A decade of tireless advocacy from unofficial street teamers, emo “best of” lists, Twitter threads and worshipful bands shaped in the image of “Spit Fountain” has finally willed an Algernon Cadwallader reunion tour into existence. But it’s the intrepid and typically unsung YouTube cover artists that will ensure that these shows might actually happen. “I’m looking forward to announcing so I can ask people to show me how to play this stuff,” guitarist Joe Reinhart jokes. “Who’s got tabs?”
Both Algernon Cadwallader and those lucky enough to witness them in their heyday remembers the band’s music the same way – a cracked, anthemic take on Cap’n Jazz and their Midwest emo progeny, distinguished by inventive instrumental technique that would’ve been hailed as wizardry had it not been played with such reckless abandon. If this doesn’t initially seem as momentous as the recent reunion tours announced by Pavement and Sunny Day Real Estate…well, that depends on the age of who you ask.
In the time between their 2005 formation in Yardley, Pennsylvania – a borough about 30 miles northeast of Philadelphia – and their breakup seven years later in 2012, Algernon Cadwallader created a small and indispensable catalog that presaged some of indie rock’s most significant shifts over the past decade. For starters, Philadelphia unseating New York as the cultural epicenter, in large part because a massive wave of emo, pop-punk, and assorted “feeling stuff-music” within the city caused a nearly total inversion of these genres’ critical cachet. Reinhart would take his inimitable guitar leads to Hop Along and produce scene classics like Joyce Manor’s Never Hungover Again, Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost, Prince Daddy and the Hyena’s I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving. In March, he helmed the fantastic debut of Philadelphia upstarts Carly Cosgrove, the type of band that absolutely would not exist if it weren’t for Algernon Cadwallader. Singer/bassist Peter Helmis would also go on to form the sorely underappreciated Dogs on Acid (whose 2015 debut on the rebooted and ill-fated Jade Tree was produced by Reinhart) and Yankee Bluff. As with nearly all bands credited as formative figures in the “emo revival,” Reinhart and Helmis have mixed feelings about that term; but any band that proudly reps the e-word in 2022 is far more likely to be influenced by Some Kind of Cadwallader than Diary.
Helmis had once mused that there was something “unattainable” at the band that fed its legend throughout the past decade; indeed, Some Kind of Cadwallader and its 2011 follow-up Parrot Flies had long been out of print – really out of print, not even available on streaming – until Lauren Records reissued them in 2018, alongside a “new” self-titled album that bundled their demo, 2009’s Fun EP and several B-sides.
Helmis promises that “you’re gonna see every single member of Algernon Cadwallader on stage the whole time” – himself, Reinhart, founding guitarist Colin Mahony and two drummers, Tank Bergman and Nick Tazza, who left the band shortly before the release of their debut. “Everyone was all in from the second we mentioned it,” Helmis boasts. “The day after our first call, we were talking to [booking agent] Merrick [Jarmulowicz] about dates,” Reinhart adds. “It went from, ‘should we do this…yes,’ to, ‘oh, wow this is happening soon.’”
In contrast to many reunions of this sort, everyone in Algernon Cadwallader seems so excited about getting back together that you almost have to wonder why they hadn’t already done it (or why they ended in the first place). But implied in their most-quoted lyric – “if fucking up feels fine/fuck it up!” – is that you don’t fuck it up until it feels right. “We’ve had show offers for the past several years that have been pretty enticing but we decided that we didn’t want to get together and go through the motions of learning all the songs for one show,” Helmis states. “If we’re gonna do that, we want to do a tour. And if we’re gonna do it, we might as well do it now because the world is ending.”
SPIN: The last time we spoke in 2018, Peter said that a reunion tour wouldn’t happen until it had been 10 years since the breakup…or you turned 50. What sped up the process?
Peter Helmis: A lot of it had to do with End of Days. It’s now or never, a lot of people feel that way about a lot of things, but…do the things you want to do. It was something that was on the table and we weren’t hashing out the details because there was no rush. I’ve been reminding the rest of the band about this – we broke up after the end of our tour in August 2012 and before the year was up, people were asking us to do reunion shows. There was a reunion show culture then, when bands were getting together – I think Snowing did three [reunions]. I was kinda just like…nah, let’s let it sit for a while, make it a real reunion, give it 10 years. Oddly enough, by the time we play our first show again, it’s gonna be exactly on the 10-year mark. Call it a premonition.
Joe Reinhart: Is it really? Oh my god…wow.
What had been the biggest show Algernon Cadwallader played before they had broken up?
Helmis: It was definitely that tour with Joyce Manor [in 2012]. We were playing bigger and bigger shows and that was the first tour we didn’t book for ourselves. Merrick was putting us in bigger rooms with more promotion and stuff. For a couple years before that, every room we’d play would be packed, but it would be small rooms. This was us moving to the next level. One of our last two shows was sold out at the First Unitarian Church in Philly – when they pack it out, it’s 600 people. The reason we’re getting back together is because people have been asking about it for ten years, but we do want to be mindful of the rooms. If there happens to be 2,000 people who want to see us in Chicago, it’s not like we’re trying to play a 1000+ cap room…yet! We’re trying to play where people will feel that they’re at an Algernon Cadwallader show, and if we have to, play multiple shows.
Was there any one member of the band who was the biggest cheerleader for the reunion?
Reinhart: One of the drummers, maybe both?
Helmis: Tank hasn’t shut up about it, I had to put the group chat on mute because he’s freaking out [Laughs]. Nah, he’s always been our most enthusiastic member in general, but Nick missed a lot of the ride that we had. He was super integral with writing the demo and the first record but he kinda peaced out right before we released Some Kind of Cadwallader. So he always kicked himself a bit…I mean, he did his own thing and knew what he was doing but he kinda was bummed that he didn’t come along on those big shows and tours, so he’s super stoked as well.
Have there been any official band practices yet?
Helmis: Not practices, but it’s been everybody watching YouTube videos of people playing our songs and trying to copy that. We haven’t got together as a band yet, that’s gonna be our own personal hurdle, but we’re stoked about that too.
Reinhart: It’ll be a fun challenge
Helmis: Especially for you, Joe – I feel like my job is relatively easy as long as I keep my vocal cords happy enough.
Have there been any covers where they’ve really nailed it, like, “damn, they can play this better than us?”
Reinhart: None of them, but I’m just gonna have to go with the best one and use that for the tab book.
Helmis: I wasn’t sizing them up for accuracy, I’m impressed with all of them. It’s fascinating to watch people play our songs, mostly as a challenge for them to figure out Joe’s bonkers guitar parts. I’m impressed enough by them just getting close.
What about watching your own performances as a kind of preparation? Most of the Algernon shows that I’ve seen posted over the past couple of years seem absolutely wild.
Helmis: I’ve watched more recently, I’m not sure it’s for preparation…maybe a little bit, but it was mostly just to check them out again and it looks fucking awesome.
Reinhart: I was like, “we were having fun!” Sloppy, but fun.
Helmis: I’m still surprised by how wild it is. The challenge back then was being able to play our songs while people were assaulting us with their bodies. Pedals were always an issue, getting kicked and unplugged and microphones bashed into my face because people were singing along. It was like a war out there. I think we were just like whatever, if that’s what y’all wanna do, that’s cool. It’s not gonna sound as good but I don’t think that’s the point. I feel like if we sounded shitty in any of the videos, I’m going to use that as an excuse.
Are there any songs in particular that make you question whether you can still play them?
Helmis: That’s a Joe question, my basslines are relatively easy.
Reinhart: Literally, almost most of them. Especially the later stuff because there was one guitar player, I felt like I needed to do the work of three and played a million notes like a jackass and now I have to relearn them all.
Helmis: We’ve already mentioned to the drummers that we’re setting a BPM for the songs and we’re gonna play them at that, because that’s another thing watching those videos – we were playing songs double-speed, being so amped up from being in this crazy environment. We were flying through songs, Joe’s playing twice as many notes as he’s supposed to and I’m trying to catch my breath, it was insane. These sets are gonna be long, longer than we’ve ever played and trying to play most of our songs.
Reinhart: We were rolling with eight-song sets at the max back in the day.
Helmis: Maybe 10.
Has there been any strategizing about opening acts?
Helmis: Not specifically…
Reinhart: They’ll be there!
Helmis: We already talked about how we’re definitely trying to get either female or nonbinary bands on our shows because…you know, our band existed at the dude-iest times of bro bands. It was awesome, but shit is different now and we want to offset the shows we played before where there was rarely a female or non-white dude. The whole bill would be white dudes. The plan is to really make an effort to make the shows super diverse. We’re gonna be picking all the openers, they’ll be local bands for support.
You had mentioned back in 2018 that the house show scene in Philly had become more “gentrified” in terms of genre during Algernon’s run – that most of the shows ended up being four twinkle bands playing together.
Helmis: That’s true also, I’d love if the bands were musically diverse as well. When you enjoy that band and then ours because it’s different, I prefer shows like that…
Once the reissues came out, were you surprised by certain songs catching on or things you said in random blog interviews being quoted as gospel?
Helmis: As far as the reissues, I was a little bit surprised and felt very lucky that we have the perfect person, Aaron [Kovacs] from Lauren Records keeping them in press and making shirts. It’s so cool that he filled that role so well and the records keep selling and he keeps pressing them.
Reinhart: It’s always surprising – I’m always shocked at any kind of reaction or showing up at a show and…wow, there’s a ton of people. I guess I’m just naive in the bigger picture things, it’s a good feeling to play dumb about it.