Pianos Become The Teeth's third full-length Keep You doesn't come out until Tuesday but I've probably listened to it close to 100 times. (Full disclosure: I play in a band called United Nations with their bassist Zac Sewell and drummer David Haik and got it early.) However, I have a lot of friends in bands whose albums are torturous to sit through and while Keep You isn't exactly a pleasure (nor is it intended to be one), it's an album that I feel like I'm still unpacking and analyzing, which judging from this interview was exactly the band's intention for this collection of songs.
Much of the press surrounding Keep You will center around frontman Kyle Durfey's decision to trade his screamo vocals for a more subdued singing style. But solely focusing on that does an enormous disservice to the album's other, more subdued, attributes. It's oversimplifying something incredibly complex by focusing on the most obvious aspect. The album still sounds like Pianos Become The Teeth but feels more open and expansive, like the band spent the past two years transforming their backyard swimming pool into a vast ocean while keeping the familiar shoreline intact.
"I wear a stock smile so well, I'm doing just fine," Durfey sings during "Lesions" and it's unclear if he's being facetious or sincere, but it doesn't really matter. So much of Keep You is about slowing down and thinking before you speak and it's clear that a lot of thought went into this album—and some of those decisions will inevitably alienate fans of the band's peers such as, say, La Dispute or Touché Amoré. Ultimately, regardless of what you think of Keep You, it's hard to deny the fact that it's a brave record and one that's worth listening to once, twice or, hell, maybe 100 times.
Noisey: You premiered the song "Repine" on Noisey in August and I learned from the comments section that Epitaph apparently paid you to sell out and stop screaming for Keep You.** What were those negotiations like?**
Kyle Durfey: [Laughs.] Yeah, you know it was all [label owner] Brett [Gurewitz's] idea. He was like, “You need to stop screaming at me."
But seriously, what's your reaction when you read stuff like that about yourself?
I mean, it’s funny. I didn’t even know that was a comment until you just said it. A lot times when we release something, within one or two days we can see people’s reaction but after that, at least for me, it’s detrimental to read that kind of stuff. If somebody doesn’t like the band for a legit reason it’s like, “All right, cool, I respect that.” But if somebody posts something so off the wall, I don’t want to waste my time reading that type of stuff. People are just so misinformed, you know? You just gotta laugh at it.
But obviously the stylistic shift when it comes to your vocals, that's going to be the easiest thing for people to grasp onto.
Right. It’s a stylistic change and I understand why that’s a big topic but it’s also like, I don’t want that to be the focus of the record. I understand it’s impossible for it not to be but I want the record to stand on its own and don't want whatever I'm doing to overshadow that.
How did you approach this album lyrically as opposed to, say, The Lack Long After?
The last record was just kind of like, “This is what this is about.” I feel like if you’re a fan of the band and follow our records, you know that I’ve always harped on the same subject and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of that. I’m gonna write about what I wanna write about and I didn't want to be like, “OK, now that I’ve been writing about this I have to keep writing about it.” So I let myself feel out the songs; I wanted to touch on certain topics, but maybe not so specific as, say, mortality. There’s definitely been topics that are the same for most of the songs but it’s also a different take on that subject because of where I’m at now in my life, years later.
What was the process of going down to Philly and hanging out for a month to record? Had you guys done anything like that before?
No. I’m the weirdo of the band because I kind of hate recording. It stresses me out. So being in one place for a month, I kind of lost my mind after a little while. I mean, on tour you're doing the same thing every day but at least you're on the move. It’s definitely a cool process and definitely an inclusive thing where we were all there together putting everything into the record, which is very draining but also very nice to have that “everyone’s there in the moment” kind of thing. I don’t know, just being there for a month drove me kind of crazy. There are certain parts of the record where I can hear personally like, “I was having a bad day that day.” Or a good day. Overall it was a crazy positive experience. I feel like we all learned a lot as a band, working with Will [Yip], who is incredible.
I know your guitarist Mike York is really influenced by bands like The National, which I feel like may not be typical for a band in your scene. Do you feel like this record will alienate people or introduce more people to the band?
I don’t know. For me personally, whenever I put out a record, I’m gonna want people to like it. It’s not, “Oh, I’ll put this out, I hope everyone hates it,” you know? But like I've said before, this is the record that we wanted to make and if people don't love it, I get it. But if you don't like it because you choose to completely close off for a small stylistic change, you shouldn’t be listening to our band anyway. We’re always going to be pushing forward and putting out different sounding records. I want to be that band that plays any kind of show. I feel like the people who like us now listen to us now think of us more as that band with that "crazy spazzy screaming" because I feel like there's more depth than that. I don’t know. I hope it does well and if not, oh well, that sucks but at least we did it. [Laughs]
There’s nothing more awkward than being an adult explaining that you're in a grindcore or screamo band to someone whose reference for heavy music is Disturbed.
Seriously. People come up to us and are like, “What kind of band is this?” and I don’t know, it’s just like a heavier indie rock band, I guess. My opinion shouldn’t matter about my own band anyway. I have my thoughts on my band but they shouldn’t affect anybody else’s thoughts on us.
You put so much of yourself into the recordings and live performances. Is the process super cathartic for you, or some nights are you just like, “Ugh, I don’t feel like doing this?”
It’s very challenging for me to write because I’m always gonna write about super personal things. I don’t necessarily worry about making a connection to other people, it all boils down to that we’re writing a record for us. I’m singing for me. Especially with this record, it was a challenge to be super personal and write lyrics the way I do and try to fit them into a way more concise song structure. That was challenging but also very fun. I remember reading an interview with [Grade singer] Kyle Bishop and he said you kind of have to check in and then check out when you’re done. For me, it’s hard to go through the emotions and sing about it without thinking about where I was when I wrote it. Depending on mood, sometimes it's easy for me to get into that mindset. Other times, it’s like, “I had a great day with my friends, we went to Disneyland and I've got to play a show tonight and sing about this gut-wrenching stuff."
Do people feel like you're this melancholy dude just like journaling about your emotions when you're not onstage?
[Laughs.] That’s a really great point. You know me. We’ve hung out, we’re friends. At my bachelor party, a couple of my buddies were like, “I feel like Kyle is not a very heavy guy until he gets heavy, you know?” It made me kind of feel weird because I don't feel like I’m this dark dude. Ultimately, writing is a form of catharsis for me but at the same time, it’s just a very heavy topic in my life. Sometimes I have wondered in the past, “Is this helping me? Or making things worse?” Even when I feel like I have moved on, maybe I would have moved on much longer ago or made things easier on myself if I had just stopped harping on the same things over and over [in my lyrics]. I feel like it helped but in some instances have been detrimental to me, too.
What do you ultimately hope people will take away from this record?
I feel like, the older you get, the more rare it is to hear a record that’s like, “Holy shit, this is unbelievable.” You sit down with it, you digest it. I mean, it’s a big hope but I hope people view this record the same way. I just wanted to make a solid record where all of the songs are good start to finish. I just want people to spend time with it, not just listen to it once and say, "All right, it’s cool.” Listen to it twice, and if you don’t like it, cool. But give yourself time. That's my only hope.