It's a hot afternoon in July on the 2010 Vans Warped Tour. The sun is blistering, but the faces of the kids waiting in the pit are smiling. Four Year Strong, a band whose music some like to call melodic hardcore, others call moshpop, still others, happycore, is about to take the stage. The band comes out and for the next half hour they hold the audience in the palm of their hands. The kids mosh, fist pump, sing along and crowd surf (there was even a mom who went over more than once!). By the end of Four Year Strong's set, everyone is sweaty and dusty, but happy.
Shotmonster caught up with guitarist/vocalist Alan Day as he and co-guitarist/vocalist Dan O'Connor wandered through the press tent at the end of a grueling day at the Scranton, Pennsylvania stop of the 2010 Vans Warped Tour. Sometimes when a musician comes down off the stage, they turn out to be a lot shorter than they seemed when they were onstage. The opposite is true of Alan Day and Dan O'Connor, the frontmen of Four Year Strong. These guys are tall. And their beards are every bit as impressive as their stature. We talked with Alan about music and happiness and facial hair and lots more. Check it out.
Shotmonster: Summer wouldn't seem the best time for a full beard.
AD: I've never noticed being hotter with a beard, but one time I shaved my beard in the winter and I was much colder. I've had a beard of some length ever since high school.
Shotmonster: Are ZZ Top your idols?
AD: [chuckles] We didn't think about all growing beards. It just kinda happened.
Shotmonster: How have the crowds been on Warped Tour 2010?
AD: Crowds have been amazing. The kids come out and they just want to have fun. We get 'em jumping; we get the circle pit going, yeah.
Shotmonster: Four Year Strong formed in 2001, but didn't break out until Rise or Die Trying in 2007. What was it like being in FYS up until then?
AD: Well, I was a freshman in high school when the band started. So I was like any other high school kid who started a band. It just happened to have the same name we have now and three of the same members--Jake, Dan and me--that are still in the band now. We just played around for years. We played at friends' parties. Our first live performance ever, we played my sister's Halloween party.
Shotmonster: Were you guys writing songs when you were fourteen?
AD: Oh yeah, we wrote songs. But mostly we played covers. We would learn songs from all our favorite bands. When we played, we would play maybe three of our own songs and ten covers. The people didnít come to hear our songs. They didn't know 'em yet!
Shotmonster: Did you take music lessons as a kid?
AD: I took piano, guitar and drum lessons. But I quit because I just got sick of it feeling like homework, like school.
Shotmonster: What advice would you give to a young guitarist?
AD: If I could go back in time, I would stick with the lessons, just to be a little bit more well-rounded. I don't need lessons to be able to play in the band I'm in, but it would be nice to know a little bit more about theory and stuff like that. Recently I've bought books on music theory because it helps with songwriting.
Shotmonster: The majority of you guys have known each other since you were kids. Ever get sick of being together?
AD: Not on a day to day basis, but maybe from tour to tour. We just spend so much time together in a van, traveling the country, it's nice to get away from each other every once in a while. Not because we donít enjoy each other's company, but how much time can you really spend with a person?
Shotmonster: Your music doesn't include "scorching" guitar leads. Is that a direction you'd like to go in the future?
AD: We want to do everything there is to do. We donít want to hold back. We want to take this band wherever it naturally goes. If that's what naturally comes, then... [shrugs] But we won't do anything weird just to be weird. We donít want to scare anybody off.
We all listen to a little bit different music than we did when we were younger.
Shotmonster: That reminds me, can you tell me a guilty pleasure that's on your iPod?
AD: Ahh...I don't have any guilty pleasures. I will own up to anything that I enjoy. Tom Petty is my favorite artist of all time. I'm going to see him in August with my parents. I'm very, very excited.
Shotmonster: Think you'll get to meet him?
AD: I hope so. That would be really cool. Another one of my favorite artists of all time is this band called Bon Iver. [pronounces it bone ee-vare]
Shotmonster: Oh, I always thought it was Bahn Eye-ver.
AD: That's what people think. Anyway, it's really quiet and mellow. I love it.
Shotmonster: Despite your music having hardcore elements, it's really happy music. Where does that come from?
AD: We're all kind of just happy people. [Alan shares the stage with bandmates Dan O'Connor (guitar/vocals), Jake Massucco (drums), Josh Lyford (vocals/synth) and Joe Weiss (bass).] We're not very negative people. We wrote the music for people to have fun and to relate to. Yeah, people can relate to I hate this, I hate that, but we know that what people want to relate to are the good things in life: friends, family, and the things they love.
A lot of songs we write sound like they're about a girl, but they're actually about music. We write a song in a way that it can be whatever people want it to be about. Rather than saying, "This song's about this," I want to say, "Take this song and apply it to a moment in your life."
Four Year Strong plan to take a month or so off at the end of Warped Tour 2010, then hope to get back to touring in the fall.
You can see the entire Four Year Strong gallery here.
Visit Four Year Strong on Myspace.