It’s always been a ‘dirty word’, but these days, emo’s name couldn’t be muddier. Self-centred, sexist and plagued by male abuse of power, it’s a genre ripe for dissolution, and resignation to the annals of music history. Whisper it, but London’s itoldyouiwouldeatyou might just be the band to save it.
Self-proclaimed ‘music for cucks, by cucks’, the band’s rotating cast of members are united by one belief – that progressive politics can have a place within emo. At its core, is Joey Ashworth – a motor-mouth singer whose emotional intelligence and cheeky charm are intrinsic to itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s appeal.
“When I started itoldyouiwouldeatyou, it was simply a band about the people I wanted to be like at college,” Joey tells NME in the smoking area of a South London pub. Home-schooled until college age, the 18-year-old Joey was overjoyed by the ability to socialise, throwing themself into a newfound role as ‘the comedy nerd’. Buoyed by a mixtape of rock and punk classics made by their brother, Joey then filtered those feelings of social strata and alienation into music. “I wrote pop punk songs,” they continue, putting on a fake California accent, “about how ‘the girls in my college are all going to cool universities!’ Typical pop-punk stuff, because that’s what your life is at that point.” To this day, Joey filters everything through the eyes of their 18-year old nephew, Gabriel – a means of retaining that youthful outlook on culture.
The earliest incarnation of what would come to be recognisable as itoldyouiwouldeatyou came to be when those college days came to an end. Exasperated by the idea of being lonely again, Joey turned to music as a means to articulate their distress. It’s a thread that carries through to the present day, new single ‘Young American’ finding Joey commenting bluntly on their relationship with aging and emotion: “I was better when I was a baby / I only cried when I was tired or hungry.”
‘Oh Dearism’, itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s upcoming debut album, is a record fit to burst with with ideas. Musically, emo hasn’t seen anything this sonically eclectic since Panic! At The Disco’s debut. Thematically, it encapsulates everything from Britain’s relations with wider Europe, to working class aspirations, to the complexities of young love and life. NME’s conversation with Joey stretches long past two hours, their passion for unravelling both their own art and the socio-political state of the world rivalled only by the number of tangents our conversation takes. Above all, though, ‘Oh Dearism’ is accessible – catchy and high-spirited, it’s as much a record for summertime road trips as it is late-night pontifications.
Few young bands could eloquently draw parallel between war poets and the struggles of the ‘millennial’ generation, but itoldyouiwouldeatyou aren’t like most bands. “[War poets] were young people thrust into a nasty situation, controlled by people that they didn’t know or understand, who just made art about it and hoped it worked out for the best. That’s how I see my generation now,” says Joey. “The trans kids living on the street; the kids that are being utterly fucked over by the fact that the government gives no two shits about black youth – these people are, in their own way, war poets to me. Because the government is now at war with them.” Joey readily admits that they hope ‘Oh Dearism’ will inspire those same marginalised communities.
It’s a lofty aim to put on what is, at its core, an emo record – not typically a genre concerned with social upheaval. But it’s that which makes itoldyouiwouldeatyou stand out. “When I talk about Gabriel,” Joey says, “it’s not just a line or some interesting fact about my life – the fact is, I am making this music for him.” The anger Joey feels when talking about bands like Brand New and PWR BTTM – groups that once endeared them to the genre they love, before disbanding following allegations of sexual impropriety – is palpable. “If you’re going to be a musician, especially in the kind of music that I write, and [Brand New frontman] Jesse Lacey wrote, you have a responsibility,” they say. “If you’re not willing to face up to that in the way that, say, The 1975 have, or My Chemical Romance did, then you are not worth your job. Good people admit their ignorance, and these are people who cannot admit their ignorance.”
With itoldyouiwouldeatyou and ‘Oh Dearism’, then, emo could finally have a means to clean its reputation up. “The reason I liked Taking Back Sunday, and shit like that, is because it felt like a band that had my back,” says Joey, succinctly. “The kids that listen to our music – I’ve got their back. I give a fuck about them. If there ever came a time where the band didn’t help them anymore, it’s over – there’s no point.”
As we go to leave, a thousand-and-one topics covered in the past ten minutes alone, Joey centres their ambitions one final time. “Emo is a nasty genre,” Joey admits. “It’s an untrustworthy part of music history. But the way it was marketed means that a lot of kids who were queer, or other marginalised demographics, needed it to move forward. I see no reason why we can’t take those positive aspects, and cut the negative out, right now.” Joey ponders the controversy surrounding the genre one last time. “They were all bad dudes, but they gave us so much. Why shouldn’t we take that good feeling from them, and make it our own?”
Below, NME have the first look at itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s brilliant new ‘Young American’ video, created by Clumsy Bodies and Chevy Blazzer, alongside a note from Clumsy Bodies on the themes and creation of the video.
Jess (they/them): “The video mainly looks at pranks through the lens of kinship: that those who prank together are willing to lay their bodies on their line for the prank, but they all have each others backs during it. There’s also a darker side to pranks that Oli (Clumsy Bodies co-parent) brought up; that pranks—particularly those that do untold physical damage—are acts of public self-harm hidden in plain sight. Kids hurt themselves by accident, and we watch. We let the song narrate this particular aspect.
“I’ve wanted to shoot something purely on screens for a while now, and it seemed to fit Young American. Our lives are curated by social media, so it felt more natural to document this story through these screens. However, we underestimated how demanding this made production, particularly as we wanted all the footage to be real. We often feel cheated by screen replacements in films and tv shows. It’s hard to artificially replicate that blue glow laptop screens bathe our faces in; a glow that feels as natural to see on our cheeks as blushing. We set up fake Instagram accounts, email accounts, and we filmed actual videos both on the ‘wristwatch’ YouTube account and for ‘horndog’ (that are open to the public to watch). The incoming texts and facetime calls were done out of shot so it was all happening live. This made screen recording the video a sort of dance, each closed tab or moment a text would come in was choreographed and rehearsed ad nauseam.
“What I found fun (or at least, by my definition of fun) was using google maps to depict first person perspective. We took the protagonist on a virtual American road trip via google maps, particularly looking at the artifices Americana leaves behind, such as the massive cowboy boots in Texas. There was something distancing about it when contrasted with the actual surroundings the protagonist found themselves in, like a disused football ground in South London. It’s a kind of distance that forces this great divide between what we have, and what we are told we can have. That even on the edge of it, with our arms stretched, we cannot touch. But, exhausted, we leave our arms dangling, willing the gap to close. So, yeah, we’re all Americans now.”
Oli (they/them): “We were also thinking about the resignation we seem to face with rejections; that dreams are crushed in an onslaught of emails in a way that grinds down your drive. We wanted to take the way that people are brought up on competition and counter that with figures that are persevering with belief in each other, openness and support.”
itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s debut album ‘Oh Dearism’ is released via Alcopop Records/Failure By Design on November 16.