Did not expect to have the sediment of my love for Sunny Day Real Estate to get all swirled up by Kat Von D—vegan beauty guru, tattoo artist, musician, reality star. To me she was merely the subject of fourth-hand party conversations, E! drama fodder, and whatever algorithm instructs this brain to hoard random bits from my daily haul of internet headlines. My fiancée has followed Von D’s trajectory a little more closely, finding inspiration in the artist’s spread of creativity, forthrightness, and their shared interests in the stylishly macabre. On a recent drive through mid-October’s bell-pepper forests, she took charge of the aux cable and played one of Von D’s playlists, a robust curation of emo in all its shades, with one track in particular feeling instantly familiar.
Sunny Day Real Estate was as foundational to me as it was to the genre, such as it was and as it became. Basic fans hold them up for their first album Diary, which was fine enough to me, as “In Circles” set the temperature for a lot of basement shows and demo tapes. But I held fast to How It Feels to be Something On, a record more entangled with the band’s clash of energies, recorded in isolation after one of their many breakups, build on songs singer and guitarist Jeremy Enigk originally crafted as solo work. It’s an album that, to my young heart, captured the wide range of emotional hertz without spinning out into unchecked rage or tooth-rotting pop. It gave shape to death and loss, the feeling of drifting around anchor-less, yearning to connect with friends and lovers and the inner-self, the searing and soaring flights and flounders of life.
The band came in and out, not unlike the titular rising tide of their final record. After that point I’d move on, drained from having my emotions strummed like a guitar strung with raw nerves, succumbing more fully to the aforementioned unchecked rage. When I’d read that Enigk was a born-again Christian, my disgust at the violence and hypocrisy of those institutions blinded me to the more personal conflagrations of faith, belief, and explorations of the unknown. I presumed to know much about his inner thoughts and feelings despite his infamously recalcitrant interviews, a result of intense shyness. He had the audacity to betray my personal connection to his music—that impossible, selfish, predictable folly of fandom. Ultimately there was no grand gesture on my part, I just walked away from Enigk. Until a reality star/tattoo artist/makeup mogul’s playlist introduced me to those solo albums, a strike to my ears that circumvented my prejudice with perfect stealth.
I’m not sure which track was on that list but it felt instantly familiar and new at the same time, with Enigk’s unmistakable voice as multi-dimensional as ever. This lead me to his most recent album, the crowdfunded Ghosts, which captures an experienced sense of hope that blooms straight off of How It Feels. He sings about the experience of the spirit, a voice that’s always been a conduit to the divine—frayed with humanity, battered by the detritus of space, but still a towering bulwark of beauty. Turns out there’s never really been a hint of dogma in his voice, and I was foolish deprive myself of this rich music. I’m humbled, and glad, to now see how clearly he’s been vibrating at a higher frequency than most of us. This isn’t anything new to Kat Von D though, who never gave up the cause. Bless her for it.
// Levi Rubeck is a critic and poet currently living in the Boston area. Check his links at levirubeck.com