The Return of the Emo King

Sunny Day's Jeremy Enigk sees a silver lining.

Jeremy Enigk House of Blues, 308 Euclid Avenue 9 p.m. Saturday, August 5, $15 ADV/$17 DOS, 216-523-2583
Jeremy Enigk hasn't seen a sunny day in months.
Jeremy Enigk hasn't seen a sunny day in months.
After struggling for years to achieve mainstream acceptance, former Sunny Day Real Estate singer Jeremy Enigk has given it up. And he sounds happier and more centered than ever.

Enigk has just finished his second solo album, World Waits, and will release it on his new label, Lewis Hollow, in October. It has been 10 years in the making, and fans have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up to Enigk's orchestral pop debut, The Return of the Frog Queen.

"I think that I have a decent-size fanbase, so that even if my music doesn't explode into the mainstream, there are enough listeners that I could make a decent living," Enigk says from his Seattle home. "And if I have to become a dishwasher -- which I kinda wanna do -- that's fine with me. But most importantly is if I can play music, because that's what I love to do."

Enigk's caution is well-earned. His star-crossed career is dotted with bad contracts and false starts, breakups and missed opportunities. He tasted success -- landing a video on MTV -- with his old band, Sunny Day Real Estate. But the enthusiastic response of critics was out of synch with the moderate sales.

Nonetheless, fans who discovered Sunny Day found a new religion: a dense, majestic sound, with Enigk's evocative, heart-worn voice surfing swells of sentiment.

Enigk's phrasing and dynamics were more sensitive than the times, which were dominated by in-your-face grunge and chest-beating hardcore. Sunny Day was compensating with a far richer palette of emotions. Unfortunately, in 1995, a year after releasing its stunning debut, Diary, Sunny Day broke up.

A second album was released posthumously. The band was in such disarray that it didn't even offer cover art, instead choosing to release a pink album, without even giving it a proper name. But the band wouldn't die, thanks in large part to the inspiration it had offered to a generation of heart-on-the-sleeve emo kids, who played in bands like Jimmy Eat World, Promise Ring, and Texas Is the Reason.

Sunny Day reunited in '98, releasing two albums -- the tour-de-force comeback of How It Feels to Be Something On and the overlooked follow-up, The Rising Tide -- before breaking up again. Emo moved away from the Sunny Day imprint toward a sound more reliant on its hardcore roots, and familiar financial and label difficulties cropped up for the band again. Still, Sunny Day remains a band that is almost universally cited as one of the emo's main architects.

Enigk appreciates being considered one of the genre's forefathers. "You can't ask for more as a musician," he says. But he's more focused on the future.

The epiphany happened for Enigk more than a year ago. He was with his post-Sunny Day outfit, Fire Theft, on tour with Saves the Day and Grandaddy in 2004. Though they had barely spoken during the tour, on the last night, Enigk struck up a conversation with Grandaddy singer Jason Lytle.

"He said he used to be a skateboarder. He was really into that, and now he's doing a band and it might last, it might not. But if not, he's going to find another passion," Enigk says. "I was the opposite. Music is my life. It was really the same thing, though we looked at it two different ways."

That came into focus for Enigk when Rykodisc dropped Fire Theft months later. He could've taken it as yet another setback and become discouraged, but instead he leaned on what Lytle had suggested months earlier.

"[What] Jason was saying was that Granddaddy to him wasn't about world domination and selling major records; it's just where he's at in his life," Enigk say. "Ryko dropping us gave me a chance to reevaluate what I wanted to do as a musician. It's no longer about world domination. It's really about playing music with my friends."

Fire Theft may never tour again, he says, but it'll still put out albums on his little label. As for distribution? "If people want it, they will have to seek it out."

Enigk is excited about supporting World Wait, whose bright, airy tone is a marked departure from the lush orchestrations of his debut. Although the album hasn't yet been released, Enigk expects to play half its songs live when he comes to Cleveland.

He describes the quiet, acoustic-driven album as "the way I play when I'm alone in my room." The songs have more room to breathe than do those on Frog Queen, and Enigk's approach is less mannered.

"There was a little bit of chasing the rabbit and trying to find what's really right for each moment," he says. "I've been playing the same style, more or less, all these years, and I thought it would be good to have a lot of other people's input on this one."

Enigk also hints that this might finally be the right moment to pull out a Sunny Day Real Estate song live. He's been hesitant to play the music without the fourth Sunny Day member, Dan Hoerner, but says that he may play one song during the solo portion of the House of Blues show.

"It's really about giving something to the fans, as opposed to my desire to really play it," he says. "It's really just to get people excited, like a thank you."

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.
Scroll to read more Music News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.