Disturbing the peace: Local teens bring punk rock to Fairfield County
Published 3:40 pm, Saturday, September 24, 2016
DARIEN — The sound is perhaps the last thing one would expect to hear on a peaceful street less than a mile from Darien High School, but several days a week, the frenetic, hardcore punk music courtesy of three teenagers emanates from a Nutmeg Lane home.
Known collectively as Anxious, the punk band is made up of two Darien residents and one from New Canaan: bass guitarist and singer Sam Walter, guitarist and singer Grady Allen and drummer Michelle Siegel.
In their makeshift practice space where Allen’s parents kindly accommodate the noisy trio, the teens wailed on their respective instruments on a recent Friday, a day before recording their first demo tape. Performing in an otherwise empty room, they blasted out a full set of high-powered, lightning-quick songs that might well have electrified a moshing crowd at the legendary club CBGB in the heyday of punk.
The members of Anxious, who have been playing together since February, each came to the genre — immortalized in the 1970s by bands like The Clash, the Sex Pistols and The Stooges — differently.
For Allen, a guitarist since the age of 7, a T-shirt worn by a friend in middle school was the catalyst.
“In seventh grade one of my friends wore a Misfits shirt to school. I said, ‘Yo, what is that?’ I went down to our record store and I bought their first record. Pretty much from that point I never looked back,” said Allen, now 16. The Misfits’ record, “Walk Among Us,” remains one of his favorites.
Walter, who briefly took guitar lessons in sixth grade, was introduced to Allen and, in turn, punk music, a year later when the pair roomed together on a field trip to Boston.
Until Allen, Walter had listened to a combination of rap, alternative rock and emo music, none of which instilled in him the same emotional response as his early hardcore records. “Grady introduced me to the faster, the harder, in some cases more introspective bands, and that spoke to me more than anything I had listened to,” said the 15-year-old.
Siegel, the newest addition to the group and — unlike her bandmates who attend Darien High School, a student at New Canaan High — discovered punk in elementary school. In the course of a long car ride, her older brother introduced her to the music of the band Green Day. She was later given a drum kit, a gift that served to stoke the fires of sibling rivalry.
“I kind of wanted to combat the noise of my brother playing guitar. It’s this thing where our rooms are right next to each other. To a certain extent I was trying to annoy him,” said Siegel, 15. To this day, she and her brother, who is more drawn to grunge-rockers like Pearl Jam, possess clashing musical sensibilities.
The current group formed after Allen’s earlier project, an alt-punk band called Professor Hill, ended. Without a band to play in, he began a group text message in late 2015 with his friend, Walter, and acquaintance, Siegel, whom the pair had met at New Canaan’s School of Rock, a music education program. He proposed they start a band more “hard-edged” and “screamy” than his previous group.
Within their group thread they brainstormed a name, rejecting titles like Sloshpit and, ultimately, slashing in half an early candidate, Anxious Youth, arrived at their current moniker.
Just over a month after their first practice, the fledgling band took the stage at The Depot in Darien.
“We were not very good. Everything was sloppy and we were all nervous. It took us until our third show until we really sounded good,” Allen said. The band has continued to perform, working the kinks out on the way. They have upcoming performances this fall at The Space in Hamden and on Oct. 7 at the Toquet Hall Teen Center in Westport, and hope to continue to amass a following with the issue of their demo, tentatively due out on Spotify and Bandcamp this fall.
For the group members’ parents, varying levels of confusion exist regarding the temperament and intensity of a countercultural form of music, the point of which was often to subvert suburban ideals.
“My mom asked me once, ‘Are you angry?’ ” Allen said. “There is an anger to it, but there’s also a sense of humor and introspectiveness to it. All of our friends are playing sports and there’s no anger toward any of those kids. It’s more of a desire to stand out and not exist within that particular pool of people.”
“I’m not saying I feel oppressed, but in a town that feels so prim and proper, it was kind of nice to listen to something where there’s a little anger and you’re letting stuff out,” Siegel said. All three members added that, despite any confusion, their parents have remained wholly supportive of the group’s musical ambitions.
And while, to some, a punk band comprised of teens from Darien and New Canaan may seem anomalous, there is an important, if fleeting, piece of punk history unique to the area.
In May 1976 — a month after the release of their now iconic debut album and just a few months before they became known internationally as the torchbearers of a new sound — the Ramones left their mark on New Canaan High School, opening for a now forgotten hair band called MAZE.
Since that show, 40 years have passed; all four of the Ramones’ founding members have died and punk is no longer the major musical force it once was.
And while Allen, Siegel and Walter claim to comprise the entire punk population in Darien and New Canaan, they refuse to accept the notion that punk is dead.
“That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s just purely existing in the underground scene where it was originally cultivated,” Allen said. “Punk and hardcore aren’t really for MTV and Top 40 radio. The music would only be in jeopardy if basement shows weren’t still happening, and if bands weren’t still touring on $30 a day.”