By 1997, emo was in the early throes of its first evolution since erupting out of the D.C. hardcore scene a dozen years earlier. This new wave was less concerned with its post-hardcore forebearer’s political peccadilloes and blood curdling shrieks, favoring instead a light-weight, mix-tape friendly, and hyper-sensitive version of pop punk. Every medium-sized burg in the greater midwest had at least one local heart-on-the-sleeve quartet playing three minute love songs, including Milwaukee’s Promise Ring, Kansas City’s Get Up Kids, Champaign-Urbana’s Braid, Austin’s Mineral, Denver’s Christie Front Drive, and Madison’s Rainer Maria. It was punk adjacent, but in a way your parents could tolerate.
Little Rock had Everyone Asked About You.
The oft-maligned genre arrived in Arkansas’ capital city just as Bill Clinton was packing his things for the White House. Chino Horde turned-on a new generation of confused alterna-teens that congregated around the benches on Kavanaugh Boulevard. “Little Rock was so small that there wasn't a metal scene or punk scene or an emo scene. There was one scene,” Everyone Asked About You’s drummer and co-founder Lee Bufiord said.
Situated between Memphis and Dallas on the Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life touring circuit of the American south, Little Rock was afforded ready access to punk’s many derivatives. Shows took place primarily at a brutalist gazebo in Riverfront Park known only as The Belvedere, a screen printing shop at 800 State St., and the living rooms of middle class Heights and Hillcrest neighborhoods. The collectively owned File 13 label began documenting the scene in 1990 on cassette and 7", culminating in 1992’s Towncraft: Music And Words From Little Rock, Arkansas LP. Steve Schmidt and Sam Kaplan’s “Adios America” weekly show on the freeform KABF kept the kids informed on the latest sonic trends. “All the weirdos hung out,” guitarist and vocalist Chris Sheppard remembered. “The punk kids, the metal kids, the drama kids, the band kids… going to the punk show would be the thing that you would do.”
Everybody Was In A Thousand Bands
Even as bands like Chino Horde, Five-0, and Substance were aging out or off to college, their brand of melodic hardcore had infected the misfit aspirants on the scene’s fringe; spawning Ben Nichols’ Red 40, Chip King’s Full Service Quartet, Matt Werth’s William Martyr 17, and Lee Buford’s Class of Eighty Four. Appearances by Cap’n Jazz and Current at The Belvedere in the summer of ‘94 pushed the narrative even further, and soon enough the posers who’d shown up wearing Check Your Head t-shirts the summer before were now writhing on a concrete gazebo floor howling about the injustice of white suburbia. Sixteen-year-old Chris Sheppard was one of those screamers, turning off friends and acquaintances alike in his short-lived J. Edgar Nation quartet. “It was one of those bands that talked as much or more than they played,” Sheppard remembered. “And when we did play, nobody would show up because, as I was told by friends, ‘Nobody likes to be preached at.’”
By comparison, Class of Eighty Four were well-received and respected, having dropped out of Little Rock Central High to tour the country on the strength of their File 13-released 7" EP in spring 1996. And while the band didn’t last the summer, Buford’s drumset and mop of blonde hair became a fixture at The Belvedere and the Kavanagh Blvd. benches. “Lee drove a Volvo 240 sedan, blue, but a very dusty blue because the enamel had worn off. He had this giant Goodwill store sticker that he had stolen on the hood of the car,” Sheppard said. “He looked like the kid on the cover of the Unwound 7" on Gravity—with this bleached blonde mushroom haircut. He wore a bandana to hold his hair back. You could spot him from a mile away.”
Sheppard had recently returned from a disastrous and isolating stint at a Florida boarding school where he’d been bullied mercilessly. Back on his home turf, he was in the midst of a series of adolescent code-switches when he fell in with the punk crowd at Little Rock Central. “Everybody was in a thousand bands,” Sheppard recalled. “You'd write a song that sounded a particular way and put together a band based on that particular sound.” Buford and Sheppard’s shared affection for Olympia post-hardcore trio Unwound led to their first collaboration the Low End Theory. But it wasn’t until the fall of 1996 when they discovered The Rentals, Rainer Maria, and the Moog synthesizer that they began toying with the sound that became Everyone Asked About You. “There was a strong understanding nationally of what the Little Rock sound was. It was William Martyr 17, Chino Horde, Generation of Vipers, all probably classifiable as ’90s emo,” Sheppard said. “The only thing that was really connecting us to the rest of the Little Rock sound was that we were just as loud as everyone else.”
Under the cataract gaze of single parenthood, the neighborhood misfits gathered in Buford’s Heights-neighborhood one-story home to jam and play Mario Kart 64. Fellow Central High outsider and Heights dweller Collins Kilgore started showing up with his Marshall JCM-900 half-stack and underclassman enthusiasm. While their schoolmates toiled away, the trio spent September learning a half-ass version of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed” and seven other original songs, with Kilgore and Sheppard switching off between guitar and keys. “I couldn't sing and play the guitar at the same time. Neither could Collins,” Sheppard said. “And we didn't have a bass player, nor did we really think we needed one based on the style of what we were playing.” Regardless of their unorthodox line-up, they required a vocalist. Lee Buford knew just the right person.
“Little Rock is small,” Buford emphasized. He’d been skipping school and killing time at the benches on Kavanaugh when he began noticing Hannah Vogan commute to and from her nearby home to the private Pulaski Academy on the west side. “Everyone knows everyone or someone who knows someone, and eventually you just run into them,” he continued. Soon enough she too was a denizen of the benches. “I spent a ton of time hanging out at the benches waiting for people to come by,” Vogan said. “Nobody had cell phones. Everybody played foursquare! The benches were the center of our universe.” And while it didn’t work out romantically, Buford knew that she had been taking opera lessons and might have the range that this new material required.
As another magical summer had just ended, the quartet’s primary subject matter revolved around lamenting the season’s passing and the nervousness of what adolescence had in store for 1996’s cooler months to come. “A lyric like ‘Summer, I love you I love you I love you” looks dumb when written out,” Sheppard said. “But what we were trying to communicate was the feeling of being free of school obligations. Of It not being dark at four in the afternoon. Of the adventures that come along with going to shows four out of the seven nights a week—hopping a fence at a country club, skinny dipping with 30 of your friends, driving to the all-night diner in North Little Rock to eat corn fritters and drink a milkshake, and then sneaking back into your house at three in the morning.” Ideas too big for a three-minute pop song, perhaps.
Now for a name. While thumbing through children’s books at the local Books-A-Million chain, Lee spied Theodore Faro Gross and Sheila White Samton’s 1990 ode to friendship Everyone Asked About You. “Lee was extremely integral to all sorts of things with the band. He did the design. He showed us how to piece the songs together,” Kilgore recalled. “Later he even put out our record. We would have been lost without him.”
“Long song titles were on trend at the time,” Sheppard said. “Having a long band name didn't seem that crazy.”
By the time of their first show opening for Soophie Nun Squad at The Belvedere deep into the fall of ‘96, Sheppard could see his breath while screaming into the riverfront night. As the winter dragged into spring they honed a six song set while opening for the likes of Joan of Arc, Promise Ring, and MIJ. And then just after Hannah and Chris matriculated from their respective institutions, the band booked two days at Barry Poynter’s garage studio to commit their seasons-long gestating feelings to tape.
“That was the first time that I ever actually heard what I sounded like when I was singing,” Sheppard remembered. “Because basically my vocal style was developed around being loud enough to hear myself in a practice room that contained two Marshall half stacks.” They raced through their namesake song, “Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts,” “Me Vs. You,” “It’s Days Like This That Make Me Wish Summer Lasted Forever,” “I Will Wait,” and “A Better Way To A Broken Heart” on the first day in one or two takes. “We probably could have used someone telling us to do a few takes, but that wasn’t Barry’s style,” Kilgore said. By the end of the second day they’d mixed their debut EP and had two songs in the can in hopes of a compilation or a split single request that might come down the line.
While the self-titled Everyone Asked About You single was off being pressed at United Record Pressing in Nashville, the band got busy hand-cutting and stamping the 7" sleeves in the living room of their new headquarters on Rosetta Street, where Chris, Lee, and scenester Chris Wilson lived in a post-parental oversight bliss. Sheppard had deferred school for a year and spent most of his time booking shows for The Belvedere and worked part time at a pizza joint. Hannah was preparing for the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in the fall. Collins still had another year of highschool. Buford was trying his hand running a small distro and his Landmark record label while moonlighting as a drummer in Matt Werth’s The Divine Hook-Up. The plan was to keep the band together as long as they could.
When the 500 copies of Everyone Asked About You arrived at the end of summer, he did what he’d learned from his friends at File 13; send the record to a few key distributors and ‘zines, take out an ad in HeartattaCk, and hope for the best. In the February 1998 issue, Landmark’s 1/3rd page advertisement lists both of his bands’ singles, available for $3 each, or very specific barter: “I trade records for Atari games and memorabilia,” he baited. Elsewhere in the issue, Everyone Asked About You’s four-song EP was reviewed dismissively:
“It’s extremely cutesy and it includes some sort of synthesizer. That alone makes them queasy. Too much ‘I love you, I love you, I LOOOOOOVE you,’” Dylan Ostendorf wrote. “They’re somewhat similar to Rainer Maria and at their best points they really can rock out. Too much of the time, however, they depend on fake hand claps and standard fare rock rhythms. It’s all a little loose for my liking, but given time they might develop into a more viable force to be reckoned with on the indie-rock scene. In the meantime, expect something pretty fluffy if you order this.”
And while orders didn’t exactly flood Buford’s post office box, the review had no effect on the kids hanging on their every word at Vino’s, The Belvedere, and the band’s one out-of-state show in Memphis, who eagerly scooped up copies of the record from Lee’s record box. “I wasn’t paying attention to what other people thought of us,” Vogan said. “I just really liked playing music and singing and having fun.”
But for Chris Sheppard, Everyone Asked About You wasn’t just a light-hearted group carrying on about summer, the songs were his life set to music. “If there's a theme through all of our songs, it's emotional and physical distance, challenging goodbyes and misunderstandings and terrible communication,” Sheppard said. Three-fourths of his bandmates didn’t know the half of it.
Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts
The magic of Everyone Asked About You is in Chris Sheppard and Hannah Vogan’s very relatable lyrics. There is no artifice or pretense here; these are them screamin’ suburban blues from the perspective of a pair of melancholy teenagers. “At the time I had a very 19-year-old perspective on the way one's heart and emotions work. You get your heart broken, and then it's broken. It falls apart. It’s not something that's resilient and gets stronger and grows. It’s done,” Sheppard said. ‘Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts’ was a phrase Lee came up with, and I just ran with it.”pard worked in earnest to grow the band’s profile even as their gigging schedule slowed. The final two songs from their first session—”I Will Wait” and “A Better Way To A Broken Heart”—moved from the cutting room floor to one side of a 7" with Boston’s Shyness Clinic, orchestrated by fellow Central High alum Michael Penn. Issued in a pressing of 500 on Penn’s one-shot Amulet label, The Boston to Little Rock Connection featured two covers; one hand-screened on fabric and available around Little Rock, the other professionally “designed” and printed offset on a brown cardstock made the limited commercial rounds that a split emo 7" in 1998 could make.
Boasting one-and-a-half singles and years under their belt, Everyone Asked About You was practically Little Rock royalty. “We played Arkansas so many times in 1998 that people were probably sick of us,” Sheppard joked. “We were kind of the ‘oldest’ kids in the scene at that point. Everyone seemed to be moving away for college or life.” He too would eventually enroll at the University of Arkansas’ Little Rock campus for a semester and a half, splitting time majoring in booking bands at the student center and writing songs. “I was trying to show a little bit more dynamism in the emotion,” he said. “To have the lyrics and the music compliment each and not just be a two and a half minute, punk rock version of a power pop song.”
A third 7" was in the works with Jeff Kuykendall’s nascent Drawing Room label, with both “Handsome, Beautiful” and “Sometimes Memory Fails Me Sometimes” tracked with Barry Poynter, in the summer, of course. Once again Lee’s “Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts” refrain wormed its way onto the A-side. “We already had a song with our band name as the song name and the chorus of that song,” Sheppard said. “What difference would it make if we take the name of another song and sing it as the chorus of this song?’” The flip “Sometimes Memory Fails Me Sometimes” pointed towards a young adult version of the band, adding a flirty glockenspiel from Chris Wilson and Storey Matkin-Rawn’s forlorn flute to Sheppard’s distorted vocals and Buford’s rudimentary drum machine. Sequestered in the maturing midwestern emo ghetto, Everyone Asked About You looked inward and saw something bigger.
“It wasn’t easy to play synth and guitar at the same time,” Collins said. We needed to add a few pieces to the band to keep up with how complicated the songs were getting.” Bassist and Hot Springs, Arkansas native Matt Bradley was the first to join, having recently completed a stint in the short-lived Memphian power pop-punk outfit Superstar. “I was four or five years older than the rest of the group, which is a big difference at that age,” Bradley said. “I was spinning my wheels a little bit in Hot Springs and developing a drinking habit that wasn't very healthy, traveling back and forth on the Greyhound to practice at Lee's house a few days at a time. Eventually I moved in with Chris Sheppard.”
John Beachboard entered the fold through a Landmark Records internship the following summer, where his responsibilities included checking the post office box, assembling records, and filling mail orders. Home from Hendrix College in nearby Conway, Arkansas, for the summer, Beachboard had no synth or business experience, but his level-headed presence, timeliness, and eagerness to do whatever the role required made him an easy addition as both treasurer and keysman. “I always considered Everyone Asked About You to be Lee’s band, but Chris’s story,” Beachwood said. Sheppard just needed to figure out how to get what was in his head out into the world.
The Little Rock to Boston Connection
After dropping out of college in spring ’99, Chris Sheppard took a bus halfway across the country to Boston to see his on-again off-again boarding school girlfriend. They hadn’t seen each other for over a year, and hoped to reconcile their long-distance love affair between her classes at B.U. But the Greyhound had other plans.
“This guy walked onto the bus,” Sheppard recalled. “He sits down in front of me and then turns around and sees my Walkman sitting on the seat next to me and asks me if he could borrow it. And he was just like this beautiful man. He went through every one of the cassette tapes that I had and he did it for like, three and a half, four hours. And then at the end of it, I asked him where he was going. He said he was going to Boston to visit his mom that he hadn't seen in a long time. I felt confused, and in a panic blurted out, ‘I'm going to visit my girlfriend.’ And that was the exact moment that I realized I was gay,”
He returned home and developed the incident into a short story, sharing it with his band members to gauge reaction. “I took it for granted that most folks in the Little Rock counterculture were experiencing some kind of ‘lowercase i’ identity struggle,” Kilgore said. “But at the time I didn’t recognize the extent to which Chris was going through something deeper than I was.” The episode was turned into the spoken-word piece “Boston,” a rapid departure from the band’s emo-ish tendencies, and a harbinger for a more sophisticated sound to come.
With a sprawling, multi-instrumentalist six-piece band at their fingertips, the band began work on their most personal and polished document. Spread across the spring equinox, they carefully tracked eleven sophisticated meditations on late 20th century indie rock inside Barry Poynter’s garage. Layered guitars collectively feedback, circling about before evolving into punishing octave chord symphonies. A busted Moog Source Monophonic synth added texture and wonderment. Lee Buford hit So. Many. Flams. “Everybody lived within a 15 minute walk of Barry’s studio. People would stop by and hang out and give their feedback and then go pick up a Little Caesars Pizza and come back and then lay down a vocal,” Sheppard remembered. “The lyrics poured out of me that year.”
On “Letters Never Sent,” ”Taxi,” and “Last Dance” he drew heavily from his tormented relationship, re-animating several hyper-specific events in heart-on-the-sleeve detail. These romantic themes continue on “Solitaire,” which was generally adjoined live to the ballad “Across Puddles,” and would remain so in the studio. But it was the bookends of “Crazy” and “Greek To Me” where the band expressed their trademark motifs of miscommunication and misunderstanding, with a playful call-and-response between Vogan and Sheppard that lay bare their pop underpinnings.
The album’s most nostalgic number is “Song For Chris,” an ode to their hometown scene’s unofficial documentarian Chris Wilson. “Chris was the memorabilia master. He had boxes of flyers and photos, and he took meticulous notes on every single show. Like when Born Against played at the riverfront or Cap’n Jazz played at Summit Street and all the power went out and the police came,” Sheppard recalled. “The Little Rock scene at the time prioritized youthful experiences and adventure above most other things. Touring, fence hopping, kickball, riverfront shows, hanging at the benches, playing capture the flag in Aesop Park, foursquare… all of that was our way of navigating getting older in that town.”
“Outro” reworked “Letter Never Sent” as a skeletal and sorrowful coda, replete with brushed drums, acoustic guitar, and a hypnotic synth line. The album’s title track was another departure, led by Sheppard’s clean guitar, with grounding hiss and a ghostly tape delay on his nearly unintelligible vocal. “Sometimes I put my foot in my mouth so hard I crack teeth,” Sheppard sang. It was a classic Everyone Asked About You line that could’ve easily stretched across an album jacket. A more compelling concept presented itself on tour.
The summer of 1999 was the last that Everyone Asked About You spent together, and their only tour. Drafting on the same D.I.Y. energy that had propelled scene godfathers Econochrist and Trusty out of town and onto the national stage, the band was about to spend three of its best and worst weeks together. Their blue Chevy conversion van had neither air conditioning nor working window cranks. The passenger row was a loose loveseat and definitely did not have seatbelts. They lost two wallets, nearly flipped the van in a tire blow out, sustained multiple canceled gigs, were attacked by OXES (the band) and finally their second van threw a rod somewhere outside Greenville, South Carolina. All while having the time of their lives.
They set out in mid-June from Fayetteville and headed due north to Minneapolis. A series of house shows in Milwaukee, Lafayette, and Bloomington, Indiana led them to Columbus’s annual More Than Music Fest, where they played a late afternoon set in a barn to a few dozen onlookers on June 25. After a long overnight haul to Boston they did their only club date at The Middle East, and then decamped to Manhattan for four days while the remainder of their east coast gigs fell apart. It was on their way to Chapel Hill that the album’s title inspiration struck.
While heading south on I-95, Everyone Asked About You encountered another group of weird kids in a van. “They pulled up next to us and a guy held up a notebook in the window that said, ‘let's be enemies,’” Sheppard recalled. “We held up a sign that said, ‘OK,’ at which point they started firing bottle rockets at us.” Beachwood responded with a slice of cake that covered their opponent’s windshield. But victory was out of reach, as the Chevy blew a timing belt and crawled to the shoulder. “Hours later we show up to the gig, and we see the same guys on stage,” he continued. “A true rock n’ roll battle ensued.” Baltimore math rockers OXES ultimately got the last laugh; Everyone Asked About You’s $500 van was decommissioned the next day, forcing them into a tiny rental to get to their final gig in Memphis. They limped into Little Rock a few days after the Fourth of July, in good spirits, but with the knowledge that they might forever be a local band.
The band’s three singles had all been released on Little Rock labels; Landmark, Drawing Room, and even Amulet after Michael Penn retreated from Boston. Eric Titterud’s Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Magister Ludi concern was as close to a national record label as they’d ever been. Let's Be Enemies was penciled in as MGL006, prompting Sheppard’s return to Poynter to mix the album. But the promised LP’s release date kept shifting into the distance. The band’s attention followed. Matt was giving school another go in Fayetteville where Hannah was deep into her nursing program. Lee too was in school, splitting time in The Body with former Full Service Quartet guitarist Chip King. Collins’ year deferral was up and he joined John north at Hendrix in Conway. Chris finally came out in December of ’99, and began eyeing an out of state move as a way to reinvent himself and escape Little Rock for good.
No one in the band knew that February 26, 2000 was the final Everyone Asked About You show. Opening for Les Savy Fav at Fayetteville's Clunk Music Hall, the gig was by all accounts an energetic affair marred by the disappearance of Collins’ JCM-900 and other assorted gear. “That was a mega momentum killer for us,” Sheppard lamented.
There was no giant falling out. Miscommunication was no longer the problem, it was communicating at all. “We were all good friends, we just got busy doing life,” Vogan said. “That was the last show I ever played.”
Nobody Asked About You
It’s December 28th 2022 and Rob Sevier and I are in Little Rock for Everyone Asked About You’s first show in 23 years. The original six members reconvened on Christmas to work through their discography—a 16-song snarl that they’ve completely forgotten how to play and sing. “I sold all my musical equipment when I left Little Rock in 2001 and started relearning how to play guitar in July,” Chris Sheppard told the sold-out crowd at the road house-esque White Water Tavern. “It’s not like riding a bike,” he joked.
We’ve spent the last 24 hours wandering around this postage stamp-sized city, getting to know Lee, Chris, Collins, Matt, John, and Hannah, interviewing members of their bygone scene, and thumbing through records at local vinyl haunts Been-Around and Control. For the first time ever, Everyone Asked About You is all anyone can talk about. “When we broke up, it felt like no one cared,” Lee Buford mused. “Hannah was telling me a story last night about a guy who approached her after one of our last shows and said, ‘You were terrible.’”
“Right after that last show I went into a decently big depressive episode and hid in my house for six months and then on a whim decided to move to Boston,” Sheppard said. Buford had been accepted for the spring 2001 semester at Tufts University’ School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Sheppard sold the aforementioned gear and joined him. After a stint with the LGBTQ youth org BAGLY, Sheppard started coaching swimming after a decade away from the sport. “I was bullied pretty hard by my teammates and classmates at boarding school and considered coaching as a way to make sure someone else didn’t have the same experience while doing something they love,” he explained.
John Beachboard decamped for New York City shortly after the band broke up, but returned to Little Rock in 2003, reuniting with Collins Kilgore as American Princes. The pure indie quintet toured extensively and recorded a trio of albums throughout the oughts for the North Carolina-based Yep Roc label. Hannah’s nursing career supplanted any musical desires. “I never wanted to be famous,” she said. “Still don’t.”
Despite no one asking for it, the band’s shelved Let’s Be Enemies LP was finally issued in 2012 on Ian Smith’s 25 Diamonds label, housed in a fold-over DIY-sleeve doused in glitter. “The album was kind of an afterthought,” Sheppard said. “We were all so busy with our lives, it was hard to put much effort in.” And while the record took years to sell through its 300-copy run, it did inform a new generation of kids about a lost chapter in emo’s pre-mainstream history. With fewer than 2000 records across their entire recorded output floating around, fans flocked to YouTube and MP3 blogs to download needle-drop rips and sing the praises of Hannah and Chris’s adolescent poetry.
“It’s stuff like this that makes me think we may be living in the best timeline.”
“This album was the first thing to make me feel in love again after my girlfriend committed suicide a few years ago.”
“It is a miracle that this exists and I have this soundtrack to an era in my life” And on and on.
When I reached out to Lee Buford in 2019 to discuss the possibility of reissuing Everyone Asked About You, he was evasive, but not opposed. “I was kind of embarrassed about it for a longest time,” Buford said. He was the only member to pursue a life in music, drumming for nearly 25 years with Chip King in noise duo The Body. He’s recorded with Wrekmeister Harmonies, Narrow Pathe, Sightless Pit, and Lorna Doom, and made a career on the cutting edge of experimental ambient music. “It was also hard to believe that after all this time, anyone would actually be interested in listening to a high school emo band from Little Rock,” he continued.
Only John Beachboard stayed behind, opening the Lost Forty craft brewery in 2007 and 12 other restaurants across the state under the Yellow Rockets Concepts banner. We’d eat at Heights Taco and Camp Taco during our brief stay, and I can attest to the excellence of both. “I started cooking because I was otherwise unemployable,” the modest Beachboard said. Sitting across from Matt Bradley at dinner I learned that he’s a production designer at Santa Fe’s famed venue/art installation Meow Wolf, and that we’d been mere feet from one another at Stereolab’s 2019 reunion. The following night Collins and I discovered our geographic connection as current residents of north east Los Angeles.
I’ve been following this scene for 30 years—it’s no surprise that we’ve all been criss-crossing paths and have friends in common. Little Rock’s small-town charm doesn’t dissolve when its children cross the Pulaski County line. Tonight I witnessed more than a reunion of middle aged outsiders reenacting their youth on a cramped stage, I saw an entire scene celebrating one of their own amidst the chaos of life after punk. Despite being stationed at the far corners of America, Chris Sheppard recognized their legacy in a brief statement issued prior to launching into a 90-minute set that began with the muted strums of “Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts”:
“We’re Everyone Asked About You from Little Rock, Arkansas,” he said.
--Ken Shipley, Little Rock, December 2022