When a lot of people think about the first time they heard Four Year Strong, they likely think back to their 2007 breakthrough album Rise or Die Trying, or even their follow-up: 2010’s Enemy of the World. But what often gets lost in that, is that the band — consisting of Dan O’Connor, Alan Day, Jake Massucco, and Joe Weiss — actually formed back in 2001.
In a time when nostalgia is high and anniversary tours are coming fast and furious — Four Year Strong did a lengthy world tour honoring the 10th anniversary of Rise or Die Trying — somehow Four Year Strong being around for nearly 20 years just doesn’t seem to make sense. Even to some of the members, it doesn’t seem like that much time has passed by. “I think it’s insane,” Day tells me on the band’s longevity. We talk on the phone while he’s sitting in his studio on his farm, and I’m sitting in my car, to discuss their new album, Brain Pain, due out this Friday, February 28th via Pure Noise Records — but first, can’t help reflecting on their career this far.
“I think that it really means that we’ve been able to take something that was more or less an idea when I was a freshman in high school,” Day further tells me on what their longevity means. “Dan was a junior in high school when we met and started this band that we’ve been able to carry on this long. You know, support families around it, it’s a pretty great thing.”
The aforementioned Enemy of the World turns ten years old this year, and for this writer personally, that’s an anniversary that hits a little harder than Rise or Die Trying. I remember distinctly listening to “It Must Really Suck to Be Four Year Strong Right Now” for the first time and knew that they were going to explode to new heights — and that’s what happened. When we discuss this anniversary, Day tells me that it certainly feels more surreal than the 10 year anniversary of Rise. “When I think of very specific moments when we were making that album, it does feel like ten years,” he explains. “It feels like a fucking life time. But when I think about, like, our career in general and like the feeling of making that music, it doesn’t feel like that long ago.”
Our conversation turns to Brain Pain (which, by the way, is a great record and you will love) — their first since 2015’s self-titled output. Five years is a long time to wait between releasing records, but the band stayed busy through constant touring and of course writing. But in regards to when work really began for Brain Pain, Day tells me that it was around two years ago. It was at that point when they began to, as he puts it, talk a bit more seriously about the record. “We started talking seriously about it and broad stroke conceptualizing what we would want the album to be: sonically, musically, and we, for the first time in many, many years…” Day says before pausing for a second, “Well, not to paint a bad picture of what it was like to be in Four Years Strong previously, but, for the first time in a long time, we all really seemed to be on the same page about everything creatively.”
When the band is firing on all cylinders, they’re really firing. Firing so much so to the point that at one point Four Year Strong had around 40 ideas or so for songs. It’s something that Day tells me was a “struggle,” but nevertheless important. “It was important in the writing process to get those ideas out there and document them because if it’s just this like idea floating around in your head that you never put down, then it might be bad, [but] it might work into a song that could’ve been good,” he explains. This was also an entirely new mentality for the band, and part of that comes from having so much time to put this album together. There was no rush or any hard deadline that was in the back of their mind the while time. This was the first time in their career that they’ve ever felt they had “too many songs” that would fit on the full-length. “We recored sixteen songs for the album, and we narrowed it down. It was supposed to be eleven, but we were like, we just can’t do that at all. So, I mean it was definitely a good problem to have to have material [that] we felt so passionate and happy with that it just — it was a pain in the ass,” Day further explains on trimming down and selecting which songs will make the album.
When Four Year Strong announced Brain Pain, they told fans that this is the record they wanted to make. The band very much so have the attitude of “t his is the record we wanted to make, and here it is’ — not unlike their 2011 release, In Some Way, Shape, or Form. There was a divided reception amongst fans when that record came out, but as someone that always felt that was a tad bit unfair, I can’t help but bring up this observation to Day. “It’s funny that you are comparing this record to In Some Way, Shape, or Form, because I think you are the first person to have,” he begins in response. He touches on the overwhelming response that they received from folks who felt that it wasn’t an authentic record from the band they once fell in love with. While, at the time, they felt that it was a very authentic record to put out, as time has gone their feelings have changed slightly. “There was this moment, I think it was on the Rise or Die Trying [anniversary tour], that we were like, ‘maybe we should play a [deep cut] of Some Way, because we never play those songs.’ And we were on our bus and we put it on and were like, ‘I think I’m finally hearing what everyone else heard,'” Day tells me. “It’s not that I don’t like the album, I like all of the music that we’ve done, but I finally kind of understand that it didn’t really feel real. It felt like something we were trying to do, not something that we pulled off.
Tying that into Brain Pain, Day says that it is correct that they went in with the same mindset as they did with Some Way, which was to not only be the Four Year Strong that people want to hear, but to still break out of that box. The idea was to do something bigger, broader, and incorporated more of them instead of what people expected. “I think the difference between [In Some Way, Shape, or Form] and now, is then we were a little bit younger, and we were coming off of the success of Enemy of the World, which did really well for us,” Day begins to explain, “And this time around, like, we learned a lot from that, and we were very, very, — like every time we wrote something, we were conscious of what people maybe want to hear from us and how we can maybe make our idea feel more like that or vice versa.”
At the end of the day, Four Year Strong strove to make a record that had a little bit of everything for everyone — and they succeeded. There’s new things in there musically that jump out, some things that seem familiar, and everything in between. All of this was possible due to the time that they had and allowed themselves, and as Day tells it, “there was no other way to make [Brain Pain].” Trying all of these new things was the plan all along, as he continues to elaborate, “That was kind of our goal, to show more sides of who we are as musicians and as people, because we touch as a lot of things musically, but we also touch on a lot of things personally and lyrically that we’ve kind of struggled with in the past.”
The lyrics are something that Four Year Strong pride themselves on this time around with Brain Pain. It’s not to say that it was an afterthought before, but for this record, it’s the most thought that the band have put into their lyrics. Day recollects the time they started talking about music, and their label owner mentioned he didn’t care about the timeline, but encouraged them to write the best lyrics of their life. This initially put them in a weird place where they, creatively, couldn’t write any lyrics for a long time and struggled what to write about. “We’re all happily married men in our early 30s, you know — we’re mildly successful musicians, things are going pretty well, there’s just, like, I guess luckily we don’t have a lot of tragedy in our lives to be singing about. I feel like most of the time, that’s what people want to hear about. They want to hear these sad, emotional lyrics, and we really struggled with that,” Day tells me.
Day tells me that him and O’Connor write everything while being in the same room together, and with this process, they wanted to ensure they were writing things they could both relate to. While he’s quick to tell me that Brain Pain is not a concept record, he does explain that one common theme that routinely pops up during the record is struggling with your identity and who you are. This is something that sort of kickstarted the writing process, given that all four members of Four Year Strong can relate to this notion. When the band started they were all just kids in high school playing music for fun, but now they almost live double lives: going out on tour and everything musically, but then coming home to kids, running a coffee shop, having their own carpentry business, or for Day’s case: living on a farm and producing records. “There’s that constant wearing of different hats, and we struggle with that,” he explains. “And, honestly, it’s not just band vs home life. But even for me, my home life: I’m always struggling from going from a lot of farm related — like my passion and my energy going to this farm or going to the band, going into touring, going into producing records, going into writing with other artists, going into…I went into a timber framing phase where I was building barns, and I’m constantly trying to find this inspiration that drives me, and unfortunately, it’s a bit of a struggle for me because it’s always changing.”
The band felt strongly that this was something listeners would be able to listen to, and of course interpret in their own different ways. They know that while fans want to hear very personal songs, they also want to be able to make their own connection to the lyrics. Day references a few of their most popular songs as examples of this: “One Step At a Time,” which was written about O’Connor’s brother passing away from leukemia in 2004, and “Wasting Time,” which is specifically about a summer Day had in high school with all of his friends. These songs are about incredibly specific things for the two, respectively, but fans continue to latch onto these songs and make their own connections to the songs.
That kind of thing is what Four Year Strong is looking forward to most with Brain Pain: having fans connect to these new songs in those exact same ways. It’s a deeply personal record for them, and one they’re so incredibly proud of — and with good reason. For Day, he encourages listeners to consume it front-to-back at least for the first time. He lightheartedly compares it to the Mona Lisa painting, “It’s one of the greatest works of all time, but if you look at the work of art, and you zoom in on the eye ball, you’re not gonna get the painting.” The band put a lot of work into the track-listing, as well, ensuring that you weren’t getting all of the “singles” in the first three or four tracks. Instead, the band stand behind each and every track on the record — and you will, too, upon hearing it this Friday.
Brain Pain is the record that Four Year Strong have always wanted to make, and it’s the record you’ve always wanted them to make, as well, even if you don’t know it yet.
‘Brain Pain’ will be out this Friday, February 28th, via Pure Noise Records and can be pre-ordered here.