Metalcore is not for everyone. You have to listen closely and keep an open mind — especially when there’s so much screaming going on. And the guys of Fit For A King know that their fans are more than willing to do that.
We caught up with frontman (and screamer extraordinaire) Ryan Kirby to chat about how things have changed for the band with the release of their highly anticipated fifth studio album, Dark Skies.
How did you get involved with Fit For a King?
I’ve been in the band for eight years now. I joined when it was still a local band in Tyler, Texas, and I would drive two and a half hours from here every weekend for band practice.
Who were your major musical influences growing up?
Vocally, Chester Bennington was a massive influence on me. And with screaming, a lot of Spencer Chamberlain (Underoath), Jeremy McKinnon (A Day to Remember) and Phil Bozeman from Whitechapel.
How did you actually get into screaming vocals? Did you just hear your favorite bands doing it, and think, “Hey, I could do that”?
When I was 14, my friend was playing a Suicide Silence song, and I made fun of it. He was like, “That sounds cool! Do it again.” And then we started a band together.
Do you take voice lessons to learn how to protect your vocal cords when you’re screaming?
I don’t struggle with vocals as far as hurting my voice. It’s never felt bad, but I could always learn more. I’ve actually never had a proper singing lesson, so it’d be nice just to hear from someone that knows what they’re doing.
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You’re joining The Devil Wears Prada’s "With Roots Above And Branches Below" anniversary tour soon. So what will you do to prep for that and keep your voice in good shape?
I have my own little cheap recording setup at home. So I’ll plug in my live mic, and I’ll actually just scream along to the session of all the instrumentals from our set as if it’s a live show. I’ll usually start doing that about a week before the tour starts to break my voice in. It kind of callouses over after like five shows, and then I’m good to go.
OK, let’s talk about Dark Skies. How have fans responded so far?
This has been by far the most positive feedback we’ve seen from a record, which really excites us because usually it’s more and more difficult to please everybody the longer your band’s around.
Why do you think that is?
Just because there are very few things you can do to keep everyone happy. Someone will complain, “Oh, this sounds like everything else. It’s so boring.” And then literally in the same post they could say, “I hate when they don’t sound like themselves.” And I think, “All right, what is it? Are we different? Are we the same?” But luckily I’ve only seen one comment so far from someone who’s said they don’t like this record. I’ve always told people trying to make it in the music industry: the number one most useful trait you can have is knowing which criticism to take in, and which to block out.
That’s good advice. So how do you stay sane listening to the constant feedback?
We’ll have people that say, “Oh, this band sucks. They’re so simple and basic.” And I think they probably just don’t like this genre of music — our branding of metal — in the first place. And then I move on, and it doesn’t bother me. But for one of our previous records, Slave to Nothing, a pretty big majority of fans felt like it was softer than what they expected from us. Then it’s like, all right, maybe I need to listen. Because one bad record can really ruin your career and your living.
Tell me a little bit about your songwriting technique. Are the lyrics mostly your perspective? Or is it more of a collaboration?
It’s a mix. At the beginning, it would usually always be my perspective, but now with five records and over 50 songs, we’ve had to branch out and get more creative so the songs don’t get lyrically repetitive. Fortunately for me, I haven’t had a ton of awful things happen to me in life. So I guess I don’t fit the tortured artist mold very well, which I’m thankful for. A lot of the lyrics on the new record actually came from stories I’ve heard from fans. Music is really important to people when it comes to depression and anxiety, and fans have shared some very heavy stories with me, so I feel like it’d be a shame if nobody heard these stories. Because a lot of people go through this, and it might give someone some comfort to hear it in a song.
Very nice. Have you dealt with depression and anxiety yourself?
I’ve suffered massively with social anxiety, but it’s a lot better now. A lot of people kind of laugh it off, considering I’m the vocalist of a metal band. I’ve always said that the easiest place for me to be is onstage. Because as the band gets bigger, I feel cooler on stage. And I’m confident because our fans drench us with compliments all the time. It’s really the moments where I’m just a stranger in a room with a bunch of people who don’t know me — I could just hide in the corner. The first show that I played, I actually didn’t look at the crowd at all. I had my back turned! I was 15 and wanted to play music really badly.
Sometimes, the more you do something, the easier it gets. Did your confidence just come with time?
It’s also easier when you know everyone thinks you’re cool. It has leaked into other parts of my life as well. Being in the band has helped me open up a lot. I can go to places and put on the fake smile and have small talk when it’s appropriate. But in the past, I would’ve just avoided that at all costs and would have been super awkward. So when people ask for advice about overcoming social anxiety, I tell them to just go for it with something they feel good about. And eventually it will start branching out in other areas. If you feel really good in one scenario, you might start feeling a little better in other ones.
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Let’s go back to Dark Skies. “Backbreaker” really stood out to me. Tell me more about that one.
That song is actually me just trying to describe what social anxiety felt like at its worst. Social anxiety is absolutely crippling in public settings for me. But I just couldn’t yell “crippling” a bunch of times and make it sound cool, so… (laughs) “Backbreaker” it was.
What other songs on this record do you feel particularly close to?
“Youth | Division.” A few years back, I was having sort of a quarter-life crisis. There were so many moments where I really missed just being a kid. I took it for granted. I had a great childhood, and it was bumming me out, realizing that it flew by. Once you have to start paying your own bills, there’s no going back…
Do you ever miss playing Dallas shows? How does the scene here compare with other places when you tour?
Dallas is always at the top of the list, and that’s not just me being a homer. A lot of bands consider Dallas, and Texas in general, one of the best music scenes in the country. Our last show at Trees was insane. One of the craziest crowds. I might be a little biased, but I think Deep Ellum is one of the coolest areas we play in the country. And we’re gonna be at Canton Hall in December. I’ve never been there, so I’m definitely looking forward to that show.