WORDS : MALVIKA PADIN
American pop-punk band Four Year Strong– guitarists/vocalists Dan O’Connor and Alan Day, bassist Joe Weiss, and drummer Jake Massucco – are 19 years into their musical journey but their passion for music remains as strong as it was on day one. As a band, Four Year Strong’s focus isn’t on any underlying message or theme, their only hope is for their music to make someone happy and put a smile on their face. Speaking to Dan and Alan, we unpack the process behind their latest album Brain Pain– the record they’ve previously proudly described as “something they’ve always wanted to make” – where they currently stand as musicians and where they hope to go from here.
felt like Four Year Strong to listeners while also authentic to ourselves
Talking about the inspiration and recording process behind the album, they say “ With Brain Pain the idea was to keep the pieces of Four Year Strong that people know and love while incorporating other pieces of us that we feel should be there to represent our authentic selves. It’s about refining our sound and honing in on who we are. When we were talking about doing this record other than representing Four Year Strong and what we felt, we also wanted something that made people feel how we feel when we heard our favourite records for the first time, so we looked into that nostalgia connected to these records as music lovers and also tried to figure out the commonalities between these different artists and records.
“One of the big things we looked into was the kind of music we were getting into when we were first discovering music – we tried to relate back to the music and artists who were around when we were first starting out – including Green Day, Rage Against The Machine. One of the commonalities between these records was the lyrical content. So when started working on Brain Pain we made sure to hone into the lyrics and that it had a clear message that was easily interpreted by the listeners.”
On Brain Pain, the quartet’s main focus was on experimenting with their sound without alienating their loyal fanbase that has been with them for nearly two decades. Speaking of how they went about achieving the soundscape that “felt like Four Year Strong to listeners while also authentic to ourselves”, the duo explained it was about writing a lot of songs, zeroing in on what it could become and then taking it an extra mile to make it the best it could be in terms of sonic delivery or message.
Reminiscing about what they consider the turning point of the album’s production process, they say “ When we wrote ‘Get Out Of My Head’ it was the first song that felt like it checked off all the boxes of the specialisation we were after in terms of what it sounded like, the energy it had, the lyrical content and the overall vibe of the song. This track was a crack in the door that led to a flood of other songs that made it on the record. Every song we wrote felt like we were checking another box. We wanted a track with sound that was heavier than most of our songs, and ‘Brain Pain’ checked the box for that. The track ‘Talking Myself In Circles’ came from wanting to write a song that was very bass and drums driven. The opening track of the album , ‘It’s Cool’, is a personal favourite encompasses everything the album was about to be ; both the heavier stuff and the quieter touches, it had ingredients of the entire record in one song. “
Right now we as Four Year Strong want to make the kind of music that reflects the kind of men we’ve grown up to be
Brain Pain is the band’s most inward-looking record to-date – they admit it’s the farthest they’ve pushed themselves as songwriters and musicians. So where do they currently stand as Four Year Strong? They explain, “ Right now we as Four Year Strong want to make the kind of music that reflects the kind of men we’ve grown up to be. We listen to so many different types of music and take inspiration from so many artists whether that’s Metallica or recent acts like Soccer Mommy. Trying to incorporate these different sounds into our own sound is what keeps us going – this is our motivation.”
One of the band’s major future goals is effectively breaking their career-long release cycle of peaking hits and unpopular valleys ,as they explain, “ We’ve always put out one record that’s a hit followed by one that falls flat, followed by another that’s a hit. Brain Pain has been very well-received among our fanbase and even beyond so we want to take it further.” While they have this goal to work towards, most of their future is unknown, and that’s the way they like it.
They say, “We can’t speak for the future because, we want continually evolve. We never know what we want to make or where the music will go until we sit down in the chair in the studio, because it’s a natural progression. My favourite part of writing a record is the idea of the unknown. When writing songs or talking about what you want the record to be, it’s about something that doesn’t exist. I love the pursuit of chasing something undefined. The idea of not knowing what we are doing while doing it and knowing only when you take a step back, is the most exciting part of making music.”
Every time we go in to write a record we are going in hoping to make something that’s Four Year Strong but different ; the last thing we want to do is put out something that’s exactly the same again and again. We strive to keep ourselves excited about the music we are putting out
However, they admit that as exciting as the unknown can be it equally frustrating, adding “What’s exciting about making music is also the most frustrating part because you don’t know if you’re hitting the nail on the head, you don’t know if you’re meeting your own expectations. You might be walking the walk towards what you think you should be doing but you won’t know until you reach the end product if you’ve succeeded. There have been many times when we’re working on a song that we’ve thought it’s amazing. But when we step back we realise it’s not what we thought it was and tracks that we didn’t consider good turn out to be front-runners. This can be frustrating particularly if you spend the entire writing process believing that a track is great, only to realise it isn’t”
Whether excited or frustrated while making music, the one thing that remains constant is Four Year Strong’s drive to keep things fresh. They explain, “Every time we go in to write a record we are going in hoping to make something that’s Four Year Strong but different ; the last thing we want to do is put out something that’s exactly the same again and again. We strive to keep ourselves excited about the music we are putting out. With every record we try to push the envelope both emotionally and creatively. We try to have a new take on something we would do as Four Year Strong.”
Speaking of the role their listeners play in their creative process and about what they’d like to give back, they say “There are certain people who have been part of our journey that I see in my head while writing a song as those I want to make happy with my music. We want people to take away good energy. No matter how old we are we always try to write songs that helps you forget the monotony of everyday life. We want people to see our music as something to grab hold of and enjoy.”
As artists who always put smiles on people’s faces with their music, it’s only fair to ask the duo what moment – big or small -in their career made them smile. Dan answers this in a way that encompasses the band’s whole journey from young music lovers to veterans of the game. He says, “Thinking of the couple of times when my daughters have been able to see my band play makes me smile. I think about the entirety of our career, never did I think that I’d be playing a show and my kids would be there watching me. That I’m still able to continue playing shows I like, in a band that I’m proud of, and doing it all the way until I’m a father of two kids who can come and watch the show is really cool.”
With all the smiles shared and all the joy stowed away in their memories it’s no wonder that Dan and Alan answer in the absolute negative when asked if they would change anything about their career if they could go back in time ; no changes are needed because Four Year Strong as strongest and most authentic as they are.