Lauren Denitzio didn’t mean to make an optimistic album. When the Worriers singer-guitarist, whose pronoun is they, began work on their latest album — the recently released Survival Pop — in fall 2016, they were also dealing with some personal trauma, including the loss of friends and acquaintances to suicides and overdoses. And that’s not even considering the daily difficulties of being a queer person living in a culture dominated by patriarchy, plagued by homophobia and violence.
“I was in a place of wondering, ‘How did I find myself at this point in my life? How have people I know not made it to my age and how have I managed to do that?’” Denitzio, 33, said over the phone recently. “So I was processing those things and somehow it came out to be a pretty hopeful-sounding record, I think because that’s the only way any of us are going to get through certain things that are happening right now.”
Survival Pop, the second album released under the Worriers moniker, is indeed hopeful-sounding. In fact, compared to what one might expect from a punk record in the Trump era, the 12-track LP, out now through SideOneDummy Records, is practically jubilant. It’s stocked with bright melodies, immediate hooks and anthemic choruses that make it easy to believe in new possibilities.
To make the record, Worriers teamed up with Marc Jacob Hudson, the engineer behind the group’s debut album, 2015’s Imaginary Life, as well as records by Against Me!, Taking Back Sunday, Saves the Day and other punk and emo mainstays. Started in Brooklyn in 2011 but now based in Philadelphia, Worriers relies on a rotating cast of supporting players who help Denitzio with recording and touring. Most of the players on the new record have worked with the band before, and perhaps that helps fuel the album’s consistency and clarity. It’s a cohesive, tight collection of songs about love, loss and the power of community. It’s not slickly produced, but there isn’t fuzz layered onto the music, either. The guitars and drums interlock well, playing off of each other in near-perfect balance, but Denitzio’s vocals are always at the forefront.
It isn’t an overtly political album, though tracks like “What We’re Up Against” certainly tap into the current political moment and call people together to fight, with Denitzio singing, “Wait for history to count to 10/ Then you can come and get us, come and get me.” But 2017’s hectic political climate is really just the backdrop for Denitzio’s work, not the impulse behind it.
“I hear people say, ‘Punk is going to get good because we have someone shitty as president,’ and when I hear that, I sort of roll my eyes,” Denitzio said. “Punk and artists in general are always sort of this cultural mirror. There hasn’t been a time in our lifetime where there was nothing to be angry about politically and where there wasn’t injustice. And it’s even more important now that we are open and honest about the things that we’re seeing and the things that we’re feeling.”
“I hear people say, ‘Punk is going to get good because we have someone shitty as president,’ and when I hear that, I sort of roll my eyes.” — Lauren Denitzio
For the most part, these songs are more intimate than any protest anthem. Denitzio writes piercingly about gender, relationships, mental health and the need to be honest with yourself. On “Glutton (Reprise),” Denitzio sings, “I got some iron plans and intentions made of steel/ A life that’s good on paper but how does it feel?”
On album closer “Open Heart,” the title of which references the open heart surgery Denitzio had at age 25, the record’s punchiest instrumentation marches us along as Denitzio reflects on the struggles and scars of life and the way it sometimes takes “a season of loss to bring positive change.”
Self-preservation takes work, especially in a time when forces are mounting against you. In a year when the government is trying to restrict the dignity and rights of queer and trans folks, among so many others, improving and asserting yourself — recovering from trauma, from Twitter exhaustion, from a broken relationship — is political. Making it to tomorrow is political. The personal is always political, especially when you’re a member of a marginalized group. That’s part of why Denitzio is feeling more emboldened as a queer artist.
“People connect to our music knowing that it is coming from a queer and feminist perspective, and that means a lot to me,” Denitzio said. “I’m not as scared for us to be pigeonholed as I used to be.”
Denitzio understands what it’s like to look for yourself in the music you hear. In the lead up to the album, they were listening to Florence and the Machine, Sleater-Kinney and the Weakerthans. As they listened, they tried to understand what it was about particular favorite songs, which didn’t seem to have a ton in common, that made such an impact. They wanted to try and translate some of that power into Survival Pop.
“I’m lucky, I have music that reflects me back to myself, but not everyone does,” Denitzio said. “There are so many people that are being told they are less than people and shouldn’t be allowed to do so many things in the queer and trans community, and it is bonkers to me that that is the case. It’s definitely been rough for me and a lot of people, and however you can get through those things, all the better.”
Making Survival Pop has been a huge part of coping. As Worriers sets out on tour, Denitzio and the band are excited to keep building on the concept of the album and share it with fans. But what exactly is the concept, as Denitzio sees it?
“It’s self-preservation in the face of the racist, capitalist patriarchy,” they said. “At least, that’s what it is to me.”