"I’m having a hard time starting this..."
Me too, Bill.
It would be pretty difficult to know me at all and not be aware of what The Academy Is... were to me. Most have you have attended a show with me at some point, or read my LJ after a tour, or seen pictures. You know. But I'd like, if it's alright, to tell the story again, one last time.
And I guess I should just start at the beginning, or at least, the beginning for me.
I first saw TAI in May 2006 - not too long after I moved to the UK. It was the two Brixton Academy shows of the Black Clouds and Underdogs Fall Out Boy tour. I was - and still am - a huge, deeply emotionally invested Fall Out Boy fan, and this was to be my first time seeing them. In fact, one of the first things I had done upon moving to the UK was to buy the first three FOB albums - Evening Out With Your Girlfriend, Take This To Your Grave and From Under The Cork Tree - because when I had left Australia they were not yet distributed there. Anyway. I knew of TAI, I knew about their relationships and collaboration with the other bands within the FBR family - Sophomore Slump or Comeback of the Year, which William sang on, was my favourite FOB song - and I knew and liked the several songs I'd heard off of TAI's album, Almost Here.
So I was really looking forward to seeing Fall Out Boy, and quite excited to see TAI as well. I lined up early and was on the front barricade for the show. After the first opener, The Hush Sound, TAI took the stage, opened with Attention, and turned my world upside down.
I had NEVER seen a live band like this. They were so powerful in the most undefinable way. I remember spending a good part of that set with my hands unconsciously clamped over my mouth, gasping. They were magic. I'd always thought, from the first time I saw a picture of William, that he must be quite special and unusual. He didn't look or sound like anyone in the other bands associated with the "scene" TAI were a part of. He looked like someone from another time, another era. All of them did, a bit - rather than emo, they looked kind of indie/hippie/glam.. very 70s, but not like they were trying to be. And I come from 70s music and glam rock - before I got into the scene, I listened to almost no current music - the most notable exception being Placebo, who are not exactly shining examples of their own era, either.
FOB were brilliant, and solid, and their live shows were nearly always brilliant and solid, but they did what I expected them to do. TAI were a complete shock to my system - I had not been prepared for them whatsoever. They were a revelation. I was an instant convert. They were what I had been waiting for - what I didn't even know I'd been waiting for until that moment.
It's funny how you fall in love. I know TAI aren't technically the best band in the world or anything. I know they're not the most ground-breaking. I personally think they're quite individual, but people who aren't very aware of them group them in with a scene that doesn't really, sonically or thematically, include them - they're more there by association and friendships. (This could honestly said for any of the first Big Five of the Decaydance family - Fall Out Boy. Gym Class Heroes. The Academy Is. Panic! At The Disco. Cobra Starship. None of these bands are technically in any way alike yet all get lumped in.) TAI aren't even the band that I have had the most desperate, crying-late-at-night responses to. I just fucking liked them. Something about them fit me, in the most perfect and positive way. A combination of their sound, their style, their live show, their lyrics and the boys themselves... everything about being a fan of theirs was an incredibly positive and fulfilling experience. And that first show - They were just... explosive. William - all legs and hair, jumping around without a guitar, he was a firecracker and so elegant, he made me think of Marc Bolan, even Bowie. That album - the songs were poetic and emotional - wistful without being vein-openingly tragic, snarky and snarly without being angry noise, hopeful without being preachy and inane. They had a touch of nostalgia about them, despite it being a first album, and they were clever, so clever - every single word counted.
They were absolutely perfect to me.
The next night was just as good, though I knew what to expect this time. I'd seen them wandering around the venue that day, as well, and been too nervous, overwhelmed, to speak to them. I remember very clearly Bill hanging about in flares, knee-scarf and an old blazer and couldn't believe he was a product of the 21st century.
I followed them closely online after that - their summer on Warped Tour, TAI TV, Tom leaving - by the time I got to see them again, it was nearly a year later - March 2007 and it was their headline UK tour. At this point, I'd been through quite a harsh time the previous winter, and that tour was the first time in a long while that I'd spent with my friends, particularly some who had been involved in that drama. But it was wonderful. I attended four shows - Oxford, Leeds, Portsmouth and London - and that week was perfect. I rebuilt quite a few of those friendships back up to their former strength, made new ones, and got to meet the band themselves for the first time. They were lovely and it progressed quickly from awkwardly asking to take a picture to having long, genuine conversations while hanging out before doors, or at the bus after the show. I remember one very clearly - before the show in Portsmouth. It was unseasonably hot for March in the UK and I remember I was wearing a Placebo t shirt and had taken off my shoes. I remember being leant up against the warm brick wall of the venue and talking to William for a good long while about books and music - I know Adam was around for a while as well because they both commented on my shirt and talked about how much they loved them and the slight influence on their upcoming record Santi, of which they'd been playing a couple of songs. But that conversation with William must have lasted a good hour and I remember thinking afterwards "damn, if we had met in a different way, I think that boy and I would make really good friends." I believe he guest-listed me for that show, as well, for some reason.. maybe I hadn't originally intended to come down that day and it was sold out? I can't remember. But despite the fact I was becoming chill with them off-stage, the live shows still thrilled and excited me and the fact they were so nice to me meant I was basically the biggest fangirl ever.
Later that year, after Santi came out, (and for the record, I LOVE Santi, it is the record I empathise with the most, the one that makes me cry) and after I moved back to Australia, they came Down Under for the first time. This was both really cool and also terrifying, because Australian fans are crazy. Like, yes, I'm an Australian fan, but en masse they are overwhelming. In airports and at the venues they demanded a LOT of attention and watching the band get mobbed in a way that I had never seen before really upset me - not because I wasn't getting to talk to them, because I still did, but just because I didn't like seeing them being treated like that. It made me realise how much I really loved them for themselves, not just for the entertainment or excitement I got from them. But kids in Australia just get really over the top - maybe because no one ever comes here, so when ANY band does they get treated like the Beatles - and even though there was some over-zealous behaviour off-stage, it meant the shows themselves were intense in a really good way. The crowds certainly weren't boring. Apart from the mobbing, I loved that tour, and I met many people on it who became my friends, and at the time I didn't have any Australian friends. I went to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and from watching the soundcheck in Adelaide to the last number of the Brisbane show when William came into the crowd and grabbed onto me, they went out of their way to be good to me. But seeing them play the Roundhouse in Sydney, where I had grown up going to shows, and totally dominate it - I was so proud of them. I remember at some point on that tour saying that at the end of it, I would have seen TAI eleven times. And I thought that was like, a lot.
That was August. Sometime soon after that, Amy and I decided to meet up in America for three weeks and go to the Sleeping With Giants headline tour. Neither of us had done anything this big for a band before - tours around our own country, yes, but not this. Amy is a great friend of mine from the UK. I met her through a different band, but TAI are her band as well, and she's known them for around 2 years longer than me. However, she has never been bitchy or elitist about this, and planning that trip was one of the most exciting things ever, for both of us.
If planning the tour was exciting, it was nothing compared to actually getting there. It was my first time in the States, and I believe it was Amy's as well, though that might be wrong. Besides visiting Chicago and New York for fun, we went to nine shows - Poughkeepsie NY, Hartford CT (on Halloween), Philadelphia PA, University of Connecticut, Hampton Beach NH, Albany NY, Long Island NY, Worcester MA, and Toronto, Canada. Each show was unique and special in some way. Amy and I were a little nervous and embarrassed about seeing the band off-stage, we were not sure what their reaction would be to us having travelled so far and obviously spent so much money to see them. Whether it was creepy. But no. They were golden. I will never forget the look on William's face when he saw us and pointed us out in the crowd and the first show. But it was all of them - even Mike, who at that point I didn't think even knew who I was, came up to us and said lovely things about us being there that just had us at a loss for words. I think Adam's first words to me upon seeing me were asking if I had noticed them playing Placebo on the PA in between sets, retaining and throwing back to that conversation on the UK tour in March. We could barely believe any of it.
I loved every second of that trip - every town, every train and Greyhound ride, every weird hotel. Again, we made friends - especially Lacey, who has remained one of Amy's very closest friends now - and we saw Jess and Beth Ann, who had done what we did in reverse - American fans who had come to the UK in March to see that tour. I also met Chris for the first time, on that trip, and saw him speak. I learnt a lot about the USA and about travel planning, but most of all, over that tour, all those 2007 tours, I came to see just how wonderful the TAI guys were, not just as musicians but as human beings. I saw how kind and patient and considerate they were with all the fans, how they would truly try to respond to requests, get people without tickets into shows, never cut anyone off for a picture or a signature, how during shows they would pick out fans that they'd met in the crowdS and play up to them, make them feel special.
But the shows. The shows were still the core thing. The more relaxed I got talking to the band and being chill and conversing normally, the more I started to worry that they may think that we were coming out because we thought it was cool to be "known" by them or something like that - that we weren't in it for the right reasons. And at one of the last shows of our SWG trip, in Long Island, I voiced this fear to William, something like "I hope you know how much this means to us, I realise when we talk to you we're not necessarily talking about the music and how we feel about that and I hope you know that that really is our priority, we're not just here to hang out..."
His response, which I am not going to quote verbatim, was one of the most touching things ever said to me, and talking about it still makes Amy and I weepy. But basically said he knew, that we didn't have to explain that, he felt that we were genuine, he could tell that we "got" it when not everyone actually does, and lots of other beautiful, beautiful things that made me feel so appreciated. I am at my best, I think, when I am a fan. I am emotional but not creative, and that is where the most earnest fan behavior comes from - people who cannot express themselves and who find others who have expressed it for them. Unless you have experienced it, you can not understand how it feels to have an artist who you feel you connect with say "Yes. That's it. You understand. Not everyone does, but you do." Amy and I got in the taxi to leave the venue that night and we both just started to cry.
In 2008, after becoming more interested in behind the scenes work in the music industry, I took the opportunity to go to America for four months to travel and then work on the Vans Warped Tour. A friend's band were on the first half and I managed to jump over to help out another band for the remainder. In May, before Warped started, I got to see TAI play Bamboozle in New Jersey - my 21st time seeing them. It was crazy, the biggest show I'd ever seen them play, and I managed to go to their signing and say hi, and they were friendly and kind and pleased. I saw them around a couple of times in NYC as well in the month I stayed there - they were recording there and we occasionally went to the same bars and gigs - and I warned them that'd see me around that summer on Warped.
I saw "warned" because, while I was excited by the chance to see them play, hopefully a lot - once again, like coming to America for SWG, I worried desperately that they would not be comfortable that I was around, that it was too much, or that it would be misconstrued as me following them around for the summer, which was not the truth. They were a huge bonus, but NOT the reason I had come to work on the tour. Once again, my worries were completely stupid. They were totally cool with it, couldn't care less, and I got to spend 8 weeks seeing them play nearly every day. I would organise to take my lunch or dinner break in order to catch their set whenever possible. Amy and Lacey did a road trip that summer and, after we met up at an off-day Decaydance headline show in New Orleans, they attended a lot of Warped tour as well. I got them guest passes, so most of these sets we watched from side of stage. Fran and Nettie and Megan too. But the best was always when TAI played first (Warped has a rotating schedule) and we would get down the front before the gates opened, and watch them properly, from the barricade. William never failed to thank me - never - for the times when I would be down the front in the crowd even though I had an AAA pass. I did like watching from side of stage as well, watching the effect they had on the crowd, watching the technical aspects.. I just loved everything. Out of 46 dates, I probably got to 35 of their sets. It never got old.
Quite soon on Warped, though, something else started to happen, which was very odd to me. I would speak to the guys after their set, sometimes, and I would acknowledge them if I saw them in passing or at the parties at night, but I mainly tried to stay the fuck out of their way, because they knew I was a fan - not like, "oh dude, your band rocks" "yeah, I love your band too", but a real, legitimate, "can I get a picture with you," "I flew to America to see your band" FAN. And I didn't want them to feel intruded upon. But then, they started to approach me - particularly William. He would come up to me and chat, spend a little time with me. About ten days into the tour, we were side of stage watching Jack's Mannequin play, and completely unprompted, he asks me if I would like to listen to their new (unreleased) album with him and tell him what I thought. I remember very clearly that I didn't even say anything, just wrapped my arms around his waist and hugged him. A few days later I was shut in the back lounge of TAI's bus, listening to Fast Times at Barrington High off of William's iPod. He sat with me, curled up on the couch and I remember not knowing what to look at while we listened together, so I was staring at the soles of his shoes. I couldn't believe this was happening, I was a little scared and incredibly touched.
The summer continued, and I felt a little less weird spending time with him. I remember - sort of - a particular party off-site where I was probably the drunkest I had ever been - my first time having Jagermeister - and he was a bit wasted too and I remember us kind of hanging on to each other for most of the evening, and talking into each other's faces at what I'm sure we thought was a normal volume but was probably actually shouting. I remember another night in... I want to say it was Cleveland, on the Jack's Mannequin bus.. and another at the Chicago Angels and Kings after-party where he introduced me to his lovely girlfriend Christine and a couple of his family members. But we saw each other around nearly every day and it just became... normal. And I was always reminded of when we first met, and that conversation where I'd thought "if I'd met this guy as an equal we'd be friends". But I was highly paranoid of over-stepping and very concious that I was a fan and no matter how much you get along with someone, that's a dynamic that doesn't really go away. Until one night he saw me stomping around and came over to talk to me when I was in a particularly stressed and upset mood due to a stupid thing with a guy, and I took it out on him. Quite badly. I ended up snapping at him and almost yelling at him, saying he didn't have to feel obligated to do the polite thing like after gigs, that I wasn't going to be any less of a fan if he didn't come up to me whenever he saw me, that I was letting him off the hook. He then read ME the riot act about how he doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do, that he didn't feel obligated, that he was never ON the hook. It was kind of an over-dramatic moment on both our parts but we ended up being excessively complimentary to each other, talked about how much we liked each other, and we hugged it out, and after that I was much more comfortable thinking of him as a friend.
My favourite TAI-related memory that summer, I think, was an off-day towards the end, where the Decaydance bands again had a side-show, this time in Missoula, Montana. I adored this town, it had great vibes, and I had a great day with my girl friends at lunch and hanging at the hotel. The show was very cool, and I remember standing on a chair in the crowd to watch TAI's set and watching Cobra's from the stage, and when William came to watch as well he took me by surprise and hugged me from behind. I then spent the rest of the evening sitting backstage with him, down in the bowels of the theatre, just talking. Despite the fact many of his friends in various bands were there, hanging around in the dressing rooms, despite the fact that Gym Class were playing, he sat with me at a table in the main green room, drinking and talking, for hours. That conversation, and what he talked about during it, is when I really realised that we probably were friends. He'd always had a habit of dropping weirdly personal bits of info - stuff that I'd internally say "er, should you be saying that to a fan" about, but this conversation was like "whoa, okay." - very candid. This took place after the aforementioned slight meltdown I'd had, so I knew we were okay, but I was still surprised and flattered at how comfortable and personal he had become with me, and the fact he was choosing to spend the evening with me. When the venue kicked us out, it was raining, and he gave me his jacket so I could go back to my bus, which was further away than his.
Warped Tour ended (after a very weird and awkward moment in which I gave him a letter thanking him for being so good to me, and he said some wonderful things about me that I am embarrassed to repeat) and we all flew back to Australia, because TAI and Cobra were supporting on a P!ATD headlining arena tour there, that I was attending as a fan. This was a great tour - Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide again - it was weird to see both TAI and Cobra rock out these stadiums and be pursued by the mad Aussie fan base again, after spending 8 weeks in such close quarters with them. But it was also awesome, and made me proud and happy. At the end of the tour, when I was really saying bye, that was a bit hard. I remember being at the airport in Adelaide, which is about the size of a two-bedroom apartment, about to fly back to Sydney and the tour was flying on tour Perth. I remember Gabe Saporta being like "yo Natalie, you coming to Perth?" and when I said no, his face got sad and he hugged me - and I don't hug Gabe. Pretty much ever. I only, like, do bro-knuckles with him. I really did not like saying goodbye to William, but he gave me his email address and a lot of hugs, and that was that.
They came back to Australia a year later - August 2009 - with Anberlin, and my paranoia had set in again. I had exchanged a few emails with William, but not for a while, and I was so afraid that in the past year they had formulated the idea that actually, no, I was creepy, that at the first show when my friends were meeting the guys, I sort of... casually hid behind a tree. This obviously failed, and was obviously stupid, and they were wonderful - not just Bill, but all of them, even Tony, their tour manager, whom I had been absolutely petrified of for years. That tour was a really awesome mix of being a fan and being a friend, I spent every show except Sydney with my fan-friends, queuing and watching from the crowd, etc, I even went to the meet and greets, but I spent the last show, Sydney, backstage. I got to officially interview Bill at that show, which was pretty special, and was a wonderful conversation aside from being an interview. He also wrote a beautiful piece of prose in my notebook. The set was amazing, that tour, even though they weren't headlining. It was the first time I heard them play a lot of the Fast Times songs, and those songs that will always be special to me because I got to hear them first. Leo and I went to the afterparty of that show, and left the party with Bill and Tony to go to a quieter pub. It was a ridiculously long and great night and I think I have a picture somewhere of Bill and I drunk in Taylor Square at about 2am. That was the last time I saw them play.
I have never "gotten over" them. I have never been jaded about them as a band, ever. No matter how much time I spent with them or how familiar I had become, the second they go onstage as The Academy Is..., they still thrill and excite me, I would still rather be on the barricade in the crowd than anywhere else on the planet. 32 shows, plus Warped Tour - about 70 performances in total. Every single time, it isn't "lol those dudes" it is "that's the best live band in the world". They still did it for me. Every time. They have been worth every bit of time, effort and money I have ever put into being at their shows on three continents. It wouldn't matter if I'd never met them, if they didn't know who I was. I wouldn't care. The shows would still be the same. From the first time to the very last, they still exploded my heart. And the friends I made would still be the same. I'm just extremely lucky that by loving a band, I got to also make friends with this awesome boy.. he was super into them as well, and getting to talk to him at shows was always really cool, he really got what they were about. His name happens to be William. Cheesy, maybe, but that's how it always felt when actually talking with him about his own music - like we were two fans of the same thing, analysing it together. But William onstage was still always that firecracker, never some dude I knew a little. That band, right to the last, always had the power to make me scream and cheer and cry and I was never ashamed of that or above it. I was proud.
I keep thinking about all the things... all the memories and anecdotes, ridiculous incidents with my friends, when we went to shows. It was thinking about one of these - rather than thinking about a gig or a song - that made me start to cry, when I heard the news today. I broke down because I remembered a funny incident in a car on an deserted road somewhere in Connecticut in 2007, driving between shows. Being a fan of this band has given me so much. More than I could ever explain, define or remember.
A part of me died today. I will always support all of these boys, and I'm in contact with William and I know I'll see him perform again. But I'll never see him as the frontman of The Academy Is... again. I will never have that beautiful disconnect that allowed me to be the purist, most excited fan, riding off of what they did. Nothing is ever going to replace that. Ever.
I hate that it seems impossible for me to love anything without it eventually being tainted with bitterness or pain. The amount of things that i'm emotionally invested in which make me happy, without a side order of sadness, is now pretty much non-existent.
I've been crying nearly the whole time writing this blog - Butcher's tweet-fest of trauma really did not help. He touched on a lot of what I was trying to say here, particularly when he said "If you were a fan then you know how much TAI committed." This is really what I was trying to express. If you were not lucky enough to be a fan of this band, you missed out on something incredibly special. Because there is no one like them. No one.
Epilogue - I actually saw William a couple of months ago, in July. He was playing an acoustic solo show in Chicago and I attended. It was marvellous. He seemed amused and delighted to see me there and he spent a lot of time talking to the fans afterwards - this was nice to see, as when I'd last seen him, two years ago, he'd talked about being a little tapped out on this aspect. And then I got weirdly overwhelmed - for some reason I get incredibly fucking depressed and start feeling like I'm going to cry. Like really, out of nowhere, hit-by-a-truck emo-ness. I think it hit me that I hadn't seen him in nearly 2 years and that I'd actually missed him and that this was a one-off and I wouldn't see him again anytime soon, and just, everything he's meant to me and how he's always been, right from the first time we really met properly.
In a move that was nearly completely out of control, I shamefully ended up crying all over him. I prefaced it with "I might cry and if I do I'm really sorry" because I could feel it in my voice and he asked "why would you cry?" and then I kind of let loose on him emotionally. I've never done that before, I've cried in shows and he's seen it but I have never started to cry while talking to him. I was basically going giving my life story and about how I'd lived in UK and now Australia was lonely and missed all of my friends, and how I had such distance restricing me from being around the people I actually wanted to be around, and I how I had trouble making new friends, and how when I saw him I'd realised how much I'd missed him as well, and how in another situation we could have been normal friends. And I was saying emo crap like"do you know what you are to me?" and "You are an amazing human being", and he denies it, of course, and I'm like "shut up, I know you don't think it but you really are" - this is all really disjointed and not a direct transcript of the conversation, but just to give you the vibe that was discussed. And I kept saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it isn't fair to just put that on you for my own catharsis and be like 'here's a bunch of heavy shit, deal with it.'" He wasn't just standing there like a struck fish listening to me blubber, he started saying some pretty emo things to me as well, but I just can't. I can't even talk about it. At one point I was just blubbering 'I'm so sorry, I've just had a really shit year.' while pretty much crying into his neck, and he was like 'yeah, me too'. He was going on about how everything for him had been bad, but finally music was being okay again and hoping because he'd gotten that to work again it would help make everything else work, and of course in response to that I was all "*sobs* you need to be happy you deserve to be happy *sobs*"
But he spoke about, I don't know, finding the right direction, and he was talking about how good tonight had been, and how he's been online more and getting back in touch with fans, and how that felt and I'm just like.. "you didn't realise people were still there?" And of course at a couple of points he had to destroy my life and start being like 'the way you've always been there' and thanking me and 'you have always, always understood me." And all I could say was "thank you for being every aspect of who you are and what you've given me."
I wasn't sobbing. Not like big wracking sobs. But as soon as I started talking, I started crying, like tears rolling down my face and voice all wobbly, and saying "I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm doing this" and I think I managed to pull myself together and be like "I don't think I've ever told you, so I just wanted to tell you" re: me actually thinking he is spectacular.
I think I knew then that something was a bit wrong, but he was so positive about new material and new state of mind. It sounded like things HAD been wrong but had turned a corner. I guess they were too broke to fix.