By MICHAEL COSTANZA
The audience waited feverishly for band Brand New’s encore at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory in October. Chants of “Jesse Lacey” roared out from the crowd, beckoning the lead singer back to the stage rather than the whole band. These shows have been cryptically billed as their final tour and this might be a fan’s last chance to see him. This is a religion and Lacey its sad messiah.
A month later, Lacey was accused of sexual misconduct with multiple minors when he was in his 20s.
Brand New came out of the Long Island emo scene and released its debut album in 2001. Each successive record grew by leaps and bounds in scope and subject matter, a young band maturing alongside its young audience. This growth culminated with 2006’s landmark “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,” often thought of as the “OK Computer” of the scene.
They were often presented as a self-serious alternative to the performative sadness of similar bands that ruled the radio of the time – full of ennui but without the Robert Smith makeup.
In the years since “The Devil and God…” and its follow up, “Daisy,” the band and its front man have remained quiet and mysterious to their fans. Occasional tours and festival spots sparked new album speculation, but the band still shied away from interviews. Lacey sporadically appeared in his wife’s Instagram posts with their children – an awkward rockstar/family man hybrid.
In August, their fifth album, “Science Fiction,” was announced with hints that it would be their last. At the Electric Factory, Lacey returned to the stage alone to play the weepy, acoustic “Socco Amaretto Line,” leading a sea of twenty and thirty-somethings in a sing- along about how they’ll “stay 18 forever.”
Earlier this month, Nicole Elizabeth Garey accused Lacey of soliciting nude photos of her when she was 15 in a public Facebook post. She details a yearlong relationship in which Lacey sexually manipulated and demeaned her, including forcing her to watch him masturbate via Skype.
Days later, Emily Driskill came forward with similar allegations. She said that Lacey also engaged in
aggressive sexual misconduct with her in person and threatened to limit her contact with Brand New as a band if she denied his requests.
First and foremost, what is important is the effect these actions had on the victims; both women described the incidents leaving them with nightmares and lasting damage in a follow up interview with Pitchfork. These were not isolated incidents or miscommunications, but years of systematic abuse, manipulation of power and child grooming.
But what does Lacey being a detriment to “the equality and autonomy of all,” as he put it in a personal Facebook apology that did not address any specific instance, mean to lifelong fans of Brand New?
A common thought, for those who do not immediately swear off the band on principle, is that Lacey’s music, lyrics and their meaning belong to the public now. The idea that his misdeeds are disconnected from what each song means to each individual.
It becomes harder to ascribe to this, though, when looking back through his lyrics reveals that Lacey
might have been telling his listeners all along. Lines like “My sober straight face gets you out of your clothes” and “fake the way I hold you/let you fall for every empty word I say” take on a horrifying new life in light of the allegations. Every line about self-hatred that used to scan as relatable and communicable now feels uncomfortable and queasy.
Brand New canceled the remainder of their world tour on Nov. 13 and might never be heard from again.
In the days following, Mike Fuentes of fellow mid-2000 scene mainstays Pierce The Veil was accused of sexual relations with a 16 year old girl. This was all in a genre that supposedly prides itself on emotional openness and community, but instead reminds us that power in all its forms has far reaching effects.
Linkin Park got reduced from one of the biggest bands in the world to a meme in real time until the untimely passing of Chester Bennington reminded us just how grave the subject matter they dealt with was. But Bennington’s death was power and success failing to x what was already wrong inside the head of a good man. Lacey, Fuentes and others like them used their statuses to harm women and children, and that is not the kind of revelation that can be forgiven by the next good record.
Perhaps someday, Brand New fans will be able to separate their music from what they now know about Lacey. The legacy of one of the most important and cult- inspiring bands of their time is now inexorably tarnished. Maybe, though, the songs will mean to people what they once did, free of the horrible specter that now hangs over them.