Cameron Boucher is standing in a warehouse, surrounded by crumpled plastic body bags. This scene is made all the more haunting by the fact that moments earlier, they were standing upright as personified ghosts. It’s the last shot of his band Sorority Noise’s music video for “No Halo,” in which we see glimpses of nearly a dozen people grasping for meaning or an escape during the grieving process. Brothers wrestle outside of a church, a young couple struggles to find intimacy amid bereavement, a middle-aged woman questions her faith, and startlingly, a young man is on the verge of suffocating in a crowded train station. The clip is a sparkplug that captures how helpless, disorienting, and difficult it can feel to be alive when those closest to you aren’t anymore—this is the essence of Sorority Noise’s astonishing album, You’re Not As _____ As You Think, which came out in March.
The years leading up to the Connecticut emo band’s latest record were marked by loss for Boucher. He lost some close friends—enough to send “a basketball team to heaven,” as he puts it in one song. In his music and in conversation, he maintains that this small army of friends are still present in his life, guiding him every day, even if that sounds like belief in the paranormal. “I’ve always, through everything, believed that the friends I’ve lost… they will continue to follow me in my life, and I will do things because I think that they’re with me,” he tells me on phone, days after his album was released.
On past Sorority Noise albums, Boucher was so emotionally direct that just listening to a song could feel intrusive. There’s a bracing specificity to his lyrical approach, which on the band’s sophomore release, Joy Departed, meant candid glimpses into his struggles with manic depression, addiction, and suicidal tendencies. But this persistent effort to be transparent with listeners has only strengthened the dynamic of trust, and he’s since become one of the leading voices championing awareness for mental illness in indie rock.
All of these ideas are still present on the band’s latest record, but they’re further complicated by the grieving process. You’re Not As _____ As You Think is technically Boucher’s third release since his friends’ lives were cut short. In 2016, he released a Sorority Noise EP, It Kindly Stopped for Me, as well as a punishing album from his screamo side project, Old Gray. The loss that seems to have had the most lacerating impact, is his childhood friend Sean, who took his life in July 2015. While touring that fall, Boucher poured everything on the page for what would later become It Kindly Stopped for Me. When he came home for Thanksgiving, Boucher recorded them all alone in his bedroom. The four songs are a deeply sparse, earthy glimpse into his catatonic state. Phil Elverum, the journeyman behind Mount Eerie, described his own recent portrait of loss, the gutting A Crow Looked at Me, as “barely music”—implying that capturing his tortured emotional state on record took precedence over cogent melodies. It’s far from a slight, but the same could be said of that Sorority Noise EP.
You’re Not As _____ As You Think, on the other hand, is extremely music—it’s one of the most maximalist, anthemic collections you’re likely to hear about the grieving process. Boucher and his band pile on one hook after the other, until these songs don’t have room to be any catchier. You could attribute this to its timing. Most of these songs, save for “First Letter from St. Sean, which was written one month after his death, inhabit an entirely different mindset than It Kindly Stopped. Even if some lyrics recall the days when Boucher routinely struggled to accomplish basic tasks, such as leaving the house, taking a shower, or sleeping more than eight hours per week, he’s reached a point where those days seem less expected. He’s more concerned with the abstract struggle of moving on, but is careful not to let their memory escape him. “There comes the whole conversation of your refusal to let the person truly die in your work. And then in order to move forward, you have to stop talking or thinking about them every day, and in that, are you forgetting them? It’s a really hard and interesting thing that we have to deal with in life, and I guess I was trying to figure that out for myself,” he says.
Boucher’s still figuring things out, but he’s trying to stay relentlessly busy in the midst of it all. Just in this year alone, he’ll release four different LPs—and that doesn’t count the records he mixes on the side in between tours, which he can do from just about anywhere on his laptop. In fact, we realize near the end of our phone call that we’re just two miles apart—when he’s not touring, the Philadelphia-based Boucher spends weekends across the state in Pittsburgh with his partner Hannah Altman, who photographed and designed the stunning artwork for You’re Not As _____ As You Think. A few days later, I watched him play saxophone at a college benefit concert with Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, a side project of The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell. Boucher was unassuming background to Campbell’s theatrical pop-punk anthems with no on-stage shoutout—he was just one of the Roaring Twenties, if you didn’t know to look for him. He’s a collaborator and friend, as much as a frontman.
Earlier this year, some more of his friends fell on hard times. Sorority Noise was originally booked for Modern Baseball’s North American tour, along with Kevin Devine and The Obsessives. But one month before that tour was set to begin, the headliners announced they were taking a break and canceling the entire tour. Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald shared a note with fans, explaining that the band had become a significant source of anxiety for them, and that it was time to put health and friendships first.
When I ask Boucher about the change of plans, he explains the difficult place it left his own band—obviously, he offers full support for his friends in Modern Baseball and understands that their mental health takes precedence over anything else. But he still has bills to pay, and to lose out on a month’s worth of income isn’t easy to process regardless of the circumstances. Plus, touring offers him the best method of therapy, although he understands how it might have the opposite effect on other artists. “We all deal with our anxieties and mental health in different ways, but personally, the way that helps me the most is playing live music. I leave all my anxieties and my stresses on the stage, or at least I attempt to,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t work, but sometimes it’s the best thing I can do.”
Luckily, his manager pulled off a quick reroute, booking a short-notice spring tour across North America, with some European dates in May. It gives Boucher a chance to bring his haunting new album to audiences who might need the reassurance. If you’re only hearing a Sorority Noise record as an excuse for Boucher to exorcise hispersonal demons, the live show might change that. These songs aren’t intended to be woe-is-me commiseration, but to offer life-affirming proof that he’s converted pain into something positive—and you can, too. “With Sorority Noise, I try to encourage the idea, or reestablish and reaffirm my belief that things will get better.” He hesitates. “OK, they won’t get better, but you’ll get better at dealing with them.”