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Promise Ring Split

Emo band calls it quits after eight years

After eight years and four albums, emo godfathers the Promise Ring
have called it quits. According to the band members, the break was
amicable. “It wasn’t very rock & roll — nobody overdosed or
slept with each other’s wives,” insists guitarist Jason Gnewikow.
“We just decided we’d been doing it long enough and it was time to
move on.” Frontman Davey von Bohlen added, “I just reached a point
where I felt doing something new would make me most happy.”

The band had been mulling its future for the past couple months,
and Von Bohlen alluded to a breakup while onstage at a Plea for
Peace show two weeks ago in Santa Cruz, California. “We discussed
it a month or two ago as an option,” Gnewikow says. “Once the idea
was introduced, it couldn’t really end up any other way; it was
like a Pandora’s box.”

Formed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1994 from the remains of
popular local groups Cap’n Jazz, Ceilishrine, and None Left
Standing, the Promise Ring went on to refine those bands’ taste for
fuzzy power pop and soul-searching lyrics and help mold it into the
indie rock subgenre known as emo. They became an underground
phenomenon, collecting a devoted cult of fans and influencing
scores of bands, including Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat
World.

The Promise Ring were often leery of the emo tag, however, and
the mainstream notoriety that graced their progeny eluded them. “I
think that’s part of the whole game; it’s happened a million times
before, and it’ll happen a million times again,” says Gnewikow. “I
feel at peace ending it where we ended.”

In 2001, they left stalwart emo label Jade Tree for Epitaph’s
Anti-, joining distinctly non-emo acts like Tom Waits, Merle
Haggard and Tricky. In April, Anti- released the Promise Ring’s
final release, Wood/Water.

In perhaps a last attempt to expand their musical horizons and
their popular reach, they recruited famed Smiths producer Stephen
Street to help Wood/Water transcend their emo roots, but
the back-to-basics acoustic sound and generally downbeat
arrangements alienated many of their core fans. At a recent concert
at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, von Bohlen weathered a
barrage of shouts for old songs and had to implore the audience not
to boo the new material.

The shift in musical tone also came after von Bohlen’s surgery
in 2000 to remove a brain tumor. After suffering severe headaches,
an MRI revealed that he had developed a benign tumor known as a
menangioma, and doctors successfully removed the fist-sized growth.
Much of Wood/Water dealt with the themes of change and
re-evaluation, and songs like “Size of Your Life” and “Stop Playing
Guitar” were direct departures from their energetic and
increasingly pop-driven previous albums.

As for the band members’ future plans, all plan to develop new
musical projects, and Gnewikow hints at future collaborations with
his former band mates. “We really just wanted to escape the cycles
of being in an established band, and all that stuff dies with the
structure of the band,” says Gnewikow. “They’re brilliant guys, and
I really hope we can do stuff together.”

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