Keith Buckley could be a front runner for being one of the best frontmen. His lyrical prowess and literary masturbation makes him way smarter than a fifth grader writing for half these flavor of the "weaks." Now Buckley is fronting another project, The Damned Things, comprised of members from Fall Out Boy and Anthrax. With all of Every Time I Die's success and working with an idol and close friends, there's still doubt and confusion as to what's going on around him. In the strangest place I've ever conducted an interview, Buckley and I sat in the artists' bathroom at this year's Warped Tour to talk about The Damned Things, his writing style and what he thinks of the current state of music.
Just a quick overview, how did The Damned Things get together?
Through mutual publicists and musical friends. Ended up Joe [Trohman] and Scott Ian were on a vacation where they started talking about putting a band together. When they got back home, they exchanged riffs and began really going in on it. Once they asked Andy [Hurley] to join all they needed was a singer. I was on the Dillinger [Escape Plan]/Killswitch [Engage] tour and I got a text from Joe that they were starting a band and asked if I wanted to sing for it. I was like, "Sure, sure." I honestly didn't really believe it would come to fruition.
What was the selling point on that for you?
I've been friends with Andy and Joe for some time. Obviously Scott Ian is part of why I've gotten into heavy music. It's not really something that you pass up. I entertained the idea but I kind of expected it to fall to pieces. It sounded like, "Oh hey, we're all these awesome musicians, it's going to be awesome!" and I'm like, "Yeah sure." In the back of my head I didn't think it was going to do anything. I can't even count the number of "good" ideas like that I've had or been a part of. But then Joe started e-mailing me some riffs. Some were bare, others he had put drums to in Garageband. I would go over to my friend's studio and lay down a scratch vocal track and send it back to them. We started picking things up from there. They then asked Rob Caggiano, also from Anthrax, who actually recorded Every Time I Die a long time ago. One song for a sampler or something. Three guitar players, one bass player and me the singer. It became this wildfire and things were being sent faster and faster and faster. I flew out to L.A. to record three demos with them and Joe Baresi. Once we sat back and heard the thing as a whole we were like, "Man, we've got REAL songs. Let's keep going. There's no turning back now!"
What was your mindset to go in as separate from that of Every Time I Die?
I definitely knew it was going to be something that I wanted to approach differently. I hear so many vocalist do other side projects and I wonder why they didn't stay with what they were doing in the first place. I'm a big fan of Maynard James Keenan, but when he did A Perfect Circle, I was wondering why he didn't just write those songs for Tool. It's all incredible, don't get me wrong, but he's splitting an audience. It seemed real odd to me that someone would want their listeners to prefer a band so similar to their OTHER band. I definitely wanted [this] to be a more singing feel to it so that people who like Every Time I Die still like [ETID] and don't feel cheated by a new "version." It's not a new version at all.
Lyrically where are you coming with this record? What about it stemming off the Finale thing at this point?
Why didn't that work?
Honestly, The Damned Things were working on demos as I was doing Finale. Finale was just three of my friends and i and we would go to the practice room and just play for a few hours. There was no bigger picture. We drank and hung out and coincidentally we could play instruments. We played a few shows, had a great time, but eventually it just wasn't a priority to certain people anymore. It was to me, but not everyone was on board. I really liked it, because I liked singing and I liked experimenting with softer stuff but couldn't chase everybody down any longer. That became so much of a hassle. Everyone was talking about the band and fluffing their feathers and the whole time i was thinking, "I can't even get you to practice." It was becoming this thing we talked about without much to show for it. I didn't want to do three bands, so I just decided to focus on The Damned Things and Finale just faded. Too bad too, I listen to the stuff we recorded sometimes and I really think it could have gone somewhere. I'm still really good friends with two of the guys though, so maybe some shows in the future is not totally out of the question.
Lyrically, where do you see yourself with The Damned Things opposed to ETID?
I don't think The Damned Things is as in depth as Every Time I Die, but it's also a far different approach. Writing lyrics that you're going to sing as opposed to writing lyrics that you're going to scream, it is a totally different animal. You have to go with what sounds best and how it reads is secondary. That is reversed in Every Time I Die. With [it], I could write in a spontaneous prose style, because you don't have to pay attention to every single syllable when you're trying to scream. There are a lot more lyrics packed into ETID songs. With The Damned Things, we're constantly thinking "what sounds good on this part?" It's very surgical, whereas Every Time I Die is "I have something to write about. I'm going to write it the best I can. Apply it the best I can."
Interesting, because I've always felt like that's one of Every Time I Die's best parts is where certain lines fall on certain riffs and manipulation of those lyrics as well.
It's a crossword puzzle for me. These riffs are empty blocks that need to be filled in "correctly" in order for the puzzle to be completed. It's just as meticulous, but in a far different way. You don't have to pay so much attention to melody when you're screaming. You just have to figure out the pentameter and the cadence of it, whereas with The Damned Things, it's kind of a push and pull. You might lose a little bit lyrically because you're trying to pull sonically. It's a lot more relaxed because I don't really sit down with a song and plug away for days and days like I do with Every Time I Die. The Damned Things is more of a feeling I get. It's like a humming. I'll get a few lines and then piece it all together. I love being able to explore.
Do you think if Every Time I Die didn't take off the way it did, and you were still doing Every Time I Die and teaching English, would you say that your lyrical writing would be better than it is now?
I have to keep feeding it. There were a lot of times, especially on The Big Dirty where the content dealt with me not knowing if I had anymore lyrics to write. The last line of the record specifically. That song wasn't written last. It was written somewhere in the middle. It was plaguing me for a long time. I had to take a break and just re-energize and read and read and read. I would go back and read things I read in college. I would read old papers I wrote to get things flowing. I had to figure out what I had did wrong and what I was doing right. I do think if I had that constant stimulation of school, I'd be writing more.
I don't mean it as better...
I've always been told by my professors to keep writing to get better at it. So do you think having that constant stimulation would amp things up?
I believe so. Absolutely I do. Without a deadline of suggestive readings for a course, I could read. or I can play video games or hang out with my buddies, but there comes a period of time where you have to make sure you're still educating yourself. Your brain is a muscle that you have to keep exercising.
What do you think of Every Time I Die's placement in everything right now. Something I kept hearing about the Epitaph tour you went on is that the opening bands were bringing more of a crowd that dispersed during your set. I saw you guys in New Orleans with Modern Life Is War and Handshake Murders and there was only like 200 people there. You guys now have this adamant fan base, do you feel like you'll ever reach over that, or do you really care all that much?
That's really something that we battle with a lot. We have on [Warped] too. The thing that people realized about that [Epitaph] tour, is that people do leave, but the people that stay around who watch us are the people who really sink their teeth into music and hold on. I don't really see that with a lot of younger bands and their fan base. I see it as a casual passing. It's here and it's gone. This is our third Warped Tour now? We're thirty years old. We're extremely lucky to be where we are, especially with the refresh rate of these bands coming and going so quick - now they're here, now they're not. We've maintained this for over ten years and it is remarkable to us. But, we do wonder if there's a next level or if it's a matter of "how long do we keep this up?" It is a victory that every time we play a show. people go bonkers. The fact is that we're probably ten years older than half the bands here. We were talking to the guys in Dillinger [Escape Plan] and Greg [Puciato] is looking around saying, "I could honestly be some of these kids' fathers and there is NO WAY I'd let my daughter out of the house looking like some of these girls." I can't believe some of these bands playing in front of hundreds and hundreds of these fifteen year old girls each day. With the Bring Me the Horizon tour, it's like, if you took their music and gave it to other bands to play, as sort of a social experiment, would the same people care? It would reveal to a lot of people just how much of music relies on a look. It's the clothes and the hairstyles and the tattoos and obviously that has always been a part of entertainment but with some bands, it is not just a part, it's the whole. With BMTH, their music isn't bad. The first thing you think of when you hear their CD is certainly not "Oh, 15 year old girls are going to eat this up!" It's an odd dichotomy. You don't really understand how heavier bands have a fan base like that because it's really heavy fucking brutal, stressful music. What are these little kids doing with it? I don't know. I wonder if they know. I wonder if they're happy about it. I wonder if they'd change their audience if they could. It's something I don't think I'll ever grasp. I know I'm happy where we are. The people who like us actually get it. It doesn't HURT that we're handsome but it certainly doesn't matter. [Laughs]
What's next after Warped? Start writing again?
No, not yet. We usually wait until New Year's. Something about these Buffalo winters and producing these good albums. [Laughs] We just wait and kind of gather steam and hit the practice space.
Your final thoughts on being on tour with Dillinger and going on tour with Norma Jean and Cancer Bats. You guys always talk about Converge. Last words on where you think everything is going right now.
I think it's going to take some people like Jacob [Bannon] and Greg and a few others who are genuinely passionate about their art to make sure this stays. It's so easy to look at what these kids are supporting with their parents' money and just throw in the towel. I think the only reason things are getting as big as they are is that people stopped caring about music enough to fight for it. They dropped out, and when certain bands drop out, they're doing music - where it stands as a place in history - a disservice. They really need to keep going. It's a form of evil now, and not the cool devil worshiping evil. At least that was a belief in something. This really shallow, narcissistic form of music that's being "played" on iPods on stage. That has no place. That can't even be considered music. That's theatrics. That should be on Broadway.
There's a new wave of bands coming out now...
Yeah. Yeah. Like Black Breath and Trash Talk. Those guys are awesome. It's true, it feels like a fresh new wave. It seems like the counterpoint to those bands coming up saying, "If we don't have techno in our song, people aren't going to listen to it." This new wave of bands are saying, "Fuck you." I give those guys a lot of credit. I think they are the saving grace. i see them and i remember why Every Time i Die began - to be angry. It's good to know there will be someone to carry the torch.
You don't have to like his music, but I think Keith deserves a shitton of respect. We all see the shitty state the scene is in, and for someone making music to be so vehemently against it, it's both refreshing to see and inspiring to know there are still people fighting for honest, passionate songwriting. Once again, Keith Buckley gives us yet another reason to love him.