By Alexander Sievers
Flashback about a decade when musical elitists would cast some serious shade on younger post-hardcore/metalcore bands with lines like “All these bands right now, they’ll be gone in a year or two”, or “These bands will never make it”. Well, a lot of those bands did actually make it, and they’re still going strong, still doing what they love. One such band that copped said flack was blessthefall (lower case ‘b’ always), yet they’ve remained unwavering for years, and on September 18th, they’ll be dropping their fifth album. I recently spoke with blessthefall’s ever-cheery frontman, Beau Bokan, to chat about their new record, To Those Left Behind.
In the world of this Arizona metalcore quintet, they’re about to follow up 2013’s commercially and critically well-received Hollow Bodies with To Those Left Behind; 11 songs of what they do best; the fast and the heavy merged with soft and soaring.
“It’s hard when you reinvent your sound to figure out what’s the natural next step,” states Bokan. “So we are all stoked on our sound now, and so everything had to improve for this album; the writing had to improve, the vocals had to improve, and I really think that we took it to the next level.”
That preceding record had Stick To Your Guns’ Jesse Barnett, August Burns Red’s Jake Luhrs, as well as Bokan’s own wife, Canadian singer Lights, all feature as guest vocalists. But while no friends or spouses could appear on this record, Bokan happily shared with me who the band had in mind for such parts.
“We were talking about having Jason from letlive. as he’s a good friend of mine, and Lindsay from PVRIS, but the timing wasn’t working out for both of them. Jason was working on his band’s album, and Lindsay was going back and forth between Europe. But as for those two friends, I would love to work with them in the future.”
For this record and their last, blessthefall worked producer Joey Sturgis (Emmure, Miss May I and many others), and my question to the singer was ‘How much difference do you think the right producer can make for a band’s album?’
“Joey took what we were doing, magnified and turned it into a monster, and I think that’s what we need as a band. We had it in us, and when you see us live I feel like we come across as huge sound wise, so we want our records to sound the same way. There are so many producers who are modeling themselves after what he does – he’s a genius.” Bokan continues, “We also worked with a writer named Erik Ron, and we focused on vocals and the melodies. I felt like he really pushed me to my absolute limit and really find a different sound as a singer. We were co-writing melodies to the music after it had been written, which is the first time I’ve ever worked with someone else on the vocal melodies.”
Perhaps the most identifiable aspect of blessthefall remaining relevant and current is that they can combine so many elements of metal with pop-punk and rock, and even further still with moments of synth and electronica resembling a strong pop aesthetic. Bokan agreed, and also revealed to me a little of the band’s balancing act when writing a new album.
“We really scrutinize every little part of every song that we write, and we’re influenced by so many different genres of music. R&B, pop-punk, metal, electronic music; all of which really help influence our sound. The hard part is making a record that’s different enough to be interesting, but at the same time not confusing or sound like we have an identity crisis. It’s definitely a tightrope to balance, but I think the fans and listeners in general appreciate that it’s not just 11 metal songs, or just 11 pop songs.”
With having a child and a wife to now worry about while on tour, this has really changed how Bokan sees his band-life now. No song on the new album deals with the most then on the final song, Departures, a touching ode to his family, and he tells me it has really changed his life outlook.
“It puts it all into perspective, and it makes those little things that were once a big deal not a big deal anymore. My wife, my daughter, my family, they all come first. If something f*cks up or something goes wrong on the road, it just doesn’t have the same affect on me as it used to. It’s hard to be gone from her for so long, and to make it a work is going to be a careful balance, especially as she grows older and starts realising I’m gone. Being away from them actually helped with the lyric writing for this record, as I’d go on tour and I’d be so bummed out, as I just wanted to get home. That actually helped with the somber songs and the writing in general.”
He shares some heartfelt insight to when he first found out he would be a father.
“I remember when I found out we were having her, I was on-stage and all I’m thinking is, ‘I’m a dad, holy shit, this is crazy’. When she came out to one of our shows in Toronto, I looked over and she was waving her hands and bouncing around. She can only say a few words, but she looked so excited to watch us all jump around like crazy monkey’s”, laughs Bokan.
There aren’t a whole lot of bands, or human beings in general who can have that kind of feeling, and it’s always great to see someone who doesn’t take a second of his band or family for granted.
To Those Left Behind is out on 18 September via Fearless Records/Unified.