Music

How Philly Punks Restorations Survived Being An Indie Band In The 2010s

Emily Dubin

Philadelphia punks Restorations have long specialized in setting the humdrum realities of everyday life to doggedly anthemic music, like Bruce Springsteen fronting Fugazi. While it’s been four long years since 2014’s career breakthrough LP3, the band hasn’t lost its touch on the forthcoming LP5000, due September 28 from the excellent indie label Tiny Engines.

One of the album’s strongest tracks is “Nonbeliever,” which spotlights the band’s tried-and-true “pensive verse/rousing chorus” formula. (Check out the song’s debut below.) Singer-songwriter Jon Loudon drew inspiration from the post-election malaise of the past two years, a period of profound political and personal disaffection. The song’s protagonist has arrived at a moment in his life when the realities of adulthood can no longer be pushed off — he has a family to take care of, and the fate of the greater world to worry about.

While “Nonbeliever” isn’t strictly autobiographical — unlike the song’s narrator, Loudon does not have “a kid on the way” — it is a reflection of experiences lived by friends and confidants in the band’s inner circle, many of whom have “hit that mid-30s next step freakout, while there’s no good country to move to anymore,” he says. The tension in “Nonbeliever,” which veers from a thoughtful shuffle to an arena-ready stomp and back again, is how much these personal concerns ultimately matter at a time of political and cultural chaos.

“I feel like that’s such a drag of a song,” Loudon, 35, says with a knowing lilt. “It’s about the election and work stress and normal boring life stuff, I guess. Feeling overwhelmed, like you should maybe be worrying about other things that are slightly more important, like the state of the world. But you’re worrying about vet bills and job applications.”

For Restorations, LP5000 is a mark of survival after dealing with some of the common travails of being an indie band in the 2010s. On top of the usual “normal boring life stuff,” the band parted ways with its label, SideOneDummy, and suffered through a down period in the indie touring business in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

Clocking in at just seven songs that come and go in less than a half-hour, Restorations have pared-down to the essentials — the wall of guitars, the jackhammer rhythm section, and Loudon’s emotionally direct storytelling. They sound leaner, and more determined, than ever.

I spoke with Loudon about their lengthy break between albums, getting older, and their excellent new batch of songs, which comes out later this fall.

Your previous album is called LP3. This new album is called LP5000. Is this a joke about taking so long to put out a new record?

It’s funny, because someone else has mentioned that to me, too: ‘Is it just because it took forever?’ Which I accept. It was just a van joke: ‘Dude we should call the next record LP5!’ ‘No! LP5000!’ We committed to it a year before we finished writing the stupid thing.

Now you’re on the hook to make another 4,996 albums.

That’s the next big joke conversation: What do we idiots do for the next album title? I’m sure it will be something equally uninspired.

At any point did you think the band was finished in the past few years?

We took a hard break. We were like, we’re not going to play shows, and we’ll take off from practice, and get our shit together. We knew we weren’t going to be working with SideOne anymore. And we knew that we needed to take a little bit of time off to work. So Ben opened a restaurant, Dave went to grad school, and everybody had their own little project to work on for a while. It wasn’t necessarily that the band was done, but we took a conscious break, a mental health break.

It was a weird year. It was like every band was breaking up, all the labels were collapsing, tours were going bad for other bands, and everything we were near just seemed toxic. It was a strange time.

You mean 2016?

Mm-hmm. Post-election, the music world was real weird for a minute. It took work to tour.

In “Nonbeliever,” you’re able to write about how it felt in that moment politically but through a personal lens, like Springsteen does on albums like The River and Nebraska.

It was the first time that people I knew were having real problems on top of global problems. Where do I move? I have people to take care of now. Where do I go? What am I doing? Those were the conversations of a lot of people I know were having in the past couple of years.

It’s a really cool, interesting part of life to find yourself in, but it’s also strange to hit that mid-30s next step freakout, while there’s no good country to move to anymore. What industry can you work in that’s not going to collapse soon? What options are there that aren’t awful? That got channeled into the center of that song.

Another example is “Red Door,” in which you write about gentrification. In the song, you reference condos with red doors, which seems like a very specific Philadelphia reference.

My wife and I were looking at buying a house for a couple years and every place you went to was like Groundhog Day. It almost felt like it was a signal for a certain kind of person, like, ‘Hey, come to this cool place. It’s got all the things that you want, it’s got that weird tile and this shitty plastic red door, and these awful windows that are going to leak.’

I wonder how a red door, of all things, became trendy.

If you’re driving through a neighborhood, it’s like, ‘Oh it’s getting nice around here. It’s artsy. Interesting people live here. You want to live here.’ It’s very strange. It definitely feels like a check-mark status thing.

These transitions that happen in your mid-30s — what you called the “freakout” — seemed to be rooted in fear that you’re going to give up a part of yourself for something that feels a little soulless. But what you learn is that you gain a lot of good things, like wisdom and perspective, during that transition.

I feel like I’m on the back half of all of that static. I didn’t have to subtract everything. I can just kind of merge all these things I’m doing together and it all works. It’s crazy: I can run my own business, I can play in a band, I can tour, I can be married and live in a decent place and be a “normal person” without having to give all that up.

LP5000 is out on 9/28 on Tiny Engines. Order it here.

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