To say the pieces came together quickly for Boys Like Girls would be understating it. They posted several demos, including “The Great Escape,” on the band site PureVolume, where they quickly became a favorite. That led to interest from Columbia, a spot opening for A Thorn for Every Heart and Hit the Lights on a tour sponsored by PureVolume, and interest from a booking agent who also represented Matt Squire, the producer who helped put Panic! At the Disco on the map in 2006.
“He messaged us on MySpace,” Johnson says of Squire. “It was just as we were putting together our record deal. But he had no idea that we were about to be signed. His manager, who’s also now our booking agent, and who also represents My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday, had heard our demos. So it was just a chain of e-mails, and it was really crazy to have somebody with a name like Squire’s contacting us just because he felt the music was good. It was all organic, and that’s a lot of the reason why when it came time to pick a producer, it just had to be Matt. He just seemed to love it as much as we did. I mean, he found us when we were still in diapers.”
It was an opportune pairing: Johnson came out of the all-ages scene with a penchant for penning pop-punk postcards from the edge of the romantic abyss — universal songs about adolescent yearning and, well, earnest boys who like pretty girls in a world free of irony. And Squire has long since mastered the art of the solemn pop-punk anthem full of soaring voices and massed melodic guitars that cut away just often enough to reveal snapshots of the vulnerable young soul beneath. Those guitars well like tears around Johnson’s voice in “The Great Escape,” as he serenades a departing sweetheart, urging her to “Throw it all away/Forget yesterday/We’ll make the great escape/We won’t hear a word they say/They don’t know us anyway.”
It’s a perfectly pitched pop moment that comes on like the rush of a boyhood crush. It’s also about as deep as a boyhood crush. Indeed, the song is so well put together that the band have come under fire for being too facile and formulaic, for not being quite punk enough. But Boys Like Girls is just how Boys Like Girls intended it to be.
“I don’t even pay attention to the punk label,” Johnson says, polite but firm. “We make music. We write songs that we like. When I write a song, I’m not picking it apart and trying to put it in any category. I’m not thinking about a genre or fitting into any mold. I know that when a band starts becoming successful, people can get pissed, especially people who thought they had the band in their back pocket. They start to feel like that band’s not theirs anymore and they find reasons to hate. It happens to everybody. We just take it as it is. It’s like, whatever . . . We take criticism as it comes and we just do our own thing. If you like it, great. And if you don’t, whatever . . . maybe you’ll like the next band that comes along.”
BOYS LIKE GIRLS | Vans Warped Tour, Tweeter Center, 885 Main St, Mansfield | August 9 at 1 pm | 617.931.2000