Interview with Sorority Noise vocalist/guitarist Cameron Boucher | By Tim Anderl
For some, making music is an artistic endeavor, a fun hobby, or perhaps a career pursuit. For Sorority Noise vocalist and guitarist Cameron Boucher, it is an altogether different animal. Boucher, who was diagnosed with manic depression and anxiety in 2012, creates his songs of confusion, death, and hope as an important form of catharsis and personal method of therapy. Boucher’s struggle to confront difficult emotions is apparent on Sorority Noise’s You’re Not as ___ as You Think, an emotional wrecking ball that is set for release on March 17 via Triple Crown Records.
Are Sorority Noise still primarily based on the East Coast?
Yeah, I moved to Philly. And then, the drummer [Charlie Singer] moved to Philly, and Adam [Ackerman] the guitarist moved to Philly, and [bassist] Ryan [McKenna] lives in the Jersey area.
You’ve been forthcoming about your struggle with manic depression. Has that been a lifelong battle for you?
Yes, [but] I didn’t always know what to call it. I didn’t get diagnosed until 2012, but I have always struggled with anxiety and still do to this day. There will be things that happen to me that I think are normal, like always feeling a tightness in my chest from anxiety. One day, we were driving in the van, and I brought it up and asked, “Does anyone ever get a tightness in your chest that makes you feel like you are being pulled in half?” The band was like, “No.” And I was like, “Oh shit, I thought that this was a feeling that everyone felt.” There is a whole litany of things that come with the highs and lows of anxiety, and there are things that I’ve learned to live with, or cope with, that are not normal. I am constantly finding out things about my life that I thought were universal things.
Two of the songs on the album are named after saints, “First Letter from St. Sean” and “Second Letter from St. Julien.” They seem to be the names of people who are the subject of the songs, but it also implies that you may have experiences with Catholicism. Did you ever think that your stress and guilt may have been a result of that background?
I did grow up Catholic. I don’t think I ever believed my experiences were a result of Catholic guilt. I’m still a practicing Christian. I believe in God, but I don’t see eye to eye with the Catholic faith on my social and moral ideas. I am a pro-choice person. I believe that people from the LGBT community are just as normal as everyone else and that there isn’t anything “wrong” with them. So, there are some ideals I have that don’t line up with the Catholic Church. So, I moved more towards the Christian faith. We aren’t stopping on tour to go to church, but I do pray in my own way and continue to look to a higher power for some answers.
You’re probably more in line with the new Pope than you would expect, because he’s pretty progressive.
Absolutely. He’s said some really cool stuff. I think he’s important to the Catholic Church. If you read the bible, it says that God loves and cares for everyone, specifically in Leviticus. But to think that you would look at someone of another gender or sexuality or religion and think negatively towards that doesn’t sound like the bible I’ve read.
It seems strange to see people of the Christian faith falling along political partisan lines to follow Trump who seem like the exact antithesis of what would Jesus do.
Totally. It is difficult to gestate what people who say they are Catholic espouse as their opinions and try to reconcile them in terms of the bible. I think, “How could they believe this? Why would they want to stop helping those around us?” My understanding is this is not what God intended. I think it is important to have these difficult discussions so that people can make decisions about how they feel and how they think, but in the grand scale, I’m hoping they can understand that God loves everyone, even people who don’t believe in faith.
Once upon a time, the punk rock scene wasn’t inclusive of people of faith. Have you had anyone challenge you on your Christian faith?
The DIY scenes I’ve involved myself in come from a community that is all accepting. I have never been discriminated against for my Christian faith. I have had people ask why I’m wearing a crucifix. Some people are taken aback by it. But I’ve also never been that forthright about it. This record was the first time I ever really started talking about it. But the context here is more of a questioning than it is a preaching or explaining religion. It is a questioning of one’s faith or religion. If someone sees my crucifix, we may have a conversation about it, but otherwise, I stay low key about it.
The record leaves itself open to interpretation about how seriously involved in religion you are. Unless you have grown up in that faith, you probably wouldn’t recognize the nuances.
Totally. I completely agree.
Back to your mental health, what measures do you take to stay healthy amidst pursuing an artistic career? What advice do you have for others struggling with the same thing?
That’s a big question. I don’t have answers. I wish I did. A lot of people at shows will ask about what I do or coping mechanisms that I use to deal with my mental illness or struggles. If you are a quarterback and you are planning to play your first game of the season, you spend a lot of time on your opponent’s defense and making sure that you are best equipped to deal with that when it comes your way. And then the next week, you play another team and they are an entirely different team. So, with mental illness or manic depression, there is no correct way.
That is a key thing to know: there is no one way to deal with it. There are many different solutions you can come up with. I’ll have an anxiety attack or deal with a real heavy low and know that I don’t want to be there. Maybe the nine things that I’ve done in the past, like eating food or going for a walk or run or playing some music—maybe none of those things work. Sometimes, that’s the case. Sometimes, you have to try different tools.
So, I don’t have any overarching or grand answers. I wish I did. This music is a therapy for me. When I talk about it in a song, that might be one thing that works for me once. I think it is important to know that it is a long battle that you are constantly going to have to deal with and that you have to have every possible ability to make it through it. And to know that, above all, you are worthwhile, and that is the most important thing to keep in your head.
Another analogy I made once was—did you read Harry Potter?
So, in the fourth book, “Goblet of Fire,” Voldemort and Harry are reading each other’s thoughts accidentally, so Snape gives [Harry] some lessons on having bad thoughts come into his head. So, that’s how I look at mental illness or manic depression. When I feel it coming, I know that I want to keep myself in a positive headspace, make sure I know that I’m a good person who is doing what I can to the best of my ability while things try to penetrate that. Sometimes, things get through. But I’ve come to the point now—after a lot of focus and attention and touring and being in places that make me uncomfortable sometimes and working on it the best I can to have a healthy and positive lifestyle. Though I’m in dark places some of the time, I’ve learned to get ahead of it and to start to get on the right track of helping myself out with it.
Was making this record a cathartic or positive experience for you, or were there times that it exacerbated your grief from losing friends?
That’s hard, man. The last thing I wanted to do was tokenize my friends as people who were lost. I am much bigger than that, and these are just small looks into my life. I’m incredibly grateful for the people who have been in my life and who have since taken their life. It is difficult to play these songs sometimes. A lot of times, I write to a level of personal—I write about autobiographical experiences in very exact and personal songs, to the point where it should make people uncomfortable. So, a lot of these songs are hard to play.
A lot of times when I write them, I write in a few minutes in my room or in the van late at night or in a situation where I feel incapable of doing anything else. So, I grab my guitar and start talking into my phone to get my ideas out or get things off of my chest by saying them out loud, so that they are out there and I am aware of how I’m feeling. So, when I write it, it is never something I think I’ll have to explain. Maybe I’ll spend 15 minutes on a song, and that’s me—to the best of my ability at that moment—talking about what is going on. Then, when talking about the songs later, I’m digging deeper, which is harder than writing the songs in the first place.
So, it was just a lot of, like—it terrifies me to think that I’d ever put my friends in a bad light or to make them feel like they were in any way less than incredible. So, with these songs, I don’t think I’m trying to do that.
Do you worry that people who are affected by these situations will hear the things you write in a way that you didn’t originally intend?
No. Music is up for interpretation. These songs are so personal that I think there is no way to understand them unless you put them in your own interpretation. I’ll say things like “Sean,” but I don’t think that too many people had an exact scenario where their friend Sean took their life. The point of music is that you have the ability to spin the music or lyrics in any way that you see it. Sometimes, as a musician, it is difficult to have people take something in a different way than you originally intended it, but I think the point is that as long as you are taking away something positive, then you should be able to interpret the songs in any way that you want.
Are you worried those who actually knew your friends will interpret it in a way that you didn’t intend?
I don’t understand how they would take it negative.
When you are creating such frank and honest art, does it ever occur to you that there are things you might want to edit or not share?
I would say that I don’t edit myself. When I’m writing, it is a selfish thing. I don’t think about anyone else when I’m doing it. It is my therapy, just my way to get out the way that I feel. I guess sometimes I come a little unhinged and start talking about things that I didn’t want to discuss, but I guess I’d be doing myself a disservice if I wasn’t as honest and as real as possible or being myself while I was writing.
I guess I’ve thought about what Sean’s parents would think if they heard the record, and I hope that they’d think that I’m doing it good. I want to leave the memory and give it some permanence in the song in the most positive light that I can. I don’t think I’m mad at any of my friends. I just think that I’m glad to have known them and am sad that I can’t talk to them anymore. I think it is important to remember them in the most positive light that I can. That’s my own way of coping.
What was producer Mike Sapone’s feeling upon hearing the material you were presenting? Did he have a gut reaction to it, or was he just there to help you transform it in the best way he could?
I am a producer. This is the first record we ever did that wasn’t in my studio or that wasn’t with me or one of my professors who worked at my college. So, I was very hesitant to let someone in on this, because I’d spent so many months on this where I just ate and breathed this. I was constantly demoing and reworking. So, when Mike expressed an interest in doing this, I thought that he is the one producer that I’ve always looked up to. He was the one person who I would have picked out.
I remember calling him once and being like, “I’m having a nervous breakdown, and I’m worried about bringing someone in.” My bandmates hadn’t even heard the songs yet, and I was worried that someone was going to fuck this up. So, I was hesitant, but I can’t—in a million years—have asked for anyone better to work with than Mike. I’d do it again and again and again. He didn’t step on any of the lyrics. I’d ask him for advice, but he let me keep them, and that was huge for me.
I’m an engineer myself, and I’d go in every day at noon and we’d listen to the tapes from the day before. So, I still had my hands in it as much as I would have anyway. I got to choose the takes that would be on the record. But he just made things sound so much better, and he had so many ideas. He’d say, “Let’s chase that.” So, I’d have a weird idea for something, and he’d say, “Let’s follow it. Let’s chase that.” So, we pursued a lot of ideas that I’d maybe have strayed away from, because I didn’t have the wherewithal to realize them or have the confidence in them. He has a brilliant, brilliant mind. I’m super grateful to have been able to work with him.
This record is really powerful. Do you feel that when you listen to it?
After it is mastered, I don’t listen to it again. We did an in-store in Kingston in the U.K. at a record store, and they asked us to sign things for people. It’s incredible to think that anyone would even know who we are over there. Halfway through the signing, we realized they were playing one of our earlier records. There were at least two band members who had not heard some of those songs in four or five years. They had not listened to them since 2012 or 2013. I don’t really think in terms of records. As soon as a record is done, I’m working on my next one. Right now, I have three LPs worth of material that I’ve written since this most recent one.
Is it important to you to continue to write first person narratives?
Totally. I think there is one song on this record that is the only time I’ve switched. The only time I’ve done a third person point of view was in “First Letter from St. Sean” during the major key swing, when I try to take the perspective of my friend Sean in that I think he would kind of regret taking his life. This is a permanent solution, but I don’t think it is the answer, but it answers something in that time. That is one of the first times I’ve taken that third person approach, and maybe one song I wrote in 2011, an Old Gray song. I don’t really know how to write any other way.
What are some sources of joy or hope in your life?
Music. I can’t explain or stress how largely music is a part of my life. I have mice in my house right now, and I can’t sleep because I can hear them pitter-pattering, so I walk around my house with music playing in my headphones so I don’t have to listen to that. I go to the studio for 10 or 12 hours a day, and I’m writing and recording and mixing and mastering. I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Now, I get to play music for a living. What other thing would I want to do? Is it hard? Would I do it every day? Of course. I’m very, unbelievably fortunate to be able to do what I’m allowed to do. A lot of the friends I have share this same—when people talk, I hear melody. It has ruined a lot of real life human relationships that I’ve had, because of music being in my brain. So, music is probably the thing that brings me joy and happiness.
I also like seeing my friends succeed. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends that play music and are very successful at that. So, I get to watch them put out a record or go on a tour that rules or play a sold-out show. Sometimes, that makes me happier than anything I could personally experience: to watch my friends crush it.
Will you elaborate on your involvement with the punk-centered mental health organization Punk Talks? Have you ever utilized their assistance?
I went to a therapist when I was 19 who did several sessions and figured out what I had, but I have always had a difficult time having others help me with things. Going to a therapist or talking out my problems with a third party has never been something that has truly helped me. It always introduced more anxiety as I was thinking and rethinking and overextending myself. So, I haven’t used it personally, but I’m always recommending them and inviting people to use it. I think it is a really important thing for our scene, but it just doesn’t work for me.
Are there any saxophone breakdowns on the record?
There is saxophone in the song “A Better Sun” at the end when I just honk out some low notes. It is not noticeable at all, but I was like, “I’m putting saxophone on this fucking thing.” I’m not going to do any George Michael “Careless Whisper” type of shit, but it is a nice skill to have sometimes. I did play saxophone with Jeff Rosenstock once. I played in a ska band in high school called The Not So Specials. None of them have really reached out to me about anything I’ve done. Then, I put a picture on Instagram of me playing saxophone with Jeff Rosenstock, and one of those dudes was like, “Did you really get to meet Jeff Rosenstock?” And I was like, “Yeah.”
You are always the driver for Sorority Noise. Do you keep track of those miles?
That would scare me. I’ve been the sole driver for four years now and have done five full U.S. tours driving us. I think, during our whole tour with Bayside and The Menzingers, there were maybe six hours that I didn’t drive. On this tour, I think I’m going to try to take a step back, but my head is racing so hard all the time, and when I’m not driving, I get swallowed up. If I’m not driving, just sitting, my brain is literally on fire. When I drive, I have to focus on the road, and my brain can’t freak out as much as if I was sitting in a solid space alone.
I’m trying to get back from that, from being our only driver. It’s not like I’m traveling with five people who have suspended licenses. They can all operate a motor vehicle if they had to. I have done 30 or 40,000 miles in my life—no, way more. I can’t even begin to think.
Sorority Noise photo by Jen Cray
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