My friend and hardcore podcast co-host, Hugo, has been inspiring me lately with his run of personal essays about music and aging. He recently wrote about his relationship with The Lawrence Arms, a Chicago punk institution who meant a lot to him during a period of his life defined by alcohol abuse and 20-something slackerdom, and now has a different relationship with the music as a 30-year-old sober person. You should read his essay, but I really enjoyed the thesis of that piece, and it came to mind the other day when I was browsing my record shelf and an album by the band Soda Bomb caught my eye.
If the name doesn't ring a bell, I'm not surprised. During their short-lived existence, Soda Bomb were a Long Island band existing on the margins of the tri-state emo scene, who put out one EP (2014's The Future Is Gonna Suck) and one full-length (2015's Wanna Jam?) on Broken World Media, the massively influential emo et al label run by former The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die member Nicole Shanholtzer. (Broken World is long defunct and mostly remembered for its reputation of not paying bands.) Soda Bomb broke up about a year after Wanna Jam? dropped and never really made a name for themselves outside of the East Coast basement show circuit.
In hindsight, they were right there for the "weed emo" movement that was coalescing around Jank, Prince Daddy & the Hyena, Mom Jeans, and the rise of Counter Intuitive Records, and probably could've glommed onto that hype if they A) remained a band and B) wanted to be a part of that shit, which I'm guessing they didn't. They toured with Rozwell Kid (Weezery indie-rock for emo kids) and Lee Corey Oswald (a less orgcore Menzingers, who I liked quite a bit) and clearly had an affinity for big-riffin' indie-rock of the Built to Spill/Diarrhea Planet variety. It seemed like they were chasing a slightly different audience than bands like Oso Oso were, but there was still a healthy dose of ratty, Glocca Morra-style emo in songs like "Waterfall" and "Fat Tom."
Since their breakup, Soda Bomb's members have played in various hardcore bands (Rule Them All, The Fight, Pillars of Ivory), and main singer-guitarist Taylor Berke went on to do a band called Fool Heavy, who put out one pretty good record in 2017 and seemingly broke up right afterwards (here's my 2017 write-up of that). I tweeted about Soda Bomb the other day to see if anyone loved them as much as I did, and a few mutuals chimed in, but it doesn't seem like too many people care about them anymore. That's to be expected. They were small, regional band, but they made a pretty big impact on my personal life, and I have a lot of memories associated with listening to Wanna Jam? as a 20-year-old trying to leave my teenage self behind.
I stumbled into Wanna Jam? in the late spring of 2015, right as I was finishing my sophomore year of college. It was a period of immense transition for me; coming out of my first real relationship, coming into myself, meeting a bunch of amazing new friends, and realizing that I was completely done with the music I had defined my personality with since high-school (pop-punk and metalcore, chiefly). I was fully consumed in hardcore and emo that spring/summer, and by fall, I heard Alex G for the first time and have been indie-rock-pilled ever since. It was a pretty clean transition from punk/metal teenager to indie 20-something, and Soda Bomb really whisked that development along, for better or worse.
Like I mentioned, there were twinges of emo in the yelpy vocals and even some of the riffage, but the band were playing pretty straightforward, power-chords indie-punk. I hadn't heard Guided By Voices and Pavement yet at this point in my life, so I didn't have very many reference points for rock music that was intentionally trying to sound shitty and lo-fi. Moreover, the content of Soda Bomb's lyrics spoke to a certain type of scuzzy dejection that I hadn't really considered before. I already loved bands like Free Throw and The Menzingers who sang hyperbolic anthems about alcohol indulgence, but that's just it; they were anthems, written and delivered with a sense of earnest purpose, either to warmly evoke nostalgia or to amplify depressive low-points for voyeuristic effect.
Maybe Soda Bomb had different motivations for writing their songs, but for me, their music projected a sort of nihilistic, aging-out-of-youth abandon. Unlike Free Throw and other emo bands (Modern Baseball, for one) who wrote with that late-teenage, post-breakup urgency that drives you to at least try and move on (or at least sing an over-the-top song about wallowing to build camaraderie with other wallowers), Soda Bomb's music was cranky and unmotivated to will anything out of its listener. Even their music video for "Fat Tom" was lazy in a stylized way. They just fucked around in front of a projector screen, slopped some goofy effects on and put it out. It looked like it could've been completed during an afternoon of sitting on the coach messing around on iMovie, and something about that shoddy approach spoke to me. Their lyrics epitomized the sort of hungover, "fuck-it"-ness that I was beginning to feel more and more at the time.
"Another lifetime of hit or miss/Another wasted degenerate," Berke garbled during the crushed-beer-can hook of "Look Ma, I Majored in House Parties." After years of singing along to pop-punk friendship anthems, the final chant of "Damn, Dude" sounded like the total inverse to me. "False hope, long nights, become my fucking pastime," Berke moaned over a churn of blown-out cymbals and crunchy bass. And "Waterfall" was a song about weed that didn't romanticize getting high or even make it sound fun; it was about getting baked out of habit, and in the most disgusting way possible (grav bong). "Cause I feel much better when I'm stoned/Milky bottle burn my throat," goes its muddy refrain.
Everything about Soda Bomb's sound, aesthetic and lyrical content was incredibly appealing to me during my summer as a 20-year-old. Not because I was actually as down-bad as the narrator in Soda Bomb's lyrics, but the way in which he projected himself was validating. Here was a guy who also seemed to be over and done with whatever was going on in his life prior, but who didn't have any vision for what the future would look like. The vibes were aimless, and everything about the music seemed to soak, blithely, in that lifestyle. The beery warmth of the guitar fuzz, the dirty-bowl cruddiness of the production, and the sort of cynical, lyrical indifference to the New York striver mentality that permeated all the spaces I had moved through up until that point.
In high-school, my friends were the quintessential smart kids who slacked off, partying and cooking up mischief but always getting away with it. I wanted to be that, but I was also a year-round athlete and didn't have the ability to get away with stupid shit as easily. I didn't really party hard until college, where I immediately began binge-drinking on weekends and smoking weed several times a week, but still maintaining good health habits. I worked out, spent a lot of time outdoors, kept busy with music and writing, and generally had more going on than a lot of my friends who had been burnouts since high-school.
During those years, music was something I siloed from partying. The pop-punk I was into (The Wonder Years, The Story So Far, etc.) was pretty aesthetically and culturally tied to hardcore at that point, so straight-edge mentalities and a general abstinence from drugs and alcohol were commonplace. The same went for metalcore and deathcore. None of my friends and I would even consider getting drunk or stoned before an Acacia Strain show, or whatever. I was too young to buy beer at the show, anyways, but I wouldn't have wanted to. My involvement in those scenes was a decidedly sober activity, and getting into Soda Bomb and their surrounding bands opened me up to a world of music where Taking Things Seriously, in the way teenage (mostly) sober punk spaces were for me, wasn't necessary. In fact, the culture encouraged leaning into the opposite direction.
I remember listening to Soda Bomb in June 2015 while biking to my lifeguard job, and then sitting behind the desk reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (cringe, I know, but I was fucking 20. Gimme a break). Those two pieces of media didn't quite glorify, but normalized, a certain type of debauchery that I began to partake in more regularly. The previous semester, I was finally pulling A's in most of my courses for the first time in my life (I never applied myself in high-school), but I was drinking increasingly and smoking more weed. When I returned to school, I kept that up and began to shift into a new era. I started wearing shitty thrifted clothes, listening to lo-fi music, drinking PBR tallboys, going to basement shows, and proudly let my youthful metabolism live out its glory years while I stopped working out and fed my body beer.
In many ways I had become so much more mature, thoughtful, and realized between 19 and 20 (and I certainly listened to way better music), but I also adopted some bad habits. Drinking to excess every single weekend was something I would do for the next three years, which isn't uncommon among college kids (and was certainly routine for my friend group), but obviously isn't good. Soda Bomb were a gateway band into that environment, and then I found my place when Prince Daddy released Adult Summers in fall 2015, and I realized there was a band in my city — putting music out on my favorite label, Broken World Media — who sang about and sounded like and looked like and felt like exactly who I wanted to be.
People would be drinking beer and smoking weed at Prince Daddy house shows, while still going off like a proper punk gig. Before that, I had really only witnessed older people drinking to music at bars, and it never looked appealing to me. Getting loaded at the P Daddy show became a ritual, and it definitely helped a shy guy like me loosen up and make connections with people. I specifically remember wearing my Soda Bomb shirt to a lot of those shows. I wore that shirt constantly, so much that the cheap fabric started to form holes, and was eventually tattered to shit and became basically unwearable, an apt metaphor for my continued descent into thrice-weekly (at least) beer benders and bohemian slackery.
I'm out of that period in my life now. While my family is predisposed to addiction, I've fortunately never struggled with it, and was slowly able to unhitch myself from those reckless tendencies. At the top of 2019, I finally started putting a lot of conscious effort into drinking less and focusing more on becoming a full-time writer. It was sometimes challenging to pull myself out of that social cycle, and there were a few awkward interactions among friends when I began turning down offers to drink on weeknights. I know my body and know that I can't do halfway decent work unless I maintain strict sobriety during the work-week, and since my girlfriend of four years only drinks rarely, it's been easy for me to slide into a much chiller routine.
Therefore, pulling out my Soda Bomb record over the weekend and listening for the first time in years was a bit of a trip. It brought back memories from a different time in my life that I have nostalgic fondness for, but don't really relate to anymore. I still enjoyed the music because it hits a sweet-spot in my taste that I’ll probably never grow out of, but the lyrics aren’t relevant to my life right now. Plus, I think the Soda Bomb guys were a bit older than me, which might’ve been part of the appeal. Now, it’s obvious that the songs were written by a 22-year-old, and I haven’t been that age in a while.
These days, I’ve reverted back to music being a largely sober activity for me. Over the last several years I’ve gotten back into hardcore in a big way, and I've still never drank at a hardcore show, and never want to. It's always been a sober genre for me, and while I don't regret my years of college partying, which catalyzed so many of my dearest friendships, there's a part of me that wishes I took the straight-edge path once I got to college. I admire people who maintain that lifestyle, and have considered giving it a go. That said, I also like having occasional beers, and enjoy pulling my 21-year-old self out of the attic a few times a year to school people at flip-cup.
The part of my personal Soda Bomb years that I’m happiest to be away from is the performance of it all. Not the music, but the way I interacted with it. The way I at once romanticized that sort of depressed, beer-addled loserdom, but was also self-consciously embarrassed by it. I thought it was cool to kind of dislike myself and dislike the world, but the conceit was always that I was aware of that and almost doing it semi-ironically. The fact that I’ve written this self-reflective personal essay means that I’ve allowed space for earnestness in my life once again. I don’t really have a cute pun or clever work-in for the kicker here. It’s just nice to feel that way.