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According to Ben Barlow, writing new Neck Deep material has never been easier. Following 2020’s ambitious All Distortions Are Intentional album (and, obviously, all the stuff that’s happened in the world since then), the Wrexham pop-punks found themselves doing some serious soul-searching, and have since settled into an extremely productive and positive rhythm.
Case in point is their brand-new single, Heartbreak Of The Century. A real “return to form” according to the frontman, it sees the quartet – completed by guitarists Matt West and Sam Bowden, and bassist/Ben’s brother Seb – at their infectious, energetic best. And with good reason.
“We’re not really trying to subvert too much, and we’re not experimenting so much anymore,” explains Ben. “I think we’ve just got a clearer sense of who we are and what we do, and also what our fans expect of us. We’re not necessarily guessing as much, or going, ‘Hey, I wonder what it would sound like if we experimented?!’ We know what works, and we’re happy to play that.
“And I think after the pandemic we had to take a step back,” he adds. “The band had so many highs and lows, and we just really did a lot of self-assessment. And I think the thing was, ‘Let’s not dilute what Neck Deep’s about, and let’s remember what people love about the band and try to bottle that.’ And it’s been surprisingly easy, when you just kind of do the thing that comes naturally to you. We’re in a good place, and we’re slowly chipping away at this record – because while it’s easy to write, we want to make sure that it’s right. And it’s going really well.”
Kerrang! caught up with Ben in-between his duties of “being a stay-at-home dog dad and amateur cyclist” to dig into Heartbreak Of The Century, where things are at with a new album, and what it’s gonna be like to hit the road with YUNGBLUD later this week…
Ben! You got engaged over Christmas, so hopefully Heartbreak Of The Century isn’t a tale of romantic woe for you?!
“(Laughs) Not recently! It’s maybe more drawing off some previous experiences. I think pop-punk can be known for being whingey and complain-y, and writing songs about girls and about break-ups. I’m on the verge of getting married, and Sam also got engaged not long before me, but I think experience as a songwriter comes with the ability to be able to tap into certain past memories or emotions. So yeah, it comes from some sort of personal place. But ultimately who doesn’t love a break-up song?! I’m sure there’s a fan out there who’s going through a break-up at the minute, or even if you’re like me and you’re happily in a relationship, I’m sure you can relate to the lyrics. And also I think the energy of the song is just as important in how you can relate to a song, too.”
You’ve released a hilarious video to go with the single. What was the most fun part to film?
“I think people would probably think it’s the bit where I’m doing the Forgetting Sarah Marshall scene – but actually that was horrendous! I wasn’t actually naked, obviously – I had the pants on and shit. And I put a sock down there (laughs), just so that you really couldn’t see anything. But there was a big joke of, ‘Oh, he’s wearing a sock!’ All of that stuff was not the most fun! I would say the best bit was probably filming with the crowd and doing the award ceremony, because we got to do a lot more acting than we’re used to. Doing the red carpet scenes and the awards were probably my favourite, because we got to play these proper alter-ego, pompous fucking dickhead celebrity versions of ourselves! If I can get into a character for half an hour, then it’s always fun.”
The two singles you’ve released since your last album All Distortions Are Intentional – Heartbreak… and last year’s STFU – have been very different to each other, lyrically. So what’s been on your mind when it comes to lyrics for new Neck Deep?
“A lot of stuff, really. I do tend to just write based off of how I’m feeling, or how the song feels, and so it comes as and when. I’ve been very angry at the world recently, politically – I think a lot of people are – but I’m always hesitant to write songs that are too politicised. I think there’s only a handful of bands that do that super-well – and they’re definitely not pop-punk bands! So as much as I would love to write a more political record, you’ve got to keep in mind that not everyone is super politically-minded, and I’m very aware of shoving things down people’s throat, which I don’t want to do. So I think it’s gonna be a balance of both, and in line with a lot of Neck Deep stuff, really. I think as much as we can write about anything, the core thing is the struggle with yourself, the struggle with life, and how you overcome that – with an air of positivity. I try to draw on my own experiences and advice, and hopefully help people in whatever situation they’re in. I think the main thing is just to be relatable.”
In terms of a new album, what can you say about where things are at?
“It’s coming along well! We’ve got a damn sight more of it written than people have heard, and it’s probably further along than people think. But we’re doing this record a little differently than we have done in the past. So instead of going and doing a full record in four-to-six weeks, and just being there and smashing it out, we’re kind of doing it in short little bursts out in LA, where we’re there for two weeks at a time trying to get a handful of songs, and sitting with those for a bit. There’s always a thing of six months after a record is out the artist is sat there going, ‘We should’ve changed that, we should’ve done that…’ We’re trying to alleviate that as much as possible, and give ourselves time to sit with the songs and see how they feel after a month. So while a lot of it’s done, we’re taking our time with it to just make sure that it’s the best we can be. I’m not gonna give any timelines here, but there will be pretty steady releases leading up to it!”
You’re heading to arenas later this week to support YUNGBLUD. You’ve played so many different types of shows – are you well-accustomed to those big rooms at this point?
“Oh yeah! I think this is gonna be our third time playing Wembley as a support – always the bridesmaid and all that (laughs). But yeah, to us the venue size doesn’t matter – we can play 200-cap, 5,000-cap and huge 10,000-cap venues, and our energy is always the same. We’re more than equipped to go out there and smash it, and hopefully expose some fans to new music or help them go further down the alternative rabbit-hole, if their journey has started with YUNGBLUD. And big up YUNGBLUD for recognising that we’ve been around for a while, and we could benefit off of doing a support tour with him – he’s from the alternative world and shares those values. He could very easily have put on a big pop act or whatever, but he wanted to go for the band and give his fans a taste of what a proper pop-punk show feels like, so we’re stoked. Like I said, we’ll rock up and play anywhere to anyone, and this is a great opportunity for us.”
If you could have him come out onstage for a Neck Deep song, which would you pick?
“None of them because he’s gonna fucking steal the show if he comes out during our set (laughs). No, I’m joking! This is a bit of a trope with pop-punk and hardcore to get your mates on to do guest spots – it’s like, ‘What’s your favourite song and what’s your favourite bit? Let’s go!’ So if he wanted to jump on for a Neck Deep song, I’d be down. Maybe he could come and do Can’t Kick Up The Roots – I know he’s from Doncaster, which is probably similar to Wrexham in quite a few ways. It is a proper shithole, but also full of lovely people, and proper salt-of-the-earth people. I think we probably have similar backgrounds in that respect. So yeah, let’s sing it for the working class northern boys!”
Heartbreak Of The Century is out now. Neck Deep tour the UK with YUNGBLUD from February 16
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