If you have the opportunity to speak with as tenured a band as Fit for a King, one especially intriguing subject to visit is the reason a band hit it big. For some artists, it’s that hit single that catapults them to mass success (Papa Roach, we’re looking at you). For others, a complete album – bangers from top to bottom – may be their game changer (jam August Burns Red’s Messengers). For Fit For a King – though they’ve already enjoyed huge success – they’re now hitting unprecedented milestones in their career with the release of their new album, Dark Skies, pulling in well over a million streams and landing on several Billboard charts with high-ranking positions in the first week of its release.
In the short time since, FFAK has had little time to reflect on this success – or really much else – as they immediately jumped on tour, piling into their van and heading out on the road to support the work. After having endured 30 long hours on the road, I caught up with FFAK vocalist Ryan Kirby as he was shaking the rust off and preparing for opening night. Still wearing his eyeglasses and a look that exuded exhaustion and excitement, Kirby opened up about the inspiration behind the band’s fifth studio album, what motivates him in his bleakest moments, and the song that helped him through his social anxiety.
HM: Would you say that Dark Skies has done the best of all your albums this quickly?
RK: Definitely. By far. It had over a million streams more the first week than the last record.
What do you attribute that to?
I think it’s that we were already bigger and putting out a record that I believe was better and I think a lot of fans think that way – at least, I hope. There’s always going to be some that are like, “Oh, I like the old music.”
I think the more popular it becomes, you’re going to hear about it one way or the other. Do you think that having that fan/band barrier removed has been a good or a bad thing? Are there moments where it’s not great?
I think it’s a mixture. There are still boundaries, so it’s great when fans – which is 95% of them – understand that. Like, Hey, you’re in a band, I really like your music, you’re making yourself available for me to tell you that and to talk about stuff. Some will be like, We’re best friends now, we talked once and will open our van door while we’re just sitting in there. Stuff like that is not cool; this is our house, and I don’t really know you.
There’s a difference between acquaintance and best friend!
Yeah, and I’ve become friends with fans, and we’ll hang out whenever we come through a city or something, but that’s something that just happens.
It has to be organic.
Yeah. Usually, if you just open the door without asking, you’re not going to end up being our friend.
“We want the songs to connect with people, not just, ‘Oh, that’s a cool breakdown.’ I‘ve always said people come for the music and stay for the lyrics.”
Not a great reception. Deathgrip was inspired by a lot of fan stories. Did that happen with Dark Skies, or was it more your stories? Was it fiction? What inspired the storyline?
A lot fewer fan stories on this one. I think maybe one song was fan-inspired, and it was more of an “inspired by” thing than the song directly relating the story. The song “Oblivion” was inspired by a fan who had done some really awful things in a previous marriage ten years ago; he was an older fan. He just struggled. He wasn’t a Christian – he became a Christian – and then he was struggling with, “There’s no way God can forgive me” and all that. So I didn’t necessarily write about what he had done, I just wrote a song about somebody struggling with forgiveness and not believing he was worthy of forgiveness. So that’s the prime example.
The song “Shattered Glass” is trying to put a visualization on depression so, for people who haven’t been depressed, it will hopefully help them understand it a little more. I’ve never personally suffered from depression, but it’s a very common topic that fans want to talk about.
I feel like a lot of people in the metalcore community have experienced those feelings.
It’s a shame because there are some fans that ruin it for others. They use it as a reason to become friends with a band guy.
Yeah, they’ll be like, “Can I get your number so I can text you about it?” And I tell them, “I’m going to be honest with you: It’d be a lot healthier for you to find someone here that you can go get lunch with if you’re having a rough day.” Honestly, I’m just a guy you met for the first time right now. I’m not a therapist, I’m just a normal person that writes music and you see me once a year. So I’m down to give you advice if you want some quick help but some fans need more than just a band guy coming through once a year.
When I watched “Oblivion,” I don’t know if I’ve ever had that emotional of a reaction to any video ever. I almost couldn’t pinpoint why I was pulling so hard for that relationship between the father and son to mend…
Right, because he ruined his own life.
My husband and I are also huge UFC fans, so the whole MMA aspect also threw me off. Why did you choose to go that route?
The director pitched it to us, and we were like, Yeah that would be great, especially for heavier music. It makes the impact heavier. And the guys were actually MMA fighters in the video, so that was actual sparring. He was like, What would a kid who ran away from home who had watched his father abuse his mother do? He naturally funneled his violence into fighting. And UFC is a very common thing now, so I was like, you know what? That would be a cool video, and I think it would be really impactful because a lot of people could look at the son who became the fighter like, Man, I’ve felt that kind of anger. And the flashbacks of showing the Dad striking the Mom, but it shows him striking his opponent…
Right, it shows that it perpetuates the cycle.
Yeah, I think it just hit home. He was like, I want to do something where the son is physical with somebody but not in a damaging way, but it shows that he’s very torn and violent on the inside and has a lot of things that are unresolved. The director talked to some of the fighters and a lot started fighting due to childhood anger. They funneled it a healthy way, by MMA fighting, which is great to find a healthy outlet. But it still sucks to have that kind of pain inside to fuel you.
Are you doing more music videos for this album? You’ve done some lyric videos already.
We want the songs to connect with people, not just, “Oh, that’s a cool breakdown.” I‘ve always said people come for the music and stay for the lyrics.
That makes sense.
A lot of bands have Cool Music, and yours may be that Cool Music for a month, but, if you have lyrics, it could be something that changes somebody’s outlook on life. Then they’ll listen to that song for the rest of their life. We’d like to do two more music videos, I think that’s in the plan.
Do you have a song that has influenced you like that, one song that has stuck with you through the years that you still go back to?
I’m supposed to do a thing with Revolver right now where I choose five songs that helped me through dark days. But what’s odd for me is I’ve never listened to music when I’m sad. I’ve always listened to music to inspire and motivate me.
As somebody that hasn’t experienced depression though, that does make sense.
I’ve had sad moments, but I would never say I’m depressed. Social anxiety is my big thing; it would be crippling when I was younger. My first show ever, when I was 15, my back was turned to the crowd the entire show. Music has really helped me come out of my shell. A song that’s really helped me is by this band from England called Deaf Havana – they’re not a heavy band. They have a song called “I Will Try.” The song is simply about, no matter how crappy your day is, you will try to find a bright spot in the day. Whenever I would start having bad days or bad social anxiety and I was always focusing on every negative thing possible and I was like, Maybe I should actually try to make good come out of this experience.
I think the worst that I’ve experienced (anxiety) was when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. He’s fine now; I always have to preface that. Then, I was 19, so it was an age where I was very aware of everything that was going on. He was in the military and a very hardened person. He’s changed a lot since cancer.
It’s interesting how those things do change you.
Yeah, it was the first time I saw him cry and hug me. When he was about to have surgery and have it removed he was just like, “Don’t even pray for me to get better. Just pray that whatever happens furthers God’s purpose, no matter if me dying makes ten other people’s lives better because they’re inspired by how I handled this situation.” I always looked at it like, Wow, he found a bright spot with cancer!
There are people I see with awful illnesses. There’s that girl I saw on a Facebook video who can’t physically develop. She’s tiny and in a wheelchair. But she gives motivational speeches to people, and I think that’s awesome because I think to myself that I would never leave my house and I’d feel sorry for myself all day and she’s like, “I’m not going to feel sorry for myself.” So that song is just me saying, Hey, things could be way worse, just keep going forward.
Have you had any collaborations that have thus far gone unfulfilled you’re dying to do?
I want to tour with Architects really bad; that’s one of my favorite bands of all time. I would love to have Sam (Carter, Architects vocalist) on a song. Also Parkway Drive.
Is Parkway Drive Australian?
Yes. So I guess I didn’t even name any American bands, but they all speak English, I can understand them (laughs). They have way cooler accents than me. Maybe that’s why I like them: the cool accents. But I’d love to tour with Underoath, Architects, Parkway Drive – or even just a collab.
Underoath would be sick. Are they still touring?
They just started going full time, but yeah. If you’ve noticed, a lot of bands seem to come back. I talked to a few that tried leaving, and it’s almost like a lot hit depression when they stop. You go from so many people caring… You go on stage and people are cheering, singing along with songs. Then you quit and work a desk job.
And now I’m a normal person and nobody cares.
Right. So part of it may be ego driven, and I think part of it is you feel like that was my purpose. Taking away someone’s artistic outlet can drive them… or like, man, it’s really boring. Normal jobs kind of suck, maybe I should tour again.
A lot of what we make depends on what we sell. So every night it’s like a commission job where you’re stressing, like, I hope the sales are good tonight because I have bills. So, yeah, there’s a stability you can have being at home. But I think when people stop they realize it sucks not touring. Unless they have kids or a family to be their new purpose, a lot of them struggle, especially my friends that stop touring that are single or don’t have children. They’re like, yeah, I just went from hanging out with people half the year to feeling like you’re not part of this big group.
I’d already met like half of the people on this tour (Editor’s Note: Fit for a King was currently on tour with The Devil Wears Prada and ’68) – just between festivals and crew guys working for different bands – and we’ve never even played with The Devil Wears Prada before.
When you go on tour, I always assumed that you all are best friends. You all hang out and eat and do everything together, but, apparently, that’s not how it works.
Some people will be like, Oh, you must know this band on your label that just got signed. I’m like, I have no clue who anyone in that band is. Congrats, but I don’t know them! But, yeah, the more you tour, the more people you meet. I think when you stop touring you’re like, Oh, I don’t see anybody anymore! I don’t have any friends that live in this city, all my friends live across the U.S., and I just see them on tour.
If there is any take away for your listeners to have from Dark Skies, what would it be?
I’d say even on your darkest days, try to find the bright spot because there is one. If people that are dying of stage four cancer or someone that’s lost their whole family can find a happy moment in a day, there’s no reason that any of us can’t find happiness in every day.
Fit for a King was posted on October 22, 2018 for HM Magazine and authored by Danielle McCallister.