Sorority Noise frontman Cam Boucher co-owns a studio in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood on a small street that exists in architectural transition. One side is a massive warehouse; the other is full of row houses. At night, the block is silent. Boucher walks into a nearby metal shop, avoiding equipment to climb the makeshift staircase hidden away on the left wall. The stairs lead to the studio, which he built with Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald and Ian Farmer. Across the hall is a lived-in room where Boucher mixes recordings. “This is hard to talk about,” he sits. “When I’m writing music, I’m not thinking about talking about it. People can be pretty insensitive, like, ‘Now that you’re not suicidal…’ I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but it also makes me really uncomfortable.”
Boucher has become something of a poster child for transparency when it comes to mental health. It’s not a new development, but it’s one that’s recently become more public. Where Sorority Noise’s debut LP, Forgettable, was high-energy emo at its most self-deprecating and outwardly critical, their last album, Joy, Departed, offered a more complicated take on feeling sad and dealing with loss. Its sound, too, was more dynamic, reflecting Boucher’s real growth. It was music that found a real language for his own manic depression. It culminated in the single “Using,” in which Boucher scream-sings, “I stopped wishing I was dead!” It’s a beautifully cathartic moment, one that effortlessly demonstrates the healing power of emotional rock music. On their third (and best) LP, You’re Not As ___ As You Think , Boucher shifts the direction of his introspection: it’s a record about grief and God, but it’s likely that people will only focus on the former. He’s worried about that.
“If you look at what this record Is about: I had a lot of friends take their lives, and that caused me to question my religion and belief in a higher power. To a lot of people, it becomes ‘Guy Has Five Friends Die, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!’ I don’t want my friends to be tokenized. If they were still alive and I showed them these songs, they would probably be like, ‘Dude, shut it off,’” he laughs. “There’s one song where I mention ‘a noose that took Sean’s life.’ What if his parents hear that? My big thing was making sure the people I talk about, I’m casting them in a positive light.”
That song is called “Disappeared,” and it’s not the only place Sean makes an appearance. “I’ve had some friends pass away while I’m on tour. I’ve contemplated bailing on a few shows, but they would be so pissed at me for stopping what I love to do to go see their stupid funeral,” Boucher says. “In the song ‘No Halo,’ there’s the lyric: ‘I didn’t show up to your funeral/ But I showed up to your house.’ I couldn’t go to Sean’s funeral because I was on tour. When I was home I drove to his house and he wasn’t alive. I realized when I got there. I didn’t stop. I kept driving,” He softens. “When people die, you go through the process of grieving. You have to live your life, even though they’re not.”
For Boucher, healing has recently arrived in the form of personal faith, an individualistic reinterpretation of his Christian past. Before he mentions “the noose that took Sean’s life” in “Disappeared,” he sings about heaven with “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” He laughs, “I sing Capital-H heaven or capital G-God in every song, except for maybe one.”
Boucher grew up around Catholicism: his parents were active practitioners, and he attended a Catholic middle school. In 8 th grade, one of his best friends passed, which was the moment he started questioning—and rejecting—his religion. “I went to his ceremony, and it was the first funeral I’d been to. Losing someone that young helped me somewhat process the idea of losing people now. Then those thoughts of religion became sour.”
In college, Boucher found himself trying to reconnect with the church—praying for academic success—and becoming disillusioned with Catholicism once again. “I thought that I had power over God’s will by praying. I was applying myself, but I still did poorly, and I placed blame elsewhere. Then I started losing a lot of friends, and there was no way for me to process that if I didn’t believe in an afterlife. Heaven exists, because otherwise my friends are rotting in the ground. I’ll see them eventually. It’s not my time now, nor do I think it was their time, but I can think that they’re watching me and hoping I’m doing the best for myself.” He pauses, “I don’t think this record alienates Christianity at all, I think it talks about religion as a whole—a heaven-based religion.”
The most direct discussion of his faith arrives late on the album, in a sweet song named after his friend Julien Baker, “Second Letter from St. Julien.” He cites her as a force in helping him find his faith again, but makes distinctions in his approach to the religion. “I believe there is a higher power. I don’t feel the need to go to church. Take God in your own hands in each way, the way you feel it best suits you,” Boucher explains.
He views this as individual healing. It’s the same kind of power music holds, the kind Sorority Noise holds. It’s not necessarily going to work for everyone. “I’m not afraid to talk about my faith. Right now, a belief in God is working for me. People have to deal with things their own way. That’s not what a good Christian would say, but it’s real. The last thing I want to do is force it down someone’s throat. I don’t think the album does that,” He shifts in his seat before finding a conclusion. “I could be dead wrong about everything I feel. There’s no guarantee that when I die, I’ll go to the gates. That questioning is where I’m at now, and where I’ve been mostly.”
— Maria Sherman