Following the success of singles “Sober Haha Jk Unless” and “Happy Birthday,” Chicago upstart sensation Hospital Bracelet recently celebrated the release of their debut full-length, South Loop Summer. This marks a much-anticipated moment for the trio of guitarist/vocalist Eric Christopher, bassist Arya Woody and drummer Manae Hammond, as well as for the Chicago DIY scene as a whole.
The album is an outpouring of frustration steeped in vulnerability—a mix which exemplifies much of their sound. From the embittered ruminations of Christopher’s lyrics and intricate riffs, to the power of the rhythm section, Hospital Bracelet take the very best of emo sensibilities without falling into the ever-present trap of taking oneself too seriously. The influence of personal experience—the passion with which the songs are written and recorded—is palpable throughout, yet far surpasses the mindless moaning we’ve become forced to accept from many bands of a similar genre. You’re not being screamed at by some emaciated trust fund prick that likes to play punk on the weekend; this isn’t some simple glorification of pain. This is an unmistakably honest outpouring of strength in the face of it.
South Loop Summer is brimming with passion and poignance, filled with themes of anxiety, addiction and the paralyzing endeavor of selfhood. Yet, there’s a distinct levity to this expression—a playfulness that is as honest as it is emotive. This intriguing duality was on full display when I got the chance to sit down with the group on Zoom this past week.
The pure joy with which the band recounts the making of South Loop Summer is a testament to the personality of their music, their forthright expression. Their heartwarming humility is even more impressive in the context of the maturity and complexity of their music. Hammond describes the personal satisfaction behind the deeply experiential album, saying “it’s a record that I can’t believe I played on…the pride I feel in what it feels like to listen to is such a humbling moment.” This pride is echoed by the rest of the band: “I honestly can’t separate the album from tour,” adds Woody, “it sounds like sleeping on couches, crying in a Waffle House parking lot, 3 broken cars, and sick shows.”
Early in the interview, though, I wonder how the band feels about the “emo” moniker that’s been slapped on them since I first heard their music in 2019. The term seems loaded, cheapening almost. I ask, and the question strikes a chord.
“Whoa…straight up…I hate that genre box,” Christopher replies behind raised eyebrows and a hesitant laugh, continuing: “I think the whole Midwest emo/emo revival shit is just loaded with really crappy people who make crappy music about ex-girlfriends and how sad they are, and there’s a real glorification of drugs too, in a sense, and it’s made me further distance myself from the genre. I feel like it’s extremely valuable for me, personally, to be able to be open about the things I’ve experienced and my past issues with drug addiction.”
Sobriety plays a significant role in the thematic atmosphere of the album, a main influence on the songwriting. “This is something I experience on the regular, Christopher says, “feelings and cravings that are still active in my everyday life. It sucks, but all I can do is talk about it with people.”
“If you’re willing and able to talk about it, the best way you can as a musician is just being yourself. I feel like there’s a lot of people who just put on this façade of really strong individuals…and that’s fine, but we all know that shit is really hard, and you’re nothing more than a person when you’re going through it.”
That last phrase hits me: nothing more than a person. It’s a simple enough notion, right? Something you can imagine seeing on an Instagram story and shrugging off. But in the context, it couldn’t be more meaningful.
When it comes to the DIY scene, the frustrating tendencies of the “emo” ideology are ubiquitous and hard to avoid adopting. Continuing to buy into their simplicity, though, is how we end up with this clonelike, curious coopting of adversity. We seem to think of pain as a creative currency, seem to hold the people who manage to make art out of it as something so separate from ourselves, something which we can merely pretend to be. We idolize and glorify, we buy into the image, we buy into the drug lore—forgetting, in the process, the personhood behind the art. Eric put it best when they told me, “what makes me really upset is that there’s not a lot of honesty. There’s a lack of vulnerability.”
As we’re talking, I can’t help but relate it to my own experiences—an effect which others will feel when they listen to the album, an opportunity borne of its candor. I struggle with it all the time, this tendency to treat my dysfunction as a creative asset. I don’t think it comes from a bad place, necessarily. It’s mostly a response to fear and shame, junkie logic. I jokingly call it my ‘Bukowski complex’ in an effort to remind myself that lore can be so impactful, that I can’t just rationalize away and glorify my difficulties, that being drunk, drugged and depressed isn’t what makes anyone an artist. It’s not misery that makes emotive art so captivating—it’s the personal strength in one’s willingness to express their weakness. South Loop Summer is a celebration of this selfhood, a conversation rather than a complaint—an album that rejects the limitations of genre expectation.
Hospital Bracelet’s music is an undeniable break from emo homogeneity. It is a display of unapologetic sincerity from a trio of immensely talented individuals—the humble force of people going through it, nothing more.
Art by Nghi Nguyen.