The Sound of Starting Over: An Interview with Beau Bokan of blessthefall
"Some bands are just there and they go through the motions and all these bands do the same things over and over again and no one is feeling it."
When Beau Bokan took over as lead vocalist of blessthefall in 2008, the band was at a crossroads. The shelf-life in today’s metalcore scene is short, to say the least, and the band had just parted ways with lead man Craig Mabbitt, who left for the supposedly greener grasses of Escape the Fate. It didn’t take long for Bokan to stake his claim though, as the band’s 2009 release Witness stands as a prime example of the genre at its finest.
After a stint playing the Monster Energy Stage on Warped Tour in 2012, blessthefall is back for another run, this time on the main stage as they prepare for the August 20th release of their new album Hollow Bodies. If the growing crowds and noticeably improved live presentation is any indication, blessthefall is on the verge of becoming the face of the genre.
After a raucous set at the Cincinnati date of this year’s Warped Tour, Bokan took some time to sit down in a backstage laundry room to chat with PopMatters about the band’s growing fan base, the creation of Hollow Bodies, and the future of post-hardcore.
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Last year you were out here on one of the smaller stages, but this year you guys are getting a chance to play the main stage – what’s the experience been like for you?
Man, I’m kind of at a loss for words sometimes. It’s been amazing and humbling. You saw the crowd today – it’s like, “Where are all of these people coming from all of a sudden?” Being on the main stage, it’s a show, it’s a presentation, so people want to come see what’s going on there. They see your name and they think, “Oh, they’re on main stage for a reason.” So we’re seeing a lot of new fans, as well as our older ones coming back as well and people who maybe people who never knew about us. Warped Tour is a place where all of your favorite bands are going to play, so you’re going to try to watch them all. So it’s been crazy, man. It’s a little bit surreal.
It’s impressive because you haven’t even started an album cycle yet. Do you feel like there’s a reason for the growing crowds?
It’s tough to say. It could be a few things. We put a single out, so that was cool, and people are loving it. I didn’t know if they would like the change, because we switched things up a bit -- a bit more of some darker undertones going on, a lot more musicianship going on, and letting the musicianship shine when it should and letting the vocals shine when they should. We found a really cool vibe for the band to let each person showcase each part. So I think kids are loving the song and hopefully they’re like, “Oh, the album must be good! I want to go see them!”
I feel like last year playing Warped Tour kind of kick started our band again. We put out two records and toured and toured and toured. Once you tour the States enough, people are just like, “Alright, we get it. We’ve seen them this many times. They’re cool.” It’s hard not to get oversaturated. So hopefully it’s a spark -- the new record has a whole new thing going on.
Yeah, I listed to “Déjà Vu” yesterday, which really impressed me. I feel like you could really hear the growth -- it was a very full sound. You guys kind of changed the vocals up a bit in some good ways, too. As far as the rest of the album goes, do you think it’s going to expand on that sound?
Yeah, definitely. And thank you, by the way -- that’s awesome. That was one of the first songs I wrote to for this record. I actually recorded it in my buddy’s living room. I was like, “I have a great idea for a chorus. Can I come over and record it?” So that was the original chorus and it stayed the same. A lot of times things don’t make it to the final product.
But no, the album is very diverse. There’s a song on there that sounds like the Weeknd meets AFI, and you’re like, “What? How does that even make sense?” But these are the bands and the music that are influencing us and we want to showcase all of our talents. There’s some songs that sound like straight-up old punk/hardcore almost, which is super fast and super in-your-face. It’s short and it’s over and you’re like, “What the hell was that?”
Then the last song on the record is almost seven minutes long and it’s a duet with my wife [Lights] and I. It sounds like it should be in a movie -- there’s strings on there and this orchestra going on behind it. We really pushed ourselves to write songs that are going to last. We don’t want to be a flash in the pan and I don’t think we are. I mean, we made it this far, you know? We want to keep that going and keep our fans happy.
You guys changed things up and worked with Joey Sturgis on this record, so talk a little bit about what was different this time around during the recording and production.
Elvis Baskette did our last two records and he’s an amazing dude -- a great friend of ours. But we just said, “The band needs a bit of a revamp. Let’s kind of get current, because Elvis is sort of an old school rock producer.” And that’s amazing, but on this record we wanted to find a producer who could take our sound and go “boom” and add to what we’re doing.
So Joey is so good at what he does. And it’s so weird, because you don’t feel like anything is really happening and you’re just recording your songs, you know? Then it’s time to get mixed and we’re like, “Okay, add your special touch to it.” And we kind of showed him mock-up examples where there would be digital programming or something, or the best we could -- we’re not that great at it. So he does his mixing and then gives it back and we’re like “What the hell?” He makes you sound like a monster.
With that being said, you can’t just go in there and have nothing. So we had all of our songs written and ready to go. There’s a couple that got rearranged that he had notes for. The first single we put out, “You Wear a Crown”, he took what we thought was a good chorus and he made it the pre-chorus and he added this digital thing to it and goes, “Write a new chorus.” We’d never had anyone just totally chop a song up and hand it to us and go, “Okay, redo these parts.” We were like, “Oh man, reality check. That chorus wasn’t that good, I guess.” So we wrote a bigger chorus, but in the end, that song came out so much better than it could have ever come out. So yeah, he’s awesome and I’d love to work with him again.
So the new record is coming out, the crowd is growing, and you’ve been in the band long enough now that you’re “the guy” -- you’re the face of this band. I would imagine confidence is at a pretty high point right now. How does that play into the live show and the way you approach this band?
Confidence is the key, not cockiness -- nothing egotistical. I think when you get to that point, that’s when you start losing the camaraderie within the band. The band kind of goes, “You’re the face, man!” I don’t want to be that dude, but if that’s how it happens, then I’m going to take it and I’m going to be humbled by it and accept it. I give my band all of the credit in the world, because they write the music. I don’t write the music, I just write the lyrics and melodies. But it’s awesome for them to call me the face of the band. It’s very humbling and I’m flattered.
You and Lights have been married for awhile now…
Yeah, a little over a year.
I feel like that’s got to be a really cool experience when you’re both at home together. What sort of creativity for you personally comes out of your relationship with her?
Yeah, she inspires me so much and I really look up to her. She writes all of her own music, she can play every instrument -- you can hand her an instrument and she’ll learn how to play it. You can hand her anything and she’ll learn how to do it. She’s amazing. As far as that song goes, we have a little studio in our house and I was just sitting there racking my brain, writing melody after melody and nothing really hit me. There’s always something that’s like, “That’s it!” But I wasn’t feeling anything, so I called her into the room and said, “Come check this song out real quick and give me your vibe.” She just sat there with me and kind of went over it a few times and she started humming some melodies into the mic and recording three ideas for the verse and three ideas for the chorus. I was like, “Holy crap, that’s crazy. I’m using one of those!”
It was something we always said we would let happen naturally -- we would never force it or do it because a label wanted us to do it or because fans wanted it. She was going to sing on the last record and it kind of fell through and that’s when we said, “You know what? Let’s not try to force something like that”, because it was almost forced. But this just happened and the dynamic is crazy. I never in a million years ever would have imagined writing music with my wife. It’s insane and it’s definitely something that I hope we can do more of. We haven’t really talked about future things or anything like that, but I think it would be really cool if we wrote some songs together some day.
As far as this [post-hardcore] scene goes, it seems like things were starting to get stagnant and a lot of the older bands were hanging it up, but being out here today -- letlive. is playing later, you’ve got you guys, Bring Me the Horizon -- I feel like there’s a lot of steam left. Where do you feel things are headed?
I feel like it’s evolving a bit. It kind of got flooded with a bunch of garbage there for a minute. I think it’s slowly been weeded out, you know? Like, our band sort of had a lull and that’s just when there was so many bands and they’re all coming up and they all figured out how to record and how to program drums and how to add a dance beat to a song or something. They all did what they thought was cool for a minute.
But I feel like kids are so much smarter now. They know what auto-tune is. They know when a band is on stage and there’s music going, but no one is playing anything. I think they’ve sort of figured out what’s real and what isn’t. You go to a show and you can see the passion. Some bands are just there and they go through the motions and all these bands do the same things over and over again and no one is feeling it.
Now they only last so long [snaps fingers]. It’s fleeting. Everything’s been weeded out and now the bands with talent and passion are kind of sticking around and flourishing. So yeah, I think the scene is as alive as ever and it’s evolved a little bit. I don’t know which way it will go, so we’ll see, I guess. We’ll see how our record does and we’ll see where we’re at the next time it’s time to record again.
When you have a few minutes free during your day out here, what band are you going to see?
Yeah, for real.
Stick to Your Guns is my next band. But Stick to Your Guns are very close friends of mine -- we’ve toured together and I love those dudes with a passion. Jesse [Barnett] sings on our record. But letlive. I just discovered on this tour. I played basketball with Jason [Butler]…
He’s such a great guy.
Dude, we were just playing basketball and hanging out and I was like “Dude, where are you from?” We’re from the same city, we know the same people, so I was like “I’m going to come check out your band.” So I watched them and I was like, “Holy shit. This is crazy. This reminds of Glassjaw meets At the Drive-In.” Because I love At the Drive-In, they’re one of my all time favorite bands. Glassjaw – same thing. Just to see that, I feel like it’s reincarnated because both of those bands just kind of lost their heart. So yeah, they’re amazing.
In once sentence, what is blessthefall about to you? What do you want people to take away from what you’re doing?
I want them to leave our show with a sense of hope and encouragement for whatever their passion is in life, and for them to see what we’re doing and how hard we’ve worked and that they can work just as hard for whatever they love.