Somehow, it has been five whole years since Four Year Strong released their self-titled sixth album. But it’s not like they’ve really been away either, having toured the 10th anniversary of ‘Rise or Die Trying’ and reworked their songs for acoustic album ‘Some of You Will Like This, Some of You Won’t’, all while raising babies and getting older and wiser along the way.
For Dan O’Connor, it “feels like forever” since they released ‘Rise...’ when he looks back at how much his life has changed in the last few years, but the consensus around Four Year Strong their new album has definitely been worth the wait.
They're back with 'Brain Pain'; their most extreme album to date. "Extreme" in the sense that this album pushes further the sound of Four Year Strong in both directions; it includes their heaviest hardcore sound and their poppiest too into a cohesive 12 tracks.
Those two different sides to this album is the exact reason why they decide to announce this album with both 'Talking Myself In Circles' and 'Brain Pain' being released together.
"The argument for releasing 'Brain Pain' was that it was one of the heavier songs on the record and that will get the people stoked on the heavier side of Four Year Strong excited," Dan reasons.
"But 'Talking Myself In Circles', a lot of people who have heard the record seem to have gravitated to that song; on the poppier side of the band. Which side do we showcase first? And then we were like, 'let's just put them both out there, and then people get the bookends in regards to the spectrum of what this album is dished out to them at once'."
Regardless of the various approaches, what carries throughout the new album is a palpable and fresh energy injected into the music and hype around the band, as Dan describes. "Probably since even the 'Enemy Of The World' days, there feels like there is a whole new energy in there.
"It's the first record we have ever done where I keep going back and listening to it. I've listened to it the most out of any of our records we've done and every time I go back to it, I'm just so happy with the songs that are on it, the flow of the record, the way songs flow into each other. I'm really really proud of this record."
What makes 'Brain Pain' different is that's its the first time Four Year Strong haven't felt pressured into making an album because they were obliged to ahead of a tour or because a long time had passed. The result of that was an album they wanted to make on their own terms and timeline.
"We [were] not going to cut any corners, or make any sacrifices or any compromises, and do exactly what we want and exactly how we want to do it and have it all go off without a hitch. That was our main motivation behind starting to write this record," Dan explains.
Between himself and Alan, they took six months of "crafting" the album conceptually for how it would sound and the dynamic they want to build into this project. Then, following some, in Dan's words, "really inspiring writing sessions", they had about 50 songs - some just starts of songs but also some demos - and they arrived at the studio with little more than a concept. In the past, they'd usually head to the studio knowing exactly what the songs are but this time, "the end product was even a mystery to us until we were actually in the studio," he admits.
Uncovering that mystery was helped massively by the band reuniting with 'Enemy Of The World' engineer Will Putney who stepped up to produce this record.
"It was one of the easiest decisions in making this record was to go with him," Dan states, before adding, "the fact we waited to go back to Will for so long is one of the reasons why this record is able to sound as different and as special".
Will's inclusion, the months spent conceptualising, taking their time, exploring their sound (or "fucking around with peddles" in Dan's words), you get the sense that 'Brain Pain' was designed to be their masterpiece and they've pulled it off.
The album is packed with traces of how they set out to explore their sound from the fuzzy guitar tones ripping up 'Crazy Pills', spacey expanses in 'Young At Heart', the menacing stampede of the drums in 'Worst Part Of Me' and delicate string arrangement on 'Be Good When I'm Gone'. All stand perfectly as individual tracks but have been crafted to create a colossus when you take a step back and take in 'Brain Pain' as a whole.
The bigger challenge, it seems, was the tone of 'Brain Pain' lyrically. You get from the title alone and then names like 'Get Out of My Head', 'Crazy Pills', 'The Worst Part Of Me' and 'Usefully Useless' that it's not all sunshine and rainbows. But, in an album where they are pushing themselves musically, then its fitting that this is the album where they expose themselves more emotionally too.
Dan is quick to point out that, "We're going through nothing more than what everyone else goes through. We are not standing on a ledge tomorrow! We are all good!"
He continues: "We always wanted to make sure the lyrics are real, and they have to do with us, but they're also something that can be interpreted and latched onto by our audience.
"The one thing that Al and I have been going through, kind of at the same time, is... Not really an identity crisis, but we are both 30-year-old men. I have kids, we both have wives and houses and other things going on at home that are very adult, but we also have this pop-punk band where we go on stage, and we yell fucking swear words in people's faces and get kids to go crazy and jump off things. Just trying to work out where, as a human being, I actually lie in that spectrum of things?"
"We both have been going on a journey of 'who am I? Am I this guy that yells on stage or this guy at home? Which one of these is the act and where am I falling in the spectrum of things?' I feel like everyone goes through that. I don't think you have to be a certain age to go on this journey of 'who are you?' and that was the big motivation behind it."
The one song that bridges the gap the most between the "Dad Dan" and "band Dan" comes in the ballad 'Be Good When I'm Gone'.
"I came up with the line 'be good when I'm gone' because it's what I say to my kids every time I leave the house, and every time I go on tour. That's kind of the whole structure of that song. It's just about me leaving for a long time on tour and saying goodbye to my kids and wondering what they think about that."
The track was the only one the band came up with while in the studio after Will Putney encouraged them to include something more acoustic to help break up the album. After originally struggling to come up with something for a lower energy number, a late-night moment of inspiration brought the song together within about 15 minutes, and after Al and Dan worked out the string arrangement, that track became one of the most special moments on the album.
Nestled between the nostalgia-soaked bop of 'Seventeen' and the snarling 'Worst Part Of Me', it's part of how this album was designed to breathe. It opens with all guns blazing but by the time those more measured songs roll around it is much needed respite. Thankfully, just in case you worried they were softening in their old age, 'Worst Part Of Me' is all the rage and a bit of a throwback to 'Wasting Time' thanks to its caveman-style rhythm on the double kick and a chorus "you can sink your teeth into", according to Dan, of "Go on and rip my beating heart out / Fill my body up with disease / It doesn't matter if I'm rotting from the inside out /You're still the worst part of me".
It's another tune from the album which is going to become a whole other beast when performed live. Alongside 'Get Out Of My Head' and 'Learn To Love The Lie', its one of the tracks from 'Brain Pain' that Dan is keen to show off live and scream in people's faces soon. The plan so far is for "a shit load of touring" this year and to be back for more than just the currently scheduled dates at Slam Dunk this May.
One plan that is unlikely to materialise this year is a celebration to mark 10 years of 'Enemy Of The World' thanks to the plans take 'Brain Pain' on the road extensively. But Dan is keen to assure that are "working something out" even if its not a conventional anniversary tour.
He says, "Whether it's a 10 year, 11 year or 12 year... people are still gonna be excited to have an anniversary tour. It's on the docket of things we have to do, but we just want to make sure we get everything done that we want to do with this record before we shut that up.
"It's cool to have such a long term plan in terms of things to support. I mean once this record cycle has been wrapped up then we can go right into the anniversary and supporting that record."
In truth, one of the biggest tributes Four Year Strong could give to 'Enemy Of The World' is to create an album that can stand in the test of time in just the same way. With Will working on the production side, their re-energised outlook and songs that capable of building you up and knocking you back down again, 'Brain Pain' is an album which can go toe-to-toe with their very best work.
Taken from the March issue of Upset. Four Year Strong's album 'Brain Pain' is out 28th February.
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