Written by Taylor Kalsey
“Emo” is one of those words that means very different things to different people. Just like the word “hipster”, it’s a tactically unspecific, malleable word designed to describe whichever group one currently wants to insult.
For my fellow millennials, “emo” is synonymous with Hot Topic fashion style popularized by bands like My Chemical Romance. A band who’s fans mainly consisted of suburban white teenagers with straightened black hair, neon-tinged graphic tees, leather bracelets, and facial piercings – all amounting to a glossy combination of goth and posh punk
Being a self-proclaimed music nerd, I have an alternative understanding of emo. For me it’s not a lifestyle or fashion trend, but strictly a musical genre. During my senior year of highschool, I first introduced to the genre with so-called “emo revival” bands like Modern Baseball, The Front Bottoms, and Joyce Manor. Unsurprisingly my interest in the genre escalated in direct proportion to my depression, which both led me learn the term “emo revival” and that according to some internet users, “all emo after the 90’s is bullshit”.
For Tom Mullen, Vice President of Marketing Catalog at Atlantic Records and host of the interview podcast Washed Up Emo, the genre amounts to much more than its stint in the spotlight. When I interviewed him, he was quick to point out that “the emo scene has a long and storied history from the 80s through today. It never went away as some think or was only nostalgic.”
And I trust Tom to know about the genre’s history, as he is also the creator of the website isthisbandemo.com; a search bar supposedly curated by the “council of elders” to definitively determine if a band fits into the genre. Just to double-check my personal credibility, I looked up all three bands that I’ve previously mentioned and they passed the test. Alternatively, Panic At the Disco has been “officially” declared to not be an emo band but an “‘emo phase for a night band’”.
The website may seem defensive, but I think that reflects the temperment of the average emo fan. As Tom says, “the genre may morph and be thrown onto other genres but the root of the word means emo-core. This [genre] came out of Hardcore and was instantly made fun of and is still marginalized to this day.”
American culture’s general dismissive attitude towards the genre is what led Tom to launch Washed Up Emo in 2007. “Albeit with more tact and less anger”, Tom says that the podcast’s goal has always been the same: “I always wanted to show the full history of the genre and how many bands were missed by those that only focused on ones on mainstream radio or TV.” Since the streaming age, he’s updated his goal to include, “new and old bands that aren’t being talked about in articles, features or anniversary pieces.”
And like a traditional historian, Tom is thorough in his research before each interview. He wants to simultaneously respect his guest’s and audience’s time by “asking the right things and know the stories that will get the guest engaged.” He says the end goal of his interview preparation is to simulate “the fan sitting next to their favorite musician and keeping it together.”
In 2017, Tom also found a more traditional route to be an emo educator. “The Anthology of Emo” is 376 page book featuring 10 interviews with past and future emo figureheads. Tom says that he’s honored that the physical iteration of his podcast interviews have further contributed to the scene, but his pride also stems from a more deeply personal experience.
Tom’s father, being a teacher, instilled a love of books early on in Tom’s life. Tragically, the year before “The Anthology of Emo” was published, Tom’s father passed away from cancer. Tom says that “I know he’d be proud of me if he were still alive today.”
Tom is most proud of his book, but that doesn’t mean his work is done. Looking towards the future, Tom sees Washed Up Emo, as an endless passion project: “There are more stories to tell, new bands making an impact and obscure ones that need a voice…I am always one random email away from a musical hero of mine saying yes to chatting about their life.”
So if you already love emo, or want to dive deeper into a genre that you previously brushed off, give Washed Up Emo a listen and let us know what you think by rating the show on Podchaser!
P.S. Just in case you were wondering, according to the man’s own website, “Tom Mullen is not an emo band, but he certainly loves emo.”
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