Neck Deep are also clear about what they’re here to achieve: an album that fundamentally shifts them from pop-punk’s leading lights to a great band full stop, transferring these big fish from their small pond to the limitless oceans of the big time. Not because they think that’s what they should be doing now, mind, but because it’s a point they’ve arrived at organically.
“Pop-punk’s where we came from, and the reason we’re doing what we’re doing now,” says West, not wishing to discredit the world that birthed them. “We started out writing pop-punk songs because that’s what we were listening to at the time. Naturally, over the years, we’ve grown and tastes have changed. On [The Peace And The Panic], we had songs like Parachute and In Bloom that wouldn’t sound particularly out of place on the record we’re making now. We enjoyed writing and playing those songs so much that the natural evolution was to do [last year’s non-album single] She’s A God, and that took us to where we are now. I don’t think there’s any conscious effort to step away from where we were, it’s just a natural thing that’s happened.”
“For me, the highest form of praise for this record would be people thinking it’s been made by real artists rather than some everyday lads in a band,” adds Ben. “We are more than loveable idiots – there’s a deeper level to what we do. We’ve evolved into creative people with taste and a vision, who have carved out our own pocket within the music world. I want people to think Neck Deep don’t sound like anyone else – that they sound like Neck Deep.”
It’s not alterations to the band’s creative process that have brought about this evolution, because little has really changed from the early days of Ben and older brother Seb piecing together music in the attic of their childhood home. And while today they’ve got more space in which to play, the band still favour close confines and a production-line mentality. They record in the wood-beamed studio attached to the house, before Seb, ensconced in an upstairs bedroom, reviews what’s been done, noting any tweaks required, or mixing the stuff that makes the grade.
It’s a model of self-sufficiency young bands should aspire to. And Monnow, located 100 miles from their home base in Wrexham, seems a much better fit than the Los Angeles studios where Neck Deep worked on The Peace And The Panic, and began writing this one – experiences not necessarily to their tastes.
“It feels like we’re here for the sole purpose of making a record, whereas in LA we were also having to shake hands and network and shit,” says Ben, explaining the key difference between there and here, then and now. “We wake up here just a few footsteps away from the studio. Being close to home takes a big element of stress out of the situation, too. We don’t have to constantly fly or live out of a suitcase. I know I’m not going to go home yet, because we’re going to work on this until the final days. But psychologically, it’s comforting to know I could.”
Far from skipping out, Ben – ever the night owl – regularly stays up until dawn here, a glass of red wine in hand, recording vocal takes or listening back to his efforts. As a result he’s the last to rise each day. At 2pm, he hasn’t been up long, sipping coffee and vaping as he explains how these dark nights of the soul provide the “total immersion” he craves when making an album, as well as time to piece together what this emerging opus is about.
“Having a lot of strong songs already is obviously a big boost,” says Ben of material that, under the freewheeling stewardship of producer Matt – a creative kindred spirit for whom no idea is too experimental – kicks open the door to musical possibilities only hinted at by The Peace And The Panic. The new album draws influence from the aforementioned Sabbath and Oasis, as well as Weezer and Nirvana. “There’s some stuff that’s got a Smashing Pumpkins vibe, too,” he adds, hitting his stride for the day ahead. “You wouldn’t have been able to say that before, would you?”