It’s been a busy year for Comeback Kid. The Toronto-by-way-of-Winnipeg based hardcore act have released their fifth LP Die Knowing and are currently in the opening months of a year of touring that will carry them around the world. Before their set at Rock City Studios in Camarillo, California, I had that chance to talk to vocalist Andrew Neufeld about their new record, the band as a whole, and keeping things fresh after over a decade of being one of hardcore’s premiere bands.
I’ve been listening to Die Knowing for a couple months now, and I’ve noticed that you have incorporated everything that falls under the guise of “hardcore” over the last twenty or so years into the sound of that record. You cover everything from crew pit parts, to big Ignite hooks, to just pummeling the listener on the heavier end of it all. How do you go into writing a record like that? Is that something where you say you’re gonna cover all this ground, or does it come out naturally?
It just kind of… we just write a bunch of songs, really. Actually with this record it wasn’t until we had a whole mess of them written we sorta sat back and said. “wow,” because there’s a lot of heavy songs on the record. In my head the record is kind of split, a little bit, because it starts off with “hard” hardcore, ya know — well, maybe not the opening track, but the song is going into that – and then it kind of ends on a brighter note. There’s more melodic stuff. There’s a lot of ideas sometimes. We definitely come from a heavy hardcore background, so that’s always going to shine through and we love that shit. That’s mostly the type of hardcore that I like. At the same time, there’s also a song like “Didn’t Even Mind”, which is the most melodic song on the record. I had the idea and approached it like, “Guys, I have this idea. It’s kind of melodic. If you don’t want to use it, we don’t have to. I could use it for something else,” and then we went down this long path with it. At first I was unsure if I even wanted it on the record – like it’s a cool song but I didn’t know if it followed in line with the rest of the record or was a little bit out of context. I thought maybe we could release it on something else or use it as a different thing, but I was persuaded by our other main decision maker, Jeremy (Heibert), and our producer Kyle and they were both kind of like, “Please put this on the record.” There’s been internal debate, but no one’s said anything like it’s too soft or… but I feel like it falls under the Comeback Kid umbrella. We’ve done hard songs. We’ve done melodic songs.
I like it a lot. I feel like it brings the record full circle. Like you said, half of the record is really heavy and the other half is a little bit lighter, so just to end on that note seems like…
Yeah, like that last song I would consider like a festival type song. Something I’d want to play at a festival in Europe, or something like that. The thing with Comeback Kid is that a lot of people like… when we’re in different places people want to hear different songs. Some people only want to hear the old stuff, some want to hear only the newer stuff, and we always try to please. We’ll play songs from every record.
You mentioned that a lot of it comes out naturally in the writing process. Has that changed at all over the newer records since you switched to vocals from guitar?
No, not really. Me and Jeremy usually come up with the riffs and just play them. The thing that was unusual about this record was that we now all live in different cities, so I ended up writing quite a few songs fully on my own, and then brought them to the band. Same with Jeremy. He wrote a lot on his own. It was the kind of thing where it was very much some of my songs and some of his songs. In the past we’d get together and I’d have half of a song and then we’d figure out the rest of the song. We did that sometimes, but mostly… I’m not saying it was a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just how it played out…
I think that’s actually a testament to you guys, as it still very much sounds like a cohesive Comeback Kid record.
Jeremy had some really cool ideas. I love that.. that song “Full Swing”, it’s like, a simplistic almost humorous approach to the breakdown…
You can tell you’re having fun. Over the course of time, you’ve kind of switched things up. In the beginning it was a much more melodic approach with a lot of octave riffs and such, and now you’re much heavier with your approach to hardcore. Yet, you’ve still found new ways to sneak that melody in there and keep it fresh. How would you, yourself, describe the overall evolution of Comeback Kid?
It’s just keeping ourselves interested. One thing I had to learn after Broadcasting – well, you learn something with every record – but I learned I wanted to keep Comeback Kid “Comeback Kid”, ya know? I think a lot of times bands, especially when they’ve been around for so long are like, “We just want to do whatever we want. We want to write the music that makes us happy,” and it’s like… and I really believe that if you want to do other types of music, which I do as well, do it with a different project. Don’t try to bring all your elaborate ideas into a hardcore band. We just try to take what we think that… we try to take all our influences but stay inside that genre. We’re influenced from all over the place. One song is like a Tegan and Sara rip off or a My Bloody Valentine rip off or Eraser or fucking Exodus.
Going back to how you mentioned that “Full Swing” had an almost humorous approach to that breakdown, there are obviously parts on the record that are tailor made to get a crowd to just get fucking pumped. Does that ever come into play where you’re like this is cool but it needs that one little thing to get every one going?
Oh sometimes. You have obvious lead ups to obvious breakdowns, you know? It’s just fun. We try to not get too… well we did get serious about it… but we’re not afraid to just go with the gut and do some simplistic stuff.
Comeback Kid, for a lot of people, are that first band that introduces them to more traditional hardcore. Especially being on Victory. You’re like their flagship band that ties together their past. Do you feel like there’s any sort of responsibility knowing that for so many people you are the first eye opening look at what hardcore is beyond mall trends and are what got them into this kind of music?
I know Comeback Kid has been sort of a gateway band for a lot of people. It’s cool, I guess. I respect so much bands like Sick of It All, Madball, you know. Those classic hardcore bands that are still kicking ass – and we get to play with them a lot, especially in Europe. That’s such a cool career to aspire to be like… in five years we hope we still have fun playing and have a classic vibe to the band…
I look at it like… I have a lot of friends through music who are a bit younger than me, and you’re always that first big influence that got them into hardcore. It’s almost like when I got into it 13 years ago, you guys are to them what Bane was to me…
We were like that to Bane, probably. We really look up to them.
On this tour, you have such a mishmash of everything going on in the hardcore scene. You’ve got you guys who have a classic hardcore vibe. You’ve got Xibalba who are just heavy as hell. You’ve got Downpresser who occupy that middle ground get just get everyone going… what do you think the current state of hardcore is? I know in the mid 2000s it lulled a bit but now it seems like it’s coming back full force.
There’s a lot of cool and exciting bands. A lot of bands are working at it and a lot of bands are touring. Harder hardcore is something… people are actually interested in it and that’s cool. Remember back in the early 2000s when it was like that whole 18 Visions type…
Oh yeah, like fashion-core haha…
Yeah, like that doesn’t exist anymore. Well, maybe it does but in its own way. Now it’s more like this separate electro-moshy… We’ve played some festivals with those bands and we were so out of place. Like recently these sort of offshoots of South by Southwest… but at the same time they had an entire hardcore stage. Like our entire tour package played.
Now that you all live away from each other, for the most part, how do you balance touring and and having a personal life together?
Touring is the mentality of the band. That’s the main thing. I’m in a band. We tour. That’s what we do. That’s our gig haha. Just right now we’ve had so much time off to do this record. I’m a little burnt out because we’ve been out for five weeks, but after this we’re driving 40 hours to Toronto and then hopping on a plane to Europe. It would be nice to have a break, but I’m still trying to fill up holes because of it. When we make a new record, we’re like lets take a year. We have a new record. We’re playing new songs and just like I think there’s always a… there’s a cool new excitement to it, both internally and from the audience, so that’s cool.
One of the things that grabbed me when I first got into Comeback Kid was the emotional weight of the lyrics. Even though you transitioned from Scott in the beginning, you’ve still managed to keep that same emotional core throughout your records. How do you foster that. Is it intentional or does it just sort of come out in your writing style?
I dunno. I hate writing lyrics. It’s so hard for me and I always have to leave it until the last minute. When Scott was in the band it was nice to have him around and bounce ideas off of, but now it’s just me. It’s like is it totally crazy what you’re writing? I try not to be cheesy. I always kind of… yeah… I dunno.
There’s always been this honesty that draws almost everyone I know who is a fan into Comeback Kid. It’s beyond if it’s super fun music. It’s beyond the vibe of the shows. It’s that empathy in the lyrics. I’ve been there and relate to that. That’s something, to me, that’s always carried through in your music…
A lot of it is me working out my own insecurities in lyrics and not being afraid to do that. I’m not telling anyone what to do or acting like I know better or know what anyone should do.