via Charly Bliss / Jacqueline Harriet

There are few places on the planet less rock and roll than the mall. The suburban experience is where stage dreams are born, not bred—clean lines and cold rooms stockpiled with fleeting trends and cheap fabrics doesn’t allow much in the way of creativity, and yet, it’s a fun place to indulge. In 2017, finding joy wherever you can—and sharing it—is more crucial than ever; it feels almost political. It’s why I asked Brooklyn punk-pop band Charly Bliss to meet me at Queens Center, an uncharacteristically traditional mall in New York City.

The band—vocalist and guitarist Eva Grace Hendricks, bassist Dan Shure, guitarist Spencer Fox and drummer Sam Hendricks—meet me outside the Cheesecake Factory before we head to mall mecca: Hot Topic. The store is unrecognizable from our emo youth. It’s bright, the front windows aligned with Sailor Moon swimsuits and Beauty & the Beast paraphernalia. A shop that once blasted Christian screamo from its sound system now plays a collection of accessible ‘80s goth: New Order into Depeche Mode. In growing up, it’s become less of a Warped Tour pit stop and more of a celebration of all fandom worlds—from Disney to Rick & Morty and everything between.

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Eva Grace Hendricks, the defacto leader of Charly Bliss, jumps: “Fuck it, let’s go in.”

In what could have very easily unraveled into an uncomfortable silence, a band navigating a commercial space that borders on infantilization, a weird modern sort of fetishization of teen culture, they enjoyed themselves. Hendricks picked up two vinyl Funko Pop! figurines from Twin Peaks. “I can’t believe I found something. Cool!” Eva exclaims, before leading us downstairs to the mall’s Shake Shack for burgers and milkshakes.

There’s an intoxicating excitement about Charly Bliss, one with an easy explanation; this is a band that truly loves one another. Eva and Sam are siblings, the rest of the band has known each other since their Connecticut childhoods. Dan Shure played with Spencer Fox at musical summer camps, Eva studied musical theater alongside Shure, Eva and Fox met in a story well-documented in the band’s press: at age 15, outside a Tokyo Police Club show that Fox was trying to sneak booze into. The real mythos here is that the band would eventually open for TPC on tour in early 2017.

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Later in their high school career, Fox and Eva would begin writing folk songs together and sharing them on YouTube, despite leading very different high school lives. “We would go over to my house and strum on acoustic guitars and then Spencer would say, ‘I’m invited to a party, can you drop me off there?’ Not ‘Want to come?’ He made me drop him off,” Eva laughs. “Another weekend of watching ‘Hannah Montana’ alone? Best of both worlds, baby!”

They joke about it now, but something clicked—the pair wrote what Fox describes as “Starbucks-core” music, but recognized that they worked well together. Eva began losing her love of musical theater, didn’t want to pursue it in college, and applied to NYU’s competitive recorded music school after landing a few successful jingles in high school. Then she decided to pursue Charly Bliss as a serious endeavor. “Over the summer I was like, ‘I have to record the songs we’ve written so I don’t look like a total asshole when I go to college!’” she explains. The band was realized in that moment, but almost by happenstance—they had yet to settle on the saccharine sweet sound they’re known for now.

“We all looked at each other and thought, ‘None of us listen to what we’re making, how did we end up making this music?’” Eva continues. “Before we found our sound we played so many stupid, bad shows. It did not occur to us that we weren’t successful. Then [our 2014 EP] Soft Serve came out and no one cared for six months, then we started getting emails—” Fox finishes the thought with “—and all the good stuff started happening. We were like, ‘Oh, this is the next step.’ We truly went 0 to 60 after two-and-a-half years.”

That period led to the band recording their debut album Guppy in 2015, which they quickly tossed out. They had no label and no release schedule, so when they realized they could do better, they scrapped the entire thing. After touring for a bit, they wrote four new tracks—including their latest singles “Black Hole” and “Glitter”—and then re-recorded the album last year. Guppy the sequel, the only Guppy we will ever hear, is a triumph—the kind of pop album bands spend their careers trying to nail. It’s joyful in nature with astute, crushingly-honest songwriting from Eva. It’s perhaps most evident in the very first track on the release, “Percolator,” where she sings, “I cry all the time / I think that it’s cool / I’m in touch with my feelings.” Being that exposed has never been historically cool, and it’s certainly not the norm in underground music—but it’s part of their charm.

When Charly Bliss first emerged in the Brooklyn music scene, they did so at a time where the music they made differed greatly from the lo-fi bedroom recordings of their New York brethren. Charly Bliss are loud, they’re poppy, their vocals are placed high and clear in the mix—characteristics largely at odds with cool-guy indie. Because of this, they’ve found themselves often described as “pop-punk,” a term usually met with some level of marginalization. They’re not on the wall at Hot Topic, but they’re described in a similar fashion of bands that are. “I don’t think we particularly enjoy being called a pop-punk band,” Shure begins, “but it’s not far off.” Eva agrees, “We don’t have any reservations in being embraced by that world, though. A lot of stuff there is appealing to us, the melody and the catchiness.”

via Charly Bliss / Shervin Lainez

There’s a subtext to that response: Charly Bliss are a band that is open to opportunity. It’s why they’ve toured with drunk punks PUP, alt-heroes Veruca Salt, EDM pop Glass Animals—and made sense on each of those bills. They want to be accessible to folks of all listenership; they’re dedicated to eradicating any sense of exclusivity that surrounds what they do in indie. Even in moments of hesitation, they know saying yes breeds more opportunities than the alternative. Because of that, and because of their friendly aesthetic properties (Eva’s warm rasp, the band’s penchant for music videos that surround childhood themes of superhero fantasies and playdates), they’ve caught the eye of teenagers, and those are the people they want to connect with.

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“That’s the demographic we want to reach most,” Eva sits up. “Music swings that way. You’re always trying to reach yourself in high school, or the thing that would make high school you freak the fuck out. I’ll never forget that feeling of finding Rilo Kiley and feeling that, ‘Yes! This music was made for me! I’m the only person who gets it!’” Fox agrees, “One of the coolest things that’s ever happened was this group, they’re either in junior high or high school, this band from Boston called Solstice, they covered ‘Urge to Purge’ at their talent show and sent us a video. I turned into pudding as soon as I saw it.” The feeling is most definitely mutual.

When we leave the mall, full of milkshakes and Hot Topic bags in hand, we exchange hugs and walk in different directions—Eva runs back to invite me to their private record release party for family and friends. I’m reminded of a story they told me early in the afternoon, that they found their name after attending a party hosted by someone named Charlie Bliss. It feels like a beautiful representation of the people behind the band: friendships drive them, pop defines them. They’re easy to fall in love with, and they’ll thank you if you do.