Loss, grief and God inspire anthemic bloodletting on Connecticut band's new full-length
At a music camp in seventh grade, a boy named Sean walked into Cameron Boucher's room and challenged him to a game of “Guitar Hero.” After playing “John the Fisherman” by Primus, the two were fast friends and stayed close through high school — staying over at each other's houses, watching “Star Wars,” playing in jazz and marching bands and driving to school together.
Not long ago, Sean took his own life, and the loss sent Boucher reeling. On “First Letter from St. Sean,” from Sorority Noise's newest album, You're Not as ____ as You Think, the singer/guitarist imagines his friend speaking to him, singing, “I didn't mean to leave you when I died / I was just scared that you might be the one to leave.”
“I like to think, especially with the friends I've lost, that immediately afterward they wouldn't have wanted to do it — that they would have regretted it. And that helps me,” Boucher said recently by phone. “It doesn't help them. It doesn't help anyone else. But it helps me to think that maybe they wish they didn't do it, and if they had another chance they wouldn't do it again.”
When performing “St. Sean” live, Boucher sings the hypothetical words of his lost friend directly into his guitar. “I installed a mic in my guitar, and for that part I just yell into my guitar microphone,” he said. “I'm lucky to have talented bandmates who can do cool things with soldering irons.”
As more of Boucher's friends died (“Just this year I lost a basketball team to heaven,” Boucher sings on “Disappeared”), his internal dialogues often became songs mere seconds after the thoughts and feelings formed. “A lot of the songs, I don't write down the words,” Boucher said. “I just freestyle. I play a guitar riff and sing whatever's on my mind over that. … What I'm saying is exactly how I'm feeling.”
The open-wound rawness of Boucher's lyrics is offset by layers of huge, hi-fi guitars on cathartic, mosh-worthy choruses, making for an album that's both devastating and spirited. Throughout, as Boucher processes the loss of his friends, he also wrestles with God, shaking his fist at the sky while simultaneously seeking comfort from a creator whose motives he struggles to understand.
“You say there's a God and you say you've got proof / Well I've lost friends to heroin, so what's your God trying to prove?” he asks on “Second Letter from St. Julien.”
“I used to be a super faithful person, and then I fell out for a good bit,” Boucher said. “Losing friends, as well as many other events in my life, has led me back towards at least questioning God instead of outright denying.”
In interviews and on previous Sorority Noise releases (2015 full-length Joy, Departed and last year's It Kindly Stopped for Me EP), Boucher has been open about his own struggles with mental illness (“I've been feeling suicidal,” he sings on “A Portrait Of”), and that perspective imbues his songs with a deep level of empathy and understanding.
“[Drummer Charlie Singer] and I, genuinely, if you'd told us a couple years ago that we would still be alive, neither of us would have probably believed you,” said Boucher, who also plays in post-hardcore act Old Gray, which released the album Slow Burn at the end of last year.
“That one was not hopeful,” he said. “So I think with Sorority Noise I like to tie in elements of hope. But I don't even know if it is hope, because people have been lost and there's no getting them back. There's no, ‘Hopefully I'll see them again,' or anything of that nature. So it's difficult to refer to it as hope. … But at the same time, you gotta be hopeful that it doesn't keep happening.”
On You're Not as ____ as You Think, those glimmers of quasi-hope emerge from a simple truth: Cameron Boucher is alive, and he is still making music. “I've got friends who have died but everything's going to be all right,” he sings on “Where Are You.” And on “Car” he revels in life on the road: “I've been living in a van most nights. It's not ideal, but I've never felt more alive.”
“Music is the ultimate relief and therapy for me. No matter what I'm dealing with, there is nothing more I'd rather do than play music. I know it's the thing that helps me the most. It's my best coping mechanism,” he said. “I'm very grateful to still be alive. I just keep forward with that in mind.”