Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley on daring himself to make ‘Radical’
In addition to the pause between albums, Radical also follows a series of significant life changes for ETID singer Keith Buckley. In the years following Low Teens, Buckley went through a process of reevaluating his life and his goals.
The end result marked a major turning point for Buckley, leading to a healthier, more optimistic attitude to life. It also deeply marked the new record, bringing a fresh musical approach to the project. Radical pushes stylistic limits for the band and also reworks their signature perspective into a wiser, more holistic worldview.
Ahead of the record, Alternative Press connected with Buckley. During our interview, Buckley detailed the themes of the new record and spoke to the life changes that reshaped his perspective. He also revealed why he’s embraced livestreaming, how he’s responding to the trying political circumstances in the U.S. and why he’s calling the new record “uplifting.”
I know this album has a personal perspective as well as a kind of broader social significance. What were you going for with the album?
I dared myself to make some drastic changes in my life. During the pandemic, everything just came to a head. The thing is, we were already done writing and recording the record. The pandemic didn’t actually influence the record at all, but it did influence the way that the record lives. Songs like “Post-Boredom” came to have a new meaning after the pandemic. Songs like “Dark Distance” look a little strange now in hindsight, considering it was written before the pandemic, asking for a plague to happen.
These songs are about fears that I had and things that I needed to manifest or else I didn’t feel like I would be living a fulfilling life. I endured the pandemic, during which I realized that my life really needed to change. I was like, “Something is wrong.” I made a quote-unquote radical change in my life, and I decided to find my own truth, embrace it and then just live according to it.
It became a very radical period of life for me again, not just writing the album, but living in a world where the album exists. I think it will apply to a lot of people. If they can’t personally connect to it, then they will be able to connect to it on a social level. This is more about humanism and spirituality than it is about politics. Politics is how these humanistic ideas manifest, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the core truth of it.
It’s interesting you mention politics. I don’t think of you as a quote-unquote political band, but you also bring a really worldly perspective to your music.
I’ve been very cautious not to step into a political role as far as my platform. I’m very thankful for even the fact that Every Time I Die is still around making records. Don’t understand it. I’m not going to look too far into the mystery. I’m just going to accept it and be thankful. I’ve been very careful because I do understand my outreach. I do know that if I tweet, there’s a possibility of up to a hundred thousand people reading. That’s dangerous if you’re a sociopath. But I’m not. I’m interested in helping people that might have had a similar situation that I had or are currently in a situation I was in where you just don’t feel like the quality of your relationships is any good.
Not that this is necessarily a place to help people, but I believe every place can. I’m never going to go with “You need to do this,” but I know it works for me. I do think that it was these radical changes in the world, but they coincidentally aligned with these radical changes inside of myself. I know it’s a very divisive time, but again, these songs, even “Planet Shit,” which is an outright angry political song, is not really angry. It’s an angry song as a human being who hates being taken advantage of and lied to. But what human being likes being taken advantage of and lied to? Even if you’re across the aisle, you’ll still understand how that feels.
There are bad people, and you definitely have to learn how to treat them accordingly. It is important to keep in mind that they have been fucking ruined by a larger, more formidable enemy, which is the government. There are so many similarities in the way that people feel. Everyone is distrustful of the higher power right now in the world. The reason you distrust the higher power is because you distrust yourself. We really need to focus on why we’re doing these things like the Capitol riot. “Planet Shit” is about the Capitol riot that hadn’t happened yet. When that came out in the news, it was a MAGA riot. That was unintentional. I was only writing about the idea of a riot and a revolution long before the Capitol one happened.
The other thing you bring up is humanism. It’s a topic that really interests me. What do you mean by it?
I think that at this point, both kinds of people in America have reached their logical conclusions. It’s just a difference of presentation. They’re both cruel, but one party has become very proud of their cruelty, while another party is very ashamed of their cruelty. You’re going to see a lot of negativity, and it’s going to be very easy to bring all that into you. But when you turn around and face inward and look at your family, pets or anything that’s important to you that you truly love. When you are alone and nobody’s looking, those things that really connect are still there. Even the worst Orson Welles still has his rosebud. There’s always that child inside of you that has been forgotten, corrupted, ignored or abused.
Like, “OK, I know you’re all fucked up, and now you’re on a fucking YouTube channel where you’re espousing COVID cures.” Somewhere along the way, you got fucking twisted but had the right idea to begin with because I don’t trust them either. You know, why don’t I trust them? Because I don’t trust myself. Let’s dial it back, and let’s learn who I am and how to trust myself, and then let’s go forward. I’m in the process of doing that. I think that’s a journey that people who care about Every Time I Die are strong enough to take. My goal is to talk to the people that I’ve already been talking to, but talk to them in a different way and inspire them to change themselves so that they can change other things.
I just want to see if there is some energy here that can be harnessed and actually put out into the world. In our community, there are people that we all agree on as people who we can trust. There have been bands that have been around forever, and as you’ve read all about them and watched them grow, you know that they’re trustworthy people. I’m not trying to enact necessarily any social change, but I would be an idiot if I didn’t recognize that possibility. My songs were calling out to people that didn’t value themselves and bringing them in. Let’s start valuing ourselves, and then let’s see what happens.
I also saw you describe this record as “uplifting.” I think that’s an interesting comment, especially since when I was younger, I was really drawn to the cynicism and gallows humor of ETID.
I think my outlook on the album itself would have changed had my personal outcomes not been what they were. The album itself was me writing in order to manifest better things. I was very present in Radical. There’s a lot more humor in it than there was in Low Teens because I was in a better mood. Had I written it when I separated from my marriage—had that whole situation not worked out so incredibly for me—I would have said that that record was about a very different thing. I would have said that it was stupidly hopeful and that I actually believe that there could be a better life out there. Lo and behold, there wasn’t.
Now that I’m looking back on that part of my life, I can say it’s an uplifting, hopeful record because that person that wrote that record took enormous leaps of faith. I know he did. I was that person. I’m proud of him. I think he did all the right things. That past version of me was setting this version up, and I’m extremely thankful for it. Now, I can read that as someone who came out of a terrible situation on the other side. I can look back at Radical and say, “Yeah, this is a very uplifting record because it worked.”
I think the evidence is also in your music. ETID have always been a musically broad group, but I really feel like this record pushes the envelope in a new way.
Honestly, it did feel very much to me with the state of the world, I don’t know if there’s going to be another chance to take chances. Who knows if there’s going to be another ETID record? If there’s another four years between this and the next one like there was between Low Teens and Radical, I’m going to be in my mid-40s. What is life going to look like for me then?
I didn’t know what that looked like because I had never made a leap of faith like that. You don’t see beyond leaps of faith. That’s the point of them. You’re supposed to take them even when they’re uncertain. I can’t speak for the other guys in the band, but I think that they challenge themselves for whatever reason, and it lined up perfectly. It’s a mystery that I don’t believe I will ever solve, so I can only be thankful for it.
I know for a lot of artists, COVID shut down their creativity, while many others thrived. You’ve been really active as a streamer, doing all kinds of interesting stuff. I think your approach to streaming really provides an interesting alternative to some of the things that are maybe not so great about streaming, gaming and the like.
That’s a good question. I just knew that at one point I was going to have to do everything differently. I had to admit that nothing worked out for me. One of the first things I realized was that I really liked who I was when I was drunk. That’s a very strange thing to say for a lot of people because there’s such negative connotations to it. But I always felt like my day-to-day was so overrun by other people’s shit, their energy, their words, their requests, their needs. Drinking just helped center me and get me back to my own vibe. I was like, “OK, that’s a feeling that I cherish. What do I need to do to get to that without drinking?” I stopped drinking, and then I really just chased it like, “What do I love, and what don’t I love?”
The cool thing about the pandemic was clocks didn’t matter. Daylight didn’t matter. It was a perfect chance to just sit and be with yourself and understand how you worked. I actually liked being that vulnerable person that I was when I was drunk. Why don’t I just be vulnerable all the time? So I’ll stream, and I’ll do a Patreon where there’s literally a camera in my house. How much more vulnerable could I get?
It works well because, aside from being a social experiment in vulnerability, it is also a way that I found to make it financially stable to where I don’t have to actually go get a job and risk my health or my daughter’s health. I could stay here surrounded by the people I love. I could be vulnerable as long as I want to, and then if I feel like I’m starting to get uncomfortable, I can just shut it down. I’m learning how to be truthful in what I say and making sure that if I am vulnerable, I don’t mentally check everything that I’m saying.
I just speak from my heart. What sort of things are coming out? Some funny things, some nice things, some good things. Never a fucking racist thing, that’s for sure. These people, they’re like, “Oh, just a heated gaming moment!” No dude, that shouldn’t be in there. That’s the fucking problem. Talk about Twitch streaming. You have people like Ninja. He’s a role model for a lot of children. He actually comes out and says he won’t game with women because of the trolling they’re going to get. OK, great. Nice work protecting them from your own fans. But what is wrong with your fucking fans? Why are you not allowed to bring a woman on because they’re going to make fun of her? That’s a toxic fanbase.
Who am I going to invite? Well, invite the people who come to Every Time I Die shows because they’re not toxic. Let’s start there. I’m going to be playing video games, and then the people come, and they’re great. Now we have a fucking awesome community, and now they’re spreading. They’re telling people about this community that exists even when shows don’t. It’s become a really healthy placeholder for shows. If I can’t give everything onstage, then I might just give everything from this chair. You know, I could very carefully manicure a bunch of interview questions for you, but that’s not true if I do that. I’m just going to talk and trust that if I just talk, nothing really awful is going to come out because I don’t really have awful thoughts about stuff like that.