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Fit For A King @ Effenaar, Eindhoven

INTERVIEW: ‘The Hell We Create’, Album Artwork Designs & More With Fit For A King

We sat down (or actually we remained standing) with Ryan Kirby from Fit For A King before they opened for The Amity Affliction. We talked about their latest record The Hell We Create, album artwork designs from both this album and previous album, The Path, how business savvy they are and much more!

Read it all below:

First and foremost, how are you?
I’m doing good. Just woke up two/three hours ago. I’m trying to not fight the time change. I’m just rolling with it, because I’m home for five days before another tour and I don’t want to spend the five days at home being dead. It’s weird. I go to bed at like 3 to 5 AM, wake up at noon or 14:00, but my wife and everybody’s awake the whole time, so it’s weird.

We are one week in so far and we have like two and a half more. I tried to adjust and it went really badly. I kept waking up at like 4 AM or 5 AM, not falling asleep again.

And then I was like, I’m just not even gonna fight it anymore.

Congrats on the release of the new album. It’s a great album. How have you experienced the reception so far? 
I’ve been surprised by how well it’s gone over. Way more people singing than I expected. I expected it to be okay. But it’s like such a big difference from the last time we were here three years ago. So it’s exciting. 

Obviously, the world is a little bit different right now, but it hasn’t slowed you guys down. You released a record in 2020 and then again in 2022. So has the whole state of the world and the pandemic that we were in changed your process in any way? 
I would say not a lot as far as writing, because The Path we actually wrote a month before the pandemic. A lot of people are like, “oh, it’s a pandemic record.”

I’m like, no, it just came out during it. But it was completely finished before the pandemic ever happened. So it would not have been as happy of a record, probably, if it was during it. I’d say what changed the most was our mindsets and our gratitude towards everything. Because you kind of take things for granted and don’t realize how fragile it is.

It wasn’t even our choice to stop touring. The world just went crazy. All the pandemic stuff and restrictions, just stuff completely out of our control and I think it really made us appreciate our fans and especially with how much support they showed through the pandemic because everybody was going through their own thing.

So the fact that people would take the time out of their day to support us and with whatever little money they had because they weren’t working and help our band, that’s changed our perspective on our fans, on our position in this band. It has matured us a little bit.

We checked the live stream you did on Twitch surrounding the release and it was mind-blowing, the whole production around it, it was insane. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
We were always trying to find a way, when we do things, we want it to be very high quality, even if it costs a lot of money. We made a good amount of money from donations and merch sales. I think we made $40,000, but then it costs like $25,000 to put the whole thing on. 

I know people were desperate for more and more live music, so people asked “why don’t you just do this instead of touring?” But the amount of expense, just to do it once, versus like 30 times, where you don’t have to have a camera crew. It was fun though, but as much fun as it looked like we were having on camera, it was a completely empty room and just cameras.

So you’re almost having to fake some of the energy because it’s just an empty room. And I’d rather have a crowd in front of me. 

Do you consider yourself business savvy in this industry?
I would consider myself pretty business savvy. I run our band’s finances with our other manager. I do more of the payroll and deal with taxes and all this stuff, all the boring stuff. But, I think it’s striking that balance of art and business because I love making art, recording music and performing music is one of my favourite things ever and I want to do it for the rest of my life.

And I understand the only way to do that is to be business savvy. Because I can’t be 40, 50 years old making $10,000 a year. You can work odd jobs and stuff when you’re 20 or even when you’re 30. But as you get older and you want a family, you can’t. So I always view it as finding a perfect way to move our band forward that can grow the band and grow the business, while also maintaining the integrity of the art and keeping the heart behind the music.

I know it’s not impossible because there’s businesses out there that aren’t music where you can feel that there’s love being put into the business. Even if it’s like a coffee shop or a little restaurant.

I want to be in it the same way. We put heart into this business, but we also make good business decisions so that the business can stay healthy. It’s really depressing to see how many musicians don’t have hope that they can ever have a career playing music.

Because you can, it’s just a lot of boring work. Going through your statements, looking at patterns of like, “why are we spending money here? What did that get us?” Business conversations that a lot of people think you shouldn’t have in music, because it’s art. But businesses are businesses and treat it like a business that you just put your heart into.

Music is the product. And obviously merch, band merch is the big one. But I think a lot of bands get taken advantage of because they don’t pay attention to their business. You’ll hear about these bands, they’re selling out rooms all over Europe and then they go home and don’t have any money. And it’s because they’re usually letting people outside of their business run all the money stuff and magically none of that money ever comes back to them. And when you don’t educate yourself enough on business, it’s easier for people to take advantage. 

And I think that’s what I always try to tell young bands. Take care of your art, but also become educated on how a business should be run and not just for yourself because I don’t think everything needs to be about money or stats, but you don’t need to let people take advantage of you. And the more your business flourishes, the more your art can flourish and the more resources you have to make your art fully realized. Because, if you have $2,000 for a video budget, it’s cool. But what if your business grows to the point where labels or even yourself could afford a $100,000 budget? Now you can bring your art out at the highest quality possible instead. So I view it like that. 

One more question regarding business and then we focus back on the stuff that’s really important. You guys have had quite a nice pattern since 2014. It’s been a record every two years. Is that a conscious decision or does it just happen that way? 
I think it kind of always just happened that way because what would happen is we would put out the record, then tour really hard for a year like we’re doing this year.

We have this tour. Then, there’s a five-day break. Then we have a US headliner and then we have a total of three headliners this year three. Actually, four. There’s another Europe one at the end of the year, so we’re gonna be in Europe twice, America three times, and then trying to do Australia again and Japan. 

So when you put out the record, you just want to go as much as possible. And then January comes and we always do our albums in LA and the weather in LA is perfect year-round, so we don’t want to tour in January because it’s awful weather everywhere except California where it’s like 16 Celsius or 17 Celsius.

So we record our album then, then we just make the music videos, do all the stuff for a year. And then when it hits the two-year mark, it’s all ready. But I think this time around we’re doing things differently. We wanna spend more time and we also want to put gaps between the writing.

In the past, we would just have six straight weeks in January to February and do everything. But this time, in May, we have three months off, which was supposed to be our break for the year, between all the headliners. But we are gonna take almost all of May, do a week with us, a week with the producer and like another week maybe with just ourselves.

And then do that three to four more times over the next two years. So it’ll be a total of 12 weeks spent working on the record, but spread out, which I think is important because there’s so many times, with this record or all of our past records, we feel with certain songs, we could have beat that or this chorus could have been better. So it gives us the opportunity to kind of listen to things. Because if we do three weeks, take three months to tour, be home, listen to those songs, then another three weeks we can go fix things we didn’t like and that didn’t grow on us. Because if it doesn’t grow on us, how can we expect it to grow on a fan?

In the past, we would just do six weeks and then that was what’s on the record. So I think there’s gonna be a big difference on the upcoming stuff because of how we’re changing the writing. So the two-year cycle thing might change, it might take a little longer, but I think the product will be way, way better.

We’ll put singles out. We’re not gonna just be silent for three years. The world needs singles. 

Has the European tour already been announced? Will it be the same line-up as the one that was supposed to happen in 2021? 
I don’t think it’ll be announced for another couple of months. I haven’t seen the routing yet. At the moment we’re just figuring out the first couple of bands and openers right now. It’s just us and our direct support that are figured out. It’ll be a different lineup, but it’ll be kind of like trying to come back and play all the songs from all these new records. Cause we were trying to do Dark Skies back then and we have so many albums to catch up on in Europe. We have put out two records since we’ve been here, which is true, but we’ve only played Dark Skies on one tour. So it’s like even Dark Skies barely got played over here.

You are getting kind of famous for your artwork, they were so well received. Could you tell us something about the creation and how it came to be? 
I had always been a big fan of the They’re Only Chasing Safety artwork from Underoath. So with The Path, I was like, “what could we do that’s like our version of that?” 

It was a very victorious record, we were in a really good head space when we did that record. And I really liked the imagery of Greek mythology and I’ve also always played magic. I love the artwork and stuff in magic and some of the imagery of Gods and Goddesses, stuff like that.

So I thought, “how could we implement that on Fit For A King artwork but have the living statue thing?” Corrine, she started doing stuff with us on Death Grip, which were very different album covers, so it shows her versatility as an artist. And we had talked about how we want a more photorealistic album art portraying the goddess of Victory.

Because that was kind of the theme of the record, overcoming things. The Path or Breaking The Mirror, all those songs talk about that. So I sent her stuff off Pinterest and Google images and I was like, “I like this crown”, or “I like these wings”. And she said that instead of a hyperrealistic drawing or painting, we could do a living statue thing.

So the living statue was her idea. I never even thought about that. Then she came back and that first draft was the artwork. It was perfect and incredible. The model, the outfit, everything was exactly what I was thinking.

Then, with The Hell We Create, we tried to do something closer to Dark Skies, because I think there is value in having something people get tattooed on them. A lot of people got the flower of Dark Skies, like Bring Me The Horizon has the umbrella, and you saw everybody with the umbrella. So we wanted to try to do that with a burning house because a ot of the storyline of the record is about adopted children and how their house basically imploded, which led to them being put in the foster care system. But we got art back and we weren’t very crazy about it. Also, we noticed Kanye West had a record where there was a house on fire, but it was more like a picture. So I felt it wasn’t super unique and we weren’t in love with the first draft. This was like three weeks in of back and forth and then it’s always hard to just scrap it and it’s expensive because obviously, she needs to be compensated for the time she spent doing that. So I said “let’s just completely scrap this idea and go back to a living statue. But it needs to be like anti-The Path because it is not happy.”

This album’s super sad and super serious. But we wanted it to be sad but hopeful, so we don’t want it to look completely lost, we wanted the statue to be looking up, not depressed down. Like she’s ready to fight, but she’s really beat down and sad. So again, I sent her Pinterest stuff and a lot of it was goddess of Misery, with obviously some of our own adding in. I asked her if she could put in a rose upside down somewhere. So it’s actually seeing the physical rose instead of just the drawn one. And that was her first draft back and I was like, “all right, you’re just great at this because we have no notes”. And I think she killed it on both artworks. But that’s kind of the background on both of those artworks. 

To weave in with the fact that this album is a little bit darker, a little bit sadder and it’s a very personal record for you, does it have a cathartic kind of thing to it to just like write it down and put it out in the world? Or do you find that very difficult? 
It was difficult at first and the band encouraged me because I’ve always been somebody that kind of bottles up stuff because I’ve had a good life, I’ve had great parents, and I feel like there’s never been anything I can complain about when so many other people have it way harder.

And I think what I learned through this process is even if things are good, nobody’s problems are too small to just bury. Because you see people that look like they have the best life ever and then they will go commit suicide and I always wondered, did they think their problems weren’t worth complaining about?

Because they think they’ll just sound like they’re being a baby because “look how good their life is, they’re rich, they have all this stuff.” But that’s probably why they didn’t say anything because they think “how could I complain when there’s people that don’t even have food?”

So I think for a long time I felt that way and then this record was me finally just being honest with myself and being honest about stuff. And actually, it was very cathartic. It was like therapy. 

But it makes the criticism harder. I’m okay with criticism all day if people feel like some part should have been heavier or they don’t really like how this voice sounds here. I could work on that. But when people feel like a song sounds generic or a song sounds like we don’t care or whatever. And that song’s me pouring my heart out and you say that it’s generic and the lyrics are dumb. It hurts more when you’re opening up. I poured my heart and soul into this, just for you to say, “these lyrics suck”.

I’m not gonna be like, “screw them”. But it does hurt more because the lyrics meant a lot to me, so I guess you can’t win them all. There’s always gonna be somebody who doesn’t like what you’re doing, that’s the sad truth.

Then again, our band, when we had less haters, was not nearly as popular. Our producer said that the worst thing is nobody saying anything. I would rather have a song with a million listens in 24 hours with 20% of the people hating on it than a song with 10,000 streams with zero haters. Because it means people don’t even feel strongly enough to say anything. They just move on.

Is there something that you’re hoping to accomplish that you haven’t accomplished yet with the band? 
Our band has always been a band that never had a huge break.

We’ve had a lot of little breaks. I’ve been in the band since 2010, so it’ll be 13 years this year. And there’s so many bands that have that big moment, whether their song explodes on TikTok or whatever. What band doesn’t wish that would happen to them?

So it’s not remotely out of jealousy of what other bands do. But we’ve always had the little breaks, our band grows slowly, but it’s steadily up. What’s funny is in my phone, before the pandemic, I had a personal goal and it was to headline a show to a thousand people.

That’s just a small goal I’ve always had. And we have our headliner in the States coming up and right now it looks like the average for the whole tour will be over a thousand people. So I’m gonna have a sappy speech on those shows, because my goal is just to have one, even if it was just a hometown show. 

So I think a long-term goal for the band is to just keep growing, but without ever sacrificing who we are as people. I want the band to be as popular as possible, obviously, but also I want us to be better people as the band grows, because a lot of people seem to trade popularity for being a good person or it gets to their head.

I don’t want to just be the same person. I want to be a better person as the band grows.

The Hell We Create is out now and can be streamed via Spotify right below.