By: Dauphine Sizer
Looking back on the quick growth of modern musical genres, it’s easy to see how emo music evolved from punk through the ‘90s and set up shop in the 21st century. But the onset of the 2010s experienced a groundswell movement towards the organic and unrefined. Borders that strictly separated genres and styles quickly evaporated, and soon enough, emo no longer held a certain aesthetic or crowd. At some point, emo music became something for everyone.
One band that benefits from such a growth in the popularity of emo is The Smile Bunch, a local emo/party punk band. They’re no strangers to Austin. Their first show was in August 2015, and they’ve played in various co-ops, houses and bars around town since. The band is comprised of four members: Logan Burroughs and Kyle Anderson both on guitar and vocals, Axel Alarcón on bass and vocals, and Matt McDermott on drums.
The bands says it’s easy to feel lost in a whirlwind of genres and the individual connotations of each, especially as they splinter and distinguish themselves from other subgenres. Even though they classify themselves as emo, Anderson describes their brand to be a “smoothie of music.” As their Facebook page puts quite simply and effectively: “Did you just assume my genre?”
Burroughs feels safe specifying their music as “orgcore.” Orgcore is a subgenre of punk that embodies a genuine and wholesome sound. Reaching beyond the appeal of artificiality, The Smile Bunch develops their sound through explorations of chord progressions and melodic structure. “We bring a riff to the table and build off of that,” Kyle explains.
They discussed how distancing themselves from some of their influences during the writing process was ultimately better for the product. “I stopped listening to The Beatles,” Burroughs says, describing how listening to his favorite music put greater pressure on him to write "perfect" music.
“With a band like this, it takes a while to develop your own distinct sound,” Anderson says. “Throw it all on a canvas and it’s a hot mess, but then you just…refine it as you go.”
In every chord and verse, the band’s vibe is clear and warm. The lyrics, rhythm, and structure are akin to that of Jimmy Eat World or Say Anything, while the group’s tone is effortlessly mature. Even with the intention to serve as an outlet of emotion, the honest expression of The Smile Bunch easily attracts an audience. They aren’t concerned with theatrics or aesthetics; music is the focus of it all. Anderson says it’s important to “make sure you’re doing your own thing, and not pretending to be another band.” If you do so, “they’ll respect you for being genuine.”
“I could look back and be proud of what we did in only a year and a half."
This ingenuity shines through their relaxed and humorous personalities. Between recording sessions, the band members venture to Luby’s for an exquisite lunch buffet. “It was hella cheap and a lot of food,” Burroughs recalls. At some point they would love for The Smile Bunch to become: The Smile Bunch, Sponsored by Luby’s Cafeteria.
Yet, The Smile Bunch knows that there’s more to the music business than finding cheap buffets on the road. They recently paired up with local band Kidlat Punch to record the “Bunch Punch EP.” It’s available on Bandcamp with all proceeds going to SAFE Austin, an organization “dedicated to ending child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence,” as described on the SAFE Austin website. Burroughs explains that Alex Villarreal (of Kidlat Punch) proposed the idea and both groups were on board. The Smile Bunch has also donated proceeds from a party gig to SWAN/Sparks Austin, which provides music lessons to children of incarcerated parents. They have also fundraised for RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
In regard to their philanthropy, Anderson says, “I could look back and be proud of what we did in only a year and a half. “
The band doesn’t have any plans to slow down in the near future; they still have a lot more to look forward to. The Smile Bunch’s next EP is due in early April. Anderson expresses that the second EP is “definitely more what [he] likes,” and during production, there was more “consensus on style” and input from each member. “This EP was definitely more collaborative,” Alarcón says. He also mentions that an East Coast tour is in the works for August, and they’ll be “hitting up surrounding cities from now until forever.” They also hope to make a trip to the Rio Grande Valley in April.
For The Smile Bunch, performing can be energizing and cathartic. McDermott acknowledges that playing helps when he’s “emotionally distraught.”
“That’s why we berate him before a show,” Anderson jokes.
Alarcón says that he “never leaves a show feeling upset.”