired by 1985's Revolution Summer, a moment when some punk bands, like the crumbling scene that spawned them, focused their righteous fury inward. They defiantly slowed the tempo of hardcore, pushing the self-righteous You're full of shit message into a more introspective I am guilty. This was no mere pose: A rash of skinhead violence had made punk's boys-club clime all the more humid, and the new, more stylistically catholic and lyrically introspective gestalt felt as contrary as thrash once had.
Someone called this stuff "emo," much to the loathing of those involved. But the name stuck, and the term has since been applied to any band inspired by D.C.'s mid-Eighties pivot. The word soon became almost too encompassing, covering everything from the pop punk of San Francisco's Jawbreaker to the jazzy rock of our own Love-Cars. Perhaps some sub-subgenre classifications would help (where's Simon Reynolds when you need him?), but ask any two undergraduates with chain wallets and guayaberas what the word emo means and they're going to give you two different answers. Antioch Arrow's tortured guitar flailing has been called emo; so has Jawbox's angular postpunk; so has the cheery Cheap Trickery of Sunny Day Real Estate and...the Get Up Kids.
"I always thought we sounded like Superchunk, but nobody ever calls them emo," says Suptic. True, the Get Up Kids' new Something to Write Home About (Vagrant Records) feels less like a scrappy Promise Ring than the teenie-Chunk album Mac McCaughan and Co. never made. But that won't keep some high schooler in a dirty sweater and Morrissey glasses from thinking the Kids' second-person romantic narration is as emo as it gets. The Get Up Kids are young--"Today is my 22nd birthday and our band's 4-year anniversary," says Suptic--and they appear to have carte blanche from a still younger audience. The band's 1997 full-length debut, Four Minute Mile, sold more than 30,000 copies, and a follow-up split single with neo-metalheads Coalesce sold out so fast it became the stuff of micro-label legend. (Ex-Coalesce drummer James Dewees joined the Get Up Kids on keyboards this year.) The new album has hit No. 4 on the CMJ chart, the fruit of near-constant touring. And the Kids' current road stint lasts 70 days, after which they plan to hit Europe, Japan, and Australia before resting in mid-2000.
More than anything else, the fact that so many of the band's new fans are women connects the band's plaintive, cathartic blast with the spirit, if not necessarily the music, of old emo's punk without fear. Like the bands the Get Up Kids identify with--Braid, Jimmy Eat World--these young males have gone a long way toward achieving Revolution Summer's (and later riot grrrls') ideal of closing punk's audience gender gap. "Last night's show was 50/50 girls and guys," says Suptic. "Some shows we'll get a 60/40 girl-to-guy ratio, but, hey, that's fine with me. Girls understand us."