Sweet Pill's potent brand of emo has taken the scene by storm. The Philadelphia band's powerful vocals and airy, precise guitar noodling have left listeners eager for their upcoming EP Starchild, which comes out on March 15. Like the rest of the band's catalog, the two tracks that have already been released are imbued with a distict air of positivity despite their glum subject matter. The group has been touring relentlessly for more than a year, but is currently in the midst of a five-month break so they can write material a new full-length album scheduled to come out in 2025. They're also planning to shoot a continuous music video that will cover all four tracks on the upcoming EP.
Following the breakout success of their full-length debut Where The Heart Is in 2022, Sweet Pill found itself at the center of a label bidding war. They fielded offers from scene heavyweights like Epitaph, Pure Noise and Wax Bodega before signing with Hopeless Records earlier this year. Representatives from the label – which has alumni including All Time Low, Sum 41 and the Wonder Years – flew out to see Sweet Pill on three different occasions.
"They fought for us," founding guitarist Jayce Williams told Q. "It was overwhelming at first. I was almost turned off by it," the group's other guitarist Sean McCall added. Singer Zayna Youssef said it was hard for the band to cede partial commercial control over its new music. She also noted that other labels offered the group more money. "But we know Hopeless will be able to push us to a place we probably couldn't go ourselves," the singer said.
These days Sweet Pill is a proud Philadelphia band, but the group's roots lie firmly in New Jersey. Youssef, McCall and Williams all attended Rowan University, a state school in Glassboro. The allure of the thriving DIY scene in nearby Philly is what drew Williams to the campus. Between classes, Youssef sang and played drums in a group called Chill/Hilarious. McCall fronted another emo act called 2319. Williams and Youssef met at a basement show the guitarist organized through his group 4333 Collective. The group went on to host dozens of other concerts over the years, including a stealthy hardcore show at a South Jersey Sonic Drive-Thru in 2022.
Sweet Pill originally emerged from a senior capstone project Williams and Youssef worked on through Rowan's music business program in 2019. McCall was eager to join. Bassist Ryan Cullen and drummer Chris Kearney were also added around this time. The pandemic blunted the group's momentum, but they ended up using the downtime to write Where The Heart Is. Sweet Pill had no label support when they recorded the LP with Matt Weber (who they returned to for Starchild). Despite their local notoriety, the band spent months desperately shopping the release to various labels before it was finally picked up by Topshelf Records.
The album includes distinctive artwork by oil painter Kerry Dunn, who was Williams' neighbor at a former apartment in South Philadelphia. (He was also brought back to do the visuals for Starchild.) The LP's cover, featuring a bodiless face being stretched out by a pair of marble white hands, caught the attention of La Dispute singer Jordan Dreyer, who brought Sweet Pill on tour in September 2022. In the 15 months since then, McCall said the band has played more than 140 shows while living together in a school bus.
Nowadays, Youssef and Williams are roommates in a North Philadelphia row home. Living and touring together would be a lot for some bandmates, but the pair said they don't actually see each other much. "We have two different schedules," Youssef said. The band used to practice in the house's basement, but had to move out because the noise was bothering the singer's cat.
Williams said Philly groups like Glocca Morra and Algernon Cadwallader had a big influence on Sweet Pill's sound. He also mentioned Scranton-area bands like Tigers Jaw and Title Fight. Youssef said she's a big fan of Paramore and Hailey Williams, who may be the most notable woman to ever front an emo band.
The genre has a reputation as a haven for heartbroken straight white men, but Youssef said most of the disrespect she feels from that demographic fades away after people see the band play live. But because the singer is a queer icon of sorts, she sometimes gets unwanted sexual advances and physical contact from other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
"The most aggressive people have been people who look like me," Youssef said. "People cross boundaries, people say things you maybe don't want to hear."
Much of the band's new material was written while the band was staying at a house in the Poconos. Some elements, like the main riff on "Starchild" penned by McCall, predate these sessions. "Eternal," the third track from Starchild slated for a Feb. 2 release, will be a bit slower than the rest of the EP. The final song "Sympathy" will be the most eclectic.
The lyrics on the EP are more "self-deprecating" than the band's past work, Youssef said. That's why the cover art features a person looking into a hand mirror. "Oh God, I hate her, that girl in the mirror," the vocalist sang on "Chewed Up." That anxiety bled into the recording sessions with Webster at his studio in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, which Youssef described as rushed. "You can hear in some parts that I was sick," she said. Recording the vocals for "Sympathy" on the band's final day in the studio was a particularly taxing experience. "I almost started crying," Youssef said. But after a nap and a quick Italian ice break, she rewrote the line she was struggling with and wrapped up the EP for good.
Now the band hopes to return to the Poconos to work on their new album. They're also looking forward to beginning their first headlining tour and an upcoming trip to the UK, which will include a show at Outbreak Fest 2024 in Manchester.
Sweet Pill's future looks bright. The three members who spoke with Q had an unrelentingly positive attitude about the band. Although they don't seem poised to break away from their signature emo sound any time soon, these musicians clearly have the charisma and songwriting chops to make it big in a more mainstream genre.
Youssef said change is the only constant for Sweet Pill. She explained this philosophy through a lesson she learned while studying painting at Rowan.
"Never fall in love with a mark you make," she said. "You've gotta constantly be changing the canvas in front of you… I think that's what we're good at."