Urban Dictionary defines “sell out” as “one who betrays a cause for personal advancement.” Even further, Wikipedia classifies “selling out” as “the compromising of (or the perception of compromising) integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for money or ‘success’ (however defined).”
These two words are fairly simple and somewhat meaningless on their own. However, when joined together, they epitomize fear for countless artists. In the alternative scene in particular, the loyalty of certain fans rely solely on whether a band continues to “stick it to the man”—whoever that may be.
For the men of Four Year Strong, “selling out” is not in their vocabulary. Rather, they focus on the key principles of moving forward, musical and personal growth, and going the extra mile to prove their dedication to their long-lasting fan base. Since the release of their debut album, It’s Our Time (2005), and Rise Or Die Trying (2007), Dan O’Connor (vocals/guitar), Alan Day (guitar/vocals), Joe Weiss (bass/backing vocals) and Jake Massucco (drums), have thrived on touring and providing listeners with an effortless combination of pop punk and elements of hardcore: Or what some enthusiasts call “Beardcore.”
In the following Q&A, Day shared insights on writing and recording their newest album, the meaning behind the controversial track “Fairweather Fan” and why the term “selling out” no longer exists.
Your new album, In Some Way, Shape, Or Form, was recently released. How have you guys tried to sprinkle in the new material during the AP Tour to get fans pumped for the new record?
The tour is going great, honestly. There are no complaints. We’ve been on for a couple of weeks now, but all of the bands are great and all of the people are great. The only thing is this is for this tour we have a pretty short set—we only have about 45 minutes. We don’t talk a lot, we just sort of smash through the songs without introducing them. But the fans seem to have a great time with the new songs. I know fans think the new songs are a lot different than the old songs, but when we play them live it feels the same. We’re the same old band, and I think people are getting that same energy as the old songs.
Specifically “Stuck In The Middle,” I think we get a big response from, since we just go into it towards the beginning of our set. And “Just Drive” we play towards the end and it goes over really well.
As you said, there’s an obvious progression between your old material and the new album. How would you describe the growth of Four Year Strong musically and personally?
We’ve done so many things as a band. Touring for the past six years and recording all of this material, in a way, it feels like we ended up back where we started when we first started playing music. Instead of being influenced directly by our peers, we were inspired by bands that we listened to growing up, or what our parents listened to, even. Those bands are what got us to play music in the first place, not just what got us to play as a band, you know? That’s definitely what’s happening with the band and what we wanted to do musically. Because there’s so many other things, musically, that we want out of this band. We don’t want to be stuck in a box, creatively. We want to do what we want to do. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
Personally, it’s the same thing. We’ve done so many things, touring and exploring musically. But it’s true we’re still the same people—we have the same senses of humor, the same mindset and mentality, overall, as when we made our old records when we grew up! We’ve matured—well, I guess not really matured that much—we’re still pretty stupid, immature kids. But we’ve grown up and experienced different things.
You bring up a good point that there will always be characteristics that make you, Alan, who you are, and what makes the band Four Year Strong.
Well, I mean, I think part of the problem is we’re okay with people criticizing the music. If you don’t like the music, that’s fine. We did take risks, and we did try something new, but what bothers us is the people that criticize it, saying we did it to make money, or we’re “selling out,” or we’re trying to “hit the big time.” All of these things just aren’t true.
If it’s just the fact that you don’t like it, maybe you’ll keep it in your catalogue, revisit it one day and you’ll like it, and that’s awesome. That’s all we can ask for, really. But these are our lives. This isn’t just something we do here and there. It’s something we love and we have to run it. That means we have to do what we want to do.
Selling out would be if we kept doing the same old thing we’ve been doing until the end of the world because, honestly, that’s not really what we wanted. Doing something you don’t really want to do because people want you to is selling out, in my opinion.
Does the term “selling out” even exist in this day in age? Is it even relevant?
Oh, selling out is just a funny term because “sell” is in there. You don’t make music so you can make money off of it, honestly.
In my mind, selling out is doing something that isn’t true to what you believe in because you want to make money off of it or hit the big time. And you do whatever the record company tells you to do. The opposite happened to us. Everyone we knew was saying when we were writing music, “put a break-down in there,” or “make it more Four Year Strong,” and we were trying to do that, but it just didn’t feel right. It just didn’t feel like what Four Year Strong is anymore.
But we’re trying to find that next chapter when we’re still the same band that makes all of the fans latch onto us. Deep down, not on the surface. The attitude, the heaviness, the catchiness, the melody are all still there, just in different ways. That’s what we tried to do with the new music. We didn’t do it because the record labels were knocking on our door saying, “Hey, you could really make money if you do this.” It was us saying, “We don’t know if people are going to like this, but this is what feels right.”
When you guys were writing and recording, were there any themes or musical styles you wanted to incorporate from the get-go, or was it a more organic process?
I think mostly, it was just a natural process. But keep in mind we listen to a lot of ‘90s music. We still like grunge and all of that, but on the other hand, we listen to The Beatles, Queen. It was all over the place while making this record.
More than anything, we just wanted to try new things. And all of these things were happening naturally. We didn’t go in and try to do something new, edgy and different, we were just writing music.
What I like most about following the evolution of Four Year Strong is how you all still make a sincere effort to interact with fans and release fun video segments, behind the scenes pictures and even your video for “Stuck In The Middle” was chock full of behind the scenes material. What are your general principles on how you interact with your fans?
Well, I think interacting with our fans is extremely important. Especially in this day and age, with Twitter and Facebook, all of that stuff. We wouldn’t be a band today if it weren’t for our fans. That’s the reason we reach out to them and try to give back to them. To us, they’re just as important as, if not more important than the rest of the band. They’re a part of the band, in a way. That’s the way we feel about that.
I know there’s been a lot going around about us not appreciating our fans because we released a song called “Fairweather Fan” on our new record. The thing is, that’s kind of a play on the word “fair-weather.” The track is about all of those people that weren’t even fans in the first place. They just, I don’t know, saw our name on a friend’s T-shirt, downloaded the record, so it’s on their iPod.
I know a lot of our fans, who have been listening to us for years, felt a bit betrayed by that term and song, but it’s not about them. It’s actually in honor of them because they’ve listened to us from the beginning. Even the people who just got into our music and just bought our records a little while ago.
What I’m trying to say is the fans are the most important thing this band has. We wouldn’t be who we are without them. We appreciate everything they’ve done for us and everything they ever will do for us. Reaching out to them online, at shows, even during this tour! We’ve been doing a contest where 20 kids can meet us and we play an acoustic set for them, hang out, things like that. We want the fans to feel comfortable with us, more than anything. We’re not rock stars. We’re guys that are playing music for fun and somehow managed to make a living out of it.
Four Year Strong play Irving Plaza Nov. 22 and Starland Ballroom Nov. 23. Their new album In Some Way, Shape, Or Form, is out now. For more information, go to fouryearstrongmusic.com.