Swan Song

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Indie Pop Band Bye June Takes on Issues that Youth Face
by Chael Needle

Bye June's Gunner Sledgeski and Gil Kline. Photo by Paul Kline

Since its premiere in January, Bye June’s song, “Shades of Purple,” and its accompanying video, has been winning raves on YouTube and across the gay blogosphere—not only for the folksy whimsy of its tale told through shadow puppet swans sticking together in all kinds of weather, but also for its sincere and sensitive advocacy for marriage equality and pride.

Playing off the childlike wonder of making shadow animals on a wall, the video imagines a journey of two swans as they try to act on their feelings but are rebuffed from making it official in the eyes of the state. Water rolls, leaves fall off of trees, snow swirls, flowers bloom, bunnies hop, elephants trundle along—all courtesy of D.C. metro area-based Sati Achath, whose expert shadowography has been featured on America’s Got Talent! and Letterman.

The response to the love song has been overwhelmingly positive. “I think people understood the message we were trying to convey—that people should be free to love whomever they want, whomever they choose, whatever their religion, race, sexual orientation, gender is. So, yeah, people have written and said that they had loved it, which is great. It makes me really happy,” says Gil Kline, lead songwriter, vocalist and guitarist for the indie pop band.

“The whole issue of gay marriage and gay rights in general have always been a very personal issue to me—just cause I think it’s rather silly that people are not allowing two people who are in love to spend the rest of their lives together. I think people should be able to do what they want, whatever makes them happy,” he continues. “Especially at school, I have a lot of friends who are gay, and they’re like the nicest people and they have really awesome partners but, you know, they’ll walk down the street and people will say awful things to them, not because they’re bad people but just because they’re gay. I just find that rather appalling, so that’s why I wrote ‘Shades of Purple.’”

Along with Kline, Bye June is composed of bassist Daniel McGreal and drummer Gunner Sledgeski. All three met as students at Goucher College, in Baltimore, Maryland, where Kline, a sophomore, is majoring in music history and composition and theory.

My Life Is an Independent Film is the perfect title for the band’s recently released debut album, on which “Shades of Purple” appears. Its lyrics capture our lives’ smaller moments and everyday epiphanies, depicting realities that are often glossed over by Hollywood, like the right to marry, or a relationship’s bittersweet ending in the titular track, or the post-breakup sarcasm of “When I Get Older” (which Kline wrote as a sort of humorous, spiteful reponse to an ex-girlfriend’s suggestion that he “grow up”).

For the musical direction of Bye June, Kline says he draws inspiration from The Smashing Pumpkins (natch, as Bye June is cribbed from a song by that band), Death Cab for Cutie and Motion City Soundtrack. “Those bands have real intimate lyrics that are personal to the songwriter. So, when writing My Life as an Independent Film, I tried to make it as personal as I could at that period of time, which was kind of weird to do—to be honest with you I was really scared to [dig so deep] because I had never done it before,” says Kline.

Kline’s vocals are sweet and plaintive, as warm as cinnamon-sugared toast, as lonesome as an empty park on a winter’s day, and always resonating with the gravitas of your older, wiser brother, or the one you always wished you had, the one who follows the beat of a different drummer yet who always falls in alongside you when you are down and need someone on your side.

Bye June is a self-described “socially conscious band.” “We definitely like to write about and be aware of issues that I or people around me who are my age face,” explains Kline. “It’s not necessarily political. Like ‘Casey,’ the second song on our CD, is about someone I know who was sexually abused, and I think there are a lot of people who have been sexually abused or abused in general. So things like that—writing about issues that youth face.”

Speaking of issues that youth face, AIDS awareness is a definite presence at school, Kline affirms. “Most of the people I talk to on the Goucher campus are aware of how to prevent HIV and [know] what HIV/AIDS is. Around our campus, we’ve actually had speakers come in to talk about HIV/AIDS; how to prevent it; if you have it, how to live with it.”

Kline even wrote a song inspired by HIV/AIDS and RENT, his favorite musical (a production of which Goucher recently mounted), called “You Won’t Be Forgotten.” The subject of the song is named after his favorite character in the AIDS-themed show, Angel. “Love her! She’s fantastic! One issue that they touch on in RENT is, ‘Will I be remembered after I’m gone?’, and Angel sings a song about it and that inspired me to write ‘You Won’t Be Forgotten,’ saying, ‘You’re going to die, you’re going to go, but you are still loved and you won’t be forgotten.’”

The band also donated “You Won’t Be Forgotten” to The Silent Children Project, a nonprofit charity that helps orphaned children in Africa, Asia, and South America. The song accompanies a video (posted on YouTube) created by the project to raise awareness about the needs of children around the world who are orphaned.

Now, Kline is already working on a follow-up album. “As a musician, I’m always writing new songs. And the new CD is kind of a concept album,” he says.
“It’s about the idea of self-acceptance,” says Kline. “A newer song that I’m writing is about loving and accepting yourself for who you are and that could kind of tie in a little bit with individuals with AIDS—accepting that they have HIV or AIDS and accepting and loving themselves for who they are.”

For more information, subscribe to Bye June’s YouTube channel, byejunetv, or log on to www.byejune.com. My Life Is an Independent Film is available on iTunes.

Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U.

March 2012