By Wesley Case, The Baltimore Sun
7:36 AM EDT, June 22, 2012
When he was 12, Joey Armstrong triumphantly walked off the stage after his band finished its first-ever performance. His preteen punk band had won over some new fans and, more important, his secret was still safe.
Or so he thought — until the following act's singer grabbed the microphone.
"Then he said, 'Give a round of applause for Lil' Green Day,'" Armstrong said. "I was really bummed out."
Armstrong, now 17, is the son of Billie Joe Armstrong, frontman for Green Day, one of rock's most successful acts. He's also still the drummer of his first band, Emily's Army, a punk-pop quartet from Oakland, Calif., that plays the annual Insubordination Fest at the Ottobar on Saturday.
In between Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown" world tour and adapting "American Idiot" into an internationally renowned musical, Billie Joe found time to produce the 2011 debut album from Emily's Army, "Don't Be a D---." (Hewing to the band's punk ethos, the album's full name isn't appropriate for a family newspaper.)
For a guy with armfuls of platinum records and Grammys, Billie Joe could have been the punk version of a perfectionist pageant mom. Instead, he played the role of a true producer, assisting the band with technical tricks he had learned along the way.
"If he has any tips he's picked up in the past about recording — say, where to stand in front of the microphone — he'll help us," Joey Armstrong said. "But he wants us to do our own thing. He doesn't want to change our sound."
Based on the 14 short bursts of catchy power-punk found on the band's first album, Emily's Army has reason to feel confident. For a group of teenagers (lead singer Cole Becker is 16, guitarist Travis Neumann is 17 and bassist Max Becker, brother of Cole, is the oldest, at 18), the songs are refreshingly energetic and addictive, like a quick gulp of a sugary energy drink.
"We were influenced by bands that keep it as simple as possible," Armstrong said, citing garage groups such as Japanese Motors and the Strokes as inspirations.
Not only is the band's taste surprisingly discerning, but the band's songs rise above standard fare. One album cut is dedicated to Cole Becker's former heroes, the professional athletes whose off-the-field transgressions overshadow their record-breaking performances. True to a teenage punk's attitude, he doesn't hesitate to call them out by name.
"I used to love Barry Bonds, take a swing and it's gone. / But as time went by and he grew in size, my respect level slowly dropped," he sings.
The lead singer says he's come to appreciate the athletes he once idolized for being cautionary examples.
"I used to want to be like Barry Bonds and Tiger Woods, and then everything happened, and [that song] is more of a thank-you for making me deviate from sports and turn to music," Becker said. "It shattered some of my childhood dreams, but then again, if those dreams hadn't been shattered, I wouldn't be talking to you right now."
After touring ends in mid-July, Emily's Army plans to hit the studio. They have "a bunch of songs in our arsenal," ready to be recorded for the quartet's sophomore album. Armstrong sounds particularly excited about the new material, because like all teenagers, his influences are changing. Writing, he says, is the only part of being in a band he cares about.
"A lot of people ask us if we get a lot of girls, but that never really happens to us," Armstrong said. "That only happens to bands that actually care about that stuff."
If you go
Emily's Army performs Saturday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., as part of Insubordination Fest. The Copyrights, the Dopamines and many others will perform. Doors open at 1 p.m. Tickets are $38.50 (a Friday and Saturday pass costs $66). Call 410-662-0069 or go to theottobar.com.
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