Alright Junior and pandemic music: “Our stuff can be a little darker anyway” (9/9 at MilkBoy w/ The Dollyrots)

Philly’s favorite local alt rockers, Alright Junior, released their latest EP, Battle Scars, last July, in the middle of the worst part of the pandemic.  But during a recent...

Philly’s favorite local alt rockers, Alright Junior, released their latest EP, Battle Scars, last July, in the middle of the worst part of the pandemic.  But during a recent phone chat vocalist/guitarist Jace Miller tells me he thinks that the sound of the EP, and maybe the band in general, felt weirdly fitting to the morbidity in which we were living: “The overall vibe of the EP is kind of somber… but our stuff can be a little darker anyway and, it’s not a good thing, but I think everyone was kind of in that mindset anyway.”  The three-song EP, engineered and mixed by Josh Pannepacker at Thanks Mom Studio, rings of some of the grimier sounds of mid-‘90s alternative radio, most notably the kings of gloom grunge, Alice in Chains, and – to a lesser degree – the early days of Stone Temple Pilots and the latter days of Soundgarden.  The music video for “Choke the Earth” (which can be seen below) even recalls some of the greatest video hits of Alternative Nation.

Although the tone of the album seems apropos now, Jace tells me that that wasn’t necessarily the original intention: “We were recording that EP prior to the pandemic, but we didn’t have the vocals done yet and we were waiting and waiting, until we were like, ‘Let’s just continue to quarantine for the next two weeks, and then go into the studio.’  We did the vocals in the middle of the pandemic, which was kind of weird.  I mean, the last thing you wanted to do is have people open their mouths and sing [laughs].”

Last month Alright Junior played their first show back, supporting longstanding MD alt rockers Jimmie’s Chicken Shack at Rivet in Pottstown.  Jace tells me that a lot of people came out and it went really well, but that it was also a particularly pandemic-friendly setting: “It was an outside show, so that anxiety wasn’t really there.”  He also admits that it inspired the band to take some precautions that maybe they – and all bands – should have taken even sooner: “We brought our own microphones, which was like, ‘Why haven’t we been doing that anyway,’ instead of using these microphones covered in spit and beer and whatever else [laughs]?”

Over the years (They’ve been kicking out their semi-retro jams since 2006.) Alright Junior have shared stages with a lot of major names, including Local H, Toadies, Sponge, Our Lady Peace, Everclear, and The Head and The Heart.  However, when I ask Jace about what it’s like to play with those bands, he tells me that it’s always amazing to play with bands like that and stages that size, but there are a few that left an exceptionally big impression: “Any of those opportunities are so great and so appreciated, but there are two that stand out for sheer size…”  The first of which is a local band that has found their name on marquees across the world: “Circa Survive at the Electric Factory, that was special.  We’re friends with some of those guys and they had come out to see us a lot at the Khyber back in the day.  And also, being from the area and going to the Factory throughout my life, getting to play on a stage where you’ve seen so many shows was really incredible.”  And the second show he mentions had Alright Junior playing alongside a plethora of mega-bands in a now-sadly-gone Philly venue: “Incubus, Cake, Flogging Molly, and Civil Twilight at Festival Pier.  There were just so many people and it was like a festival, an all-day thing.  It was just a really big show, with a lot of production.”

Alright Junior are currently gearing up for their second show back, with another ridiculously cool – albeit not-quite-so-huge – national act, with whom they’ve shared the stage before.  This Thursday, September 9th, Alright Junior will be supporting LA punk rockers The Dollyrots at MilkBoy, which they also did back in August of 2019.  Like myself, Jace admits that this will be his first time performing or attending an event at what I lovingly refer to as, “a dirty, sweaty rock club,” since the pandemic.  However, MilkBoy is currently requiring that all attendees be fully vaccinated (Negative test results will not be accepted, but anyone who wishes for a refund can contact the venue.) and requesting that, while not eating or drinking, people remain masked throughout the evening, which Jace tells me he fully supports: “You need your vaccination, which is just the smartest thing if you want to keep your business going… We’ve taken the pandemic seriously.  We’ve all gotten vaccinated and we’re wearing our masks, just like people should.”

Jace admits to me that he’s not really sure how MilkBoy’s going to look or feel on Thursday night, but that Alright Junior are ready to do their part: “The Dollyrots are great.  I’m curious to see what people are like to go to a closed-in space like this.  I have no idea what ticket sales are like or if anyone can’t come because they’re not vaccinated, but regardless of how many people are there, we’ll put on the same show.”  He also tells me that the band are still really excited about their Battle Scars EP, which they obviously haven’t gotten the chance to tour and which is the first official recording where he and bassist/vocalist Jamie Victor are officially joined by Alright Junior’s latest member, drummer Steph Brettman, but he says that the band already has some new material as well, which fans can expect to hear on Thursday.

“We’re gonna play some new stuff.  We’ll be playing the whole EP, which would be crazy if we didn’t, because it’s only three songs [laughs].  But we really do like those three songs.  It’s the first thing this new lineup has done together, the first thing since Steph joined the band, so it feels like a new chapter.  And we’ll be playing some stuff from the last EP and some stuff from the full record, Amusia, and a couple new songs.”

And while Alright Junior does have quite a bit in the hoping and planning stages for the near future, Jace tells me that nothing is set in stone.

“We have some new music.  The next two EPs that are gonna come out are gonna be tied into this EP and then, eventually, all three will come out on a vinyl, as a single, cohesive thing…  We’re also excited to get back to touring, although we’ll wait on a full-on tour.  We’re gonna play this smart and see what happens and see that venues are doing the things that they should…  We’re just excited to get back on the road and make some new music and keep growing as a band.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.