by Jeremy Johnson
photo credit: Jeremy Johnson
Back in January, I wrote that emo is “not a style being played a great deal in Pittsburg in 2016.” As it turns out, it was much too early into the year for this to be a statement safe to proclaim, and now, faced with evidence to the contrary, I’m forced to take it back.
Of Course Not, a three-piece from Joplin, aren’t emo on their face; their sound has more in common with the anthemic power-pop of Weezer than the pummeling heartfelt calamity of Taking Back Sunday or My Chemical Romance. The band describes themselves as “theater-punk,” which is not inaccurate. Guitarist/vocalist Luke DeWitt harnesses the full range of the stage as performance space, interacting with drummer Hunter Vaughn and singer/keyboardist Torey Smart, and his performance is pure theater. He assaults his guitar and howls into the microphone as though nothing else mattered more. Meanwhile, Smart’s piano and vocals add further dimension to the songs, and occasionally she takes over vocal duties entirely, which plays as a nice counterpoint to DeWitt’s more jagged-throated approach. Vaughn’s percussion propels things along nicely, with occasional flourishes such as a double bass drum to make you momentarily think you might be listening to something a little less pop-oriented.
But the thing about emo is that outward style isn’t generally its best indicator. For a clearer picture, you need to look at the lyric sheet. And one song in particular reveals a great deal in this area: “The Zombie Song.” Unsurprisingly, the lyrics are about exactly what the title suggests (which is interesting in its own right, since zombies are more typical fodder for metal songs), but the purpose they’re put to is a bit unexpected. The crux of the song comes in this line: “Babe, if I was a zombie, would you shoot me?” Using a subject as gruesome as zombies, Of Course Not decide to pursue emotional turmoil instead of revulsion and horror (though that’s there, too: there’s a line about “blowing my brains against a wall”). And whenever you talk about zombies (and emo), there’s always some measure of the tongue-in-cheek, another feature present in large helpings in the song.
Whatever you want to call them, Of Course Not create an eardrum-rattling, fuzzed-out, pop-informed cathartic punch. And with such a multifaceted approach, chances are that they offer at least one or two things you can agree with.