It might be hard to believe now, but in 2015, playing pop punk was not cool or trendy, especially if you were a new band. The days of Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy dominating the airwaves ended abruptly and gave way to EDM and DJ club remixes, flushing the catchy, cheeky subgenre from the mainstream. Nationally, pop punk was considered cheesy, tired and all but dead in pop culture, a mere blip on the musical map that was to be quickly forgotten. But that didn't stop a group of friends in Denver from forming a pop-punk band, having grown up during the genre's first wave in the 2000s. They called it Bury Mia, making music inspired by the likes of Green Day and Taking Back Sunday.
A lot has changed since then. Nearly a decade later, bandmates Justin O’Neal and Devin Martinez recall their humble beginnings and how a recent, unexpected pop-punk resurgence spawned a healthy scene in the Mile High City. Few, if any, bands can say they were there at the beginning of that second wave like Bury Mia can.
“I would say there was actually not a ton of appeal [when we started]. I think we were going against the grain at that time. For the most part, when we were playing shows, we were playing with metal bands. We were playing with EDM bands. We were playing with more straightforward rock bands,” says O’Neal, who handles vocals and guitar. “The scene in Denver...was kind of dead circa 2016. It felt like we were the only band doing it, or there were a very limited number of bands doing it at that time, but we just wanted to play that music.”
Martinez, a clean-shaven elder emo with black gauges and swoop bangs, adds, “It was a hard time as a band in the ’teens. You wouldn’t have a set pop-punk lineup like you do now."
But Bury Mia stayed the course. The band has since played the Underground Music Showcase and Channel 93.3’s Big Gig, and even opened for Boys Like Girls, proving that pop punk never truly died. O’Neal points to those shows, in particular, as a sign that the music scene had shifted in Denver.
“If you looked at [the Underground Music Showcase] three, four years ago, you’d see no punk bands at all. They kind of stuck more in the indie, alt-rock space for the most part,” he says. “It’s been cool to see pop punk get a little bit of notoriety in that scene, and some of that coming back on the radio stations locally, as well.”
The combination of so many local bands playing pop punk and eager audiences is still a little trippy for Martinez.
“It’s definitely freaking weird, man. When we were opening for Boys Like Girls at the Ogden Theatre, it was like impostor syndrome for us, because we did start in a room where we were playing to the bartender and the other bands,” says the vocalist and bassist. “Having a crowd, a following of people who are thoroughly engaged in the music, it just feels weird. It’s an amazing feeling, but it’s definitely weird for me.”
O'Neal calls Denver's current scene a "boiling pot" of creativity and pop-punk energy. The revival is exemplified by a handful of newer groups he lists: Suitable Miss, The Losers Club, Years Down. It’s not just that these bands are gigging consistently, either, but that the musicians are supporting the other acts around town, too.
“One of the most amazing parts about the scene is if you go to any of the bands playing in Denver, you’ll see bits and pieces of other bands, because we like to support each other," Martinez says. "We like to go to each other’s shows and see what the other one is bringing to the table."
“Same thing for the touring shows," O'Neal adds. "If you go see New Found Glory or Alkaline Trio, you’re going to see fifteen or twenty local bandmembers.”
The next chance to see Bury Mia live will be on Friday, March 17, aka St. Patrick's Day, at Globe Hall. The local pop-punk bill also includes Goodbye Aurora, the Nova Kicks and Keep Me Speechless.
O’Neal and Martinez, along with guitarist Stevan Alt and drummer Marcus Allen-Hille, may have some festive costumes and special libations planned for the occasion. Either way, expect to see Martinez bust out a few awkward moves, while the rest of the bandmates unabashedly do their own thing, too.
“I do a lot of dancing on stage. I don’t necessarily know how to do it, but you’ll see me moving, jumping around the place,” Martinez says. “Justin’s jumping and doing his spins. Stevan’s doing his hardcore faces. He makes some of the best faces you’ll see on stage when he thinks something’s good or he’s just getting down to the music. Marcus does not make any faces — he’s almost like a robot. He’s like a picture from 1896, with the same face for the whole time.”
O’Neal, laughing at the descriptions, elaborates on Martinez's actions. "First of all, Devin tends to get injured a lot at our shows. I think he’s fallen on bass drums. He’s dropped the bass on himself. We hit each other with instruments all the time. A few times, I’ve fallen on my face,” he says, noting that the concerts are all about bringing “a huge amount of energy.”
That’s also what Bury Mia does on its latest release, “We’ve Been Trying to Reach You About Your Car’s Extended Warranty.” The title might be a mouthful, but the music is three-plus minutes of pure pop punk. It’s catchy and fun while still sounding a bit somber. What matters most, Martinez says, is whether the music makes you move.
“We’re kind of in between poppy and heavy. We want to be able to do those sick breakdowns and throw down, but at the same time, we want something catchy and something someone can dance to and, ultimately, we can dance to,” he explains. “If we can feel it and get that hip-swinging motion, we’re like, ‘All right, this is good.’”
Several more singles are on tap throughout the year. The band will be at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins in June to record new material for an upcoming release — or, as Martinez puts it, to “just go ham and create some riffs or whatever.”
But the new Bury Mia music is more serious than the band's previous output, particularly from a lyrics standpoint. O’Neal recalls how he’s been known to “shout some ridiculous lyric” whenever the band is in the room writing, but both he and Martinez have opened up more about their resepective mental health on the new songs.
“I’m probably the worst example of it. I’ll say ridiculous things when I’m trying to figure out a lyric. All I really care about is the melody at first,” O’Neal says, referencing an approach preferred by none other than Kurt Cobain. “And then you find your way to lyrics. Sometimes a song will write itself, and then you get that lyric that makes sense right away, but sometimes I’ll put something down and it’ll take six months for that thought that fits the song to come around.
“It’s an interesting direction that we’ve taken with some of these new songs," he continues. "We’re talking a little bit about mental health and our own perspective within that. Going into COVID was a big awakening for a lot of people, because you had a lot of time to sit there with your thoughts. You’ll see a lot of that in the lyrics of ‘Car Warranty’: sitting in that overwhelming sadness and despair; just being there and not being able to have a lot of action you can take.”
While Bury Mia has primarily been an escape for Martinez, he says the music has also become a productive, positive outlet.
“My mental state has been draining into lyrics for the past year and just letting it go lyrically as opposed to bottling it up,” he explains. “When I’m able to go out there and play it live, it’s kind of a release for me, so, yeah, you can expect me to be into the music.”
Bury Mia, 8 p.m. Friday, March 17, Globe Hall, 4483 Logan Street. Tickets are $15.