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Balance and Composure: Suburban Punks In The City.

February 20, 2014

BalanceAndComposureSmallText by Jared Whalen. Image by Jonathan Van Dine.

Stepping out of his back door into the South Philly air, Jon Simmons lights up a cigarette while taking a breather from the small party inside. This gathering is one of several celebrating a week full of accomplishments. The day prior, Simmons and his band, Balance and Composure, released their second full-length album, The Things We Think We’re Missing. Tomorrow, he and the band’s four other members will pile into their van and embark on a month-long U.S. tour followed immediately by a full tour to include dates in Europe.

“It’s been a long day,” Simmons, vocalist and guitarist says, sporting a ruffled-to-the-side hairdo, a pair of jeans and one of an endless supply of band T-shirts.

His backyard is no bigger than an average dorm room. Two blocks from Geno’s Steaks, the house is tucked away from most of the city’s noises this time of night – just the hum of a generator and a repetitive bass drum from speakers inside are audible. Simmons and his roommate, B&C’s guitarist Andrew Slaymaker, banter with one another over the best and worst parts of tour life.

Best friends tend to act that way.

Balance and Composure played their first show in December of 2007 at Siren Records in Doylestown, the band’s hometown.

The five 20-somethings have come a long way since then, signing to No Sleep Records in early 2009 and releasing their debut full-length, Separation, in 2011.

The Things We Think We’re Missing debuted at number 51 on Billboard’s Top 200 Chart, number 3 on the Vinyl Chart, number 16 on the Rock Chart and number 19 on the Indie Chart.

The band approached this album differently from prior releases, spending two weeks secluded in a cabin in East Stroudsburg, writing day-in and day-out. The result is a highly focused collection of songs.

“I feel like it’s how we’re supposed to sound, so it could be the next step for us,” says Simmons.

Each song is an explosion of anthem-like instrumentals balanced with Simmons’ somber yet impacting vocals. The lyrics, amplified by the music, carry the listener through an emotional journey of personal struggles.

“I tend to write a lot about spiritual things,” says Simmons. “Spiritual battles you have with yourself, like growing out of the religion you grew up with. It’s a really desperate record – like a desperate need to be okay.”

Reviews for the album have been positive. On the day of the release, the band received an influx of social media attention. While mostly from distant strangers, some things stood out, like the L.A. Kings tweeting, “@balanceandcomp album of the year,” to which they could only reply, “@LAKings: Thanks, but Flyers forever.”

Simmons finishes his smoke and steps inside. The walls of his living room are decorated with art and posters. Below a Nirvana print rests a vast record collection that could spark envy in any analog junkie. Though they grew up and started the band in Doylestown, Simmons and Slaymaker made the move to Philadelphia in May 2013, mostly out of boredom.

“There’s just so much more to do in Philly,” says Simmons. “In Doylestown, it’s the same five bars and you run into everybody you know. We just needed a change in scenery and we’ve always loved Philly.”

Growing up as suburban punks who commuted to shows at the First Unitarian Church since they were 15, Philadelphia has always been a home away from home for them.

“Some of our best shows have been in Philly,” says Simmons. “We have the most support [here].”

The other three members of B&C – Erik Petersen (guitar), Matt Warner (bass) and Bailey Van Ellis (drums) – are content to stay out of city limits.

“They like the suburbs,” admits Simmons. “It’s annoying.”

After practicing as many as four times per week after a full day’s work, the mystique of being a working musician can get a little washed out. The months between tours foster anxiety and an eagerness for the guys to hit the road.

“You need it,” says Simmons. “You want it done by the end of tours, but after a month back you’re like, ‘Ok …’”

Slaymaker adds, “Touring is just so much more fun than fucking working a job and getting up at 7 o’clock in the morning.”

As Simmons and Slaymaker continue entertaining their guests, the night seems very normal. Though the conversations include chatter about last-minute booking details and upcoming tour dates, the party is not unlike the many others happening in South Philly. The two guys are assimilating quite well after jumping ship on suburbia and taking advantage of Philly.

“I don’t think I’m going back,” Simmons says.

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