Sorority Noise’s Cam Boucher Writes Songs Out Of Therapeutic Necessity

With two full-length albums already under their belt that were released before most of the members even graduated college, Sorority Noise is gearing up to release You’re Not As ______ As You Think their first full-length effort since 2015’s Joy, Departed, as well as their first for the New York-based emo label Triple Crown Records. Produced by Mike Sapone (Brand New, Taking Back Sunday), the record is a swelling tidal wave of soul-crushing existential contemplation in the wake of death, something that many bands tend to shy away from. Sorority Noise, on the other hand, embraces this aspect of their music, and creates songs that build to the point of explosion to release an overwhelming sense of catharsis for both the listener and the band, when they perform the songs live.

You’re Not As _____ As You Think is an incredible collection of ten quick, but emotionally-packed tracks. The band has mastered the soft-loud dynamic, bringing the highs to new highs and the lows to new lows. In anticipation of the new record, I spoke to frontman Cam Boucher over the phone about the inspirations and influences behind the record, the merit of “sad” songwriting, and other projects that he is constantly working on.

I was hoping to get more insight about the motivations and goals behind the title of the album and the cover art.

Ever since I was fifteen or sixteen, the sentence in general was always something to say; you always put a word in there. With the blank, any word you put in there with that sentence will level you out, and bring you balance in either a positive or a negative direction. It brings you more centered to be like “you’re not as low as you think you are” and “you’re not as high as you think you are.” Both of them bring you back to a middle point. I think that was important for me. I wanted to get it tattooed on me when I was seventeen, on my forearm so I could always look down at it and it would always bring me that centeredness. But then I was like, “eh, maybe I won’t do that.” Then three or four years passed, and I was trying to title this record, and I think this was one of the first titles I came up with. Usually, you come up with some real sh*t ones, but I wrote all the lyrics, so everyone else in the band is just kind of like, “I’m going to tell you if the title sucks, but I’m not gonna throw any in,” because it’s not from their experience.

My partner Hannah Altman did the artwork, and she’s an incredible photographer. We’ve known each other for a while now, and I had her in mind from the very beginning because she has this incredible sense of depth and… I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t know much about photography, I just know she’s really f*cking good. She does a lot with her art where she’ll sew into this little picture and then rescan it, and that was something where I was like, “Yes.” We talked about it, and my friend Sean, who a lot of the record is about, who passed away, was a cross-country runner. So the idea for the album cover came from a picture of him running that I always look at, but with the album cover, the person in the front is a little raised off the ground a couple of inches. For me, that’s kind of about Sean continuing upwards.

You self-recorded and produced the first two Sorority Noise records, right?

I produced them and recorded them with my professor from college, so more or less. I remember for Forgettable, I did all of the vocals in an hour and a half between finals. With Joy, Departed, we spent a little more time, and then this one we actually got to go to a studio. I said, “gimme two weeks tops. If it takes any longer than that, I want to throw it away.” Because if it takes any longer than that, in my experience, it’s not what I want it to be. I want it to be as organic as possible. The more you sit and try to change things around, it kind of decreases from the organic nature of the actual piece. We did the whole thing with a bunch of extra songs in like nine days.

How many extra songs did you do?

I wrote forty for the record, we kept twenty, we recorded thirteen. And I think there’s ten on the record.

Does your songwriting come from a journal that you keep? Or do you sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write a song now?’

Some people can just say, “I’m going to spend two hours writing music today.” That’s not a thing for me. Luckily, at this point in my life, I’m able to — and this is wild for me — afford my lifestyle typically off of music for the first time in my life now. I have a studio that I built with Jake and Ian from Modern Baseball, and we record pretty constantly there. So I have a studio that I record bands at, and I mix and I master when I’m not doing my own stuff, and then if I have an idea or I’m in a really low place, and I’m home, I have as much time as I want to work on it. But a lot of the songs will come in fifteen or twenty minutes. I’ll just set my voice memos to record and pick up a guitar and start going for it, because I’ll hear it in my head. Then that’ll just be the demo, and when I bring it to the band, then we’ll start fleshing it out. But all the skeletons come together within between a half hour and an hour. That’s just how I work, I hear all the parts at once.

This is your first project with Triple Crown Records, what were the benefits and setbacks of the label switch?

Absolutely no setbacks! Fred [Feldman, founder of Triple Crown Records] is an incredible human who fully believes in all the bands he puts out. And [former label] Topshelf is great as well! But I’ve always wanted to explore different opportunities. I’ve never been one to stay at one place for too long, because I think there’s different opportunities in different places. So I’m really, really, really glad that we got to do this record with Triple Crown. Fred has been literally incredible. I remember calling him when we were trying to figure out who we wanted to do the record with, and I remember thinking, “you give a sh*t about what you’re doing,” and he’s not just trying to turn a profit. And at the end of our hour-long conversation, I asked him to name me a song or a record that you put out that made you think, “I’m doing something important and I love this.” And he brought up North Star, which was a really early Triple Crown band, and one of my favorite bands. He talked about how important he felt to be a part of that record, and he just spoke super honestly with no hesitation. And that was it, I knew he was a person I could trust.

The past two albums have been very introspective. But this album seems like you’re moving into a territory that exists outside of your own head. Was that an intentional thing, or did it just come from circumstance?

I can’t really explain how a record comes about, this is just where I was at, and that’s how it came to be. A lot of it questions fate, and I think that was where I was at while I was writing this.

There’s a line on the first single, “No Halo,” that really stood out to me, when you ask the question ‘When you show up to my funeral, will you be wearing white or black?’ I was wondering what the symbolism of colors at a funeral mean in the context of the track’s narrative, or in a narrative in general.

I think that white is a celebratory, or positive color, and black is for mourning. So as I struggled trying to comprehend my friend’s death, I feel like both those colors came into play a lot. And I slipped a thing into that last chorus where I say “I know the force is in you, it’s the energy I lack,” and that is literally a Star Wars reference. Sean and I used to watch all six movies over a night and then go to school the next day, or hang out and watch Lord Of The Rings. So he was just like a super nerd and we were both nerds together. I’m not even that big of a Star Wars fan, I just knew that was something that was significant thing between us in our relationship, so I didn’t care if it sounded weird.

When I was listening to the album’s second track “A Portrait Of” for the first time, the last [spoken word] section really got to me. Is that based on a poem?

I just made it up on the spot. There’s no lyrics for that part. The end of that song was pretty open, and my idea was just to be able to say exactly how I’m feeling in that moment. So I just went in and we got to the part, and it just took one take with no paper, and I just talked about the things that were on my mind. And the plan was that at every show, I would just say something different, and be able to keep it constantly fresh for me, and reflecting exactly what’s going on.

I noticed back-to-back reference to Into It. Over It., Modern Baseball, and Julien Baker during “A Better Sun.” Are there more that I missed?

I think there are twenty-two, or twenty-three to different songs or different albums or bands. Because I love jazz, and I grew up playing jazz, and that’s what I graduated college with and what I still do all the time. And in jazz music, to reference something was cool, to make a nod to a record was cool, and they would do it very overtly. But the more modern criticism is that you’re just stealing it. But no, I tried to make it as apparent as possible that it is, in fact, a nod to something that I do appreciate. Just very small, subtle things. It’s not super apparent, nor is it critical to the lyrics. It also wasn’t something I tried to do, that’s just what came to mind when I went to write it down, and I kept it.

Speaking of Julien Baker, did you read her interview with The Creative Independent about the concept of the “tortured artist”?

I don’t think I read it! What did she talk about?

Off the top of my head, I remember her mentioning that people talk about Death Cab For Cutie, and say that the music got worse when Ben Gibbard got happier.

Man, she’s just so fun to see exist. She just speaks so eloquently, and she’s still so young, too. Yet she’s one of the best songwriters I’ve ever encountered. I could go and ramble about Julien for years. But to further her idea, sometimes people will say they’re going to see us and then someone will maybe respond saying, “OMG, I’m so ready to be sad.” That’s always rubbed me in a weird way, because I think as a human I’m more than just sadness. But I guess in my music, I’ve never been one to speak of much else other than personal grief and sorrow, because that’s just what I know. But it’s sometimes frustrating to see people minimize you down to this one facet. I can’t say that they’re wrong, this album is pretty soul-crushing. It’s hard for me to play sometimes. But oftentimes people are just going through more sad things than happy things, so you can relate more. My life is cool, but there are certain things that drive me to write music. I probably wouldn’t write music if I hadn’t experienced the things that I have, or dealt with the things I deal with. I feel like I write out of necessity, and it’s like therapy for me. But I feel like I’d probably struggle a lot more with writing songs, and putting them out, if it was about a more positive discussion.

But I’m sure Ben Gibbard isn’t in this incredible place. Like when artists write more positive music, that’s probably a look into a very specific moment in their life, just as well as the sad stuff is a specific look into a specific moment in their life. So the dichotomy between a songwriter’s ability to write in different scenarios and execute it well in both cases is cool and should say something more so than just minimizing them to certain standpoints.

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Is there a difference between writing a song for Sorority Noise and writing a song for your other band, Old Gray?

Oh, 100%. I have so many different projects; I just finished writing a Small Circle LP, and I just finished a jazz quintet LP that I’m putting out as well. So I’m writing all the time, and I think I know immediately whether it’ll be a Sorority Noise or an Old Gray song, but there’s also this category for solo songs. Sometimes I reallocate things between my solo stuff and Sorority Noise, but Old Gray is just so different sonically… especially between the new Old Gray record and the new Sorority Noise record. And I realized while I was writing the new Old Gray record that with [first Old Gray LP] An Autobiography, it was kind of “poppy,” and had that major key element that screamo doesn’t usually have, because I didn’t have another band that could do that. Then I started Sorority Noise, and I realized that I can put all the ones in major keys over here, and all the one-minute crazy songs over here. So it helped me with Old Gray writing as well to have a band with a more poppy element.

At the same time, though, I feel like on this latest record, beneath the main vocal there’s an Old Gray vocal sort of trapped, waiting to get out.

Yeah, I screamed a lot on this one. And the reason I started screaming with Old Gray was because there was no other way those words could come out. That’s how those words had to be delivered for me. So with Sorority Noise, I’ll yell a lot just because there’s still some words that have to be delivered that way.

You started your own record label, Flower Girl Records, late last year. Do you have any big plans for 2017?

For right now, I have a lot of back catalogues… Every record I’ve ever done, I own now. So the plan with the label is really just to be a place for me to put out stuff and be able to keep track of everything to make sure that my bands always have records to go on tour with; keeping things in my own hands. I’ll probably do some solo tapes, and I’m working on a bunch of charity records and stuff like that. I’m working on this one cover record with some friends where we’ll cover each other’s songs and hopefully we’ll put that out for charity, and be able to donate constantly through streams. So this is an interesting thing that I’m excited to be able to do now that I have my own place to facilitate that. But I also know how much work goes into putting a record out. And I love my friends’ bands so much that I would probably be more prone to recommend the ones that I think are truly something f**king special — unless I feel like I can put the effort in — to a different label, just because between my own bands’ music and what I do normally, I don’t know that I could put the time that I think a lot of the records deserved. Maybe in time, I’ll hopefully be able to do some friends’ stuff, and some bands I really enjoy, when I can really step out and focus on it. But right now I think I’m just going take the risks on myself. And if I can build it a little more, maybe I’ll take some more risks.

Sorority Noise’s You’re Not As _______ As You Think is out March 17th on Triple Crown Records. Pre-order it here.