Over this past Memorial Day weekend, four of the original members of the Anniversary — the much-beloved band from Lawrence, Kansas — reconvened to rehearse a few of their old songs. This would be the first time that the four of them — Josh Berwanger, James David, Adrianne DeLanda, and Chris Jankowski — had been in one room together since the band awkwardly and officially broke up back in 2004. It was a reunion that no one ever really seemed to think would happen. Having parted ways well over a decade ago, most of the band now live in different parts of the country and literally everyone has children, which makes the idea of getting everyone back together in a room to play songs that were written when most of them were barely out of their teens seem not only logistically difficult, but financially and commercially implausible. Still, after several months of chatting and testing the waters (everyone seemed genuinely surprised by the almost cult-classic status of their records), four of the original five band members managed to clear their schedules for a spate of reunion shows that will take place this fall. (Fifth original member, guitarist Justin Roelofs, isn’t currently involved, though he encouraged the other members to proceed with the reunion. Ricky Salthouse will be joining the band on guitar for the upcoming shows.) Fittingly, the reunion took place in same place the band first played together back in 1997 — the basement at guitarist Josh Berwanger’s mom’s house.
At a time when every band that ever existed seems to be getting back together for some kind of delayed victory lap or cash grab, the fact that the Anniversary — a band that only ever released two proper albums back in the early 2000s — are reuniting is not terribly surprising. Judging by the lineups of summer festivals this year, nostalgia for early-2000s emo is at an all-time high, which means if you came of age in the era of Hot Rod Circuit or Reggie And The Full Effect, this is your time to LIVE. Despite having made what is now often talked about as one of the great emo albums of that era, 2000’s Designing A Nervous Breakdown, the Anniversary were generally kind of weirdo outliers in what was a fairly homogenous scene. Though they were often compared with their friends and labelmates the Get Up Kids, by the time the Anniversary released a sophomore album (2002’s Your Majesty), they had moved well past the squiggly pop of their debut and were wading into more psychedelic, classic-rock waters. At a time when the band was poised to do something really interesting — the kind of thing that would have likely allowed to them shake off the emo moniker once and for all — they essentially imploded in a sort of indie rock version of Fleetwood Mac-style romantic entanglements and long-simmering personal tensions. Like most breakups that happen before anyone involved has reached the age of 25, the band’s demise was dramatic and painful and weirdly ambiguous. A message was posted on a website and everyone eventually went their separate ways. Berwanger went on to play with the Only Children and will release a new record of his own this fall. DeLanda, who eventually left Kansas for San Francisco, currently plays in Extra Classic. Jankowski moved to Texas and still plays drums in a couple of different bands around Dallas. David essentially stopped playing music altogether. Roelofs, who now lives in Hawaii, continued post-Anniversary as White Flight and is currently working on new music of his own.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’m writing about the Anniversary because they were (and are) my friends. I met them in 1999 after seeing them play at a tiny bar in Wichita, Kansas while I was in grad school. At the time, they were peddling a homemade cassette release and everyone was fresh out of high school. I asked them to come back and play what would be a fairly disastrous show in Wichita a few weeks later — a show that would involve playing on a borrowed PA in a coffee shop to an audience of about 10 people, following up a high school band that opened and closed its set with a cover of Foo Fighters’ “Everlong.” On their way back to Lawrence that night, the Anniversary got lost and struck a deer with their van, totaling the vehicle. Against all odds, we remained friends. Eventually I moved to NYC and I’d see the band when they played here, including a particularly memorable show at Bowery Ballroom at which a then-unknown Dashboard Confessional served as the opening act. If you look closely at the “Sweet Marie” video — filmed at Irving Plaza during the tour behind Your Majesty — you can see a baby-faced version of me standing on a chair, and DeLanda sitting nearby holding a prehistoric-looking cell phone.
As someone who knew the band for years and who had lovingly followed their progress, the saddest thing about their breakup — aside from the emotional fallout for everyone involved — was the sense that if they’d just stayed together a little longer, whatever they did next would have been incredible. If you check out Devil On Our Side, the collection of B-sides and rarities that Vagrant released in 2008, you can get a sense of where things were heading.
This is all to say that I’m writing about these upcoming Anniversary reunion shows with no small amount of pleasure. And while I understand how easy it is to be cynical about the current glut of reunion tours — the idea of cashing in on nostalgia for a bygone era that isn’t actually all that bygone yet — it’s also unfair to make judgments about such things without knowing the people or the motivations involved. For the members of the Anniversary, the lure of playing together again, even if only for a few shows, had more to do with reconnecting with old friends than making money. For a bunch of people who came of age playing music together and experienced a fleeting (and somewhat bewildering) amount of success while they were all still essentially kids, reconnecting to play these shows is a nice way to revisit their old songs and also put a bit of closure on what was ultimately a hilarious, exciting, occasionally sad, but mostly amazing chapter in all of our young lives. No one will likely get rich, but it’s an appropriate way to give an ending to the band that doesn’t involve tears and broken relationships. Whatever acrimony might have clouded their breakup back then is truly now so much water under the bridge.
I talked to everyone in the band to get their impressions on what it feels like to get back together after all these years. Here’s what they had to say.
Berwanger: Since the day we broke up, Chris has been trying to get the band back together. He’s been on board since we all walked out of that bar where we broke up in 2004. He was like, “Are you sure we want to do this?” He was always trying to get the band back together.
David: To be honest, I thought for sure the reunion would never happen. I remember when we actually decided to break up, Chris was like, “We’re just going on hiatus, right? ” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s done, never again.” I just figured the Anniversary would never play again. I’m surprised and excited though. Sometimes these things happen when you literally least expect them to.
Jankowski: I was ready for a reunion anytime after the breakup. It’s true. The breakup happened, and it sucked, but time passes, and within a few years I was like, “Whenever you guys want to do this, I’m ready to play again.” I had a good time doing the Anniversary. It was a big part of my life. I’m ready for it, it’s just weird that we’re doing it now. I’m still kind of nervous about the shows, and the crowd response, and if people are going to be there for us. It’s been 13 years since we played, so it’ll be interesting to see.
DeLanda: I actually always thought we would reunite. I just didn’t know when or what the circumstances would be. I always felt like it would happen though.
Berwanger: I was doing a Berwanger tour last year and we were opening for the Get Up Kids. We did two nights in San Francisco and I asked Adrianne if she wanted to join me to do a version of “The Siren Sings” during my set. She wanted to do it and it was really cool. People really dug it. Adrianne and I had a blast that night. We ended up doing it again the next night. After the show we were all hanging out and we ended up having a conversation about reuniting the band. It was kind of like, if we are ever going to do this, the time is now. Ten years from now, there’s no way I’m going to want to do it. So we sent out an email to everyone and got in contact with our booking agent. That’s kind of what got the ball rolling.
DeLanda: I wasn’t actually too nervous about getting back together, at least not as far as our playing was concerned. Relearning the songs was kind of a trip though, just looking back at the music and thinking about the decisions we made as musicians. It’s funny to go back and listen really critically to something you made so long ago, when you were so young. But I wasn’t nervous so much as just excited to be around everybody again. Walking into that room — the basement at Josh’s house where we had first practiced together back when I was a senior in high school — was so nuts. I walked in and Chris and Josh and Ricky were already there and playing one of our old songs. I open the door and say, “Jeez you fuckers, I thought practice started at one o’clock!” and without missing a beat Josh is like, “It’s 1:05,” and keeps playing. From the minute I got there it was like no time had passed. We just laughed all day and played music. It’s a little nerve-wracking that our first show is at a festival in front of so many people, but ultimately that’s just super motivating. Like, we can’t suck. We just can’t.
Berwanger: Seeing everyone again — having us all in a room together — was really fun. I was definitely nervous about a lot of things. The big one, ultimately, was how we would sound. Secondly, it was just how it would feel to play these songs now. We wrote some of these songs, the Designing A Nervous Breakdown stuff, when we were 19 and 20 years old. I was nervous about being able to practice or get up on stage and have the same emotions where I could convince people that, “I mean this.” It’s just a weird thing — singing words you wrote when you were 20 years old and that you haven’t sung or really thought about in 13 years. Then we practiced and it was amazing. We sounded so great, and I realized it wasn’t so much of needing to, lyrically, dive into exactly what I was writing about at that point in my life. It was more about the band bringing that out. That is where all the meaning came from — all of us playing together and that energy that we had. It’s still there, and that was really cool. It was really wild, actually. Seeing everyone, it was like we had been hanging out every day for the past 13 years.
David: It was really weird for me to listen to those old songs and I was surprised at how much I really still liked them. I was like, “God, why did we never play this song live?” It was a super-weird experience to relearn how to play them all, but it’s also just a lot of muscle memory. Once I actually started playing, it kind of came back pretty quick. Like riding a bike. When we had practice for the first time it was kind of crazy because I hadn’t seen Adrianne in forever — like, over a decade — and it was not weird at all. It was kind of like how it’s supposed to be when you’re really good friends with someone, even though you haven’t really talked for a long time.
DeLanda: If I were to have nerves about the whole thing, it’d just be that we were all getting back together after having done something that felt unfinished. It was good that so much time had passed, I think. There were some really hard times at the end of the Anniversary and it was good that we could kind of rejoice in all of the good stuff and really appreciate the good things that happened for us. All the other stuff — the negative stuff — has all been hashed out at this point and we’ve all moved beyond it. It’s nice to be able to get back to a place where it all felt so familiar and good between us. We were all such a huge part of each other’s lives during what were also the most formative times in our lives as human beings. I spent more time with them than anyone, and the time we spent was so all over the place. We were travelling together, which always teaches you things about each other and about yourself. We were making music together, which was powerful. We were going through intense emotional shit with each other. Our lives were totally intertwined. So when that was all abruptly gone, it was painful. It was probably good and healthy in some way for us to be away from each other for that period of time, but those guys are always going to be my bros, my family.
David: I had kind of hung it up as far as music was concerned. I played a reunion show with some other bands that I’d been in over the years, and played with Josh a couple times at the Replay in Lawrence, Kansas, just sat in on some songs for fun, but I had kind of quit playing. So it was weird, I had to relearn all the songs. I really had no idea how the songs went on the first record. We kind of quit playing all that Designing stuff when we started working on the next record. We’re like, “We’re done with this material.” We were kind of a weird band in that way, we wanted to have a short term memory, and we were always like, “Oh, that’s old, we’re only playing new.”
Berwanger: I think, as you get older, you read a book or you watch a movie and you look at it differently than you did when you were 20 years old. I mean, hopefully you do. For instance, I was watching a Michael Jordan documentary recently and at the end of it I was thinking, “What if Michael never left and played baseball? How could his career have ended differently?” I don’t live in regret. You can’t do that, but there are times in everyone’s life when you do think about things like that. You do say the words, “What if? What if I did this instead? What if the Anniversary hadn’t broken up?” So that was definitely part of how I thought about this reunion. Ten years from now I don’t want to say, “What if I said no and didn’t try this one last time?” I don’t want to live with that. There is a great opportunity, right now, for us to go out there and do this again. If it goes great, awesome. If it doesn’t, then at least we went out there and had fun and got to spend time together and ended this chapter of our lives on a good note. We left too much on the table. We broke up so prematurely.
Jankowski: Honestly, as far as these shows are concerned, I’m not doing it for the money. I’m just doing it for fun and to hang out with my friends. I just want to play music in front of people again, that’s the greatest thrill for me. I like playing in front of people. Also, our last show that we played as the Anniversary was in San Antonio at this place called Sin Thirteen. There wasn’t a huge turnout, but it was a nice-sized crowd. After we got done playing, within about half an hour the place turned into a goth dance party. They were playing goth music while we’re trying to load out, and we’re like, “Holy crap man, what’s going on here?” They couldn’t get us out of there fast enough so they could start the goth party. Little did we know that it would be the last show we would ever play together, which somehow seems like a terrible way to go out. We need to play together again just to make sure that particular show isn’t the last thing we ever do together.
DeLanda: You never really know what the reaction is going to be in a situation like this or if anyone is going to care, but over the years I did have a sense that we still had an audience that was interested. No matter what kind of music I was doing — and I think the same was probably true for Josh — there would always be people who would come up to me and say how much they had loved the band and that they had continued to follow what we were doing. We had definitely meant something to people, and there were people who were kind enough to keep track of us.
Berwanger: Adrianne reminded me of this the other day. She said, “Yeah, Josh the first interview you ever did, someone asked you if we were an emo band and your answer was, ‘Why would I say we are an emo band? That’s pretty much like saying we are a bunch of pussies.'” I don’t remember saying that, but I probably did. Now I don’t really care. If people want to call us an emo band or remember us that way, it’s cool. Apparently it’s coming back. People want to be a part of something, and that was a big part of what the emo thing was about for people back then — they felt like they were a part of this cultural thing that was happening. Still, I never thought about us in that way. To be honest, I don’t know if I can even name any emo bands. I never really understood what that term meant. A lot of those bands sounded very different to me, and I never thought we sounded like any of them.
Jankowski: The Anniversary, unfortunately, were just thrown into that group of bands that were considered emo — partly because of where we were from and because of the label we were on — but we never thought of ourselves as an emo band. We went on a lot of tours with bands that were considered emo, so we just fell into that category by default. A few years ago someone — Alternative Press or LA Weekly or someone — put out a list of the top 20 emo albums of all time, and Designing A Nervous Breakdown was no. 17 on the list. I was like, “Oh cool, I guess we are an emo band after all.” But mostly it reminded me that it was actually a really good album that we made together, and it was nice to be reminded of that. I always think the most interesting thing about the two albums we made is just the stark contrast between them.
DeLanda: I’ve seen a lot of reunion tours. I know how it feels to see a band you love come back, and how weirdly powerful that can be and seeing the responses to our reunion announcement was really amazing. I think a lot of the people who loved our band were also very close to us in terms of age, so a lot of what we were singing about and the things we were feeling were also things they could identify with and relate to. When I listen to certain records that I loved when I was young, it takes me back to a certain time and place that’s so specific that I literally almost taste it and smell it and feel it. Now to know that maybe we also provided that feeling for people is pretty incredible. To be able to make people happy by going out and playing these songs while also revisiting this amazing time in our own lives is also pretty incredible.
Jankowski: So many funny things happened to us in this band, but someone just reminded me about this. When we made the “All Things Ordinary” video I think our total budget was 600 bucks and we pretty much did everything ourselves. I was the director. We made the video and sent it out to a bunch of small video places and they started playing it on their programs and stuff. We sent a copy to MTV, since we had a friend who worked there at the time. As the story goes, she was sitting in one of the control rooms and watching the video when, totally by chance, Carson Daly walks by with Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit. They stopped and ended up watching the video and talking about it. I kid you not, the next video by Limp Bizkit is pretty much a direct copy of our video. If you’ve ever seen the Limp Bizkit video for “My Way,” it’s essentially the same concept as our video, just done with a bigger budget, including a scene where they are also wearing caveman costumes. They ripped off our idea, which is hilarious. It’s flattering, right?
David: My kids have zero interest in the fact that I was once in a band. I’ve kind of tried to show them things, but they couldn’t be bothered. Recently someone showed them the video for “All Things Ordinary” on YouTube and they came home asking “Dad, do you still have that chicken suit?” I was like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” They’re like, “The yellow chicken suit!” I seriously had no clue, and they were like, “On YouTube, your video, your band.” They started singing one of our songs, and I was like, “What?” They had to show me the video that we made where I was wearing a yellow chicken suit, and I was like, “Holy crap, I forgot all about this.” That’s the problem with me, there’s just so much shit that happened during those years and somehow I don’t actually remember any of it, I guess because I don’t hang out with a lot of the same people I hung out with back then. When we were all back together for rehearsals, it was really like the fog finally lifted. All of the truly ridiculous stuff that happens on the road, it all comes flooding back.
Berwanger: After our first rehearsal, Jim was saying that the most exciting thing about this upcoming tour is just getting to hang out together again. I feel the same way. You don’t always know how much you’ve missed people until you spend time together again and realize that you all have the exact same stupid sense of humor that you did when you were teenagers.
DeLanda: Being with the guys, I started to remember all of these amazing things I had totally forgotten. One thing I’ll never forget is us driving across country in an RV and getting stuck in a blizzard. We just had to park on the side of the road and wait it out. At six o’clock in the morning, Jim woke up and started the RV because we had to be in Salt Lake City that night to play. I was riding shotgun and it was like, “Let’s fucking do this.” We drove through the snow for about four more hours and I remember it was kind of terrifying but we were also listening to Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 — still one of my favorite albums — and we get to Salt Lake just before the doors were supposed to open. We just barely made it. Talk about celebrating life that night — it was all pizza and hugs and Jack Daniels. Those are the things I remember about being in the Anniversary. That vibe. Like, we’re alive and we’re doing this.
The Anniversary 2016 tour dates:
07/16 San Bernardino, CA @ Taste of Chaos Fest at San Manuel Amphitheater Festival Grounds
09/08 Allston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
09/09 Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
09/10 New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
09/11 New York, NY @ The Bell House
09/12 Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel
09/13 Columbus, OH @ Skully’s
09/14 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
09/15 Detroit, MI @ The Shelter
09/17 Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck