Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley talks 20 years as a hardcore hero and the legacy of the Warped Tour

The frontman of the iconic hardcore group talks to NME about passing the baton and their 10 (!) appearances on the Vans Warped Tour

Few bands are as synonymous with the Vans Warped Tour as Every Time I Die. Appearing on the now-defunct travelling punk-rock festival a ridiculous 10 times, the New York state hardcore heroes have intertwined their own legacy with that of Warped Tour. The band’s Shit Happens DVDs and web series were also integral to the wider consciousness of the tour, shining a light on the batshit backstage antics of themselves and their musician mates.

It’s little surprise, then, that when Every Time I Die were picked to close out the tour’s final ever show, they refused to let things die. A now-infamous incident saw guitarist Jordan Buckley refusing to leave the stage, playing the riff to their track ‘Map Change’ for almost 10 minutes after their set (and the tour at large) was supposed to conclude, as the crew packed up the stage around him. Effortlessly funny and yet tinged with real emotion, it was quintessential ETID.

2018 marks the twentieth year of Every Time I Die, from their scrappy beginnings as a Buffalo, NY bar band in 1998 to the influential behemoth of hardcore they are today, it’s been a ride fuelled by Southern Rock-infused riffing, countless stage-dives, and a rotating rhythm section that could make even The Fall’s line-up look solid.

Through it all, though, it’s frontman Keith Buckley whose verbose tongue has kept Every Time I Die at the top of their game. ‘Low Teens’, their latest (and greatest) album, is the perfect product of his lyrical ability. He dissects modern life’s grislier side with a poetic edge that could rival Johns Keats and Betjeman, tet Buckley still delivers each with a defiant, mosh-pit churning roar. It’s a concoction that’s seen ETID cross boundaries and borders, with high-profile fans including Panic! At The Disco man Brendon Urie, whose dedication to the group can be seen in both his guest vocals on ‘Low Teens’ and his left arm, which boasts a huge tattoo of ETID’s album artwork for 2009 album ‘New Junk Aesthetic’.

READ MORE: RIP Warped Tour – a flawed rite of passage for old-school punks, metalheads and emo kids alike

These days, the group split their time between plenty of extracurricular activities. Guitarist Andy Williams has a side-gig as a professional wrestler (fans at Download Festival might’ve seen him hitting the ring post-set), while Keith’s brother Jordan has a lucrative and impossibly accomplished illustration sideline. Keith, meanwhile, has put his whipsmart lyrical abilities to one side, and begun writing longer form novels. Scale, his 2015 debut as a novelist, found Buckley looking inwards at his life as a hard-partying, life-gambling musician. Watch, his second effort (released this week) takes a wider look at the inner demons of humanity as a whole.

With Watch released this week, we called up Keith Buckley to discuss the legacy of Warped Tour, Every Time I Die’s two-decade career, the bubbling underground of hardcore, and the differences between a literary recital and a basement punk show.

“Watching all of these incredible, life-changing bands at Warped – at a time when I was so impressionable – was something so surreal”

– Keith Buckley, Every Time I Die

You did the whole run of Warped Tour again, this time, right?

Keith Buckley: “Yeah, we were lucky enough to be able to do it for the 10th time, so it’s pretty insane. It was a pretty special thing this time. There was just this overwhelming sense of the end nearing, you know? Everyone was just giving it a little more attention and trying to cherish the moment and not spend so much time in a drunken stupor.”

It must feel like a chapter closing?

“I mean, I’m a huge proponent of change, so I understand that it couldn’t last forever. I think that it went out on a real high note. It’s just a wonderful community there. It’s so much different than from playing other festivals that we’ve played, where egos are raging and nobody really seems to bother with anybody else. [At Warped] everyone kinda looks out for one another. It was a really, really nice world to inhabit for a while. But you know, nothing gold can stay.”

Every Time I Die at Vans Warped Tour 2012 (Photo: Getty)

What are your prevailing memories of the tour? You must be one of the bands to play it the most times, right?

“Yeah, yeah! I think Less Than Jake has officially played the most amount of times, but  we’re definitely up there. We’re in the top five, as far as how many years we’ve done it. When I was younger, on one stage there was Eminem and then on another stage was Snapcase, and then there’s Limp Bizkit. All these concerts I would have gone to as a kid just for those acts alone, and then being able to just wander back and forth between the stages and watch all of these incredible, life-changing bands – at that time when I was so impressionable – was something so surreal

[When you play] you kinda become matriculated into it, and the people that are working there, the production team – it becomes like a family. There’s all these cool memories of like, meeting the guys in Pennywise. They were one of the most influential bands for me, growing up. And actually becoming friends with these people, yeah, it was just really surreal…

I remember having like an imposter syndrome when we first started, like I didn’t belong. We really didn’t know what we were doing. We were just kinda getting up on stage and making noise. But then you understand how it works, so you have to make your set memorable and you have to change it up. Just trying to keep it fresh for every day for the ten years that we did it, it became a real thoughtful process, where you have to take into consideration the fact that for these kids that are there, this might be their first time seeing you.

There always seemed to be a real ‘summer camp’ atmosphere backstage.

“Oh yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Unfortunately, we’re a little too old to be doing some of those ‘Shit Happens’ antics anymore… you know, the repercussions get a little more severe when you’re fucking around. You know, I remember getting in trouble for lighting fireworks and whatever – just doing dumb shit with your friends. But you know, you’d get a slap on the wrist and then you’d go ’Oh, it’s punk rock, it’s what happens.’ But now, there’s no fucking around. I mean, Kevin kicked a band off first day for like jumping into the drum set, you know? And it was like ‘Wow, alright, we gotta really hunker down here…’.”

“We’re going to keep going as long as people want it”

–  Keith Buckley, Every Time I Die

This is your 20th year as a band, which is a pretty big achievement for any hardcore band. Two decades in a hardcore band is a) gruelling and b) fairly unheard of…

“Honestly, I’m really grateful for it, but you know – when we started this band, we knew that this was our calling; it wasn’t a fad. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, let’s play some rock music to get girls and free beers.’  This was a life choice. We dropped out of school, we moved wherever we needed to go – it was just something we knew we had to do. It’s become a real entity that has a lot of power for a lot of people. Even if your bones are aching and you have family and stuff, you’re tired, you miss home. But when you’re playing, you really make that connection with people.”

Is it nice to still have that fresh audience, with people coming up to you surprised, or new to you, twenty years in?

“Yeah. Absolutely. It is. And that’s kind of one of the beautiful things about Warped Tour. It kind of gives you this propulsion that you need to carry us into another tour. We’re still making new fans. It is going to be weird with Warped gone, because we’re not gonna have that audience any more, you know? We’re really good at just touring clubs and stuff, but it is nice to see young faces and have people bringing their kids out to Warped Tour and turning them onto music like this. It will be sad to know that we don’t really have that outlet anymore.”

Every Time I Die at Roskilde Festival 2015 (Photo: Getty)

You also all have other things going on – Andy with his wrestling, Jordan’s illustration has exploded in the last five years or so, and you’ve moved onto novels. Is that quite important for all of you now – does it stop you from burning out?

“Yeah, it is definitely important to have the band as an anchor, but it allows us the freedom and opportunity to explore other creative avenues. It’s not anything that we’re trying to look to replace the band with, it’s just tangential  – keeping those muscles from atrophying, still being creative, still doing things that interest us. But all roads lead back to the band. Without those things, we would definitely have burnt out a long time ago.”

You’re all building families as well – that must affect the ability to tour, especially as hard as a punk band does.

“It’s making touring more difficult than it’s ever been, but it’s no longer like the party that it used to be. Like, ‘OK, I’m providing for my family while having the opportunity to still be creative’, Unfortunately, yes, it takes us away from home, but we’re doing it for other people. This isn’t some narcissistic thing where we love being on stage and being seen. This is like, ‘Alright we’re motivated and inspire people, and we have a chance to make things for other people, whilst supporting families.”

“My first suggestion for new bands is always just stay offline – just never read the comments”

– Keith Buckley, Every Time I Die

You’ve currently got the likes of Code Orange, Turnstile and Knocked Loose breaking through and everyone’s going, ‘This could be hardcore’s moment’. There was a similar thing with Gallows a decade or so ago. How does that look from your side, having been involved in this for so long?

It’s so crazy. I remember being on tour with Gallows [in the UK in 2008] and we were just so lucky to be there with them. But then, you know, it’s kind of what’s going on with Knocked Loose now. The only difference is that they’re younger where I think Gallows were a little older than us, so we were like understudies to them, watching them do it. Now, with Knocked Loose, we toured with them and they cite us as their major influence and that’s just so awesome. We really feel a camaraderie with them that we haven’t felt with another band in a long time.”

Like you say, there aren’t many scenes that are so supportive and everyone pitches in. Does that still feed back to you even though you’re like, as you say, the elder statesman now?

“Oh yeah, for sure. It’s just one of those things where, you know – this is the new guard. When it comes to giving advice, my first instinct is to be like, ‘Look, I [still] don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Just be honest with yourselves and you’ll be fine.’ My first suggestion is always just stay offline; just never read the comments [laughs]. ]. It’s still cool to be looked at like that. As much as I want to stay humble, I understand that we’ve been around for 20 years and we have influenced other bands, and now it might be our role to be teacher instead of a student.”

And next for you, personally, is your second novel coming out…

“I gotta get into that mode, which is very strange. It’ll involve doing some readings and some speaking. When I tour with Every Time I Die, obviously we’re family, and I have all these people around me–- we’re in it together. But going up and talking at a bookstore in front of 30 people, by myself, is just fucking terrifying. It’s one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done. It’s scary, but it’s exciting.”

That literary world is quite different from the punk world…

“Oh yeah. Not as much stage-diving [laughs]. It’s cool – this next book isn’t about music. With [2015 debut novel] Scale, it sort of was meant for people who read and write music. This is just for people that like to read. You don’t have to like music to like this book, or know anything about it. So, it’s a step further into the literary world and away from the music world. It was just a story I wanted to tell and I was excited to do it.”

And what’s next for the band? 

“It’s strange. For as long as we’ve been a band, we’ve had a schedule where every two years we start writing a record. But we don’t have anything written yet, and we still feel like ‘Low Teens’ has a lot of life left in it. For the other records, we were like, ‘Okay, that was a good record, it got it’s time in the sun, we’re going to put it to bed and move on to the next one.’ But ‘Low Teens’ is, like, evolving still. It just keeps getting interpreted in different ways, given new life, and people seem to really be attracted to it. We’re just going to tour for the fall. Probably we’ll start writing, but we’re not in as much of a rush. In our old age, we’re slowing down, so to speak.”

Like you say, this record has had a bit more breathing space than the last few. With the last few, you’ve been non-stop for, like, about a decade.

“Yeah, it’s been a really long, strange journey. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the summer without Warped Tour, because that was another thing that was part of the mechanics of it. Without it, it’s gonna be strange. I don’t know what we’re going to do in the summers now. Maybe just enjoy some time off! Something will have to fill the vacuum that Warped Tour created when it left.”

Do you think someone is going to pick up that baton?

“I don’t know. I feel like Warped Tour really did something extraordinary. Considering how much music is coming out now and how much access people have to it, Warped Tour was able to keep people’s attention for 24 years, which is crazy. I don’t know if anybody can do that from the start any more. I think is it’s just going to be popping up like a Riot Fest sort of thing. It won’t be a tour, but maybe it’ll be in different cities – like a weekend fest, maybe for a month in the summer, in different major cities. But nothing actually goes on the road like that. It’s just too much an undertaking now for anybody to do that from scratch, in this climate of constant distraction.”

Every Time I Die’s latest album ‘Low Teens’ is out now via Epitaph Records. They tour the US with Turnstile, Angel Dust and Vein this winter. Keith Buckley’s new novel ‘Watch’ is out now via Rare Bird Books.