The 50 best albums of 2023
The Kerrang! verdict on the 50 albums that shaped 2023.
In his almost 40 years on earth, Vic Fuentes is currently experiencing “the craziest month” of his life. When you read this very feature, in fact, the Pierce The Veil frontman may have just become a father – his wife Danielle’s due date for their baby girl is February 7. Then we’ve got the small matter of his band’s first new album in seven years, The Jaws Of Life, seeing the light of day on Friday. Oh, and that also happens to be the same date as his big four-oh birthday. Calling this ‘an important time’, then, would be a severe understatement.
“Everything is intertwining in a nice way right now,” a surprisingly relaxed Vic smiles from his San Diego home, despite the “mayhem” and no sleep on the horizon. It’s a couple of weeks until release date, and we’ve interrupted him today from some much-needed DIY – painting and wallpapering, to be exact – as he and Danielle decorate a nursery for their impending arrival.
“We just got the wallpaper hung yesterday,” he says. “The baby could come anytime, so we’re getting ready to do this thing. It’s our first kid, so we’ve got no idea what we’re doing!”
Something Vic is well-versed in, though, is releasing records. And The Jaws Of Life – album number five – couldn’t be coming at a more apt moment… even if its specific release date is remarkably close to these other life milestones.
Because Pierce The Veil have rarely been in a better spot than right now. They’ve got a new album they’re enormously proud of (which we’ll get to). There’s arena shows in 2024. Scene nostalgia is going strong thanks to the likes of Las Vegas’ When We Were Young Fest – which they appeared at last year. And they’ve also enjoyed a completely unplanned moment of exploding on TikTok. Meaning that the stars are aligning in pretty much every aspect…
“God, that was just one of the craziest things of my life,” Vic laughs of the latter, a TikTok trend which saw PTV’s 2012 scene anthem with Kellin Quinn, King For A Day, racking up hundreds of millions of views on the platform. “I don’t know how that happened, but I’m so appreciative that it did, because it was really amazing – I was watching it snowball into new things, and it was just incredible. I think it all really culminated or peaked when Lizzo posted the trend. I remember waking up with my wife, getting out of bed, and being like, ‘What the fuck? Fucking Lizzo?! This is crazy!’
“I don’t know if we’ll ever be a part of anything like that again – it was maybe once in a lifetime,” he adds, clearly still brimming with gratitude. “And we couldn’t have planned it. Our label was like, ‘This is great, it’s setting up the album and now there’s all these eyes on us!’ It worked out perfectly.”
It’s all part of a big shift in the life and career of Vic Fuentes over the last few years. Having spent Pierce The Veil’s early days completely focussed on their own trajectory, he’s become more open to really diving into what’s around him – as part of a scene in which the trio (completed by bassist Jaime Preciado and guitarist Tony Perry) have become genuine leaders of.
“It’s interesting,” Vic begins. “As we crossed our 10-year mark and have become a band that’s been around for a really long time now… I don’t know, for me personally, I felt like I’ve changed a lot over the last few years. I want to work with younger artists now, because I’m really inspired by them. In the past, I never really saw myself as a mentor, or guiding anybody, or wanting to work with anybody, because I was busy doing our own thing. And I never really wanted to be a producer or co-writer or anything like that. But, as of recently, something totally changed where I was taking notice of all the cool things that younger artists are doing, and the way they were changing music and approaching things. I’m super-inspired by a lot of people now.
“I think that kind of comes along with maybe just getting older in general, and you start to want to kind of teach. Or maybe it kind of goes along with me wanting to have a child, you know?” he ponders. “You have this desire to give what you’ve learned. And that just came about recently for me. It’s a fun thing to feel now, and I’m happy to help in any way that we can. It’s cool.”
So far, that’s manifested in a couple of ways. At Pierce The Veil’s December UK headline tour they brought along young K! favourite carolesdaughter – a huge fan – as support. And on The Jaws Of Life, they enlisted the help of another rapidly rising star, Chloe Moriondo, on closing track 12 Fractures. We might see even more of it…
“I never thought I would say that, but I think maybe it could be something in my future,” Vic enthuses. “I think the problem with it for me is that I’m always so devoted to our band that I don’t have a ton of time. But life will lead me in crazy journeys, and I don’t know what’s ahead of me. So you never know! I’m definitely not ruling it out. I’m more interested in it than ever.”
This admiration for the next generation and how Pierce The Veil hope to do things going forwards ties in nicely (as most things seem to be doing in Vic’s life at present) with The Jaws Of Life.
Pretty much “off the bat”, they decided to go in a new direction to the whirlwind post-hardcore and emo of their first four records. Not only that, but they also underwent a wider overhaul to match the sound, getting in a new creative team to back their vision.
“My hands wanted to play something else: they wanted to play different styles,” Vic explains. “The thing that we really talked about and set out to do was to do everything fresh and have a new experience, really. I think our band needed that. I think we were craving something fresh-feeling and to keep things exciting. It’s been awesome. It’s just been such a rejuvenating experience for our band.”
Forget The Jaws Of Life – this is a whole new lease of life for Pierce The Veil…
It was Halloween 2021, and Vic Fuentes and Jaime Preciado were “creeping around” New Orleans. Not that they were partaking in any official spooky parties – they were there to covertly capture unique sounds to use in their music.
“One of our goals for the record, which we really attempted, was to have New Orleans in the album somehow,” Vic explains of the lively Louisiana destination they selected to create The Jaws Of Life. “We wanted it to feel like you were a part of that city, or at least make some references to it. We tried it a lot of ways and what ended up making the album was background noise and stuff of the city.”
With Tony Perry temporarily away getting married in Mexico during recording, his bandmates headed out into the night on October 31 to see what interesting stuff was happening in the bustling French Quarter, near to where they were staying.
“There were thousands of people in their costumes and partying,” the singer recalls, “and we were there with our phones out, trying to get cool conversations with people – like their original New Orleans accents. We were the only ones there who weren’t part of the party. And we felt like such voyeurs, it was hilarious! Some of that stuff is in the album, you know, just talking and little background things, which you may catch if you’re listening on headphones.”
It was all part of the fun, says Vic, of really “living in the album” – something he wholeheartedly endeavours to do each time Pierce The Veil record. Having found an “amazing home” to suit their needs courtesy of producer Paul Meany’s realtor friend, the band set up drums in the dining room and a studio in the living room, and struck the perfect balance of working every day but also still being able to enjoy their surroundings.
“We could walk down to the water or to coffee shops and ride bikes around there,” Vic remembers. “The weather was flawless. And parades would happen outside of our door while we were recording! The energy was really, really fun. We would hang out at night and cook dinner and watch movies.
“I think it brought the three of us – me, Tony and Jaime – closer together in that experience,” he adds, more importantly. “We talked a lot, we had a lot of good communication and it really strengthened our bond, making that record at a time when I think we really needed it the most. This album really brought us back together as friends.”
It was even more vital following the completely uninspiring time that was the pandemic. Having penned “a few songs” after Pierce The Veil came off the road in 2017 but not gotten “super far” into things, Vic essentially took a two-year break from writing during COVID.
“I just wasn’t one of those artists who was inspired by the pandemic,” he admits. “Because some artists thrived – they were so inspired making new music and stuff. And I was just not one of those people! I was just more introverted, hanging at home and riding it out.”
When they headed east to get recording, then, there was plenty of work to be done. Though Vic came as a man relatively prepared, the trio allowed room for Paul (frontman of Mutemath, and co-producer of twenty one pilots’ two most recent albums, Trench and Scaled And Icy) to work his magic.
“I think what we were excited about with Paul was that he is an artist,” says Vic, full of praise for his new collaborator. “He’s not just a producer – he has a really cool band. We wanted to work with somebody who had that perspective, and we really needed more of a challenge: someone to kind of battle with us a little bit, and fight for what he thinks is the best version of the song. We definitely got that from Paul. And we had a lot of lot of battles over the songs, which was awesome! I really wanted somebody to have an opinion, and care enough to have one.”
How hostile did these “battles” get?
“We’re pretty civilised people,” Vic laughs, “so we weren’t fighting or anything, but there were definitely a lot of strong feelings about the songs: of what I like versus what he liked. He was always like, ‘At the end of the day, this is your song, and you’re the one who has to go out and play it.’ We would always have the final call, but he did really challenge us to change some of the songs in ways that I never even imagined we would.”
Another new addition to the process was Third Eye Blind drummer Brad Hargreaves, following the departure of Vic’s brother Mike from the band in 2017. In fact, it was so momentous to Vic that he describes asking Brad to get involved as “one of the scariest moments of my life”.
“Third Eye Blind is my favourite band,” he enthuses, “and when he said yes, it really put a new fire into the album. I was like, ‘Oh my god, what could this be now?’ Brad is probably the most creative drummer in the world – he’s one of my favourites. His style is very memorable, and so it just opened up a whole new world for this record when he joined because I was just like, ‘Man, what could this be with him on it?’ It was really such a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
As well as his heroes in Third Eye Blind, Vic took inspiration from other ’90s guitar bands – from Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and Bush to early Weezer. As a skilled guitarist himself, he noted how effective more “simple” riffs can be, and decided that was the way to go this time around.
“It’s not shredding or finger-tapping or doing anything too complicated, but there’s a lot of power in those melodies,” he explains. “And that was one of the goals for this record: to capture that. I’m not trying to impress anybody with my fast guitar-playing skills, you know? It’s more about what feels creative and powerful.”
It’s just the next step in Vic and Pierce The Veil’s evolution, with the frontman never wanting to settle into his comfort zone when it comes to music. It’s something he actually keeps track of…
“I’m a notes guy, and I write notes for everything,” he smiles. “If I ever die, and anyone finds my notes, they’re gonna think I’m a psycho (laughs). It’s reminding myself to do things that I think are really interesting, or I would like to try.
“I definitely respect any band that tries to do something risky and something exciting for them, that keeps them interested in what they’re doing,” Vic adds. “I just love bravery in songwriting, and taking risks and keeping things interesting. I think it takes a lot for a band to do that kind of stuff.”
A dark, still night. Dirt-covered ground. An eerie chill in the air. But wait… what’s that? Crack! From nowhere, a grimy, outstretched hand reaches up and emphatically bursts through the mud.
“Dun, dun, dun!” exclaims Vic.
The Pierce The Veil man is currently describing the graphic scene he visualises when thinking about The Jaws Of Life’s lyrical content.
“The record is the process of finding your way out of a dark place, and then rubbing your eyes and adjusting and seeing the sunlight again, and knowing that you will get there eventually,” he elaborates. “I see that movie thing when all of a sudden the hand pops out and they start pulling themselves out, clawing their way into the sunlight, you know? You have to fight your way, and that’s what this record is about: it’s that journey, and crawling with your fingernails to get there.”
This is perhaps best embodied in the intoxicating title-track. With ’90s-style power chords and addressing the idea of “life trying to devour you”, it’s Pierce The Veil assuredly firing on all cylinders.
Elsewhere, Vic is particularly proud of the similarly intense Shared Trauma. As well as coming together via a “really collaborative effort within the band” – particularly from Jaime – it exemplifies Vic’s desire to make Pierce The Veil sound completely different than before.
“It’s very divergent,” he says, proudly. “And I sing the lowest I’ve ever sung any song, which is really fun for me. It’s all about, ‘What are these little challenges that are going to make me excited?’ I’ve always wanted to try and sing a song lower, because I’m really more known for singing high. It was hard for me to sing like that, but it was really fun to challenge myself to try and do that. And I think lyrically it’s a really interesting concept of sharing a traumatic experience with somebody and that being such a strong bond, and something that can bring people closer than ever. I love dark, romantic topics.”
And then there’s the aforementioned 12 Fractures, featuring Chloe Moriondo. Less a metaphorical tale and instead focussed on a difficult experience close to Vic’s heart, it reckons with divorce and seeing a friend’s relationship “crumble before my eyes”.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever had any friends go through divorce, but you are friends with both of them and they’ve become family,” he sighs. “And then when they break apart, it’s your family is breaking apart. It’s hard to watch.”
Like The Jaws Of Life as a whole, though, there’s still plenty of positivity to be found.
“I didn’t finish the song until both of them had moved on, and they actually got remarried,” Vic continues. “Everybody was happy in the end, but the song started during the beginning of it, when things started falling apart. And then I finally wrote the last lyrics once they had moved on and become happy with new people. The song really kind of captures the whole thing over a few years – it’s pretty wild.”
There’s even lighter moments, too, with Easter eggs and bits of Vic’s personality littered throughout. Like the stirring Resilience, which opens with a quote from Dazed And Confused, a film he adores.
“Growing up, a lot of my favourite punk bands always did that stuff,” he explains. “They would have movie quotes, or there’d be some cool quote and then all of a sudden the song would start. And I just love that. That was a little throwback. In the music industry today, it’s really hard to do that, because people don’t let you! There’s a million hoops you have to jump through. Honestly, they told us that we would not be able to do it. And our manager took it in her own hands and found all the right people to talk to and got it cleared by both actors who are speaking. It was wild (laughs), the process that we went through, but I really wanted it to happen, because I honestly think it elevates the song. It’s one of my most proud things that is on the album, because I can’t believe we actually got to use something from Dazed And Confused.”
It's safe to say, then, there’s a few key reasons why there’s been a seven-year wait for The Jaws Of Life. And Vic doesn’t yet know when the next album will be – after all, it’s important they take their time.
“With every record it’s like the biggest test of my life,” he exhales, “to try and make this record as good as it can be. We’re really putting a lot into it and trying to make sure that every song is strong, that the record is strong, and that we love it and we’re proud of it. That’s always the way that we approach any album.”
Yet again, though, it’s paid off. Not just on a musical level, but as that rejuvenating factor Vic previously alluded to. He calls this Pierce The Veil’s “most self-realised” chapter yet, with a team behind them to execute whatever he comes up with next.
“I think that’s one of the best things about where we’re at as a band,” he grins. “You don’t have a lot of opportunities and resources when you’re a young band – you don’t have the money to do confetti at your show, you don’t have the money to buy this certain pedal, you don’t have anyone to design merch for you, or things like that. We’ve built this whole world where we can do anything creatively, and it’s so satisfying and comforting. For us, knowing that we can create anything we want right now is really nice.
“I think this record did a lot for us as well,” Vic adds. “There’s always a lesson to be learned. There’s been a lot of records where I’ve been like, ‘God, I’ll never do that again – whatever I just did, I don’t want to do that again.’ You learn a lot, and I think this record taught us to be more confident in ourselves as producers and artists and writers. Just realising that we can do this, and we can confidently make things together…
“That’s an exciting place to be.”
The Jaws Of Life is due out on February 10 via Fearless Records – pre-order and pre-save it now. Pierce The Veil will tour the UK in April 2024
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