Guitarist Kevin Skaff talks about changing it up on A Day to Remember’s new record Bad Vibrations, embracing the garage band mentality again, writing heavier songs with everyone involved, and why history is cool.
How’s the Blink tour treating you so far?
It’s awesome. Huge.
I was at the opening night down in San Diego and it was a lot of fun. You busted out the T-shirt canons and the whole nine yards.
Yeah, that was awesome.
You’ve moved to playing larger venues and arenas over these last couple years now. Has that been a pretty seamless transition for you?
It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Somehow our old show translated pretty well onto the bigger stages, and then we’ve learned how to play to the larger crowds since then.
But yeah, it was just easier than I thought it was going to be, which was a good surprise for us. We were expecting like, oh shit. We’ve got to play to people in seats. How are we going to entertain them? But everyone’s been really awesome, even in the seats. It’s been cool.
Your last few albums have gotten bogged down in label politics and some extraneous type stuff. Was this album a little freer in that regard, where you were able to just focus more on the music?
Yeah, it felt a lot better than Common Courtesy did. The whole lawsuit thing wasn’t weighing on us as much, just because there was nothing we could really do about it. We were more focused on wanting to be a band again, being in a room and playing our instruments with each other. That was the main focus of this, to be like the garage band mentality again.
You did something new and completely different for the writing and recording of this record. Can you talk about that and how you liked doing something new for this one?
Yeah, we just noticed that it takes forever when you get to record a record at home, because everyone lives super close. You can literally make up any excuse to go home and chill out for a while when things get stressful writing.
This time, it was literally we’re here, we’re paying for this spot, let’s just crank it out. So we’d be there for 10 hours a day, just writing music in their E studio, which is like their smaller live room. It was fun. It was very stressful, but that’s how it should be. Otherwise you’re not getting the good stuff.
You spent quite a while working on it, right?
We did one full month of just writing, and then we did a month-and-a-half, almost two months of actual recording. So it was done in about three months. There was mixing and mastering after that, and we had to go through a couple mastering people.
What actually took the longest was the artwork, which is hilarious to me. I always figure that should probably be the easiest part [laughs].
Yeah, I saw you posted the CDs are why the album got pushed back a couple weeks, because those weren’t ready in time.
Yeah, it was this deluxe die cut custom thing that they couldn’t put out in time, so we just had to push back a couple weeks.
Another thing that came with this whole process is this is the first album you’ve done in several years that featured contributions from all members. How did that change the mentality for you and how do you think it paid dividends?
I think it was the right idea. After doing a couple albums just being in the studio and only being able to have a few people working on it at a time because the room’s too small, you can just tell that everyone wants to play these songs live now. There was always a little bit of pushback on certain songs on the last couple albums of members that have no feeling towards the song. So it’s like a “Why should we play the song live?” kind of vibe.
So now with the new record, everyone’s contributed. You can just feel the energy when we play the songs live. It’s a lot better and everyone’s into it. It’s made us better friends too, doing it that way.
This is also the first record you’ve done in a while that didn’t have Chad Gilbert involved. You worked with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore for the first time. What do you think that fresh blood added for you? How did you like working with some new people?
It kind of goes with everything else. We wanted something fresh. We wanted something new. We always loved all the records that Bill and Jason did, like Comeback Kid, No Trigger and all those old school punk rock bands. Descendants, obviously, and Black Flag.
Yeah, exactly. Working with them was awesome. It was a completely new perspective on songwriting. So that was really nice, to have another songwriter there for that. Bill and Jason are so fucking awesome, but they don’t try to put too much input because they still want it to be your band.
I actually didn’t even know if they’d like the record or not until after we were done making it [laughs]. I was like, “Man, is that song good? Should it be on the record?” They’d be like, “Fuck yeah! This song rocks!” I was like, “Oh, OK. That’s good to know.”
But yeah, they were awesome, man. I loved working with them. Being able to work with a couple legends like them, I’ll always remember that. And the new Descendants record is fucking awesome.
Jeremy has talked a little about how he was struggling at the beginning of this process coming up with lyrics and how he didn’t feel like he was having much to offer. When something like that happens, how much are the rest of you guys aware of that? How do you try to help him out and make things easier for him?
I could tell he was kind of afraid about it. I could see it in his face sometimes where we would bust out a fucking cool song instrumentally. We were like, “Oh dude, this song is so good. It’s got to be on the record.” But Jeremy would just be standing there blank faced, like fuck. I can’t imagine that kind of pressure, to where there’s this fucking awesome song and now I’m the last piece of the puzzle. That would stress me the hell out, too.
There were a couple times where he would be like, “I kind of have this idea, but I need some help.” A few dudes would be in a room with him and we’d be bouncing off lyric ideas and stuff, which is the first time that’s ever happened in our band. One of those songs was “Paranoia.” Lyrically, me, Neil and Alex helped him write some words in a room. It was actually kind of fun. It took a few hours, but it was awesome and we love that song.
I really like what he did on this record because it’s different than what he normally does. On all our previous records, I usually always like what he does last minute. On What Separates Me from You, “All I Want” was super last minute. On Homesick, “Downfall” was last minute, and then “Bad Vibrations” the song was last minute on this record.
Sometimes you can think too much about a song. I think that’s sometimes what throws him. So this record was awesome because you got to see him work in a different element and come up with stuff from his gut and what he thought was going to be right for the song. It was really cool to watch that.
You mentioned “Paranoia,” which has gone on to become one of your biggest singles so far. I heard that initially started as like a joke song. Is that true?
It wasn’t a joke song. It actually was a different hardcore song we were writing. It was super hardcore influenced. It was actually a really awesome song, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s probably on our next record or something.
We were working on it, and then I started playing this lead over that song. Jeremy heard the lead and he made the whole band stop. He was like, “What did you just play?” I showed him what I had just played, and then we literally wrote an entire song around that riff [laughs]. So we completely stopped working on that other song, never worked on it again and just worked on “Paranoia.” It became “Paranoia” within five or six hours.
Is that a pretty rare thing when something comes together that quickly for you?
Not really. “Right Back at It Again” came together like that. “Naivety” on the new record came together like that. We’ve had a handful of songs on all of our records come together pretty quickly. Usually that’s a good thing too, because those usually end up being the crowd favorites.
You’ve talked before about how in the past it hasn’t necessarily been that easy to come up with enough heavier songs for an album. This album it seems like that flowed out really naturally and wasn’t too much of the case. Why do you think that is? Was that something you were focused more of on this record?
I don’t even know how that happened. We literally wrote two songs a day for 30 days, and then we democratically voted on 15 songs to record. Then there’s 11 on the record and two deluxe. It just kind of happened naturally that the record is heavier. I don’t know why that is or what triggered that. Subconsciously, it probably just happened.
I don’t know. It could have been a ton of things. It could have been because we were finally all together in a room writing again and everyone’s pissed off. Who knows? But it wasn’t like we targeted that we need a heavy record. It just came together that way.
The stuff that you didn’t vote to record, was that not as heavy? Was that more poppy? What was that stuff like?
No, actually there were a few songs that were heavier [laughs]. They were all over the place. There were a few super thrash songs. We’ve never really gotten into thrash before, but they were like thrashy. There were a few songs were I was like, “We could sell this to My Chemical Romance [laughs].” Then there were a couple songs that had like a Tom Petty vibe. It was literally all over the place.
So the two songs you’ve released most recently are “Bullfight” and “Naivety.” Can you talk about how you came up with those two and fleshed them out?
“Bullfight” Jeremy had a super simple verse and chorus. He just played it on an acoustic guitar and the band took it over from there. He kind of told us what the song was about and stuff like that, and tried capturing the feel of it in the intro. We’ve never done that kind of intro before. It kind of has like, I don’t even know if it qualifies as a Spanish vibe, but it’s kind of got that. You know what I’m saying? I can’t remember what that’s called.
Yeah, like flamenco.
Yeah, flamenco type stuff. It kind of was Americana folk sounding, and then we just made it less for “Bullfight.” I remember we just needed a bridge, but I don’t remember how that came together because it’s a pretty wild bridge.
Then “Naivety” I was playing on a couch in the studio. I forget what was going on. I feel like everyone was pissed off or something, so we all went off into different rooms. I can’t remember what happened, but I was playing an acoustic guitar and humming melodies or whatever.
Jeremy walked by the studio I was in and was like, “What’s that?” I was like, “I don’t know. I’m just in here fucking around.” He’s like, “Play it for me again.” So I played it for him again. Then he left and came back 45 minutes later and was like, “All right, let’s go in the room and all work on this.”
We went in the room and he showed us what he had done to the shit that I was doing on the acoustic guitar. We were like, “Oh, sick.” That song was done within like three hours after.
The one big ballad you have on the record is “Forgive and Forget,” the closing track. When you work on a slower song like that, is the process different?
No, it’s the same process. That actually is the only song that Tom Denney is on that he helped write, because he came out for a little bit to the cabin. But he didn’t work with us in the room live. He just went into his own little place. He had written this song and we thought the verse was really cool. So we took the verse out of his song and made it into “Forgive and Forget.”
I remember reading an article from earlier this year on Stereogum that was talking about the state of heavy music in 2016. Obviously, the genre never went away, but it seems over the last couple years to be gaining a little bit more in popularity and could be primed for a little bit of a comeback. Have you picked up on anything like that recently?
You know, I don’t know, to be honest with you. We’re touring with Blink-182 and I feel like Blink-182 always sells a shitload of tickets [laughs]. I’ve heard people talking about how rock and metal feels like it’s making a comeback maybe, because people are so fucking over the formula of pop music and DJs and shit that are out right now. But I don’t know. I guess we’ll see.
I know there’s this huge come-up of vintage metal T-shirts being worn by people that have no business wearing those T-shirts. Maybe that’s helping the comeback [laughs]. Who knows? If so, please Kardashians, keep wearing those fucking Slayer T-shirts.
I understand before you joined a Day to Remember you were set on becoming a history teacher, which is pretty rad because that was my favorite subject in school as well. Do you ever wonder how different your life would have been like if you had went down that path?
Oh man, I always say it people. People are always like, “Did you have a back-up plan?” Everyone and their mom in music right now that gets asked that question is like, “No, man. This was always the plan. I was always either going to do this or fucking fail.” It’s like, all right. Well, what would you have done if you failed? And they never have an answer.
But yeah, that was literally what I was going to do. I was going to be a history teacher. My history teachers were always really cool in high school, and I think that was why I wanted to do that. Number one, history is fucking cool, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that.
It was always on my mind to do that. It’s not like I had a burning passion to be a history teacher. I just thought it would be something cool to get into and show younger kids that this stuff matters too, not just what Kanye West is putting out or whatever.
What is your favorite period of history?
I always liked Native American history. That was always interesting. Word War II was super interesting to me. Word War II was such a big subject in my high school history class and my teacher was always really cool about it.
So as you’ve been talking about, this album has breathed kind of a new life into the band and seems like it was necessary for you to make and put out here in 2016. How do you think Bad Vibrations represents the present and future for A Day to Remember?
Well, presently it’s the best collection of songs we think we came up with. Hopefully, our fans like it. Hopefully, everyone likes the new sound, too. We kind of got that vibe that everything in the scene was becoming so digitalized and everything so fake that it was time to make a change and go more raw sounding. So that was a conscious decision, and also why we went with who we went with and who mixed our album.
Andy Wallace mixed our album and he’s a fucking legend. That dude has sold like, I don’t know, 800 million albums or something like that. We were like, “The guy who did all the Rage Against the Machine albums. It would be so cool to get him to mix it.” Everyone was like, “No, you could never get him. He’s retired and only does albums that he likes.” We were like, “Fuck!” But we sent him “Paranoia” and another song, and he was like, “Yeah, I’ll do the whole record.” We were like, “What?!”
It was awesome watching him work because he has no outboard gear. He doesn’t sample everything like everyone else does. Usually a band will mix an album on their MacBook, and they will send it to a mixer and the mixer will replace all the sounds on the record. He’ll reamp their guitars, he’ll resample the drum snares and tom cymbals, so then it’s not their recording anymore. Literally, it sounds completely different than what they just recorded.
We were like, “Nah, let’s go back to the old school way, because the old Metallica records sound way better than anything that’s coming out now. Let’s try it that way, where you actually have to get a good take and you can’t go into the computer and make that take good. You have to actually feel that take.” So that’s what we did. I think that might be something we carry on into the future too, where we keep the feel alive as well.