Josh Lyford of Four Year Strong
On March 9th, Worcester’s own Four Year Strong, purveyors of pop infused hardcore, delivered their latest album “Enemy Of The World” to music fans everywhere. Some fans feared that with their first album on Universal Motown/Decaydance Records, Four Year Strong may become a victim of the machine and lose their edge but the only “Machine” the band fell prey to was the producer of the same name who guided them seamlessly through the recording process and helped them deliver the perfect follow up to “Rise Or Die Trying”.
While “Enemy Of The World” does have a more polished feel, it’s fueled whole-heartedly by the Four Year Strong spirit. Kicking off the album with “It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now” the lyrics speak volumes “..don’t fix it if it isn’t broken..” and while the band diplomatically declined to comment on the specific meaning of this lyric we can all draw enough from it to know that Four Year Strong is committed to bringing their loyal following the music that that made us all fans from the beginning.
While their music blends the boundaries between hardcore and power pop/punk, this band has never been one to slap a label on their sound. Going into the writing process for “Enemy Of The World” all they knew was that they wanted to capture the essence of their live performance as much as possible and try some new things with the end goal of writing a great record from start to finish without forcing anything. “Enemy Of The World” delivers just that, picking up right where “Rise Or Die Trying” left off and even offering up a few surprises along the way.
We caught up with proud New England native and Four Year Strong keyboardist/vocalist Josh Lyford to talk about the making of the new album, their allegiance to New England and all things Four Year Strong.
Being that this is your first release on a “major” label I think a lot of fans were worried that it might become too “polished” and lose some of the FYS character but the overall production on this album seems to be a perfect blend of making you guys sound your best without compromising who you are. Do you agree with that and if so, what do you attribute that to?
I suppose that I agree with that, the reality of it, though, is that we didn’t think that far into it. We were ready to write a new record, we loved Machine and knew that we worked well with him, so we said “let’s go write a record.” We never had a discussion about how polished or raw it should be really, we knew with Machine we were closer to being able to capture our live sound which we’ve had a hard time doing over the years. It’s important to us that we can be as close to our live setup as possible.
Keeping with that same sort of thought, the album opens with the song “It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now” that has the lyric “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken”. Is that perhaps a message to fans about staying true to your sound? (or am I reading too much into it).
Well, it has a million different meanings really, I’d hate to say that it definitely was about that and ruin some of the openness of how it can be interpreted. It means whatever you think it means!
In a lot of ways, “Enemy of the World” seems to pick up where “Rise or Die Trying” left off sound wise. What was the thought process when you went into the writing process?
We just sat down and said lets write a four year strong record. We didn’t have any idea how it was going to come up. We wanted it to be everything we had done but do it better, and maybe try some new things. We had three or four years of touring under our belts going into it, we had a better idea of what each of us brought to the table and what we would want to play live.
I’m not sure which member of the band said it but I read the following quote “We wanted to put out a great record and not just a bunch of great songs.” What do you think it is that makes a bunch of great songs a great record and do you feel like you’ve accomplished that with “Enemy of the World”?
I’d like to think that we at least partially accomplished this. At the very least, we tried as hard as we could. Basically, we didn’t want to write some songs and throw them all together, we wanted the whole album to make sense from beginning to end. It gives a different perspective when writing, you’re thinking about the whole thing not just thinking about a song or part.
Do you think that there’s an overall theme to the album?
I think in a way, but it isn’t a concept album by any means. I do think when you listen to the record through, you get a certain vibe which we wanted.
What song on the album was the most difficult to write and can you give us any insight into why?
I think the hardest songs to write were the songs we wrote first, while we were still getting comfortable in the studio and getting used to waking up, sipping some coffee and jamming out. Once we got into our groove, it sort of just came. The funny thing about the way we write is that we don’t try to force any parts, as we’re grooving along, if a part works itself out to be heavy and cool and we like it, we’ll try to make it the best that it can be, if its heavy, let’s make it fucking heavy. If ifs poppy, let’s make sure the harmonies are there and the lead works as well as it can.
As a whole the album seems to be a bit more “mainstream” (radio-ready) than stuff you’ve done in the past. Was this by design to open you up to an additional fan base or just part of the evolution of the band?
It wasn’t part of a plan to lure children into our cave or anything. We were just writing songs the way they came, and the production on this record definitely doesn’t hurt to make it a bit more “radio friendly.” We would never trade in the people who like four year strong, our fans, our friends actually, because we would be nothing without them, to get a little radio acceptance. Don’t get me wrong, I would welcome radio play if it happened to come, we want to take this band as far as we can, but it wouldn’t be worth it to disappoint those who have been with us for the long haul. There’s been a million bands over the years that have had a dedicated fan base and a really unique sound that just destroy the whole thing by radically changing. That’s not us.
I’d like to throw three songs at you, and you tell me a little bit about them. It can be anything from the writing process, what inspired the lyrics, or maybe a story about them.
Nineteen with Neck Tatz: This title makes me laugh every time. We put the z on there because we thought it would look dumb on the set list and make us laugh. We were right, I still crack a smile when I see it.
Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride: The working title for this song was “gallop” before we had lyrics or anything, it somehow just made a lot of sense to be Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Plus we feel obliged to tip our hat to New England history whenever possible.
What The Hell Is A Gigawatt?: Jay Pepito sang the guest vocals on this song, he is an awesome guy and has a band called Reign Supreme. They are awesome and everyone should scope them out, he’s a total pro and just stepped up and sounded brutal immediately.
While we’re at it, if forced to pick a favorite song on the album, I think I’d have to go with Enemy of the World. What made that song “title track” worthy for you guys?
I think we had a good idea that this was going to be the title of the record from the beginning. Once the lyric was in the song, before there was a title, it just seemed to fit. We took “Rise Or Die Trying” from lyrics on the last album and it just works for us for some reason.
You’ve always been a band that’s proud of where you came from and you always remember the fans that supported you along the way with local holiday shows, release parties (like the recent sold out one at The Palladium), etc. You seem to put a pretty big priority on it so as a New England music fan just wanted to say thanks for that! How important is staying close to that community to you?
It’s everything to us. It’s actually hilarious, we have so much time in the van to kill that we have taken it on ourselves to try and bone up on New England history. The music scene is amazing, and we owe everything to the folks that make it up, but it’s not even just that. New England is incredible, it’s beautiful, and it was the start of this nation. We have oceans, forests, mountains, valleys, plains, everything you could ever want; amazing animals and plants. Not to mention at this point we’ve all spent our entire lives here. I was born in Framingham Union hospital in Mass, then I lived in Jericho and Duxbury, Vermont. I lived in Chester, New Hampshire for a long time. I’ve spent the rest of my adult life in central Massachusetts. We all have family all over New England and I love seeing it all.
Clearly you aren’t a band that takes yourself too seriously, with that in mind, do you guys read music reviews of your music?
Sometimes, I really don’t go out of my way to read anything about us, I can’t speak for everyone but basically we don’t let it get to us. It’s funny, every once in awhile a friend will send me a link to a message board or something where there’s like 40 kids talking about how terrible we are. I saw one that said we were all heroin addicts once, that was pretty funny. Dan and Alan are straightedge, and the rest of us aren’t but I’ll keep my indulgences to stout beer and green forestry. It’s just funny seeing what people have to say about you. My favorite is when random people you’ve never met will say they hung out with you all night or that girls you’ve never even seen before have felated you. I guess I’m flattered in a really weird way, but the disappointing fact is that we are actually all pretty normal and sort of boring.
We have to talk about the album art because it’s pretty amazing and probably deserves an interview of its own. First things first, who is the artist? How did the concept come together..and most importantly, were each of you in control of the characterization of yourselves?
The artist’s name is Ken Kelly and he’s unbelievable. He has an awesome track record and did an amazing job on Enemy of the world. We were fully in control of how we looked, we sat around together and figured out the most ridiculous things we could, and just started yelling things out. The original email actually wrote that the painting should “have the healthiest of pine trees and be on a Saturday with two moons.” The guy has to be a genius because he made something cool out of a description that made absolutely zero sense.
You guys are slated to do the Warped Tour circuit this year, have you ever done Warped Tour before and if not, what are you most looking forward to about that?
We did Warped Tour the summer before last, and honestly it was amazing. I’ve heard people complain about how shitty it is but I don’t know how they think that. I had a blast, a lot of good music, good friends and we get to tour in a bus for a little while, what’s to complain about? I’m really looking forward to seeing all of our friends and to get to ride my bike every day.
Parting words, comments, messages or code words to your people?
Check out the record, if you like it, come to a show. If not, well, listen to somebody else and support your local music scene.
Watch the FYS “Making Of” Videos: