When bringing up the topic of emo reunion tours to Josh Berwanger, singer-guitarist of the reunited emo band the Anniversary, his response seems more confused than anything else.
"You're naming all this stuff like American Football, but I don't know a lot about these bands," Berwanger says. "I don't even know who American Football is. I've heard the name and I know it's a band, but I can't tell you what they sound like, or what a song by Sunny Day Real Estate is."
This is immediately surprising to anyone who's familiar with the Anniversary, whose 2000 debut record, Designing a Nervous Breakdown, is widely believed to be one of the cornerstones of the genre. Powered by breathy male-female harmonies, youthful "aw shucks" lyrics and prevalent Moog synthesizers, Breakdown is an infectious blast of power pop that's served as a blueprint for any band who prefers a little sugar sprinkled on their sadness.
Though the Lawrence, Kan., group's contemporaries, the Get Up Kids, added synthesizers to their own high-fructose punk and rode it to great success on 1999's Something to Write Home About, the Anniversary quickly pulled a left turn that steered them away from a scene they helped kickstart. On Your Majesty, their 2001 sophomore release, it became abundantly clear that the group's deep exploration of classic rock was leading them far beyond bands like Cheap Trick and the Cars. Fans of the first record were not thrilled.
"We kinda just started touring with all these bands with a similar sound, like Get Up Kids and Hot Rod Circuit," Berwanger says. "And at the same time, we started getting really deep into stuff like Holy Modal Rounders, Bert Jansch and T. Rex. We went as far as we could go down the classic-rock rabbit hole, trying to figure out who influenced what. When Your Majesty came out, it was totally yin and yang. There were people who loved it and people absolutely hated it, and when someone said they didn't like it, we would just laugh. We weren't trying to be pompous dicks or like, 'We got you,' but we knew it was good. We didn't care, and everyone we were looking up to at the time seemed like they had all put out a record like this."
Between tours, the band got to work on demos Berwanger claims are even more out there than where they landed on Your Majesty. While the band was delving into influences as disparate as reggae, Chicago soul singer Baby Huey and Outkast, that same spirit of exploration was leading band members off in radically different directions. Compounded by interband tensions that earned them comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, the young band abruptly fell apart in 2004.
"It was definitely Fleetwood Mac-esque," Berwanger says. "Everyone knows what that is—it's drugs and sleeping around. Everyone was on a different page and getting different information. We were super young and everyone thinks they're right, and probably everyone was wrong. That's how something implodes."
As the Anniversary's pair of radically different albums slowly attained hallowed status among a new generation of emo fans, the band grew up and moved on. Berwanger released a handful of solo records and toured intermittently, eventually taking a step back when his son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It wasn't until he went back on the road, again opening for the Get Up Kids, that he realized there was still a possibility of tying up loose ends with the Anniversary.
"It was more a matter of everything happening at the right time," Berwanger says. "[Singer-keyboardist] Adrianne [DeLanda] came out to sing on 'The Siren Sings,' and our booking agent from the Anniversary was right there. I asked her what she thought and I asked the other guys, and everyone besides [singer-guitarist] Justin [Roelofs] was on board."
Berwanger is predictably ambivalent about the wave of "emo revival" bands like Braid and American Football have jumped on. The Anniversary is still a bit too niche and under-the-radar to pack venues large enough to qualify their latest endeavor as a cash-grab of any sorts—which fits nicely with the Berwanger's real motivation for why this is happening 13 years later with no new music in store.
"I saw a couple bands—I don't want to name names—that were much older when I saw them play on reunion tours, and it was really bad," he says. "It's not their fault. You get to the age of 55 or 60, [and] some people can still go out there and kick some ass. But some people cannot at all because they've been living in the suburbs or a mental institution forever. It was a thing where if we were gonna do it, we still have some of the fire and energy to do it, so it's gotta happen now. I don't want to be 60 years and and decide to do it then. It's gonna suck."
SEE IT: The Anniversary plays Bunk Bar, 1028 SE Water Ave., with Dude York and Fullbloods on Friday, June 16. 9:30 pm. $17 advance, $20 day of show. 21+.