Haste the Day, in all earnest, played their final show on March 11, 2011. For fans of the band, it’s easy to split their musical cannon at Jimmy Ryan and his decision to step down — their first vocalist had decided to leave the band to pursue marriage, and, not that far off, would accept a position at Tooth and Nail Records.
Time would show there would only be two vocalists for the band, with Stephen Keech replacing Ryan in 2005 and, ultimately, playing the final show with the band. (Ryan showed up for the gig, too.) So when the band announced they would be putting out new material this year, the public’s major question hung looming: How would they handle Jimmy and Stephen? The answer turned out to be an easy one; With the band members’ full commitments to new lives outside of Haste the Day, sharing duties was not only the most pragmatic answer, but it also turned out to be the best one. Their latest album, Coward, is a really good piece of work, with Keech even producing the album himself.
HM had Ronnie Winter, vocalist for The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Collin Simula, drummer for the now defunct Symphony in Peril, interview Stephen and Jimmy, respectively, to reminiscence on the time that was and the time that never planned to be. As Coward gets put into the public’s hands ushering in a new future for one of Faith-based metal’s cornerstones, the people will say Haste the day has still got it.
Ronnie Winter talks to Stephen Keech, vocalist for the band from 2005-2011. Winter’s favorite Haste the Day album is Pressure the Hinges (2007).
What’s up? I’m Ronnie. It’s good to talk to you again. It’s been a while. How are you?
Vocalist Stephen Keech: I’m good. I’m just enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Nashville.
You’ve got to love it. It’s beautiful there. Is it cold over there, or is it warm?
Actually, yesterday, it was kind of chilly. For Tennessee in the springtime, it’s pretty chilly. I think it was 50 something degrees and now it’s sunny out today.
I’m in sunny California, so it’s about 80 degrees.
I got the new record. I really love it. I’ve known you guys for a long time. It’s funny going back in my mind to memories of yesteryear. I guess Jason was the drummer back then. There were some really awesome moments of fellowship, like late at night at hotels. It always happened in random, sporadic places. The name of your band is also my favorite hymn. Is it true it’s from Philip Bliss?
It is, yes. It’s also my grandmother’s favorite hymn, which is really interesting I ended up joining a band named after that hymn.
I think I have three favorite songs from your new album. I’m a punk rocker, so I’m always going to like the fast stuff. There’s this song “World.” That one, actually, is quite different. It almost brought be back to Define the Great Line for a second with some of the cool guitar riffs and the tones, which is one of my favorite albums from Underoath. Is that the first clean vocal on the record?
Do you know what? It is, actually. It’s always been like gang vocals or something before, but that’s pretty much the first clean vocal.
I’m listening to the record, taking it in, and I was like, “Wow, I think this is the first clean vocal.” I thought it was cool that you waited for the third song, assuming the version I have is the same track listing as the public release.
Yes. It starts with “Began” and ends with “Gnaw.”
That is the short version.
The second song, “Take,” is kind of old school with a Minor Threat vibe. All my original bands were super into that. What is the first single on this album? Is it “Coward?”
No, the first single was “World.” We just really started pushing it a couple days ago on our website, actually.
How is that doing? Are you liking the response?
Yes, honestly. We’ve gotten a really good response from it. I remember dreading putting out our first song of our other records because we had a lot of people who had talked a lot of crap about it.
I know that feeling.
I’m sure you know. It used to be, like, for every positive comment you have three negative comments, but this time, I don’t know. Maybe our audience has grown up or something, but they seem to really enjoy it.
I’m in a band that’s had multiple members, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. I hope fans are reading this: It is annoying when all you have to say is something that doesn’t have anything to do with the new music. If you’re going to comment good or bad, cool. Express yourself. We’re actually interested in your opinion as musician — but not if you’re just going to talk about old drama. The world continues to spin, and it doesn’t spin backwards. Except there are always fans kind of like, “I only like the old school. I don’t like the new school.” I would push them towards “Accept,” at least.
Definitely, that’s a full-on, original line-up song. That is all the original members. They wrote it and everything.
What about tour? You’re doing a couple of shows. You guys have been a band a really long time like The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, so I have to ask you — this is kind of a loaded question — do you like tour? Do you actually enjoy it?
Yes and no. I like it in short bursts. I like it a couple weeks at a time before the loneliness kicks in around week six or something.
Are you married with kids or single? What’s your situation?
I’m married. I have no kids yet.
Congratulations. That’s awesome. I’m getting married May 28.
Dude, that’s awesome. It’s fun. Go to Mexico and do that all inclusive thing.
I live near there. I might do that.
It doesn’t even matter where you go. Just do the all-inclusive thing because it makes the world better.
I’ll take you up on that. The hard thing is understanding the sadness in the separation. Especially being a Christian, you really want to wake up and be positive and thankful for all of your blessings and for being in a band and making music. It’s hard to complain when there are so many other people out there with worse situations in life, but at the end of the day, you just miss the person you’re supposed to be with all the time. That’s tough. That was one of my hard questions.
I didn’t meet my wife until after the band ended.
And now you’re putting out an album.
Yeah (laughs). Back in the actual touring days, I really didn’t have any commitments to anything other than the band. It’s just kind of weird. Traveling all the time, at least for some personalities like mine, it’s hard.
It’s a lot tougher than people think, especially if you’re not partying or drinking every night. Not only are you morally convicted to stay, but you don’t want to turn your back on your fans. Changing gears, was Pressure the Hinges the first album you sang on?
I remember seeing it live for the first time. We’re playing with you guys, bouncing off stages and sharing gear. There are a lot of good memories from back then. I have to ask, because everyone always asks me, does it feel that old?
Yes, it does. I listened to it the other day, actually. I took a little walk down memory lane through the years of Haste the Day the other day. I definitely can hear my 19-year-old self in all of that record.
Isn’t that weird?
Yes, it’s crazy. Just listening to that record on the same day I got the invitation to my ten-year high school reunion made me feel really old: “I guess it was so long ago.” I pretty much graduated high school and joined Haste the Day — all the lyrics and the way I was screaming. I was so incredibly intimidated by our producer, Garth Richards.
So here we are in 2015, and you’re producing, right?
How do you like the switch?
I love it. It’s amazing because I get to do all of my favorite things in the record process: the shaping of the songs, helping people find their sound and trying that cool thing that sets them apart from other bands. That was always my favorite thing to do.
I never really was part of the recording process that much back in the day, other than just me being able to ask the producer if we could try different things. Now, it’s awesome because I don’t have to commit to the band thing. I never get burnt out because I get to do different projects all the time.
I’m a fellow producer. I love it. I co-produced our last album and a few EPs along the way. Are you a Pro Tools guys? What software are you running?
Pro Tools 11?
I’m on Pro Tools 10 right now because I don’t want to go through the hassle of upgrading. I know it’s probably easy, but it’s a commitment with everything I’ve got going on right now.
I know 100 people who feel the same way you do so don’t sweat it. Do you have any recording tips you want to share real quick, such as any mics or amps you use for modeling or anything like that?
I’ll talk about the tone a little bit that we got for guitar on the new Haste the Day record. We’ve got a bunch of different heads we went back and forth between — a couple ’70s Marshall heads. We used a Bad Cat head for most of the high gain stuff. Of course, you’ve got to have a Dual (Rectifier) rack in there.
We went nuts on this record, as far as guitar tone went, which I think really turned out for the best because they have something that’s a little bit more unique than other metal records. We used a ’72 Deluxe Telecaster to record, like, 90 percent of the guitars through that Bad Cat head. We used pretty much one pedal the entire time. It was called Night OD by a company called Rawkworks. It acts like a Tube Screamer. Turn the volume all the way up, the gain pretty far down, tone in the middle. It just tightens everything up.
This is definitely a great guitar setting album. I thought the production was great, by the way. You did a good job.
Thank you very much.
Let’s keep moving. This Sunday we had an awesome sermon at my church in Mount Baldy in California on Christian persecution. I’ve definitely experienced this, especially back in 2011 when we pretty much changed gears and went fully in the Christian direction. You guys have always been (in the Christian industry), which is something I’ve always respected. Have you experienced persecution in the music world or personally on tour? How has that affected you as a band and as a person?
The thing that I think most people would guess as a Christian metal band would be that we would be persecuted by all the metal fans out there—all the metal heads that are stoned to religion or whatever. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. Actually, fortunately, they are very accepting and awesome. Less fortunately, it’s the Christian world that is that’s more judgmental. I guess that’s the right word for that.
If you take a Christian band and you put them on a pedestal and you say, “In order for them to say that they’re Christian, and if they’re going to play music in front of people, they have to abide by these guidelines.” And if those guidelines aren’t met, then that’s when the prosecution comes in.
I think it’s similar to Jesus being prosecuted by the Pharisees. The difference is that Jesus is perfect, and we are not.
The similarities are there. You can read about it Mark 5.
I just really want to encourage any person or metal listener to realize that the bands they’re listening to are not gods. They are not God. They are not going to save you.
They need just as much support as a missionary from a church needs. They need prayer. They need encouraging words they just need to be encouraged. They do not need to be persecuted because somebody smokes a cigarette or somebody does something that does not align with your personal convictions. Let’s stop looking at those things as “separating from God’s ministry” and start looking at the actual person, start praying for that person in a positive way and encouraging them in a positive way. That’s what we need. It’s really hard because I’ve seen so many bands get so jaded at the church, and I think that’s wrong, too. Get over it. We’re not perfect.
Or find another church, right?
Yes, exactly. You can search all day long, but you’re never going to find a perfect church. You’re always going to get hurt at some point.
But it’s not our job as Christians to be offended by everything. We were never called to that. Anyway, that’s my rant.
Everybody is going to encounter it, so you just accept it. Jesus said, “If you follow me, you are going to be persecuted like I was.” It’s something we’ve been taught. But like you said, it’s not always something we can handle fully. We do need those prayers. We do need that encouragement. I’m glad you mentioned that. And also a lot of people just don’t realize that they’re not God (laughs). The one thing that actually binds us together is that we’re all not perfect. So, back off, man. Do you know what I mean? Back off. Worry about yourself. It’s been great catching. I’ve got everything I need. I wish you guys the best of luck. I hope I can make it to one of these shows. Is Casey going to mix you guys?
No, we were trying to get him, but I guess he’s busy.
I wanted to ask you real quick if there is anything charities you want to mention, anything else you want to say to your fans or anything you feel like I didn’t cover about the album?
I do want to reiterate that whole idea of love, especially in the hardcore scene because it’s been a place where there is still not a lot of it in there. We can love our brothers and start showing them and stop gossiping, especially in the Christian world. Stop acting like our job is to be offended by everything. Start loving everybody.
Collin Simula talks to Jimmy Ryan, vocalist for the band from 2001-2005. Simula’s favorite Haste the Day album is Burning Bridges (2004).
Jimmy Ryan and I go way back. My former band, Symphony In Peril, played more than a handful of shows with Haste the Day in the 2000s; our bands were on the same page from a ministry standpoint, and Symphony in Peril’s hometown was only three hours from Indianapolis, the place Haste the Day called home.
I remember Haste the Day standing out as a band because — although they were getting immensely popular, selling tens of thousands of records, getting on huge tours — they never once changed as people. Throughout the entire time I’ve known them, they were always kind and always humble. It turned out, fan or not, if you met them, you loved them. And they loved you.
In the weeks leading up to the release of Coward, an album that features the entire first-and-second lineups of Haste the Day, I wanted to hear about the state of the band, their faith, their writing and their ministry. After all, it’s been ten years.
Vocalist Jimmy Ryan: I love hearing from people from the touring days. I went to a small Bible college so for me, when I connect with you or guys I had been on the road with, that was like my fraternity. Not necessarily the antics that go on in some fraternities, but just the fact that we lived the same things. No matter how big or small your band is, if you’ve toured at all, you understand the logistics of it, how fun it can be and how hard it can be. It’s a really neat community, you know?
You’ve got a new record coming out in a couple weeks. It’s such an interesting concept to me, this idea of bringing two eras of the same band together to do a record. Specifically two vocalists. Generally in our heavy music world, if there’s a vocalist change, it’s because of drama of some sort.
Well, there’s never been drama between Haste the Day members. Ever. I didn’t get to “pick” Stephen (Keech) as a vocalist when I left the band, but I was involved in the talks. I remember talking to Stephen as I was exiting the band at one of our last shows in Denver, just congratulating him and telling him how excited I was for him, and reminding him of the responsibility that he has as the vocalist of a band.
Honestly, I’ve always looked up to him. I know he’s nearly ten years younger than me, but I’ve always looked up to his songwriting abilities, his lyrical content that he writes. He’s a good man. I remember for a while that online, people thought we hated each other, which is the most ridiculous thing. We have always gotten along really well. I think people like drama and want to put it into people’s lives.
People don’t want to read about guys getting along.
Yeah, but there’s never been drama with us. It’s always been great. Honestly, when they’d come through town, I’d go and see them, and I always still felt like I was part of the band because they’d include me in things. Never any bad blood at all.
As far as writing this new record and working with Stephen and having him produce it, it was just confirmation of all of the things I always thought about him. He’s just such a talented man. It had been a while since I screamed, and God really used him to get me out of my shell and kind of learn how to scream again. It was an honor to work with him. I actually sent him a text not too long ago that my favorite part of this whole process was being with him in the studio. He’s such a good dude, and I think he’s going to do really well as a producer. He’s such a good songwriter.
I met him briefly last year when I was visiting Nashville, and he seemed like such a stand-up guy.
Not only is he stand-up, he’s also humble. I’ve never known him to put himself first. I’ve never known him to be a jerk to people. He’s got a soft heart. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m a huge fan of Stephen (laughs).
What was the dynamic like writing and recording these songs? How did you pick who was singing what? Is there an even balance between you and Stephen?
I think I’m on five of the 11 songs. Honestly, I let them tell me what they wanted me to do, if that makes sense. When the songs were being written and recorded — I can’t say this enough — but I trusted that Stephen was going to make the right decisions for the songs I was going to be on. And it really turned out great. I’m really thankful.
And one song has the entire original lineup, correct?
Yeah. One song has the Burning Bridges lineup. That one was really fun. And you can tell which song has that lineup. That doesn’t mean it’s better or worse, it just sounds like us. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just a little different.
Everyone from Burning Bridges still lives in Indianapolis. Devin (Chaulk, original drummer) actually lives, probably, two blocks away from me. Brennan (Chaulk, rhythm guitar and clean vocals) and I are super close. I really love spending time with him; he’s a new dad as well. His daughter was born right before my son, so it’s been nice to get advice from him since he’s a little ahead of me in the dad game.
When you got back together in the same room, did it just gel again? Did it feel like anything had changed?
It’s the weirdest thing. We can literally go years without seeing each other — I mean we don’t, but we could — and it’s the same jokes, the same dynamic and everything that was always there. It’s such a rare thing to have that. We didn’t skip a beat. I’m not even talking about music; I’m talking about us as friends. The older I get, that’s the important thing: the relationship. And I love spending time with those guys.
Right, I know what you mean. Now that I’m in my 30s with a more responsible life, for lack of a better term, it’s only those enduring friendships that matter in the end.
Right. Right. I know relationships sometimes take effort, but, in my opinion, the best friendships I have are the ones where I can go six months without talking to them and there are no hard feelings. We can just pick up where we left off.
Can you talk a little about the name Coward and the bigger idea behind it? It’s interesting to see that not only are you guys reuniting and doing new music after a few years, but also not being afraid of being abrasive with the title and cover art.
Stephen came up with the title. There’s a song on the record called “Coward” — I’m not on that song, but it’s really powerful. As much as I want to answer that question, I don’t want to be out of place. I’d rather Stephen get to answer that himself. I’m not trying to dodge the question (laughs). That’s just his baby, and I’d hate to answer that for him.
I will say that every step along the way, that kid has been so transparent, as far as the music and his writing goes. One of the best qualities a leader can have is transparency. And that is one thing I saw come out of Stephen, as far as his lyric writing goes. I love that about him.
I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. Let me rephrase the question a little broader: Can we expect this record to deliver on the intensity of a title like Coward?
Yeah. You know, I have it in my car right now. It’s one of the only things I listen to. I have it in my car so I can learn the songs I know we’re going to be playing, but I listen to it all the way through, including the songs I’m not on. I feel like it’s a powerful record. There’s not a ton of breakdowns and things like that; it’s heavy in a different way. I think part of that might just be the emotion behind it. As we get older, we, hopefully, are getting wiser. As we get older, we walk through more things, rather they be awesome things or harder things. It makes us stronger as people. I think that strength comes out on this record, if that makes sense.
“From a ministry standpoint, I don’t know that anything has changed. When I was in the band, I remember there was year where we played 311 dates. Not 311 days away from home, but 311 shows. We worked hard. And I know, for a fact, that when I was in the band, every single show we talked about Jesus. Even if it was just a little blurb here and there, we always talked about Jesus because that was always the goal.”
That leads me to my last big question, concerning the state of the band’s faith as a whole. When I remember Haste the Day from ten years ago, I always knew you guys to be super kind and positive and full of grace. You guys always seemed really happy to me, in a real way. You guys weren’t afraid to be a Christian band, but not over the top loudmouths about it. Ten years down the road, I know my faith has changed a lot. It’s been a long journey of ups and downs, losing faith, gaining faith. Ten years later, what does ministry and faith look like for Haste the Day?
I really appreciate you asking that. I actually said this in another interview not too long ago: I never felt like I was in the greatest band in the world. What I did feel like is that I traveled around with guys I cared about, and we loved people well. And that was the ultimate goal for me, that we loved people well.
Did we make mistakes? Sure, man. I remember losing my temper a few times and whatnot, but I’ll say, for the most part, there are very few regrets when I think about my time in that band. I think we did a good job loving people.
When I was a kid, I got picked on a lot. I wasn’t good at sports. I had bad acne. I never had any self-confidence at all. I didn’t grow up knowing Jesus, so I didn’t have him to lean on. My heart has always been for the “misfit.” I’ve always loved those who don’t necessarily fit in, and I think we did a good job loving those people.
From a ministry standpoint, I don’t know that anything has changed. When I was in the band, I remember there was year where we played 311 dates. Not 311 days away from home, but 311 shows. We worked hard. And I know, for a fact, that when I was in the band, every single show we talked about Jesus. Even if it was just a little blurb here and there, we always talked about Jesus because that was always the goal.
We never wanted to make people feel bad or come across hateful. We just wanted to let people know Jesus loved them. And for me, personally, that’s still a goal. We’re playing some shows with the record coming out, and my wife and I were talking last night about these shows. I told her the part I’m looking forward to the most isn’t getting on stage. The part I’m looking forward to the most is talking to people.
Haste the Day had a Burning Bridges reunion show a year ago, and there were some people — I want to say 50 to 100 — who paid extra to come early and see our soundcheck. You know, as well as I do soundchecks, they still aren’t very exciting. But they did pay extra. So I remember standing on the stage when we were done and telling everyone, from the microphone, to stay where they are — unless they had to pee (laughs) — and I went down and I hugged every person who came early. I asked them where they came from and how I knew them. The reason I did that had nothing to do with me wanting to look good. It had everything to do with wanting people to feel loved. And, honestly, I feel like Jesus has the desire for us to talk to him. I’m nothing like Jesus, but if I can do the things I think he would be doing if he were here, then I want to do it. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. It sounds like, in that regard, Haste the Day’s ministry could be summed up as “loving people well,” just like Jesus would.
That’s all I want to do, man. And Haste the Day, by no means, is number one in any of our lives anymore. And I don’t mean that other than it’s not ahead of God and family and all of that.
You’re not going to go play 311 shows.
Yeah, yeah. But the short time we have to do it, I want to make it count.
Haste the Day was posted on May 11, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.