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Friday, February 10, 2006

The Juliana Theory: 1997-2006

Punknews.org passes along another band break-up: The Juliana Theory. While I wouldn't say they were a crucial band in the development of post-hardcore/emo/whatever, they were definitely a band that deserves some mentions.

If I recall correctly, the first time I heard of The Juliana Theory was when Brett Detar decided to leave Zao to do TJT full-time. A short time later, I heard "August in Bethany" on MP3 in my dorm room in Brachman. Compared to what Tooth & Nail usually released at the time (mostly MxPx-styled punk or detuned hardcore-metal), hearing a band in more of the vein of The Get Up Kids was definitely different. What really helped was that The Juliana Theory's debut album, Understand This is a Dream, was really good.

Understand This is a Dream was released in March of 1999, a year that I strongly believe was a turning point in the mainstream's acceptance of what they would lump all together as emo. Sure, the word 'emo' had been kicking around since the mid-'80s and was often used in the mid-'90s to describe bands like The Promise Ring, but once a more mainstream audience got a hold of it, the brand name was emo.

Between 1999-2002, there was no turning back: demand for bands like The Get Up Kids, Saves the Day and The Juliana Theory made major labels very interested in them. After a few false starts the '90s (Jawbox and Jawbreaker not breaking through to a mainstream audience, Mineral and Texas is the Reason breaking up before they signed with majors, Jimmy Eat World putting out incredible albums on Capitol only to be commercially ignored), major labels would finally find a recipe for creating hit bands out of all things post-hardcore and poppy.

The Juliana Theory got caught up in a twister of major label interest. As soon as they started touring for Understand This is a Dream, they sounded rather ambitious for a band playing this kind of rock music. Hearing rumblings that they were very rock star-ish onstage and off, they quickly gained a bad reputation. I never understood all the anger directed at them, but then again, I never interviewed them and never saw them live.

Months before they would record their second album, Emotion is Dead, the band made a really big deal about wanting to break out of trappings of emo. Well, they went for it with Emotion is Dead and they kind of came across as pretentious rock stars in the process. With the exposure the album got, more people got into them either as fans or naysayers. Their popularity reached to a point where it seemed incredibly natural to sign with a major label.

When Love dropped on Epic Records in February of 2003, expectations were high. They had made a big and polished rock record with Jerry Harrison that was prime for mainstream airplay. Unfortunately, The Juliana Theory got the same kind of treatment that a lot of bands get when they sign to a major label: lots of building excitement before they're on a major is followed by a cold shoulder once they've released something on a major. That's the rub about building excitement: when you think you're getting to the point of going higher, you realize that the moment has long since passed.

I don't blame a band like TJT for wanting to go all the way, but as I keep seeing over and over again, you can't set your goals so high. Audiences in general are fickle and the mainstream audience in particular is incredibly fickle. I don't think The Juliana Theory wanted to be something like Van Halen, but I don't think they wanted to play places like The Door in Dallas for their whole career. It's totally worth it trying to see how far you can go.

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