Interview – Beau Bokan of blessthefall Talks Hard Feelings

Categorize them however you like, but blessthefall are a known name in heavy music. With a career spanning well-over a decade, this Arizona quartet are known for hard-hitting albums such as 2009’s Witness, 2013’s Hollow Bodies, and 2015’s To Those Left Behind, their high-octane live shows, and their dedication to their fans and the road. Ever-evolving, the band recently released their sixth studio offering, Hard Feelings, via their brand-new partnership with Rise Records.

Talk to Vocalist Beau Bokan for five minutes and you will quickly learn that this man loves music almost as much as he worships his family. Jovial, talkative, and open, Bokan sat down for a candid and lengthy discussion of all things blessthefall and Hard Feelings, songwriting, blessing the autumn with a headliner, movies, and his favorite guest vocalist, his daughter Rocket. – In a world where there is little longevity in the music business, blessthefall has been around for nearly 14 years, no?

Beau Bokan – I think the band originally started, if you want to go to the garage days – I think they had a different band name – in ’05. I joined in ’08, technically. So, this summer’s going to be my 10 year anniversary of when I officially joined the band. We hadn’t announced it or anything, but I joined in August of 2008. Which is mind-blowing! Everyone says time goes by so quick, and it really does. It feels like it was yesterday when they asked me to join the band, and I flew out to Arizona and we just kind of started writing a record together. It’s been a ride, for sure! –  What have been some of the highs and lows of that ride, thus far?

Beau Bokan – Some of the highs, there’s moments that just sort of jump right out at me. I think the last time we played Japan was our biggest headliner ever; I think it was like 2,000 people, maybe just a little over, in Tokyo. We went on last: we headlined the festival. My wife came out to see it and it was just, oh man, I get chills just thinking about it. It was such a cool moment where you’re so far from home and you’re in another country that, typically doesn’t speak your language, they’re singing your songs, you have such a big crowd, and they’re so energetic. That was definitely one of the coolest things! Also, we played Manila. We played at some big festival and they said there were like 14,000 people. These are sort of grandiose shows that I just don’t know if we’ll ever play again! (Laughs) It’s definitely a moment where you realize how special those couple of shows were.

Honestly, our previous record sort of got swept under the rug, so to speak. It was a tough one! I think a lot of other bands were coming up, and the record just didn’t really do very well at all, for our standards at least, for where we are as a band. We had some of the smallest shows that we’ve had in a while. It was one of those where you ride the wave, I guess, and that’s kind of how our career’s been: the ups and downs, and there’s never been a big burst up, you know? The last record cycle was kind of a rough one for us, just because we thought we had an amazing album and it just didn’t get the love that it really needed. It was kind of a bummer! (Laughs)

Fearless Records
Fearless Records – Well, unfortunately, sometimes things take a while to pick up and gain traction, and that is no comment whatsoever on how good the album is. Plus, there are so many bands out there right now, so many that it is literally insane.

Beau Bokan – (Laughs) I know, it’s crazy! We’ll see a band that just started a couple years ago, and we’ll see them kind of blow past us. It gets a little disheartening. Someone the other day described, there was a documentary and it was Jimmy Iovine and he was saying you have to be like a race-horse where they just have those sort of blinders put on them, you know? They can’t see the horse next to them, to the left or right, so they just run straight.

If they see that horse, it’ll spook them, and they’ll get scared or slow down or whatever else. This is such a great analogy. Focus on what you’re doing, focus on the work you have ahead of you. This could be applied to any job or any aspect of life. There’s always going to be someone doing better than you, but when you start letting that bother you or hinder your progress, that’s when it gets bad.

I love that, and I think that’s kind of how we approached this record, writing it. We’re just like, I don’t care what other bands are doing right now. (Laughs) I just want to write good songs, period. It sounds very simple, it’s a pretty easy approach. (Laughs) Just write a good song, it doesn’t have to be, I don’t want people to be, “Well, is this a Blessthefall song or not?” It’s undoubtedly a good song, here it is! I think that was the approach: it was, “Here you go, here’s 10 great songs! Take ‘em or leave them!” (Laughs) – Let’s talk more specifics about the album. Hard Feelings arrived on March 23rd, what has the reaction been, thus far?

Beau Bokan – You know what? It’s been pretty insane! (Laughs) I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’ll definitely – you can check Twitter and you can check your band name. You don’t have to check the @-replies, just check blessthefall. People are talking about us that aren’t even necessarily mentioning us, they’re just saying our name on there. I’ve been checking that because that’s when you get the most honest opinions; you’ll get people that won’t @ you because maybe they’re saying something negative, they don’t want to say it to you on there, you know? (Laughs) Man, it’s been incredible! The things that people are saying are just the nicest. Some critical reviews are like 7/10 or 6/10, cool. We’re not making music for critics, we’re not making music for magazines and stuff like that; that’s just not who we are. I’m seeing the fans and I’m seeing people say, “I don’t like Blessthefall but this record is awesome!” (Laughs) – What a backhanded compliment!

Beau Bokan – (Laughs) Yeah! Well, that’s awesome, that’s the whole point of the thing. So, it’s been crazy, man. I think the first couple of days we were No. 1 on the iTunes Rock Charts and No. 7 overall out of every band out there. I think that’s kind of the highest it got, but, like I said, I didn’t really know what to expect. We just put out songs that we thought were good, and the response has been really great so far. I’m excited for the rest of the cycle, and to keep putting out music videos and keep pushing singles and stuff and see what resonates with the fans.

We get the clippings and I did see one 9.5 out of 10, I didn’t expect them to say that! I think that we wanted to make a record that was good for people that had no ties with us whatsoever. You could just listen to the songs, and I think the only thing that we have against us is the fact that people label us as a Metalcore band. So, it is what it is! I think that if you go into it going, “Oh, this is a Metalcore album,” I think there’s a stigma there at this point.

With the iTunes thing, we’re in the Rock category right now. Which is cool, we’re not put in Metal. When you’re put in Metal, you get those elitists that go, “This isn’t Metal!” I’m like, yeah, well, we’ve always had Metal connotations and influences throughout our music, sprinkled in and out, but we’ve never written a full Metal album. (Laughs) So, I think it’s kind of cool that we’re sort of in that category now. It’s like, “Here! Let’s just say it’s Rock and it is what it is.” If you want to call it heavy or not, whatever you want to call it, here’s the songs! – The Rock categorization actually opens you up to a lot more people, because there is even a stigma against Metal.

Beau Bokan – Yeah! I think it’s like I said, it’s an elitist sort of following who are, they want to tell you what is and what isn’t Metal! They want to let you know, “Oh, you think you’re Metal? I’ve listened to Metallica since I was 12!” It’s like, okay, me too, dude. (Laughs) If you’re into Death Metal or Black Metal, we’re a joke. We’re Pop! You know what I mean? (Laughs) We’re a Pop band! That’s fine, that’s cool. I don’t want to mess with anyone’s precious genre. (Laughs) – At this point, the band has proven yourselves over the years with six studio albums. However, this is the band’s first release with Rise Records. Did you go into the studio feeling that you still had something to prove?

Beau Bokan – Yeah, totally! You get a new label and, like I said, the last record got a bit kiboshed by our old label. We definitely had a chip on our shoulder. I don’t want to hold grudges because we had a great career with them, but the previous three records – Witness, Awakening, and Hollow Bodies – we had such a blast with Fearless. It was at the point where I could walk in, it was almost an open-door policy; I would go walk in all the time because I lived ten minutes away from their office. We’d go to the beach and then ‘cause they were right on the beach, I’d roll in with my board-shorts and just be like, “What up?” I’d just kind of hang with them!

Anyway, we definitely had a chip on our shoulder with it. It’s funny because there’s some relationship-esque songs in there – you would get that vibe from the lyrics – but it was about our relationship with Fearless. (Laughs) It was like a break-up, you know what I mean? We were with someone for our whole career up until then. It’s cool, it makes for great inspiration and it lit a fire under our asses, which is what I wanted. – (Laughs) Here is hoping it continues! Okay, so did you do anything consciously different in the recording process this time around?

Beau Bokan – I guess it didn’t start as a conscious decision, but it was more like we wanted to be more melodic, ‘cause that’s the part that people really latch on to. Yes, people do want to hear breakdowns, okay? That’s fine, so do I! When it comes down to it, it’s the lyrics and the melody that people are going to be singing back to you and that’s going to get stuck in their head, those hooks. I grew up listening to all types of music: Blink-182 is my favorite band. Huge fan of Killswitch Engage and Thrice, and lots of heavy bands in-between. 

I love melody, I’m a singer! I think that we were just trying to sing more, bring more melody to the music. Even over heavy parts that might, maybe in the past there would have been a heavy part and we’d be like, “Oh yeah, I’ve gotta scream there!” No, there’s no rules! Why not try to drop a vocal and actually sing over it? So, there are parts of the record that sound super heavy that I just sing over, and that was an experiment for us. We’re like, “Let’s just try it!” It ended up being, I think, 80/20 screaming and singing. It wasn’t a purposeful thing, at first. It turned into, “Wow, this is fun singing over these heavy parts and adding more melody.” Then it just sort of built and built. I think the one song that didn’t make the record might have the most screaming on it! (Laughs) It might be a B-side at some point. We wanted 10 tracks; I think that’s enough for our ADD generation to get through. (Laughs)

If it’s Metallica’s Greatest Hits, cool, I’ll listen to that. But even then, it’s like… (Laughs) So, yeah, I thought 10 was a great number. I think we’ve always done 11 or 12. We do like the song that we cut, but that was still the weakest link in our eyes. We kept that other song and it’s definitely cool, and I would be stoked to put it out as a special B-side for something, some kind of limited release of something. – Why call the album “Hard Feelings”? 

Beau Bokan – It was just everything that was going on; the entire thing of the record was, we weren’t trying to be super-emo but it just happened that way. There was so much emotion in it! A couple of the songs were, Jared and Elliott were both engaged, and they both had their fiancées break up with them. So, there was those emotions put into the record and feeling like you’re sick of being an underrated band; and writing about that and feeling like your last record got kiboshed. There was just a lot of emotions!

It’s funny, my wife had this hoodie and it said, “No hard feelings” on it; it’s got this Old-English, kinda cool vibe or whatever. I remember looking at it and being like, “No, fuck that!” Hard feelings, for sure! (Laughs) That sort of started this idea for Hard Feelings. I kept it in my notes on my phone, and then when we were talking about the record, once the record was about halfway done – maybe a little more than halfway – I kind of mentioned to the guys, “Hey, I think this would be cool.” They were like, “Oh yeah!” Everyone was onboard with it. – It is simple and blunt! It is not one of these flowery titles where you have to ponder and really think, “What were they going for here?” (Laughs)

Beau Bokan – (Laughs) I know! You know what? Again, our last album that happened; it was a big, long title. You learn from your mistakes: it’s better to get straight to the point and have something that’s impactful. Even with the artwork, we wanted to be left-of-center with the artwork. Some people are like, “Is this an Indie band? What is this music?”

We don’t have to always do what we think that kids that listen to our band are going to like. Let’s just do something different! That idea just came to me, “You know what would be rad? Just do some neon on like a white wall!” Then I literally said it out loud and everyone said, “Yeah, let’s do it!” (Laughs) It was one of those things where everything kind of falls into place; where you don’t have to fight back and forth, wrestle with some idea, and things get blown out of proportion and it’s just some piece of art that you didn’t really want in the first place. 

Rise Records – Okay, because the oxymoron of “Wishful Sinking” represents the album perfectly: there is a lot of hope but a lot of honesty that even though life is good, it can always be better. So, what inspired you lyrically this time around?

Beau Bokan – (Laughs) Yeah, totally! Like you said, even though life is good, it can always be better. I think that is the best way to put it. Honestly, we’re inspired by everything that we go through in life, and I think that we’ve all been through some things; we have a lot of stories to share with everyone.

Even “Sleepless In Phoenix,” it sounds like a break-up song or whatever else, but it’s honestly a song that I wanted to write. It’s something I haven’t gone through in a long time, but I wanted to write about the inner-demons; those things that sort of follow you – habits, or those things that you’re not proud of that you’re trying to get rid of and move on. They keep coming back in your life and you keep getting tempted to fall back into your old habits. That’s kind of where that song comes in and it almost sounds like it’s a break-up song, and that’s what I wanted it to sound like. I wanted it to sound that way. You don’t get too deep into it – because, it sounds like a break-up song, cool – but when you find out the true meaning of it, now you listen harder. 

Obviously, “Welcome Home” is leaving my family, it was a huge thing, and it weighed really hard on me. It can get pretty tough being away from your family for that long! Again, it’s a very relatable song. My buddy who’s in the Army – he’s gone to Afghanistan 3 or 4 times – he heard that song and he was practically in tears, it just hits you so hard. So, people that are dealing with having to leave their family, having to leave their loved ones to go out and provide for their family. It’s something we all have to do, and it can be really hard. I think that song is going to resonate with a lot of different people going through those sort of things. – It is funny that you mentioned “Sleepless In Phoenix” – which is easy to confuse with the 1993 film Sleepless In Seattle – because that song has some of the best lyrics on the album. Do you have any favorite songs and/or lyrical lines on the album?

Beau Bokan – My favorite song, honestly, “Welcome Home” doesn’t really count because (Laughs) it is, you know what I mean? It’s obviously my favorite because my daughter’s on it, which means so much. I won’t count that song! My favorite song is track 2, “Find Yourself.” The reason is while we were writing it, it was this hugely inspiring song while being really delicate and you feel lost and delicate. You feel like you’re powerless almost. That’s the verses, then the chorus hits you so hard and gets that point across – it’s like find yourself before anyone else; these people that are out there trying to find relationships, trying to be a part of something. You have to figure out who you are first before you can go out and try to bring someone into your life and things like that.

I think that song hit me so hard, not only lyrically but just the song itself. I can’t pinpoint what it sounds like and that made me really excited. “This doesn’t sound like anything!” I can’t think of a band this sounds like, it’s awesome! It’s not often where you can do that. Usually it’s, “Okay, it’s got a Brand New vibe” or “That kind of sounds like Bullet For My Valentine.” You’re always comparing it to other popular bands that are out there. So, that was the first time that I really sat back and was like, “Dude, this is really different!” I wanted to put that song out first and everyone was against it, because it is so different that it probably would have freaked people out. – Awesome! On “Welcome Home,” you close out the album with your daughter singing. 

Beau Bokan – It was super cool, and she loved the part too. I’ll play it in the car and you can kind of see that she’s super focused. She loves it! Then she’s like, “My voice is pretty small!” I’m like, “Yeah, but it’s good!” (Laughs)

It’s funny, when we were discussing the track listing of the record, I originally thought that song would be cool going earlier in the record, just because it’s such a good song. It sounds like a single to me, but, you know, we’re heavier and stuff. I was like, “Oh man, it’d be such a curveball if we put it on fourth in the record.” I kind of got out-voted. Everyone said, “No, it’s the perfect way to end the record!” Now I can’t see it any other way, now I’m super pumped. It’s interesting how things end up!

Blessthefall live at The Emporium Patchogue, NY 3-15-2018. Photo credit: Aint Tellin Photography. – They were right, it is the perfect ending. Her little voice sticks with you!

Beau Bokan – (Laughs) I know! It’s super cute! It was crazy. Just getting into details of that moment, I was writing the song about her and about my wife, obviously. She was in the room while I’m singing it, ‘cause we rented an AirBnB. So, we just had this house and everyone kind of hung out, and I did vocals in the living room. She was there while I’m singing the song and I was about to go on tour to Europe for 6-7 weeks, and that was the longest I’ve been away from them ever. – Speaking of tour, next up for Blessthefall is a run with Asking Alexandria and Black Veil Brides. You guys are known for your absolutely insane live performances full of crazy energy. Will you have to reign it in a bit since you are not the headliners? (Laughs)

Beau Bokan – (Laughs) No way! We go harder when we’re not the headliner, that’s for sure. Yeah, we’ve toured with Asking before, they’re some of our closest friends in the touring world. I’ll tell you a quick story, we were with them in the UK and we were main support. I was jumping off balconies and stage-diving every night, we were doing like Wall of Death and this whole thing.

The promoter – it was like a main promoter that was actually traveling with the band for the shows – he came up to us and said you’re not allowed to do that anymore, like, “You guys are really cheeky acting like you’re the headliner.” He was pissed that we were putting on this crazy show! It kind of made me feel good. I felt, he’s mad because our show is going off so hard? Then we’re doing something right!

I think when we’re headlining we have to reign it in, because you have to play for an hour. When you get to play for 30 minutes, I just go ape-shit. I’ll do anything – climb whatever is around, get in the crowd. I think it’s going to be really cool for us, because it’ll put us in-touch with that crowd that maybe has either forgot about us or have never heard of us before. It’s going to put us in front of a lot of new faces and, hopefully, we can win some fans over – bring ‘em over to our little cult we’ve got going on. – (Laughs) Bring them over to the Dark Side?

Beau Bokan – Mmmhmm. We’ve got cookies! (Laughs) – (Laughs) Okay, so will we see Blessthefall doing a headliner for this record cycle?

Beau Bokan – Yeah, most definitely! We’re already talking about doing one in the fall. It’s just a matter of what bands we want to bring out and what size venues we want to play, things like that. I think we’re going to play it smart and see if we can blow-out these smaller venues, maybe 500 to 700-capacity venues. You know, see how it goes. If in the next few months things really start ramping up, then maybe we bump it up a little bit; but I think that’s the general idea, just sort of almost a back to the roots thing. You know, a little bit smaller, scaled-down clubs and just slam ‘em out, and give kids a night to remember. – Smaller shows are often much better.

Beau Bokan – Yeah, there’s just something about the energy you cannot duplicate in a big, 2,000-cap venue. There’s something rad about both! Obviously when we play the huge clubs, you can bring all sorts of production and it really is like a show. Then, when you’re playing a 5, 6, 700-cap venue, there’s no barricade, which is nice, and then you create these lifelong memories with your fans. So, it’ll be fun!

Blessthefall live at Gramercy Theatre, NYC 2-17-2018. Photo credit: Katherine Szabo. – Okay, so to toss out something totally random and spice things up, what new or upcoming albums are you personally excited to hear?

Beau Bokan – Oh man, you know what? This is very random, but I’m going to go even more random than you are right now: Panic! At The Disco put out a couple of tracks, and they’ve got some shit coming out. I just heard them because my buddy works with them, and he shot me a text and told me that he bought our record and he’s super proud of us. He’s like Brendon Urie’s assistant-guy.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to check iTunes and kind of see what they’re up-to, and there was two new tracks on there. It said their album is coming out in a month or two months, something like that. So, I listened to the teasers on there and I was like, “Whoa! This is rad, this is super cool.” (Laughs) I’m actually stoked to see what they’re gonna do, because that band’s been around for longer than we have; it’s cool to see how they have evolved. It’s not really our, whatever. (Laughs) We’d never tour together! Like I said, I like all different genres of music. I think that dude, the singer, is super-talented – he was on Broadway. (Laughs) He’s just kind of really doing it. I’m pumped to see what they’re going to come out with! – Okay, last question. CrypticRock covers music as well as films, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. Last time you spoke with us you mentioned you are a fan of Horror movies. So rather than repeat the old question, let me ask – Have you seen any good Horror films recently?

Beau Bokan – Yes! My wife and I watched a couple the other day and there was one that was so good. We just sit there and we look up, we’ll watch B-Horrors, we’ll watch anything really. This one looked like it was going to be a total B-Horror – it looked like it was going to be pretty bad and we’re like “Alright, whatever. It is what it is!” It ended up being so good. There was one called The Forest (2016) and it wasn’t good. Don’t watch that! (Laughs) – So many Horror movies are so bad!

Beau Bokan – I know! It blows my mind, every single time there’s a really bad Horror movie – not bad in a good way – I’m like, “Who is funding this?” Honestly? Who is putting money into this? They have to know it’s going to be bad, what are they thinking? The Ritual was one of those that just did it for me. The people with the weird, giant deer-thing, it just creeped me out. There were so many creepy moments and it was suspenseful; they did it really well. They didn’t use the cheap tricks. (Laughs) So that’s two recommendations: don’t watch The Forest, do watch The Ritual . . . and obviously It Follows (2014) is a classic.

RADiUS-TWC/ Dimension Films

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