Pray to Keep Feels Free to Write From the Heart: Single Stream + Interview

Last week, shortly after I wrote about another cool up-and-coming Philadelphia band, Shinobi, their frontman tipped me off to a brand new track from Pray to Keep. The Philly four-piece includes members of Agitator, Rock Bottom, Ten Ton Hammer, and No Paradise (most of which my old ass has honestly yet to hear), among others; and their impressive forthcoming debut EP was produced by Fred Mascherino (Taking Back Sunday, Terrible Things, etc.), so they seem to be building a good deal of hype thus far.

Having heard the EP in its entirety, I can confirm that the hype is, in fact, worth it. It's good. Really good.

Pray to Keep puts forth an approach that will fit in nicely alongside some of their contemporaries exploring a well-polished mishmash of grungy emo sounds that are lightly dashed with influences arguably culled from genres as diverse as pop-punk, post-rock, etc. Mostly, though, things center around a damn fine core of catchy, harder-edged early-2000s emo (think Armor for Sleep, etc.) peppered with '90s post-hardcore Quicksand-isms—my weird ears picking up some similarities to the highly underrated debut EP from Renee Heartfelt, for example.

Keep your eyes peeled for the full release on May 20th. In the meantime, stream their debut single, "Headstone Lottery," below; followed by a quick chat with the band:

Emailing back and forth about Pray to Keep, Jason pointed out to me that it's kind of funny how older guys like he, Will, and Pat are now—in his words—"starting to gravitate toward writing the kind of music we probably made fun of in high school, rather than the typical shoegaze/indie/early emo transition that the majority of our crowd tends to [make]." I've experienced this with my own listening habits in recent years, too—at one point buying up early albums by Lynyrd Skynyrd and thinking to myself, "Holy shit, high school me would be absolutely repulsed by this!" Maybe it's just the simple adage of growing "older and wiser," I don't know, but as far as Pray to Keep is concerned, to what would you attribute this newfound interest in musical niches you may have once derided?

Will: I've always had an affinity for pop music. I had a mom who would drive me around in her car listening to late-'80s/early-'90s Top 40, so that was definitely ingrained in me. So, as much as hardcore/metalcore spoke to me in one way during the early-2000s, the screamo/emocore scene spoke to me in another. Sure, I couldn't tell my friends in American Nightmare and Carry On hoodies at the time about how much I loved the second Taking Back Sunday record without getting shit for it, but I listened to it on my own anyway. The only thing from that era that I definitely didn't fuck with was the aesthetic. Everyone from that era literally looked like they just got done working a shift at Zumiez or some shit. Now that I'm older, I gravitate toward what I listened to all along, and have no fear about playing what it is I want to. When you're younger, you have musical social confines (not so much anymore) that can definitely constrict how you act or what you play. It's nice to feel free of that a little and just write what I would want to hear in a modern day context.

Jason: I somehow overlooked the entire "mall music" genre when I was in my early teens (things like My Chemical Romance, for example) because at that point in my life if it wasn't youth crew or ska (seriously), I didn't want anything to do with it. While I would love to start a youth crew or ska band in 2017, I think there is a bit more musical "meat" to be found exploring some of the more pop-driven music from back in the day, and it's an exciting road to go down in terms of what we can do with the writing and presentation.

For me personally, the shoegaze type of thing has really started to ruin a lot of bands. I'm a finicky old malcontent, but to my ears so many contemporary groups just stomp on a shitload of effects and lose themselves in overly slow, go-nowhere compositions; so I was excited to see Jason cite Pray to Keep as straying away from that. What I really like about your EP is that it counterbalances flirtations with those types of sounds with a heaviness and an energy more akin to '90s post-hardcore and harder-edged early-2000s emo.

Will: The biggest issue I have with the shoegaze resurgence would be the lack of substance in the music. This inherently always happens with any oversaturated genre of music, but it became more about the aesthetic than it did the songwriting. Bands like Nothing manage to shine good songwriting through that vibe, but I've heard enough copycats attempt to play that style to almost be turned off by the genre entirely. The original '90s scene were songwriters tinkering with effects; now it's become effects-tinkerers that happen to try and put a song together. The vocals become secondary as well. They get washed out. There's a semblance of a melody, but nothing really substantial or memorable. This is just personal preference, but I guess it's why I have become bored with it. Any kind of nod to that genre with the songs on the EP definitely came from more of a Hum or late-era Sugar (the Bob Mould band) than anything My Bloody Valentine.

Jason: More eyeliner, less reverb on the vocal melody. That's my vision.

Something I have definitely noticed as an outside observer is that kids these days don't seem to be so musically prejudiced; they'll openly admit listening to or being influenced by anything that moves them, and don't seem as quick to judge the varying interests of others—quite different from what I experienced coming up in the '90s scene. Being more closely integrated into the current landscape, have you noticed this as well? I'd have to assume this shift in mentality is a very positive thing for an up-and-coming new band.

Will: As I mentioned earlier, it was definitely something I experienced firsthand as well. When you're younger, you're obviously very impressionable, and the old heads kind of guide you into what's good and what's cornball. I got "oldheadsplained" plenty of times in the context of hardcore, and being younger and having a wide open selection of records, it was good to be able to fast track to listening to the good ones. What I thought was whack was having a prejudice against entire genres—and I don't mean in a Dr. Dog, patchouli-smelling, I-accept-all-music-genres way; I mean in a way where you could connect to something outside of hardcore, for example, and maybe if you write, bring influences from that genre into what you do. I've always been about that. I was into tons of bands from other genres of music, and having dudes tell me some of that shit was whack definitely sucked. I still did my thing, though, it just would have been easier today than being 19 and dealing with that shit at the time (bust out the violins). Seeing people wearing Marilyn Manson shirts with braided hair and black fingernails standing next to a dude in a Chain of Strength shirt is the real sign of the times, and I back it.

Jason: I'm not going to pretend to come from some sort of "land before the internet" situation. Even though I'm in my mid-20s, I still grew up with the ability to find and get super deep into tons of different music either for free or very cheap, and build my taste alongside people that might live across the country or across the world. From the perspective of a band, it means that you can now play label, PR rep, promoter, and booking agent all from the comfort of your own laptop. While that kind of access has its downsides ("fest culture" being one of them, in my opinion), it's a great way to tear down the barriers that would have separated scenes/genres "back in the day," and has led to a lot of good things for the community as a whole.

It seems like there's a lot of cool shit happening in Philadelphia right now. What other Philly-area bands should listeners make an effort to seek out and explore?

Pray to Keep: Lots of cool stuff from the area, and the cities/states around it! Tourniquet, Jordyn Lyric and her various projects, Hell to Pay, Mange, Sorority Noise, Shinobi, Soul Glo, Immanuel Wilkins, Old City Revival, Hang Tight, and a ton more.