A$AP Rocky Type Beats and Heavy Metal: A Conversation with Proper.

Proper © 2019
Atwood interviews Erik Garlington of Proper, and he offers candid commentary on family, scene politics, and heavy metal.

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On their sophomore record, Proper (formerly known as Great Wight) have made a defining album about the young adult experience in 2019 that’s both instantly catchy and cathartic.  Like You’re Gonna Miss It All or Puberty 2, the Brooklyn trio have extended their ambitions since 2017’s The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life well beyond their emo beginnings. The band surprise released I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better last week, and it’s the type of record that should skyrocket them to your favorite band status a la Home, Like Noplace Is There or How to Socialise & Make Friends.

Erik Garlington, Proper.’s lead vocalist and primary songwriter, often embraces frank observations and expressions of emotion in a way that’s similar to current pop-punk heavyweights like The Wonder Years or Camp Cope.  Through tons of pop-culture references (Watchmen, The Met Gala, Rocky Horror, and Fetlife all get mentions throughout the record) and blunt observations about his family, race, and sexuality.

I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better – Proper.

A CONVERSATION WITH PROPER.

Atwood Magazine: I hate to ask this, because I feel like it's an obvious question, but why the name change from Great Wight to Proper?

Erik Garlington: There wasn’t really a whole thing about it.  For one, I thought way more people would know what a Wight is, since Game of Thrones is like the most popular show ever.  I got tired of being like, “Great Wight! W-i-g-h-t.”  Everyone would be like, “Great White? Isn’t that a band that a bunch of people died in a fire in the 80’s?”  That-I didn’t know-was bad.  I saw the word “Proper” and how it could mean something to us.  Growing up black and being well-spoken, a lot of people-for all three of us-would be like, “Oh, you speak like real proper.  You talk white.”  It just felt right and had more meaning than Great Wight.

I love the new record. You've said that Kanye West and Say Anything (I'm going to guess Max Bemis, specifically) have been huge influences on you, and both of those artists are well-known for constantly changing and bringing in new ideas and shifting their sounds from album to album. How do you feel that I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better has shifted from The Suburbs have Ruined My Life?
 

Really, I’ve become a-not better-more consistent guitar player.  I used to be that metal kid who would practice for three hours and learn all this useless shit.  Then, I just kinda stopped and did folk punk for a long time and lost all my chops.  Then, I wrote the first record.  Between then and now, I got more consistent with guitar playing.  On the last record, I had a friend come in and help me write the lead parts.  On this one, I wrote them all myself.  The shift this time was being a more complete songwriter and doing things that scared me.  With a lot of the guitar parts, I was just like, “Well, what haven’t I done yet?”  Then went for it and hoped it worked.

I definitely heard a little bit more of the metal influences. I used to be super into metal then stopped and more recently I've started listening again.

Some of it still holds up!

A lot of it does, but some of it I think, “Why was I into that?

Unfortunately, I was into a lot of the bad metal, but some of it is still revisit-able.

What do you mean by the bad metal?

What’s that joke band?  Steel Panther?  Shit like that or Pantera.  Really problematic metal shit that I didn’t know was problematic.  The more stuff I listen to now is more like Protest the Hero and Gojira and things like that-more ethereal and well thought out metal and not just bullshit.

The title of this album is a pretty direct Wonder Years reference, and you also referenced “Came Out Swinging” in “Germany 1991” on the last record. I also noticed you have a Hank tattoo in the video for “Bragging Rights.” Can you talk about The Wonder Years influence in regards to your music?

How do I not go on a rant about this?  My god, they’re so good.  I’ve hated pop-punk my entire life.  I never fucked with Green Day.  I never liked blink-182.  I just did not do it.  Then the whole hardcore pop-punk and alternative pop-punk really started popping off in 2008 or 2009.  Four Year Strong and all these bands popped up, and I was like, “Okay, this is musically more palatable to me, but the lyrics are still-“

Kinda corny?

That’s a nice way to put it.  Then I heard “My Last Semester” on last.fm, and I was just like “Wow, what is happening right now?”  I listened to the whole album, The Upsides, and I was just right off the bat like, “Wow, this is my life.  This guy gets me.”  I didn’t know you could write pop-punk and have it be meaningful and have the lyrics be amazing and blunt and still poetic at the same time.  It’s been a ten year love affair now.  I got Dan [Campbell, Wonder Years-lead vocalist]’s blessing to title the album what we called it.  I’ve seen them two or three times, and they’re really stand up guys.  They’re really nice, and they’re really good and talented.  They’re really inspiring.

Proper © 2019

Proper © 2019

One of the things I think you and Dan have in common is that you write very specifically and straightforwardly. You talk about family and hookups-one of the lines that stuck out to me on the new album was about meeting a couple from Fetlife. That song, “Trill Recognize Trill,” and even “There Aren't Many Perks to Being a Wallflower” from The Suburbs... all come to mind as very specific songs. How do you feel that writing specifically helps you get across what you want to get across?
 

For the first record, a lot of it was “Why I hate this” and “Why I hate this” and “I want to leave.”  I realized that people only know that I hate things.  People don’t know what I love, and people don’t know why I am the way I am or what made me that way.  I just thought if we get such a nice response to “The Perks” or “American Way” or “Not Black Enough,” delving deeper into that side of myself about queer rights and things that are happening in my life on that front.  It just felt really natural.  A natural progression to do that-be honest with people.  We’ve met fans now that are 16-17, and that’s what I would’ve wanted to hear when I was that age.  It felt really honest to go that way.  Giving them a perspective that they haven’t heard before was a lot of the goal for this one too.  Being like, “Oh man, I spend too much time on Grindr,” people relate to that.  I just thought it was funny, and it worked.

What songs from the new album are you most excited for people to hear?

We already put out “A$AP”-that was definitely one.  “Jehri Curl” for sure, and probably “Dekalb Ave.”  Those would be the three that I’m most excited about.

What are you most excited to play live?
 

We’ve already started playing a lot of them.  “Fucking Disgusting” is really fun to play live.  “A$AP” is great for that part at the end.  The d-beat-we’ll do it three times in a row; so it’s a minute of just the pit going wild.  We’re trying to get “Jehri Curl” down to play live, but there’s so much.  There are like five guitar parts.  I stop and rap, and there’s all this different stuff.  That’s the one that we’re working on now that we’re really excited to try and get out there.

What was it like working with Willow Hawks from The Sonder Bombs?

So easy.  A lot of things are just like “Hey, can we do this at this date?” Then, they get back to you the day of, and it’s like “Oh, sorry I missed it,” and it doesn’t work out.  Band people are so busy-booking tours, getting shows, trying to grind 24/7.  I think within a week: I hit her up. I sent her the song. She wrote a part, recorded it, and sent it back.  I was just like “Thank you.”  The first person we asked fell through.  So, I was just like, “I don’t know what to do.  I don’t wanna write anymore verses.  We’ll just scrap the song.”  She literally saved the song.

Today’s Song: The Sonder Bombs Break the BS on “I Don’t Have One Anymore”

You're gaining a much bigger fanbase with this record and appearing on The Chris Gethard Show and playing bigger shows with bigger bands. You play emo-inspired punk rock, which has traditionally been a genre dominated by cis-straight white men, even if it is shifting to be more inclusive now. What has it been like to be black and queer in those spaces?
 

It’s been a lot better than I thought it would be.  I live in New York now and have for the last five years.  Before that, I was in Kansas City, Missouri, about an hour away from the Westboro Baptist Church; so, anything is better than that.  Our response now is great.  We rarely get any comments about our race or our queerness, which is good.  Now, getting on shows with bigger bands, the crowds know what’s up; the band’s know what’s up.  They’ve been doing it for so long.  They’ve been all over the world touring.  It’s been a lot easier of an experience than when I was in the Midwest, trying to do it there.  There’s always someone every once in a while.  I think sometimes people might think we’re intimidating.  So, people don’t get out of line too often, but if they do, they immediately get back in.

How do you think punk can make itself more inclusive?
 

Getting more diverse bands and acts out there.  In the last few years, it’s been exploding exponentially.  It’s progress, but it could be going faster.  Less festivals with all straight white bands.

Yesterday, you had this tweet about cancel culture, that I loved. Would you mind expanding on it?

RE: Cancel culture. Canceling irredeemable piece of shit people/bands is great but, as with most good things, when liberal white people get ahold of something (canceled is AAVE) it tends to go to shit. Now hop the fuck out my DMs with your pamphlets and listen to marginalized ppl

Another thing I’ll try not to go on a huge rant about.  Like you said earlier, the scene is so white and so male and cis-oriented that I think a lot of people, especially where I live in the emo scene, come from Connecticut or Boston or Yale, from prestigious areas with prestigious parents. They move to the city and try to do the whole “My parents pay my bills, but I dress like I’m broke, and I talk about the struggle, but I have no struggle” type thing.  Those are the people that are in charge of the scene, because they have the funds to get bands to a show, or they have the funds to open up a space.  “My place is big enough, have the show at my place.”  They keep coming and coming and coming, and they want to be so liberal that they kind of are regressive sometimes.  When it comes to cancel culture, a lot of people-like Jank, for example.  Jank got a second chance.  They fucked it up again; they’re done.  They fucked up.  They’re cancelled.  That’s cool.  Things like Pinegrove – where [Evan Hall] was like, “I got some girl with a boyfriend to leave him,”- I think?  What happened with Pinegrove?

It wasn't totally clear in his statement. I think that he started seeing a girl that had a boyfriend, which ended their relationship, but that wasn't totally clear in his statement.

It’s things like that where the person that had a problem with him didn’t want him to be outed.  Then, a person did it anyway.  The “I’m trying to take down the biggest band in emo” thing is where I start having a problem.  These liberal white people think they’re a vigilante, and they need to save everyone.  Something like that could’ve been figured out and talked about person to person.  Now, I see all these people where they censor Pinegrove’s name, and they talk about [Hall] in the same vein as really bad people.  There’s still so much confusion, and I’m like, “How are you landing at this decision?”  Like, “Nope! He’s done!  He’s cancelled! He can’t be in the scene.  Run him out of town!”

Being a black man and a Mexican man, it just feels like black people getting harsh prison sentences for weed.  Yeah, you fucked up, but you didn’t murder someone.  How do we find an in between twenty years for weed and twenty years for murdering?  It’s a whole thing that I don’t think liberal white people think about.  We have a huge problem with incarcerating people of color and punishing people that aren’t the majority and thinking that we’re doing justice.  You’re just creating repeat recidivism.  People get stuck, and they can’t get out.  They’re in a cycle of poverty and being ousted, and there’s nothing they can do.  On the smaller scale of this emo scene, there needs to be a lot more diversity of the people making these calls and a lot more diversity in the people really thinking about what all this means.  I’m sorry to rant about it.  It’s fucked up.

I have a comedy background so I hear every side of the argument all the time.

There has to be moderation-somebody in between.  When you were twenty and your partner was shitty, but didn’t break any hard rules, there has to be some type of thing to rehabilitate them to not be shitty to the next partner.  Not just shut them down, cast them out, and shame them.

On a side note, your tweet made me google what “AAVE” is.
 

Oh yeah!

I'm a straight, cis-white guy, and your music really speaks to me, even though I'm also aware that it's experiences that I don't have. I feel that having an artist like you get bigger is great, because I get to educate myself.

Good. That’s part of the goal, for sure. We sent the album around to bunch of friends. Everyone was like, “What’s a Hotep?”  We had to explain to everyone what a Hotep means, which is really fun, and watching people’s jaws drop. Like AAVE, it’s good to get those phrases out there.


Proper

Proper

My favorite song on the record is “White Sheep.” Can you tell me a little bit more about that song?

It’s about my family and how we cannot communicate [laughs].  It’s just so fucking awkward.  We never even had the sex talk.  It was always, “Oh, so that’s you’re little friend?” Like, “This is my girlfriend.  We’ve been together for two years.”  A really dismissive, awkward family that doesn’t know how to communicate, and when someone fucks up, [they] just act like nothing happened.  For me, I stewed on it for fifteen years.  I wrote this song and had ten verses, and I had to obviously not have this be a ten-minute epic talking shit.  I had to narrow it down to three and have there be a resolution also.  So, I narrowed it down to two mean verses, and one “Alright, let’s bring it back together.”  I’m very nervous about it.  I’m actually sending my family the record today, because it comes out tomorrow.  I’m very very very fucking scared.  They haven’t heard it yet.

That's the most nerve-wracking thing.

That song-“Dekalb Ave.” All these songs about my queerness and being in an open relationship, all these things that I’m just like, “I’m just gonna fucking do it, and see how it goes.”  Now, six months later, after the album’s recorded, I’m like “Why did I fucking do that? Hopefully, it goes over well.”

Thanks so much for speaking with me. Do you have anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

Thank you so much for checking out the album and sticking with us.  We really appreciate it.

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James is a New York-based writer and comedian. Besides Atwood, he's also written for Sensations Press and his own blog Burgeraday.com. He also co-hosts the Burger-a-Day Podcast.