True to their Name

How Comeback Kid managed to write one of the best records of the year

By
Photo by Seth Young

Integrity has always been a key component of hardcore. The hardcore scene has always thrived on the idea that what you have to say – and who you are as a person – is just as important as what your music sounds like. Ever since the late 1970s, hardcore has been a tool for political, religious, ideological and socioeconomic dissent and change. But in recent years, there’s been a surge of hardcore bands in it just for the show, to try and get “big,” or even worse, for the sake of posturing and “being tough.”

About 10 years ago, my former band was backstage in a venue in Newark, Ohio. We were playing a show with Winnipeg, Manitoba’s Comeback Kid – label mates of ours at the time. Heavy music was getting really popular due to shows like Headbanger’s Ball, and small heavy bands actually had the chance to make it, to sell records, to get on big tours. My band was at a crossroads; we were struggling with if we wanted to stay ministry-oriented as we had been, or really focus on having a wider appeal. Our singer mentioned to Comeback Kid guitarist (now vocalist) Andrew Neufeld that we were thinking of ditching the “spirit-filled hardcore” thing. With a confused look, he calmly responded:

“But isn’t that your thing? Isn’t that what you’re known for? Are you just going to throw that away?”

In that instant, we realized how integral the message was to our band and our presence in the hardcore scene, and after that moment, we never really looked back. I don’t think Neufeld knew it, but he had changed the course of our band’s history, realigning us with our original vision and feeling of purpose.

Comeback Kid says what they mean, and they mean what they say. One of the longest-running hardcore bands of the last 20 years – with an unrelenting work ethic, five albums under their belts and having toured around the world multiple times – Comeback Kid is a band that just bleeds integrity.

Since 2002, Comeback Kid has been releasing album after album of unrelenting fast, heavy, melodic hardcore. Starting as a side project of Facedown (later Solid State) Records’ Figure Four, they have evolved into a world-renowned, influential hardcore band that will go down in history as one of the classic bands of the genre. I asked Neufeld if that was something that is surprising to him, if he ever expected that type of recognition.

“I mean I would have hoped so,” he said. “What kid doesn’t start a band hoping that some day it will get big? Regardless of what people think – but what you said is a good, flattering way to put it – I just love music. I grew up with music. It’s pretty simple for me. I enjoy playing and I’m just stoked that I surround myself with super cool musicians and that everyone is on the same page.”

That type of attitude is what separates Comeback Kid from the current crop of younger hardcore bands. In a scene that’s been revolving around once-a-year album and tour cycles and big record labels and PR firms and arrogant attitudes, Comeback Kid has made a point to slow their process down and write from a humble, relaxed perspective, one that just let’s the pieces fall into place. Four years have passed since Symptoms and Cures, and Die Knowing definitely feels like an album that’s been created with care for every detail.

“Time is definitely an advantage, but it can also be a curse,” Neufeld said. “If I would have had unlimited time, I’d take unlimited time to finish something. It’s only when you get that deadline that you really own it.”

Neufeld understands you need focus to create music, but you also need rest to let the songs marinate. “There are so many young bands right now, it’s almost intimidating how active they are, on tour all the time, records every year. I think the thing with us is, maybe some of that distance between records – taking time, allowing ourselves time off – it keeps us fresh in a way. Don’t get me wrong,” Neufeld defends, “we’re relentless with touring, but we’re going to do our thing at our own pace, and I think that’s allowed us some of our longevity. We’ve always had lineup changes, but for the three of us (Neufeld, along with guitarist Jeremy Heibert and drummer Kyle Profeta) who’ve been here since the beginning, it’s kept us fresh.”

Even with lineup changes, they’ve always been a band with clear vision. “We take this very seriously, and we’ve been doing this for a while. We try to offer up a lot of choices. We’ll record this, we’ll record that; we’ll always have those song options for later.” Neufeld pauses briefly before he adds, “But there’s also that excitement of writing a song right then and recording it really quick. You can feel the presence and power in that.

“We all live in different cities; it is what it is,” he continues on. “Some of the guys are married. It’s hard to get together all the time to work on material, so with this one, there was a lot of working on stuff on our own and then getting together and trying it out. And then we’d go on tour for a month, and get back together and try the new material again after that. We can get frustrated and huff and puff about it, but in the end you just have to make it work with the time you have.”

Musically, Die Knowing sounds like Comeback Kid at their very best and most refined. A lot of the album channels the energy of their earlier material. The songs are short, with gang vocals and chugging breakdowns that wouldn’t be out of place on Turn It Around.

Vocally, Neufeld sounds relentless and extremely passionate. There’s even a little bit of his classic Figure Four vocal style peppered in, which was a nice surprise for an old fan like myself. Original vocalist Scott Wade makes an appearance on “Full Swing,” and he sounds right at home, like he never left.

Right from the beginning, it’s heavier and darker. Symptoms and Cures definitely leaned punk rock, and before that, Broadcasting was melodic and catchy. I asked Neufeld if that was intentional.

“The intent was to make the songs simpler and shorter, a little more to the point,” he said. “And as we wrote those kinds of songs, toward the end of the process we realized a lot of those were rippers. We were like, ‘Wow! A lot of these songs are really f-cking heavy!’

“And we purposefully put the heavier songs at the beginning of the record,” he said. “We still wanted to keep some of those melodic songs in there, but we put those toward the end, so it kind of starts heavy and ends with a brighter note. That being said, there’s not much of a theme to the way we write songs. Our records are just a collection of songs that we try and put together the best we can.”
Where Wade’s lyrics on the first two albums focused mostly on positive thinking and hardcore scene politics, Neufeld’s lyrics have always been deeper and more introspective. You can feel the passion in his vocal delivery and in the seriousness of his lyrics, although he takes a humble perspective. “Lyrics are the hardest part for me,” he admits. “I guess I just don’t feel like someone who has a lot to say. I don’t want to downplay them, you know, but the lyrics are really the last part of the process for me.”

That’s really what a lot of the lyrics are: reminders. Die Knowing is a reminder to myself to carve my own path. You’re going to be aligned with certain people in your life. And sometimes your mistakes and failures are going to benefit you in the long run, and sometimes they’re not.

(As humble as he is about it, he does have a lot to say. I couldn’t help but tell him in the middle of our interview how much the lyrics to Broadcasting and Monolith – the excellent debut album from his other band, Sights and Sounds – meant to me personally. A couple years back when I was experiencing an existential/faith crisis of sorts, it’s as if he was writing down the exact thoughts going through my head.)

Neufeld’s lyrics are deeply personal, and he sees them as a self-motivation of sorts. “That’s really what a lot of the lyrics are: reminders. Die Knowing is a reminder to myself to carve my own path. You’re going to be aligned with certain people in your life. And sometimes your mistakes and failures are going to benefit you in the long run, and sometimes they’re not. I really focus on who my friends are and how we deal with things together.”

This deep sense of the importance of community is what sets hardcore apart from other genres of heavy music that are more individualistic or elitist. Many hardcore kids grow up in broken homes, without a lot of friends, on the wrong side of the tracks, and getting plugged into a scene that feels and operates like a community, their friends end up being just as close as family – if not closer.

“A big thing for me this last year was my mom dealing with cancer,” Neufeld said, opening up. “I mean, I wrote a song specifically about that, but lot of the lyrics on this album came out of that line of thinking. You can talk about these tragic things that people deal with, but it’s more like just an idea. It’s not until you really experience the emotions that come along with dealing with stuff like this that you realize how much you, your friends, and (your) family really look out for each other. That’s where a lot of the lyrics come from – situations myself and my friends have actually been through, and how we were always there for each other. As you move through and experience life, you know who you need to surround yourself with. That’s what I mean when I talk about carving my own path.”

In my mind, sometimes I think we’ve moved past that. But every time I think that, someone else brings it up. We were just in South Africa last week and a few people asked us that.

But if there’s one thing that’s consistently frustrated Comeback Kid over the years, it’s the one reason many readers of this magazine even know who they are: their connection to Christian hardcore.

Facedown Records released the first Comeback Kid album, Turn It Around.  (Victory released the second, Wake the Dead.) They were a side project of Figure Four. Figure Four was on Facedown. Facedown is a great record label. Seemed logical enough.

One problem: Comeback Kid isn’t (and never has been) a “Christian band.”

It’s been nearly 10 years since Wake the Dead, and I wondered if it’s still something that haunts them. Have they been able to shake the stigma of being “guilty by association” to the Christian music scene? Does it still follow them?

“In my mind, sometimes I think we’ve moved past that. But every time I think that, someone else brings it up.” (Author note: the irony of even asking this question isn’t lost on me.) “We were just in South Africa last week and a few people asked us that.”

Neufeld sighed, and then conceded: “I think it’s a stain that will last forever. We put out our records on Facedown, and we dug our own grave with that (laughs). Don’t get me wrong: Facedown is a f-cking awesome label, but we dug our grave by putting out records on a label that was so clearly and blatantly Christian. We knew they were amazing, and that it was an awesome label, so whatever.”

“You know,” he continued, confidently, “it’s no secret that I was a Christian. I was in a Christian band, Figure Four. Everyone who knows that band or that knows me knows where I was in that time of my life. But I was just a kid then. I’m different now. Simple as that.”

The candor and openness that Neufeld shows is astounding. After the interview, he and I continued to talk and reminisce about our time as label mates on Facedown, our faith journeys and the current state of Christianity compared to how it was 10 years ago. And he’s right – it takes real experience to be able to talk confidently about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re headed.

With integrity.

Comeback Kid was posted on March 3, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .