How Sleeping With Sirens’ ‘With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear’ Changed the Scene
Sleeping With Sirens’ debut album ‘With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear’ arrived in 2010 and brought something new and divisive to the genre. Taylor Markarian reflects on her introduction to the band and how they changed not just her personal musical journey, but the scene as a whole.
On April 2, 2010 I braved the awkwardness of going to a show by myself to see Of Mice & Men play Gramercy Theatre in New York City. They were the fever everyone in the heavy music scene was catching (including me, whose internal temperature was heading off the charts). But as with any show, I had to survive the opening bands first to get to the set I’d shown up for. In retrospect, it was a stacked tour with isetmyfriendsonfire, Woe, is Me, The Amity Affliction, and Sleeping With Sirens on the bill. Not that I particularly cared at the time.
I was only somewhat familiar, at best, with some of those bands and was really just waiting for the main event. But then I heard the most unexpectedly enchanting sound; a voice of otherworldly beauty. It was soft, somewhat high-pitched, and magnetic. As if in a trance, I found myself walking closer to the source of the sound. It was a person I would later learn (through admittedly obsessive online research) called Kellin Quinn.
The song he was singing, I would also discover, was the lullaby-like “Don’t Fall Asleep at the Helm,” a song from their brand new debut record, With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear. Like a fisherman at sea, I was literally drawn in by the siren before me.
After that, Sleeping With Sirens was the only band I listened to for a solid month. I must have watched the music video for “If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn” about 500 times.
With a breakup recently behind me, I had fallen in love again. But there were other reasons, aside from the obvious high school girl attraction to the band’s angelic frontman, that With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear enraptured me.
There is a reason why, 10 years later, I can remember the exact details of the precise moment I first heard SWS. (One of those reasons is still on my bedroom wall, as I of course immediately bought the tour poster.) I had never heard such sweet, loving vocals before. Sure, they followed the clean / unclean, melodic / heavy pattern I’d become accustomed to, but they were different. There was no macho bravado or brashness. The songs sparkled as they shredded; bowed as they broke down. There was a gentleness in between the thorny screams.
What was so special about Sleeping With Sirens was the readiness to embrace femininity. Like the emo music that preceded them, their songs were exceptionally forthright about their innermost feelings and deepest pains. But even emo music, as it explored all of its vulnerabilities, had a masculine posture; the voices were crass, aggressive, or disillusioned. SWS was not like that.
“Is that a guy or a girl singing?” my more stereotypically masculine metalhead friends would ask me. Often it wasn’t a genuine question, but a decidedly derisive one. Music isn’t usually consciously given a gender, but like all other things in this world, it often assumes one. Sleeping With Sirens’ music, however, remained admirably androgynous. They were willing to sound as vulnerable as they felt.
Over the years, the phrase “he sings like a girl” became almost as meaningless as the pejorative “you throw like a girl” comment in baseball. Quinn’s siren-like voice and the serenading yet strong music behind him allowed people in that music scene to shed their manufactured toughness.
Initially, it was kind of odd seeing muscular guys in the crowd singing along, “They say that love is forever / Your forever is all that I need.” But then I realized, the fact that I interpreted it as odd was actually the weirder part. It was human emotion, that’s all. And anyone, as the band’s years of continued skyrocketing success would go on to prove, can cheers to that.
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