Runaway Kids – Better Days EP

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Forming a band is not easy. I can’t really say I know from experience as I’ve only ever played two years’ worth of saxophone in middle school. There was one day in high school where a couple of friends and I came up with a Christian band name, “Cross Word,” but that never got off the ground. However, after reading about so many bands this past year, I’ve found it amazing to hear different artists’ motivations for joining up and playing together. One example is the Los Angeles-based, punk rock group, Runaway Kids, and specifically their 2015 debut EP, “Better Days.”

This band is made up of four artists: Gage Armstrong on vocals, guitarist Sean Chamilian, RJ Shankle on drums, and bassist Korey Keeton. These guys were inspired by the punk rock bands spanning the 80s and 90s who played not only to make cool sounds, but also to unite people. Their songs contained messages that brought people together to fight against social injustices involving things like corrupted politicians and people who deserted their families. Their songs were mainly for the people’s benefit, and that’s something this quartet believed in as well. In their biography on www.runaway-kids.com, it is mentioned they wanted to “imbue that same sense of urgency within their listeners, inspiring them to fight for a better tomorrow.” After they came together in Summer 2014, they went straight to work, putting together songs and recording them for their EP, working alongside producer Cameron Webb, who has worked with bands such as Pennywise, Sum 41, and Alkaline Trio. They were also assisted by Pennywise’s Randy Bradbury, who helped with tracking bass on the EP. 

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The EP was released in Summer 2015, but I didn’t hear about them until just recently. After listening to their fast-paced, loud, tough, and emotional instrumentals and vocals, I noticed each of the five songs carried some weight. They all had messages that seemed extremely important to them and their singing felt genuine, like they had gone through these struggles. It’s not easy to describe all five of the EP’s songs as a whole, so I’ll talk about each one to give more of a taste for Runaway Kids’ style. 

The EP opens up with a song called “Afraid,” a heart-racing track that will immediately cause listeners to overflow with energy. Honestly, I feel like this song is less punk than the other four, at least in sound, as it reminds me more of a typical rock song. However, when it comes to the inspiring messages of punk rock, “Afraid” is quite successful. It discusses the innate fear people have of being hated by their peers, simply for being different or making mistakes. The narrator proclaims that we can’t fear what other people are going to say anymore, because we decide how our lives will go down. This song is truly empowered by the constant use of “we,” because instead of telling only the listeners what to do, the narrator is revealing his struggles with this fear as well, knowing that he has to change his own ways. This song is a spectacular opening for the EP, and the tracks only get better with the next song, “Deep Breaths.” 

Photo: Brett Fair

Photo: Brett Fair

Listeners will know they’re in for a wild ride with “Deep Breaths” when the narrator exclaims, “Oh, shit! Well, here we go again!” It feels like they’ve literally just finished the previous song and the band has just realized things are going to get intense once again. This track is definitely more punk than “Afraid,” with harder guitar playing and vocals that seem as if the narrator is yelling at the listeners. Its theme has to do with breaking through struggles, as the narrator knows they’ll be okay no matter what. They’ve always made it before, so nothing will stop them this time.

The question remains: who is they? Well, Gage Armstrong actually answers this question in a quote posted with the song’s music video on YouTube. When talking about the song’s lyrics, he says, “The word ‘friend’ gets thrown around so loosely nowadays. People think if someone follows you on Instagram that you’re ‘friends.’ This song goes out to my actual friends, my family. The people that have been with me through the best and worst times. The people that picked me up from the police station, gave me money if I needed it, let me sleep on their floors when I didn’t have a home, and the people that are here to see me through the best times of my life.”

Photo: Camilo Baez

Photo: Camilo Baez

So they doesn’t have to mean Gage’s actual family, but those select few who have transcended the commonly thrown-around term “friend,” becoming something closer than even blood. They’re the people who always looked out for him while he did the same. Their bond is so strong they’ve become stronger than any obstacle that pops up. It might not be easy, but it is possible.

Two later songs on the EP deal with the negative sides of family, both handling the topic in different ways. The first, “No Direction,” takes an entirely negative point-of-view, with the narrator yelling obscenities throughout the track. His shouts of anger are directed towards his parents, who left him alone to figure out life on his own. There’s hardly any way for him to do this, because, as he states, “I’m just a fucked-up kid/With no direction at all.” These lyrics are so powerful because they emphasize the narrator’s feelings of anger and helplessness. He continues driving his parents away, even when they seem to desire helping him, but he can’t accept their help because they caused him to drop into this situation originally. It’s definitely one of the darker songs of the EP. Although, I will personally admit I preferred the direction taken by the EP’s title song, “Better Days.”

“Better Days” is probably one of my favorite tracks of the album, if only because of its official lyric video. Both fast-paced and aggressive, this song is all about memories, most specifically the good ones before everything was thrown into turmoil. During the lyric video, we see a barrage of childhood photos as the narrator sings to his mother, blaming her and his father for destroying their family’s peace. From the two opening lyrics, “You’ll never need me the way I needed you/You fell apart right when he abandoned you,” we can only assume the narrator’s father abandoned his family and it threw the mother into grief, destroying her. Even so, there seems to be more blame shifted on the mother for not being stronger. While she was hurting, so was the rest of the family that needed her support. The narrator implies she should have risen above her pain in order to keep the family at peace, but he was only left to long for the days before his father left, back when everything was great. This song is definitely a powerful one that not only shames absentee parents, but also the parents who don’t strive to keep trying after they’ve been abandoned. Even if you’ve suddenly become a single parent, you can’t neglect your children who are counting on you. You have to be strong and do whatever you can for them.

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Finally, we come to the fourth song, “We Remember,” which made me imagine an ocean when I first listened to it. When the narrator opens the song with “I’ve hit rock bottom,” I see a man chained to ocean floor, struggling to break free and resurface before he drowns. It’s definitely a vivid song that becomes even more so when the narrator reminisces. The main chorus goes as such: “I remember when I was young/I could take anything/You couldn’t hold me down/But it’s getting harder every day.” These lines don’t seem to say a lot, but at the same time, I couldn’t help thinking of my own childhood memories. I thought of all the times when I had no worries to speak of, when I only had to worry about school, instead of countless job applications.

If I had to pick a favorite track on the EP, it would be this one because I can relate to it the most. However, that’s what’s so great about Runaway Kids and their songs. Like the punk rock bands of the past, they’re all about spreading the truth, creating stories we can emphasize with, and then encouraging us to fight back against these wrongs. These situations will never change unless we move forward and change them ourselves. It’s such powerful motivation, enough to get you back your feet and moving again. Sometimes, it’s hard to hear the truths these songs pronounce, but they contain things that need to be said, if only to make the world we live in a better place.

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