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Bible Belt Buckley

"Looking back at the lyrics now, it's an album full of excuses as to why I wasn't happy," Buckley says of 'Ex Lives.'

Every Time I Die Singer talks about being born again (sort of) with Ex Lives

The universe is a cycle. There’s an endless repetition of good, bad, life, death, destruction, and creation. On their latest album, Ex Lives, Buffalo’s hardcore kings Every Time I Die have completed a circle, shedding their former “party rock” lives and reinventing their style with the life lessons learned along the way. They made an album for themselves again. Almost 15 years into their career, the now four-piece group has redefined what Every Time I Die means.

The music is still heavy, with the familiar coil of tangled, electrified guitar riffs, the punishing drums of new drummer Ryan Leger, and dark, intelligent lyrics complete with Keith Buckley’s signature “fuck you” attitude mixed in, but there is a lot more added to the usual formula on Ex Lives. A blistering banjo solo cuts through the intro to “Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow”; guitarists Andy Williams and Jordan Buckley transform the relentless, fast-paced noise-core riffs of “Drag King” into a pit-thrashing breakdown; and Buckley begs for death on the opening track “Underwater Bimbos From Outerspace,” all lending a sense of urgency not matched since their 2003 debut, Hot Damn! Grungy, melodic guitar-vocal harmonies emerge on songs like “Revival Mode” while the 32-year-old vocalist screams, “I thank you for bearing witness as I waste my fucking life,” as he stares the next 50 years of life in the eyes, looks beyond to the potentially endless circle of reincarnation and gives the universe a throbbing middle finger.

It all feels so fresh, yet reeks of Every Time I Die. There is a lot more that can be said about Ex Lives, a genre-revitalizing, career-affirming record that has met critical praise across the board, but Buckley himself can certainly say it a lot better than me.

AV: Where are you right now?

Keith Buckley: In the buckle of the Bible Belt: Oklahoma City. We were just informed that their beer is only 3.2 percent and if they want a higher alcohol content, they have to buy warm beer from the distributor and cool it themselves. I guess that little trick fools God…you know: the guy that they think created the universe.

AV: There seem to be some timely, socially relevant themes throughout the album—the cover itself shows protesters and riot shields, and there are some lyrics about how religion is imposed upon people against their will (“thanks lord, but I don’t need any more poor advice, poor advice/caught in the canon with a one way ticket/four riders in a town with one horse,” a lyric from “Revival Mode”). Do you think we’re doomed as humans or is there a way to turn this all around?

KB: The picture [on the album cover] is probably the most perfect marriage of an idea to an image that we could have asked for, since the lyrical content in Ex Lives is far more serious than previous records, but I think it was just a happy accident that it could be parlayed into topical social relevance. It’s a single moment caught in what can only be imagined as a very volatile and hopeless struggle. The kid is overwhelmed and he is grappling with something bigger than himself. That is something most people can associate with, whether it be applied to the church or the state or the heart or the brain, and the results will always be the same: death. So yes, I do feel that we as a species are doomed. You can turn things around internally, sure, you know, by harnessing your creativity, aligning yourself with the source, all that kind of spiritual stuff, but we are all dealing with something far superior. We hardly have a choice.

"The picture [on the album cover] is probably the most perfect marriage of an idea to an image that we could have asked for," Buckley says.

AV: Your lyrics have always been dark but they often have a playful side to them, too. On this record there seems to be much more of a sense of urgency to the music and words, like the message is more important than ever before. Do you feel that sense of urgency? Where does it come from?

KB: In what should have been one of the most exciting times of my life, I found a darkness I was unfamiliar with, and this is coming from a dude who spent the better part of his childhood watching Faces of Death tapes with his uncle. I was just married, had bought a house, was on tour in Europe with the Damned Things, ETID was on the cusp of writing a new album with a new drummer, and yet I found myself in a relentless loop of negativity, sadness, and complete humorlessness. I didn’t have it in me to write party anthems. I was angry at everyone for not giving me the things I wanted, and that sense of urgency stems from the fact that I finally grew sick of humbly waiting for some sign or reward. I wanted it now. I didn’t want to fuck around with word games anymore. But when nothing came, I blamed the cosmos, fate, friends, family, our label, our management, and yet I took no responsibility whatsoever. Looking back at the lyrics now, it’s an album full of excuses as to why I wasn’t happy. It’s full of “gimme gimme gimme.” I guess if there’s a theme to Ex Lives, it’s recidivism; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, which is oddly enough the definition of insanity.

AV: Three years after The New Junk Aesthetic, why was this the right time for this album from Every Time I Die?

KB: I’m honestly going to say that it’s because [drummer] Mike Novak was gone. During the recording of NJA, I kind of looked at where we were and compared it to where we started and realized that we were treading water. Granted, we were in a better spot than most bands in our genre, for whatever reason, but the energy was gone. When we played live, the songs were getting slower because that’s how Mike showed he was unhappy. The writing process was taking longer because he would veto so many ideas by simply not even playing. There was no risk-taking anymore; we were using a formula that worked, so we didn’t alter any variables. Once he left, all that dysfunction left with him. We rediscovered ourselves. It felt like we were young again, and there was no better time to prove we felt young again than putting out an album that sounds like us getting uncomfortable about having to grow old.

AV: What was your experience with producer Joe Barresi [Queens of the Stone Age, Coheed and Cambria, Bad Religion] like during the recording of this album?

KB: Great. That’s the only way I could describe it. He is an endless reserve of production and sound knowledge. He’s a gear hoarder and should be on A&E because you literally have to step over and around cables and weird machines and pedals when you walk into the studio. He helped actualize our ideas instead of suggesting different ones. Just think of a gnarly older guy you’d see on the beach stargazing and then put him behind a console. He made this record a group effort because we were all recording in front of each other instead of in isolated rooms on different floors in different buildings.

AV: The response to this album has been overwhelmingly positive. What kind of responses were you expecting from critics and fans regarding this record?

KB: I knew going into it that this had to be the Every Time I Die record. People say that Hot Damn! was a game-changer, but at the time it was just us being honest and inexperienced. That honesty was lost since then because I became too self-aware. We were the clown princes and we had to entertain. I knew that. I played into that. There were things I needed to say, some really personal issues I dealt with, but I masked them in words. “We’rewolf” [from their 2007 album The Big Dirty] isn’t about partying, it’s about being a fucking alcoholic who has lost everything and keeps getting drunk so the sadness can’t seep in. But you mention a ponytail and people laugh and stop reading into it. Ex Lives has none of those pretenses. I was angry, sad, and honest, but this time I had experience. Once I started, I stopped expecting and just wrote. I’m glad people like it, but for the first time since Hot Damn! that’s not why I did it.

AV: How did your experience writing for the Damned Things affect the writing on this record?

KB: It gave me a whole new bunch of people to surprise. I knew everyone was going to expect it to sound like an extension of the Damned Things, especially because The Big Dirty and NJA hint at some real hooks with melody. So that was the first thing I did away with.

AV: If you died and came back in another life, who do you think you would be?

KB: Knowing my bad luck, I’ll live forever.

Every Time I Die will make their return to Buffalo on Saturday, March 31, for a show at the Town Ballroom with The Devil Wears Prada.

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