Oscar Bait is a rough vocal, pop-punk band out of Chicago, who do an amazing job of balancing the grit and the glucose that adheres within their sound. They’ll be releasing their next EP Everything Louder Than Everything Else on Friday, October 1 via Little Elephant Records. And yes, before you say anything, I’m pretty sure that the album is named after a Meat Loaf song off of Bat Out of Hell II. The band is just like that. Take it or leave it. Actually, just take it. Oscar Bait rules!
While the band is predictably mesmerized by all manner of Midwest ephemera and American popular culture (as any good emo band should be), they are so much more than bar trivia sponges. Oscar Bait have a real sense of style and humor, as well as a willingness to go to the dark places that most people would rather not admit exist inside their own heads. Everything Louder Than Everything Else wrestles with matters of struggling maturity, follies of trust, superficial friendships, and truths that only become heavier the longer they weigh on your mind. Contemplations that are set to a sweet and crunch score that is as delectable to the senses as honeycomb and as bitter and as stinging to your insides as a bad case of Crohn’s. It’s everything you want in a punk record- including that sinking feeling that you’ve wasted your life. Something that you can just consider gratis (Pst! That means no extra charge).
To help get you suitably amped for their upcoming release, we’ve got an exclusive Track-by-Track and interview with Oscar Bait’s singer Jim Coleman Howes which you can check out below:
Interview conducted via email on September 19, 2021. It has been edited only slightly for the sake of clarity.
“Disney Hardcore” is a funny way to describe yourselves, but it also clearly works. Can you unpack this for our readers a bit? What is the nexus of punk, nostalgia, and the broader popular culture, and how do they come together in your music?
When we were making our second record, Pro Skater 2, our mastering engineer (shout out to JC at Lakebottom in Toledo) said I sounded like a Disney version of Lou Koller (from Sick Of It All). That got me thinking that we really do just sound like a Disney version of a hardcore band in general, since we keep the short, sonically aggressive songs but add in some real sugary melodies. I feel like pop punk/emo a la the stuff that was on TRL in 2002 is a major dimension of the pop culture nostalgia the Millennials experience, since it had such a huge footprint on our adolescent years and seemed inescapable at the time. Our music seeks to take that very specific nostalgia and weave it in with homages to some of the more critically celebrated chapters of pop punk/emo (e.g. DC 1986-1988, NJ/LINY 1997-2000, Tumblr 2010-2015).
How long have you been working on Everything Louder Than Everything Else, and how does it fit into your overall evolution as a band?
We broke ground on the songwriting for the record in August 2018, so that means we worked on the record for pretty much exactly 2 years. A lot happened for us each individually during that time: Most of us turned 30, I got sober, a few of us moved. For as much as this record came to be during a very concrete coming of age period, it represents a coming of age for us as a band as well: The writing and recording process was much more measured and deliberate than on prior records, and the lyrics I wrote are a more complete statement on who I am–and the circumstances that have led to that–than anything else I’ve ever written. Ultimately, when we traveled to Brooklyn in Fall 2020 to make this record a reality, we decided that we were going to keep doing this band forever until one of us dies, so this is really just the beginning.
What is etched on the backside of the vinyl version of your EP?
That’s a pretty cool screen print of a drawing our wonderfully talented bassist Nic did of a bakery we went to when we were in Brooklyn making this record. A nice little touch to bring everything full circle or whatever.
Where do you see yourselves fitting into the punk and hardcore scene in Chicago?
We started at the end of 2015, and as fate would have it, there was some pretty serious extinction to follow in the Chicago punk/emo scene. Over the next couple of years–as we worked to establish ourselves–the scene we were a part of saw a lot of bands breaking up, production companies folding, studios closing, and venues shuttering. That being said, some very real power players stuck around and made a very rich life possible for us as a band. As we move into whatever phase of the pandemic this is–where live music is happening again and so on–we want to continue to be sonic and social brokers between the many facets of loud music in Chicago. I think we sit firmly sandwiched (we like sandwiches) between punk/emo acts like Sincere Engineer, Nora Marks, Jeff Schaller, Retirement Party, Blind Adam, Hi Ho, and Sad Witches, and more aggressive acts like Lurk, Kharma, MH Chaos, Sector, Buggin’, Si Dios Quiere, Two Houses, and Gored Embrace. The company we keep across the whole Great Lakes region reflects our all-in, unity-driven attitude towards sound, and what I hope to do moving forward is play shows with lots of the different-sounding badass bands that exist around here.
How do you see yourselves fitting into the current wave of emo revival, if at all?
I think the “Fifth Wave”–as critics and DIY Twitter have coined it–is its own unique and bountiful thing and I don’t think putting us under that umbrella would be an exercise in good faith. That said, I think some of the closest contemporary comps for us are Fiddlehead, Koyo, Anxious, Time And Pressure, Stand Still, Family Medicine, and Such Gold.
Who are your picks for this year’s Oscars so far?
The Oscar Bait genre seems to be alive and well in 2021. That said, if I were a betting man, I would think The Many Saints Of Newark, Shang-Chi, Dune, and Stillwater are going to clean up. That’s just one man’s opinion who still watches The Departed once a month.
Everything Louder Than Everything Else
Everything Louder Than Everything Else is a record we wrote in the twilight of our twenties to set the table for how we thought we wanted our thirties to be. This is a record of songs we found and brought to life in the years where most sane people are busy making other plans. This is a record that delivers a series of scenes witnessed with discerning eyes in one life, with most of the same moving parts other lives have. This record is an honest light to shine on the stories we tell ourselves and others when we’re too scared of the truth. This record is an exercise in forgiving yourself for the big and little lies you’ve told and acted on. This record is a hand that peels back the curtain on the moments you’re living right now and encourages you to ask yourself if maybe – just maybe – these are the good old days that you’re living right now.
“This Is Water”
This is a song about the empty promises of escapism. Some years, you’ll use a ton of your headspace just looking forward to something only to be weighed down by your own nagging thoughts when that thing finally comes to be. Loosely inspired by the essays of David Foster Wallace, this is a riff on the tendency I had in the past to sabotage my own happiness, however hard-earned it was. We’ve got to learn to find a beach anywhere we can.
This is a song about addiction, recovery, and sobriety–written as a love letter to the Canadian cult classic movie Strange Brew. We tell ourselves a lot of sweet nothings when we’re young about the way the world is going to seem when we’re older, and it’s on us to own up when we realize those things we told ourselves are lies. Square up with reality, land your punches, and move on.
This is a song about the period of my life when I chose to be deliberately vapid in service of my social life. I was 25 and had a bunch of new friends and a cool denim jacket and I was just leaning in and getting lost in the sauce; partying and talking shit and carrying on and developing all of these intense, ephemeral friendships. It felt good in part because I knew it was going to be over soon. And sure enough, in a year or two everybody had moved on with their lives. The meaningful friendships hung on and we still talk every day. To be young is to cycle through different phases of this until you’re tired enough to be satisfied with a good book and your own thoughts, and that’s what being old is.
This is a song about chaos people. We let these people in because they have genuine love and joy to give, then find ourselves stricken with grief at every turn of our relationships with them as we watch them tear their own lives apart and drag us into their undertow. Compassion is a contact sport, and sometimes being compassionate will leave you bleary-eyed and spitting teeth as you watch someone you love burn their life down and take yours with it.
This is a song about growing up and frantically grabbing on to anything you can to remind you of your youth. There were some weird years in my teens and twenties I spent with some people I care a lot about who I don’t get to see very often, and the contents of these years continue to inform the lens I see life through, the values I approach the world with, and the pastimes I take comfort in.
“Trent Dilfer For A Year”
This is a song about making the most of unmet expectations. If you have an interesting life, a lot of the time you’re going to have to wrestle with some pretty serious weirdness around the would haves/could haves/should haves as your reality unfolds. I’ve found it important to retain a childlike wonder and optimism and always keep my eyes on the prize in terms of staying dynamic and reinventing myself when the wheels fall off. I’ve always been fascinated with how NFL-sort-of-great-turned-
broadcaster Trent Dilfer might have navigated this process, and so this song is written in part from his perspective.
Image courtesy of the artist.