Is honesty always the best policy? It can certainly make for some incredibly uncomfortable listening...
Six Pack: Uncomfortably Honest Rock Anthems
You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you. And sometimes it is...
Paramore - Misery Business (Riot!, 2007)
Paramore’s breakthrough single, Misery Business from their second album Riot! seemed to capture a mood across the summer of 2007. It was breezy, buoyant and bouncy enough to be good fun to jump about to, but its lyrics were pointed enough to give them some depth. In the song, the band’s singer Hayley Williams takes aim at an unidentified women, criticising her for her lascivious behaviour before bragging that Williams had stolen her boyfriend anyway. The Paramore singer was open about it too, happy to talk in interviews about how glad she was to have ‘beaten’ the other woman.
“I feel like there are a lot of women or girls who use their bodies and sex to control people,” she said. “One day that hit a little too close to home because someone in particular was controlling someone that I love very much with her body, with sex and just grossness. I felt like she was always playing mind games. She was a very manipulative person. It’s crazy to feel that she could be so controlling. All of us saw her do it. It definitely hurt all of us. I wasn’t cool with it so I had to let it out because I won. I beat her, dude. I hope she’s feeling it right now.”
What she was less open about was who the boy in question was. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but it was at about that time that Williams began a relationship with the band’s guitarist Josh Farro …
What happened next, though, was a good deal more uncomfortable. Williams and Farro didn’t last long and, by 2009, they had broken up – giving Williams a great deal of material for the next album Brand New Eyes. Great swathes of the record were written about Farro (Playing God and Ignorance being two notable songs about him), yet Williams had no shame about asking the guitarist to play on songs that were ostensibly about himself.
“I would say that a large majority of those songs have to do with the relationship we had and then that we had to mend,” she told MTV. “And it was really hard, because we were all friends, and then going through a breakup and going through any kind of tension as a band really affected all the lyrics.”
She later said that writing the record, and getting him to play on it, helped mend relationships within the band. Farro begged to differ, saying their friendship disappeared as soon as their relationship was over.
“Hayley claimed that this record reunited us as a band and made us grow closer together, when in reality we were all growing further apart. Suddenly the band had spilt into two sides. Touring became more difficult since we couldn’t agree on anything. The friendships our band once had were no longer existent.”
At which point he walked out of the band.
My Chemical Romance - Famous Last Words (The Black Parade, 2006)
When My Chemical Romance went into the Paramour Mansion in Los Angeles to start work on their third album, The Black Parade, there was something about the atmosphere in the residential building that got into both the recordings and their heads. The band’s producer, Rob Cavallo, recalled that “it got freaky. The house was kind of haunted and some of the members – I think Mikey [Way] in particular – were seeing ghosts.”
Indeed he was. Mikey, the band’s bassist who was already fragile and prone to anxiety, hated the place, referring to it simply as “that crazy fucking house”. He would wake in the middle of the night with terrors then curl up and sleep with his brother, the band’s singer Gerard Way, shaking with nerves.
Meanwhile The Black Parade sessions became incredibly intense, with Gerard saying the band “became fucking madmen” as they pushed themselves hard both emotionally and physically. They would go into a room called The Heavy Room and have long blood-letting sessions with in which they often brutally honest about how they felt about each other, their album contributions and the music they were making. It became too much for Mikey to bear. The bassist left the house, left the sessions and, riddled with anxiety, sought help with a series of doctors.
The recording session ground to a halt, creativity dried up and the remaining members said they walked about the Paramour Mansion like zombies, unable to record … until one night. Guitarist Ray Toro was toying with a song then called The Saddest Music In The World and, when Gerard heard the sounds he was making, he joined him. He sang about the only thing on his mind: his brother. And he was not sympathetic. He challenged his brother, asked where his heart was, and pointed out that he himself wasn’t afraid to keep on going – the unasked question being, ‘So why are you?’ It was a hell of a thing to write about his brother while that brother was seeking medical help for anxiety.
The song, though, was extraordinary and became both The Black Parade’s closing track and, arguably, its standout one. When Mikey heard it, he was remarkably sanguine: he told the band it was an anthem.
Biffy Clyro - Folding Stars (Puzzle, 2007)
It’s one thing to write painfully honestly about an ex, but to do what Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil did on the band’s 2007 album Puzzle was something else entirely.
Biffy had been in a difficult place before Puzzle. Their previous record, Infinity Land, had been released in 2004 and three years of label difficulties followed it – meaning the band were forced out of the public eye. That, though, was minor in comparison to what Neil had been through. When his mother died during that period, it tore him apart and Puzzle is very much his response. To open the record with a song with a title as bleak as Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies gives some clue as to his emotional state, but it is on Folding Stars that he is at his most wounded.
The chorus finds him singing his mother’s name, Eleanor, before pleading for another minute with her “because, it’s not getting easier”. It’s both haunting and savagely desperate at the same time – a howl for help.
“It’s a real tough one,” he said. “This song is for no-one else but me and my mum. It’s about her death and how much I miss her. I wanted to write something for her that she would have liked and listened to. Mum always liked the quiet songs.”
He found it almost impossible to write, but recording it was even harder – the most uncomfortable thing he has ever had to commit to tape.
“I played it once or twice at home and I got really upset. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to say anything as honest as this. But I decided that the best art should be brutally honest. It was horrible to record and it’s horrible to play live. I can’t even listen to it.”
Difficult though it was, however, it was something that helped him grieve. “I wasn’t letting anyone into that part of my life,” he said. “I’m actually quite a secretive person. I don’t share things like this with my close friends or even my wife. As much of a cliché as it is, music helps me process my mind in the same way other people might talk to their friends. This song, in particular, is me talking to myself and trying to sort things out. There are times I wonder, though, whether I exposed too much of myself. I thought honesty was the best policy – and this was pure honesty.”
Bullet For My Valentine - Breaking Point (Temper, Temper, 2013)
Almost all of Bullet For My Valentine’s most recent album Temper, Temper could be included on this list, but the album’s opener Breaking Point is perhaps the most obvious example of an uncomfortable song about people close to the band – largely because it was explicitly about the band.
In December 2011, Bullet For My Valentine were on tour in South America and were at each other’s throats. “It got a little bit ugly,” said singer, guitarist and songwriter Matt Tuck. “There was bitching between the band members, things were going on behind people’s backs. I don’t want to go into too much detail because it’s our business. But it almost came to blows.”
He decided he had had enough. He accused the rest of the band of drinking too much (which they admitted), he told them their behaviour was “embarrassing” and that they were making “tits of themselves”. He threatened to quit – which, given he wrote all the music, would have meant the end of the band.
Then he thought about it and did something else. He decided he was going to write the band’s new album on his own, without any of the usual input from the other guitar players in the band. Not only that, he was going to do it in a luxury studio in Thailand while they stayed at home in their native Wales. A snowy Wales. He would take drummer Michael ‘Moose’ Thomas with him, and the other two members could sit at home and twiddle their thumbs.
“It absolutely ripped my guts out. I couldn’t understand why it had to be done like that,” said Bullet’s guitarist Michael ‘Padge’ Paget.
“They were very upset and pissed off,” said Tuck. “But there was no option – they didn’t need to be there. It would have hindered the record greatly. But I understand why they were pissed off about it.”
In Thailand, Tuck set about piecing together an album in which he laid clear his feelings about his bandmates and what they had been through. And he didn’t pull any punches. “It was nice to write about something I gave a shit about for once,” said Tuck. “It was almost like a therapy session and Don [Gilmore, producer] was doing his best to pull it out of me, the little fucker. It was the most personal stuff I’d ever written. And it was coming out quick. It was too powerful not to get it out. This album will almost be like a scar.”
And then he flew home, told the band the songs were about them, and told them to record them. “As a songwriter and lyricist, what else am I supposed to say?” said Tuck. “If it’s not from the heart, it’s bullshit.”
But, oddly enough, it all worked out. Though Bullet were recording songs in which Tuck was telling them he was fed up with them, the process actually helped heal them.
“He did say some of the songs are about some of the arguments we had and some of the stresses we went through,” said bassist Jay James. “A lot of anger built up I suppose. We 100% trust him, though. We’re four best friends and we trust each other with our lives.”
You Me At Six - Bite My Tongue (Sinners Never Sleep, 2011)
Matt Tuck is not the only singer in a band who has turned on his bandmates. Josh Franceschi, You Me At Six’s singer, is not above taking a pop at his colleagues if he thinks it fits the song.
When You Me At Six released their second album, 2010’s Hold Me Down, they were not getting on terribly well. The problems started on the 2009 Warped Tour when a singer in another band told Franceschi that, as lyricist, he was entitled to a bigger cut of the royalties. Though Franceschi had no intention of acting on the advice, the rest of the band eyed him suspiciously – yet never actually raised their concerns with him. “No-one asked me outright if I was going to do it,” said Franceschi. “If they had, they’d have got the answer straight away: no.”
Still, a rot had set in. “I would come off tour and be quite happy not to see any of the band at all,” said Franceschi. “By the end of 2009, Dan [Flint, drummer] and I were barely talking.”
It was the usual stresses and strains of touring that were getting them down but the problem was that they barely had time to breath. Hold Me Down was released in 2010 and it kept them back out on the road. “That Hold Me Down cycle was probably one of the best years of our career professionally, but one of the worst personally,” said Franceschi in 2011.
The results were Bite My Tongue, a song in which Franceschi got all his feelings about his bandmates off his chest. “It’s me saying to the other four, ‘You’re not always as great as you think you are,” said the singer. And he was saying it bluntly too. Recorded for the band’s third album, 2011’s Sinners Never Sleep, it features one lyric quite prominently: “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” screams guest vocalist Oli Sykes. Given that Franceschi intended the words to be addressed at his bandmates, it must have made things pretty awkward in the studio.
“Erm... let me think about that,” said guitarist Max Helyer, tactfully. “I suppose I’m glad he got things off his chest. I’m glad he doesn’t have to be worried about what he says.”
Drummer Dan Flint was a bit less tactful: “I think, what’s frustrating for the rest of the band is that there are plenty of times I’ve wanted to tell Josh to fuck off. But because I’m not the singer or lyricist, I can’t say it in a song.”
But again, as with Bullet, the song actually helped heal things between the five members. Speak to them now, and they couldn’t be closer. Turns out honesty is the best policy after all.
Taking Back Sunday - Cute Without The E (Cut From The Team) (Tell All Your Friends, 2002)
Should you ever find yourself in a relationship with Adam Lazzara then tap him up for some advance royalties. Because the Taking Back Sunday singer is not afraid of writing about his former girlfriends in his songs. On the band’s debut album, Tell All Your Friends, Lazzara was in no mood to bury his feelings about other people. On There’s No ‘I’ In Team, for example, he borrows lyrics from the band Brand New solely to have a go at them.
But it’s on the album’s most famous song, Cute Without The E (Cut From The Team), that he really lays into his ex-girlfriend. He sarcastically refers to her as Princess or Angel throughout, bitterly complaining about what he saw as her unfaithfulness.
“You go through a lot of trauma when you’re in your late teens, especially to do with love,” he said. “At the time, it was a relationship that seemed really tragic but, looking back, it was just something that happened. There is an underlying feeling of being betrayed but not really understanding why in the song. I think that’s why people connect to it.”
The only thing was, he didn’t actually tell his ex that he was writing a song about her. At least not until it was out and had become an early emo anthem across the summer of 2002.
“She wasn’t really too happy about it,” said Lazzara. “John [Nolan, TBS guitarist] and I would often go to a diner near our apartment to write lyrics. We’d go over our words and realise that the people we were writing about were going to be really pissed at us.”
Not that he learned his lesson. On the band’s next album, 2004’s Where You Want To Be, he was at it again on A Decade Under The Influence. “I wrote the lyrics after I broke up with a long-term girlfriend,” he said. “Shortly before the relationship ended, she had bought tickets to a Coldplay show. After we split, we weren’t really getting along but she said we should still go to the concert. We drove to Philadelphia to see it and it was really, really awkward. The reason we weren’t together was strictly my own fault, so it made it very weird. It was a very uncomfortable time.”
What he neglected to mention, though, was that he was going to put it all into a song.