Podcast Of The Week: The Stereo, The Kings of No Hope, And The Therapy Of Getting Older

I’m fascinated by the in-between bands. The ones who were a few years early and a few years too late all at once. The Stereo is one of those bands. I could almost forget they were there. But then you hear a song, from 4 years before or 4 years after, and you say, “Oh yeah, The f***ing Stereo.” 

Rory Phillips had been in the Austin band, The Impossibles. They were kind of the Weezer of ska/punk. They did their pre-emo, cut-time sing-along choruses like nobody else. I loved that band. And after a demo and a few albums, they (as teenage bands do), imploded and disappeared.

I can actually still remember the day my buddy Joe walked into our basement with their demo. We joked about how they were dressed like some Texas misinterpretation of The Warriors on the cover. I ordered their first album through my local independent music store (shoutout to Gallery of Sound) and I’ve been saying, “Every day above ground is a good, good day” ever since. 

Somewhere across mid-90s space-time, Jamie Wilford was in Animal Chin. They were another ska/punk band from that weird scene’s era. They had legendary live shows, none of which I ever saw, but I remember hearing the stories about them. The Animal Chin albums never made it into my collection, but the sampler songs, like “Seven” off of Asian Man’s Mailorder is Fun! Was dubbed from CD to cassette, probably by Joe, and ending up getting regularly play in our basement too.  

That’s a lot of background on two bands that fell apart. But it’s important. Because when they did, Fueled by Ramen Records co-founder, John Janick, knew Rory and Jamie had been working on “new” stuff separately. He somehow talked them into doing it together. He knew they already knew and respected each other. He also knew they were already two of his favorite songwriters. So what might happen if they joined up? And hey, why not? 

The Stereo was born. Their debut, Three Hundred, came out in 1999 on Fueled by Ramen. Within a few years, Rory would be kicked out of the band he helped start. Jamie would struggle to balance his ambitions and lack of control over obstacles that would keep him from reaching those ambitions. 

And the band would ultimately collapse under its own weight. Not glamorously. Not on the covers of Rolling Stone or even on MTV. Just another intra-scene darling, cut to black. Fin.

But their influence… 

The Kings of No Hope is a podcast series telling the story of The Stereo. Rory put it together, despite having gotten kicked out, unceremoniously, for a good reason – The Stereo’s music would go on to inspire the sounds of the 2000s. Bands like Fallout Boy, Panic! at the Disco, and Paramore cite them as primary inspirations. Their writing, their production, their artistic style – it’s so specifically The Stereo. 

And, of course, it was so good it spawned numerous copies. 

Had they appeared a few years earlier, I genuinely think they could have been adjacent to Weezer. Had they showed up a few years later, they could have been bigger than Fallout Boy. But in 1999-2002, they were a blip, disappearing almost as quickly as they showed up.   

I’ve been thinking a lot about why the series hit me so hard. 

As a fellow sometimes overly ambitious youth, you figure out pretty quickly that Jamie is the bad guy when you’re listening to this story unfold. Not a bad “bad guy” in some evil way, but he’s a villain in a “your desire to be something others think is fun at one level, but few of them can appreciate the much harder goal you’re working towards” way. 

It hits home. Especially with Rory telling it, because he’s as much got every reason to be cynical as Jamie does to be overly apologetic or even to have refused to do the post hoc project. Which is what’s special – the podcast is looking back from 2022, with a mature perspective, in a beautiful way. 

I never got anywhere close to their level with my own musical ambitions. But I know I did try a little too hard at times. I let ambitions and insecurities break what should have been some perfectly good friendships and relationships. Ambition is a funny thing like that. Jamie’s arc in the story hit me really hard. Mostly because we consistently get to hear him reflecting back, as a grown (and evolved) man now. I hear, in his voice, something I’ve been aspiring towards (especially these last few years).

And, most of all, listening to the series a couple of years after it came out, I (and now you) already know how it’s going to end. The Stereo got back together a few years ago. Well, a handful of them did, but the important detail is that Rory and Jamie were both there. No bad blood. All collaboration and creativity again, just like at the beginning.

The podcast series lands so well I think because of who Rory and Jamie have become. It highlights a level of self-awareness we don’t always get to see. And it’s not like they’re celebrities in the superstar sense, but they are celebrities in the I’ve certainly looked up to them for several decades of life sense. 

For all their ambitions and accidents, they’re both at peace with what mattered then. And, more importantly, they’re at peace now. They’re making music, with their families, and with their lives, in a way that works for what matters to them all now. 

If you ever traveled in a van with your friends to perform songs for other bands, you have to hear this. Even if you don’t know their music. This is a special story. 

Extra thanks to Rory Philips for making this documentary happen.