Monday Motivation: Handguns

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If you’re anything like me, you probably started the day by recognizing that the start of a new work week had indeed arrived and then immediately began shaking your fists at the sky in anger. Monday is rarely anyone’s favorite day, and from what I have seen firsthand it feels safe to say it’s the one day of the week some people outright hate. I guess to them the arrival of the work week symbolizes the end of their quote/unquote freedom, and as a result they head into the office/factory/restaurant/store with a negative outlook already on their mind. This leads to bad attitudes, which only makes the experience of being at work worse, and for some reason it also seems to make time slow to a crawl. We’re not about that life, and we hope this post can do the same you that the song contained within it did for us.

One surefire way to know you’re beginning to grow older is when you realize you no longer relate to the vast majority of pop punk music the way you once did. If you were never that devoted to the genre I guess it’s entirely possible that such moments never have nor will happen to you, but I am confident there is some genre you connect with youth that you will struggle to feel close to at some point in the future. The point is, with age comes change, and when you are old enough to grasp the fact the themes of the genre(s) you love rarely evolve it can take some time to find a place within that scene that you still feel welcomed.

(This is/was the last anthem of my young love affair with pop punk)

For me, the breaking point came immediately after college. The Wonder Years had just released The Upsides during my final semester, and that record had quickly become the soundtrack to my journey out of adolescence. The real world was just around the corner, and when I found myself wondering what kind of future there may be for a college grad with a degree in Music Business who lived in West Michigan I felt a shiver of terror flow through my body. Graduation came and went, followed by months of applications being sent all over the industry, and by the fall I was taking a job at my local Hot Topic thanks almost entirely to the fact I knew a manager at another nearby store (his band needed coverage online and I, as it just so happens, had a music blog). It was literally as close to the ‘music business’ as I could get, and I quickly began to panic over whether or not I had steered my life in an very wrong direction.

Music had been my safe place up to that point, and to be more specific it was within the pop punk scene that I felt the most comfortable. There is a sense of community in pop punk that has existed since day one, and it’s in celebrating the things we can accomplish through our bonds with one another that has lead to many timeless songs being created. The aesthetic of the genre, to me, has always been something like a battle cry for making life whatever you want it to be. There is definitely talk of smaller details, like relationships, high school, and pizza, but at the end of the day the biggest pop punk artists tend to be those who talk about grabbing life by the proverbial horns and taking control.

The problem is, most those life lessons end right around the time the storytellers (aka songwriters) reach or outgrow the average age of a college student. We can debate the reasons for this, as the possibilities are as numerous as the number of bands with members in this age range, but more often than not it seems to be that it’s in that window between the late teen years and early twenties that most musicians start to become less connected to the lives their listeners lead. There will always be bands working day jobs just so they can keep their music dreams alive, but the biggest artists of the genre tend to become full time bands whose day to day struggles and experiences are very different than those who must face life as a college graduate with little to no clear paths to a career in their desired field. To cope with this, most artists turn their focus to life events, such as relationships and dealing with death, and the results are often quite good. However, they are not the same as the artist’s earlier material.

I’m not saying artists who pivot their lyrical focus are bad or in any way making a wrong turn. All I’m saying is at that point in my life, when I was scraping pennies together to pay rent for an apartment I didn’t care for in a city I wanted to leave, I could not find a band or record that spoke to me the way so many artists had just a year prior while I was still knee-deep in my studies. There were no anthems for the educated and unemployed, or at least none being created by the artists who had guided me up to that point, and I began to drift away from the genre I had spent the better part of the previous decade promoting at every opportunity.

As time passed I found new artists to love and I realized that my relationship with pop punk wasn’t over, but rather that it had simply begun to evolve. All my punk heroes raised me to believe it was on me to create a future for myself, so in time I was able to seek out artists that spoke to me in a way that I felt related to my post-college life experiences and I embraced them with open arms. Some of the music came from musicians in a similar position who were never able to make full time band life work, but most of it came from artists who chose to avoid college altogether. These artists didn’t celebrate their lack of higher education, but rather let fans know that just because college is where most aspire to be after high school it is not the only option available. They saw life as a veritable smorgasbord of opportunity, and they encouraged people to follow their hearts, but not without warning them that heartache may ensure.

I still struggle to find more than three or four pop punk releases a year that speak to me and the way I see the world today, but recently I came across one album that immediately soared into my favorite releases of the year. It comes from Handguns, a band with a history of telling life as it is, and the titled is Disenchanted. The record and band perfectly fit the description I gave in the preceding paragraph about artists who chose to avoid college altogether and face the struggles of adulthood head-on. This album focuses on the challenges those choices present, as well as the things in this world that are weighing on the band members. It’s a record made out of frustration, but also one made out of the understanding that few things in this life are actually within our control. The best you can hope to do is be yourself to the fullest extent possible.

This is not Handguns’ first album. They actually have two previous full length releases, as well as a few EPs chock full of basement show ready punk anthems. Each record the band has made has explored where the members were at in their lives when they entered the studio, and as a result fans of the band have been able to follow the group’s evolution both in music and in life since their inception. Disenchanted is the first of these releases to speak about life after you’ve begun to settle into your twenties, and it’s written with a near perfect balance of wit and angst that keeps you coming back again and again. You know the band has things they want to address, but they don’t allow making a good point about the way most people lead their lives get in the way of delivering infectious pop punk with massive genre appeal. Handguns, like all good adults, understand that perhaps the best way to incite meaningful change is by engaging people in a way that is assertive without being aggressive. You want to inspire change, not force it, and on Disenchanted Handguns find a way to do just that.

I wish I could tell you exactly why it was Disenchanted of all the pop punk albums released this year to grab me by the collar from track one, but the closest I have come to forming an explanation is realizing that I myself have struggled with my own frustrations about life and the world around me as of late. It can be incredibly hard to believe you can inspire change in the world, especially as just one person on a planet of billions. but when you listen to Disenchanted you realize you are never really alone. You may be on your own course in life, filled with twists and turns known only to you, but the desire to create something better for yourself and those you love is something felt by everyone at one point or another. When you listen to Disenchanted you are inspired to seek out like-minded individuals, perhaps even at a Handguns concert, and do something to create the world you want to see. It may be something big or it may be something that only impacts a select number of people, but size isn’t really what matters in these situations. What really matters is that you try, as often as possible, to make the world a better place.


James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.