sexual misconduct

The Story of the Woman Who Accused Brand New’s Jesse Lacey of Soliciting Child Pornography

Lacey. Photo: Erika Goldring/FilmMagic

Last week, Brian Diaz, a former guitar tech for Long Island emo legends Brand New, sparked a conversation on Facebook. In a since-deleted public thread, he asked, “So while we are on the topic of outing famous and semi-famous creeps, anyone want to speak up about Jesse Lacey from Brand New?” Lacey is the reclusive front man and songwriter of the band, which released its fifth — and possibly final — album Science Fiction to critical acclaim in August after an eight-year hibernation. Diaz claimed to have knowledge of Lacey’s “indiscretions” involving minors, and implored more women to come forward.

Mixed reactions of bewilderment and indifference piled up, but one series of comments stuck out. A woman named Nicole Garey alleged that Lacey had solicited pornographic images from her, for years, when she was a teenager, starting when she was 15 and he was 24. She described Lacey’s repeated alleged requests for nude photos and the “manipulative” methods he would use against her to get them. She also claimed to have taken screenshots of evidence of his requests, but no longer has immediate access to them. One comment she wrote ended: “JESSE LACEY IS A PIECE OF SHIT.”

It was not the first time she had made these claims on one of Diaz’s posts, nor was it the first time Diaz had made a stink about Lacey’s alleged behavior on social media. “I will tell this story over and over and over and over,” Garey wrote in the comments.

One day after Garey’s Facebook comments, her story got picked up by various music websites, with additional accounts of Lacey’s misconduct against minors circulating on social media. Lacey responded with a note to fans on Brand New’s Facebook page, a day later:

“The actions of my past have caused pain and harm to a number of people, and I want to say that I am absolutely sorry. I do not stand in defense of myself nor do I forgive myself,” the singer wrote. “I was selfish, narcissistic, and insensitive in my past, and there are a number of people who have had to shoulder the burden of my failures. I apologize for the hurt I have caused, and hope to be able to take the correct actions to earn forgiveness and trust.” Lacey also said he sought treatment for sex addiction, but did not directly address Garey’s allegations. Brand New’s reps have not responded to Vulture’s requests for clarification.

But Garey wasn’t satisfied. She wrote to Vulture:

“It’s a half-assed apology that almost reads as though it was written by his wife to save his marriage. I don’t buy it for a minute. I also don’t believe he has even begun to try to understand the levels to which he screwed me up. Nor do I think he even cares to try. He’s just doing damage control. The same bullshit he used to manipulate me years ago, just far less effective now that I’m an adult and can separate myself emotionally. Those of us who have had to shoulder this burden for so many years deserve better than this. It’s something, though, and I hope he continues treatment. Maybe one day he can see things from another perspective.

After thinking about it a little more, I don’t know that I even want him to truly see it from my perspective. I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way. Not even him.”

Garey, now 30, had been acquainted with Diaz through his old band the Reunion Show, a relic of that same early-2000s Long Island pop-punk era that Brand New was part of. She’d grown up in Buffalo, New York, and was engaged in the city’s local music community. “It’s a pretty small scene,” she says over the phone. Though Brand New was very popular at the time, Garey never latched onto the band the way she remembers her peers doing. “A lot of people took Brand New as their flagship band and identified very strongly. I wouldn’t say I connected with them the way others have,” she says. When an opportunity to photograph the band for her e-zine arose in December 2002, she didn’t think it was anything more than business.

Later that month, she attended the band’s holiday show in Buffalo with her camera, expecting to shoot the band’s performance. Afterward, Lacey came up to her backstage, where she was taking more pictures. He asked her to send the photos to an email address the band shared.

Garey briefly spoke with Lacey through the address that Lacey gave her, but he quickly moved their conversations over to their personal AOL Instant Messenger accounts. “Pretty soon after, it went into the photo requesting. It started off innocently: ‘Send a picture of yourself.’ Then it turned into not that type of picture request,” she says.

She claims that Lacey began requesting naked photos from her with detailed instructions of how she should look and act in them. “He specifically requested that I buy lingerie. He was into corsets a lot. He would request not super-lewd photos. He wanted it posed, but not in a pornography sort of way,” she says. He would ask her to expose herself: “Can you pose in this outfit a little more provocatively?” and “How about a little more?” Garey describes the requests as “on demand” but intermittent, with him often disappearing but always resurfacing with the same photo requests. All told, she believes he made 10–20 requests throughout their years of corresponding when she was a minor.

According to federal law, possession of “any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age) is illegal,” regardless of the state’s age of consent.

Garey remembers being flattered by the attention of a rock star the first time Lacey asked for a photo. She willingly sent him photos “to the extent that a 15-year-old can consent.” But over time, she became more hesitant, which is when Lacey began insisting. “When I didn’t want to take them, he would coerce me. He would lay it on heavy with the convincing. It was very manipulative,” she says. “He would tell me what I wanted to hear, be very flattering, and keep redirecting the conversation whenever I tried to change the topic and tell me he was short on time and he really needed them. He’d get angry if I didn’t feel like doing it or didn’t follow through.” To persuade her, she says Lacey would “make promises about the future.” She adds, “Basically, make it sound like ‘I’d be so grateful if you did this, you’d be the best.’ It was more about his approval than it was access to shows. He made me feel like it needed to continue so that he would see me as something worth his time.” They rarely talked about anything other than the photos, if they talked at all.

Garey made no attempt to hide her age. She claims she informed Lacey she was 15 from the beginning, and that Lacey told her he’d delete the photos afterward because of her age, and that was why he needed to ask for more. Their interactions mostly happened online, but at least three or four times over the following years, while Garey was still underage, she met with Lacey in person in Buffalo when Brand New was in town for shows. They’d go out to lunch, and Garey would bring some friends. “It was very orchestrated, nothing physical happened. It felt purposeful. The one time, there was a very clear, ‘I can’t do that. You’re underage’ when I tried to advance it,” she says. “He refused to even hook up with me until I was over 18.”

Garey’s relationship with Lacey continued into her early 20s. She left Buffalo, first for Pittsburgh and then, later, Boston. By the time she was 19, she was living in Los Angeles. After a Brand New concert there, Lacey drove her back to her apartment and the pair had a consensual sexual encounter. “It was hard to define that after all of the manipulation that happened prior,” she says. It was the only instance of physical relations between the two.

Garey and Lacey kept Skyping until 2012 or 2013, but the communication was fizzling out. The last time she heard from Lacey was shortly after a screenshot of him masturbating on Skype was shared on the now-defunct porn site Is Anyone Up?. It wasn’t Garey’s screenshot, but she recognized the screenname: “xbearbotx.” It was an old username belonging to Lacey. “I remember thinking it was weird the first time I saw it,” she says. “Why does this grown man have a bear in his name?

A year ago, a friend from Boston reached out to Garey with a similar story. That woman told Garey that Lacey had allegedly masturbated in front of her when she was 19 and that she considered the incident “borderline” nonconsensual because she and Lacey had been talking since she was underage. “It was a similar kind of grooming thing,” Garey says, “in that [it] came off like she did give consent but didn’t really feel like she had a choice, which is how I see my situation too. Of course we all have a choice, but with societal norms and the culture, at some point, you don’t feel like you do in the moment.”

Another woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, overheard Lacey “pressure” a young girl who said she was 15 at the time to get into bed with him with the door closed at a house party in Massachusetts in 2005 or 2006, after a Brand New show. The woman intervened before it escalated any further and claimed to have knowledge of at least four other stories of Lacey’s inappropriate behavior with underage girls. A man has claimed that Lacey sent “overtly flirtatious” messages to his then 15-year-old friend (he would not share her identity) in 2006 or 2007, allegedly telling her, “I wish you were older than 15”; another friend of that girl’s appears to have corroborated the story. Another accuser, Emily Driskill, tells Pitchfork that Lacey “preyed on” her when she was 16, started soliciting nude photos from her when she was 17, and sexually assaulted her when she was 18.

Hearing these stories has been hard for Garey. She moved back to Buffalo a few years ago to have her now-2-year-old daughter and be closer to her family. By the time the band’s second album, Deja Entendu, came out in 2003, Garey could barely make it through two songs without “feeling the shivers coming down head to toe.” “It’s all of the little places that you don’t realize these things affect you,” she says. “It’s astounding just to see how far it radiates into your life and you don’t even notice. That’s the scary part. I’ll be doing something and just feel sad, and I can now follow the thoughts a little bit better than I could before.”

Now, Garey gets physically sick listening to most of Brand New’s music. A few years ago, she started experiencing nightmares and panic attacks. She began “drinking [herself] into a stupor” and checked into rehab for two weeks to figure out why. It took years of therapy to find that the trauma of Lacey’s alleged actions still lingered. “I knew deep down there was something wrong, but I didn’t really acknowledge it,” she says. “Even when I did, it was hard for me to look at myself and reconcile the person I thought I was with the kind of person who let it go on. How was I not smarter?”

Giving birth to her daughter empowered Garey, and getting to the age that Lacey was when he allegedly took advantage of her helped her to grasp the full weight of what she says he did. “I’m happy to not be alone, but I wish I was. It’s hard to process how far and wide this might have gone and what would have happened if I’d spoken up sooner,” she says. “I feel guilty for finding solace in the fact that I’m not the only one. This has spiraled far beyond what I expected. It’s just time.”

The Story of the Woman Who Accused Brand New’s Jesse Lacey