Woe Is Them
Don't Hate the Misery Because It's Beautiful
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When discussing the Misery, one word keeps popping up: "Pretty." Pretty boys in their early 20s playing pretty California-style pop punk to rooms full of pretty girls and equally pretty guys. In the world of punk rock, where dirty often means authentic, "pretty" could seem like, well, a dirty word, but the Misery knows how to make pretty rock.
Maybe that's because the band's musical roots are plenty dirty enough. Guitarists Aaron Friedman and Jeremy Perman met while playing drums and bass, respectively, in the nationally known local hardcore outfit Torn Apart. Friedman, a Baltimore native who has been playing drums since elementary school and attributes his prowess to "a little bit of natural talent and . . . a whole lot of Guns N' Roses," was recruited to play drums for the band after one of his earlier projects, the decidedly artsier Behind Closed Doors, played a show with Torn Apart. A year later, Torn Apart was in search of a new bassist. Perman, a New Yorker who moved south to attend the University of Maryland, College Park, heard about the opening and jumped on it. "When I was in high school, Torn Apart was probably one of my three favorite bands," he says.
Joining a group that already had a following had amazing perks--making records and playing clubs filled with hundreds of devoted fans--but Friedman and Perman eventually lost interest.
"This band is our excuse to forget about Torn Apart, because that music is nonsense in my opinion," Perman says. "It was all fine when we were listening to it in high school--" Friedman, the more diplomatic of the two, interrupts: "Uh, Jeremy, you're not making any friends this way."
Perman tries again: "I liked Torn Apart while I was in it. It was a lot of fun. Time to move on. Is that more PC for ya, Aaron?"
Not quite PC enough, apparently, so Friedman jumps in to explain.
"It was just years of metal and just getting stuck in ruts," he says. "We were still in the band but we just weren't listening to hardcore anymore, so it was just time to do something else."
That something else was the decidedly pop-punk Misery, which the pair formed in March of last year. Friedman, who was burned out on drums, switched to guitar, as did Perman. They got Michigan native Pete Hilton to play bass and brought in drummer Andrew Black, who has since left and been replaced by Dusty Brill, one of Hilton's old Michigan buddies. Brill also plays bass in the D.C. band Jesus Eater and, like Friedman, started playing drums at a very tender age. "I got my first drum kit when I was 3," he says. "I don't know how musical it was, but I banged."
Friedman and Perman initially figured that one of them would sing but soon realized that, as Friedman says, "We sing so poorly, it's ridiculous." So they brought in P.J. Ransone, an old friend of Friedman's.
In many ways, Ransone was a wild card. A model and actor who lives in New York (Ransone recently worked on Kids director Larry Clark's forthcoming film Ken Park), he had never been in a band before. "Combined we have 50 years of band experience, and he's on his first," Friedman says of Ransone. And Ransone's own tastes ran considerably more to the pop side of pop-punk than those of his bandmates. To top it off, he has to commute a couple of hours on the train just to attend practice. Small wonder that he laments, "I'm totally the wrong singer for this band." he says.
It may sound like a recipe for disaster, but Ransone's singing and his commitment have impressed the rest of the group. And his heartfelt lyrics and earnest delivery lend an undeniable sweetness to such Misery songs as "June of '84," in which Ransone inhabits a tragically romantic high-schooler: "I was thinking about rock 'n' roll dreams/ I was thinking about what you said to me/ I was thinking about June of '84/ I was thinking about knocking down your door."
With all this loveliness, it would be easy for the Misery to bypass sweet and wind up saccharine. But it's the very metal/hardcore roots Friedman and Perman wanted to ditch that give the band its edge. Catchy riffs and rapid-fire drumming lay the groundwork for the harder lines the two guitarists layer over the songs; the occasional hint of metal-guitar noodling is even more striking because of the contrast.
Forming a new band has put Friedman and Perman back at ground zero as far as their fan base goes, a tough adjustment for the former Torn Aparters. "You expect immediate attention," Perman acknowledges. "People are starting to come out, but it's definitely not the same." Still, they are enthusiastic about building their own following; they're currently shopping around a demo and looking forward to a summer tour. "It's fun music rather than angry music for the first time in a long time," Perman says. Ransone calls it "an amalgamation of whatever amps you." But it's Friedman who really sums up the difference between his old and new bands: This time around the music is "something I could play for my mom."
His bandmates agree before whipping out their various Misery tattoos, including one on the inside of Perman's lip. Wonder how Mom feels about that?