Ten years ago, Decades were an emo cover band called Taking Back Thursday*. Today, they’ve not only had the opportunity to support Taking Back Sunday, the band that pretty much started it all for them, but they’ve also just released their debut album The Truth and Other People, and have just kicked off their album release tour, set to hit 5 New Zealand cities before the end of the month. For their band, through all of their various band names, to have come full circle like that, was something very special.
“It’s kind of cool that like 10 years later and we changed our name and are on the cusp of sort of releasing our debut album, we’ve done all this stuff, it’s all happening and we get to open for the band that pretty much inspired us to start it all from the get go anyway. So it kind of felt – it was like a cathartic kind of awesome night and moment for us it was cool, yeah.” Emma
It may seem as though ten years is a long time to wait to get to finally reach a point where releasing an album becomes a reality, but it’s a common situation for bands to be in these days. According to Emma, the trick to pushing through and becoming successful is to not give up and to keep working hard; to simply want it badly enough that there’s no other option for you. Holding onto a tight group of people is also key, as opposed to changing up your lineup every time something doesn’t work out and having to learn all over again.
“Especially in this day and age with like the internet and stuff, you can just keep releasing content and bettering yourselves, I think it’s stronger to stay as the same band and develop together as opposed to just drop that and go to the next, and try something new. So I think that’s like a huge thing, always just – if you’re all having fun together, you’re all mates, and you genuinely like the music you’re making but you feel like no one else does yet, it doesn’t matter just keep getting better at it. That’s essentially what we’ve done. We’ve seen all our friends’ bands come and go, start and stop, and we’ve kind of just been always going the whole time.” Emma
The band has also learnt that however hard you think you’re working, you could always be working harder. It’s easy to look at successful bands from behind a screen and wonder why or how they got their big break, and assume it was a breeze for them, because we don’t see the work that’s been put into any single part of their career. Being in that industry, though, artists become exposed to just how hard those successful bands push themselves to get them to that place, where people know who they are, buy their music and turn up to their shows.
“I think like, any run ins we’ve had with like successful bands, seeing what it takes to actually do it has been quite eye opening. So like, for any young bands out there, like we spent a lot of time maybe thinking we were working really hard and wondering why we weren’t getting breaks, and then you see how hard the bands that are getting the breaks are working and then you go, ‘oh okay’.” Liam
And sure, there was a time following their debut EP, which was released under their previous name Ashei, where they had a hard time figuring out where to go next, but in the end, finding the motivation was easy when they realised there simply is no plan B, and for Emma it’s a part of who she is now: “We just naturally just do it. It’s like in our blood or something, we have to do it. We don’t even really talk about it.”
Emma’s love for rock music comes mostly from growing up listening to male dominated bands, to the point where she barely even realised that there were females that existed in the rock scene. As it is now, she’s become incredibly passionate about women in rock, particularly following questionable comments she has received about her position as front woman in a rock band, and the clear disparities between how she is spoken to and how the rest of her male bandmates are spoken to. Her outlook on the whole thing is totally positive though, and while the title of her blog, Good for a Girl (a comment she received not too long ago), might be misconstrued as antagonistic, the truth is that it’s merely addressing how far we’ve come in terms of feminism and wants to focus on those “last kind of kinks that need to be ironed out”. Nowadays, this is predominantly focused around a female’s place in rock.
“I wasn’t exposed to women in rock music growing up. So I think that’s also why I’m more passionate about it now cause like I’m discovering it too, even though I’m like in it. But I’m like ‘Oh man! Alanis Morissette is rad’, or like, ‘Gwen Stefani’s awesome!’ Or Courtney Love! I just didn’t listen to that music when I was younger.” Emma
While her journey onto the rock scene was inspired by bands such as Taking Back Sunday (and Adam Lazzara was no doubt a great vocal coach) and Thursday, as time went on, she realised that she needed to be listening to these female leads, as opposed to the men she’s grown up with. She continues to discover new female rock icons that inspire her and educate her in how best to be a woman in this scene.
“I’m a front woman, so I need to be like listening to other front women. Continue the passage of boobies and vaginas and stuff. Not cocks and balls.” Emma
She’s not at all apologetic when it comes to her attitude towards feminism, and yet there’s nothing aggressive about it either. Emma has gone beyond her keyboard warrior days, when she allowed herself to get entirely riled up by racism and sexism online – something we’re all probably a little guilty of. Today she’s learnt to take a more pragmatic approach in her views, following the realisation that getting angry isn’t going to help anyone, least of all herself, and she can still be critical of these issues and point them out without losing her head over it.
“That’s just something that exists so I’m not like, oh my god the world is such a shit place because like, sexism and stuff, I’m just like that’s kind of weird that women are treated that way, um let’s poke fun of it and try and point it out that way. I’m not here to like burn bras or like punch men in the face or yell at them or anything like that.” Emma
As for why they make music, it’s something that Liam in particular has been thinking about recently, and in high school, wanting to be cool was probably the underlying motivation. That, or simply not being good at anything else (“I’d say that probably! I can’t do anything else!”). Emma considers her own thoughts, and puts it partially down to her drive to be a performer, from dancing for 16 years to her career in the band, the live element has always been a huge thing for her. After a delicious food break, during which we discovered Emma really loves eggs, we established that they both agree that initially it came from listening to bands in their bedrooms, and just wanting to be able to do what they did.
“I think when you’re younger it starts as an idolisation thing. When I was 5 I wanted to be Michael Jackson so I became a dancer. When I got a bit older, I wanted to be Taking Back Sunday or I wanted to be The Starting Line or Thursday or Paramore even. Um, and you just do it and it’s enjoyable. That’s why we do it.” Emma
The transition from being a cover band to writing their own material was a long, slow one, and so other than Liam finding the performance of their own songs more fulfilling, and Emma feeling less pressure performing covers, they don’t really have too many thoughts on it. Liam has always written songs, as he taught himself to play guitar from being extremely young and rather than covering other songs, he instantly started writing his own. Emma though, as mentioned, is a definite performer and, being highly critical of her own writing, feels far too much pressure (“I want to to be like perfect now”), so tends to steer away from coming up with the initial ideas, leaving that to Liam.
This album, though, is an amalgamation of the two working together, as the decision was made to tell the story from Emma’s perspective as opposed to Liam’s and lyrics of existing tracks were tweaked to reflect that. Emma did write one song entirely on her own, though, and true to her self-critical form, it’s her least favourite on the record.
“We’re playing it live for the first time on tour, we’ve never played it live before cause it’s just riffs the entire time aye? It’s our riffiest song. I don’t know why I did that to myself. I’m doing this the whole time [motions guitar riffs] and singing the whole time, and I can’t look down at my guitar. Like don’t fuck it up. Don’t fuck up.” Emma
The Truth and Other People tells an incredibly personal story from start to finish, and for some it might be hard to digest. It was certainly difficult for Emma to put out there, as it addresses her decision to end a seven-year relationship for another person. Prior to the release, she worried who it might hurt, but tried to focus her energy on the fact that they are even releasing an album at all, as opposed to anything else. On further discussion, she agreed that the relatable nature of the issue means that it was more than likely help more people than it ever hurts. There must be plenty of other people who jump into relationships as teenagers still in high school who years later realise that there is so much more of the world to see, and to know that it’s okay to move on from that could be extremely freeing.
“We’ve actually got a song about that, You or Me, on the album is about that. And yeah, just ageing before your time cause you just get into this serious relationship when you’re like 20, and you’re just at home all weekend watching movies in your pyjamas instead of going out and enjoying your twenties, and partying and stuff like that. So I think it’s quite a relatable story and then when you do start getting sick of it, of being at home all the time and you do want to live in your twenties and go out, and you meet all new people and you have all new experiences, of course you’re gonna meet new, interesting people. Like fuck I didn’t even know that existed. I didn’t know there were people like that, I didn’t know there were experiences like that.” Emma
It seemed like there was nothing Emma wasn’t willing to talk about (“Is this getting way too personal?”), and following the album’s release, I felt as though I knew what every word of every one of their songs relates to. It’s a kind of openness that is rare in the music industry, but one that allows the consumers to form a real connection with the band. To let people in like that is rewarding, but nerve wracking nonetheless, especially knowing that there are people that may assume that there was an element of infidelity involved (totally not the case), and while she is definitely scared to have it all out there – namely because of who she may hurt – the fact that she still went ahead and did it shows an element of fearlessness, and an acceptance that this was a decision she had to make for her life to be how she wanted it to be.
“It’s scary having that and talking about that out there. But I know what went down, and I know I’m not a bad person. I’m sure my ex might think I am and that I’m horrible and I broke his heart and stuff, but I had to do it for me cause my happiness is just as important as his, or anyone else’s, and I’m not gonna sacrifice that to be in a relationship.” Emma
It’s truly brave to put the most intimate parts of yourself out there for the world to see, but Emma admits that she’s never been the kind of person to think before she speaks. Ultimately, though, she realises that what inspired this album – ending a long-term relationship and really hurting someone in the process – was still something she absolutely had to do, not just for herself but for him as well. She had to be authentic to everyone involved in the situation, and anyone who listens to, and really understands these songs, will no doubt agree.
“That’s why the album’s called The Truth and Other People cause it’s like telling the truth and admitting it to yourself and also how, people can hurt and inspire each other and affect each other by your words and actions, or your lack of words and actions. So this is about me taking that action of telling the truth and admitting what was going on for me, and fucking up some people’s lives but enhancing others’.” Emma
This idea of making ‘the right mistake’ pushed the band close to calling the record just that – The Right Mistake to Make – because ultimately that’s what it was. It’s a decision that led Emma to this album, and to a partner that not only supports her in every aspect of her career, but is entirely enthusiastic about it, helping in whatever way he can, and encouraging her to keep pushing forward with her music.
“Yeah maybe it was a mistake that I did that, but it ended up working out and it was the right one to make. So yeah. Worked out for me anyway. I hope it’s worked out for him… Is that intense enough of an answer?” Emma
We took this question as an opportunity to move away from the more personal side of the music, and discuss the upcoming tour which was due to start in Hamilton the following night on release day. Decades had only previously played in the Waikato city once, and while it went well, they were there supporting Villainy, and had considered (or worried about) the fact that the evening’s success could be put down to the main act’s popularity. Somehow, I think the good vibes were more likely down to the incredibly energetic show these guys put on, but it’s smart to have a back up plan, and Emma’s involves giving them no choice but to love them.
“Hopefully we’ll get them hyped up just throwing CDs out into the crowd. Just whacking them in the face: “Just throw back your money!” Just forcing people to buy them.” Emma
The band’s general vibe is simply to expect the worst and they’ll never be disappointed, joking that if 3 people stick around after Skinny Hobos, it will have tripled their expectations. Their humility is endearing but unwarranted, as Decades’ live shows are enough to hype up even crowds who had somehow previously overlooked the band’s existence (I speak from personal experience), let alone a crowd that are aware of their insane talent. Not to mention that their album, which is now out, is probably the best thing that has happened to New Zealand rock in a long time. It offers a fresh sound, some crazy riffs, and Emma’s incredibly strong vocals – the combination of which makes for one of my favourite rock albums of the year so far.
*NB: I searched far and wide to find any remnants of this project online to no avail.
15th July – Galatos, Auckland
22nd July – Meow, Wellington
28th July – Blue Smoke, Christchurch
29th July – Refuel, Dunedin