boygenius Makes Good on the Promise of Supergroups

Jeremy Bolm (Touché Amoré, Hesitation Wounds) on supergroups and the honest, punk spirit of the new Baker-Bridgers-Dacus collaboration.

Supergroups are geared toward music fanatics, in that you have to care about music at least one step beyond your average listener to get truly excited about them. My first example of this kind of phenomena would be Temple of the Dog. Growing up in the ’90s, you would hear the song “Hunger Strike” all the time, but if you were to ask a casual music listener, someone who maybe listened to the radio and watched MTV now and again, “What do you think about Temple of the Dog?” they probably wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. Then you’re like, “You know, it’s the band with members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden?” You would just have to default to singing the “I’m going hungry” bit for them.

So while supergroups are aimed at people who are really obsessive about music, the other side of it is that they are very rarely good. They are cool on paper, but in practice, a lot of times, they’re rough. When you hear these projects and they’re not great, you can almost audibly hear the ego in the room. But there are those rare occasions where it knocks it out of the park, and those moments are so incredibly thrilling. At their best, supergroups become almost a completely different experience from any of the artists’ previous work, and that’s an exceptionally cool thing to hear as music fan. Or, even if it still sounds like their other projects, you just end up getting some really, really good songs.

When I first heard about boygenius, my first thought was, “I’m so fucking here for this.” Being a fan of Julien Baker for so long, I’m gung-ho for anything she has coming out. Not only from a musical standpoint—I love her voice, I love her character, and I love how she creates music—but I also just admire her so much as a person. I care so much about what she does, and I’m excited whenever she gets on a big opportunity. When she played on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, I was so excited. No one deserves those things more than her.

But also, I’d seen Phoebe Bridgers a few times, a couple times opening for Julien, then once with Conor Oberst. Then, the Stranger In The Alps record came out, and I was floored by it. I saw the excitement building around her, and it reminded me so much of when Julien was taking off. Watching them go from releasing records on what were basically punk labels to, within a year and a half, being on labels like Matador, is such an insane jump. It’s exciting to see these things happen to these people who deserve it, and it’s exciting to see them working together.

This also speaks to the other thing that supergroups can achieve, which is exposing you to an artist you’re not as familiar with. To go back to the Temple Of The Dog example, that record was out before Pearl Jam’s Ten. So, for most people, that was probably how they were first hearing Eddie Vedder. And ideally, it made them more invested in checking out this other band.  Similarly, I was not as familiar with Lucy Dacus’ work. But, through boygenius, I’ve become a fan, and now I’m invested in her, too.

For how good boygenius is, and how good all of their songs are, what’s most inspiring to me about the project is how it makes good on the promise of punk rock. When I started Hesitation Wounds with Neeraj Kane of The Hope Conspiracy and The Suicide File, Stephen LaCour of Trap Them, and Jay Weinberg, now of Slipknot, none of us had ever played together, and not everyone had met before. It was just like, “Hey, let’s get in a room and see how many songs we can write in one day and record them that next day.” That’s what the first seven-inch was, and that’s kind of been the way things have gone since then.

It was a similar thing when Touché Amoré did our collaboration with Self Defense Family. We could not be more of a different band than Self Defense Family—not even just sonically, because clearly we don’t sound anything alike, but the way they go about songwriting and recording is night and day to what we do. They’re a band that books studio time, goes in without a single thing written, and then goes, “OK, we’re going to just jam this part out, and then Pat’s going to write lyrics, and we’re going to move on to the next song.” That, to me, is just crazy. Adding that into the equation of Touché was so wild for us, but we embraced it and ended up loving it. We all went to our practice space, both bands, and were like, “Who’s got a riff?” We had two drum sets, four guitars, two basses, two vocalists, and someone just started playing. And somehow, it completely worked.

When I talked to Julien about boygenius, she said that it worked in a similar way to those experiences I had. They had a very punk rock approach to making their EP, where they went into it with their own songs that they had written, but then they also wrote songs on the spot. I don’t want to base this on assumptions of indie rock music, but when you have three musicians who have gotten this much attention, and are playing on late night shows and opening these huge tours, you’d have to assume there were people advising them not to do this, to spend more time writing and be more considered about how this all would be handled. But they went in and did it anyway. This wasn’t made in a factory or put together by an algorithm, it was just three people who wanted to make music together going in and showing the world how talented they are. At the core of it all, I like to hope that supergroups are predicated upon this kind of genuine excitement, and not just the potential dollar sign of doing it.

Growing up in punk rock, you get this real strong bullshit detector built into you. When something doesn’t come off as genuine, it becomes apparent very, very quickly. This was something that, right from the get-go, felt like it was being done for only the right reasons. And knowing Julien and how she operates, and the experience of us working together on the Touché song “Skyscraper” for Stage Four, she comes from punk, and that clearly influences how she interacts with the world. We were still kind of new friends at the time of us asking her to sing on “Skyscraper,” but when I hit her up, she was so gracious and cool about it, and she had the song sent back to us within an afternoon. She never brought up the business side of things, she just did it because she wanted to. And when I listen to boygenius, I hear that same energy and honesty in the work they’ve all made together. It doesn’t just make good on the promise of supergroups—it carries the spirit of punk inside of it and brings it to a new generation.

As told to David Anthony.

Jeremy Bolm is the singer of Touché Amoré and Hesitation Wounds. He runs Secret Voice records, and recently released his second zine of his writings, Words From A Porch.