This is The Anthem, where we’re telling stories behind classic songs by interviewing the people who were really there. This week, we’re dissecting Story of the Year’s melancholy 2003 debut single “Until The Day I Die.”
If you were a teenager in the early 2000s, chances are you had the lyrics to Story of the Year’s breakout 2003 single “Until The Day I Die” as your AIM away message. (AOL instant messenger for our Gen Z friends). And how could you not? The song was the perfect representation of the post-hardcore and emo movement spearheaded by the band, along with the Used, My Chemical Romance and Thursday, among others. It also possessed evocative lyrics that felt painfully relatable to a generation of kids wrestling with teenage angst and heartbreak.
Having recently changed their name from Big Blue Monkey to Story of the Year at the tail end of 2002, the wide-eyed punk-rock kids from St. Louis were given their big break with a major record deal from Madonna’s (now-defunct) label Maverick Records — as well as linking up with prominent music producer and Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann for their debut album, Page Avenue. Lead single “Until The Day I Die” would gain regular airplay on rock radio, MTV2, and Fuse, leading to placements in popular films and TV shows, including Friday Night Lights.
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Not to mention, the song’s music video (directed by Ryan Smith and Frank Borin) was a minimalistic yet effective visual that showcased the band’s dynamic and rowdy live show as opposed to relying on overdramatized tropes. Perhaps the most groundbreaking aspect, however, was the inclusion of vulnerable screamed vocals in the bridge that not only gave you chills upon first listening but also polarized the industry in revolutionary ways when unclean vocals were a foreign concept on mainstream radio.
Still 20 years later, as soon as the faint sound of the song’s staccato guitar riff rings out, you have no choice but to sing its unforgettable opening lines: “Until the day I die/I’ll spill my heart for you.”
DAN MARSALA (VOCALS): It definitely started with the [intro] guitar riff. We were out on a two-week run with Goldfinger because John Feldmann had previously gotten ahold of us saying he wanted to make a record with us. We were all in the 15-passenger van, eight or nine of us, just holding guitars. I think I might have played that riff first when me and Ryan [Phillips, guitarist] were jamming, and it just came out of nowhere. Randomly, we were talking about new band names, and Ryan said, “I think until the Day I Die would be a cool band name,” and I was like, “Yeah, it’s definitely [more of] a cool song name.” It had nothing to do with the melody or anything in the song. After we named it, I just sang [those first words], and that was it. It was one of those songs that just magically came together.
JOSH WILLS (DRUMS): Did we have this song by the time we showcased for Maverick [Records]?
MARSALA: I think so.
WILLS: [John Feldmann] came to our house in Orange County the night before we were supposed to showcase for Maverick at The Viper Room at 11 a.m. We went over five songs, and for each one, he would tell us, “Don’t do that or don’t do this,” and after that is when we recorded the demo. By the time we got to the studio [to record Page Avenue] and there were more songs, “Until The Day I Die” always stood out, for sure, but I don’t even know if we were even thinking about what to release first.
MARSALA: We didn’t even know what a single was. [Laughs.] We were all like 20 or 21 years old, but I know Feldmann definitely knew [it was a single] because he sent that along with “Razorblades” and “Anthem of Our Dying Day” to Maverick, and they were like, “Cool, the record’s great. Do whatever you want.” We were just happy to be there making a record. I remember purposely not screaming on certain songs on the record in case they [would become singles]. Screaming did not get on the radio much then, but it was this big crescendo that just felt natural, fit the song, and was just never a question. Nobody ever said anything, and it [somehow] worked.
WILLS: If I’m being honest, I don’t think any of us really realized what was happening until we were done touring on that record or even at the end of the second one. When you’re in the middle of it, you don’t really [reflect] on it. It’s just like, “Oh, our shows are getting bigger. That’s awesome.”
MARSALA: The day we finished the record, we drove from LA and stopped in St. Louis before heading to the East Coast to meet up with the Used, Thrice, and My Chemical Romance for our first real tour after the record was [finished]. Two years later, we never stopped playing shows. Our manager would call saying, “KROQ picked up the song,” and we’d be like, “Oh, is that a good thing? I don’t know. Sounds cool.” [Laughs.] The momentum just kept going. We loved Taking Back Sunday, and there were a few other bands that were really breaking out right before we did, so we saw what was happening and wanted to be a part of that scene.
MARSALA: It’s basically a relationship song. It was originally more about our band and how we were living in vans and out on the road all the time doing this thing constantly. So, it was more [about] the relationship of us loving and hating each other. It also relates to any [romantic] relationship, obviously, and is the battle of [those] two extremes. It’s obviously grown to become everyone’s relationship song or wedding song, so it’s definitely interpreted more as a sexual relationship type of song. Maybe our [band’s] relationship was kind of sexual sometimes, too, depending on who you ask. [Laughs.] There are a lot of cool lines in [the song], but I will say that 20 years later, they were inspired by Taking Back Sunday and Saves The Day with their dark imagery. It’s definitely one of those songs that I see a lot of tattoos [of], and I’ve heard thousands of stories about how it’s helped someone or changed their life, and that’s the most amazing thing that can happen.
The music video
MARSALA: It was directed by Ryan Smith and Frank Borin. We did it in St. Louis at a venue called The Creepy Crawl, which no longer exists. It’s a tiny little club. We had to extend the stage, and we had way too many people packed into the room.
WILLS: It was August, and there was no air conditioning. It was brutal.
MARSALA: You can see you see that energy and madness in the video and what a hard day it was, but it looks so cool now. We had no idea how to do a video — we just did everything by trial and error, just hoping things were cool. Ryan Smith was amazing, though. He’s done so many great videos for a ton of huge artists, and at the time, he was super professional. It was just a sweaty, fun day, and it captured the energy of our live show really well. Everything we made after that where we tried to do some artsy thing, it was always like, “Let’s just go back to what we do the best,” and we’ve been chasing that ever since.
WILLS: The only thing that dates [the video] is the haircuts and the clothes. [Laughs.]
MARSALA: The huge Dickies shorts show a different time, but that’s coming back, so it’s all going to be cool again.