On records like 2010’s Not Like This and 2013’s The Constant One, Long Island punk band Iron Chic came on like your best college bud on a Saturday night — loud, boisterous, and down to crush every beer can in sight. But on the forthcoming You Can’t Stay Here, due 10/13, the brawny combo is mired in the depths of an emotional crisis brought on by the death of former member Rob McAllister, who passed away suddenly in 2016 at the age of 36.
While the music on You Can’t Stay Here — all shout-along choruses and 10-ton power chords — is the catchiest and most accessible of Iron Chic’s career, the lyrics are unrelentingly dark, even grim, reflecting not just on McAllister’s death but also the end of a long-term relationship for singer Jason Lubrano. “I got an ocean of grief / just pouring down on me / it comes without warning,” he sings in “A Headache With Pictures,” which premieres today on Uproxx. These sentiments are indicative of the entire album, which plays out like an extended, deeply troubled riff on mortality and the meaning of loss.
Formed in 2008 and composed of members hovering in the vicinity of 40, Iron Chic belongs in the same class as similarly “mature” punk acts like Jeff Rosenstock, Pup, and The Menzingers, all of whom have recently put out albums that set meditations about aging and adult responsibility to uplifting rock music. The difference with Iron Chic is the relative lack of hope on You Can’t Stay Here — it sounds like the band members are still trying to reconcile fraught emotions as they’re playing the songs.
“I usually write pretty depressing lyrics, but I was like, ‘None of these songs really have that little uptick at the end,’ or whatever,” Lubrano admits. “I just kind of ran with it at that point. I was like, ‘I guess this is what we needed.’” Stream “Headache With Pictures” below, and read our conversation about grief, pop melodies, and gut-wrenching lyrics.
You talk about grief throughout You Can’t Stay Here. Do you feel like making this record made you feel any better?
I definitely do view writing as a cathartic experience, and I’d say that just getting it out does help put things into perspective a little bit. I don’t know if I could actually say exactly how it made me feel afterward, but it does lighten the load in some ways. Being in a band, and having it be something that you can do with other people, also helps, especially when some of that grief is a shared experience.
Rob left the band in 2015, not long before he died. Had you guys been in touch with him?
It’s actually kind of a regret that things had gotten a little weird right before that time. I think it was about six months between when he actually left the band and when he passed. Me and [guitarist Phil Douglas] kept trying to make plans to see him, because we didn’t want him to think that we were abandoning him as a friend just because we weren’t able to play together anymore. He had some issues that he was dealing with at the time, too. It just never happened.
We did keep in touch through texts and stuff like that a little bit, and I still have the last text message I had with him where I was basically like, “Let’s make plans soon, let’s get together.”
When you heard the news, what was the feeling in the band in the immediate aftermath?
I mean, it was pretty hard. It was actually really weird because that weekend, we were getting together to work on the record. At that point, we were going to start trying to write and record in tandem, a new kind of tactic for us. We had one day of working, and then that night we found out.
The next morning, we came to my house and just kind of sat there and were in disbelief. In a weird way, it was fortuitous that we were already planning to be together. It never crossed our minds to cancel the day or whatever, and we just came there and sat and commiserated together. It was definitely hard, but I think it was good that we were able to experience that together for each others’ sake.
There’s a lyric in “A Headache With Pictures” that stands out to me: “I’m still mourning the life that I left behind.” What do you mean?
I had been having relationship problems around that time, so that song is really mostly about that. I was in that sort of post-breakup zone of just being lost. It was kind of crushing me at that point. It seemed inescapable to have to deal with it all.
In “Ruinous Calamity,” you sing, “All our dreams are dead / I’ll start living again / I’ll start telling the truth.” That’s pretty bleak.
Any given song can really be about two or three or even four different things that are happening to me or around me at the same time. I generally try to pull things back and look at things from a broader perspective, either politically, emotionally or whatever it is. Sometimes what feels like the biggest problem to you in the world is really kind of insignificant when you look at it in a broader sense.
We keep talking about the lyrics, but musically, this really is a rampaging rock record. If you ignored the words, it might even seem fun. What is it about that dichotomy — riff-y music vs. gut-wrenching lyrics — that appeals to you guys as songwriters?
I don’t know that it was something that we really specifically did, but I did kind of notice the same thing. Right around when I noticed that the lyrics were particularly depressing, I was like, “it is kind of weird that these songs are generally more poppy” — not excessively so, but a little bit more poppy than we generally do, and a little more straightforward. It sort of made sense to me in a weird way.
When we write music, it takes a little while for us to congeal our songs and ideas into a record. It wasn’t really until we were almost done with the record that that was really super apparent to us, but I think we just felt like it was right to be that way. It would have been too much if it was super dark musically or heavy or whatever. It might be a little bit too much to take in. This was sort of like the honey with the medicine.
You Can’t Stay Here is out 10/13 via Side One Dummy. Get it here.