Maybe it’s their beards or their bottomless catalog of music, but EVERY TIME I DIE continue to be a band that seems possessed. 2012’s Ex Lives was the kind of record that could gracefully drop the hatchet on a bloodied, road-tested career but the Buffalo fivesome pressed on – disregarding bruises, doubts, and a limited schedule to pummel out new ideas. Eventually, a trip to Kurt Ballou’s GodCity Studios in Salem, MA, bred those ideas into a full-length – their seventh and third for Epitaph – and one that moves like a violent revolt. For instance, if Ex Lives and New Junk Aesthetic were figurative riots in relation to late 2000s’ hardcore, then From Parts Unknown is a violent bloodbath.
To do our journalistic duty, we reconnected with vocalist Keith Buckley to assess their upcoming record and touch on everything from their intentions to unusual collaborations to HBO’s “Game Of Thrones”. The following is a long read and one that doesn’t give away the entire album to preserve the experience of a “first listen”, but rest assured, From Parts Unknown will floor you. Fan or not, you’ll be on your hands and knees looking for a few loose teeth.
I’ve read a few recent articles where you describe your new music as hopeful and you’re even quoted as saying you didn’t realize you had such a positive outlook. Is that compared to the past or just in general? Because some of the lyrics seem a little bit dark to me.
I know it seems a little dark, but overall it ends on a high note. At least it did for me with the writing process and maybe not the sequencing of the songs on the record. I feel like with the last album, everyone said “Oh, he’s going through this dark period”, but there was a lot of stuff going on at home and internally with the band, and I pretty much felt like I had lost it. I felt really purposeless. I think that – as weird as it sounds – realizing I had lost focus of my purpose gave me a new purpose and it set me in a different direction to find out what the hell I was doing with my life at this point. It’s been a lot of soul-searching, which is a lifelong process, and I’ve only just begun.
But overall I’m very excited for this record and this touring schedule because it’s not something that we’re just putting out because it’s time to put something out. I’m actually really excited for it.
Is that renewed energy a result of your successful soul-searching?
I don’t know… I think I just feel like I have more intentions with this record. I think there’s really a lot of things I hope to do with it and I hope to see it take us to different parts of the world where we’ve never been before, and that’s already shaping up. I feel closer to these lyrics than I ever have and I think there’s a connection there between the me that wrote it and the me that will be doing it every night – as opposed to just going into this muscle memory auto-pilot thing where I let the years of experience take over. I feel like I now know how to be an active participant in my own life and putting that into a show will be something new and exciting for me. Not that I’ve always done that, but towards the end of the last cycle I started feeling like I needed to stop and I couldn’t tour anymore.
Your writing has always seemed reflective, especially in a song such as “Overstayer”. Is it difficult to balance your creative thoughts with your own personal experiences?
No. I think I used to. I really felt there was a struggle between the two of them, but now it’s a more harmonious relationship. I think being honest about where I’m at helps me to be creative. I used to think I couldn’t really write unless I was drunk and I had to do this and go out and make all this shit happen, or else I’d have nothing to write about at all. I was constantly pursuing some sort of fulfillment and once I stepped back from that and focused a little more on going inward instead of outward, that actually broadened the net for ideas. It’s been surprising.
You’ve also said before the band makes a conscious effort to avoid being repetitive. How do you determine the best way to change things up while maintaining your identity?
I don’t think we even go through a process of how to change things up. We don’t exist in a vacuum, so I think it would be surprising to us if anybody came to the table with some sort of familiar riff or idea. I think everything that happens is worth keeping ourselves open to and it’s way more than enough to give us that push we need to outdo our last record and outdo our last show. I think that this band is functioning like an organism now – where we’re all just parts of this bigger body that works together – and if someone comes with an idea or a mood for a song, it doesn’t even need to be explained. It’s this telepathic understanding we have for exactly what we want out of a song when we start writing. It’s pretty cool. It’s definitely something I’m grateful for and there’s no formula for it.
You just need to find the right people at the right time and do it long enough. We are lucky enough to have done that. There’s a lot of moving parts in a band, but eventually things start working together instead of against each other and then the machine starts being a lot more productive.
So what happens when you bring in collaborators? For example, on the new album you’ve got a few interesting contributors, from vocalists to producers; how did these come about?
Feedback is the only way you learn anything, honestly. We needed something outside of that loop. We needed a Kurt Ballou to shake things up and realize how we scramble to address the situation. When he puts forth an idea that’s weird to us, we asses the situation, reassemble, try to accommodate, and see if it can jive with us. It sounds so stupid, but we like shaking things up as much as we like being shaken up. So when people see Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem is on the record, they’ll think it’s two different styles of music but somehow it works. I don’t know if it’s because we’re friends or if it’s because the content of our songs are similar, but it’s something that works and will catch people off guard.
As a creative person who makes something that is undoubtedly very personal, is it difficult to take criticism – be it constructive criticism – and use it to be productive?
It’s the only way you can do it and it’s the fucking hardest thing to do. I’ve just come to realize that if you expect to get anywhere you need to completely let your ego go. When people criticize you, you need to take it in, process it, and if it doesn’t really apply to you, then you need to figure out how to get rid of it. But I think everything should apply to you and you need to be open to every idea. I am very open and I think if someone isn’t open to criticism, it’s because they have this idea in their head of what they are and it’s an us versus them kind of thing. They don’t like criticism because it challenges that. I love being challenged. I love being proven wrong, I really do. I don’t know why, but there’s no better learning experience than being proven wrong, so I’m okay with it.
I may be reading too far into this, but From Parts Unknown mentions swords, gallows, snakes, hexes, gypsies, and witches to paint a portrait of the medieval ages. Is this inspired by recording in Salem, MA? Or is someone in the band really into “Game of Thrones”?
Well, probably both (laughs). I am definitely into “Game of Thrones” and we did record in Salem and there’s a lot of dark history there. I started writing lyrics the minute the last song on Ex Lives was done, so I’ve just constantly been taking notes, reading, and trying to get influences from different stuff. After the last record, I got introduced to – and then fairly submerged into – occult magic and transcendental magic. I don’t practice it, but I read a lot about it and the symbolism is a huge part of it to me. Like the different symbols containing different energies and powers – that’s fascinating to me. If they’re spattered throughout that’s because that’s what was on my brain.
Well it creates some awesome imagery. With those themes being carried throughout the album, are the songs loosely connected in some way?
Not that I know of yet. I may find out they are, later on, but that’s just the way it works for me. Everything I write is done in the moment and then I figure out how it ties into the bigger picture. As of right now, I have no idea. I just know I was driven to write a lot of those lyrics because I was trying different things with my thought process to create stuff. That was where it came from, but where it leads to… I probably wont know for years.
What was the motivation behind creating a song like “Moor” – one that’s quite different from the rest of your repertoire – and placing it right in the middle of your new record?
I think the middle of that song – the whole heavy instrumental and screaming vocals – is absolutely the climax of the album. It blends in really well with the piano part on either side, it raises up into it, and then climaxes and goes into the tail end of the record. I thought that was the perfect place for it and as far as writing it, Andy wanted to do a song like “One Is The Loneliest Number” by Harry Nilsson. Nilsson first started singing that song when he was listening to a busy signal on the telephone. I don’t even know if people fucking remember busy signals anymore, but that note kept playing and he was singing over it, and Andy wanted to do something like that – find one note and work from there. So he found one, shifted it down an octave, and then made it take on this really fucking somber tone. And then Kurt added all these weird sounds in the back. It was awesome. It became a real creep fest.
Some bands will say all of their albums continue to sound different because they’re constantly changing as individuals. Has the band undertaken a similar transition?
I think the only band that’s ever really done that and been honest about it is The Beatles. They had eras of their sound. They were pop stars, they were rock stars, they went to India and studied, and then they became hippies. Nobody really does that anymore, so anyone who says that is just up their own ass.
This summer you guys will be playing Vans Warped Tour again – though you’re not strangers, how do you plan to captivate a crowd that’s becoming younger and younger every year?
It’s getting pretty tough, but you just have to give them some free stuff (laughs). It’s the bait and switch. I don’t know how to do it or how we’ve done it… I don’t know what to tell you. We’re just going to get out there and do whatever we do, and the people might like it, other people might not. What I think is definitely helping us is that the beard has become a sex symbol. So the girls that are walking by are going to see all these bearded dudes by our stage and they’re going to come running over and the crowd is going to double. Then it will be like catfish in a pond – just this huge orgy of people falling all over each other.
Now that you’ve worked with Kurt Ballou, will that tour with Converge finally happen?
That’s what we’re all hoping for. We’ll see. I definitely want it. I hope Kurt wants it, but I don’t know. I think if it was ever going to happen, it’s going to be now.
With From Parts Unknown being your seventh album to date, has the band been more focused on materialistic success – such as outdoing album sales and your debuts on the Billboard chart – or is it more escapist in the sense that you all just want to have fun?
The latter is where we’re at right now. The thing is there was never a dream to do this band to get a mansion or a new car. I’ve done everything I’ve ever wanted to do when I was 16 or 17-years-old. I did everything I ever wanted to do when I was 13-years-old throughout all of last year. All of these childhood realizations are coming true, but the problem with life is that we make choices that will affect the next 60 or 70 years when we’re the least capable of doing so – when we’re fucking idiot children who have no idea what’s going on. So when I was a kid, all I wanted to do was jump off stages and be in a band that had other people jumping off stage while I’m on stage.
That was all I wanted to fucking do and I fucking did it and it’s fucking awesome. Looking back now, I should have just been like, “Oh, and I want to be able to pay my bills”, because I totally fucking forgot that part and now I’m struggling (laughs). But there’s no delusion that we’re going to hit the Billboard charts and have a song on the radio. Understanding that, we’re focusing on what’s really important, which is making honest music.