Getting Better with Age 

Influential pop-punk band Lemuria celebrates 10th anniversary of breakout debut

A “funeral fiasco” and “climax of grief” resulted in Lemuria’s first album, Get Better, in 2008. Since then, the band has gotten better, and better, and better.

Courtesy Band

A “funeral fiasco” and “climax of grief” resulted in Lemuria’s first album, Get Better, in 2008. Since then, the band has gotten better, and better, and better.

Get Better (Asian Man Records, 2008), the debut album from New York-based pop-punk trio Lemuria, kicks off with the song "Pants." Over clanging guitar and lumbering drums, Sheena Ozzella sings of someone who "never missed a word I tried to fit / Inside a chorus, inside a verse, all my intros and the bridge." She follows with, "That's where I put all the awful things I think I am / And if you still respect me / I guess I'll have a second chance."

The album was important not only for Lemuria but for fellow musicians.

"Get Better and all of Lemuria's subsequent releases serve as a touchstone for a lot of bands in the contemporary emo scene," wrote Stereogum's James Rettig.

Now, nearly 10 years later, Lemuria is celebrating the anniversary of Get Better with a reissue of the album, new artwork, an essay by drummer-vocalist Alex Kerns, a bonus 7-inch of outtakes and an extensive tour with a stop in Boise on Thursday, Feb. 2. The lineup will include Ozzella, Kerns and bassist Max Gregor joined by Tony Flaminio on keyboards.

"He played on the album," Kerns told Boise Weekly, "which is what we're doing for this tour: we're playing [Get Better] in full. So it's cool to have these songs played like they are on the album. It's been a real treat for us." It promises to be a treat for fans, too.

"The Buffalo [New York] band's earnestly heartfelt punk rings just as true now as it did then," Rettig wrote.

Looking back 10 years, when Kerns and Ozzella started Lemuria, they couldn't have imagined celebrating the 10th anniversary of one of their albums. They could barely play their instruments.

"We played our first shows in October of 2004, and we played five or six songs our first show," Ozzella told She Shreds in 2015. "It was probably terrible. Alex hadn't been playing drums for long before, so Lemuria started as a band that we could both learn on. I think that really helps people, that kind of vulnerability when playing music and not being intimidated."

Judging from the essay he wrote for the reissue, Kerns felt especially vulnerable while working on the album. He describes getting a phone call while on tour from his brother, who informed him their father had passed away.

"After a funeral fiasco and during a climax of grief, we began writing our first album, Get Better," Kerns writes. "An album title with a few meanings to me, but mostly it was elemental for me to simply 'get better.' Like a tchotchke you buy at a pumpkin patch and hang over the hearth that non-specifically reminds you of some universal wisdom. I wrote it on my snare and two tom drums: 'GET BETTER.' [It's] an imaginary coach to remind me to move forward and never let myself be finished with the craft."

Thanks to this kind of background information, the references to death and mourning in songs like "Dog" and "Hawaiian T-Shirt" gain resonance. The essay doesn't reveal any direct inspiration for the lyrics, though. Kerns explained the lack of specifics was intentional.

"Instead of talking individually about songs and being like, 'This song's about that,' we kind of kept everything a little abstract," he said. "So if anybody has been listening to our songs for a long time and applied their own personal meaning to them, we [don't] shatter it."

Lemuria has scores of longtime listeners now, including Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams and her husband, Chad Gilbert, co-founder and guitarist of New Found Glory. The couple helped connect the band with Bridge Nine Records, a predominantly hardcore label that released Lemuria's next two albums, Pebble (2011) and The Distance Is So Big (2013). There will be more from Lemuria soon. The band is done recording its fourth album and hopes to release it by the end of 2017.

Admiration and critical acclaim, like being included on Consequence of Sound's 2016 list of "The 100 Best Pop Punk Bands," resulted in a fruitful career for Lemuria. Over the years, the band toured the globe, including the U.S., Canada, Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia—but, for Kerns, one show, in Jakarta, Indonesia, sticks out.

"We showed up there, and it was just a packed house," he said. "People knew the songs—every word of every album. We were literally the farthest you could be from home. We just kind of went in with no expectations, just excited to have the opportunity to travel to somewhere like that. We could not believe that the music community is so well-connected, internationally, like that."

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