Buffalo hardcore heroes Every Time I Die dropped their feverishly anticipated ninth album Radical today. Coming five years after the release of the universally celebrated Low Teens, Radical continues the band’s later career trend of blending substantial sonic experimentation with their unrelenting signature style, to cultivate a soundscape that is as blisteringly heavy as it is wholly their own.
Produced by Will Putney (A Day To Remember, The Ghost Inside, The Amity Affliction) Radical is 16 tracks of peak Every Time I Die, alchemized by a swampy summoning of southern rock and course poetry, the music swirls beneath sardonic and clever wordplay, cementing the band as leaders, not followers.
Written during a time of great personal change for vocalist Keith Buckley, Radical is lyrically a departure from the bleaker than bleak Low Teens, stepping outside of the personal hell that conjured the most affecting record of their career, Radical instead turns the focus outward and seeks to make sense of the escalating hellscape of our present existence. Inspired by the unrest and upheaval around the world over the past five years, Radical focuses on humanity, decency, self-worth, and even a bit of spirituality more so than pure politics. It is an oddly uplifting listen for a record that is, for the most part, unapologetically relentless.
On the day before the record’s release, Maniacs sat down for a chat with frontman Keith Buckley for a conversation about the intersection of spirituality and politics, finding purpose in a time of chaos, having the courage to make radical personal change and the making of Radical.
Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die, thanks for speaking to Maniacs.
"My pleasure man, how are doing?"
I’m doing good as we’re just hours away from getting out of this endlessly extended lockdown! How are you?
"I can’t believe it, I didn’t realize that you were just getting out now, congratulations on being alive!"
Thank you mate, it is quite an achievement to be proud of. Now we’re talking to you today because, after five years and one month, Every Time I Die are finally releasing the follow-up to Low Teens. How does it feel to have Radical out in the world?
I’m nervous, I usually am, I’m going to have to stay away from the internet, because I’ve already been getting a little too much screen time, but I’m excited for you all to finally hear it!
We’ve been sitting on it for a year, so I occasionally listen to it here and there to make sure that it still holds up and I feel like it does. So I’m stoked for you all to get it. It feels like a present we’re giving you all."
It couldn’t have been better timed for us here in Melbourne, I can’t wait to hear people blasting it out on the streets when the clock ticks past 12!
"I hope it becomes an anthem for whatever good comes out of tonight!"
Radical is a fascinating record to listen to from a thematical perspective because even though I know it was written and recorded before the pandemic, it is so directly applicable to it. Do you feel like you predicted or maybe even accidentally manifested the future?
"I do! But also I understand that the anger in America was teaming and that something was going to happen. I didn’t predict that there was going to be a MAGA rally, that’s unfortunate, that’s a very distinct difference and that’s something that I don’t agree with, but what I do agree with is the idea that what the Capitol Building represents needs to change in a revolutionary way."
That’s been an interesting and somewhat divisive aspect of the rollout of Radical in that a large portion of your fanbase has never really seen you as being a political band, at least not directly so and yet this album tackles a lot of issues that could be seen as being political, albeit with more of a holistic view. Is this a side of Every Time I Die we can expect to see more of?
"Yes, because I think it is inextricably tied to humanity and spirituality. So it frustrates me when people say, “Oh, you're politicizing something” when what they mean is that you're making it more of a spiritual cause. You know, that's what they actually mean, but they say it's politicizing. It becomes an argument of morality at that point. So I think that as long as the world remains in the spiritual crisis that it's in, then there will be politics, and as long as there are politics, then yeah, I'll be writing about it! "
I couldn't agree with that statement more and I think it's interesting how people always miss the point that everything political is personal and everything personal is political and all of it is in some way spiritual?
"Correct. I absolutely agree with that. 100%. If you want to look at it from a political battle with a political bent, then go ahead. If you want to look at it from a more spiritual bent, then yes, please do, because that's the one I look at it from, you know, so I can attest to any questions or concerns, from that perspective. Most of the political shit I can try to respond to, but the fact is, I don't dip into politics a lot, because I don't feel that's my purpose, you know? I'm not good at that, but I know people that are, so I can point you to the right people, you know what I mean? Like I, I can't do it all. I know, I don't have an opinion on everything, but as for very basic, fundamental human principles. I’d like to that think I have a firm grasp on what is morally true and what is not."
Radical is such an intriguing and in some ways challenging record to listen to, lyrically, in part because it's so different from the soul-destroying bleakness of Low Teens. Now, obviously, that's because as a person, you were in a very different position at the time that you wrote it, but given that you're now two years removed from writing most of these lyrics, do you feel like they're still a representation of where you are at now, as a person?
"Absolutely. With Low Teens, I was facing such a bleak situation and I was so immersed in that bleak situation and I feel like when it was time to write Radical, the world as a whole was going through a bleak situation, and I didn’t want to write about bleak situations anymore. I swear to god, that I believe humour is one of the fundamental elements of humanity, and it needs to be nurtured. I don’t think that the world is all doom and gloom, so I didn’t want to look at it that way again.
So I started looking at it front the perspective that maybe this was the end of a line, maybe this is a breakthrough, maybe whatever singularity we’re nearing with Trump and police brutality and hunger and famine and climate change. I was like “Oh my God, whatever singularity we're nearing, maybe then there's a breakthrough to the other side.” So I decided to just focus on the breakthrough stuff, the breakthrough and after instead of all the shit that is in front of me”
I read an article elsewhere where you stated that you dared yourself to write this record. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
"I felt like, things in my life had to change. I was at a really, really bad place during the pandemic, you know, personally and there was a turnaround, one that we don’t have enough time to get into now, but there was a turnaround. I saw where I could go, and I saw where my life could go. So I wrote from that perspective because I wanted to be able to answer for it. I wanted to be the guide that I am writing as right now, I'm trying to make that person exist by making him accountable for these things that I'm writing now. So that's what I did and in my opinion, it worked, because I’m happier than I've ever been. So by that metric, it worked."
Following on from that concept, you've been doing a lot of press recently, where you've been talking about making that choice to change it up and start your life over. I'm wondering if that's something that you're seeing in your bandmates as well, as they all enter into new phases of their lives and take on new challenges? I mean, for example, Andy's arguably more famous for being a wrestler on AEW now than he is for being in Every Time I Die. Did you take inspiration from that when making your own radical change?
“That was definitely an inspiration! To see that in front of my eyes you know? To see that transformation. I was like, “wow, this is really inspiring!” So when I found myself at much rock bottom during the pandemic, I realised that I had not only seen movies about people picking themselves up and getting their lives back under control, but I’d seen it happen in real life too. It doesn’t just happen in the movies, it happens to Andy Williams too! I just saw this guy do it! So that was really cool to be able to see. Then the pandemic made everyone put everything into perspective and I think we all ended up coming out of it with very different perspectives of ourselves and different ideas of who we are and who we want to be.”
I would agree with that personally for sure. It definitely ties into this ‘great resignation’ idea too, this phenomenon happening globally where people are getting out of lockdown and going back to their jobs and then they're immediately quitting because they just don’t want to live that life anymore. Do you feel that’s going to continue?
Yes, I mean for certain people and you know, this is absolutely not to undermine the tragedies or of COVID-19 but for certain people who survived it, the experience was spiritually transformative. They got a lot of their self-worth back, I know I did. I didn't do it alone, but it happened to me and I think it happened to a lot of people. It was very easy during the pandemic to go “it's either light or dark” I’m either going into the dark or I'm really gonna use this as a way to get my shit together and you know I chose that way and I hope everyone did. It was such a great place to reset and like find yourself and just get back to like your centre and then go “okay, this is what I love this is what I want this is what I need and then just go for it.”
It sounds like what you’re defining there is your purpose, you’ve rediscovered your purpose. This ties in beautifully to a question that I got from a member of the ETIDiots group, who wanted to know at what point did you realise that music was your purpose?
"I knew that I had an interest in it for a very long time, but I feel like I realised it was my purpose when I moved away to Virginia Tech and I knew nobody and I had nobody. I didn't have any friends and I was ten hours from home and I didn't know where to go except for the place where they had the shows. It was just like this beacon in the dark and that's where I went. That’s where I made friends, that's how I survived, that was when I realised that music was where I belonged and that those people were my tribe. That’s when it went from being an interest to being the moment where I went “this is it for me. I'm on this path now.”.
By following that path, you have then been able to create this community of people that have found their sense of purpose via your art. Does that feel spiritually fulfilling?
"It’s beautiful, it’s amazing, I just want to make sure that it never becomes a cult. I have to do everything in my power to make sure it never becomes a cult. The people are amazing and I love meeting them and talking to them and now we have things like Twitch everyone is so interactive, it’s great."
Touching back on Radical a bit, instrumentally this is arguably the ninth record in a row where you’ve incorporated new styles and elements into the staple Every Time I Die sound, while still managing to deliver a cohesive record. Are there any tracks on the record that came as a result of that experimentation that you’re looking forward to people hearing?
Oh yeah, We Go Together is the last track on the album, and that was one of my favourites even while we were making it and it remains so now. I didn’t know how to describe it at the time, but now I can look back and say that was a very mystifying experience writing that song and recording that song. There is strange energy to that song, and I'm excited for people to hear it. I don't know what it is. I just know there's something about that song that I really want people to feel."
I definitely picked up on that vibe on my first listen. Another element of experimentation on the record is the incorporation of guest vocalists, which has become a bit of an Every Time I Die tradition. This time around the one that stands out most to my ears is Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra. I think the tonal qualities of your two voices work so well together, in the way that your voice has this unique raspy, almost caustic element to it and then Andy’s is this thing of pristine beauty and together you make musical magic.
"Like Simon and Garfunkel right?"
Yeah, like alternative Simon and Garfunkel, let’s call you Simon and Garfuckyaself?
"That’s great I like that! I do agree though we worked really well together. We were sending files back and forth and he just sent us back everything, like he did all of these beautiful harmonies and it was just amazing. Then Wil Putney put them all together and the first time we heard it as a complete song, we all got choked up, it was awesome!"
Now one thing we ask everybody who we talk to at Maniacs is what is something outside of music that you consider yourself to be a Maniac for?
"I’m a maniac for horror movies, I’m watching Beatlejuice right now, and we’re up to the part where they get the Handbook For The Recently Deceased, so that’s what I’m a Maniac about now!"
If you were to become a wrestler, like your mate The Butcher, Andy Williams, and you could have a song play whenever you enter the room, what song would you choose?
"Rare by NAS without a doubt, the best intro music for any athlete ever!"
Radical is out today via Epitaph Records.