“We know we can write bangers, but we wanted something different this time…” - Neck Deep open up about changing tack on new album All Distortions Are Intentional
Welsh pop-punks Neck Deep return this week with All Distortions Are Intentional, their fourth studio and the follow up to 2017's The Peace And The Panic.
The album signals a big change in direction for the fivesome, not only does the record shift away from the band's trademark pop-punk to incorporate wider influences, but it is also a concept album.
It tells the story of a loner named Jett, who lives in a place dubbed Sonderland, who suddenly finds love with a girl called Alice.
Recorded in Monnow Valley in their native Wales, the LP sees the band teaming up with Ariana Grande/Panic! At The Disco producer Matt Squire
We spoke to frontman Ben Barlow about why the band decided to do the thing they’d promised they would never do...
It’s a strange time to be releasing a new record, isn’t it?
“It is. We’d probably be in the US, in the middle of in-stores or doing radio interviews, enjoying the sunshine. As it is, we’re all at home.”
When did you start the process of writing this record? Was it written when you were touring The Peace and the Panic or when you got home?
“It was both. Normally we’re in a rush, we get off tour and we’ve got studio time booked and we need to get things together. This time, we had a break to get ourselves together. We recorded The Peace and the Panic in Los Angeles and it wasn’t good for us. The whole experience felt like living in a pressure cooker. We were very clear that this record was going to be a very different process.”
Was The Peace and the Panic a difficult record to make? Were you still writing as you went in?
“It wasn’t the songs, we had loads of songs, it was working in LA. It’s a great city, but it’s a strange place to work. You go there because lots of good, creative people are there and the weather is amazing. But it’s so easy to get distracted and become unfocused. You’re working to people’s schedules, so you can’t really dive in and lose yourself in a record. On this new one, if we wrote a song and we wanted to get it down at 3am, that was fine.”
Just too much going on in LA?
“Every night you get people asking if you want to go out or to a show or for dinner. That’s the beauty of the place when you’re there for fun, but we definitely paid for it in how the record got assembled. We weren’t as focused as we could be and that led to trying a lot of things, lots of them went nowhere. In the long run, that’s a good thing because we learnt a lot about what works. But, we learned on this album, we need to go all in, so we went to the middle of nowhere and it was a lot more productive.”
You recorded in Mono Valley, which is definitely the middle of nowhere…
“It’s really remote. There’s no phone signal and crap wi-fi, you’ve got no choice but to focus on the record. It’s mid-Wales, so we had the option of going home to Wrexham if we wanted to, which made a nice change.”
A lot of great records have been made there, Oasis, Black Sabbath, Stone Roses…
“There’s a real aura about the place. You’re walking in the footsteps of giants. Not only that, but lots of people are sure the place is haunted. You have to respect the spirits, you learn that pretty quickly.”
“Seriously. They’ll f**k with you. A few days in, Squire (producer Matt Squire) saw a crow die. Right in front of him. We ordered some sage and we had a bit of a cleansing ritual. It all goes back to Ozzy Osbourne. He did an ouija board in his room one night. The same room where our guitarist stayed. Lots of bumps and creeps in the night. The vibe must be permanently in there because there’s a real Black Sabbath riff at the end of the album.”
When did you decide on Matt Squire for the album?
“About a year before we actually recorded it. We set up meetings with about 10 producers. We wanted to test things out, maybe do a few writing sessions and Squire was the first guy we met. We just got on. We didn’t even talk about music, it was all politics and aliens and stuff like that, but we could just feel it was going to work. When we did get on to talking about music and the direction we wanted to go in, he started throwing out references like The Streets and Gorillaz. Things with a real swagger, which is what we wanted. We pretty much cancelled all the other meetings we had set up after that.”
How was he in the studio? Did he mind coming to the middle of Wales?
“He loved it. He made it clear he’d go wherever we’d want to go. He was brilliant in the studio. Nothing was a battle. He worked us hard, but he totally got what we wanted to do. We appreciated that he left his family for six or seven weeks to work with us and we gave him everything we could.”
The album is billed as a concept record, is that how you think of it?
“It is. We’d said we’d never do one, but there you go, we’ve gone and done it.”
We’re guessing it wasn’t a grand plan then…
“There was no indication of that in the initial writing sessions. It came about in this weird period for us. We were opening up for Blink-182 and Lil Wayne last summer. Total dream come true. Blink are one of my all-time favourite bands and Wayne is a badass. We had zero responsibility, save playing 45 minutes a night and then watching the show go down. It was this weird, dreamy state.”
“One day, I’m in the back of the bus, I’m pretty stoned and I just start f***ing around with a few chords. The song didn’t sound like Neck Deep at all, it was all dreamy nonsense. I played with it some more and tried words and nothing sat quite right and then I thought ‘Well maybe it’s a character?’. That song became ‘Lowlife’.”
And it went from there?
“Thing is, it’s me. It’s my experiences, it’s my life, it’s just got the veil of a character. Weirdly, even though you’d think it’d be more straightforward to talk about your own life, you worry that you’re really making a statement and speaking your mind. If you put it through a character, you put some distance on it and you can be more honest. We had a few other songs that we’d started and once I had the concept we started putting it all together.”
How did you find being bound to a central idea? Was it taxing?
“I created this whole world and I did really enjoy that side of things. I had really, really wanted to make an album, not just a collection of songs. Lots of people who’ve heard it have said it’s a grower. We like that. We want people to listen to it and come back to it and fall in love with it slowly. We know we can write bangers, but we wanted something different this time. An album with a lot more to it and an album that really opens a lot of doors. Next time, we can really do whatever we want.”
Did you listen to any other concept albums while you were getting ready? Green Day’s American Idiot or anything Coheed and Cambria have done…
“I didn’t. American Idiot is a great record and a great concept record, but I can’t say I studied any other album. I just did it. I’ve always been a blagger. Even at school, it was always do it the night before. The album came from the idea that we’d just keep writing and never tell us ourselves no. I think if I’d studied any other record, it would have just clouded the vision for the album. You need to be completely immersed in the record.”
When did you settle on the title?
“Right at the end. I was toying with the idea of just calling it Sonderland, but Sam (Bowden, guitarist) said it just sounded too much like Sunderland. That was it then. So I worked on it and All Distortions Are Intentional was the first one we all liked. I didn’t want something from the lyrics or a song title. It’s a great standalone statement. It abbreviates really well. It looks good. I’m very happy with it.”
You’ve had a slight line-up change, your brother Seb is now in the band on bass, how’s that transition been?
“Seamless. Totally seamless. He’s always been there as a sixth member really. He helped manage us for a bit, he ran our merchandise for a while, he was there from the start. When I mentioned it to him, he was straight up for it, which surprised me, because I didn’t know if he’d want to be away from his home life so much, but he was all in. I’m so happy. We just to jump around our garage with tennis rackets to Blink-182, now we get to do it on stage for real.”
Has anything taken some getting used to?
“I think he’s still learning the industry side of things. Signing piles and piles of pre-orders, playing the game with the music industry, getting stopped for photos, but it’s no big deal.”
You’re a band who traditionally have toured very hard, are you able to make any plans?
“We’ve got UK shows in September and a US tour at the end of the year and we’re holding out hope that we can still do them, but I think it’s really only hope now. We’re prepared for them to be cancelled any day really.”
At least you’re at the start of the process and not halfway through a world tour…
“I’m pleased that we’ve something to release and give our fans something to enjoy. We’d like to be out and about, but we’re adapting. We’re streaming a lot of gigs and hopefully doing what we can. It’s not like it’s different for us than it is any other artist. No one is above this. We just have to wait.”