Hello and welcome to REPLY ALT, the only and therefore greatest email newsletter about music. Ever since I started this newsletter, I’ve been dropping casual mentions about My Book that I’ve been working on but have been kinda dodgy about the details. Well, here it all is...
Nobody writes the books I want to read. Every time I find myself at a bookstore staring at the shelves of books about rock music, I am struck by how homogenous everything looks. Lots of Dylan, lots of Beatles, lots of Nirvana. And whenever I do see histories that tackle punk, they usually focus on one thing. They document the genre’s birth in the 70s—The Clash, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols. Maybe, at a good store, I’ll find some that cover underground 80s heroes like Black Flag and Minor Threat. Don't get me wrong, all of these bands are important to me. Well, maybe not the Sex Pistols. But as influential as these bands were, they were largely finished by the time I was born. The period of punk I lived through, from the mid-90s through the 2000s, has gone largely undocumented in any substantial way, at least in book form. When is someone going to properly chronicle this period, I often wondered. So, finally, I did it myself.
I wrote a book called SELLOUT because that word pretty much defined the era of music I grew up in. This was when there was still money in the music industry—the kind of money people were literally swimming in. And after Nirvana’s Nevermind changed national music tastes overnight, major labels went looking for indie rock’s next big thing. They found it in 1994 with Green Day’s Dookie, which set A&R reps’ sights on punk. From there, interest shifted to whatever subgenre of punk became popular over that decade—emo, hardcore, even ska.
As bands took major label money, though, a backlash started to build. Defenders of the underground grew protective over their scene, sometimes even violently so. Bands were banned from playing clubs like Gilman St., torn apart on the pages of fanzines, and lost devoted fans overnight, some of whom even protested outside their shows. Whether or not a band had gone to a major or stayed indie became the defining characteristic of how they were perceived by their peers. Punk’s great sellout divide fostered one of the most heated and antagonistic eras of rock history.
But how best to tell the story of this period, which lasted just over a decade? I figured the most effective and personal way would be to profile a few of the bands that notably left their indie labels for majors and talk to their members, their A&R reps, their friends, tourmates, managers, critics, etc. to try to paint a complete picture. So I wrote 11 biographies of 11 bands, centered around the release of their major label debut albums. Here they are:
CHAPTER 1: Green Day — Dookie (Reprise, 1994)
CHAPTER 2: Jawbreaker — Dear You (DGC, 1995)
CHAPTER 3: Jimmy Eat World — Static Prevails (Capitol, 1996)
CHAPTER 4: Blink-182 — Dude Ranch (MCA, 1997)
CHAPTER 5: At the Drive-In — Relationship of Command (Grand Royal, 2000)
CHAPTER 6: The Donnas — Spend the Night (Atlantic, 2002)
CHAPTER 7: Thursday — War All the Time (Island Def Jam, 2003)
CHAPTER 8: The Distillers — Coral Fang (Sire, 2003)
CHAPTER 9: My Chemical Romance — Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (Reprise, 2004)
CHAPTER 10: Rise Against — Siren Song of the Counter Culture (Geffen, 2004)
CHAPTER 11: Against Me! — New Wave (Sire, 2007)
After Against Me!’s contentious move to Sire, the sellout debate largely started to die out, not just because national interest in punk was dwindling, but because the internet and file sharing had completely obliterated the music industry’s profit margins. Labels were less likely to cut indie bands hefty checks after that. Some of these labels died off and others had to merge and consolidate in order to survive. A lucrative era of the music industry was effectively over.
So that’s SELLOUT in a nutshell. Hmm what else can I tell you about the book? The full title is SELLOUT: The Major Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994-2007). I am beyond honored to say that the cover photo was taken by one of my favorite photographers, Amanda Fotes, who has brilliantly captured many of my favorite bands. The book will likely end up just shy of 600 pages and will include an 8-page color photo insert. I lost count but well over 100 interviews went into it, the recordings of which added up to something like six full days. And it took two years—to the day—to write. Oh, and I registered the domain sellout.biz, which is fun.
SELLOUT will be in stores 10.26.21 from HMH Books. Pre-orders are now available. I’m sure my publisher would be thrilled if you bought one early as it encourages the accounts they work with to order more.
What does this mean for this newsletter?
I have a lot of cutting room floor material that didn’t make it into this book. A lot. Interviews, photos, stories, etc. I’m going to eventually use this newsletter as a place to release that stuff (in addition to the regular high quality content to which you’ve grown so accustomed!). So please sign up if you aren’t already. It’s free! I’m also going to release a bunch of supplementary zines, prints, merch, and misc fun stuff closer to pub date. Paid REPLY ALT subscribers, as always, will get first cracks at those, plus discounts and/or giveaways. So get a paid subscription if you really want to be in the know. Ah hell, I will go ahead and discount an annual REPLY ALT subscription by half off today. What a deal!
Review copies for media people!
Would any media people reading this like to receive an advance copy? Are you a writer, a critic, a blogger, a vlogger, a podcaster, a thinkfluencer, a brandegizer, a verified tastemaker, a baller, a shotcaller, a brawler, a child actor, a micro-celebrity, or one of those teens who lives in those creepy TikTok content mansions? Hit me up and I’ll make sure you get a press copy when they’re available.