Four Year Strong have never been a band willing to stagnate themselves. On their fourth studio album, ‘In Some Way, Shape Or Form’, the band has redefined their musical ability and allowed their songwriting to naturally progress away from the standard formulas that characterised their earlier work. Guitarist and co-vocalist Dan O’Connor spoke to Kill Your Stereo about the new album, the band’s upcoming Australian tour as part of Soundwave Festival, and why he’ll never be content with doing the same old thing all his life.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your role in the band?
Sure, my name is Dan, I sing and play guitar in the band, and that’s pretty much it. I’m tall, and I have brown hair and I have a beard. Some people say that I look like a scary person, but I’m not actually scary, I’m a really nice guy. That would describe me.
What were the goals and inspirations behind ‘In Some Way, Shape Or Form’?
Each song kind of has its own inspiration, but I guess we wanted to change things up a bit with the whole record, we wanted to write a different record from the past two that we put out, ‘Rise Or Die Trying’ and ‘Enemy Of The Word’, and we wanted to challenge ourselves musically and as songwriters. We basically went to the studio and said to ourselves, “Okay, what do we want this record to sound like?”, and there were some songs that we had started to write around ‘Enemy Of The World’ that we really liked the progression of and the way they were going. So when we went back to the studio this time, we just steered the ship in that direction and let the songwriting progress that way naturally.
So the change in musical direction was a conscious decision?
Yeah, well we’ve always said from when we put out our first record that we were never going to put out the same album, because we’re not that kind of band. We just don’t want to put out the same songs over and over again. We love to write songs and we like to write different songs, and every time we make a record we consciously try to do something different. Even from ‘Rise Or Die Trying’ to ‘Enemy Of The World’ there was a big change, you know, ‘Wasting Time’ or ‘One Step At A Time’, some of those songs wouldn’t have worked as well on ‘Rise Or Die Trying’. On this direction, we kind of did things a little but simpler like we did with ‘Wasting Time’, because one thing we love about those songs is that each instrument has their own moment. In some of the other songs, everybody was doing stuff at the exact same time and we would get frustrated because some of the riffs that we worked really hard on would get lost because there would be singing over it or something. Other than that, we didn’t really consciously say, “Okay, we’re gonna have an album that doesn’t have this and doesn’t have this”, we just wanted to write an album that was a little bit clearer and more fluid. The only thing that changed was that this time we did the vocal melodies and music at the same time, so at the end we had the whole song finished. Most of the writing process just came out naturally.
How did the departure of Josh Lyford affect the writing and recording process?
Not having Josh really didn’t affect the writing or the recording. I mean, he was always a really big part of our lives and our shows and all that stuff, but he never really wrote anything in the band. Even some of the keyboards were recorded by Alan and myself on past records, so he was never really a huge part in the studio. He was there for a lot of things, but he was never really into writing, he would play things that we would write, so it wasn’t really a big difference. Obviously at shows and on tours, there was a difference that we had to get used to and it was weird at first, but everything else wasn’t that noticeable.
Many longstanding fans of the band have expressed disappointment with the new album’s sound. What would you say to those people?
I guess I would say you can’t win them all. I mean, a lot of people take our band very personally, which is cool, but I mean, at the same time I think that people just forget that all we are in this for is just to write the music that we want to make. The moment that this band stops being fun for any of us will mean this band will be over, but the fact of the matter is that I’m a 26 year old guy and I get to act like I’m 16 every day and hang out with my friends and write the songs that we want to write, and that’s pretty much the whole reason we’re in this. There really isn’t anything else, nobody’s selling records anymore and the age of the billionaire rockstar is gone, so the only reason to be in a band is for the love of it and because you want to do it. We obviously want to make our fans happy and excited but there’s always going to be people who won’t like what we do. We could’ve put out a record that sounded exactly like ‘Enemy Of The World’ and the people would’ve said exactly the same thing, that it’s just the same record and it’s boring, blah blah blah. If I went to the studio and wrote ‘It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong’ again, I would be bored out of mind, you know what I mean? I don’t want to play the same songs over and over again, that’s not the kind of person I am, that’s not the kind of band I want to be in and that’s not the kind of life that I want to lead. I guess, check out the next album and it might be more to your fancy, but it’s not going to be like anything that came before it.
Given the change of musical direction for Four Year Strong, do you still consider yourselves a pop punk band?
We’re kind of all over the place with things. I mean, we have some songs that are definite pop punk songs and then we have other songs that are more metal than pop punk songs or more hardcore than pop punk songs or more rock than pop punk songs. Pop punk is a term that is used for a lot of bands right now, but all it really means is music that is influenced by punk, but has a pop structure behind it, and that’s what this record is. We’re still a band that is influenced by bands like Bad Religion and Bands like New Found Glory and bands that came from that scene, and there’s still pop structure behind it like everything else we’ve done in the past, so if people wanna call it pop punk, it’ll fit, but people can call it whatever they want.
Do you still support Josh and his new project?
Josh was in that band for a while before he stopped being in Four Year Strong, and we were totally cool with it then and I have nothing against Foxfires or Josh or anything like that. I haven’t gotten to see their band play before, just because we’ve been gone for so long, but I’m definitely going to see their band in the near future if I’m home. They don’t really play too often but I’ve kept track with some of their stuff, but yeah. I fully support him and their music and he’s a really good dude and I’ll support anything that he does.
What have been some of the highlights of this year for the band?
One of the biggest highlights of the year has definitely been the tour that we did with Bad Religion and Rise Against in the States. That tour was incredible for our band, and it was just really good to be to tour with two bands that have been able to have such a great career just playing the music that they wanna play. I’d say the other big highlight is putting out this record. We spent a lot of time working on this record over the winter and stuff like that, so it was definitely a really cool feeling when that finally got released. So I would say definitely, that tour and putting out this record were definitely the highlights of 2011.
2012 will mark the second time the band has played Soundwave. What do you love about playing the festival?
One of the main things that I love about playing the festival is that it’s in Australia. Every time we go down there, the weather is gorgeous and most of the time we have a couple of days off where we get to go to the beach and walk around the cities and stuff, and we love it down there. Another reason we love doing it is because it gives us to chance to hang out with a lot of our friends. There’s always a lot of our friends on Soundwave, and this time is no exception. We get to hang out with Bad Religion and I Am The Avalanche, and there’s probably lots of other ones I can’t think of right now, but any excuse to hang out with our friends is the way to go. Plus, we get to do it while playing awesome shows in Australia, so it’s a win-win situation.
Do you guys have any headline shows for the festival?
We don’t have anything planned right now, but I know that they’re still working out some Sidewave shows. We don’t really know much about what we’re doing aside from that. We’re hoping that some headline shows will be worked out, but as of right now we don’t.
What does the future hold for Four Year Strong beyond February next year?
Basically just touring and touring and doing what we always do. We’re just gonna play shows and keep writing music. We have some tours in the States that we’re in talks about doing in the spring and the summer. Other than that, we don’t really have anything planned, but I’m sure we’ll be doing more tours in the fall, and hopefully some more international stuff and I’m sure we’ll be back in Australia before we know it. Four Year Strong’s an easy band to be in, because all we do is tour and write songs. We’ll just do that until the wheels fall off, I guess.
What makes your beards so luscious?
I would have to say my Dad. I mean, his beard when I was growing up was just as amazing as mine is now, and it’s just genetics. Everybody’s got something, right? Some people have good looks, some people have good hair, some people have ripped abs, I have a face that grows a lot of hair. That’s pretty much what I was given, that’s my gift. I have a face covered in hair.
Any comments you’d like to finish on?
To all our Australian fans, we’re super excited to play for you guys and we’re super excited to get back into your country and just do the damn thing, and it’s gonna be fun.