WORDS: BECTON SIMPSON

“I don’t think we’ve ever worked harder for something. I don’t think we’ve ever concentrated and sunk our teeth into something as deeply as we have on this record.”
Four Year Strong’s new album ‘Brain Pain’ will be out February 28th and it’s been a good while in the making. “It’s actually been more than five years since our last full length release,” guitar/vocalist Dan O’Connor told us, and while they’ve still done “a lot of touring in that time” it was while on the 2018 Warped Tour they made a “conscious decision not to book any tours” and to just concentrate on making the record. They also purposefully didn’t set themselves a deadline. “We wanted to just take as much time as we needed to make the exact record that we wanted to make.”

A by-product of this relaxed environment was that in by taking their time to make the record, it “captured a lot more authenticity than we’d anticipated, because there’s nothing more authentic than just letting things naturally flow out of you without trying to put up any walls or borders. That was something we were pleasantly surprised about.” As Dan explained, having that lack of a time constraint made it easier for them to be creatively open minded and “follow through with a lot of ideas…we were definitely exploring a lot of areas that we’d never really felt we had the time to explore before,” he said. “Especially when it comes to guitar effect pedals and different sonic styles.”

Musically, they wanted to “push the boundaries of what a Four Year Strong record is supposed to sound like” and to challenge themselves and the fans. “That was a really big goal for us throughout the whole process,” Dan explained. “To make sure we were experimenting in the ways we wanted to” while also producing something that was “recognisable as a Four Year Strong record…We’ve done a good amount of records, we’ve been around for a long time. What can we do for this next record to make it something different and to make it worthwhile, not only for us but for our fans. And we were like, well let’s just do exactly what we know we should do with a record. Not rush it, really take our time, write as much as we can, try and make sure that it has some sort of a compass…We did a lot of conceptualising on this record, talking about what we wanted it to be and what we envisioned in our heads, and it ended up sounding exactly the way we’d talked about.”

“every word on the record was combed through to make sure it said exactly what we wanted it to say””

That doesn’t mean to say the album is a high concept record or has a storyline per say. The band concentrated on conceptualising the “sound and the vibe, talking about what we wanted to accomplish with the record” but as they continued through the songwriting process they found there was a “common thread had a lot to do with identity crisis and trying to find out who you are as a person.” More specifically, the idea of getting older while playing in a band and having to find that work/life balance. “We kind of lead two lives. At home I’m a dad, I spend a lot of time with my kids, I go to PTA meetings, I’m just a very low key guy…but on tour I’m on stage playing rock songs and screaming into a microphone trying to get kids to jump off stuff. And it’s like, who am I? Am I this guy or that guy and where do I fall in between?” And while Dan’s identity crisis is clearly personal to him, it’s something that everyone goes through at some point in their life and can relate to on some level. “Once we discovered that was a common thread, it was fun to explore that more and set it as the theme of the record…There’s a lot of different ways we go about it. There’s some narrative songs, there’s some first person. It goes through a lot of different types of storytelling in the lyrics but it was fun to have this theme and build songs off that.”

He also described it as “the most personally rewarding record that I’ve ever been a part of” adding that, “every word on the record was combed through to make sure it said exactly what we wanted it to say…so I think in a lot of ways it’s the most personal record that we’ve ever put out.” The band were “trying to figure out what are we gonna try to be when this record comes out” but that it “all of that really came together in an interesting and cohesive way” to create an album they are 100% proud of and is possible their most authentic record to date. “You can spend the first part of your career trying to define what you are, and then you spend the last part of your career trying to break down the boundaries you built up for yourself when you were defining who you are. And I think one thing we discovered during this writing process is that you don’t have to balance the two and try to find a happy medium if you’re able to explore the ideas that you want to do and you write as much as you can and you get it all out, you’re able to find that authentic thread, because at the end of the day, it’s just us…instead of trying to write a record that sounds like us. It’s just us.”

That level of authenticity comes at a pertinent time for punk music, with Dan reflecting that in the past, there was a time where it wasn’t perhaps so sincere, where kids were starting punk bands just because it was popular. “There was definitely a moment in time where I felt that a lot of the passion and authenticity was getting drained out and it was being reflected in the attitude and enthusiasm of the scene.” It makes one wonder if there’s an intrinsic link between the political climate and an increase in alternative scenes and punk music, because there certainly seems to be a rise in the culture at the moment. “I think we’re at a really interesting time where authenticity is finding its way back into music,” said Dan. “As soon as the 2016 election was over I remember saying to people ‘I think we’re gonna get a lot of good music in the next couple of years’, because there wasn’t a lot to really talk about or be upset about…Now there is a lot of anger, a lot of angst, a lot of people who have very powerful feelings about things.”

“I think we’re at a really interesting time where authenticity is finding its way back into music”

And although times have changed over the last couple of decades, it’s encouraging to hear that despite hitting their 20th anniversary as a band in 2021, Four Year Strong are still going strong and loving it. “We don’t have a reason enough to walk away from it. We love being in this band and we’ve been able to make it work so…we’re gonna ride this thing till the wheels fall off,” Dan laughs, before going on to describe how they were literally a bunch of teenagers who grew up together as part of this band and now, as adults, the friendships they’ve forged are even stronger and more solid as a result. “We’ve never been more on the same page and just very excited to be doing this…we’re all still really good friends. We see each other multiple times a week when we’re off tour. We’re still a very tight nit unit.”

It’s safe to say they have something planned for their anniversary although they remained fairly tight lipped about it, only revealing that “we definitely have a lot of really cool things that we have to celebrate in the next two to three years. We’re gonna be doing a lot of things to pay homage and also to push this record forward as much as can.” In the meantime though, Four Year Strong are set to embark on a support slot tour with Silverstein as well as hitting Slam Dunk Festival this May. They also revealed they’re be “doing some more shows around that” and that they hope to play “everywhere we can. I’ve never played a show in Hawaii, which I think would be great. If we could play a show in Hawaii and a show in Alaska then we’ve played all 50 states which would be pretty cool.”

SLAM DUNK tickets available HERE.

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