Even though Andrew Neufeld isn't complaining, he's not exactly in the place he always dreamed he'd be with Canuck hardcore heroes Comeback Kid. Technically speaking, the singer should be ecstatic. In just under two years, Comeback Kid has gone from Winnipeg's best-kept secret to legitimate punk-rock heavyweights. The band's 2005 sophomore release, Wake the Dead, got the hype machine started. At a time when most Warped Tour aspirants were positioning themselves as the third coming of Blink-182, Comeback Kid channelled the sound of the Reagan-era '80s–and that approach finally got it noticed after a half-decade in the game. Alternative Press pegged the Kids as with-a-bullet movers and shakers, tastemaking indie behemoth Victory Records snapped them up, and thousands of kids risked life and limb in mosh pits to shout along to anthems like "Wake the Dead".
Broadcasting, the band's just-released third album, matches the red-line intensity of its predecessor, except this time the gang-warfare choruses are even louder and the guitar work even more brutally accomplished. The result is a front-runner for punk-rock record of the year. The only downside for Neufeld is that he didn't ask to be standing at centre stage. When he cofounded Comeback Kid six years ago as the band's guitarist, it was because he wanted a break from singing, which he was doing with his full-time band, Figure Four. For Wake the Dead and the 2003 debut Turn It Around, frontman Scott Wade did the screaming for Comeback Kid. When Wade abruptly walked away from the group last year, Neufeld agreed to put down the guitar for the mike. That doesn't mean that he was happy about it.
"With a band like Comeback Kid, we really want to keep the energy up," he says from a New Orleans tour stop. "I can't do that if I'm playing guitar at the same time I'm singing. You need an actual singer who's up there and able to really communicate with the crowd. But dude, I miss playing the guitar so much–I'm not going to lie. Recording the guitar parts for this record were probably some of my favourite times ever. I wish I could be playing those parts live–it would fucking rule."
What caused Wade to quit Comeback Kid has never been totally clear. But the fact that he tendered his resignation in a 4 a.m. on-line post suggests he did some final late-night agonizing over whether he was making the right decision.
Comeback Kid doesn't seem to miss him much on Broadcasting. Like Wade, Neufeld sounds like a devoted disciple of Ian MacKaye during the Minor Threat years. Broadcasting finds the singer embracing his new role as the band's de facto drill sergeant, with his lyrics swinging from the self-empowering to the decidedly cryptic. It's easy to guess where Neufeld's coming from on the wall-of-distortion title track, which seemingly takes aim at the lies and mixed messages that pour out of the television on a daily basis. He's also not afraid to leave things up to interpretation, particular on the latter half of Broadcasting where lyrics on tracks like "In Case of Fire" are never black-and-white.
"Some songs I'm comfortable talking about; some songs I don't really feel the need to explain them," Neufeld says. "I don't know if people will get anything from some of the stuff on this record, but if they do, then that's really cool."
Considerably more sraightforward is the blowtorch production job on Broadcasting, which comes courtesy of punk-rock icons Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore. Like Wake the Dead, the new album was recorded at the duo's Blasting Room studios in Fort Collins, Colorado.
"We told them that we wanted to go for a bigger, more powerful sound," Neufeld says. "We were, like, 'We want to mix it up a little more and have a really thick, heavy record, but still be really melodic.'"
Nowhere does the band sound more powerful and outright lethal than on the static-charged detonator "Defeated". All short-circuit guitars and 200 bpm drums, the leadoff track features a panzer-strength chorus, with Comeback Kid helped out by a small army of fans from the Denver area.
"We definitely got the gang vocals going on that one," Neufeld notes. "There's something like 15 people helping out, and it ended up sounding pretty great."
While Comeback Kid has been disillusioned at times over the past year–the end of "Defeated" finds Neufeld howling "I'm too exhausted for the long haul"–all the upheaval might just pay off for the band. If the success of Chicago's Rise Against is any indication, hardcore is no longer, well, too hard-core for the mall rats of America. The members of Comeback Kid–which include guitarist Jeremy Hiebert, bassist Kevin Call, and drummer Kyle Profeta–are deservedly stoked about Broadcasting. And yes, that includes Neufeld, who hasn't totally put down the guitar yet. In his spare time, he's begun scoring documentaries, his first one being Face, which will air on CTV this summer.
"It's sort of got really epic strings and a heavy tribal-drums kind of thing," he says, continuing on with: "I'm sort of in one of those crazy nonstop-work modes right now. I've never really gone to school, and a few years back I started to get really scared that I wouldn't have a career after I was finished touring. So I'm trying to move into things like soundtrack work."
In some ways, Neufeld's also come full circle. He's involved in a side project, which is how his full-time gig began. He may no longer play guitar in Comeback Kid, but he's taken steps to remedy that in his spare time, of which he admittedly doesn't have much.
"I had some really down times after the whole Scott thing," he reveals. "But the fire is still burning. I've got a side project called Sights and Sound with my brother and some other friends. And I'm really happy about that because I'm playing guitar."
Comeback Kid plays the Croatian Cultural Centre next Thursday (April 19).