When Brand New first appeared in the early 2000s, their emotionally-charged alt-rock largely appealed to a pre-teen/teen fanbase. I was 12 when I first heard the song 'Failure By Design', from their debut album ’Your Favorite Weapon’ and then began to listen religiously to them. They were emo, but they weren’t just a fad; there was something deeply personal and mature about Jesse Lacey’s lyrics that went beyond the teenage-whinging of other bands that later jumped on the emo wagon. Brand New soundtracked adolescence; the fans that listened to them as teens stayed with them into adulthood.
Lacey’s songs felt real and relatable. They were loaded with self-aversion; he sung scathingly about embittered relationships and lack of self-worth. His lyrics went into some pretty dark stuff, especially regarding sex. While conventional mainstream depictions tended to glamorize it, Lacey treated the topic as something disappointing, frustrating and bleak:
“He is the lamb, she is the slaughter
She's moving way too fast and all he wanted was to hold her
Nothing that he tells her is really having an effect
He whispers that he loves her, but she's probably only looking for se-”
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“I got desperate desires and unadmirable plans
My tongue will taste of gin and malicious intent
Bring you back to the bar get you out of the cold
My sober straight face gets you out of your clothes”
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Growing up, Lacey is your ally in all of this, navigating you through these challenging times. At least to me, 'Me vs Maradona vs Elvis' was disturbing but truthful, and it laid bare the monstrosity and tragedy of an oh-too-common scenario. What I had thought of as something of a normality (drunk girl gets taken advantage of), that song taught me otherwise: it’s not the girl’s fault, it’s the guy who is the villain here.
But since Lacey’s sexual misconduct was exposed, coupled with his backwards apology, the song now reads as autobiographical. Lacey’s lyrics have become taunting, and even smug, like he had exposed it all along, not only getting away with it but capitalizing on it. His songs that were once so personal and intimate have soured. Brand New were loved deeply by their fans and Lacey´s exploitation of his audience is not only hypocritical, but it is the ultimate betrayal.
What is even worse is that Nicole Garey and Emily Driskill, the women who separately came forward about how Lacey pressured and manipulated them to send him nude photos when they were underage, are almost definitely not the only victims here. Even Lacey admits there were “a number of people” he hurt. There will have been others, just as there will be other Lacey’s. Just do some Twitter-digging, and you can find countless stories about guys in bands, from then and from now, who have used their younger fans´ vulnerability to sexually groom them. Many of these fans have now grown up, and they are realizing that they were mistreated and wronged, and are beginning to talk about it.
As Jenn Pelly points out, the emo scene to which Brand New belonged was inherently sexist: all-male bands, and the only women who are associated to their music are those who are viciously demonized in their songs. This creates a disturbing power dynamic. Emo fans were (from what I saw, at least) mostly younger and predominantly female; whose admiration for music was intense. It wasn’t just a song, but a mentality to live by. Male emo icons like Lacey would be idolized by the crowds at his gigs, places where the music was meant to create a safe place, an escape and a refuge.
Instead, Lacey took something sacred from his fans and turned it into something hellish. And it sucks, because “underage fan” has now evolved to become a term which places younger music listeners, especially girls, in a position of danger. It has meant that teenagers, who strive so hard to not be labelled as children, are now at risk at concerts and music events, the places where they should be allowed to feel most comfortable.
So, fuck you Jesse Lacey. I did appreciate Brand New, but I don’t anymore - and I especially don’t appreciate you.
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Words: Charis McGowan
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