By Andy Mesecher
Eight years ago, a band from Ocala, FL was given an ultimatum: be pop-punk, or be hardcore… just don’t be both. The Florida natives gave the middle finger to conformity and have since created a global underground network of fans itching for pop-punk choruses layered with hardcore breakdowns. That band is A Day To Remember (ADTR).
Within the last five years, ADTR have sold over 800,000 records worldwide and have toured the U.S., U.K., Australia Mexico, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, France, Italy and Japan. They have created a niche market by paving their own road, DIY style.
To learn more, MC sat down with frontman Jeremy McKinnon and guitarist Kevin Skaff––before they embarked on their current U.S. tour––to discuss the hurdles of genre mashing, their newest record and the “death of the live performance.”
Music Connection: Take us back to your creative flashpoint. How did ADTR’s fusion of pop-punk and hardcore originate?
Jeremy McKinnon: We were a local band in Ocala (Florida) for like two years. Ocala was pretty much a hardcore scene, so that kind of made our band what it is. We all wanted to be in a pop-punk band at the same time, so we just kind of played both, and in order to go over well [in Ocala] you had to be at least part of a hardcore band, so that's what we did and it worked. We made our own little five-song EPs, we got them pressed. We made about 2,000 copies and passed them out in Ocala and South Florida.
MC: Then you branched out with a DIY tour, followed by a record release through indie label Indianola Records. Can you discuss how that signing came to fruition?
McKinnon: Indianola Records had heard some of our songs from another band we were friends with that was [already signed to Indianola]. Then the label got in contact with us. They helped us get our start. They were our foot in the door and we toured on that record, and then we eventually found Victory Records.
MC: Indianola has had quite a list of underground bands throughout the years (Glory of This, Odd Project, Evergreen Terrace, Life in Your Way), but none really connected the way A Day To Remember has. Is there a secret to your success?
McKinnon: There's no secret. I think our band just connects with people and a lot of [bands] don't have the ability to do that. I don't know why that is. We write songs about everyday stuff, and it's really personal stuff. People come to us all the time and say these songs really help them out. We always have this outgoing attitude in public and it's really personable for kids. But I dunno, things just worked out for us. I don't know why, they just did.
MC: Is it true that your record deal with Victory began through AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)?
McKinnon: Yes. We were trying out a new drummer and he was terrible, but the one good thing that came from him was when he said, "Hey, I know this guy, Double J, from Victory Records, this is his contact info." [Our bassist] Josh didn't really believe him. So Josh hit up Double J—who was the art director at Victory—and he began talking to Double J for about a year, sending him stuff back and forth.
MC: How did Victory approach you after that?
McKinnon: We went on tour with a band called On the Last Day, who had just signed to Victory, and we met up with them in Chicago. Victory came to the show and filmed us playing. Later they had us up to their office for a showcase. We played in front of everyone, then when we came home we had a message on our voicemail saying that the label wanted to sign our band.
MC: Kevin, being the newest member to the team, how did the opportunity occur to join ADTR?
Kevin Skaff: I was given the opportunity because I had a passport, more or less. I knew the guys from a couple shows back in the day. They played a hometown show of mine and I just kind of hit up Josh and was like "Yo I hear you guys need a fill-in." ... and he's like "Yeah dude, you'd have to learn 15 songs overnight. Is that cool?" ... I showed up the next day, stayed up all night and learned the songs and it all just kind of snowballed from there.
MC: With the band’s combination of pop-punk and hardcore, were there any songwriting challenges when you first joined? Or was it a smooth transition?
Skaff: It was a pretty smooth transition because I used to write a lot of weird indie / hardcore / screamo stuff. And it was kind of easier because it's more of the musical background that I grew up listening to. I listened to Blink-182 and metal bands from the local scene. And Jeremy makes it really easy by being a leader with all the songwriting.
MC: When it comes down to it, how exactly does the songwriting process work in ADTR?
Skaff: It usually starts with Jeremy coming up with vocal melodies and backing guitar chords, or a chorus or something, and then we just kind of take it from there with acoustic guitars. We write as much of the song as possible and then we usually try to bring it in full band, and kind of jam out the rest of it.
MC: Was the newest record (What Separates Me From You) any different?
Skaff: On this record we had a pre-production with Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory and Tom (Denney), our old guitar player.
MC: Tom specifically helped write on this album?
Skaff: Yeah he did, definitely.
MC: What was the reasoning for bringing Chad Gilbert back as your producer for the newest record?
McKinnon: I'm a huge fan of teams. I'm not the kind of person that's going to put together a record and go to some random guy to record it. [The whole team] worked really well on Homesick and I wasn't interested in changing that. We put together pretty much the exact same team for (What Separates Me From You), we just got to add Kevin Skaff and he's been an incredible part of the team now. So we've had everything we had last time plus another really great writer. I'm always down to add more people to our team, it's just all gotta feel the same. It needs to feel like A Day To Remember and I think these last two records really are what A Day To Remember is about.
MC: Speaking of the newest record, "All I Want" was chosen as the first single; was that a decision made by the band or the label?
McKinnon: We came up with that. It just felt right at the time when we were going into the studio. It was an upbeat song, kind of had both vibes, you know? It showed our heavier, darker side and was poppy at the same time, so it just kind of made sense for it to be the first single because it needed to be something that meets in the middle so people aren't completely turned off on both sides of the fence, right off the bat.
MC: Does being pop-punk and hardcore make putting a record together more difficult?
McKinnon: A Day To Remember isn't as easy as just throwing out the best song on the record, because you have to keep in mind that the people that like heavy music––especially since our band is doing so well––they're really easy to sway in a negative direction if it's presented the wrong way. We need to take care of those fans and make sure they know that [being heavy] is still a part of our band and that's still something we're thinking about constantly.
MC: The video for "All I Want" has several cameos (from Andrew W.K. to Tim of As I Lay Dying). Mike of The Devil Wears Prada was featured in a single from your previous record; and Jeremy, you were also featured in a single for Pierce the Veil. How do all these cameos come about?
McKinnon: They're either friends of ours that we've toured with or people that have really influenced our band that we really love as musicians. ("All I Want") is about being in a band and taking a chance, even though being in the music industry isn't that realistic these days, especially if you're trying to make a living for yourself. It's about taking that chance regardless of what obstacles you have before you and just doing what you do. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn't... it doesn't. The song's just about being a musician in general.
MC: Homesick was announced by Alternative Press as "One Of The Most Anticipated Records of 2009" and now with the release of What Separates Me From You, MTV has announced ADTR as an "Artist To Watch in 2011." What's it like to have this kind of media attention rolling in album after album?
McKinnon: It's awesome. To be honest with you, this isn't supposed to happen. We're not a band that got together when we were younger and said, "Hey, let's be in a huge band and be successful." We put together music that we wanted to play, and like I said, it didn't even make sense: we played pop-punk and threw breakdowns in the middle of these songs so people in Ocala would take us seriously. That's where we came from––it didn't make sense. Then out of nowhere people really caught on to what we were doing. It made us happy and it's awesome that people are catching on these days. Like you said, the AP thing in 2008 was great and MTV giving us the Artist To Watch, it's amazing... we're just kids from a really small town that had awesome things happen to them and we're just kind of riding the wave.
MC: You've toured the U.S., Europe, Australia, all over. What would you say the biggest difference is touring on the other side of the Atlantic?
Skaff: I feel like America is overcrowded with touring bands and (overseas) they just don't get as many shows. So when there is a good show coming through, they just go off that much harder because they’re not used to going to shows twice a week. They go like once a month, and when they do, they go off hard and it's awesome. And I’m not saying that America isn't great at shows, because it's definitely insane over here. They’re just exposed to a lot more of it here in America.
MC: Scuba diving crowd surfers, shirt cannons, teleportation skits... these are all things you've done at your live shows. How important is it to put on a good show when ADTR is drawing in such a large underground fan base?
McKinnon: This is one of the biggest things in our band and this is what I want to be remembered for. From here on out, A Day To Remember will be a band that you will know puts on a show and doesn’t just play their music. That's a big thing for me. You see all these shows from the ‘80s, all these arena production shows, that's fucking awesome man. I really think music lost touch with that show vibe, especially in the scene we came from. It doesn't exist anymore. I want to be the band that brings that back. And to be honest with you, that's already starting to happen which is really cool. We started doing the stuff last year and I’ve already seen some people talk about how they're going to do really big production stuff in smaller rooms, and I think that's really fucking awesome. That’s what's missing right now in music.
MC: What’s the standard you see at shows today?
McKinnon: People for the last 10 years––in this genre especially––have just gotten to a certain level and then it's just a backdrop and some scrims and they just switch it out every tour. I don't understand that mentality. Everybody is always pushing, always working to the next level or to do more for their fans, why the hell would you stop when you're at the biggest point you've ever been? That's the way I've always looked at it. This band will always invest in itself, we're always going to invest in our fans and make sure they have a good time. Our “A” market this year in the United States is the biggest thing we've ever done, mark my words.
MC: Jeremy, you and Josh (Woodard) started Running Man records. What was the reason for this label creation, and is it open to all submissions?
McKinnon: Yeah, absolutely. We're always looking for new bands and it's just really hard to find them. Bands that I'm really stoked on. I've found a few of them but things didn't work out. We're really happy with Veara. They're a great band and I produced that record and the guy we always work with who is pretty much a sixth member in ADTR, Andrew Wade, recorded it.
We created (the label) because I'm really interested in producing records and we're also interested in the whole label sort of thing, the business side of music. It just made sense to try to do our own thing. It's all about the next band, though. We're always looking for the next band [to sign]. We've been looking for a year. I CAN'T FIND YOU!
MC: What's next for ADTR?
McKinnon: Quite honestly, man, I don't know what to expect from A Day To Remember. It's always evolving. We're gonna keep touring, we're going to keep doing absolutely retarded shit. We're always going to put on a show and do fun things the crowd can interact with. We're going to keep writing. We're going to put out another record. We're going to play shows that are awesome to watch.
MC: Any last words for bands on their way up, or still working the underground scene?
Skaff: Don't talk shit behind people's backs (laughs).
McKinnon: Just be good people to everyone you meet and good things will work out for you. That's what we've done and look what we did, so there you go!