Thoughts On: Evolution of Bands & Changes in Style

This Monday post is going to be a bit different than what the past ones have been and will probably end up being quite a brain dump. Sit back, grab a snack, and if there are any thoughts you have on this week’s post, comment them down below and we can have a discussion! (I also want to throw in a reminder that these are my personal opinions and I am in no way trying to state any of this as fact. I’m simply writing what I feel about what I’ve seen as of lately.)

In the past six months, probably even sooner, a lot of bands have been in the process of releasing new music which is always exciting. Some bands like The Maine have already released their records while bands like Neck Deep and All Time Low are expected to release them later this year. There is always massive hype around these sorts of releases, especially when bands who have been in the scene longer are continuing their discography and their legacy with new tracks. One thing that is always exciting as well is to hear what these new songs sound like, what new emotions and thoughts have been channeled into this artistic medium. It’s both exhilarating and a bit worrisome when a band you love is releasing new music because as much as you want to support them, the idea always comes up in the back of your head: What if I hate their new stuff?

For this next bit, I’m mainly going to be focusing on All Time Low – many of you readers may know that All Time Low is my favorite band and they have been for quite some time. I’ve been lucky enough to meet them four or five times now, have two tattoos dedicated to them, and quite frankly spent much of my high school life obsessing over them. As with any fan of a band, when they announced that they were going to be releasing a new record in the near future, it piqued my interest! I love hearing new music, especially from an old favorite. But, when I first heard Dirty Laundry as the debut single, I was… disappointed, to say the least. The song has definitely grown on me since then, but my initial reaction was pretty negative. If you listen to Dirty Laundry and then go and listen to a more “quintessential” ATL song (ie: Dear Maria, Weightless, Backseat Serenade, etc.), you’ll probably understand why I was shocked to see that the same band who wrote the Holy Grail album that is So Wrong It’s Right also wrote this new-age, almost electronica track. SWIR was released in 2007 and a lot can happen in 10 years, I fully understand that, but what constitutes an entire genre shift like this one? I’ve been attempting to give the latest single releases from Last Young Renegade the benefit of the doubt but I’m going to be candid when I say that I’m not looking forward to this album’s release.

Before you jump down my throat saying “ATL isn’t the same band they were 8/9/10 years ago!!! They can’t keep writing SWIR and releasing it!!!!” I want to say I know all of this and hope to clear up my thoughts (and probably some of yours) in this Monday’s post. People grow and evolve, and the art that they create will do the same thing. Every member of All Time Low is now in their late 20’s, settling down, and their lives now are far different than they were when they were just getting into their 20’s a while back. Though, this is not an unfamiliar trend we’ve seen in bigger bands in the alternative scene. Think of Fall Out Boy for example: once they switched to a major label (Fueled By Ramen, which ATL coincidentally is now also signed to), their sound changed significantly. Save Rock & Roll and AB/AP sound nothing alike, and if you’ve heard FOB’s most recent single, it sounds like a totally different band altogether. These older bands are stuck between a rock and a hard place: they want to maintain true to what they’ve been doing, but they also want to grow and gain more ground as artists. The issue is not in wanting to evolve here, because any band that stays making the same records is going to grow stale. The real issue is when a band shifts their entire genre because that’s what they think is going to make them more money/get them more fans/etc.

If we keep following All Time Low, look to their album Future Hearts. This was a big creative leap for them as they were exploring new sounds and some unfamiliar territory in that writing process. They wanted to step outside of the box they had sort of built themselves into and they definitely did that with songs like Bail Me Out and Kicking and Screaming being totally unique and unlike anything they had written before. There were some hints of the “old All Time Low” in these tracks but it was a very new thing. This album definitely received mixed reviews but one thing that it did do was skyrocket All Time Low’s career. Through the release of this album, and single tracks like Missing You and Something’s Gotta Give getting some serious mainstream radio airplay, All Time Low was becoming a big powerhouse in the scene again while also breaking into mainstream popularity as well. They were able to sell out Wembley Stadium in the UK and have one of their largest US tours to date alongside FH’s release. So you can understand then why ATL may have seen this album as a hit, even if their tried and true fans will stand to disagree. I see a lot of FH in the singles that have been released from Last Young Renegade and I understand why: this shift to a more mainstream sound is what got them bigger, and they believe following this track record is what’s going to propel them even further. I don’t want to make All Time Low into sell-outs and devalue the work they do, acting like it has no purpose but to make money, because that isn’t the case. I know Alex, Jack, Rian, and Zack love what they create but I do also believe they’re giving up apart of themselves to do what other people want them to do. Creating music that’s genuine is a big reason why I love All Time Low so much and part of me is beginning to feel disconnected from them as they release more music that doesn’t feel like the band I grew to love.

Selfishly, we all want our favorite bands to keep making the music that we loved when we were younger, even if that isn’t quite feasible for them as artists. Plenty of bands begin to fizzle out because their “signature sound” can no longer bring the same pull that it did many years ago. Mayday Parade is a prime example of this – when you think of Mayday, there are a few songs you think of immediately and when you think more, they all sound somewhat similar. Not many tonal shifts in what they release, Mayday Parade has been consistently putting out records that fit in their moody, emo vibe. When they attempted to step outside the box with Black Lines, fans were very disappointed and the album flopped. On their most recent tour, I think they only played one song from that album even though it’s their newest release and should be something they’re playing a lot from. I don’t see Mayday being a band for much longer, because you can only listen to so many of the same sad songs before they all start to sound the same. But, that isn’t to say there also aren’t bands who are able to maintain their “signature sound” without losing ground in the scene. The Maine has done this extremely well, each album similar but a bit different from the other to set themselves apart while also staying true to what they love. Songs from Pioneer and Lovely Little Lonely sound very different but you can still close your eyes and listen to them knowing they’re by The Maine – the vibes and the genre is there, it’s intact.

I could sit here all night and clack away at the keyboard and share my ideas about the evolution of artists but I’ll spare you from myself a bit and wrap this post up. The “Warped Tour” scene is definitely one that is hard to stay relevant in, because there are always new bands coming out that encompass sounds from different bands and keep the genres moving forward and growing. Pop punk as a whole has changed immensely from how it was when it originated (around the early 2000’s) as well as metal, hardcore, pop rock, and other alt genres in this scene. But, the growth and evolution of genre does not have to mean that a band needs to abandon what sound they’ve built for themselves to fit these molds. Music is meant to be experimental and it is an art form at the end of the day. Fans need to be willing to let go of some of their preconceptions about their favorite artists or bands and accept the new music that they make with open arms, and bands need to also listen to what the fans have to say and when the veteran fans don’t receive something well, it may be a sign that what they’re creating isn’t “them”. You can grow as band without changing your sound entirely. I believe fans and critics are more inclined to take what you release seriously if you take some time to sit back, think on what you write, and put all your effort into it. A record that is a label’s mastermind and made to make money sounds far different than a record that is made to convey emotion and be a true extension of the artist, and the fans can hear it. Though, music is a business, and sometimes the creative process must be sacrificed if you care to progress your career as a musician.

I’d love to hear what y’all think about this topic and if you want to have a discussion, I’d love to share more thoughts that I have! Like I said before, I could probably write a novel about how I feel on things like this being both a fan and someone getting involved in the industry.