Interview: Neck Deep
There is a lot of grey area between the peace and the panic, but at this point, it has come second nature to Neck Deep. The Welsh pop-punk group has been through more than the average band in their career so far. From signing to a major label in 2013, touring the world for most of the year, to dealing with loved ones passing away, it has been a non-stop whirlwind for these lads. However, they've kept their heads on, and they are striving ahead with an incredibly positive outlook on their music, and their lives - something they hope they can inspire fans to do as well. They have an incredibly balanced perspective on all of the emotions that they've had to deal with, from pain and sorrow, to complete joy, understanding that in life, we need a bit of both. I got to chat with lead vocalist Ben Barlow [pictured above, centre] prior to their show in Calgary, where we talked about the band's triumphant new record, The Peace And The Panic.
How has the tour been going so far?
Very, very good. It’s probably my favourite North American tour we’ve ever done. The crowds have been way bigger than expected in places where I’ve never expected to have those kinds of crowds.
This is also your first time in Calgary!
Yeah, the first time in Calgary, and it’s what, 1000 people [tonight]? The first time going to places used to be small, building your way up, but we’ve dove right in.
Congrats on the success of the latest record, The Peace And The Panic. This record deals with a lot more mature themes, ranging from loss of family members to politics. What was the experience of writing the album like, and was it more challenging to write about the heavier topics opposed to some of your other work?
Yes and no. In the sense of actually getting work done, like productivity, we were really good in that sense. We went into the studio with a ton of material for us to build on. When it came to lyric writing I definitely had to dive a little deeper. There were some songs that I knew were gonna be tough, like “19 Seventy Sumthin.” I knew writing that song was always gonna be hard, but I didn’t want to force that. Then there were songs like “Grand Delusion” that I struggled and struggled with, but ended up just writing the song about how I was feeling. I was stressed and anxious and pissed off and angry and worked to death, so I was like, I’m just gonna write about how that feels. I channeled that quite well. For me, it was not like a learning curve, but definitely the next step in terms of the development in terms of being able to write cohesive songs; songs that don’t sound like anything else we’ve ever written before. Also, to talk about more, not “ more important” issues, but more mature and “adult” - in the non-sexual term of the word - themes like death, stress, anxiety, and loss, all that kind of shit.
It just goes to show, because some people might deal with these things at age 14 and others at age 40. Shit happens, and it’s part of life.
Exactly, and in a nutshell that’s really what the album is about - the peace and the panic. You’ve got to have the bad to have the good. That was the realization that we kind of had, like, life’s gonna throw you a curveball every now and then and it’s about how you deal with it. Sometimes it may mean you lose someone and you never see them again, but that’s part of life, and it’s something you have to come to terms with and make the most of while you’re still here.
It takes many years for bands to mature in both their writing and sound and some bands even struggle with making any changes. This is something that seems to have come naturally to Neck Deep with everything you guys have been through over the past little while - was there much of an adjustment to make in terms of the way you approached songwriting and the process?
I think it did just happen quite naturally. We were all really keen on writing, we all wanted to bring something to the table and all came to the table with ideas. A lot of bands will do it - and we did it for the longest time - where it’s just one or two people writing the majority of the songs. This time we really branched out from that, and it allowed us to be more creative and allowed the album to be a lot more dynamic opposed to having one or two people writing it. I think that helped it come quite naturally, but also I think we were just in a creative space. Most of the album came together in the studio and we started to get this really clear idea of what the album was gonna be and what it was gonna be about, but we were still feeling very creative and had a clear idea of where we wanted it to go. We weren’t quite sure exactly how, but we knew we wanted to take you on a bit of a ride, to take you on a journey through the record, and the tracklisting for that was super important. We wanted to make sure it was listened to in a certain order so it flowed the way that we wanted it to. Sonically and phonetically, that came to us in the studio, but it was just flowing out of us. At times it was tough, and obviously, you’ll stretch for ideas, but with the help of Mike Green [producer], he was never lost for ideas or in guiding us where to go next. I think he boosted a lot of our productivity as well. He hates procrastinating, and he cut out a lot of the sitting around, doing nothing - he helped a bunch.
You guys have only been a band for 6 or so years, but you’ve been through a lot. Would you say that the whirlwind of highs and lows you guys have been through solidified and strengthened the relationships in the band?
Definitely. A lot of our shit is behind us, and we’re stoked on that, but we wouldn’t have been able to move past that if it wasn’t for each other. In the tougher times, both personally and in the band, we’ve all been there for each other. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve got the guts to talk to each other about it, to face up to things and face up to our problems and how we’re feeling. We end up helping each other through it instead of just letting shit fall under the surface. I feel like we’re all at a level where we can be honest with each other.
With the duality of this record - the hope as well as the pain, what is one thing that you’ve personally taken away from this album - through the experience of creating it, touring on it, as well as seeing the reception?
There have been some moments of touring recently where we’ve played some really big shows and it puts everything in perspective. The fact that we can try something different, do something a little bit outside of what is expected of us, and have it still be successful; have people still like us and still come out to shows even more passionately than before - it’s the greatest feeling in the world. We can keep doing this for a couple years at least. The biggest relief for anyone in any band is wanting to express yourself and hoping people like it, and we’re lucky enough that people do like our stuff. That’s all I really care about. As long as people come to shows and keep enjoying our music - that’s all I got into it for, and that’s all I want out of it - is that we can keep travelling the world, playing music, playing with our friends, and this has allowed us to do it, so I’m f---ing stoked. Again, it’s a huge concern for anyone in a band if people will accept your direction or not. Sometimes what people expect of you and what you expect of yourself, or what you want from yourself or the band are completely different things. I’m glad we’ve found that nice middle ground where everyone’s happy, and we’ve still made a creative piece of work that we’re really happy with, and one that does what we were going though and went through justice. I’m stoked that I managed to write a song like “19 Seventy Sumthin’” as closure - it gives you closure on things like that, and then it goes on and helps other people and helps them get closure. I’m stoked that we’ve been able to help people through and that people have picked up the message and taken it on board and aren’t like, “Why didn’t you write another Life’s Not Out To Get You?”, they’re actually stoked on the change. It’s the best.
Yeah, I definitely cried the first time I heard "19 Seventy Sumthin" - I’m sure that’s a common reaction.
F---, yeah I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry when I was writing it or when I listened to it back. I love that one and the fact that I could do that. But even songs like “Motion Sickness,” we’ve still got that Neck Deep knack to write a banger and to get people moving, but we put across a pretty serious message. And then there are songs like “Where Do We Go (When We Go?)” that get people thinking about death, but in a way that is constructive.
What do you hope that fans will take away from this album?
If you’re going through a rough time at all, or if life throws you that curveball, it’s not necessarily the be all and end all. You’ve got to have the bad to appreciate the good. It’s all about that, the duality of it. If you picked up anything from Life’s Not Out To Get You, about just having a positive outlook on life, then that’s beautiful and that’s exactly what the intention was for that. But with this record, I hope that people can apply that positive outlook to a negative situation, or a situation that knocks you back. It’s okay to be sad, I dwelled on my problems and my sadness for a long time and I turned it into The Peace and The Panic. That’s living proof that anyone can do that. You’ve got to have bad to have the good - yin and yang, it’s thousands of years old, it’s the real deal. You’ve got to have that duality, and that’s what I hope people take away from it.