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Recently I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing William Bonney, a screamo band from the Midwest. Before forming William Bonney though, several of their members were in a band called Merchant Ships, my favorite band as well as one of the bigger screamo bands to come out of the Midwest area. Now they aren’t particularly a blast from the past since they were active from 2008 to 2010 off and on, but they’re music has strongly influenced me and I think something needs to be said about them and the screamo scene as a whole.
When the term “screamo” is used, I feel like a lot of people are instantly turned off. They think it’s only some sort of noise with no rhythm, harmony, or any sort of structure and with lyrics that don’t matter since the person is screaming them. Though these are all assumptions, a lot of people I talk to screamo about think these things. But there is so much more to this genre. Screamo is about emotion and the way which bands express these emotions is through screaming. Most screamo bands are all about the DIY asthetic like booking your own shows, making your own merch, recording and self releasing your own music, etc and I feel like these are the kind of bands that deserve to be recoginized, the ones who do everything themselves. People have a hard time accepting new kinds of music and I understand that for someone who listens to indie pop all day, this genre of screamo might be stretching it. But there is so much beauty to screamo; the music is filled with sharp guitars, also with several moments of twinkly guitar (my favorite), lush melodies, and a lot of the time, clean gang vocals. Though it is something foreign to most, I think everyone should give screamo a try.
Now this brings me to Merchant Ships, my favorite screamo band (well, I guess they’re tied with Suis La Lune). Merchant Ships were started back in 2008 among four friends from South Bend, Indiana. It always fascinates me how many good screamo and emo bands come out of the Midwest. Their music ranges from loud aggressive, almost hardcore (songs like “Dying, Sentinel”) to twinkly emo with sloppy vocals (songs like “Lets Exchange Word Vomit”) to emotional spoken word (“Sleep Patterns”). For a bunch of sixteen-year-old guys, they have quite a range. They produced only two EPs over their time together, but those two EPs (Shipsography and For Cameron) are two of the best screamo releases. Each song brings something completely new to their records. Lyrically, all of their songs have similar themes of growing up, growing apart from friends, having a bad family life, losing love – your standard teenage angst kind of thing. They take your typical teen drama and write it into well constructed and overwhelmingly relatable lyrics.
Screamo bands do have lyrics – intelligent lyrics at that. Even if you cant fully understand what they are saying, the content is there. The stand out track for me in all of Merchant Ships music is “Let’s Exchange Word Vomit” which according to my iTunes, I have listened to 220 times. I remember hearing this song for the first time a year and a half ago. I just sat there and smiled for a good twenty minutes, I was so amazed at what I had just listened to. There is something so beautiful and about this song. The way the lead singer Jack heartbreakingly screams about a relationship that will never be, the build up to the perfect twinkle guitar solo, everything just works perfectly. And I have similar feelings to almost every other Merchant Ships song.
I don’t expect everyone to like screamo. Honestly, the first time I heard this kind of music several years ago, I really did not like it myself. But over time I started to grow and appreciate the raw and powerful nature of screamo. Merchant Ships were the band who got me into it, so maybe they will do the same for you.