Named after a line from the Crucial Dudes song, ‘Boom, Roasted’, UK’s Neck Deep have been one of the fastest rising pop-punk act of recent years. Having only been a band for just over two years, they’ve since released two well-received EP’s and a solid debut album, ‘Wishful Thinking’. The quintet are set to make their second trip to Australia this September with US pop-punks, State Champs and local act, Sidelines. Killyourstereo.com recently chatted with lead singer, Ben Barlow about the upcoming tour, his thoughts on the band’s rise, and supporting his heroes, Blink-182.
Tell me how have things been for you since the release of ‘Wishful Thinking’ earlier this year?
Well the reception for it has been awesome. People generally accepted the album. So much has happened since then that it feels like a lifetime ago. We’ve settled in now and we play most of those songs live too, so it doesn’t feel quite so new anymore. It’s cool that kids aren’t just getting into us through old stuff anymore, but we’re gaining the fans from the album. Like that’s what they’re hearing of Neck Deep for the first time, and that’s what you want, really. You want people to love your newest stuff, so I think it all went pretty well for us.
Did you find that there was much pressure surrounding you guys for the writing and recording of the debut?
Maybe a little bit. For myself, I’d say there was some pressure. Like the two EP’s just came naturally because we wanted to write music. But with the album we were like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to knuckle down and write an album now’. It was a daunting because the EP’s did so well and we have to write a debut album and it seemed like a lot of people were looking at us and expecting us to do well. So the pressure was on for sure, but I think we handled it all pretty well.
In terms of writing though, I was pretty content with my life at that point. The band was going well, my personal life was going really well, and I could’ve written an album about being happy but I knew that wouldn’t be able to relate to a lot of people. It might have just been an album about my life but I didn’t want it to be like that. I want people to apply it to their own lives and help get them through whatever shit they’re going through. So I had to pull a lot more stuff out. Like, I wrote a song about my dad for the first time. It was also the first time I struggled to decide what I was initially gonna write about, and not just write about breaking up with some girl. Once it was all done though, I was stoked and very happy with how it all came out.
As you said with writing more personally, do you think that some bands try to force out sad songs and melancholic lyrics just so people will latch onto them more instead of writing something many people would consider to be happy?
I suppose whoever writes the songs in a band is whom it’s a reflection of and what’s going on in their life. I think with sad music, it can help people through a lot because they can relate and it sums up how they’re feeling at that time. I don’t think it’s necessarily about exploiting it for some bands, but as far as we were concerned, I don’t really want to write these super sad songs. There is a time and a place for it, but I honesty think it’s more productive to write music that people relate to. Because then there can at least be a lesson in it that some people may be able to learn from, instead of ‘I’m just so fucking sad’. That’s what I think Neck Deep pushes, that there’s always a silver lining to things, that you can get yourself out of it.
Now, the album was engineered by your brother, Seb, correct?
Have you guys worked with him before on the other releases before ‘Wishful Thinking’?
Well, we’ve never really written outside of Seb’s bedroom [laughs]. It’s always been in Seb’s room at the top of my house, that’s just the way it works for us. We’ve just been demoing some new stuff, and it’s far off from any sort of arrangement yet, but being musicians, being creative people, we’re always wanting to write. When we were on Warped Tour, we flew Seb out to engineer for us on the road. Like, we can use recording software, but he’s just much better with it. To have him involved in the writing process is something that we’ve always done. He’s always been there to just have a hand in the writing process and throw in ideas. He’s kinda like our unofficial sixth member. As far as writing goes, we’ll always write in some part of Seb. We will branch out and record in a real studio eventually and do it properly. We have a few ideas for where we’ll go and who we’ll work with, but that’s for a future announcement! I think going from Seb’s room to a real studio will add a massive dynamic to the next album.
With this being your first time out to Australia, what can the fans expect in terms of the band’s live performances?
Just a lot of energy. I know that State Champs bring a lot of energy too, so hopefully they don’t wear everyone out before we play [laughs]. If you’re coming out to a show to stage dive and do all that cliché shit, then this is the perfect time to do it. We’re both pretty upbeat bands, same with Sidelines too. This is basically a banging pop-punk lineup. The fact that it’s coming to Australia is great too. I’m glad we can bring another band out from America. In terms of live performances, I’d have to say to expect all round solid performances, lots of moving around, it’s gonna be very constant, very fast, and it’s definitely going to be a lot of fun. Every Australian show we played last year was awesome, so I’m expecting the same this time.
Did you ever think that Neck Deep would become this big this quickly after only two years?
Nope. Never in a million years! I didn’t think that this band would do anything. I thought that we’d maybe put out an online release and that’d be it. Lloyd [Roberts, guitar] worked was in another band, so I told him that we should just do it for fun. I just wanted this to be about being creative and writing music, because it’s kinda the only thing I’m good at. So we just intended it to be a bit of fun. But just with the way it went, we couldn’t ignore that people wanted us to play shows and really take it seriously. Even that in itself was a big step for the band, to actually play shows. So the fact that it’s gotten to where it is, is just insane. I never thought it would happen in a million years, but I always wanted to play with Blink-182. I never really doubted it but I never really fully believed it either, but it happened. It’s the same with everything we do, I never really doubt anything that we do, but I never really push it to specific things. We kinda just do what we do and things just work out. I think that’s down to a positive mind set, and just working really hard. I honestly don’t think we’re going to stop. Like, we’ve been touring constantly for almost two years now and for the foreseeable future it looks to be the same. I think that it’s proof of what a loyal fan base, hard work, and good song writing gets you. Those are probably the three magic ingredients – loyal fans, hard work, and writing songs people like.
As you mentioned before, you guys supported Blink-182 a few weeks ago at their Brixton shows, that must’ve been a huge moment for you?
Absolutely insane! Because Blink were the band that defined music for me. They’re that band for possibly a whole generation. So to be able to play alongside that band, my actual heroes, is kinda like the peak. I don’t think we’ll top that. The only thing to top that would to be tour with them or wrote a record with them. I know people always say ‘It was a dream come true’, but that is an actual dream of mine, and it has come true. They were also all really nice dudes, which was awesome to know that your heroes aren’t complete twats. I was actually scared before we played that show, like I never get nervous before a show, but I was so scared. It was horrible, and the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done [laughs]”.
I thinks it’s fair to say that some of the biggest bands in pop-punk right now are American, do you think that coming from the UK helps separate you guys from the rest for pack?
Yeah, I definitely think it gives us an edge. The fact that people might look toward the UK for pop-punk will look at us. That in a way, has really helped us, ’cause it has put us in league that isn’t so saturated. There are lots of good pop-punk bands from the States, and there’s a few in the UK that are really good. I think music should be for everyone, it doesn’t matter where you come from so long as you’re hearts in it and you’re doing it for the right reasons, it doesn’t matter what music you play. So people might say that pop-punk doesn’t belong in the UK, but that’s stupid, that’s just small minded. I would love for us to be the band that inspires other UK kids to start their own band, that we are the band that they look up to and say ‘I wanna do it like Neck Deep did’ or ‘Now people will pay attention to my band because of Neck Deep’. That would be a dream come true.
Well aside from pop-punk, are you and the band influenced from anything else outside of the genre?
Aside from all the obvious ones, we all have our own influences. Like Wester’s a massive Alkaline Trio fan, Lloyd’s favourite band is Funeral For A Friend, and Dani’s a big metal head. I think you can probably tell with his drumming that he’s very metal influenced. Phil and I have a very similar taste in music. For me, I’d also say a City and Colour. Dallas Green had a huge influence on me. Before Neck Deep, I did a lot of acoustic stuff which was all influenced by him. Just his lyrics and his amazing voice, that encouraged me to sit and my room and play guitar and sing, and that’s where I learned that I kinda could sing [laughs]. So for me it’s definitely Dallas Green.
I actually preferred him when he was in Alexisonfire, to be honest.
Oh yeah! Alexis were awesome too, but just his solo stuff is what I fell in love with.
Does the band ever get swayed by critics or the negative comments that might come your way?
Not really. People are fully entitled to their opinion. I don’t expect every single person to like us. You kinda gotta ignore that, because if you focus on the bad shit, then there’s going to be more bad shit. We just try and focus on the people who do like us because if you like us, we like you, if you don’t like us…well it doesn’t really fucking matter. Just ignore the people who choose to be your enemy, you know? We know we’re doing something right because of all the people who do like us, who do really look up to us. They’re the people who are much more important in our eyes. People can talk shit all they want, it doesn’t really bother me [laughs].
Do you guys take it as a compliment that so many people compare you to bands like The Story So Far, or does it bother you?
As a comparison, not really. Because people will compare a lot of bands to others just so they can get an idea for what they sound like. There are lots of bands that The Story So Far sound like too. When people say that we ripped them off, that’s what pisses me off. I didn’t put this much time and effort into writing songs for that. Yeah, we like The Story So Far, they’re good band, good dudes. But we didn’t rip them off, like that would just be stupid. Like, why would you start a band just to do that!? We started this band so we could write music and do something different.
Finally Ben, what do you think the next two years of the band’s life will hold?
Oh, I don’t even know man. With the rate of how things are going lately, it just seems like every couple of days I get told something that just completely blows my mind. So I think I’d say to expect a solid album, lots of touring, and plenty of cool shit along the way.
Well I think I’ve taken up enough of your time Ben, thanks so much for your time man.
Nah it’s all good mate, bye.
‘Wishful Thinking’ is out now via Hopeless Records/UNFD. Neck Deep are touring nationally this September. Tickets and info via The Virtue Agency.