In Conversation: Keith Buckley of Many Eyes
He very publicly parted ways with Every Time I Die, went through a divorce, and got sober in seemingly one fell swoop. With his new band, Many Eyes, Keith Buckley is ready to begin again.
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Keith Buckley has been through it. After 20-plus years as frontman for the much-loved Every Time I Die, the band seemed to implode in the swiftest and most public manner possible; the ambiguity (and disagreements) over how and why they broke up only complicated matters. What’s worse, Keith was already in a state of major upheaval—which included, among other things, a new and fragile commitment to sobriety after spending years in the throes of active alcoholism. You can’t really blame him if the idea of starting a new band was literally the furthest thing from his mind at the time.
But fate—and Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta—eventually intervened, and late last year Keith began releasing new music with Many Eyes, the incredible new band he started with brothers Charlie and Nick Bellmore. (One of those songs was, in fact, my second favorite song of 2023 in Anti-Matter’s Year-End Review.) Speaking with Keith now, it truly feels as if a weight has been lifted. His disappointment with aspects of the past still linger, of course. But when it comes to the present, he confidently reaches for optimism.
Recently I was on the other side of the interview chair, and for his final question the interviewer asked me whether or not I had any regrets in my career. I told him that the only regret that I have is the way I quit Texas is the Reason.
Yeah. I mean, it needed to be done, and it was going to happen no matter what, but the way it went down was very messy. It was very hurtful. And I take responsibility for that. I just didn’t really know another way at the time, and that still kind of pains me. So all that is to say I was kind of reminded of that time for me when I started seeing headlines like “Every Time I Die Messily Break Up on Twitter” following your band. I realize the wounds might still be fresh, but how did that affect you?
KEITH: It was just such a shame to me because there was so much going on that was not a mess. There were so many things that were very obvious and very meticulously plotted, and things kind of happened in a way that it just seemed like all signs were pointing to the end. That was how I felt. I was changing, my priorities were changing. We had a pandemic, the world was changing. Everything just felt different. So it’s a shame to me that it became more of a sensational story the way it did than a real attempt to understand the way that five people sort of imploded. I think it’s a really good social study to look at the way bands operate and to see how they function in total dysfunction. Which isn’t to say that our band was more dysfunctional than others, but now having been off the road for three years and looking back on my life, I can’t believe anybody survives. I can’t believe there aren’t more raging alcoholics. I can’t believe there aren’t more divorcées. I can’t believe there aren’t more single dads struggling. And I can’t believe there aren’t more options for therapy or for Alcoholics Anonymous. There are so many people that I think must have the same problems that I had. I mean, I know it looked messy to a lot of people, but human emotions are messy, and that was as real as it gets. I think by labeling it “messy” a lot of people looked at it and were [implying that] setting boundaries and having some agency for yourself and standing up for yourself is a messy situation—because that’s what happened. It was like, “Hey. I’m going to be sober now in this industry that has gotten used to me being very drunk and has treated me one way, and I’m not going to be treated that way anymore.”
I want to be aware of what’s going on and I feel like I’ve earned some sort of mutual understanding with the people I work with to really have it be beneficial for everybody across the board if I was healthy. I wasn’t trying to say that I needed to be the priority or that my situation matters more, but what I wanted was some help. Like, if somebody can offer me something that I haven’t had before that could change the way I look at this [band], then I could probably do this for a little longer. But I need some change now because I’m dying. That’s essentially what it was.
Watching this play out online, I really thought about how if we had the social internet in 1997, the Texas is the Reason story might have been a total shitshow [laughs]. Especially since your breakup happened around the pandemic when everyone was already online all day long, it just feels like the perfect petri dish for something like this to happen, unfortunately.
KEITH: Yeah, and I’m OK with being a case study for how much the confusion that surrounds the internet can lead to real-time effects and can do some serious real-life damage, you know? Because that happened to us. I very much felt outcasted for a little while. But it was also one of those things where I knew it was just a confusing situation that was going to work itself out, and the longer I kept my mouth shut, the better. So I tried to do that.
I also feel like, before this all went down, my impression of where you were at when Radical came out was very different. More than once you talked about the band in this sort of “we finally figured it out” kind of way. It felt like you spoke about the band as if you were in some sort of elevated state.
KEITH: It felt that way.
So that was a real feeling.
KEITH: Yeah, and I think there is proof in what followed. It was an elevated state and it couldn’t stay existing as it did for much longer because I knew that it was outgrowing its shell. It needed somewhere else to go. When I was writing the lyrics to Radical, I was at a point in my life where I knew that by the time this comes out, the world will be a different place. I’ll be a different person. We were writing it, but we knew it wasn’t going to come out for two years, so you have to take that into account—like, am I gonna mean this stuff that I’m saying two years down the road? So I started doing things I’d never done before. I started projecting where I wanted to be, so that when the time came around, I could actually say it as if it were true. I talked about how I wanted to be sober, and how I didn’t feel like I was connecting with people anymore. I saw that coming up in the future for me, and I wanted to predict that the outcome would be a lot better than it was, but you know, all things work out for the best. I truly believe that. It’s just one of those mysteries as to how it gets there.
OK, let’s go back to 2021. At this point you started living in an RV. Tell me about that decision because I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scream “midlife crisis.”
KEITH: [Laughs] Oh yeah! I mean, I’m in my midlife. I’m literally halfway through my life. I’m 44 years old. I had just gotten out of a situation where I was a homeowner, and I never liked it. I never wanted to be a homeowner; I felt like I was in this skin that didn’t belong to me. So yeah, I got an RV and I was like, “This is great! We’re just gonna cruise around and be on the road all the time.” But then there was no more road available to me so I had to get rid of it after six or seven months [laughs]. But it was the most magical six or seven months of my life that my daughter will never forget. I mean, she was just camping in the woods with her dad and her stepmom and she was loving every second of it. So I don’t regret it at all. It was a beautiful experience, and I hope I get to go back to it one day, but that just wasn’t the time for it.
Was there some kind of “back to nature” thing going on there?
KEITH: Yeah, because I was sober.
So this was really your way of acclimating to the world.
KEITH: Yes! I just thought I wanted to start over. Like, I’m gonna start in an egg. I’m going to go into the world, but be in this protective little egg, and I’m going to go into the woods and I’m going to isolate myself. I’m going to sober up and I’m going to focus on being a father. I wanted to see what I like—because I’ve never known that. As soon as I turned eighteen, I started drinking and touring, so it was like I never really got a chance to understand myself.
I grew up in the suburbs, so we were kind of in the woods all the time. The woods were very sacred to me because you could just go there to be alone or do whatever you want to do. It’s this sacred fantasyland for kids. I’ve always felt a very strong connection to it, and I was very happy to get back to it. It feels like every single time you read about someone having a perspective shift, it’s always like, first things first—just get in touch with nature. I did that.
I feel like I’ve already spoken with a few people for Anti-Matter who got sober during the pandemic, and it’s made me think about two things: The first being that the lack of social opportunities during that time could be advantageous, but the second being that it can also be insanely challenging due to the isolation and boredom.
Where do you feel like your experience sits?
KEITH: It was unfortunately a little more severe than that. I didn’t ever really have a reason not to drink when I was on tour. It was there and it was free and it made the shows more fun and I was a functioning alcoholic. Then I would come home, and it was the same thing: I was a functioning alcoholic so it didn’t matter if I had a few drinks at dinner or whatever because there was no line that divided my time between responsibility and irresponsibility. Either my daughter wasn’t born yet or she was so young that it’s not like she really knew who I was. So if I was on tour or not on tour, it didn’t matter to me, or it didn’t matter to her—or so I thought. But when I came home from the pandemic, I wanted to get my life on track and really get back in touch with my daughter and give her a dad that she knows. But I couldn’t stop drinking. I remember this moment when I was trying to write something down that she said that I thought was just so adorable, and I couldn’t even write it down because my hand was so shaky. I was like, well, this is it for me. This is really the end if I’m going to start losing my life like this, where I can’t even have this memory anymore because I lost it to alcohol. So I went cold turkey.
Alcohol is one of the most dangerous things to go cold turkey with.
KEITH: I know. And I probably shouldn’t have done it that way because I got really sick [laughs]. But it was the only thing I knew because I am an addict and addicts are liars. If I say, “Oh, I’ll just moderate,” I know I’d be lying to myself. I’d be lying to everyone around me. So I just quit cold turkey and it was a very hard thing to do, but the fact that I had my wife and my daughter there is just such a blessing because nobody else believed me. I was the boy who cried wolf about sobriety, so nobody else was really giving me the time of day at this point. But here I am.
So all of this is happening at the same time—the pandemic, sobriety, the band stuff…
KEITH: I’m also in a divorce and in a custody dispute.
Wow, OK. So I know that you’ve spoken about how the band breaking up almost irrevocably marred your relationship with the industry, but in the middle of everything else, there maybe had to be a point where you thought you’d never get up and do this again?
KEITH: Easily. I mean, I was so angry and bitter about the way that things went down that I was just kind of incredulous. I couldn’t believe that I had worked with these people that were just lying to my face and stealing behind my back and it was just such a hard thing for me to accept. It kind of broke my brain a little bit. If my brain hadn’t been broken before, it really was at this point because I just couldn’t make sense of it. It was kind of a good metaphor for all the relationships that I had that were based on alcoholism—where everyone was trying to get something out of it. It was one of those things where you’re kind of in a snake pit and you don’t really know who to trust anymore. I just couldn’t believe that I thought I was in one place and everything was great. We had this record coming out and we’re going to go on tour and I had a new lease on life because I was out of a relationship and I was sober and I had a relationship with my daughter again. Everything was clear, and then something happens and you realize, “Oh my God, no. This is still very dark and I’m actually sunk deeper than I thought I was.”
When that happened, I needed professional help. So MusicCares set me up with this amazing rehab center in Salt Lake City called Cirque Lodge, which is for addicts and alcoholics, and it helps them get back on track. It’s not for people that are actively using; it’s for people that just need help being sober. So I moved in for a month and did a sober living thing in Salt Lake. It was like four sessions of therapy every day. I finally got my brain analyzed and they found out that I had Bipolar 1, which makes so much sense considering how much medication I had given myself over the years and all the struggles I’ve had. So I feel like I’m on top of that now. Again, I do think all things move towards good, and at the time, it felt like the end of the world, but looking back, it was really where I kind of got my start.
You and I both share an interesting path, which is that we both went to a teacher’s college to get certified to teach English to high school students, and we both made the decision not to do that in the end [laughs]. I know that, for me, I was attracted to the idea of making a reasonable and consistent living while doing something that I felt was meaningful, but I was curious what put you on that track.
KEITH: I just kind of always wanted to be a teacher. I feel like the world needs more teachers. I feel like the world needs more credible authorities. Like, when you’re a kid and you’re a straight-edge vegan—especially in the scene that I was growing up in, where everything was disinformation and everyone was lying to you—it was like, I’m sixteen years old and I’m worried about fluoride… [laughs]. But those were the things we grew up with.
It was like, OK, I have these authority figures in my life. I didn’t think about their credibility at the time, but here are these men and women that are telling me that meat is murder and fur is bad and these are at least things that I can get down with. So now that I can agree with these two fundamental tenets, what do I do now? Well, now I go to protests and now I meet people and now I go to rallies. That showed me that if you can just have one node of authority to point you in the right direction, that can set off your entire life. My entire life was set off by this one protest I went to that probably got me into hardcore in general. There are these things we want when we’re young and we just don’t know how to get them. I felt like being a teacher was the best step.
That sounds like the famous Mr. Rogers concept of “looking for the helpers.” Did you see yourself in that role of the helper?
KEITH: I did. And I still do. And I know this is all because when I was a child, my youngest sister was born with a severe disability and I just helped. That’s all I did my whole life, I just helped my parents with my sister. I grew up wanting to help, and I still do. I think that’s one of the reasons why everything that happened [with the band] was so heartbreaking to me. It sort of threw my own credibility into shadow. The whole thing that happened made it look like I didn’t know what was going on, like it was a mess. But like I told you, no, it was very meticulous. I knew exactly what was going on the whole time.
OK, let’s switch gears. For me, I think that I would describe myself as generally introverted—meaning that if you give me a choice, I will choose the option with the least amount of people involved. But I had to learn how to be extroverted because my desire to create or to make music or to do things that have some sort of public-facing element is strong enough that it allows me to get over that hump. You seem like someone that actually thrives in front of people, though. Is that right?
KEITH: I think that’s true. I feel like I thrive in front of people, and I don’t believe I would have ever said that before I got sober and before I went to therapy. I would have just said, “Nah, I’m an introvert. That’s why I drink. That’s why I do this. That’s why I can’t do this.” You know, it’s a sort of plausible deniability for everything. But I’m realizing in the time that I’m spending off the road just how much I need it to feel something. It’s a very strange thing because it’s not about some sort of ego balm; it’s just about a connection.
I live in a townhouse community. There’s a blizzard out. I’m not gonna see anybody for four days now if the snow is this bad. I’m not gonna see a single person. And that, to me, gets really sad and it gets really lonely. I wish there was a way to find a connection that fulfills in the same manner that the old connections used to get fulfilled, but they just don’t. I don’t think I’m ever going to find a replacement for being on stage because there’s just an energy to it that’s so palpable that you can’t replicate it anywhere else.
How would you describe the part of you that gets nourished from that?
KEITH: It’s the childish part. It’s the part of me that wants to believe that there’s still some magic left in music. That it’s not all numbers and figures and statistics and demo studies. That there is some spontaneity and beauty left to music and why we’ve been doing it this long.
You’ve used the word “spirituality” to talk about different facets of your life and your work before. On some level, I feel like if the hardcore scene hadn’t gone through Krishnacore and Christian metal, we might be able to talk about “spirituality” in a less cringey way…
KEITH: Right. 108 blew it! [laughs]
I’m partially to blame and I apologize [laughs]. But I am curious about how you use that concept. How do you view what you talk about when you talk about spirituality?
KEITH: I used to view it from a distance. I really used to view it like I was on the outside looking inside on some kind of treasure that was kept behind some sort of glass enclosure that I couldn’t get to because I was an alcoholic. I think that was the saddest part for me was that no matter how much I studied and read, none of it applied to me because I was an addict and it doesn’t talk to addicts. But I think spirituality is such a huge part of who I am now, and it’s only gotten bigger in the two or three years that I’ve been away from [Every Time I Die]. I really went hard on it.
I think it’s always something I wanted to focus on because living with my sister growing up, that changes a kid. You realize early on that there’s a higher power because you’re praying for medical results and they’re being answered. All of the sudden, you believe that someone is listening to you. And when you’re a little kid, you like that idea. So yeah, [my family] was big in the church when we were little, but then, when I was nine years old, I got pulled from the church and I never went back. I always felt like it was something I had an interest in, but that I just wasn’t worthy of it. It was sort of like, “Oh, I can’t go into that house. God does not like me” [laughs]. Once I got sober, and I was able to approach it without that barrier of alcoholism there anymore, it was so much easier to get close to it.
It sort of reminds me of that Every Time I Die lyric about the atheist…
KEITH: “You got an atheist praying for Judgment Day.”
KEITH: See? That line was really one of the ones that tipped me off. I was like, I don’t believe in God. I’ve said it a million times. But I was still praying for the things that I used to find with him. So who am I? I can’t have a faith and pretend that I don’t, and I can’t not have a faith and pretend that I do. It just became this huge dichotomy that I had to get straight. And once I did, I just had to admit: I believe in God. I was a religious kid. I’m not Roman Catholic [anymore], but I’m Christian, and this is where my interest is. This is the source of all spirituality that I’ve always been talking about. It comes back to this institution that is just really fucked up, but you have to dig through it to get to the actual spirituality. That’s kind of what I did for the last two or three years.
It feels like you’ve also essentially softened a little. That maybe getting sober and walking away from the band lent itself to a softening of your cynicism—and even how that played out lyrically. I feel like there’s a decreasing sense of cynicism in your lyrics for Many Eyes, and even on Radical. Do you see that slope yourself?
KEITH: I do. I just felt like I wasn’t doing anybody a service by making jokes anymore. It wasn’t funny to me anymore. The world is awful, and to come together and laugh about it—that feels nice for a while, but that’s an extremely privileged ability. There are a lot of people that can’t get together and laugh about how awful the world is.
OK. Be honest: Did the idea of working with two brothers [in Many Eyes] give you pause?
KEITH: Yes [laughs]. Oh yeah. But it was so obvious. It couldn’t have been written any better, you know what I mean? I was just coming out of an experience with two brothers and now I’m getting right back into one. Normally I would be like, “No no no no no, I am not making the same mistake!” But it felt like such a strange anomaly that I was like, I think I have to do this. I think this is to atone for everything else, like it’s gonna offset that.
Is there some sense of comfort in it?
KEITH: Yes! Of course there is! I love that camaraderie. That’s what I want. That’s what I wanted. I love to see it. I love being around it. It’s warm, it’s beautiful. It just gives me joy to see two dudes talk to each other in a loving manner [laughs]. I remember when I went to Salt Lake, I went to my first-ever group therapy session. I’m 44 years old, I just landed, I’m in a new building, I’m surrounded by strangers, and I have to open up about myself. So I do, and everything goes well, and at the end of the session we go around and we’re talking about what we learned from it, and I was like, “I have never in my life sat in a room where grown men have complimented each other.” I was in awe! They could tell that I was in awe. I wasn’t faking it. I just couldn’t believe that I was watching grown men be supportive of each other and be nice to each other and I love that. I want that connection.
What you’re talking about, really, is a form of intimacy. It’s the ability to see you as you are and appreciate you as you are.
KEITH: Yes, exactly.
That kind of intimacy is something that often takes years for bands to truly develop, but with Many Eyes, I already get this sense that you feel like you are in a position of intimacy with the Bellmore brothers. How do you feel that developed so quickly? Or am I even sensing that correctly?
KEITH: No, you’re sensing it correctly. I think a lot of it has to do with the experiences that they brought to the table. We know a lot of the same people, which kind of evens the playing field already, and our connection through Jamey Jasta—obviously, if you have Jamey Jasta vouching for you, you’re a good person.
It’s hard to explain, but you can just feel when someone is judging you or not, you know what I mean? You can feel whether or not they’re thinking while they’re talking to you or if they’re listening while they’re talking to you. And the feeling I get from just being around the company of the new band, it’s just a remarkable difference. I am so eager to give myself to it because I’ve kept myself hidden behind all those words with Every Time I Die for so long, that I just want to go out there and be honest about what I’m writing about for the first time ever. One of the lessons from the whole [ETID] experience could have been to just never be vulnerable again—that it doesn’t pay off, it doesn’t work, it breaks your brain, and you’ve wasted a bunch of time. But there is much more vulnerability in this, and I’m OK with that.
You’re in this position where Many Eyes is about to go on its first tour, you are about to put out a new record, you are about to begin again. Tell me about the process for you. What are you feeling right now?
KEITH: I’m trying not to feel anything, honestly. I’ll take a look at what I used to do, and just understand that that’s all dead. That none of it worked for me before. So what I used to do before tour was work out like crazy, diet, practice a lot, and stress out a lot. But this time I’m just taking it easy. I’m going easy on myself. I feel confident. And I feel like going out and knowing that I’m going to be with people that are supportive of me and won’t be drunk… I don’t even know if there’s going to be alcohol around. It’s going to be such a strange thing for me to do, to go on tour sober. I haven’t done it in a very long time. But yeah, that’s where I am.
OK. One last thing. Can you think about a moment, between starting Many Eyes and now, where you got into this headspace of thinking either, “I can’t do this again” or “I don’t want to do this again.”
What can you tell me about that?
KEITH: There was a period about a year ago, right before I went to recovery, when I was convinced that I was not going to do this. Even if I said I was going to do it, I just thought my life was going to change so much in the next few years that I won’t have time for it. There will be something else in my life that will take my time away from it, and I’ll be certain that I don’t enter into the same arena making the same mistakes. But things just kept coming together for Many Eyes and I was like, “OK, this is awful. I’m not supposed to do this. I’m supposed to do something else. Like, anything else. Please. These songs are not as good as I think they are, these dudes are not as cool as I think they are, just please don’t let me do this” [laughs]. So I ignored it for a very long time.
I remember one day I was sitting on my couch, and I’m not lying, I sat on my couch for seven hours and stared out the window. I was like, “I am not writing. I am not writing lyrics. Something is going to have to happen in my life today to take me away from writing lyrics because it’s not happening. I don’t know what’s going to walk in front of my window, but it better be a Bigfoot or a fucking car accident that involves me somehow because something needs to pull me away from this band. I’m not doing this again.” I really just thought this was going to be bad for me. I was convinced that people weren’t going to see me again until they saw me, like, running for office in 2030 or flying over the Super Bowl or something that no one would have expected. But now? I think this band is actually the good thing that no one has expected from me.
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