Interview: Jeremy McKinnon of A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember

This interview took place on October 7th, 2013 with Jeremy McKinnon, the lead singer of A Day to Remember. The band’s new album, Common Courtesy, is now available online.

I know that all the fans are very excited about getting any information about the new album album, the writing/recording process, and this legal situation — so I’m really glad we can do this interview. And, I’m sure for you, you’re now excited to be able to talk about this album – knowing that it’s definitely coming out, right?

Yeah, man, I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am.

I don’t mean to be extremely reductive about art and music – but this is an interview and we only have so long – so I am going to be: What would you say Common Courtesy is about?

Well, to be honest with you, when I am writing it’s never as clear cut as “this is what it’s about.” It’s usually a string of different things over that time period and all that that encompasses. So, basically it’s really about everything that has happened to us over these past three years. And a lot of stuff has happened. We’ve had to deal with everything from slander on the internet, from really sketchy people, and there’s stuff about that. And there’s stuff about our legal problems and also our everyday, “being a human being,” problems. It’s real accounts of things that happened to me in my life. 

When you’re writing about things, like this legal stuff, do you ever worry about how the listeners and fans of the band are going to relate to that? I mean, like writing about a legal battle, I have to assume that the relatability to a general audience is low.

You know that’s not really something I think about when I’m putting it together. I do try to go about writing it in a way that an everyday person can understand, and I’m not going to go out of my way to say something that no one can relate to. But, we’re obviously going through some things that hopefully people never have to experience in their lives – I mean, we sued a multi-million dollar corporation.

And you see, I guess that’s what I’m trying to do: say it as plain and relatable as possible. I really just want to tell a story in a way that anyone that hears it can understand it. That’s all I’m trying to do. I think I’ve gotten better at it on this album too. It’s always a work in progress, you know?

I feel like as a writer I’ve gotten better at making things simpler, and understandable.

Well, speaking of being blunt and tossing it out there – looking at the album’s tracklisting, number twelve is titled “The Document Speaks For Itself” – I’m going to assume that means exactly what everyone thinks it means.

It is. It’s basically me talking directly to our label owner. And really, man, I’m disappointed. Ok, we kinda knew getting in, when we signed the contract, that there was the possibility that this was going to happen one day, if we ever did sell a large amount of records. Because, well, that’s just what has happened to people who signed to Victory. But, at the same time (when they signed that deal), nobody cared. We were going through a hard time, we lost a drummer, we lost one of our main songwriters, Tom Denney, after he quit. And we were going to break up and go back to school and probably head down a different path in life. 

And then Victory Records comes in and they were the only label that’s interested, and were actually going to fund us in a way that we thought was good enough. And we realized that if we were going to put a huge portion of our lives into something, we at least wanted the opportunity to sound how we wanted it to sound. And they were the only label that was going to do that, and when you look at it like that I’ll always be grateful to them for giving us that opportunity. But, at the same time … what you don’t see … from being in the band vs on the outside … is that there is just no possible way of working with him. 

He’s just …

I don’t even know how to put it .. 

It’s a terrible thing. We have been trying to settle with this guy, literally, the entire time. We didn’t want this to happen. We don’t want to be in a huge legal case. We don’t want to have to pay lawyers this outrageous amount of money to do this. But there are times where I just straight up lose it because he can be so weird, and just lying, and it’s obvious that he’s making jokes about it … and it’s like, “come on man, let’s just go into another room.”

And we did once. Just me, Josh, and him. And we start talking to him and we’re like, “you know what? If you would just do what you said you would do. Then this wouldn’t happen. If you just treat us the way you said you were going to in the first place, we would have stayed with you for our entire careers.” And I told him that to his face. And look, if you look at what we’ve done over our career as a band, we are fiercely loyal band when it comes to the people that have helped us, you know? Our photographer, we work only with him when we have a choice. Andrew Wade has worked on all of our albums now. Chad Gilbert is part of our team. So is Tom, he’s gonna be part of every album we do – that’s just who we are and how we go about doing what I want us to do – which is make a better more updated version of us. And, we would have loved to just be with them (Victory Records) the whole time, but you just … you can’t work with the guy. He’s a person that cannot be understood even if you try. And for years, he’s surprised us every single day. 

Was there ever a time where you thought that maybe Common Courtesy would come out on Victory Records? Or was that off the table from the start? 

Never. It was never off the table. It’s on the table right now if he would just be reasonable. Just a few months ago Josh and I were flying around Chicago almost every weekend because we were trying to settle this and he would write us an email saying, “ok, let’s talk settlement” — so me and Josh would fly up there. Once on Josh’s birthday, we flew on his BIRTHDAY to sit in court, and then at the end of it, Tony just said, “nah, we’re not gonna talk, I’m going home.” And then Josh missed his flight. I know, I know, it’s just a day, whatever, but you know what I mean? There’s something sort of special about your birthday. 

So, it’s like, I don’t know man. We would have loved for this to have been settled before this, because really it’s just a misunderstanding. It’s a misunderstanding because of how terrible, just terrible, he set this whole contract up. You know? 

Yeah, in my reading of it – a lot of it comes down to that original contract, right? And what it is that defines “an album,” correct? 

Yeah, it’s just all over the place. I mean I’m sure other labels have done that too. But it’s not just that, he uses this contract as leverage. And that’s his whole game, the whole thing is that he makes people sign these “deal memos” and the reason there aren’t any long form contracts is because it’s his way of pretty much being able to say, “I can do whatever I want and it’s encompassed in this legal document” … and you’re scared. And we were scared. For years. 

The time when we signed to the label, Atreyu was big, Hawthorne Heights was big, you heard about the Thursday thing, you heard about the Taking Back Sunday thing, but you didn’t really know what happened, right? You mean, that was before Hawthorne got upset with them.

So, when we signed, and this is what’s crazy – because live albums and any reproductions like that – were always supposed to count. And we honestly believed that, for example, when we signed to the label, literally when we were signing, Atreyu put out a greatest hits album — and it counted toward their contract. And me being the young kid, I took it as that — those definitely count. There’s a band, that’s huge right now, they’re on this label, this counts toward our contract. And that’s legitimately what we thought. And, well, that’s his whole game. You put yourselves in this position and it’s really written that he can kind of just say whatever he wants and we had to wait this long until we finally had the means to stand up for ourselves.

So now you get to this spot … and, hypothetically, say you lose this case when it goes to a jury – is there anyway this band could go back and work with Victory Records again? 

I mean if we’re forced to by the court … but, I know what you mean and I’ll answer it: and the answer is no. But, really, we’re not even worried about that right now. The only thing he was trying to do with this is try and ruin our careers. He would always say that over the years when he would call us up, and we didn’t want to do something … for instance … he made us put out “Old Record.” And, what he would do is say, “I’m going to give you guys this much money to do this,” and then we’d come back with, “well, we don’t really want to do that because we would have like two days at home to re-record this entire album” — and he told us, “you have to do this or I will end your career.” And us, being young kids, touring in a van with no money, we absolutely were terrified. And what would you do? I mean we can’t do anything about this right now. And we were forced to go into the studio, in two days, and record our entire first album again. And we butchered it. Because it was two days. And it’s something I absolutely am ashamed that we put out. 

And see, that’s where it gets crazy — he tries to control people. And, well, I won’t name the band name, but there was a band that we have been on tour with multiple times, that was an older Victory band, and they were putting out their last album … and, well, we were told that he kind of shelved it. As a way of forcing them to re-sign with Victory. And they said, “we’re not gonna do that,” so he did what he did and it definitely affected them. 

So, the answer is if the court forces us to – yeah, we will – but eventually he will kill the career of our band. I mean that’s just the position we’re in. It was either let the guy do it, and he’s probably going to do it anyway, or do we try and stand up for ourselves? And hopefully the rest of the world will see what’s happening and not let this guy do this to people anymore.

Was that part of the reason for self-releasing the new album? To try and avoid the problem of a lawsuit dragging this out for a long time and then you guys get scared, because you haven’t put and new material out in 3 years, and then maybe the fan following dies down, and you get forced into something you don’t want to do?

Right. Well, yes, and no. 

See, we told our fans we were going to put out the record October 8th. And to us, they have already been so disappointed with this whole situation, and really it’s the most negativity we have probably gotten, and to us it was very obvious that if this lasted too much longer that this could really, really be a turning point where people would just be like, “we don’t even care anymore and we’re just going to move on to the next thing.” And I’m not ready for that, I’m not ok with him just dragging this out until we run out of money or are afraid that we’re going to put the album out and no one is gonna buy it. 

I don’t care about that.

In the long run, I think if this album is good enough, and connects with our fans, there is nothing that is going to stop it. I believe that. And that if it’s an album that people that relate to and like there is nothing that is going to matter in the future. And if people listen to it, and like it, and think it’s a great record that stands up for itself – I don’t have to talk anymore. Everyone is going to forget about this whole process and just think “this album is great” – and if the album does that, then, well, “hell yeah.” That’s what it’s all about.

And if it doesnt’? Well maybe we were just a time period thing. And you know what, to be honest? I’m ok with that too. I’m, really, just excited. I’m really excited. I think it’s cool that a band that plays breakdowns and pop-punk is even in this position, to even be considered one of the bigger rock bands in the world. I think that’s fucking amazing. Because, really, there aren’t many people that are playing straight up break downs that are being played on the radio, and I think it’s a testament that it doesn’t really matter what you’re playing. In a time where dance music and rap music are the dominant genres — that we can be this successful, or in this position? I think it goes to show that it’s not really all what you’re playing, but the meaning behind it. And that it’s about being able to relate to your music. And I think that people should start to see what this means to our fans, and that this is more than just a passing trend.

Ok, with that – then what’s the promotion for this album going forward? Without a label, do you have a team to take a single to radio? Or what are you doing to try and keep the momentum of the band going? 

Well, this is how we’re looking at: We’re looking at what we’re doing tomorrow, or this afternoon, or whenever the pre-orders start going out as a controlled leak. “Homesick” leaked like two months early and it caused this bubble of people freaking out and saying “this album is awesome” and “holy crap” and “I’m gonna check this out when it comes out” — and they supported it — because they liked it. And that’s kinda what we’re hoping happens with this one. 

If the people like the album, and the support the band, we believe that in the long run the record will sell as many as we need it to and that’s the goal. We’re just going to put it out for our fans because we said we were going to on the 8th. And we’re going to try and get anyone that pre-ordered it a decent percentage off when the big physical version comes out, which is probably going to have three extra songs, and we’ll probably put the videos we do on there, and try and make it a big cool physical product. And we’ll definitely be working with distributors and actually getting it out there world wide, and on iTunes, everything.

So, I think we’re going to have – or we’re supposed to have – a release date soon. Because we want to start promoting the physical release date immediately. Because we figure this will be the most people are seeing it.

Industry people worry about things like sales numbers and stuff like that, it’s the nature of the beast – and there has been talk that you guys could have maybe had the number one album in the country with this release, the band is that big, does it bum you out that maybe this legal stuff will have stopped that from happening?

I mean, it does suck, because this probably would have been our best selling first week ever. But at the same time, if you’re following what’s happening to us at all – I think it’s pretty clear that we’re not going to have a normal first week. I mean I don’t even know if we’re going to report those sales, or that’s what I heard somebody say. I don’t know if anyone will know, honestly, other than us – what we sold. And I mean, we’re actually really happy with how things are going right now. We’ve been getting word that things are really taking off today – so, it’s pretty exciting. 

But, man, what it all boils down to is that we just want our music out there. We want to keep touring, and we think fans will support us through this hard time. 

So, there are 13 songs on this thing – and it’s 54 minutes long – and in this day and age, that’s not the norm. Most other bands are putting out 10 track releases at a little over 40 minutes — what was it about these songs that made you feel as though you wanted to release all of them? 

I’m telling you man, when we started, when we began this record – and I keep saying this but people don’t believe me – but this is the 100% truth: we had 40 song ideas going into the recording of this album. I have never, ever undertaken something so insane as trying to sort through 40 songs that I genuinely really liked. Even with Chad, and that was kinda the approach, Chad would show up for a month to work on stuff and I was like, “just work on the ones you like, and I’ll have the ones I like, and we’ll work on them after you leave” — but there was so much stuff that it legitimately took us eight months of non-stop recording six days a week to go through it all. And it didn’t have to do with the lawsuit or anything like that, it was just hard to pick songs.

And that’s why there’s so many. I mean I don’t wanna put out a 16 song album, that’s a commitment, I mean, even if we were your favorite band … good lord … but 16 whole songs? That’s commitment to listen to that damn thing. So that’s why we’re going to find creative ways to use the other songs. And that’s the other thing when you’re putting out an album, sometimes great songs get lost, or people never really listen to them — and we didn’t want that to happen.

Now, assuming everything gets settled next year, and you’re officially off Victory, do you see yourselves signing to another label? Or would you continue the self-release route?

You know, I think it’ll all depend how this all goes – how well the record does – and what happens with the distribution of this album. We’re in this weird position where we do basically the same numbers everywhere on the planet, and so, why would we need to go to a major label? We’re not going to give a label a portion of our income on sales, or merch, or anything like that – that doesn’t make sense. We can do just as big of numbers as some of the biggest radio artists in this genre, so we’re in this weird position where we kinda don’t need big labels anymore.

I think something we were more interested in is coming up with a really creative indie-label idea. And, actually, we almost signed a contract already … well, before things went real south.

But, yeah, we’re more interested in having a cool indie thing happen where we can help the label and they can help us too … you know? That’s way more interesting to me.

Yeah, I kind of feel like if you were to turn around and sign to a major label, that even though Common Courtesy just came out, they’d just say, “ok that already happened – let’s move on to the next thing” – and that this album wouldn’t ever get the time it deserves.

Exactly. And it’s gonna take a creative partnership, because we’ve already gotten some feedback, and other labels saying, “please, don’t put out this album, because it’s going to vastly affect what it’s worth,” and really – we just don’t care – we’re not going to push back an album that people are already upset about taking long to release. And we’re getting so much positive shit surrounding our band right now, playing these big shows with great bands, and “winning” publically – no matter if a lawyer wants to spin it one way or not – but all that we were really ever worried about was putting out this album. Because you know what? Our fans don’t really give a shit about Victory Records and our lawsuit, they care about our album – and if we don’t get it to them – they’re not going to care anymore. So, we want to give people what they want, and then handle the other business in the background, the way it should be.

The only thing he held above us was the right to put out this album and we won the right to put it out ourselves. There is nothing this man can do that can hurt our career from this moment on, and I’ve never been more excited in our life. We actually took the momentum from him, he literally has nothing to hold above our heads anymore. Now it can go to a jury and good luck having a jury of random people agree that two live albums that are sold separately not count as an album, good luck with that.

Hahah, ok, to follow that up .. was there ever a time as a band where you guys were thinking of breaking up over all this? Like that it was going to be an insurmountable obstacle? And where did you find the inspiration to continue on? 

It’s like this, and whether this album is accepted or loved, or what not – I’m telling you, as a writer, I have never been and I was never more inspired than when making this album. I’m telling you, it was like I was living in a moment. There were so many good song ideas coming out of nowhere, sometimes, one, two, three different songs a day just falling out the sky and it was so exciting for me. I didn’t care about any of this – and neither did my band – I’m not even kidding, we’ve never been closer. And we’ve had some rough times over the years, traveling overseas, and all these growing pains … and touring is 90% of our income … so we have put a lot work into this, and it’s hard on these guys, we’re from a small town and not being able to talk to anybody is hard. So, there was never a part where that happened, we were always just so excited about what we were doing, and on top of that, like I was kind of explaining earlier: a band like this, playing this style of music, should never be in a spot to say ‘we’re one of the biggest rock bands in the world’ – that is so insane to me. Because of just how random it was that we got popular in the first place. Like, really, it doesn’t make sense for us to be as big as we are. It really doesn’t. And I’m saying that as the biggest fan of our band, I mean I’m the fucking singer. 

I don’t get it myself sometimes, but I think it’s amazing that for the rest of my life, regardless of the outcome, I can say that I lived three years of my life in one of the biggest rock bands on earth. And that’s fucking amazing to be able to say that. Who cares what you’re into, or if you’re into this genre or that genre, just to be able to say that you and your friends did that? And it was genuine, I think that is so fucking cool – and that is so much more special to me than money and any kind of materialistic things that come with this job — I’m just fucking grateful that people care. I honestly mean that. I’m just excited. I hope people dig the record as much as we do.

When you go into recording an album like this and you have 40 song choices, what was it like trying to pick the ones for the album itself? At some point don’t you get to the point of trying to pick a favorite child? So how do you decide? 

To be honest with you I wasn’t happy, for a long time, with what we selected – because, I’m not even kidding, we didn’t even get to work on some of what I considered to be the best material. We just didn’t have the time. And we almost spent a year making this and that just goes to show — we just kinda went with what came naturally, and what everyone was vibing, not just me. 

So we would just work on whatever came naturally and out of everything we did, we used that. Actually there were a few more songs that were really close to being finished, that are whole songs, actually probably about three of those that were barely just not quite finished. If you heard them you would probably think they were finished songs – but they weren’t quite there to me.

So, there’s three that we did cut there, and then another three that are going on the physical release but not on this digital release so that people could kind of manage the album and not feel like “holy shit 16 songs, this is pretty daunting.” So yeah, it was hard, obviously, but we just tried to come up with ways to be creative. So we’re going to put those three on the physical form in a whole special edition thing.

But, you know, actually I think my favorite song on the entire damn record is part of those three that are on the physical release. Actually, I think Chad’s favorite song too is part of those three now that I think about it.

I think my early favorites are “Best of Me” and “Life @ 11” — those two stood out to me.

Nice, yeah, I’m really proud of “Best of Me” – I really like that one a lot. And I think “Life @ 11” is the favorite of all the the other guys in the band, they play that one a lot.

Well, with that, my last question is really kind of open ended. With the whole legal situation that was going on and everything … you guys were pretty quiet for a while. So, was there anything else that we didn’t cover that you had noticed either online or elsewhere that you wanted to make sure we talked about?

Well, I guess the only thing I want to say is that I don’t wish bad things upon the label. You know? I mean, we don’t support the way they handle business and the way they treat us and stuff like that but at the same time, we can release our record now, and I see a lot of people saying, “well what are they going to do if they end up having to owe Victory all this money?” 

And, well, what people don’t understand is that it wasn’t about the money. It was about us being able to release this album and give the music to people who wanted it. And continue to play and grow as a band. And that’s way more important, even if we lost everything, and still end up owing them two more records. Fine, we’ll give them two more records, and right now it’s just that there’s a big misunderstanding between both of us and we’ll end up sorting it out whichever way a judge decides. Really, we just want to put out our album and not let Tony kill us with time.

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