Let’s face it: these days, the aggressive music subculture is more heavily segmented than ever before. Kids aren’t just into punk or hardcore, they’re into metalcore, screamo, crabcore … the list goes on and on. Standing stridently at the center of this saturated scene is A Day to Remember, a band who has successfully managed to sound metalcore, pop punk, emo, and post-hardcore at the same time without paying much attention to what everyone is doing. This process, which has gone on for the past eight years, recently culminated with the release of a fourth studio album, What Separates Me From You.
“A lot of bands today are put together and have people who write songs for them, so there’s no story behind the band. I’m sure they’ve had life experiences but they don’t write about it,” says guitarist Kevin Skaff when asked why so many fans have gravitated to A Day to Remember’s music (What Separates Me From You debuted at number 11 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling more than 58,000 copies in the first week of its release last November). “I think kids like our music because we’ve been through so much as a band and we talk about both the hardships of the road and the fun stuff, so there are a lot of different aspects of our music that anyone can relate to.”
Glancing at an upcoming itinerary that includes main stage appearances on the Vans Warped Tour and Bamboozle festivals, it must seem pretty breezy to be a member of A Day to Remember right now. Hell, while they were on tour last year the band flew out tattoo artist Craig Beasley (of Monument Tattoos in Tallahassee, FL) for two weeks so he could tattoo sleeves on Skaff, vocalist and guitarist Jeremy McKinnon, and drummer Alex Shelnutt as well as a chest piece on guitarist Neil Westfall. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the members of A Day to Remember, which also features bassist Joshua Woodard, spent their formative years touring in vans, sleeping on floors, and trying to figure out how to get their music out to prospective fans.
“I remember going to band practice and telling the guys we needed to put our music up on the internet, and half of us agreed and the other half were more interested in sending demos to labels and trying to get signed,” Westfall recalls with a laugh when asked how things have changed since the act’s early days. “I was 15 years old when I joined this band and I’m 23 now, so I think the fact we started out so young and spent all that time touring in a van and making that cult following at the lowest level is why a lot of our fans have stuck around and continued to support us.”
Recorded in the band’s hometown of Ocala, FL, and produced by Andrew Wade and New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert (both of whom also worked with the band on 2009’s Homesick), What Separates Me From You sees A Day to Remember stepping up their aggressive and melodic tendencies. During songs like “Sticks & Bricks,” the listener feels like he’s in a prison at one moment and surfing the crest of a soaring pop anthem the next.
“I think we’re really proud of the new CD because we really wanted it to sound pissed-off and convey those types of emotions, and I think that really comes across on these songs,” Westfall says. “We wanted to write something that felt really real and raw.”
Speaking of raw, when asked if the band has any memorable tattoo stories, Skaff harks back to the aforementioned experience last year when Beasley was trying to ink mind-boggling amounts of limbs during a two-week-long session on the road. “We were in San Diego playing at Soma, and I decided to get tattooed right before playing a show because that was the only time I had available,” he recalls. “So I sat for six hours and got inked from my shoulder down to the middle portion of my forearm. We got the outline and half the shading done, and then [Beasley] put Vaseline all over it, cleaned it off, and I played a show.” While Skaff says he was running so high on adrenaline during the gig he didn’t feel the pain, he admits he definitely felt something after the show. When asked if he recommends this experience to anyone else he says, “absolutely not,” with a laugh.
Westfall, who is such a hardcore Blink-182 fan that he proudly sports the band’s name across his knuckles, has a similar anecdote about getting tattooed on the 2009 Vans Warped Tour. “We were in San Francisco and Oliver Peck was out tattooing, but he was really booked up so I came up to him and told him what I wanted and he said, ‘Maybe I can fit you in now.’ He drew up a gypsy head with a nurse hat and a banner that said Mom because my mom’s a nurse. He had a dollar-sized tattoo designed and tattooed on my left leg in less than an hour,” Westfall says, almost as if he can’t believe it himself. “I’d say it was pretty insane.”
When A Day to Remember is back home, the guys frequent shops like Ocala Tattoo & Piercing and Crawling Panther Tattoo, as well as Beasley’s shop, but spending free time in Florida hasn’t been a common occurrence lately. “We chose to tour this much because that’s really the reason we wanted to be in a band to begin with,” Skaff says. “We didn’t get into this to make music videos and win awards and be millionaires. We just wanted to play shows, have a good time with people, and form a connection.”
Having performed alongside everyone from death-metal-influenced acts like The Devil Wears Prada to pop-oriented icons like New Found Glory, A Day to Remember wears their individuality as a badge of honor. “Usually when we go on tour everyone either thinks we’re too heavy or we’re not heavy enough, but we think the fact that we don’t fit in amongst a bunch of people who don’t conform to regular society has helped us in the long run,” Skaff says, adding that the band would rather burn out than stagnate.
“You either learn to swim or drown,” Skaff summarizes when asked how A Day to Remember has remained so driven for nearly a decade. “If you don’t keep up you’re going to get left behind because the world’s not going to wait for you.”