John Nolan blogs, compiles playlist to commemorate Straylight Run
On Feb 17, 2010, in a brief note that reflected their humble and altruistic persona, Straylight Run announced an indefinite hiatus. The band, a trio at the time of the announcement, has been battered and bruised by the music business since 2003. In 2004, Straylight Run was contractually obligated to release their classic debut self-titled LP on the bloodsucking Victory Records, who owned the rights to frontman John Nolan’s and bassist Shaun Cooper’s music for two more albums due to a contract they signed while they were with Taking Back Sunday. In 2005, they released the Prepare to be Wrong EP to dry up their deal with Victory.
They went on to release The Needles The Space on Universal Records, who let the album full of gems like “Soon We’ll Be Living in the Future” and “Buttoned Down” fall to the wayside. Six months later, they were dropped from Universal and began touring and recording on a more DIY level. With their own funds they produced some of the most profound and developed songs of Nolan’s outstanding songwriting career in EPs Un Mas Dos and About Time (see “Wait and Watch,” “I’m Through With the Past”).
But ultimately, years of uncertainty and living song-to-song out of financial necessity wore the band down to its untimely death (although it must be noted that the band has not closed the door to working together again at some point in the distant future). As they put it it their message, “the unfortunate reality is that being in a band is a business and when business isn’t good you can only keep going for so long.”
For the past few weeks, Nolan has been gradually compiling a Straylight Run playlist in lieu of an unofficial greatest hits collections on his Tumblr. Each day he added a song to the playlist, put it up for stream on his blog, and reminisced about writing, recording, and the stories behind the songs.
Nolan’s posts give incredible insight into the mind and emotions of one of the most under-appreciated songwriters of the past decade. His ability to write so personally with specific details geared toward his own experiences yet so universally is astounding and should be studied by every single songwriter who thinks they know how to pen a decent adolescent-to-young adult anthem.
As it turns out, for example, “Buttoned Down” is about teenage girls hacking into Nolan’s email to find personal information for their role playing game; but in how many ways can “buttoned down, you’ll get the best of me” sing to the trials of everyday life? And “Your Name Here (Sunrise Highway)” may sound like a great wedding song, but, according to Nolan, it’s one of the final chapters in the storied Jesse Lacey vs. John Nolan saga.
It is truly a privilege to be able to read such honest and well-intentioned retrospective accounts of songs that have meant so much to Straylight Run’s supporters through the years. I can’t stress enough how much more recognition Nolan deserves as an elite songwriter of our generation. He has averted the spotlight, intentionally or not, by being a nomad in the music industry; when the passion and honesty dries up, he moves to another project, label, or atmosphere. You’ll seldom encounter a songwriter who cares so much about what his songs mean to himself and to others, regardless of how commercially acceptable or aesthetically challenging they may be to whatever ears they find.
Although I’m sure the chances are slim Nolan or any other member of Straylight Run will ever actually see this (but you never know…I didn’t think Chad Gilbert would read my NFG article, either), I want to thank John Nolan and the rest of Straylight Run for being the best role models a pure-hearted music fan could hope to find in today’s scene. Straylight Run has been with me through my adolescence into my early years of adulthood, and I look forward to any future musical endeavors Nolan or anyone else might partake in. There’s too much potential for the industry to squander it all.