Back before the internet was a mere series of tubes aflutter in Al Gore's head—or something along those lines—Sunny Day Real Estate was the single most mysterious band on this planet. Their videos were relegated to the barren graveyard hours of Sunday night (technically Monday morning) on MTV, their shadowy genre of emo was so secretive that no one dared utter the "e word" out loud, and the band vehemently refused to set foot, or perform, in my former home state of California. In the winter of 1994, the closest thing most of us could come to picturing the band—they had no promotional photos—was to witness the sad Playmobil people that adorned the lyric book to Diary.
While this life spent in the shadows might have helped hone their mystique, guitarist Dan Hoerner remembers that era slightly less fondly. "It was kind of silly in hindsight, it's almost embarrassing to talk about it, but really it all stemmed from a true belief that our music was going to say everything that we couldn't say with words, and we would let that be our vehicle for communicating." He continues, "We didn't really care about becoming popular—we thought all the rest of the stuff was just a distraction anyway."
He's right. As time rolls by it seems that the more you know about SDRE, the worse off you are. From their furtive start in some miscellaneous suburb of Washington to the band's rise as Seattle's first wave of flannel-free saviors, it was a wondrous era, where a band could sit at the helm of an entire genre of their own—even if they never really wanted to be known as the act that wrestled the emo crown from Rites of Spring—and still never spill a single detail about themselves. Of course, that all changed.
Following the flurry of success that spread around Diary, the band had a messy split. SDRE had their very own Yoko (here's a hint: he was a Jewish carpenter) and allegedly split onstage in DC after frontman Jeremy Enigk decided to break out in prayer at the end of a set. They posthumously delivered LP2—people often refer to this as The Pink Album, long before that phrase would be ruined by the singer of "Get the Party Started"—and half the band dissolved into the Washington abysses while the other half suffered a worse fate: backing Dave Grohl in the Foo Fighters. Later, three-quarters of SDRE came together to release the underrated How it Feels to Be Something On, a contract fulfillment live album, and finally their lackluster swan song, The Rising Tide. By the time their last record was released, emo was well out of their hands, spawning a generation primarily known for bad music, worse hair, and shrill local news segments claiming it as the preferred slicing soundtrack for teenage cutters.
But Diary, oh sweet Diary. My copy of its lyric book is so dog-eared and severely damaged from overuse, that it has evolved into a sort of Dead Sea Scrolls of teenage emo obsession, a weathered and finger-smudged testament to the staying power of Enigk's wounded pen. But it's not just the legacy that the record carries; the songs on Diary still sound as relevant today as they did when it first graced store shelves in 1994. Judging from the band's beaming comments, this current reunion—all original members, all old songs—feels like a sincere gesture, and while it's hard to ignore the nostalgia and historical revisionism (let us never speak of the Fire Theft again) of it all, it's just nice to have Sunny Day Real Estate back in our lives.