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10 years of Get Better: Lemuria revisit their breakthrough album

Indie-punks Lemuria explain the poignant story behind their debut album Get Better, and why they've now decided to tour the album in full

“If I didn’t write those lyrics and songs, I would maybe have forgot how I felt, because this all happened so quickly,” states Alex Kerns, drummer and vocalist of Buffalo-based indie-punk band Lemuria, and chief songwriter of Get Better, the 2007 debut album which would soon become their breakthrough.

Written in the wake of the untimely passing of Kerns’ father, Get Better was an unexpected and deeply poignant response to Kerns’ personal tragedy. “We’d done a crazy long tour, we were in Kansas about to play a show and I got a call and was told that my dad had died,” explains Kerns. “So, we all just flew home. We were already ready to record an album – I had written a few songs already that weren’t super-sad or anything like that, like Pants and a couple of others – but then [I] just started writing a lot, [and] the album came out to be Get Better, which is pretty sombre compared to a lot of our stuff before that.”

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, where I was writing songs about things I’m only going to go through once,” he continues. “[Two of] the songs, Hawaiian T-Shirt and Wardrobe, are more about things you only think once you lose someone close to you. My parents were divorced, so it was up to me and my brother to take care of everything legally with my dad’s death. One of the things was going through his apartment and figuring out what we wanted to keep, what we needed to donate, and finding the signs of what led to his death at this really young age; discovering things about him personally that we had no idea about. It was just a really unusual and surreal experience. I didn’t really know how to talk about it, so I just wrote songs about it instead. Luckily I was in a band with people I was really comfortable to share those with.”

Those people, guitarist Sheena Ozzella and then-bassist Jason Draper, had been making music with Kerns in Lemuria for years before their official debut was released, experimenting and growing together towards the more mature sound captured in Get Better. “Sheena and I went to a lot of punk shows [together] when we were young,” says Kerns. “We ended up just starting playing music together – I didn’t really know how to play drums, she didn’t know how to play guitar, we just kind of learned together. Over the years we ended up starting Lemuria. We toured a lot, and we put out a bunch of 7”s and splits on record label I started called Art Of The Underground. I started trading records with other labels [and] ended up trading with Mike Park, from Asian Man [Records]. He offered to put out the record, and that’s how this all ended up happening.”

Though Get Better came to represent something slightly different musically, the difference in the band’s sound wasn’t entirely planned. “It was interesting,” remarks Kerns. “The dude we were recording with – his name’s Doug White and he’s very awesome – his two passions in life are metal music and shoegaze music. So we went in there and we were neither, [and] I think he thought ‘Okay, well, I’ll give it a little bit of shoegaze production’, but then since he’s such a metalhead he made the guitars really big-sounding and stuff. So a lot of that was his production, but also us being really open to experiment. We just went in with the songs, and it was an unusual place to bring songs like that, and it came out okay.”

When quizzed on the meaning behind the album title, Kerns remains enigmatic. “The album title, Get Better, had a lot of meanings,” he says. “We figured out we were going to call it Get Better on the ride home from the final session at the studio. I’d written on my drums ‘get better’; like ‘get’ on the snare and ‘bet-ter’ on the toms, mostly [as] I wasn’t that great of a drummer. I was getting better, but I put that on there [so] every time I sat down at the drums, instead of just goofing off, [I would] be like ‘No, don’t do that, keep trying things you don’t know how to do’. We chose that [title] because it seemed to apply not just to drumming but everything about the band, and everything we were going through personally. It meant many different things to all three of us.”

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Now, to mark the album turning 10 years old, the band are heading back out on the road to tour it in its entirety. But what inspired the band to revisit the album in full? “The last album we put out [The Distance Is So Big] was in 2013, and we actually have a whole new album recorded, [but] we’re still working on the mixes and stuff and we really wanted to tour,” explains Kerns. “We thought, ‘Well, we can’t tour for the fifth time on the same album we just did,’ then realised it was the 10th anniversary of Get Better. People a lot of times ask for songs we’ve not played in 10 years, so we just thought, ‘Let’s just do that, let’s put out a new little version of it [and tour]’. On the US tour we brought Tony – a friend who plays keyboards on the album – out with us, so it was just a cool little reunion for all of us.”

Given the personal nature of the album’s subject matter, the experience of revisiting Get Better in full has been a complex one for Kerns. “[It transports me back to a certain time and place], but not in a bad way,” he explains. “It’s more like having pictures, or an old family video. There’s no real anger about it – I don’t think the album’s angry. That’s just how I felt at the time. I guess there will be times that I have to go through some of that stuff again, but I definitely see a much younger version of myself in those lyrics; some of the things I’m saying I know I wouldn’t have said as – I’m 34 now, so it’d be different. But I think it helped me grow, just playing those songs 100 times a year for the past 10 years. I’m constantly revisiting them and I don’t draw anything negative from them. It’s just who I was, and here’s who I am now.”

So, how does playing the album in full, live, feel compared to the last 10 years of regular sets? “It feels different, because when you play a regular set, nobody knows what the next song’s going to be,” says Kerns. “The reaction is always delayed a little bit. When we play an album that people already know, you can see everybody’s expressions are different when you look out into the crowd. People know what the first song is already – they’re singing the first word because a lot of our songs start lyrically on the first beat. So it’s definitely a different vibe, but not in a better or worse way.”

It’s also given Kerns an opportunity to air some of the album’s more tender moments again for the first time in many years – an opportunity he has been relishing. “We didn’t play Wardrobe that often, or Hawaiian T-Shirt, [as they] didn’t really flow and a lot of times we’d think they might just drain the life out of the set. They’re not long, but they definitely have a downer mood,” he explains. “But, I really like playing those songs to people who know them, because I think there’s always a couple of people who relate to those songs from having a very similar experience. I think that’s nice, being able to talk to people, and they come up like ‘Oh hey, that song really helped me’ or whatever – and it’s like, well cool, because it helps me, [and] thanks for saying that to me, because you even saying that gives [me] incentive to keep writing and doing stuff. So I like to play songs that are extra-personal live, because then it creates a little forum for me to talk to people and get their take on it, too.”

Get Better's 10th anniversary reissue is available now. Catch Lemuria on tour at the dates below:

06 Jul: Borderline, London, UK
07 Jul: Exchange, Bristol, UK
10 Jul: Sunflower Lounge, Brimingham, UK
11 Jul: Star and Garter, Manchester, UK
12 Jul: 13th Note, Glasgow, UK
13 Jul: Headrow House, Leeds, UK
14 Jul: Red Rooms, Nottingham, UK
15 Jul: Whelans, Dublin, UK


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