Action/Adventure shouldn’t be here. At least, that’s what the Chicago-based five-piece seem to think. They’re wrong – very wrong – but that’s the overriding theme of their debut album. That’s partly why they named it Imposter Syndrome – because when the band signed to Pure Noise Records, they couldn’t quite believe it. Even after they released their seven-track EP Pulling Focus in 2021, and even after that EP’s lead track “Barricades” went viral on TikTok, it didn’t feel real. After all, this is a label that’s put out some of their favorite albums by some of their favorite bands, and now they were a part of it. That sense of confused bewilderment was compounded by the timing of it all.
“For us,” says lead vocalist Blake Evaristo, “having a debut on Pure Noise is insane. Especially because, when “Barricades” blew up for us and we got all that TikTok clout, it happened during the pandemic, so we didn’t even play a show till nearly a year later. And I feel like in that time, we were having imposter syndrome, hence the title. It didn’t feel real.”
“And honestly,” adds vocalist/guitarist Brompton Jackson, “it still doesn’t even feel real. We’ve just been asking questions like is this real? Do we belong here? Is this even happening?”
Much as the band – completed by drummer Adrian Brown, bassist Manny Avila and guitarist Oren Trace – might feel that way, the facts are simple: it is real, they do belong here and it is definitely happening. But their imposter syndrome runs deeper than that, namely because they’re an entirely BIPOC band in the pop-punk scene, which automatically adds an extra layer of depth and uneasiness to everything. It’s what the TikTok video for “Barricades” was all about, and it’s an inherent part of their identity. That video was never meant to blow up, nor was it meant to be overtly political. It simply captured how they felt about who they were and was uploaded to TikTok by Jackson one day on a whim.
“It was the first video we put on TikTok,” says Evaristo. “Brompton made the account that same day, and to see it connect with people has been amazing. But we’re also here now to show that we’re more than that one song! We’ve had hate comments saying that we’re race baiting, which is so frustrating.”
“But we’re 100% not,” adds Jackson. “Me, Oren and Adrian have been playing music together for the past 16 or 17 years. We went to high school together and grew up playing music. Manny was originally friends with Oren’s wife, and we found Blake on Craigslist. It was kismet.”
Still, Action/Adventure are acutely aware their existence is nevertheless important in terms of visibility. They’re just also keen to stress that their initial intentions were all music-focused, and that it’s chance, not design, that they’re all BIPOC.
“Those two parts have to co-exist on completely even playing fields,” explains Jackson. “One can’t really outshine the other. Growing up in the scene, I almost felt like a pariah – I could count the amount of other black people going to shows on one hand. One of them is Adrian! You’d always see the same four or five other black people at shows, so you get to know each other. So it’s important to not lose sight of that, but I also don’t want us to be a token band. We’re just a band. We’re a group of people playing music that we like to listen to and that we like to write – and we just all happen to be people of color. It was an accident, it wasn’t planned.”
“We just wanted to play music,” adds Brown. “We all played music individually and ultimately it just seemed easy to play that music together. And while you don’t see a lot of people of color doing this kind of music, not many people I knew in high school liked metalcore and pop-punk, so when you find those people you’re naturally drawn to together. I just wanted to create the feeling that I got when I saw bands play.”
If that was the band’s intention, they’ve achieved it. Imposter Syndrome begins with the emphatic rush of the title track. Its blitz of flurried, angular guitars that are simultaneously aggressive and poppy, before doubling down on the main concern that plagues the record: ‘We’re the imposters’. The irony is that that song, and this record, proves otherwise. Elsewhere, “Save Yourself” is a powerfully urgent call to arms that brutalizes (in a positive way) the typical pop-punk template, while “Losing Streak” lays bare their insecurities, but pits their defiance and determination against it.
“In good times,” says Brown, “I can listen to it and be like ‘Hell yeah, I survived.’ And in bad times I can hear it and be like ‘Don’t forget to keep pushing.’ It hits me and my spirit 110%.”
“There’s a lyric in that song that goes ‘No matter what the cost is we’re still chasing losses’,” adds Avila, “and that’s so true. Because no matter what it does cost, we’re still chasing it, still going, still pushing.”
One of the other hesitations that manifests itself in this record is the fact the members of Action/Adventure are older than most pop-punk bands who release a debut album. If it’s not quite a chip on their shoulder, it’s certainly something that’s nesting in the back of their minds. But it also lends their music – as youthful and full of vitality as it is – an extra level of gravitas. It makes it matter so much more.
“We joke that it’s pop-punk for adults,” smiles Evaristo. “But our ages do add to our imposter syndrome. Age and time has just always been a struggle, and you can hear it in the lyrics too. A lot of it talks about the frustrations of that, because pop-punk is always seen as young persons’ genre and we’re just getting started. We are a little older, but we want to show that it’s never too late.”
“Over the years,” adds Jackson, “I feel the genre has really become like a meme. A lot of people don’t take it seriously – when people ask what kind of music we play and I say I’m in a pop-punk band, I’ve gotten responses like ‘I used to listen to pop-punk when I was in high school.’ It’s real tongue-in-cheek. But having it feel very genuine and being able to articulate that these are our actual feelings and emotions and thoughts is very important to all of us.”
One listen to this record, and that’s clear. It’s emotive and erudite, sophisticated and serious, fun but also full of the trials and tribulations, insecurities and uncertainties that make us all human. All that is channeled into these 10 impassioned and precise, vigorous and spirited songs. The fact that it hits so incisively and profoundly demonstrates why – even if they use the term with tongues firmly in cheek – pop-punk for adults is the perfect description. It’s precisely because they’re adults and have known each other for a very long time, that it’s able to be that.
“I’ve existed with these people for so long that they’re integral parts of my life,” admits Jackson. “They’re not my bandmates, they’re my family. We’ve all been in many different projects, and this is by far the easiest project I’ve ever been involved with. It’s not hard at all. I mean, it’s hard for the reasons that being a band is hard, but being in a band with these four other people is completely second nature at this point. That part of it isn’t work at all, and I’m eternally grateful for that.”
“Even if half of the lyrics are whining about being in a band,” chuckles Evaristo. “But I hope people listen to it and see through our own eyes that being in a band is fun, but that there’s some real shit going on, too. This might be our first album, but we’ve all been through the wringer, and I hope people hear that we have real stuff that we’re dealing with – whether that’s being in a band, being a person of color in the scene or chasing a dream that seems so hard and unattainable. I really hope people can feel what we’re feeling.”