PREMIERE: The End Is the Beginning for Halloween Costume Contest

“Like Soupy said / ‘I hope I’m in my living room with best friends’ / I miss them so much” sings Josh Allen, facing down the apocalypse on “I Don’t Wanna Be Sad When the World Ends.” It’s the title track from the North Carolina singer/songwriter’s debut album as Halloween Costume Contest, and as it references The Wonder Years, it gets at a timely feeling: an unavoidable sense of doom and separation from the people who would make it more bearable. It was the first song Allen wrote for the album, and it dates back to 2017, when they were still making music under the name Things Not Worth Fixing.

“I still remember sitting in my partner’s kitchen in Wisconsin writing it,” says Allen. “I wrote it when the Charlottesville white nationalist march happened. This was also in the beginning of Trump’s presidency, so when all of this was happening, it really felt like the end of the world. I think I also brought it back to life because I felt the same way when COVID-19 was in the beginning stages–restrictions, getting laid off, etc.”

The rest of the songs came together from 2018 and 2020, with Allen writing at home and at work alike–you can hear the dichotomy on “It’s So Quiet in Here, I Can’t Get Used to It,” which deals with losing a loved one and having to go back to your daily routines without them. Allen’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics read like diary pages, and they revolve around those most essential connections, so it made sense to enlist the help of a friend to commit them to record. Allen tracked the album from March through June of 2020 in the home studio of Chris Clary.

“I met Chris through him being in Feelings Club and his brother’s band playing one of my house shows. Not too long after we met, I played drums in Feelings Club for a little bit and that’s how we grew closer,” says Allen. “He always believed in Halloween Costume Contest. I knew that he was really good at recording and had a more ‘professional’ way of doing things than I did, so I always knew he would record the album.”

The setup was simple enough–just Allen, their guitar, and a condenser mic, together for eight acoustic arrangements that pack a lot of emotional devastation into a scant 13 minutes (it feels like a burst-mode selfie taken after a summer storm). But Clary also ties it all together with a few subtle post-production touches, like the sound of a cassette player starting up at the beginning of the album (“I liked it a lot because when the album starts over, it’s like a tape being played on a loop,” says Allen. “Pretty neat.”) and the distorted voice memos that punctuate “Your Town.”

Early versions of I Don’t Wanna Be Sad When the World Ends featured a cover of “You Missed My Heart,” co-written by Mark Kozelek. On August 13, eight days before the album release, allegations of sexual assault against Kozelek were made public by Pitchfork.

“My reaction when my friend informed me of it was: ‘You Missed My Heart’? Retired. I wanted nothing to do with that song and artist anymore,” says Allen. “I stand by survivors 100% and don’t want to give a platform to a piece of shit like him. Admittedly, I only learned of that song because of Phoebe Bridgers’ cover and never even knew who Mark was until then, so I wasn’t in the same position as die hard fans when it came to the accusations being released. It was just me retiring that song and being done with it.”

Allen removed the track from digital editions of the album, but the first run of cassettes had already been dubbed. “People will just have to fast forward, I guess. The next run won’t have it, though.” That aside, Allen says I Don’t Wanna Be Sad When the World Ends is a major point of pride.

“I’m mostly proud of how much better I’ve gotten at songwriting since my old project. All these songs hold a place in my heart because most of them are about very important people in my life. This is the proudest I’ve ever been of anything I’ve created.”

After the release, at 7:00 p.m. EST on August 21, Allen is performing in a livestream event along with Feelings Club, Hey There Rabbit, Happiness Jones, Abysmal Plains, Sofie Pedersen, and Tombstone Poetry to raise money for The Bail Project.

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