May 27, 2020 Interview – Alan Day of Four Year Strong
For nearly two decades, Worcester, Massachusetts’ Four Year Strong has been rolling out undeniably infectious offerings like 2007’s Rise or Die Trying, 2010’s Enemy of the World, and 2015’s Four Year Strong. Most recently, in February 2020, they added Brain Pain to their oeuvre of material. A dynamic collection that displays personal growth and matured songwriting, the 12-song LP maintains Four Year Strong’s infectious melodies and yet, lyrically speaking, delves deeper under the surface. Exploring themes of mental health, but offering them up with the group’s signature approachability, the album has a lot to offer fans of all ages.
In honor of its release, multi-talented Vocalist/Guitarist/Songwriter Alan Day recently sat down to discuss all things Brain Pain, time travel, feeling alive on Saturday night, and more.
Cryptic Rock – Four Year Strong has been a band for nearly two decades. What has your time in music taught you about yourself?
Alan Day – What didn’t it teach me? I am entirely who I am because of music. Growing up with music shaped who I was becoming, and playing music for a living has made me who I am. I might have to say that it has taught me to be grateful for the things I have in my life and not take anything for granted. I’ve wanted music to be what I do with my life for as long as I can remember, so I try to appreciate what I have, and let the appreciation trickle into the other aspects of my life.
Cryptic Rock – Obviously we’re here to discuss Brain Pain, which arrived on February 28th. What has the reaction been, thus far?
Alan Day – The reaction has been great, better than we had hoped. The timing was unfortunate with the spread of COVID-19, but it’s hard to complain about it when literally everyone is struggling in some way because of it. I am glad that the album came out in time for people to enjoy it while staying safely at home, but I sure do wish we could be on tour playing these new songs for everyone.
Cryptic Rock – That’s completely understandable. Now, mental health is a more important issue than ever thanks to the pandemic, and Brain Pain delves into this but with a very straightforward and down-to-earth approach. When you sat down to write the material for the album, what was the band’s mindset?
Alan Day – We had a lot of pressure on ourselves on the lyrics writing on this album. We just wanted to write something that was real to us that other people could relate to. Honestly, we struggled to come up with a concept for a long time. All we could think was how do two happily married men, with homes and families, who are comfortable and happy, have anything that fans want to hear us sing about? So it took a while to come up with subject matter that hit home for us.
“Get Out Of My Head” was the first song we wrote for the album, and that started in a way by talking to ourselves about that pressure we felt—just have to get out of your head and write. Once that song was finished it all started to come together.
Cryptic Rock – Well, it seems like you conquered the writer’s block in a big, big way, because we read that you had around 40 song ideas going into the recording of Brain Pain. Curious question: Will there be any special b-sides or releases of any of the ‘leftover’ material that didn’t make the album?
Alan Day – We did have a lot of songs written for this album; we were definitely way more prepared than we have ever been to go into the studio. It felt great. We ended up recording 17 songs, and with only 12 being on the album, we hope to release the others at some point!
Cryptic Rock – That will be great! Now, to rewind back for a minute, despite the bulk of the tracks focusing on serious issues, as mentioned previously, you balance that with an approachability and an upbeat sound. In fact, you even go so far as to be ironic on the previously mentioned “Get Out of my Head,” juxtaposing the internal mental struggle by presenting it as an earworm. Assuming that was intentional, do you think it’s better to package the serious lyrical content in an infectious sound?
Alan Day – It wasn’t necessarily intentional, but it ended up being a funny way to think about it. But yeah, I’ve always felt that the words themselves don’t necessarily speak to the listener: it’s how they’re dressed up. The melody, the chords, the context—that is what makes a lyric stand out to me. So that’s always our intention: to find a way to make the lyrics and the music marry in a way that compliments each other, to have as much impact as possible.
Cryptic Rock – Well, it’s working! (Laughs) And speaking of catchy songs, “Crazy Pills” is exactly that, and here you seem to wonder about your own sanity. All artists have to wonder about themselves from time to time, has the band reached that point where you question yourselves and overanalyze your decisions?
Alan Day – We definitely overanalyze everything we do as songwriters. Writing songs makes you feel crazy—that’s just a fact. But I wouldn’t say that we question ourselves, more so that we are constantly making sure we’re doing things authentically and naturally. If we think too much about something, it’s probably because something doesn’t feel natural, so we address it.
Cryptic Rock – Remaining authentic is obviously important. To dig deeper into another track, the beautiful “Be Good When I’m Gone” utilizes some delicate orchestration. What inspired the band to add that element?
Alan Day – We were thinking a lot about ‘90s Pop/Rock when we were writing the album. On this track we thought it would be cool to do something outside the box for us, and we thought about [The Verve’s] “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and how great that song is. So, Dan and I sat down with a MIDI controller and wrote a four-part string arrangement, and then had an ensemble perform it. It was a lot of fun.
Cryptic Rock – The result is amazing! And speaking of fun, “Seventeen” embraces the naivete of youth—and it’s likely that many adults would love to go back to those carefree times. If you could travel back in time to any stage of your life, what age would you choose to be and why?
Alan Day – Honestly, 17 would be great to go back to. Maybe a little earlier even, like 14 or 15. Life was just so simple and fun back then. Not that it’s not fun now—I’m having a great time being 32—but I would love to just sit in my bedroom and listen to KoЯn, rotting my brain with Nu Metal instead of on an iPhone.
Cryptic Rock – In many aspects, it was definitely simpler times when we were younger. That said, let’s continue to journey backward for a moment. In 2009, you released Explains It All, a fabulously fun collection of ‘90s covers. Do you think the future might hold an Explains It All Again (aka Part 2)?
Alan Day – I’m not sure if we’ll ever do a cover record again, it’s not really in the current plan, but maybe? One of the main inspirations of Brain Pain was the music in the ‘90s. We wanted to harness the energy of what introduced us to music when we were kids. That’s why making Explains It All was so fun, so we wanted to bring that same mentality into Brain Pain.
Cryptic Rock – You definitely succeeded with that. And while we’re talking about the past, in 2010 you released one of the best music videos of the past decade for “Tonight We Feel Alive (On a Saturday).” Looking back at the making of that video, do you have any favorite memories?
Alan Day – That was a really fun video to make. The very last scene of the video with a closeup of my eyes with debris falling in slow motion, that was my favorite—or I guess, more accurately, my least favorite moment. On the first take of that scene there was a crew member that was told to throw a handful of dirt up in the air so that we could get it falling in slow-mo, but for some reason he thought that meant “throw it directly into his eyes.” Before we did the shot the director told me to make sure to keep my eyes open even though there was dirt flying through the air, but the miscommunication left me with eyes full of dirt, and I had to flush them out for 20 minutes before getting the keeper shot.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Well, suffering makes for a great video! Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and/or Sci-Fi movies, what are some of your favorites?
Alan Day – I love all films really. I really enjoyed Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019)—I like Ari Aster’s vibe.
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