Four Year Strong

Four Year Strong; loved by many, Easycore revivalists to most, and beard enthusiasts to all. The Massachusetts quartet dropped their fifth studio album last week to a very positive reception from both fans and critics alike. To mark the new release, we had guitarist/vocalist Dan O’Connor tell us about his feelings towards their discography, on being a father, and how they came to where they are now in 2015.

Hey Dan, Alex from Killyourstereo here, how are you today?

Hey! I’m doing pretty well, thanks.

What are you up to today?

We’re actually playing a show later on in Austin, Texas. We’re on tour with The Story So Far, Terror, and Souvenirs.

You guys have been on that tour since it started, right? And it’s been going for over a month or so now – how has it been for the band?

It’s been a really good tour to be on, it’s a good tour for people who like hardcore, punk, and pop-punk music. A lot of people leave and go, “Wow, I enjoyed the entire show, and all the bands were really good”.

Good to hear dude. I know it was your daughter’s first birthday recently, and I’m wondering if that has put a lot of the touring you guys do into perspective, knowing that you’ll be away from her for so long?

Yeah, it’s definitely put it into the perspective that I’m missing a lot at home, as when babies grow they change really fast. But when I go on tour for a couple months, technology is at a point where we can FaceTime everyday and stay involved. At the same time, before when we would tour it was because I’m in a band, but now my provider instincts have kinda kicked in, so I’m always like, “Let’s tour more!”. It goes both way, you know?

Oh of course man, gotta provide somehow. Do any other band members have kids of their own?

Nope, no one else does, she’s the first Four Year Strong kid. I guess I’m the father pig, as far as that goes.

(Laughs) cool man. The new album just came out, and I’m wondering if you’re one of those guys who goes through Youtube and social media comment sections, looking for any and all kinds of feedback when you release something new?

Sometimes, like if people leave comments on Twitter, but for the most part I don’t. I’m not a very social network guy. I don’t read blogs or forums, which in some way is detrimental to me knowing what’s going on. I don’t take people’s opinion on the Internet, and I never did. When we first started out, I looked on heaps of online stuff about us, and I found that most people who commented where negative towards the album, and those that liked it, just you know, liked the record! So instead of annoying myself with it, I just never really read them, as it never affects me that much.

That’s probably the best way to go about it. Before you had David Bendith and Machine producing the albums but this time you used Converge’s Kurt Ballou. You yourself said that there was “No fancy computer bullshit” on this record, and was going with Ballou a way to get a more raw sound?

Yeah, that’s it. We knew our record was a step outside of the world as our records go, and a step out of Kurt’s world as well. We’re all from Massachusetts, and his studio is 20 minutes from my house, so getting together to talk about doing a record, we found that we were looking for something different, but not something crazily different, and so was he. He was working with the melodies and layers in our music, he doesn’t really use a lot of computer magic or crazy triggers on the drums, and that was outside of the box for us.

We really wanted something that was more raw, more live and something that has more energy in the recording as the songs we wrote are high-energy songs. So and it was a no-brainer for us when his name came. He was close to home, he gets great tones, he’s a guitarist and our music is very guitar heavy, he can mix it well, and we really hit it off with him.

Sick, his mixing and mastering of the last Old Man Gloom and Code Orange records was great. Usually when a band releases a self-titled album, that’s to typically say that the style of that record is what will define the band’s sound, is that true for this release, or am I over-thinking it a little there?

Well the reason we settled on it for this record was because ‘Rise Or Die Trying’ was our adolescent, first attempt. ‘Enemy Of The World’ was us trying to expand on that and grow up a little. ‘In Some Way, Shape Or Form’, was us growing up as song writers and really learning how to write melodies and how structure our songs. This record was the culmination of all of that, and as we’re adults, it’s a lot easier for us to step outside ourselves and say “This is what the fans want, this is what we want to play”, and we can take all the lessons learned and make something we enjoy playing, and something the fans will enjoy listening to.

This record felt like it was everything we’ve learned since being in a band since 2001, and we felt it was the most solid, coherent record we’ve ever made of what Four Year Strong is and should be. We wanted to make a statement with this album and say, “We’re not a bunch of old guys who are going to phone in this record, we’re actually going to work hard and propel ourselves”.

Well with the albums, in retrospect, how do you guys feel about ‘In Some Way, Shape, Or Form’? I liked that album but I know that a lot of people didn’t dig it when you dropped it back in 2011.

I look back at that record and think that it’s definitely not Four Year Strong-y. But from a song-writing perspective, if I was to play all of the Four Year Strong songs on acoustic guitar, I’d say that the songs off that record are the most well structured and best thought out songs we’ve ever written. I don’t have any regrets making that record, because it’s how we got to where we are now.

If we put out the new one back then, right after ‘Enemy Of The World’, the band would have started to crumble. We don’t always listen to pop-punk, we enjoy so many different styles and we were getting a little stir crazy with being stuck inside this box. When we wrote ‘In Some Way, Shape, Or From’, we thought, “Fuck it, let’s just write what we want to write”. We needed that to grow and bring us together a little. Because when we would write in the studio, someone would come up with a very Four Year Strong riff, and we’d all “Ugh, another one…”.

With doing that record, it gave us new ideas on how to expand on our sound. We would hate to be a band who goes into the studio and write ‘Rise Or Die Trying Part 2’; we don’t like to be backward thinking people, we like to be forward thinking in our song-writing. It really gave us the perspective, and when listening back to it, I really like it. I also think it’s starting to grow on people now as we get a lot more requests for those songs when we play live.

Right on, man. Was it surprising to have that album received the way it was?

I think what really took us by surprise, is that people honestly thought that we didn’t understand that it was different. Like, of course we knew that it was different. We’re not stupid; we wanted that. We had just done two albums that were fast-paced, positive, major-key songs, and then we tried to write some more mid-tempo songs, more minor key songs and expanding on our melodies. The vocal melodies on ‘Rise Or Die Trying’, they weren’t melodies at all, they were basically tongue twisters. When we play those songs love, we see people struggling to sing along, because the vocals are so fast and we play them faster live. That was a lesson we brought into this new album as well.

Like some of your past records, this one has a pretty weird cover to it and I remember reading an interview one of you guys did with Rock Sound years ago and how the best ideas for album artwork and for your music are spontaneous, spur of the moment, and was that the case here with this cover? 

Yep, that was exactly it. We got an email from our label about the artwork, and we got our manager’s laptop out and just said things out loud and wrote them down. We took this list and we sent it off to an artist, and what we got back is the cover. We did that same thing with all our other albums too.

Also, the robot shark from ‘Rise Or Die Trying’ makes a small appearance again, is it too early to say that it’s a running theme on your album covers?

We always try to work in little Easter eggs that tie into past work, and not only is the shark on the front, but so is the wizard monkey from ‘Rise or Die Trying’.

Four Year Strong

Well with a running theme, do you guys consider yourself massive movie buffs, because this album has its fair share of movie references (Jaws, IT, Rush Hour, and Liar, Liar to name a few)?

It’s actually like the way we talk to each other. When we’re hanging out, we’ll just quote movies and other things like that, and sometimes they’re these inside jokes. Now, we just kind of wing it. One of us will say, “Hey, we should call the song this!” And that’s it, that’s the end of the song. The moto that Four Year Strong lives by is that we put our heart and soul into the music, and every thing else is whatever it is.

I like the thinking there Dan. Well finally, a lot of fans and punters like to label you guys as Easycore, and I want to know what’s your opinion of this sub-genre and whether or not you guys associate with that label at all?

We have a lot of people, especially on this tour, go on about easycore and the easycore revival, and for us, we don’t call ourselves that. We label it as pop-punk or punk rock, as we’re not huge on sub-genres. We don’t have a problem if people want to call us that. I mean, New Found Glory came up with that years ago, they had it on a t-shirt: ‘Easycore Coral Springs’. Sometimes we do use it, hashtag’s on Twitter and stuff, but whatever gets people excited and into it, then we’re down for that. As I said, we don’t take a lot of things too seriously, except for the music.

Four Year Strong’s self-titled effort is out now via Pure Noise Records.


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