Ben Barlow: “We’re going back to our roots and we’re really stoked. This feels like Neck Deep”

Following an unsuccessful trip to Los Angeles to work on their fifth album, Neck Deep decided to return – quite literally – to their roots, and record back home in Wrexham. Vocalist Ben Barlow reveals how this helped them shape the most “true” version of the band, and how good it feels to just play pop-punk rippers…

Ben Barlow: “We’re going back to our roots and we’re really stoked. This feels like Neck Deep”
Emily Carter
Nat Wood

Neck Deep are back – and they’re armed with the most them album yet. Following 2020’s ambitious All Distortions Are Intentional, today (September 28) the Wrexham pop-punk heroes have confirmed details of their upcoming self-titled fifth LP, due out on January 19 via Hopeless. We caught up with vocalist Ben Barlow on the road in Indonesia to find out all about the record, and how the band – completed by guitarists Matt West and Sam Bowden, bassist Seb Barlow and drummer Matt Powles – are very happy with where they’re at right now…

You’ve had a big 2023 with some massive festivals and anniversary shows, and next year you’ll be releasing your new album and headlining Ally Pally. Are Neck Deep just thinking, ‘Yeah, we’re in a really good spot, this is great’?
“(Laughs) Pretty much, yeah! Everything seems to be falling into place. It’s definitely been quite a crazy year, leading up to this. This time last year, we had this hellish Europe tour that was kind of a humbling experience, and the record wasn’t really done or anything. We were in a very different place a year ago. But now things are definitely coming together – all the chips are falling into place, and everything feels great. This hopefully-final-form of the band (laughs) is feeling really good, and we all worked our arses off on this record. We did it ourselves; Seb produced the whole thing in our studio, and we really had to knuckle down and make it happen. But the satisfaction at the end of that, and having done it ourselves, was a bonding experience, and kind of a big pat on the back – especially for Seb, who was slogging it for a hot minute. I’m really, really pleased with the record, and the future in general is looking pretty good!”

So it was literally just you guys working on the record – you didn’t bring in any outside people at all?
“It was mixed out in LA and mastered by someone else, but in terms of production and writing and engineering, it was all us. Seb produced and engineered it, and we all had our roles. We went and recorded drums with Carl [Brown] up in Treehouse Studios, just because we don’t have the facilities to do that. We did initially go out to LA to do the record, and we realised pretty quickly into the process that it wasn’t going the way we wanted it to, and it wasn’t sounding the way that we wanted. We realised, ‘We don’t really need anyone else to help us with a record – we can do this ourselves. We don’t need to be in LA, we don’t need to be paying all this money and giving all this time to a producer – especially if it’s not coming out the way that we want.’ It was a tough conversation, knowing that we’d wasted a month in LA and we’d have to scrap most of it and start again when we got back home. That was a setback, for sure. But ultimately I think it made the record what it is: going back to our roots with it, and being self-reliant. It ended up being the best thing that we could have done.”

Did you keep all of the songs you had originally written and tried to record in the LA sessions – it wasn’t really the songs that were the issue?
“Oh yeah, all the songs were still there. It was just boring songwriter stuff – like, little tricks and bits and bobs that we just weren’t stoked on. It was really weird. Yeah, it was tough.”

And so you then worked on everything at your own studio?
“Yeah, we got it in, like, January 2022. We’d always talked about having it – we were very inspired by the story of the [While She] Sleeps boys, actually. They’ve had their space for a good while. They’re far more self-sufficient than we are, so props to them! But they definitely inspired us. We’ve been on the lookout for a warehouse for a good while, but the right place hadn’t really popped up. It was something we always wanted to do, because sometimes you go to a studio and you’re in someone else’s space and you’ve got to follow their rules, and you can’t quite put your feet up, you know? And so it was just the freedom to be ourselves and do what we wanted to do, really. It is an inspiring place – it’s also a fucking building site at the moment, but it’s got plenty of Neck Deep memorabilia from over the years, it’s got a lot of our gear. With it being so close to home, it feels very true to us.”

What was your favourite thing about making this album?
“The freedom. Not having to fight anyone, and not having to compromise with anyone. It was like when we used to make records in Seb’s bedroom – with Sam sat with a guitar and me slowly chipping away at lyrics and stuff. It felt like how it used to be, where we didn’t have too much to consider. It felt good to be a pop-punk band again, and have those hopeful, posi songs again.

“And it was great to be in our own space – we could do what we wanted. and because we’re renovating there’s shit everywhere, and if I’m bugging out and can’t get my head around a lyric, I’ll go and skate for a bit or go and graffiti an old wall or whatever. And I could cycle home – there were a few times I was like, ‘I’m gonna go and get the dog, and walk the dog back.’ It was sick being close to home – well, for some of us, because Sam and West both live in America now. But it was on our own terms, and in our own space, and we weren’t paying for anyone’s time or on a schedule as such. It was just easy, fun and more comfortable.”

The next single you’ve just released from the album is It Won’t Be Like This Forever. It feels a bit like 2017 single In Bloom, with the potential to be a really massive Neck Deep song. Did it feel that level of special when you were writing it?
“Yeah, it’s quite funny how it came about, really. Loads of artists will say some of the best songs are the ones that kind of just happen, and something clicks. You can spend months working on a song and it’d be amazing as well, but we pissed it out! We were working on another song, and it was the first time that we’d got together since COVID, when some of those restrictions were still in place. We got an Airbnb down in Wales and set up a little studio in there did some writing, and we were working on a different song and playing around, and literally I just went to the toilet next door, and Sam was playing some random chords – like, not even trying to write anything. I was just having a piss and then went back in and was like, ‘Play that again!’ And it just came out. We closed the project that we had been working on and opened another one, and just put the chorus down. And so in that sense, yeah, we kind of knew it was special, because it happened so quickly. We were stoked on that 20-second clip that we had for ages, and that was also the case with In Bloom, as well. I’d had that song and didn’t really know if people would dig it, and I put that first chorus or whatever down, and everyone was like, ‘This is the song!’ So it had that feel to it, and it definitely fills a nice space on the record too, because for the most part the record is pretty ripping. We wanted to make a pop-punk record, and this kind of serves as one of the more mid-tempo ones – like In Bloom or December. It fills that hole really nicely.”

The lyric ‘I am the rain and you are the petrichor’ is particularly great, too…
“That is one that people have said, actually! It was similar when we wrote Gold Steps and people really liked, ‘I’ve been moving mountains that I once had to climb.’ And this one has been a similar feeling, but it didn’t massively stick out to me at first! But people have said that and so if it’s clicking then that’s great.”

It Won’t Be Like This Forever is quite different to your previous single, Take Me With You. What’s the split on the album between ‘here’s our feelings’ and then ‘here’s us having more of a laugh’?
“I’d say it’s 40 per cent feelings, and 60 per cent fun! We wanted to make a pop-punk album, and there’s still the odd line here and there – there’s some break-up songs and heartbreak songs, and just stuff that’s relatable for people. But it wasn’t like I wanted to pour my heart out too much. I mean, we're all in a pretty good place in life, and I don’t really have too much to complain about. So I think it was just doing what we do best, and telling stories. There’s a song on there called Moody Weirdo which is pretty deep – I get in my feelings on that one! And it has a similar message to Life’s Not Out To Get You – it’s quite hopeful, it’s quite positive. There’s a few more of those sorts of themes in this record than there were on [All Distortions Are Intentional], which was this big, grandiose story of love. We’re going a bit more back to basics, and it’s a bit more hopeful, a bit more positive, and not pouring my feelings out quite as much as on All Distortions… But there’s still sprinklings of it. For the most part, it’s just fun, energetic music. There’s a political song – which is probably my most poignant political song – on the record, which is We Need More Bricks. That’s quite emotional in the sense that it’s quite angry. And that has truly my favorite Neck Deep breakdown riff that we’ve ever written – I’m hoping people fucking mosh hard to it! There’s times where we get into our feelings, but there’s also a lot of fun songs on there, and we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. I tried to take some pressure off myself and said, ‘Let’s just have fun with some of these songs.’”

You’ve gone for a self-titled album name. Does this mean it’s the definitive Neck Deep record?
“We threw loads of titles around, actually – we had loads of good ones! Honestly, Probably was one, which we thought sounded too much like Definitely, Maybe! I joked about having Asses To The Masses (laughs) but the rest of the band weren’t too into that. And there were loads from lyrics that would have been cool, but we suggested a self-titled album and sat with it for a minute, and it was like, ‘Yeah, it does feel like the most true to Neck Deep record that we’ve done in a good while.’ We’ve been in a band for 10 years now, and it’s one of them where we’re going back to our roots and we’re really stoked. It feels like Neck Deep – there’s elements of how the band started, and doing everything ourselves in terms of the songwriting. It’s how we’ve always heard ourselves sounding, and it’s exactly what this record is. It just made sense to call it Neck Deep, because that’s what it is!”

Neck Deep will release their self-titled album on January 19 via Hopeless Records. The band headline London’s Alexandra Palace on March 28.

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