Interview

Q&A: Sorority Noise’s Cameron Boucher On Grief, Religion, And His Band’s New Album

Sorority Noise’s intentions have transformed drastically since the project began in 2013. “We started as a joke,” Cameron Boucher says, before quickly acknowledging how dramatic that statement sounds when said out loud. But the band’s earliest releases do have a levity to them, and the songs on their first few EPs and their 2014 debut, Forgettable, are self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek in ways that their more recent output has abandoned in favor of straight-faced, wrenching songs that address addiction, suicide, and mental health with unflinching directness.

Boucher started Sorority Noise as an outlet primarily for flippant and bitter songs about the throes of college relationships after playing in screamo bands for years, where those sentiments were buried in unintelligible noise. But as the band picked up a significant fan base (which trended young, much like the band members themselves) and a series of tragic circumstances forced the band to mature out of the angst that fueled much of their earlier material, Boucher began to see the project’s potential to act as a platform for change. “When we did Joy, Departed, I saw an opportunity for the band to make a positive impact,” he says. “I’ve always written music for myself, but now my personal outlook and the way I write songs has changed over time. I’ve grown up. I was 19 when we did Forgettable, so I was young as hell and a lot of the views I had in terms of depression and sorrow and grief were very different than the way that I look at them now.”

You’re Not As _____ As You Think, Sorority Noise’s forthcoming third album, is the band’s latest demarcation point in their continuous journey to get better. The stepping stones for this iteration of the group are many — Boucher is the kind of songwriter that’s constantly creating, each song a snapshot of a fleeting moment or feeling. Some of those are public, like the band’s stark 2016 EP, It Kindly Stopped For Me and Old Gray’s Slow Burn, Boucher’s second album with the hardcore band, which represents the most direct connection to the situations that are unpacked on the new Sorority Noise album. Where that album confronted loss with a fiery passion, Sorority Noise’s latest album feels like the ashes that are left after that fire has burnt out.

On “A Better Sun,” the album’s second single, Boucher sings of the same sort of crushing depression that Jenny Lewis does on the Rilo Kiley track that’s referenced in its title (a song that the band occasionally covers live), embracing the extreme highs and lows with uplifting numbness and perseverance. The lyrics are structured like a to-do list, with Boucher chronicling each “part” as he anticipates it happening: “This is the part where I remember all of the things I should forget/ This is the part where I embrace all the good and the bad thoughts existing in my head.” But expectation rarely lines up with reality, and he breaks down in the chorus, admitting that he may never reach the goal posts he’s set up for himself — “It’s hard, so hard, and breathing just makes it worse.” Unlike the song that it nods to, “A Better Sun” ends on a down beat, but the rest of You’re Not As _____ As You Think picks up the slack, painting a portrait of resilience in the face of overwhelming loss.

Listen to the premiere of “A Better Sun” below and keep reading for an interview with Boucher.

STEREOGUM: You’ve said you don’t really think about how other people will react to what you’re writing…

CAMERON BOUCHER: No, not at all. When I write a song, it can be anywhere — in my bedroom, driving, singing into a microphone. I’m just talking about how I feel in that moment. It’s therapeutic, it helps me, it’s my coping mechanism for a lot of things. But when it’s time to put the record out, and if I’m in an interview scenario like this and you ask me to explain a song that I wrote, it’s hard. When I wrote it, I was never thinking about one day how I might have to dissect it. Even performing songs live is hard. I’ll write a song that’s super raw and real and self-reflective, and I forget that when I’m doing that, it might come out on an album and I might have to explain the emotions that I felt, which is harder than it is to actually write the song. Does that make sense?

STEREOGUM: It does. You’re solidifying this emotion that you had in a very specific moment, and then you have to repeat it and explain it and play it on stage every night, even if you may have only been feeling that way for the 15 minutes that the song came about.

BOUCHER: Exactly. It’s how I felt in those 15 minutes, but it may or may not be indicative of how I feel constantly. “Using” is a song where I wish that I felt that way all the time, and it’s cathartic and reaffirming to say those words, but when I go home some nights, I don’t feel like I’m on top of the world, or a lot of the time I’m in a pretty low place and feeling vulnerable. Or I’ll be in a really low place and sing it on stage, and I’ll have to think: Do I mean that? Am I telling these people something that I don’t believe in? But I know that, at the end of the day, it’s something that I truly believe in, but my brain just has different capacities and different ways of handling it.

STEREOGUM: It’s hard to project these emotions when you’re put on stage both literally and metaphorically, especially because a lot of your fan base is so young and going through these very real and heavy things. You don’t want to give them the wrong impression or idea about how they should be feeling, or even tell them how to feel at all.

BOUCHER: Sometimes you get the feeling that people in bands are just pandering to certain crowds — If I say this, then people will react — but it’s truly not like that for me. Everything I’m saying and playing is as real as I can be, and I feel like that’s hard to convey. Someone could tell me that a song I wrote sucked, and that’s fine with me — most music is not for most people — but when someone specifically takes a lyric and makes fun of it or makes light of it… That’s incredibly personal for me. That’s hard for me, because it took a lot out of me. So I think the big thing is that I just don’t really pay attention to what people may or may not think, because I write at such a high volume that there’s no buffer for that. Boom, there I am. That’s kind of how it goes.

STEREOGUM: Let’s talk about what has happened in the past year that inspired the songs on the new album.

BOUCHER: The record deals a lot with loss, and dealing with grief. Religion is another big thing. I was raised Catholic, and I strayed away from the church for a while because I didn’t adhere to a lot of the beliefs they had, social-wise. I’ve always been a God-fearing human, though, albeit with whatever religion is subservient to that belief. I became really good friends with Julien Baker, and she’s very vocal in her beliefs. When I’m at shows, sometimes people would ask me about this cross that I wear on my neck, and I would be like, Yeah, literally what’s wrong with that? Because Julien’s so vocal about her belief, and we became really good friends, that helped me to realize that there was value in that. There is a greater thing to all of this, and I think the record is very interrogative towards faith. I’m asking a lot of questions that I don’t know the answers to, and kind of hoping that someone can answer them for me.

I also had some friends take their lives during the past two years, and a lot of the record is based around dealing with their loss and trying to continue my life, and also live my life as a continuation of theirs.

STEREOGUM: Where do you stand with your religious beliefs today?

BOUCHER: I’d say I’m like a Christian. I’d say I’m like a Christian — that’s a weird way to put it. [laughs] I definitely believe in God, and I think that has helped me deal with the loss of a lot of my friends, knowing that if I believe there’s still a heaven, then my friends are watching and are still with me. If I believed that they were just rotting in the ground, then it’s a lot harder for me to swallow. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m not overtly in people’s faces about it, but it’s something that I believe myself. I pray when I can and I do what I can. But at the same time, we’re not going to mass on Sundays when we tour, and none of my bandmates necessarily share the same viewpoints that I do, so it’s interesting… But it gives me solace, personally.

STEREOGUM: So much of the album has to do with loss and grief, and a lot of it has to do with how you personally react to that — feeling like you’re a support system for others while still having to take care of yourself. It’s important to recognize that you need to be accessible to people, but also need to take care of what’s going on in your own life.

BOUCHER: The example with Sean specifically… In high school, we were the closest of friends. We marathoned through every Lord Of The Rings movie, and I would stay at his house, and we’d go to school the next day and not sleep. We were really close… We drove everywhere together. I do this thing when I drive that everyone hates. I call it Crazy Car, and Sean was the first person that was in the car when I did it. I’ll just be driving and start doing this [makes swerving motion] with the wheel, and Sean used to hate it. So I still do it sometimes… Not when we’re driving the trailer, because we could all die by that, but…

Anyway, we were really, really close in high school, and then I went to college in Connecticut — we grew up in New Hampshire — and we would still keep in touch, but not in the same way that we did when we were in high school. But, as I’m sure you’ve experienced with friends that you were really close with, if you lost them, you would feel equally as close as you did at the time. So we kept in touch and we talked, and he’d go through Facebook messages and texts we had, just looking at them…

I lost my friend Tyler right around when we put out Joy, Departed, and that’s when I started talking about all this stuff on stage and being vocal about that because I felt like I wasn’t reaching my friends, so I thought that if I just told all these people, my friends would also hear. We had been doing that for a while, and then Sean took his life, and I was at a loss because I was like… What do you mean? I’m able to tell these people that I don’t know — which is super important to me while I play — but the friends I love, I’m losing touch with them because of my own self-care and wanting to focus on myself. I was cornering myself by not allowing myself to branch out and be as helpful to others as I wanted. So I took a lot of weight on me when I found out that we lost him, because I was like, What am I doing? Why didn’t I reach out? Why didn’t I let him know that I loved him? Why didn’t I let him know that I cared about him? I feel like a lot of people feel that way about dealing with any type of loss, but that was a specifically heavy one.

Two days after he passed away, I found a video someone posted on his Facebook. He was a huge Against Me! fan, and it was of an Against Me! show and someone was like “watch 2:26,” and he just stage dove. It was a video of Sean stage diving, and he crowd-surfed the whole way back until he got out of the camera’s view, and I was just like… sick.

I wasn’t able to attend any of his services because I was gone on tour, and I almost cancelled and bailed, but I knew that he would be so pissed at me if he knew that I stopped doing what I loved to go to his dumb funeral. Not that I think it’s dumb, but he would have thought it was dumb, just knowing him as a person. He would have been like, No, do you. I fucked up.

The third song [on the album], “First Letter From St. Sean” — there’s the middle part of the song that’s this major key thing, and I’m speaking from a third point of view, and it’s from what I imagined his perspective would have been. I think it’s the first time I ever did that in a song. I don’t know if it’s weird for how it came out, but it was a different thing to do, and I felt strongly about that.

STEREOGUM: I feel like you do that a bit more often on this album. Not necessarily speaking from someone else’s perspective, but playing out these conversations between you and someone else where you’re taking on their voice. How did you gradually start to do that, and why do you think maybe you’ve gravitated towards playing out these scenarios that you wish you could have had, or did have?

BOUCHER: I do wish that I could have them… The song, “No Halo,” the first single… I don’t know if I’ve told anyone this… I was back home at my friend’s house chilling, and I was like, I’m going to drive home. We were in Sean’s neighborhood, but Sean had been passed away for about a year, but I didn’t remember that. And so I was like, I’m gonna drive by Sean’s house and just stop by and say hi. And then I drove to his house, and when I pulled up in front, I realized he wasn’t there. That’s what that chorus of the song is about, and the whole song in general… I think I literally just sat in my car and wrote 90% of the lyrics right there.

So, yeah, that was some heavy shit, and it continues to be difficult because I stay super busy. I’m constantly doing stuff and writing and touring, and is that to compensate for my inability to properly deal with emotions? I can write all I want, but can I actually process the things that I feel? I don’t know. I have no idea. But I constantly stay busy because if I give myself downtime, that’s when I start to get really low because that’s when I start to think about everything.

I’m very grateful to have the life that I have, to be able to play music for a living and work at a recording studio. I could not be more grateful, but it doesn’t come without the grief of having lost friends. But I choose to live my life now like they’re living it with me, like I’m continuing theirs. It’s probably a pretty crazy way to look at it, but it helps me sleep at night.

STEREOGUM: It’s important, especially since you do stay so busy, to make sure that you’re keeping their memory alive in some small way…

BOUCHER: I say Sean’s name in one of the songs, and I remember talking to Mike Sapone, who produced the record, and it was the only time I asked him for lyrical advice. I was like, Do I leave this in? Do I say ‘Sean’ or do I say ‘friend’? And he was like, What did you put first? And I said Sean, and he was like, Then you say Sean.. But what if his parents hear it? And he said, You wrote it that way because you wanted to make his name permanent in your music. So when you say it, you won’t ever forget him, and as long as you play this song, you’ll always keep his memory alive. I’m really glad we kept it.

STEREOGUM: What were your intentions behind the album’s title, You’re Not As _____ As You Think? Specifically having it formatted the way it is.

BOUCHER: The record is just so personal that I thought it was impossible for anyone to take away exactly how I felt. When we were picking songs for it, I was like, I want this to make people feel uncomfortable. I want people to understand where I’m coming from. I’m don’t know if that conveys at all… But I think the title allows me to put whatever spin I want on it at any given moment. It’s a phrase I’ve had in my life since I was younger, but now anyone can fill that space with what they want, and they can take away from the record what they want, like I’ve done for records before.

Like, with a lot of David Bazan stuff… He’s not speaking to me, but he’s speaking from really personal areas, and I can take that for what it means to me, and it can be something totally different from what he means. I think what’s important about music is being able to take your own spin on it because you’re never going to feel the exact same way as the musician.

I don’t think I really like any songwriters that speak to a broad audience. I like songwriters that speak from experience. Like Ben [Hopkins, of PWR BTTM] and Julien are two of my favorite songwriters because Ben will be like, I did this today, and Julien will be like, I feel this today, and I think that’s what I relate with and identify with most in music. People saying, This is exactly what I feel like right now. Because when you’re writing like that, I don’t think you envision that people will get a shit. When you write a song in your room at 3 in the morning, it’s not like, Oh, someone one day might enjoy this. That’s the angle I come from.

Someone can say something like On the corner where I saw you versus, like, 11:43 on Tuesday, you walked by. At the end of the day, both mean the same thing, but one is just a more concentrated version of the other. You can probably take any pop song and turn it into an expansive, emotionally relevant song by replacing broad words with something more specific. Like, if I were to call up, say, Ed Sheeran, and ask him to change his lyrics to the exactly moment or specific scenario that you felt this… And I’m sure people can take specific scenarios and turn them into broad songs. But it’s the contrast between the two that makes it interesting to me.

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You’re Not As _____ As You Think is out 3/17 via Triple Crown Records. Pre-order it here.