A Day to Remember thrives with an unlikely combo of tastes

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Remember the old commercial where the chocolate accidently goes into the peanut butter?

A Day to Remember is a musical version of that, with the abrasive metalcore falling into the sweet, gooey pop-punk. Some people think it's two great tastes in one. Some people think they're nuts. But there's enough on the plus side to make A Day to Remember a breakout band direct from the trenches of the Warped Tour.

The Ocala, Fla., band is about to hit the road on its fourth album and third for the Chicago hardcore/emocore label Victory Records, which gave us Taking Back Sunday and Hawthorne Heights. A Day to Remember formed in 2003 and started to catch on around 2008, driven in part by steady touring and a "random" cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone."

A Day to Remember

With: Bring Me the Horizon, We Came as Romans, Pierce the Veil.

Where: Stage AE, North Shore.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday (sold out) and next Thursday.

Tickets: $26-$30; 1-800-745-3000.

While a high school following has embraced the band's unlikely and even nonsensical pop-metal fusion -- that mixes clean, melodic pop vocals with Cookie Monster death metal growls -- critics haven't always agreed (and hardcore punk pioneer Henry Rollins has parodied the genre in his spoken-word shows).

However, respect is building for A Day to Remember. Alternative Press noted that on the latest record, "What Separates Me From You," the band gets "full-on medieval for the heavy parts, contrasted with the most melodic work they've done." The more unbiased All Music called it "whiney, petulant, immature, hopeless and thoroughly addicting."

Count singer/screamer Jeremy McKinnon, who packs the emo-tion into A Day to Remember, as one who is pleasantly surprised by the band's steady rise.

Can you go back and tell me how this sound took shape?

It took shape really from our hometown. It was pretty much a strictly hardcore-based town because there was a band called Seventh Star, a Christian hardcore band on Face Down Records. Drew Russ, the bass player, is actually our video guy now. We love that guy. He used to book all these shows, all these bands through Ocala 'cause he lived there and he really wanted to see Ocala have a scene. And he created one, really. We all grew up going to these hardcore shows and then bands started sprouting up around Ocala similar to that, and we were always a band that enjoyed pop-punk as well, and in order to be in a band in Ocala you had to play heavy music as well, so we were like, "Hey, let's just do both, [screw] it."

Did you think there was any shot that it would work?

No. It wasn't anything we put together like that. Literally, it was me and Tom [Denny, the former guitarist] originally just getting together, and when we got the rest of the guys who would be the original lineup of A Day to Remember, we were like, "Who cares." We weren't writing music to become a big band, we weren't writing music for anyone but ourselves. We had fun playing it. We were playing heavy music, we were playing pop music at the same time. It's what we always wanted to do. We never thought it would work out. It wasn't supposed to, but people kept catching on to what we were doing, and it kind of just snowballed from there. We got nothing but negative feedback on the first part of our career with people just telling us, "You know, you really shouldn't be going on tour, you really shouldn't be pursuing this as much as you are, because your band doesn't make sense and it's not going to catch on like you want it to catch on." It was never about that for us. It was just about having a good time and playing the music we wanted to play, and here we are.

Obviously the metalcore side has a male-dominated audience. Does the pop side help attract a mixed crowd for you guys?

We've actually been really all over the place, but lately, it's a new thing for us -- A Day to Remember is finally drawing females [laughs]. We draw from a lot of different places. We're really fortunate because of that. We've created this thing where we can go on tour with the heaviest bands out there, like the Acacia Strain and Parkway Drive, then we can come home and go on tour with a band like New Found Glory. And bands can't do that. We're really fortunate that we're a band that can play to all these different crowds and really do well in front of all of them.

Florida is known for this big hardcore and metal scene. Why do you think it's so prominent in the Sunshine State?

Not sure. I know Tampa is the birthplace of death metal. That's where all the death metal bands come from, like Morbid Angel and all that stuff. I've always known Florida as that as well. It's always been a heavy-oriented state. I'm not sure what creates it. I guess people in the South are bored and they wanna hit people.

How would you say you built your following? Were there one or two things that made the band take off?

We've had a lot of different stepping stones, from Indianola putting out our first record and Victory Records signing us and putting out "For Those Who Have a Heart." It took a while for that record to do what it would do. We toured that a straight two years before we even started writing another record. We went on nonstop tours on that one. Then, we did a cover song, randomly, of that Kelly Clarkson song, and people were stoked on that. It was cool because it was at a time when people weren't doing that stuff, which is why it went over so well. We were a band where it absolutely didn't make sense to do something like that, but we were just talking one day. "For Those Who Have a Heart" had been out for so long, and we said, "We should put up a new song." We were like, "Well, we don't have a new song." We were like, "Let's just record a really random cover song that doesn't make sense that people won't see coming." It was a silly pop song and we did it in our style and people flipped out.

Were you a fan of that song?

I liked the song, yeah, but it wasn't like, "I'm stoked on Kelly Clarkson or anything." If I like something, I like it and I like everything, to be honest with you. There's not much I don't like. We had that for a stepping stone. Then "Homesick" was huge for us. It caught on immediately overseas -- it took a while to catch on in the States. We were scared at first. We went overseas to Europe and the UK and people were losing their minds, everybody singing along to every song. We're like, "Oh my god, what's happening?" We go home and go on tour with Devil Wears Prada and it was not even half of what was going on. We were like, "[Expletive], are we gonna be one of those bands where it catches on everywhere else and not in our home country?" But it definitely caught on in that five-month period. And now we've started this cycle for "What Separates Me From You" and things have kicked up even a notch further. Radio stations are playing us these days and kids are getting attached to this new stuff. It gets better and better every day.

You must have a following that can handle you guys putting out a song like "If It Means a Lot to You," which is much more toned down. How did that go over?

It went over really well. I thought that was a great way to end that record. I wrote that about myself and I took that to the band and said, "I finished this song that I've been working on for about a year and I think it would be a perfect way to end this record." Everybody dug it and we put it on the record. That's what this band is all about. We just write the things we want to write and, to be honest with you, it's one of the biggest songs we play. It's crazy, a band that has really heavy songs like we do and we can strip it down and play an acoustic song and it could be our biggest song. The response we get is incredible. Literally, you look out there and see hardass dudes with their [expletive] shirts off crying to this [stuff]. I don't know how to explain it, man, but A Day to Remember is something different.

You write these personal songs. Some people say that's harder to do when you're in a band.

Not for me. It's what I do naturally. That's like my own personal form of therapy -- I write a song about what happens to me and I feel better about it. That's how it is. It's not hard for me. I've never had the guys ever say anything to me about songs. Kevin [Skaff, guitarist] and I usually work on them, and we bring them to the band, and they make it A Day to Remember song at the end. We focus on writing a good song and focus on making it a Day to Remember song second. I'm stoked the guys believe in me like that.

Is there a particular message you want your young fans to take away from A Day to Remember show?

Absolutely. I know that people say this all the time, but almost every night I say something along the lines of, "You know, this band wasn't supposed to be what we are." That shouldn't have happened. But because we're in this position, I'm going to do everything I can to make these kids have a good time. We're investing in our show. We're going to put everything we have into showing kids "You can do this [stuff] if you want to do it. Just go out and care about what you do and you can do anything you want." If a band can play pop-punk and breakdowns like we do every night and be a career band, anybody can do it. That makes no sense. Go out and do it.


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com ; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg; Blog: www.post-gazette.com/popnoise . First Published March 10, 2011 5:00 AM


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