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Sweet Pill brings the energy of the Philly scene to the masses

Melodic hardcore band Sweet Pill talk their debut Where the Heart Is, touring with La Dispute, their experience at When We Were Young, and bringing the Philly scene to the world. Continue reading…



In less than five years, Sweet Pill has gone from a local band playing rowdy hometown shows all over Philadelphia to a five-piece touring across North America. What started as a college project for guitarist Jayce Williams (the band’s lone New Jerseyan) and frontwoman Zayna Youssef has expanded into a fully formed band that’s already garnering recognition from artists like Hayley Williams and La Dispute

Williams and Youssef say it was when they rounded out their lineup and added Sean McCall on guitar, Ryan Cullen on bass, and Chris Kearney on drums that they really became what people know as Sweet Pill. Together, Sweet Pill is crafting a love letter to the Philly music scene and its community through their music — which is exactly what they aim to share with the rest of the world, show by show. 

Read more: Militarie Gun makes genre-bending hardcore that is constantly evolving

In May 2022, the band released their first LP Where the Heart Is, a 10-track record full of emo anthems that fuse hardcore with pop sensibilities. Their title track takes math rock elements and blends them with strong melodic hardcore guitar riffs and punchy lyrics — confidently introducing the band to the world through their freshman effort. 

You don’t have to look any further than the album’s cover art to see the impact Philly has had on the group. “The painter [who did the album art] was my neighbor in South Philly. During quarantine when I used to hang out on my roof, he would be out there on this roof painting,” Williams says. “I would play my guitar and he’d always tell me I should write a record. I was like, ‘I did,’ and sent it to him.”

Little did Williams know: His next-door neighbor was artist Kerry Dunn, a successful portraitist whose award-winning work has been exhibited across the country for over three decades. Through neighborly camaraderie and a shared love of art and music, Sweet Pill and Dunn collaborated to create a portrait for Where the Heart Is that has been captivating prospective listeners since the album’s release. 

“The album art helped a lot with people randomly listening to us,” Youssef says of the eye-catching image of her own likeness. After fans were reeled in by the art, they found that Sweet Pill’s music speaks for itself, and kept coming back for more. “All it took was somebody to share it with somebody.” 

sweet pill where the heart is


Luckily for Sweet Pill, one of those “somebodies” happened to be none other than Jordan Dreyer of the beloved post-hardcore band La Dispute. In September and October 2022, Sweet Pill joined fellow opener Pictoria Vark for the North American leg of La Dispute’s tour celebrating the delayed 10 year anniversary of their album Wildlife.

“We found out maybe two or three weeks into the tour that the singer of La Dispute is the one who found us and who pitched us for the tour,” Williams says. “It wasn’t a booking agent that recommended us or someone who was trying to do us a favor — our music was received well enough on the internet that someone like him found it.”

For Sweet Pill, the Wildlife anniversary tour was their biggest one yet. “I had to get a passport so we could play our two shows in Canada,” Kearney says. “Even being on the west coast was huge. I’ve never been to California at all so being able to play shows and get out there because of the music we create has been awesome.” 

In Philly, Sweet Pill has played everywhere from the skate park to the streets outside a brewery. Touring on such a large scale for the first time, the band who’s used to playing such lively shows in Philly’s DIY punk scene couldn’t help but notice the differences between crowds across the US and Canada. 

“At first, I was a little thrown off that people were just standing still to our set,” Williams says. “It took me a show or two to realize that it’s actually more meaningful that they are not moving around and that they’re just paying attention and listening.”

Even in less rowdy environments, the band and their listeners seem to bring a bit of that Philly energy to stages across the tour. It’s not uncommon to hear the band or their fans screaming in support of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Philly in general by extension, during a Sweet Pill show.

“We like yelling ‘Go Birds!’” McCall says.

“Nobody really cares about sports in our band, but it’s part of the charm,” Youssef says, with McCall chiming in that it’s “like Shalom!” Or as Kearney describes, “Like Shalom: Hello,’ ‘Goodbye,’ ‘Go fuck yourself.’”  

Whether it’s through hometown pride or meeting fans after shows, the band emphasizes how important it is to them that they feel connected with the people who come out to see them perform. “One person came up to me and was having a really bad week. He was shaking and very nervous and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. Like, what can I do?’” Youssef says. “I gave him a hug and it was a very long one. It was new to me to experience that.”

It’s a testament to how much their melodic hardcore music resonates, and a feeling Sweet Pill knows all too well, having looked up to their favorite bands just the same when they were younger.

“I knew when that person went home they were gonna think about it the same way I did when I met Paramore for like 30 seconds. I didn’t shower for a week!” she says. “I’m not trying to have a big head about it, but these lyrics and this music is out there and it creates feelings for people. That’s the whole point, for me, at least.”

Sweet Pill are also taking the communal aspect of the Philly DIY scene with them on the road. When the first date of the Las Vegas pop-punk music festival When We Were Young was canceled due to inclement weather in October 2022, many of the bands slated to play immediately began scouring Vegas for venues to host impromptu sideshows. But because of the way the festival grounds were organized, it wasn’t easy to get their gear off their tour buses and to the gig. Serendipitously, enter Sweet Pill, who were in town for the festival while in between tour dates with La Dispute, and had transportation and easily accessible gear. 

“Because all these bands had their buses parked in such a way at the festival grounds, their gear was hard to move out,” Youssef explains. As luck would have it, Sweet Pill was driving around Vegas in their retrofitted mini school bus that doubles as the band’s sleeping quarters and gear transportation. Because La Dispute was scheduled to perform at When We Were Young Fest, Sweet Pill had a break in the schedule on the Wildlife tour and decided to attend the festival. Suddenly, their little blue bus full of gear became their golden ticket to scoring a slot playing one of the evening’s last minute shows.

Youssef describes the band as being like “a package deal with La Dispute” for the weekend, so when La Dispute announced their Saturday-night sideshow with Mom Jeans and the Wonder Years, Sweet Pill was the band that snagged the final slot to round out the lineup. Each band playing that show ended up using Sweet Pill’s backing equipment — including Chris Kearney’s drumkit adorned with the band’s album cover art and they all took time out of their set to shout out and thank the band while the crowd took photos and videos that displayed Dunn’s portrait work.

sweet pill live


[Photo by Max Shaw]

The following day at the fest was no less chaotic. While Youssef had an artist wristband to perform onstage with La Dispute, her bandmates did not. That aside, they all walked with purpose past security — brandishing their Wildlife anniversary tour laminates that conveniently matched the color of the festival artist passes. (“Security was like ‘Oh yeah, let us walk you to your trailer,’… “We don’t have a trailer!” says Youssef.) Save for a few run-ins with individual security guards, they spent much of Sunday sneaking backstage and into VIP artist lounges where they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Parker Canon of the Story So Far and Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara.

With When We Were Young Fest behind them and the La Dispute tour over, Sweet Pill has their sights set on the future. In December 2022, the band joined Into It. Over It. for their Chicago hometown show, as well as the Philly-based Champagne Jam hosted by the Front Bottoms

A dream of theirs, though, is to collaborate with Paramore. To say Youssef is a Paramore stan would be an understatement. While most members of the band answered audibly about who they would like to work with, Youssef, on the other hand, got up, picked up a copy of Alternative Press with Hayley Williams on the cover, and held it while standing next to one of the many Paramore posters hanging on her wall. 

Even without watching how excitedly Youssef bounced around her room talking about Paramore, Sweet Pill’s love for the band shines through in their music. Listening to “High Hopes,” or “Diamond Eyes” one can hear “All You Know Is Falling”-esque vocal breakdowns. Even more, Youssef herself says the band’s song “Cut” was inspired by “Simmer” from Williams’ solo project, Petals for Armor.

The band made it clear that if there’s another iteration of Paramore’s cruise event Parahoy! and they’re looking to fill out their roster, Sweet Pill is on deck. There’s no doubt the band could use their Philly roots to develop the currently non-existent DIY scene at sea.


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