One fateful evening in 2012, kismet pulled Reina and Gauraa into a porch conversation about Bishop Allen. They realized, despite having grown up 8,657 miles apart, they had listened to the same records, subscribed to the same podcasts and shared the same pretensions. Separated by distance again, the two have decided to pull all the stops necessary to preserve their insular culture of staying in and overanalyzing music. You can read their first dinner discussion here. Tonight, Reina and Gauraa cancel their plans to discuss one of the records that brought them together, All Time Low’s 2009 release Nothing Personal.
Reina: I was supposed to go to a concert tonight with a friend, but when I considered how long it takes me just to get back to my car, then how long it would take me to park my car, then how exhausting the show would be, then how tired I would be driving home, it made me want to cry. So I’m here drinking wine in bed instead. What about you?
Gauraa: This might surprise you but my only plans tonight consisted of falling down (well, staying down) a Google Images rabbit hole, looking up pictures of Basket, Gertrude Stein’s poodle. I went through a similar phase once with Fox News’ Dana Perino’s dog. And then again with Putin and his furry friends. Anyway, it was hard, an act of excruciating pain, really, but I temporarily x’d out of that tab so we could do what we were born to do: discuss All Time Low’s Nothing Personal. So tell me, Reina, what are your thoughts on All Time Low?
Reina: High school, specifically freshman year of high school, was the year I achieved peak pop-punk. I had just gone to the Warped Tour for the first time the summer before I started high school, and I soon found myself flocking to one of the three venues where my beloved pop-punk bands were playing almost every weekend. I think I saw All Time Low live three times in two years, which, from a normal person’s perspective, is a lot, isn’t it? This album came out the summer after my freshman year and I couldn’t believe how good it was. In all seriousness, this is a really good album. It talks about love, loss, heartbreak, breaking hearts, and everything in between in a way that I could understand at age 16. And even now at 23, I can listen to these songs and remember exactly what it was like to have my heart broken in high school or the hours I spent daydreaming about being a girl who breaks hearts. It was something about this band, listening to them made me feel cool. I know that sounds kind of… stupid? But seriously, there’s something about the pop-punk community (I never thought I would be writing that) that’s inviting; as if listening to these songs and really believing them from your core makes you a part of a club. I even once made a friend at a show based on the fact that we both liked the band. I remember she was there with her step-mom and I was there by myself, and we clung to each other and gushed about how good Nothing Personal is, and she met them at a VIP meet and greet and even told them I said hi. I went to a lot of shows by myself in high school, but I never felt lonely, because when All Time Low was up there on stage singing “Therapy” and everyone, including me, sang along to every single word, it felt like I belonged, you know? I mean, the moment this album was brought up, we both instantly knew that we fit in with each other, and this album has been a soundtrack to our happy times and our sad times, and the times when things got messy. It’s been a good friend to us, I think. Do I even need to ask how you got into this album, Gauraa?
Gauraa: This may be a little hard to believe now (I can only hope), but prior to my life as a regrettably-tattooed-but-reformed-and-worldly Class Act, I was a pop-punk kid. My middle school career consisted of drumming and singing and tambourining and hand-clapping for whatever Glamor Kills-wearing band would take me in. I spent the afternoons after school in the back of a packed car with older, guitar boys and their studio equipment, singing along to New Found Glory and Blink 182 and All Time Low, as we drove off to some far-off recording studio on the outskirts of our town. We recorded songs that sounded like other songs while desperately trying to reconstruct ourselves so we could look and feel just like other bands. There was even a point where we tried to call Jakarta “J-town.” It didn’t stick. Still, back then, we’d do anything to sound cooler and hipper and More American. And for a while back in 2009, prior to our discovery of the Replacements and Black Flag and Minutemen and any other band endorsed by Michael Azerrad, “police tape, chalk lines, tequila shots in the dark scene of the crime” was the only brand of American Cool known to us.
And so, we spent the preceding month of summer counting down to the release of Nothing Personal. When the long-awaited album finally came out, it occupied all the spaces between our teenage bedrooms and classrooms. We knew every single word, every guitar progression. We were the city kids who aspired to suburban living just so we had something to sing about. The music pumped us up on a convenient, momentary sense of rebelliousness. It allowed us to slam the doors on our Asian parents when they reprimanded us about our failing Math grades and make nice again so we could ask them for money to buy amplifiers (I know, awful).
I don’t really have love lost for All Time Low today but Nothing Personal reminds me, in equalled warmth and cringeworthiness, of a time I was immersed in the idea of being a musician to “get out” and write home about my new, cool, hip adventures and misdemeanors. In many ways, Nothing Personal emboldened my frail, first hopes and ambitions, and it’ll always make me think about those drives with the Glamor Kills boys. I just hope they’ve grown into better and bigger things, and that they no longer say “Frisco” a la Alex Gaskarth like it’s a cool thing.
Profound Genius annotation: He’s been having a bad couple of days, but in the grand scheme of things, he’s not going to let it get to him. It’s going to get better.
Best lyric: “Maybe it’s not my weekend/ But it’s gonna be my year”
Gauraa: To fully comprehend the manner and gravity of pop-punk singles like this one (and this one), you’d have to first understand the psychology of a fourteen-year-old. Because this song was everything when I’d failed a math test or slammed the door on my parents after a fight (presumably) over my curfew. When I’d lock myself in my room to scribble “I hate my life” in my diary, page after page, in a font size of gross proportion. Teenagers, and I say this boldly and with grave distance, constantly feel like their lives are falling apart. “Weightless” was gently emboldening in the way it empathized with that middle-school outsider sentimentality. Of being stuck in a rut, fetishizing the future, whether that meant starting a band or aspiring towards fame or just, well, better luck with people and places in college.
Reina: “Manage me, I’m a mess.” “I’m over getting older,” “Maybe it’s not my weekend, but it’s gonna be my year” ? This song is chock full of great one liners. Actually, this whole album is full of good one liners. Ones that we’ve recited to each other time and again. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve told myself, that it’s not my weekend, but it’s gonna be my year, I could probably retire tomorrow. I’m so over getting old.
Gauraa: Do you ever think we “got” this song (and a lot of other songs) a little too prematurely? “I’m over getting older” feels like what could only be described as the essence of being in your twenties. “Watching while the minutes pass as I go nowhere.” The weekend, the year, it all feels fleeting.
Reina: When I was younger, I would always fantasize about how much better my life would be when I’m older, while dreading getting old and having responsibilities at the same time. Well, I’m older now, and I’m still fantasizing about how much better my life will be when I’m older and dreading getting older. It’s like we’re always waiting for something great to happen, and then regretting all the time we wasted waiting… or something like that, right? It never struck me when I was younger, and even now I sometimes have to remind myself that some people have real problems. Some people have had a bad weekend that lasted their entire lives. So maybe I had a bad weekend, but at least I can look forward to it being my year. Pop-punk songs sometimes take away that perspective and focus so much on the little things that make us feel like our lives are falling apart when they’re actually very much intact, don’t you think?
Gauraa: Absolutely. I mean, to a certain extent, pop-punk specifically caters to a sense of privileged youth, the bored and shadowed suburbia. And since there’s probably a very slim market for pop-punk bands who discuss consumerism and capitalism and politics with their thirteen-year-old audience, I feel like they often have to resort to manufacturing another anger, a personal, more immediate, hormone-fueled angst. When you’re in middle school, ignored or bullied or left out, and you hear someone sing, “Do you feel like no one understands you?” your face lights up with an understanding nod and bam! It’s an instant connection. There’s something very dramatic about identifying with a song and hearing yourself in it. It’s like being in a film. The moment this happens, you’re split into two versions of you: the movie you, skimming dramatically through the surface of Song, and the real, less tragic you. I feel like pop-punk toys with that mental landscape a little bit, often prescribing problems to an already persecuted age-group. But then again, so much music prescribes problems and all of us are a little persecuted. When it comes to perspective or lack thereof, I can only hope that the pop-punk kid grows up and into the Springsteen discography.
Reina: Pop-punk kids come together because we all feel like no one understands us, but that in itself is a kind of understanding. Life a little less scary if so many people, like the cute boys in All Time Low, feel the same way, right?
“Break Your Little Heart”
Profound Genius annotation: She keeps talking instead of acting (probably she doesn’t want to just have sex, but start something more profound like a relationship). Obviously he doesn’t like it: she’s a cute girl, but if she never gets to the point, then she’s not even worth it.
Best lyric: “I’m wasted, wasting time/ You talk for hours but you’re wasting lines”
Reina: Remember many a drunken Four Loko night spent belting along to this song? We wanted to believe we were heartbreakers even though we were definitely the ones getting our hearts broken. I remember specifically for some reason or another we started singing this on our walk home after seeing Ke$ha our freshman year. “You were fake, I was great, nothing personal” is such a good line. It’s nothing special, but it’s what you need to hear sometimes.
Gauraa: I love how each one of these Friday Night Dinner Discussions is peppered with references to Four Loko, our classy lady, sophisticated drink of choice. The Château Latour of our early years, if you will. But, yes, how could I not remember? In lieu of conceding to the fates of collegiate half-loves, we’d get piss drunk and manufacture an alternate reality where we, for a lack of a better phrase, broke little hearts and laughed all the way to the hospital. And at the risk of sounding profoundly corny, it’s kind of amazing that we can hear these songs when we look back, isn’t it? It’s like, there’s that terrible break-up and there’s us on waddling along the stairs of Mount Olympus, hanging by the railings, singing a fucking All Time Low song. “Break Your Little Heart,” ladies and gentlemen, the emotional relic of times past.
Reina: “You were fake, I was great, nothing personal” is the line I wish I would have thought of all the times an ex texted me for “closure,” you know? I think every healthy mourning period should include a drunken singalong to “Break Your Little Heart.” Who cares if you’re alone now if you can convince yourself that “there’s nothing surgery can do when I break your little heart in two.”
“Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)”
Profound Genius annotation: According to the May 2009 “Alternative Press” issue, this song is about “You being in the room with someone you really want to bang, but you can’t, but you should.”
Best lyric: “Cause you left me; police tape, chalk line/ Tequila shots in the dark, scene of the crime”
Gauraa: You know all that dollar store wisdom surrounding depression i.e. “sadness is addictive” and “misery loves company” and what not? I think I felt a similar sad-high when it came to my pursuit of boys. Somewhere deep, deep down, I think I got hooked onto the feeling of waiting around almost entirely because it created a space for music that aggressively deflected my feelings. I’d listen to “Damed If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)” to ruminate and hypothesize my current predicament and kind of just enjoy my inability to arrive at a conclusion. It seems strange now but it felt like a grotesque, hedonistic luxury then.
Reina: “Tequila shots in the dark, scene of the crime” :’) Is that our line or what?
Gauraa: God, Reina, “Tequila shots in the dark scene of the crime” is forever our brand. But, okay, can we PLEASE address genre of comedy that is pop-punk music videos? I suppose it started with Blink-182 and that carried on over to the likes of Good Charlotte circa the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” music video? Then along came All Time Low to partake in the quirky game-show tradition. I have no idea why this stuck because it’s a fucking terrible idea and I spend every scripted minute cringing and wishing for the song to start already.
Reina: Ugh, that’s gotta be the worst pop-punk trend of all time. In close second is the music video plotline with the band making it to the big time and almost selling out while their evil label/manager makes them try on a variety of personas, only for them to realize that being themselves is what suits them best. Or some variation of that (see: Poppin’ Champagne). Also, getting back to the song, aren’t we all “damned if I do ya, damned if I don’t,” unless it’s the person you’re going to marry? I don’t know, like unless you stay together forever, you’re bound to break-up eventually, so you’re damned, but, if you don’t get into relationships because you hate breaking up, you’re also damned to eternal loneliness. I’ve always felt that when thinking about dating someone or hooking up, you know? Like why not? We’re either going to stay together forever or break-up, but there’s only one way to find out, really.
Gauraa: I feel that way about life, in general. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. There’s no winning. Nobody ever wins.
“Lost In Stereo”
Profound Genius annotation: He’s portraying a girl that’s tough and at the same time looks cute. She’s got tattoos and doesn’t act in the most gentle and delicate way; she can poison who loves her like a snake-bite poisons who gets it, and this danger is hidden under a false smile.
Best lyric: “Tattoos and a switch-blade attitude/ Snake-bite heart with a bubble-gum smile/ Sex in stereo, don’t turn the radio dial.”
Reina: “Tattoos and a switch-blade attitude/Snake-bite heart with a bubble-gum smile” is everything I aspire to be.
Gauraa: Songs like “Lost In Stereo” have always had such an aspirational quality to them. Like, which girl doesn’t want to be that line? It was a negation at large: listening to the song made you feel like being the song. To be “lost in stereo” was to be lost so Alex Gaskarth would deem you “sex in stereo” and thereby find you.
Reina: Oh man, don’t we all wish that? It’s like no matter how much I grow up, I will always dream of being lost in stereo/sex in stereo, everything these boys would want in a girl in the most sexually liberating way possible?
Gauraa: It’s like that scene in the pilot of Gilmore Girls where Dean tells Rory he admires her concentration while reading: “Last Friday these two guys were tossing around a ball and one guy nailed the other right in the face. I mean, it was a mess, blood everywhere, the nurse came out, the place was in chaos, his girlfriend was all freaking out, and you just sat there and read. I mean, you never even looked up. I thought, ‘I have never seen anyone read so intensely before in my entire life. I have to meet that girl.’” Ever since I saw that scene, I aspired to be the grossly concentrated girl behind a book just so a Dean would like me for it. Makes me wonder: are we ever who we really are? Or are we who we think others would like us to be?
Reina: I think a little of both. We all have the ideal versions of ourselves that we strive to be, but everyone has a unique way of trying to achieve that ideal. And I think that process makes us who we are, doesn’t it?
Profound Genius annotation: This song is about partying and getting drunk and having fun not giving a damn about anything.
Best lyric: “Feels like I’m falling in love/ When I’m falling to the bathroom floor”
Gauraa: Not trying to aggrandize the pop-punk deliberations of “Stella,” but this song once mirrored my serial teenage locker-room infatuations. Falling in love at the drop of the hat, confusing a temporary high for love just because it felt, I don’t know, fun.
Reina: I think this might be my favorite song on the album? I mean, alcoholism is no joke, but “Feels like I’m falling in love when I’m falling to the bathroom floor”? How could you not love this song with a line like that. I’m not proud of it, but this was definitely the anthem that fueled our blackout binges during our respective periods of heartbreak, wasn’t it?
Gauraa: Oh god Reina, I am only now figuring out that this song was about Stella, the beer and not Stella, the girl. This is so embarrassing. How did I not put this together before? Bottles breaking, blackout binges, “I remember how you tasted.” It makes so much sense now. But now that this song has taken on a whole new meaning for me, I must say “staggering through misplaced words and a sinking feeling” is probably the most apt way to describe a lot of our drunken nights.
Reina: It’s like we blackout to forget about the embarrassing things we did the other night when we blacked out, and it’s a vicious cycle. Don’t be embarrassed! It’s a clever song, where it really could be about a girl or a beer, and maybe that’s the point? You know when you’re really infatuated with someone, like someone you know is no good for you, you let your feelings get the best of you and wake up with regrets and sinking feeling? Well, isn’t that kind of like going on a blackout binge? Maybe the next day you’ll feel bad about yourself and find another one night stand to wake up and regret?
Gauraa: Are we in love, or are we intoxicated? Are we human, or are we dancer?
“Sick Little Games”
Profound Genius annotation: As a celebrity, he understands that having your private life invaded by paparazzi and judged by the public can be uncomfortable. But he also loves to read about what’s going on with other famous people. In a way, he feels he’s fueling a business that he is against.
Best lyric: “I’m turned on by the tabloids, you would never have guessed/ That I’m a sucker for their gossip, man, I take it too far/ I bottle up my Hollywood, and watch them name their kids after cars”
Gauraa: Ok so before we get to the, um, politics of this song, can we please talk about how this song has snatches of OneRepublic’s “Apologize” in its bridge?
Reina: I know what you’re saying. The “If I play my cards right” part is eerily similar. I want to believe it’s a common musical phrase, but “Apologize” came out before this album, and was probably massively popular around the time they were writing and in and out of the studio… (insert skeptical emoji here).
Gauraa: Maybe it was just, like, taken for granted that pop-punk and Top 40 were mutually exclusive?
Reina: Pop-punk bands always seem like they have something to say about Hollywood and celebrity lifestyles, don’t they? Sometimes they categorize themselves with celebrities even though they’re not that famous, you know? (Unless you’re the Madden Bros. or Pete Wentz.) But anyway, I think I just heard the bridge section of this song for the first time. I’ve definitely listened to this song all the way through multiple times, but I wonder why I only just noticed the bridge.
Gauraa: I’m telling you. It’s because you couldn’t place your finger on what made it so familiar.
Reina: All potential plagiarism aside, this song is essentially about the Gossip Girl paradox, isn’t it? You want to be popular enough to be on Gossip Girl, but when you get to that point, Gossip Girl starts ruining your life, but you can’t stop reading because you like to see other people have their lives ruined too? Something like that?
Profound Genius annotation: N/A
Best lyric: “Tonight’s like a knife, would you cut me with your kiss? I bleed, red lips, you’re unbelievable”
Reina: This song is so cheesy, but also I feel like it’s such a good karaoke song. But I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror after singing “When the world comes crashing down, who’s ready to party?” out loud. Also, “Frisco”. Ew.
Gauraa: WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE. Next.
Profound Genius annotation: He’s ready to stop pushing people away and finally love someone without worrying.
Best lyric: “Take off your shirt, your shoes/ Those skinny jeans I bought for you/ We’re diving in, there’s nothing left to lose”
Reina: Hearing Alex Gaskarth sing “I wanna fall so in love with you and no one else could ever mean half as much to me as you do now” has made me feel feelings I didn’t know I had. You know Alex was my favorite. Do you ever imagine running into a past “friend” (that we both knew was more than a friend), and being able to give it a second chance to actually catch feelings? I don’t know if there are any past flames I’d want to rekindle, but the sentiment is a little romantic, isn’t it?
Gauraa: “A relit cigarette never tastes the same, and that’s all I’ll preach about rekindling an old flame.” But yes, I do love this song, and as much as I don’t want to get with any of my past flames, I do, hypothetically, HYPOTHETICALLY, appreciate the prospect of “breaking down walls” for corrective measures. Anyway, Alex was my favorite too. And I vividly remember getting into a fight with my friend Monica over him back in high school. All Time Low were playing a show in Jakarta and we were (completely oblivious to reality) discussing who would get with whom.
Reina: Let’s promise each other now that we will never let a boy, especially not Alex Gaskarth, come between us. Ever.
Gauraa: Cross my heart and hope to die.
Profound Genius annotation:This song was written for Lisa, his wife. At the time this was written she was his high school sweetheart and on and off girlfriend over the years.
Best lyric: “Too much love can be too much/ We had too much time, too much us/ So we fought like tomorrow was promised”
Reina: This song and the one before it are songs that I just… don’t know. I’ve just never connected with this song, I guess. I know it’s supposed to be a sappy love song, but I feel like it’s trying to do too much. [Cue the drums: ba-dum tss] Do you know what I mean?
Gauraa: Couldn’t agree more. It just feels too trying, too deliberate a variation, almost. A filler, at best.
“Keep The Change (You Filthy Animal)”
Profound Genius annotation: This song is about a guy that likes a girl , but the girl’s best friend (who likes the guy) keeps saying bad things to the girl about this guy so she’ll get away from him
Best lyric: “You’re a saint, you’re a queen/ And I’m just another boy without a crown”
Reina: Is it sad that this song just finally made sense to me after reading these profound genius annotations? For some reason I thought it was like, this girl who was being mean that he still really liked who apparently had a bunch of secrets, which is why he wanted to know what her best friend knew that he didn’t know. That seemed like a really pop-punk scenario to me, but a vindictive best friend who thinks you aren’t good enough for her friend is realistic too, I guess.
Gauraa: I’ve always loved this song but vividly recollect struggling to grasp the plot when the album had just come out. I thought the same, and in that context, loved hearing “tell me what your best friend knows.” In that sense, there was something so intimate about wanting to know the version of her her best friend knows. And that was cute and rather wish-fulfilling. The fact that this song is about trying to get to the friend of a girl who likes him (“You couldn’t have me/ I didn’t want you”) is almost too cruel. I kind of don’t want to hear it because in my mind that girl is always me. Not the girl, but her best friend. The girl he perceives as “vindictive.” See, this song really is confusing.
Reina: GOD. That line kills me. The world is seemingly full of “You couldn’t have me/I didn’t want you”s isn’t it? I mean, that alone would be enough for me to become a vindictive best friend. But not to you, obviously. You’re an angel and I want the best for you so I would be giving any boy who likes you advice about all of your favorite things.
Gauraa: Oh please don’t. I can’t imagine “She owns a Hello Kitty coffee maker and can manage to last 7 minutes before steering the conversation toward Steely Dan” sitting well with a member of the opposite sex. But, goes without saying, if you like him, I’d tell him “what your best friend knows.” Even if ‘he’ is Alex Gaskarth. Because that’s what best friends are for.
“A Party Song (The Walk of Shame)”
Profound Genius annotation: This song is about a ‘friends with benefits’ type of relationship.
Best lyric: “Mixed drinks, mixed feelings of elation/ I should have known it was a one night invitation”
Gauraa: First of all, this song is insanely catchy. And second of all: So. Many. Zingers. “Make you come just to watch you leave” was 100% a double entendre that just floated over my head at age fourteen.
Reina: “Nothing more than a casual fuck – isn’t that just how we operate?” *sigh* That line makes me anxious just thinking about the context. Seems like friends with benefits always end with some form of “Don’t sweat it, it’s over now, our time ran out,” if that makes sense.
Gauraa: I feel like this song is more about a one night stand rather than a friends-with-benefits scenario. He’s talking about falling in night for the night: “Let’s drink to the feelings of temptation/ You and I are an overnight sensation.” Though I think they could’ve come up with a cleverer title, (“The Walk of Shame”? Really?) “our time ran out” is kind of the perfect way to address it as it is, isn’t it?
Reina: It most definitely is. And seriously, their time clearly ran out trying to come up with a better title for this song.
Gauraa: I love it when you out-Dad joke me.
Profound Genius annotation: This song is about Alex’s brother who killed himself when he was in high school. The song shows Alex’s conflicting emotions about what happened. He’s angry with his brother but he misses him and he loves him.
Best lyric: “When I woke up alone/ I had everything/ A handful of moments/ I wished I could change/ And a tongue like a nightmare that cut like a blade”
Reina: I remember when I was in high school, I tried to take a stab at teaching myself the guitar, and this was one of the songs I successfully learned. Unfortunately for me, I only had a solid year of playing this song before I got embarrassed to say that the only song I could play on guitar was an All Time Low song. But all embarrassment aside, I remember posting this song to my Tumblr like every other week. I mean, aren’t we all walking travesties from time to time?
Gauraa: We are. We are indeed. I found this song at a time I wasn’t mature enough to grapple with therapy, but I’ve always lived with a “handful of moments I wish I could change.” Don’t we all? I loved this song. I still love this song. But I think I understand it better now. It’s easy to send someone to therapy, or to go to therapy, believing that it’ll be the end-all, absolute solution. It never is. There’s never an end-all, absolute solution. When I hear this song now, having some context, I can hear helpless anger, I can hear anguish. Is that bad? Shallow? That the moment you know someone’s lost someone, the moment death is alluded to, you inadvertently sensationalize the whole thing? I hope I’m not sensationalizing. I don’t mean to sensationalize, I just think that depression, particularly at a young age, is a lot heavier than it is pegged to be and sometimes it takes human kindness rather than an hour of clinical couch time to absolve the problem.
Reina: I’m not crying, you’re crying. I love this song too. I also think depression, as a term, is thrown around so casually that a lot of people mistake simply being sad to being depressed, you know? I feel like we always talk about therapy and mental illness and have this argument about pop-punk, but anyway I agree that depression at a young age is definitely a lot heavier than a lot of people are willing to accept. And you’re right, it takes a lot more than an objective person listening to your problems, to make it feel okay.
Gauraa: Alright, Reina. Let’s take a deep breath and listen to the old brag of our hearts: “I am I am I am.”
Reina and Gauraa did not expect for it to be such an emotional Friday night. They insist they need to be alone now. You can find them here next Friday, discussing Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life.