Neck Deep's Ben Barlow talks Los Angeles, expanded horizons and the band's new album The Peace and the Panic...
Last time we spoke to Neck Deep’s Ben Barlow the band were riding the crest of a wave. They were halfway through the gruelling US megatour that is Warped Tour, drawing huge crowds and excited for the release of their second album Life’s Not Out To Get You, an album they’d made with assistance from heroes A Day To Remember.
The album dropped on August 14th in 2015, then eight days later everything went straight to hell. On August 22nd allegations of sexual misconduct against guitarist Lloyd Roberts were made, in which Roberts was accused of sending inappropriate photos to an underage girl online. Roberts denied these allegations, but stepped down from the band while the situation was investigated. He was subsequently cleared with the police finding no case to answer, but decided not to return to the group.
This left Neck Deep needing to both replace their guitarist and pick up the momentum that had fizzled in the wake of the allegations. Happily, with new axeman Sam Bowden and more relentless touring, they achieved both things.
Now they return with a third LP, named The Peace And The Panic, an album produced by Brand New/All Time Low man Mike Green and recorded in the heart of Los Angeles.
We spoke to Barlow once again about making the record, the impact Bowden has had on the band and why this is the most varied Neck Deep album to date…
How did making this new album compare to making Life’s Not Out To Get You?
“It was a very different experience. We had a different producer, new city, we did this one in Los Angeles rather than Florida. This album was much more of a group effort, everybody brought their ideas in, it was much of a Neck Deep record in the sense that everyone’s input is all over it. I think that shows in how varied the record is.”
This is your first record with Sam Bowden in the band, what did he bring to the process?
“He’s fitted straight in, we’ve not really had to adapt to a new member, he fitted in very easily and very naturally. He contributed a lot to this album, he wrote a lot and he was in the studio just as much as anyone, he’s been great. It’s not like things feel any different this time, it just feels like he’s always been here.”
You’ve said that you wrote over 40 songs for this album, how did you decide which songs would end up on the record?
“I don’t know, it was really just the ones that we were the most into. Probably the tracks that I felt most drawn to give lyrics to. Mike Green was good for that, he’d see the potential in a song and he’d push us towards them. It was quite a reactive record, every song is what we felt like writing, we were constantly looking to add more, so did we need another pop-punk song or another softer song? We were always working to add more.”
You did the record with Mike Green, he’s done big records for All Time Low and Brand New to name but a few, what was he like to work with?
“He was awesome. He’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. He’s incredibly well-versed in musical terms and he’s got an amazing mind. He had all the technical skill you could ever need, he’s a total wizard, he really helped us with this album. We’d be tearing our hair out and he’d let us work ourselves up into getting angry and then we’d ask for help and he’d come back with four amazing options. He was the extra mind we needed and we absolutely shared our vision for the record, he just made it happen. I can see why so many big bands pick him.”
How was working in Los Angeles?
“It was both really awesome and soul-crushing at the same time. As a place, it’s great, it’s got everything you could ever want, the weather is fantastic, there’s so much culture. It’s got its downsides too and they’re pretty heavy downsides. You meet some strange people, everybody’s there trying to make it and you wouldn’t believe the amount of conversations that start with someone asking you how many Instagram followers you have. That shallowness got to me after a while, I can see how it swallows people up.”
Did you all feel like that?
“West (guitarist Matt West) was pulling his hair out after a while, but Fil (bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans) absolutely loves it, he lived there for a year. I feel like I need something more authentic, there are some great people out there, but some f**king awful people too. I’m not a big fan of celebrity and sensationalism, so anyone trying that Instagram line on me didn’t get a great response. It takes forever to get anywhere too!”
Did any of those feelings feed the album’s lyrics?
“For sure. A song like ‘The Grand Delusion’, which is all about sense and anxiety, there were definitely plenty of those feelings in Los Angeles. I did find it inspiring too, there were plenty of times where I found Los Angeles completely captivating. I did like it, we went for Mike Green, but it gave us a lot, it inspired us and it ate away at us too. You go there to make a great record, but I think I’ll stick to the North of England.”
Is it more varied record in lyrical terms?
“I think it’s a more varied record across the board. It goes from very groovy songs to more downtempo stuff to more straightforward pop-punk. I didn’t want to write the same record again, I wanted to show people what we could do, we knew it’d be a challenge, adding more variety and challenging ourselves, but I think we pulled it off.”
When did you settle on the title?
“In the studio. The working title for the album was Where Do We Go When We Go, which I didn’t like much, it’s a bit heavy and it doesn’t roll off the tongue, it’s not super memorable. I was writing ‘Motion Sickness’ and the line came in that and it sounded cool and everyone said yes instantly. It’s got a good ring to it. The last couple of records we’ve decided on the title before the album, strangely, it was nice to actually come up with it in the studio. Album titles can torment you, it’s a big decision, it’s there forever.”
Finally, you’ve Sam Carter from Architects on the record, how did that collaboration come about?
“We didn’t want to have a guest on there for the sake of it, it needed to be a unique thing, to do something interesting and branch out of our genre. We didn’t just want another pop-punk singer, we wanted something to stand out. Dani (Washington, guitarist) wrote ‘Don’t Wait’ and it was this heavy song and we all thought of Sam. It’s a great fit, two British bands, both doing really well. Him saying yes was a dream come true, we’re all Architects fans, they were a big band for us when we were getting into heavy music and now we’ve got Sam on our record. I idolised the sound of his voice, he’s such a star and it’s a really cool thing.”