It’s a confusing time to be a Brand New fan. Having waited anxiously for the first album in eight years, and see it subsequently snag the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart, Science Fiction was meant to mark the band’s triumphant return before its impending demise. However, because all things seem just too good to be true in 2017, the high was quickly followed by the low – and such a low it is to learn that, amid allegations of sexual misconduct turning Hollywood upside down, such a claim had been brought against Brand New frontman and alternative hero, Jesse Lacey, stemming from a post in which the band’s former guitar technician, Brian Diaz, purportedly outed him.
Worse still, the victim alleged in the now-deleted Facebook post (preserved on Uproxx) that Lacey, aged 24 at the time, had solicited nude photographs from her when she was only 15-years-old, in addition to masturbating on camera on Skype (the age of the victim in these incidents is uncertain) and years of ensuing psychological and emotional manipulation. As is characteristic in situations like these following the first show of courage, the number of allegations rise, with Pitchfork publishing accounts of two other women similarly claiming that Lacey approached them when they were minors.
“It’s hard now to not rethink some of the lyrics that so many have relied upon in their own moments of emotional upheaval.”
There’s little faulting one’s initial shock and disbelief, wishing that there was some other logical explanation, convinced that it’s all just a big mistake. There are those who throw support behind the victim and demand a statement, and there are others who entrench themselves in loyalty to the band. However, following a Facebook statement by Lacey affirming that he had indeed caused pain to others over the years, many were left unsatisfied, branding it a blanket apology that failed to acknowledge the victims’ allegations brought against him. Regardless of whether or not the allegations are substantiated, it’s hard now to not rethink some of the lyrics that so many have relied upon in their own moments of emotional upheaval.
For those who paid close attention to Brand New’s lyrics, specifically on the band’s sophomore album Deja Entendu, it’s easy to gather that Lacey wouldn’t likely ever be shortlisted for a ‘Top Romantic Songwriters’ list. It’s almost unanimously agreed upon by fans of Brand New and, without question, fans of Taking Back Sunday, that he probably was, or still is, an asshole. That aside, the malice within some of those songs are difficult to relish in the newfound context of the present allegations, illuminating a troubling disregard for empathy and almost boastful sense of cruelty.
Many have recalled the lyrics to “Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis”: “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/And they’re scared that we know all the crimes they’ll commit/Who they’ll kiss before they get home”. Though the song is littered with disturbing admissions, the song’s powerful chorus, that crowds the world over have screamed their lungs to, now sits rather uncomfortably: “I will lie awake and lie for fun/And fake the way I hold you/Let you fall for every empty word I say”.
Revisiting Deja Entendu becomes a little bit like those “once you see it, you can’t unsee it” optical illusions. “Sic Transit Gloria…”, a story about a boy becoming a man through losing his virginity to an experienced woman, becomes a caution in the dynamics of control and consent; “Jaws Theme Swimming”, a tale of a young girl going missing to the dismay of her mother, takes on predatory connotations in its stalking narrator and the title’s obvious allusion to danger; even “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows”, an anecdote of marital fragility, extramarital affairs and contemplations of suicide, parallels the pain Lacey admittedly inflicted on his wife, summarised hauntingly by the line, “I lie for only you/And I lie well”. The epitomic “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” hasn’t really changed – it was always an example of self-pity and manipulation.
There’s credence in the idea that art shouldn’t always be comfortable, nor pleasant, and that pleasure can be derived from music or lyrics that set out to intentionally unsettle or disturb us. When those lyrics take on unintended alternative interpretations, however – remaining aware of the danger of projecting meaning on to another’s words – bringing oneself to revisit these songs which, in the past, may have typically been the remedy for such confusion and unrest, seem to only add to the internal conflict.
Of course, there’s also an argument for separating the artist from the art (as difficult as that task may be), and the lyrics cited above are by no means an admission of guilt, nor should they be used in attempting to arrive at one. There are countless musicians throughout history that performed acts we’d want their heads on platters for in the present day, but whose music we still hold in high esteem: Elvis reportedly had slumber parties with adolescent girls; Chuck Berry videotaped unsuspecting women in his restaurant bathroom; John Lennon was a physically abusive husband and father. Yet, these stains on their personal reputations seem to have little bearing on our enjoyment of their musical achievements. So what’s the difference here?
Perhaps we, as a collective society, despite all of our political and ideological division, have learnt to not take matters of physical and emotional abuse as lightly as the generations before us; that there’s nothing “rock ‘n’ roll” about throwing another’s life into distress. Perhaps we’ve learnt to become active in drawing the line once we discover such behaviour coming from musicians we’ve developed a personal connection with since our youth. In contrast to the aforementioned musicians who we’ve never known outside of the context of being larger-than-life legends, we followed Brand New as they graduated from the embryonic emo beginnings of Your Favourite Weapon, to the developed Deja Entendu, to the sonically and conceptually mammoth The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, and beyond. The possibility of sinister intent or criminality in even a single verse of the band’s catalogue plunges its collective works into darkness.
People on the internet will vilify Lacey and the music connected to him, and they may even make you feel guilty for defending the music, if not the man. It’s important to remember that, despite being very much Lacey’s brainchild, credit is owed to the rest of the band in crafting and performing 17 years of crushingly poetic music – if they haven’t already distanced themselves like touring guitarist Kevine Devine, that is. Whether fans can find it within themselves to return to the music is a matter of personal choice, but as DrewskiG, longtime moderator of the r/brandnew subreddit, points out, “fans are not the true victims here.”
On the other hand, it doesn’t make you a bad person to continue to feel connected to Brand New; that much is involuntary. Don’t feel pressured to destroy your records, burn your merch, or get your carefully considered tattoo removed; if you want to do all of the above, that’s cool, too. Regardless of whether the authors stand by it or not, the band and its music have shaped the lives of many, and served as the backdrop to memories that extend far beyond its creators. There’s no guarantee that people won’t judge you for sticking by the band, but that’s none of their business; music becomes a part of you that you can’t amputate at will. But it may itch, and it may leave you feeling emptier than before.