Joshua Halling

Buffalo's Southern-flavored metalcore pros Every Time I Die are back on Friday with Low Teens, their eighth studio album since debuting in 2001 with Last Night in Town. Frontman Keith Buckley had to walk through hell to get here, with his wife and unborn daughter hospitalized last December during a life-threatening pregnancy complication, followed by his first endeavor in sobriety and a crash course in writing truly personal lyrics for the first time ever. 

The 36-year-old Buckley spent a half-hour on the phone with Fuse, baby Zuzana crying in the background throughout. We talked about the Low Teens collaboration with Panic! at the Disco's Brendon Urie, relying on alcohol to interact with others, Buckley's novel and tons more.

Fuse: Happy album week. How are you feeling?
Keith Buckley: Um...I don't know. It's...I guess I'm excited. I tend to stay far away from the internet as soon as albums get released or any news breaks about tours, because it's just gonna make you question why you do anything at all. I'm excited just because it means that we get to start playing all this stuff live, which is kinda the silver lining.

How long has it been since you started avoiding the internet like that?
It's lasted for a long time. I don't remember any specific incident being a tipping point, but a thousand good comments are offset by one bad one. And this is just a really good record we should be proud of and it's gonna be great to play live. That's I guess really the only affirmation I'm after, is people coming out and singing along. I don't really try to busy myself with those people that will say nasty things that really hurt my feelings [laughs].

Are you one of those bands that gets flooded with that "their first album rules, everything else sucks" stuff?
No, I don't think we are. We've been in it for 18 years, so anyone that even tries to take that purist stance is just foolish. It's like antiquated technology, it's like saying that a horse and carriage is better and faster than a Porsche 911. It's just not true. It's not a subjective idea, it's not an opinion, it's a fact—our old stuff is not better than our new stuff.

How have you made it work for almost two decades?
No matter what happens, the band doesn't break up. That was our attitude going into it in 1998—"We're gonna do this. This is our lives now, so it's not an option and it's not a hobby. This doesn't end. Nothing touches this. You deal with everything else as best you can, you make it work in whatever ways you need to make it work, but the band doesn't break up."

So in December, with your wife in the hospital and her and the baby's lives in danger, did the end of the band suddenly look possible?
Yeah. When you're faced with something like that, you make these insane bargains with the universe, like, "I'll give up everything if they just pull through. I won't leave their side for the rest of my life, I'll never go on tour again." Music was absolutely one of those things I thought I would shed first. I've missed so much of my life because of the band. Then I'm faced with the possibility of death and you put everything into perspective and you're like, "Oh my god, there's so much I don't know about this person still because I've missed so much of their life and we're never together."

I'm picturing your imagination really running wild while you were in that purgatory.
It was getting very, very, very out of control. A lot of it was really dark, and I think I touched upon it honestly in the record. It was a very big opening for me to actually feel something. I don't know that I've ever necessarily really done that. Every Time I Die and the lyrics particularly have always been very tongue-in-cheek and metaphoric and playful, but they've never been honest, because that would require me to feel something. I think a lot of my lyrics are sort of a way of denying all this bad stuff was ever happening and I was just joking around with it. But this was very front and center for me. It helped me to write some of the most honest lyrics I've ever done.

“Every Time I Die and the lyrics particularly have always been very tongue-in-cheek and metaphoric and playful, but they've never been honest, because that would require me to feel something.”
-Keith Buckley

And it's your longest record. You tend to be a half-hour, in-and-out band.
It is, and "Religion of Speed" is the longest song we've ever done [at 5:10]. I also just wanna say that I know that everything that happened with my wife and Zuzana is like, the story, but there's so much music there that's fucking...it's the best music the guys have ever written, too, and I don't want that to get lost. These guys were writing things they've never done before, tapping into some source they've never tapped into, and it was perfect for me, who needed more room to figure things out. It's so special, it's so much more than just another Every Time I Die record. Because it really does feel like it had to happen this way.

What was the through line from this situation with your family into sobriety? And by the way, happy six months.
Ah...well...I thank you, but I had a...I fell off. It wasn't a proud moment, but it was something I feel like was my first try and I recoiled from it for a little bit and it's something I would like to try again. But unfortunately that's no longer a standing statistic, and I feel kind of embarrassed to say that, but I gotta be honest with you.

You tweeted in August, "Today marks five months without alcohol and if sobriety has taught me anything it's that I'm nothing without alcohol." What was going through your head then?
Well, this sounds so cliché, but I felt like the person that I thought I was, I wasn't anymore. I learned a lot with the five months of sobriety, especially through Warped Tour, which I couldn't even have imagined doing sober ever before in my life. Drinking was such a coping mechanism. I found it took a lot of effort and energy to try to connect with people while sober. It was a very concerted effort: "Okay, now I have to go out, and I have to talk to people, and I really have to try to engage in conversation that isn't aided by alcohol. And it really has to come from a genuine place and I really have to try to relearn how to connect with people." Because I had never done that before, I was never really good at conversation and it was never something that was really fostered growing up. When I found alcohol when I was like 16 or 17, I was like, "Holy shit, this is what it's like to have human interaction." It's been that way for 20 years, me drinking in order to interact. When I stopped, and I realized there was so much energy needed to go out and do that, I felt like I just didn't have the energy, like I was too old to do it anymore. I was finding it was a very lonely experience. When I said I was nothing without alcohol, I meant nothing in the sense that anybody who thought I was something really had it all wrong, because without it I was not that person whatsoever.

ROSKILDE, DENMARK - JULY 02:  Keith Buckley  from Everytime I Die performs at Roskilde Festival on July 2, 2015 in Roskilde,
Rob Ball/Redferns via Getty Images

Did it feel to you like you'd lost your identity?
Yeah. I had been so naively and youthfully boisterous about my drinking growing up, like, "I'm gonna drink and this is who I am and everyone parties and we all have a good time and everything's great." And then all of a sudden it doesn't fit in my life anymore. I couldn't be drunk when my daughter and wife were in the hospital because if there was a phone call in the middle of the night I'd have to drive there. That's when the sobriety started, because I was on high alert all the time. Then I found my identity slipping, kind of losing friends, but I had to prioritize. I was doing it for other people. Then I got home from Warped Tour, we'd moved into a new house, my wife and daughter were here, everything was great, and I was just like, "You know, I'm just gonna have a glass of wine with my wife and celebrate that we made it through this enormous ordeal." That was it. Since then I've never really gotten drunk. I honestly can tell you that I don't like being drunk. Learning moderation was a big part of it. It doesn't have to be such an extreme anymore. I don't have to be sober or fucking crawling home at four in the morning.

How'd Brendon Urie end up on Low Teens? That'll get some heads turning.
It will, and that's really one of the main reasons behind it. But Brendon and I are really good friends, he's a huge fan and I'm a huge fan. I wanted one of those what-the-fuck moments that nobody ever would've really put together. That song reminded me of a short film, a noir film, and Brendon's style and talent is so unique and sort of classical that it seemed perfect for me. It was very friend-to-friend, I texted him and asked him. He sent the song back in a day.

You published a novel in December, Scale. What's your relationship with writing prose vs. writing songs?
I would absolutely love to write another book. Writing a book is the goal I had in mind ever since I was little and wanted to do something. Being in Every Time I Die has helped me become a better writer. It's not like I'm using the band as an end to a different means, it's all very much tied in together, but learning cadence and what sort of phrases connect with people is a very important part of the writing process. I'm super thankful I have a chance to do that, because a lot of people will never know what it's like to have their writing connect with someone.

With heavy music, lyrics can be pretty low on the list of what hits a listener a lot of the time.
Yeah, and that's really unfortunate. I would like to see that change, not for an ego-stroking thing, but I feel like there are so many lyricists that are out there that are better than my favorite authors. And they don't see themselves as authors, ever. You take a lyric sheet from like a Converge record and you look at the lyrics and take the music away and they're awesome short stories. Jake [Bannon]'s an author. And I don't know if he considers himself one, but he should. That's just one example, there are tens of thousands more where I read their lyrics and I'm blown away before I even hear the music. I like putting lyrics out there before the music. Maybe that's something I personally enjoy because I want people to get something out of it more than just a meaning associated with music, if possible. But whatever, I'll take anything I can get at this point.

I wonder if CD booklets might be or already have been the last gasp for real engagement with the lyrics.
I would love to try to find something. A lot of people try to do workshops and things like that with lyrics. I tried to do one on Warped Tour this summer about how lyric-writing should be considered literature, some examples of lyricists that are authors, have the talent to be an author. Nobody gave a fuck [laughs]. I had these little seminar things and maybe five people came over the course of the entire summer. It's really frustrating because there's so much more out there you could be getting from your music, but, eh, you'd rather just look at a hunk onstage flipping his hair around while he plays the keyboard or something. But whatever.

Are you more excited for your daughter to read your book or to hear your music?
Right now I'm more excited for her to fucking take a nap because she is screaming and I can't get her to calm down [laughs]. But I think read a book. I don't think my music would appeal to her, but I do want her to understand how important it was to...what the fuck do I know, she's nine months old. She might turn into a hardcore kid after all. I do want her, when she's old, telling her grandkids, I would like for her to hold a book that I wrote.

It seems like every musician I talk to, their kid's not interested in the music.
Yeah! I mean, everything your parents do sucks, you know? And then you get to your parents' age and you're like, "Oh, that was pretty sweet." But it's strange because our music was specifically a rebellion to our parents' music, so to try to rebel against the music that was founded from rebellion is gonna be a strange paradox. Because she's gonna think everything I do sucks, for sure. Like most people on the internet.

Interview has been condensed and edited. Next, watch Every Time I Die guitarist Andy Williams face Fuse in a Warped Tour arm wrestling match: