Shannon Taylor of awakebutstillinbed

“It’s really scary to think about people listening to it.”

Shannon Taylor — vocalist and songwriter of California-based emo band awakebustillinbed — admits this to me on the phone. Earlier this year, Taylor released a deeply personal album riddled with lyrics that draw upon traumatic experiences in her life — and people are absolutely listening to it.

what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you — the band’s debut release — was originally self-released with no label but later rereleased via California indie label Tiny Engines. Shortly after its release, support for the album came by the hundreds. People from all over the country were purchasing a debut release from a DIY band whose name nobody knew — even catching the attention of Pitchfork and other mainstream media outlets.

Taylor has created somewhat of a masterclass in emo songwriting — the songs are heart-wrenchingly vulnerable at times, and Taylor is able strain her voice to no end. And while louder isn’t always more powerful, awakebutstillinbed nails the softer, quieter parts as well, often building up to a crescendo of Taylor’s contagious energy and screaming.

It’s what fans of the genre have grown to love about emo music — its driven by raw emotion that we transpose onto our own lives and experiences, whatever they may be.

An insatiable drive

Taylor has been playing music in the San Jose DIY music community for years. Like most other local music scenes, she was a part of a few bands that would get together, play shows for a few years, and then break up. At times, her motivation and dedication would far outweigh that of her band mates.

“I’d want to spend a lot of money on a record and they wouldn’t want to, so after a bunch of failed attempts at being in a band, I started writing a record myself and made a band where it was like a revolving cast around me,” Taylor says.

That record is awakebutstillinbed’s debut. Prior to writing what people call low self-esteem…, Taylor listened to The Hotelier’s Like Home No Place There Is on repeat, as well as music by P.S. Eliot, Waxahatchee and Hop Along. The Hotelier’s influence can be most easily hard on “Fathers,” a particularly heavy track on the album that drifts back and forth between the realms of punk and screamo. Taylor also surprisingly attributes much of her songwriting structure-wise to They Might Be Giants.

"I've been listening to them since I was a teenager and at one point I learned how to play almost all of their songs on guitar," Taylor says. "The way that I structure chords and the way that I write chord progressions are all influenced by that stuff."

Taylor eventually put together a backing band in September of 2017, and the record was self-released with no label in January of 2018.

“A band that’s more popular than us shared it on social media, which is how some people heard about it, then someone posted it on some emo subreddit and there’s a music writer who has a following who tweeted about it,” Taylor says. “Pitchfork wrote about it, which doesn’t make any sense to me. It was unheard of for me for Pitchfork to write a review about a band with no label.”

After that, the band was signed to Tiny Engines, and the album was rereleased. The band has been touring since then. 

Now the band has hundreds of supporters on bandcamp, some calling it an early “album of the year.”

“I don’t really understand how the record did so well, it doesn’t make any sense,” Taylor says.


In an attempt to accurately describe her own album, Taylor sent her music over to her friend Daniel Speer from the California band Struck Out.

“We had been billed as a lot of different things before the album came out,” Taylor says. “People called us screamo and power-pop — it was kind of a strange time, so I asked (Daniel).”

Speer replied that the album was just emo, but due to the many other labels given to her music by other musicians and show bookers, Taylor still had her doubts. But Speer insisted that the album was just about as emo as it gets, going so far as it to call it “extremo.”

“I used it on the bandcamp and he thought it was really funny, and maybe kind of accurate,” Taylor says. “I don’t like to think about what genre things are. I just thought it was funny and cute.”

Extremo — or really, really emo — might be a joke, yet it is still a label worthy of awakebutstillinbed's music. The album is autobiographical — all of the songs were written by Taylor about traumatic life experiences.

“It’s a collection of heavily personal songs about f----ed up s--- that happened to me,” Taylor says.

Many of the songs are about friends of Taylor that have passed away — some by suicide. On the awakebutstillinbed bandcamp page, Taylor writes, “This album is dedicated to Tyler, Henry, Jacob, and all of my other friends who will never hear it.”

Taylor wanted her lyrics to not just be statements — she wants listeners to be able to translate the songs into their own experiences with grief and depression.

“It’s better for people to get their own meaning out of it,” Taylor says. “When I hear lyrics that really hit me, I have no idea what they’re actually about and what the meaning was, but I can only go off my own projected ideas on what it’s about.”

Writing the songs on what people call low self esteem… was therapeutic for Taylor, but also emotionally exhausting.

“The process for writing songs often times will be like thinking about a thing that would be really hard for me to think about, like whatever f---ed up thing it is, in order to come up with what to say about it and what I would write about it,” Taylor says. “It’s really hard for me to get in that stage where I want to do that because it’s a lot of sad and difficult work to do, and so that’s what a lot of writing lyrics is like for me.”

All ages, all inclusive

On awakebutstillinbed’s current tour, the band is playing as many all ages shows as possible. For their June 30 Milwaukee date, they’re performing as part of an all-ages show at Cactus Club, an especially rare occurrence considering the venue serves alcohol and is normally 21+.

“It’s important because a lot of people aren’t 21 and it sucks to have people be excluded by age and for no other reason,” Taylor says. “There’s no reason they should be excluded just because they’re not old enough to go to a bar.”

All-ages shows are few and far between in Milwaukee — an issue that an article published by the Journal Sentinel attributes to venue closings, rising insurance costs, noise restrictions, and prohibitive city codes. This leaves smaller acts with few options to perform at other than bars and the few breweries that host shows.

“I don’t really feel comfortable at a lot of bar shows because a lot of times shows at bars aren’t about the music, they’re about going out and drinking and seeing your friends,” Taylor says. “It’s not good for the artist because you’re like annoying them when they’re trying to have a conversation with their friends. There are some bars that aren’t like that, but I just don’t like to play them.”

While the show at Cactus Club isn’t a solution to Milwaukee’s all-ages-venues issue, it’s a step in the right direction. If a bar can figure out a legal way around the restrictive codes, it should be possible for others to step up and do their part for Milwaukee’s music scene.

“Having a scene is a luxury,” Taylor says. “You’re lucky to have it happen if you have the people to put in the work and putting up their house as a community space. It comes from the generosity and passion towards music. You have to have that kind of passion and drive, and if you want it to keep existing, then hopefully other people feel that way and then hopefully other people join you.”


A love letter to the genre

Taylor’s songs are a reflection of her regrets, anxieties and unanswered questions about her past, just like that reflective state of mind where one is lying awake but still in bed — just as the band name implies — thinking about what could have been and what shouldn't have been. It’s a love letter to the genre, and a shining example of how the emo revival hasn’t fizzled out yet and continues to raise the bar for what a genre that many thought had been exhausted can produce. If the success of awakebutstillinbed’s debut release is any indication, the direction Taylor should move in is forward, because fans of the genre need to hear what else Taylor has to offer. In fact, that might come sooner rather than later.

“I’m writing a new record and its coming along really slowly,” Taylor says. But for now, the band is just excited to tour.

awakebutstillinbed performs at Cactus Club on June 30 with Snag, Live Tetherball Tonight and Beach Burial. The show starts at 3 p.m.


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