Though this song title is not to be taken literally, this band who has been influenced by the pop punk scene (and originates from Brighton, England), sure knows how to make every single show truly feel like home...
As It Is took over the no-barricade, 500-capacity venue of The House of Independents in the coastal town of Asbury Park last Saturday, where they brought their story of The Poet to life. With their third studio album, The Great Depression, being released last August, fans have been anticipating this tour for several months and there was no disappointment as the band immediately launched into the intense choice of “The Reaper” to open their set. Thud, thud, thud, the beat rumbles in your chest as the floor shakes with every movement of the crowd. Friend and lead singer of opening band Point North, Jon Lundin, joins As It Is on stage to cover Aaron Gillespie’s (of Underoath) verses in the song.
The Great Depression is split into four acts, three songs each, labeled as the stages of grief. The entire album tells the story of The Poet and his life, his encounters with The Reaper/Death, his struggles with mental health, and how he faces things like toxic masculinity and suicidal thoughts. The purpose of this album and this entire era is to launch a conversation and a change in our world, one which As It Is discusses heavily throughout their set. Lead singer Patty Walters shares that he believes it’s their duty to use their voices for good and they need to take this conversation and first make a change within the scene, then move out into the rest of the world to change the stigma surrounding mental health and deal with how people view/discuss mental issues.
The set switches into “The Handwritten Letter,” a track full of lyrics that focus on the positive relationship between The Poet and music. Personally, this is what I was looking forward to hearing the most. It resonates with many of us who look to music as a positive outlet and further adds to the band’s efforts of creating a safe space at their shows. While I fully expected it to slow down the set, it did quite the opposite and felt therapeutic, as everyone screamed the lyrics back. “You take my silences and make them less alone… a fresh coat of paint inside my coffin so it feels like home… I know I’m not enough out on my own… No, I’m not enough… I need you when I’m bruised and broken… It’s all that keeps me here and hoping... ” The energy switch in the room is noticeable as everyone’s hurt begins to fall away, and just when you think the connection between band and fans cannot be anymore in-sync, there’s a shhhhhh… and everyone in the room freezes. Ronnie (guitar) and Ben (guitar) mid-strum, mid-step. Foley (drums) frozen right before the beat breakdown. Ali (bass) not daring to even breathe before everything kicks right back into action. Not a single person misses their cue.
The interaction with the crowd is incredible and it doesn’t take much to realize how hard As It Is has worked to bring this show together and truly make every single person in the room a part of it. Ronnie repeatedly pauses and leans over the crowd to fist bump several fans, while multiple times throughout the set, someone from the crew or opening line-up joins them on stage to perform guest vocals in a song. This is how you act as a headlining band; this is how you treat your crew and opening bands. The appreciation and sentiment isn’t missed or ignored. It’s special - feeling like you’re a part of something so lively and so wonderfully put together.
The opening notes of the title track ring through the venue as the band officially welcomes us to The Great Depression. It’s loud and turns into more of a chant than anything, with everyone screaming angry lyrics that so heavily contrast the sweeter ones of “The Handwritten Letter.” Patty, Ben, Ronnie, and Ali storm the front of the stage and it’s almost intimidating how their voices echo through the venue when they forego their mics. Every single person in the room claps to the beat and you can feel it in every bone in your body. Ronnie’s voice booms “LET’S GO,” over the crowd, before the chorus breaks down one last time.
Halfway through and things are slowing down. Patty goes into a speech while holding his acoustic guitar; “I’m going to get ever-so-slightly real. While we were writing and recording The Great Depression, we had no idea who - if anyone - would still be coming to these shows because we were about to depart musically from how people knew us very well. But more than that, lyrically, we were about to talk about some very serious and heavy, and what we believe to be very important, topics right now. Which is talking unashamedly about mental health, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. But we wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t going to romanticize, glamorize, or fetishize those things.
We wanted to reconstruct the way the scene and society looks and portrays those things as things that are not beautiful, but things that are not ugly either. Things that so many of us go through and are affected by, either us personally or the ones we love. But it’s not something that defines us. We are so very much more than the struggles and the thoughts and the feelings we have inside. That’s why we have shows like this, so we can escape the bullshit outside the room and the bullshit inside our minds for just a little while. So thank you guys, so very much, not only allowing us to be the band that we so badly wish to be, but thank you so much for sharing the sentiment that we need to talk about mental health and we want to take the stigmas away and make this world a better place. Maybe just one person at a time, but we start in the scene and then we take that shit to society when we’re done here. So thank you so very much for that. We love you.” This is his introduction to “The Question, the Answer” and in the middle of the song, he goes on to thank the room again for singing the words to these songs that they worked so hard on. Then it was a quick switch back into high-energy angsty tunes.
The last few songs of the set are rounded out with a mix of old and new - The Great Depression and Never Happy Ever After. At this point, Chris Cole (tech) and Ian Coulson (photographer) are acting as security, catching crowd surfers and trying to keep people reasonably safe as stage diving takes place. There’s a sense of belonging in this wonderful world of chaos that’s taking place right before your eyes.
“The Wounded World” is the final chapter in the seventeen-song set. A sticky, warm exhaustion fills the air with one last push to make the most of this show. This band. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll notice that even the walls appear to be sweating and at the front of the venue, the glass doors are fogged with all the negative emotions that left us in the form of music and moshing. It’s a chant, meant to be exchanged between those on stage and those in the crowd. “Alright, listen. I know this isn’t something you’re gonna like to hear, which is exactly why you need to hear this. Because we have failed our ancestors, ourselves, and the future inhabitants of the wounded world.” We’re all to blame, but don’t lose hope. If we act now, we can fix it and we can make it better.
The entire show was full of messages about inclusiveness and what all of us can do to create a safer music scene for everyone around us, while also sending out reminders that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to feel lost. What’s important is recognizing the issue and facing it head-on and not being ashamed over it. Start the conversation, encourage the conversation. Remove the stigma. Find your safe space, your home, and then welcome others to also feel safe there. I am thankful that people today have more and more bands emerging that are so focused on including them and keeping them safe, regardless of their race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. It gives me hope.