It’s Saturday night and I’m hitting up Emo Night Brooklyn, a friend in tow. It’s the sort of event you need to go to in a group or it’s pretty sad. It’s the sort of event you need to get a little bit buzzed for in advance or you might not make it through the embarrassment of standing through the long line in your circa 2007 Hot Topic duds.
The event is just what it promises it will be: two white boys in Brand New t-shirts crank out a sampler plate pre-hiatus Fall Out Boy singles interspersed with nostalgic hits courtesy of anybody popular between 2002 and 2007. We hear “Grand Theft Autumn” twice in the span of 40-minutes.
The draw of Emo Night is the inclusion of a guest DJ. I’ve seen Ryan Key grimace cartoonishly at his younger face while a loop of the “Ocean Avenue” music video played behind him. William Beckett played a set bewilderingly studded with ’90s emo deep cuts, pleasing almost none of the audience but making me burst into spontaneous tears with the skillful employment of my favorite Get Up Kids song.
This week it’s Tay Jardine, a little late but characteristically full of energy. The regular DJs routinely remind the audience where she’s from, “We Are the In Crowd!” they chant into their microphones. When I get her on the phone a few days later, we both would rather talk about her new project.
“I still get tweets every day like ‘I miss We Are the In Crowd.’ I do too! It’s a huge part of my life. It’s not gone, it’s not anywhere. I just hope that as things move forward with SAINTE those people who are wondering and still miss We are the In Crowd, I hope those people start to trust my instincts.”
Her instincts have, for the time being, briefly dissolved We Are The In Crowd to focus on a presently embryonic project called SAINTE. It came, she says, out of a period of self-evaluation: “I’ve just been growing as a human being, as we all do. I kinda went through this thing where I was like, ‘Okay, I’m in my mid-twenties now, I should figure out what is it that I really want to be doing.’ And that’s pretty much where this all started.
I had been noticing these patterns in my previous project where I was on stage or I was recording music and I just wasn’t. Like, I felt like I had more, and I felt like I had this y’know, different potential.”
The change-up may seem abrupt to an outside observer but for Jardine, it was just where the music took her. After completing an intensive album cycle for their sophomore effort, Weird Kids, We Are the In Crowd finished their third album in early 2015. Alongside the songs they’d produced for the record, however, were a handful that didn’t really sound like We Are the In Crowd, but felt instantly more compelling to Jardine, although at first she was unsure how to move forward with them, or even if it was worth it.
“There was a point where we were like, yeah, let’s just do the We Are the In Crowd record. And then we sort of went, wait, now’s the time. If I’m feeling this right now — and you can tell how excited and proud I am — why waste that time? Not even waste [time], but why waste that excitement? We just took advantage of that.” We Are the In Crowd issued a hiatus statement and set about figuring out how they were going to reconfigure to accommodate this new project.
The status of that We Are the In Crowd record, incidentally, is in flux: “The We Are the In Crowd songs are floating in the universe,” she says cryptically, “but right now the main focus is SAINTE and to get this going.”
SAINTE is composed of Jardine and fellow We Are the In Crowd alumni Cameron Hurley and Mike Ferri, with much of the contrast between its sound and We Are the In Crowd’s coming from the absence of vocalist and bassist Jordan Eckes. When We Are the In Crowd arrived on the scene in 2009, their trademark sound blended pop punk hooks with vocal harmony between Eckes and Jardine. In many ways it brought their strengths to the fore — their melodies were tighter, more interesting, lending themselves to harmony. And yet, Jardine notes it was a huge compositional challenge for a group that was, at that time, barely out of high school.
“That was the hardest part of writing songs as We Are the In Crowd. We were writing songs for a male vocal and a female vocal, and that was harder than some people may think. It wasn’t like we were writing one duet together, we had to write albums and albums of songs and they all have to be different. It can’t just be a ton of harmonies all the time.” In “Technicolor”, SAINTE’s first and, at the time of writing, only single, Jardine’s voice is pushed to the forefront. While there’s an obvious compositional debt owed to the time spent learning and working in We Are the In Crowd, SAINTE brings familiar elements — Jardine’s vaulting, powerful vocals; chunky power chords — and combines them with subtle synthesizers and a more polished pop production. It’s sugary without being cloying, bright without being childish.
Striking the balance between the scene in which she established herself as an artist and the very intelligent, well-spoken woman she’s grown into is really Jardine’s hat trick. She’s listening to a lot of music, she’s very upfront about the fact that she has tons to learn. “I sort of let Spotify do the work for me. Y’know I love discovering new stuff, the Discover Weekly playlist is really cool and I always find new things through that.” She’s feeling inspired, she’s updating her Twitter regularly with news about merch ideas and upcoming goodies for fans. She tells me they just finished the treatments for two new music videos. “They’re sort of going to be part two and part three of what you’ve seen in ‘Technicolor’.”
Two more videos bring about the question of timeline. We Are The In Crowd was overwhelmingly active before their hiatus, touring almost nonstop after signing with Hopeless Records. With SAINTE, Jardine and co. are enjoying a project that’s a little more in flux. In fact, Jardine is making a point to take things slow, to make sure no opportunity is left unexplored. “We’re focusing on getting more content out before we play any shows. That always seemed to be something that, because We Are the In Crowd was constantly on the road, it always seemed like, ‘Oh we don’t have time to put another video out.’ Even just a live performance thing, there was all these things that we never had time to do. So I want to make sure I get a lot of that stuff out first.”
As for a record, it’s on a longer, less immediate schedule. They’re currently unsigned, basking in the independence and freedom of making music outside of the contract they’ve held with Hopeless Records since their teenage years. “It’s very freeing, or liberating I guess is a better word. It’s just really cool, especially because y’know. I’ve had this itch to show everybody what I have to offer, so this gives us that freedom. And y’know obviously if the right label comes around that’s a totally different discussion, but right now we’re really loving this.”
It’s tempting to call this Jardine’s side project, the same way it was tempting at the time to talk about We Are The In Crowd as an artistic force propelled primarily by Jardine. She’s the recognizable face, the novelty, the only one with a Wikipedia page. There is an unfair trend in pop punk to position women in the scene – particularly frontwomen – as outsiders in their own bands. Jardine is insistent, though: “Cameron, Mike and I have always written We Are the In Crowd songs together, and writing [with them] is how this whole idea came about.” SAINTE is a collaborative effort, with the vested artistic interests of all three of its members. Their intent may be to push Jardine’s vocals to the front but SAINTE is a band, as much as We Are the In Crowd is.
Jardine is equal parts thoughtful and funny, joking about the scene kids we both used to be in the mid-2000s one minute and bringing up odd, trenchant points about her own state of mind as an artist the next. It reminds me that every kid at Emo Night is a fully-formed person with a rich inner life, for whom this escape into adolescence serves a purpose: a way to unwind; a reunion with a seldom-seen friend; a few hours where being a weird kid is permissible, even as a weird — or, more pertinently, a normal — adult. From her conversations with fans after shows, Jardine sees something similar:
“These people are growing up with me as well. So we’re not all wearing band t-shirts anymore but we’re like talking about what we just got at Zara, or our day jobs or college.” She laughs a lot when she talks. She sounds so happy to be where she is. “It’s like, dude, we’re all growing up and things are changing.”
It remains to be seen whether or not SAINTE will address those changes lyrically, but its maturity and sureness of direction speaks for itself.