Keith Buckley: “A Lot Of It Is Stupidity And A Lot Of It Is Fear, But This Band Is Our Purpose”
This interview with Keith Buckley from Every Time I Die was originally published in issue 1709, February 2018
Keith Buckley has been screaming his lungs out as the frontman of Every Time I Die since 1998. The quintet’s most recent album Low Teens was inspired by the events surrounding the emergency caesarean section which saved both the lives of his wife Lindsay and his daughter Zuzana.
Two years on, the squeals and giggles in the background suggest that his daughter is a force of nature who keeps our interviewee on his toes as he talks to Kerrang! on the phone from his home in Buffalo, New York.
“This winter’s been 17 months long and there’s a flu going around, so I kept her home from school today,” he explains of our special guest. “We’re just hanging out right now and taking it easy. She’s got a lot of energy.”
Thankfully, his daughter is better behaved than some musicians in these pages and lets her dad talk at length about his life in music, being an author, his teaching career, academia and the cruel nature of Peppa Pig’s family…
What made you want to study political science at university?
“I liked arguing, and at that time in my life, I liked being right. So I figured I’d go down the avenue of being a lawyer, but it wasn’t for me. I had a difficult time with a professor who made my life hell. It felt personal. I enrolled at the University of Buffalo and started taking English immediately. I thought if I got an English degree, I could parlay it into a career. Hardcore vocalist was not something I ever thought I’d do, but the world is a mysterious place.”
How did you end up teaching in a high school?
“I got accepted into a teaching education institute, which was a branch of the University of Buffalo so I could pursue my Master’s in Literature, as well as get a certification for teaching in New York state. I would have to teach ninth through twelfth grade English [as part of it]. I got placed at my old high school, which was strange because I was hanging out with my old teachers. I was on the other side of the curtain! I did that for a bit and when I graduated, I got offered a job in Boston and it meant I had to do a little more schooling. Around that time, the band were offered a tour in the UK. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to go to England with the band and see how this goes.’ Now my certification has completely expired. I couldn’t go back if I wanted to.”
Hand tattoos might make that tricky too…
“Well, it was so taboo back then I had to cover my tattoos up. On the last day of class, my advisor was like, ‘You can have a Q&A with the students.’ The first thing they asked about was tattoos and the band. I was like, ‘If I ever see any of you guys at a show, don’t ever say hello because you’re in ninth grade and I guarantee you’re not going to be old enough to be there. I don’t want to have to babysit you.’ I never did see them…”
What were you like as a teacher?
“I was a 23-year-old punk rocker and weighed, like, 80 pounds. I didn’t want to make anyone think we were friends, which was really important. My first assignment was to grade an exam for a lesson that I hadn’t even taught. I handed kids Cs and Ds and they fucking hated me.”
You published your first novel, Scale, in 2015. Was that a lifelong ambition?
“When I was 13 or 14, I thought writers were the coolest fucking people in the world. They were like rockstars to me. I loved the idea of being a writer.”
Which authors lit that spark in you?
“It sounds so basic and clichéd, but I got into Jack Kerouac. When I found the beat writers and spontaneous prose as a medium, it seemed perfectly parallel to the way I wanted to write, because I was such an angsty, energetic kid. Spontaneous prose had the stylings of punk rock. It disregarded form and seemed like a ‘fuck you’ to the established rules of writing, and that fell in line with why I got into the music and books I did.”
Did you find it hard to just sit and write?
“It was tricky. I had to figure out how to trust myself to write, no matter what. Writing lyrics is like filling in a crossword puzzle: you know how many spaces you have and you know what direction you have to go in. Writing a book, none of that was there. I had to figure it out as I was going. I’m still pretty happy with it, but I’m on my second one now and learned a lot of lessons. When you know you’re capable of it, it’s very empowering.”
Did any of the feedback to the book surprise you?
“Yeah, it’s actually being optioned by a production company called 3 Arts, which has done Parks And Recreation, 30 Rock and the Netflix series American Vandal. It got across the desk of a man called Ari who called me and has taken me under his wing and has shown me how to develop that story into something consumable on a mass scale. We’re going to try to get some names attached to it and take it to some different networks. That’s a plate that’s spinning right now. It’s really weird to say. It’s very cool.”
Did it change how you approached lyric writing on Low Teens?
“Yeah, I knew simpler was better. I look back at all the things that I did prior to the last record, and I had all these ideas and things I wanted to say, but I wasted so much space by clouding it with nonsense. I don’t want to disparage anyone who likes certain things that I might think are terrible, but I could have stripped so many layers off and said something important. I’m figuring out how to strip it down to its most basic element; I think that’s what people connect with.”
Which song triggered a deeper interest in lyrics?
“I’d probably say Fire & Rain by James Taylor [from the 1970 album Sweet Baby James]. He was a big artist in the house. Roy Orbison and The Beatles were, too. I fell in love with hip-hop and rap. It was so different to anything I was used to. They were wordsmiths. Some of the rappers were seminal in the way I wanted to write.”
Who would you regard as the greatest lyricist?
“In rap? It’s kind of obvious, but I think Lil Wayne is the best lyricist there is. Then there’s Paul Simon, Kurt Cobain and Morrissey. I fear saying Morrissey, because I don’t know how well that will gel with the readers. I know he’s done a bunch of stupid shit lately. When I was younger, he and The Smiths were an introduction to cynicism for me. He seemed to have disdain for the people he loved and that was such an interesting dynamic. Oddly enough, I found that again in Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind. Also Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against The Machine; I’d read his lyrics and go look up everything. It was like bonus content and a history lesson.”
Like the books pictured in the Evil Empire inlay?
“Yeah! When I saw those books, I thought that was the library you need to own to perform at his level. I read The Wretched Of The Earth by Frantz Fanon within a week of buying that CD.”
What got you into hardcore and punk?
“A friend with an older brother had a Minor Threat tape. He had a Dead Kennedys shirt and a machete that he’d chop trees with, and I thought he was awesome. We’re still friends to this day, actually. I didn’t love the music at first. But there was a band in Buffalo called Snapcase, and I went to one of their shows, and then I saw what the scene was. Such an auxiliary part of that music was seeing it live. It was the most fun I’d ever had in my life. Once the Pandora’s Box was open, I’d listen to everything I could from the punk world.”
How is fatherhood two years on?
“It’s really great. You learn a lot about yourself in being selfless. I thought it would change everything about me and I’d have the room and resources to be the man I’ve always wanted to be. But you’re going to fall back into who you are and your kid’s going to love you for it. Your kid has your genetics whether or not you put on a nice dress or wear jogging pants to school! It doesn’t matter how you present yourself, what matters is passing on who you are.”
Is Peppa Pig a fixture on the Buckley television?
“Oh my God, it’s her favourite thing in the world! She watches it so much, she calls us ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ with an affectation in her voice. I don’t like the show because they constantly fat-shame Daddy Pig in every episode. I feel really bad for him.”
When your daughter is older, will you give her your book or an ETID album to show her what Dad’s achieved?
“I think I’d hand her lyrics. I don’t think I’d necessarily want her to hear me yelling. I don’t think the book is something she should ever read. My copy of Scale is going to have to go in a gun case!”
Will you sit down one day and explain the story behind the Low Teens record?
“Yeah, I think so. I’m lucky that I have that record as proof of converting something horrible into creative, expressive and fulfilling. She’s been inspiring me from the moment she was born.”
Has having a daughter changed your appreciation of life?
“It’s got me to slow down and think things through, before freaking out and overreacting. But it has made me very afraid. I don’t think you luck out by getting one big test in their life; I think you’re constantly facing tests. I’m really proud of how my wife and my kid pulled through this one, but I am dreading what that next test is going to be.”
And you’ve got the ‘terrible twos’ coming…
“Yeah, that is not looking good for us right now. She has a lot of energy and a strong voice. She has a yell on her. You’d think her dad was in a hardcore band for 20 years or something…”
What’s kept you going for the last two decades?
“A lot of it is stupidity and a lot of it is fear, but this band is our purpose. We’re great at doing it and have been doing it a long time, so when you know that, it’s almost like you’re a passenger. I don’t know why we’re still doing this, but I don’t even have to ask. You don’t argue, you just witness and wait. I’m just doing this because this is what I’m supposed to do. When I’m not supposed to do it anymore, I will understand that and hopefully something else will pop up.”
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