There are a lot of things about Every Time I Die that could be described as "radical."
For 20 years, the Buffalo, New York, metalcore band have been snorting their genre's boundary lines and making singular records that writhe between the angry catharsis of hardcore and the winking chaos of sludgy Southern rock. They're fronted by the transfixing and whip-smart Keith Buckley, a Jesus-lookin' fellow who howls like a hopped-up Baptist preacher delivering his sermon with his fists in the air and his eyes clamped shut to keep the sweat from pouring in.
Their raucous music and oozing swagger accounts for them being radical in the 1980s skater-slang sense, but they've also always been political, whether in Buckley's literate musings about mankind's foibles and failings, or their choice to use a photo of one of their fans being arrested at a protest on the cover of their 2012 record, Ex Lives.
Radical, their first album in a long five years, features what's possibly their most pointed political song yet — a call to brick-throwing action that pleads for the guillotine to decapitate the ghouls at the helm of "Planet Shit." The type of radical that'll get you banned from the platform if you quote Buckley's lyrics in your Instagram caption.
On a more personal front, the moniker of Every Time I Die's new record reflects the revolutionary changes in Buckley's life since the band's last LP, 2016's raw and harrowing Low Teens.
If you didn't think the temperature of the now 42-year-old's life could drop any lower than the circumstances that bore Low Teens — his ex-wife enduring pregnancy complications that nearly killed both her and their daughter, and a subsequent recovery that some doctors have described as "miraculous" — well, then you've never felt the bitter winds of a Western New York winter.
In the throes of nihilism, substance abuse, a noxious marriage and an isolating pandemic that only exacerbated all of Buckley's formidable misfortunes, one of the genre's liveliest and most universally beloved figureheads was on the brink of accepting death as his only release. The type of subterranean rock bottom that yields lines like, "You got it bad? Try having passion, try still believing that some good will happen/Though nothing ever has/And nothing ever will/Because nothing ever can," a particularly bleak passage from Radical's standout sixth track, "Desperate Pleasures."
Spoiler: The hero lives. But the last half-decade of Buckley's life that Radical chronicles — spiritually dying only to be resuscitated, then rejuvenated and finally built back stronger than ever — really begins at the start of it all. Buckley's unique upbringing in Western New York, the trajectory of his life throughout his teens and twenties, and how he lost himself in his thirties only to rediscover his purpose just when he thought all hope was already in the rearview. This is Keith Buckley's life story.
WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
KEITH BUCKLEY I was born in Kingston, New York, in 1979 at Rhinebeck Hospital.
BESIDES YOUR BROTHER JORDAN, WHO'S IN EVERY TIME I DIE WITH YOU, YOU HAD A LITTLE SISTER, RIGHT?
My brother was born in 1981 ... and then my sister was born in 1985, her name is Jaclyn. She was born with a disability called Rett's disorder, but at the time it was so rare that they didn't know what it was. I think we started to notice that something was different with Jaclyn when she started not hitting milestones that children should hit.
I don't really remember any events making me feel any type of way until I was already living in Buffalo, so I was five at that point. That's when I remember my parents talking to me about it ... they basically said, "You're going to have to accept that you have a little sister that you can't play with — that's just a fact of life." I did feel like parenting came down to me a lot, and it was a role I took on, voluntarily and enthusiastically. I never felt like it was a burden. I liked looking out for people. That's just something I've always done.
WHAT ARE YOUR PARENTS LIKE?
My mom and my dad started dating very early on in their lives. They were high school sweethearts. My dad was the hippie-dippy rocker nerd. ... My dad was a computer programmer, but my mom was a hospice nurse who worked with dying patients. And it definitely felt like it was married perfectly to her life as my sister's caretaker. So, in one way or another, my mom and my sister were integrated in whatever my mom was doing, in nursing of whatever form. My dad is just all left brain, my mom's all right brain.
WHAT LED YOU TO YOUR INTEREST IN MUSIC?
I grew up understanding very early that empathy is a gift that I have, and it is not something that people are born with. Because of my life with Jaclyn, I feel like I developed a very keen sense of empathy, and that's what led me to punk rock and hardcore and the music and the outrage at social injustice attitude about it. I was very interested in politics when I was young. ... I was outraged at injustice. Living with a disabled sister, I understood the need to stand up for people that cannot. The hardcore scene was like it was waiting for me.
WHAT WAS YOUR HIGH-SCHOOL EXPERIENCE LIKE?
I played soccer in high school. I was an honor roll student and then at night I was skateboarding and going to hardcore shows and not drinking because we were vegan straight-edge, me and my crew. Vegan, straight-edge, living the life of a super confident, almost arrogant fucking teenager that thinks he's fucking invincible.
But using that invincibility to do good stuff, do you know what I mean? I'm not going to admit to any crimes in this interview, but really sticking it to the man, I will say, OK? We were doing good. It felt good.
SO, WHAT HAPPENED IMMEDIATELY AFTER HIGH-SCHOOL?
I moved away to Virginia Tech after I graduated high school. I went for political science because I wanted to be an environmental lawyer, to be honest. That was my ultimate goal. Now, when I got there, I was a kid from Buffalo, and I was in the thick of the south. So, I went there and I just fucking hated everything about it except for one class, which was about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
[The professor] got into the mythology of One Flew ... and I realized that I had a true love for mythology. I just loved any myth. Greek, Roman, Christian, it didn't matter. Religious ones especially, the more deities, the better for me. I fucking love the shit. So, I was like, well, I've always loved writing, maybe I can write my own myths.
So, I started taking writing pretty seriously. I had always fucked around with it, just bad, emo-kid shit. But I started taking it seriously at Virginia Tech, writing for grants, writing for contests, whatever, writing for publication entries, things like that. I was taking it seriously and I ended up getting two things published and I was like, Oh, this feels fucking great, this is it.
DID YOU END UP LEAVING VIRGINIA TECH?
After one semester. I hated it and I wanted to leave. And at the same time, I was being targeted by a professor who I could tell hated me specifically and I fucking hated him specifically. He ended up making this elaborate scheme about how I cheated on his final exam, because he said that there was no way I could have done as well as I did, because he knew that I never took his class seriously. And he wasn't wrong — I didn't. But I did ace the exam because he was a piece-of-shit teacher and I knew everything he was talking about.
He developed this elaborate ploy as to how I copied off somebody else and cheated, and he reported me to the administration. I just pulled the ripcord. I called my dad, I'm like, "I'm out of here. I don't even care what the court says." Because I had to go to a trial for it. So, my dad came to pick me up and we figured it out on the ride home. But looking back on it and the way that my life has played out, it was so absurd that it actually feels like a miracle, because I came home and started the band.
WERE YOU DOING ANYTHING ELSE WHILE THE BAND WAS PICKING UP?
I started going back to school at University of Buffalo for English, which was just my way of saying that I was going to take some courses so I could keep writing. And then I found out about a teaching institution — it was called Teaching Education Institute, and it was a program that guaranteed you a teaching certification in New York State for either primary or secondary education. So, I was like, well, maybe I could teach English in high school, that would be kind of cool. And then I could just write on the side, and I would be essentially working at getting credits towards my master's degree while I teach.
So, I ended up teaching at my old high school. I taught my English class, which was bizarre. And at the same time, the band is starting to do stuff. This is around 2001, so I was teaching during the day and I was moonlighting as a fucking hardcore vocalist. There was one time we got offered a show in California ... I had to have my friend who worked at a morgue — which means if you work in a morgue, you're a notary public. So, he wrote a letter saying that my relative had passed away. I gave it to my administration, and they allowed me to have Friday off. On Thursday after class, the band picked me up from my school and we drove straight to California to play that one show and then turned around, came right back. I swear to God, I think I maybe had a half hour from when I pulled up to when I had to be in class.
AS A TEENAGER YOU'RE STRAIGHT-EDGE, VEGAN, SUPER POLITICAL AND WELL-READ. HOW DO THOSE ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE SHIFT OR BECOME MORE ENHANCED THROUGHOUT YOUR TWENTIES AS THE BAND BECOMES YOUR CAREER?
I had a confidence very early on that wasn't narcissism and it wasn't vanity. It was just a confidence that, like, I knew who the good people were and I knew how to talk to them. So anywhere I went, I just had to put on my Spidey senses and find the good people. And luckily in the music scene, it's almost all good people — there are a lot of bad people and they'll make me feel a very different way, but I know how the good people make me feel.
I was just doing what I felt was right. And I was thankful that I happened to be a good person whose moral compass was pretty aligned. But then through touring, I lost that sometimes. And then I forgot my purpose and I forgot my moral compass and back and forth, the pendulum swung. [As touring] picked up steam [and the band] became bigger and bigger, inversely proportionate to that was how fucking miserable I was. Because my truth compass, my compass that found the good people was shattered. And I was just surrounded by people — I had no idea how to read a room, how to read anything, how to read anybody.
WHY DID YOU LOSE THAT COMPASS?
Alcohol was a lot of it. People were happy, they were coming to Every Time I Die shows, nobody was getting hurt, the community that was starting to build on it at the time was very positive, it was accepting of any race, gender, creed. Every Time I Die shows were therapeutic for me and it was all going great. And I just couldn't figure out why I was so fucking depressed, and then I just kept drinking.
And I know people say that they get depressed, so they drink and then they get more depressed, but that wasn't the case for me. I would get really depressed and then I'd drink and then I'd be happy. I got into a cycle where I wasn't necessarily trying to kill myself, I think I was actually trying to get back in touch with myself. Trying to find whatever vibration the alcohol put me into. It helped me realize that that vibration matched the times when I was most happiest in my life. So that led me up to my thirties, and then in 2009 I got married and everything fucking changed.
I married a woman I met when I was, like, 13. Throughout our lives, we dated on and off here and there. It was the codependent teenager vibe of we're always fighting, always breaking up, always getting back together sort of thing. Just kind of toxic. So, what do you do? You get married. At first, I was like, OK, well this is it. I'm a guy in a band who lives in Buffalo, who is always at the same bar on the same night of the week. Cool guy, but "what the fuck is he still doing at this bar?" kind of vibe.
So, I tried to really fall into that role of the local kid that almost made good. And that's very much how I was treated by my wife at the time, and the people that were saying they were my friends. So, I lived with that for a very long time, and it involved a lot of bad decisions, a lot of really dangerous partying stuff. Just stupid, stupid things. The kind of things that you would expect a teenager do, except when I was a teenager, I was straight-edge.
So, anyways … I'm writing books and I'm interviewing with Comedy Central. And I'm by all accounts doing well, I'm succeeding, but I just felt like every day I stepped out into the world, it was balancing on a fucking toothpick. Like, OK, I know that I shouldn't worry, but why do I feel like everything is just going to fall down at any second? That really, really came to a head during the pandemic.
I was like, what is going on in my life? How has it come to, I'm stranded in a house that I bought that I don't even like in a neighborhood where I don't know the fucking neighbors. The house is emotionally frigid, psychically toxic, I'm drinking way too much for someone that has to be up at 7 a.m. to do workbooks with their daughter. Where the fuck am I?
SO, WHAT DID YOU DO?
First, I left my wife. I just wrote a letter and then I said I was taking my kid for donuts and I never went back. Eventually, my daughter did, but I wasn't leaving that family. I was taking my child with me because we were going to do something, and then it's just been a fucking typhoon ever since, and it's been amazing.
BACKING UP A BIT. YOUR 2016 ALBUM, LOW TEENS, WAS ABOUT YOUR EX-WIFE'S PREGNANCY COMPLICATIONS THAT ALMOST KILLED HER AND YOUR DAUGHTER. WHAT HAPPENED IN THE AFTERMATH OF YOUR DAUGHTER'S BIRTH?
I was like, OK, I've got to sober up. That was the first time that I had really, really gotten sober in my life, when my daughter was born in 2015. And a lot of things started falling apart, a lot of relationships started falling apart. I was like, holy shit, these things were kept together by alcohol. The first thing I went to was spirituality, just because I've always had a relationship with my sister who was nonverbal. OK, so she's not verbal when she's in front of me, now she's not in front of me. Why can't we still be nonverbal? I just feel like she and I have a connection.
YOUR SISTER PASSED IN THIS TIME PERIOD, TOO, RIGHT?
Yeah, my sister passed away in 2016. She was 35. It was one of those things where it was just something that we had kind of accepted long before the fact, because every day was just a blessing with her. For me, it was like, OK, she's pain free, great, I'm so stoked for her.
WHAT HAPPENED ONCE YOU STARTED TURNING TO THAT SPIRITUAL CONNECTION?
Things started making a little more sense to where I could at least understand the patterns. I could see that the patterns of my friendships were very toxic in one way or another. And I didn't know what to do because, through this entire process of all of this happening in my marriage, I'm being something that I didn't even realize was a term — I'm being emotionally abused. I had no idea, I just thought that's what marriages were like.
So, I realized, and honestly, I would not have even known of that term had it not been for my girlfriend currently, which just felt like divine intervention at that time. It was the middle of a pandemic, and I had given up on life. I was just going to raise my kid until she was strong enough to let go and then I was just going to die. So, I really felt like [I was in] my darkest hour and then I get an email from an old friend, Angela, who I used to go to protests with and stuff.
And [the email] says, "How are you doing?" And I was like, "Fucking terrible. I'm just going to be honest, like, straight up, my wife hates me, I think. I would ask her, but she's just not talking to me for some reason. I'm drunk by 11:30 in the morning, it's awful." So, she talked to me about it and eventually ... I was like, This is it, holy shit. I'm like, Wait a minute, guys aren't victims of emotional abuse, that doesn't fucking happen? But it does, and I think it's important that guys realize that because there's probably guys like me that think that marriages are sup-posed to be like Married With Children, because the word "divorce" is too fucking scary.
So that became very empowering, and Angela and I developed a relationship. She is the one, whatever you want to call it, soul mates or twin flames. But it was supposed to be her the whole time, and that was probably why I was suffering so badly — it was all tied together. So yeah, everything's great. But I did really escape an abusive relationship. I had to change my phone number. I had to move. I actually moved.
OUT OF BUFFALO?
I live outside of Buffalo now. I got an RV and I live in an RV. I move to RV communities and it's fucking amazing. I've never been happier. So yeah, this record is kind of catching me on my uptick. I feel like it's phase two of my life right now.
WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE WORLD THROUGHOUT THESE LAST FEW YEARS?
I don't have to suffer if I don't want to. I can be interactive with people that are important to me in ways that don't involve alcohol. And I've lost a lot of friends, honestly. I don't know if there was more than one [that I didn't lose]. Without Angela, I found that after I left and I stopped drinking, nobody in this small town that I have tried to do everything for reached out to me, and it was fucking insane.
It's taught me a lot about the people that actually love me versus those that don't. And yeah, I think that it's just weird. It feels like everything I used to give felt lost before and it doesn't anymore. Now it feels like, OK, I'm giving, and I'm getting stuff back now. It finally feels like, all right, I'm here.