The night Donald Trump won the election, Every Time I Die were in Cleveland. The band delivered a typically burning set opening for Beartooth. It was a great gig on a very depressing night. The main response after the shocking news was universal. Let’s face it: Who among us didn’t say that punk and hardcore would be massively inspired by the administrative shit-show in Washington, D.C.?
Every Time I Die frontman Keith Buckley says his band are ready to deliver on that creative promise. Having recorded what he calls “16 of the best songs we’ve ever written” with producer Will Putney, Buckley says ETID’s next album will be a gloves-off attack on Trump America.
In an interview with Jason Pettigrew, the singer discussed the moral compass he developed through hardcore. He talked about the effect the pandemic will have on all artists and how his band are ready to come out swinging hard when the time is right. He’s been walking the walk for most of his adult life. And as usual, he’s not backing down from anything.
Every Time I Die opened for Beartooth in Cleveland the night of the last election. Great gig, horrible day. In the last four years, did you experience a concerted effort in the underground music world to fight back against everything our government has been doing?
KEITH BUCKLEY: After the disappointment and “shock”—though in retrospect, it should have come as no surprise seeing as how this country is teeming with people scared and hateful enough to vote against their own self-interest—of election night began to subside, I started to look for little things I could control. I think when so much of life is as uncertain as it is now with the pandemic and as uncertain as it was then on election night, it’s important to divert your energy away from circumstances beyond you and focus on the immediate things around you.
At first, it was just like “cleaning the van” or “organizing cables,” trivial things like that. But then I realized that being on tour every night meant I also had the ability to control something much more important—the mood of the room we were in. It was a safe assumption that if people were at an Every Time I Die show, they were there because of a shared moral—and to some extent, political—ideology. If they were in the hardcore scene at all, chances are good that they recognize injustice, corruption and egregious exploitation of life when they see it. Speaking for myself, the scene I’ve been involved with for over half of my life prepared me for times exactly like this. [It] taught me how important it was to stand up and speak out on behalf of others that could not. Protesting fur, boycotting companies that tested on animals, being distrustful of cops and aware of how police brutality affected the poor, donating to Food Not Bombs, physically fighting fascists, racists, misogynists and homophobes, these were all lessons I internalized at 14 years old.
So when Trump, who is the personification of every corrupt ideology poured into one disgusting suit of loose skin, was victorious, I knew that our shows had the potential to empower a lot of people who may have suddenly begun feeling powerless. Getting in a room full of peers sharing an experience of live music, looking out for each other, laughing, drinking, dancing, organizing, it felt more like a community than it ever had, and instantly, involuntarily, and even though temporarily, we were taking power back.
Since then, “the scene” and all its inherent good has only become more essential. It has proven itself as a light in the darkness. It is a tireless army of revolutionaries, and if it found a way to run the world, the world would be an infinitely better place. Of course, there are a few anomalies who insist that supporting Trump and being a part of the hardcore scene are not mutually exclusive, but all that does is prove to me [that] they were never really a part of it in the first place.
What came first, the record or the pandemic?
The boys got together in a new rehearsal space to trade riffs in late August, but with Jordan [Buckley, guitarist] and Goose [Holyoak, drummer] living far away, writing sessions were intermittent. Extremely productive but intermittent. It went on this way for a while, occasionally playing some one-offs just to keep the gears greased, but as soon as Tid The Season was over, we went into overdrive. We had about two weeks to take advantage of the space we rented before we would be moved to a more modest “lounge in the back of a shared bus” setup while on tour in Europe with While She Sleeps and Vein. At some of those shows, we played new songs (“White Void,” “Planet Shit” and “Dark Distance”), and they went over extremely well, so we knew we were in a good place.
Then literally the day after that tour ended, we moved into GCR Audio in Buffalo to record with Will Putney. Same place, same producer as Low Teens. They had about 13 songs loosely done when the session started, and I had lyrics for about three of those. When we walked out the door for the last time in early March, we had tracked 16 of the best songs we’ve ever written. Then we took some time off before a weekend worth of shows where we planned to try out even more new material.
However, the pandemic scare began the night of our show in Chicago on March 12, and by the next afternoon, the country was in lockdown. Our next two shows were canceled, so we drove straight home. Been here ever since. We are extremely lucky to have gotten the record done before quarantine was mandatory, but even more so, we’re lucky we didn’t release it before the pandemic hit. If we had a record out and no way to tour on it, the fire would have completely gone out.
You once told me you always wonder what’s going to hit you when you’re going to write lyrics. Low Teens was quite a harrowing experience for you, lyrically. What was the single greatest force on your lyrics this time around?
The Trump administration coming into power. And I know some people prefer to keep politics out of music, but in one way or another, politics inform everything we value. It’s not a cat you can put outside for the day. Its arms reach into art, music, literature, our careers, our neighborhoods, our family structures, our access to essential goods and services, everything.
But OK, let’s pretend it is possible to set aside the political implications of the current Trump administration. Take away all policy-making ability and media coverage. What you have now is a demographic of human Americans forging an identity from the absolute worst and most dangerous resources they possess because they saw one evil man’s rise as validation of the idea that “evil” can take what “good” cannot earn. To people rightfully tired of being shit on by those in charge—bosses, wives, husbands, “the coastal elite,” whatever—the idea of a sudden and newly “acceptable” power grab seemed too good to be true. So they built an identity around their darkest parts, the ones they’ve had to repress as part of our social contract but no longer need to. I imagine it felt like taking your bra off after a long day of work.
With this now in play, the game is on as to who can be the worst in the shortest amount of time, which is why the internet blossomed like a corpse plant. Innumerable grifters raced to the bottom by pandering to hate, jealousy, bitterness, fear and confusion through self-destructive contrarianism. Intentionally duplicitous bullies operating in abject bad faith who use not instinct or courage to guide them through their lonely, miserable lives but the outrage they revel in when they conflate “bravery” with “shamelessness” and “the righteous anger of the marginalized” with “arbitrary violence” because they delight in pain and cruelty and cannot even comprehend how empathy functions.
You don’t need to hang out in political circles or listen to political podcasts to know that supporting the Trump administration is a question of human decency, of morality. Seeing how such brazen stupidity and heartlessness affects people who just want to follow their own bliss and love whoever they want to love and provide a better life for their families, it disgusts and angers me. But I’m not so blinded by that anger that I can’t recognize a symptom of helplessness when I see it. This spoiled, delusional preteen of a country has failed the people it was supposed to protect and made us feel so worthless that there are actually those of us who don’t believe that we deserve things like Medicare For All. And even if they do, it’s not enough to have. Others must have not.
The short version: I didn’t think I’d ever be able to write better or more charged lyrics than what I wrote for Low Teens, but that record was about personal uncertainty. This one is about universal uncertainty.
How are a bunch of road dogs like ETID handling the pandemic? What kinds of things are you mulling over for the rest of 2020?
Honestly, if it wasn’t for the financial uncertainty of it all, I would be thankful for the chance to finally get quality time with my family. My wife has worked a full-time job since we got married 10 years ago, and our daughter has gone to daycare since before she could walk, and I have toured for 20 years. Us together in the same house, learning about each other and ourselves and bonding in new ways is something I always thought would come at the expense of my involvement in a band. Now I get to give my family all of my time, and Every Time I Die will be there when the fog lifts. And it’ll be stronger than it has ever been.
Do you think we’re going to be subjected to a tidal wave of records influenced by isolation and quarantine? Is there any way not to write about stay-at-home orders and being with the ones you love in these terribly uncertain times?
In much the same way as politics at least indirectly influence every aspect of life, there is absolutely no way to not write about this mandatory isolation. Even if you’re not referencing COVID-19 specifically. The fire of inspiration for anything written between the time the author was quarantined and the time the author was allowed to resume their routine was lit and fueled by this pandemic.
The longer you look at something, the more patterns emerge, the more details sharpen. And if you’re forced to look at your house, your relationships, your reflection, your television, you realize how little you have, how little you’re allowed, how frightening this is and could still become.
I don’t think we’ll see a tidal wave as soon as the country reopens, but we will definitely see a steady stream that will flow for the rest of our lives. And if nothing else, if no art is made during this time, I hope that when our doors open and we’re let back out into the world, that everyone carries with them the knowledge that even if our “leaders” were competent enough to help us survive, they wouldn’t. They don’t give a fuck about us. The world cannot go back to the way it was prior to this.
What’s the headspace of ETID these days?
Every Time I Die all in one way or another worried about the future of the music industry. But I personally believe once this is over, musicians will be essential labor. [Every Time I Die are] sitting on the best record of our lives. We’re anxious to get back on the road. We’re missing each other and the experiences we have together, and we’re trying to stay positive.
If live music events became extinct, what would you do? Get a Ph.D.? Write more novels? Feel free to answer this as seriously or flippantly as you wish.
I’ve always been asked this question as a purely hypothetical situation, so I always tended to answer pretty thoughtlessly. Go back to school, write more books, write a movie, become a full-time video game streamer, etc. But now that I have nothing but time at home and have had to seriously consider the fate of our band—and bands in general—that have to tour to make money, I’m forced to be honest with myself. Judging by my patterns of behavior the past month spent in isolation, I’m convinced that if I wasn’t writing music or touring on it, I would read about masochism until I eventually drank myself to death at 3 in the afternoon on a weekday.