What would All Time Low do? It’s a question the band held close during the recording of their eighth outing, ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’. They’ve thrived embracing the cavalier, carefree attitude that comes with youth, but after nearly two decades together, what next?
author: Steven Loftin
“You start to have that identity crisis of you either become R.L. Stein, writing another Goosebumps book; where you just end up churning them out and simply change some names of the characters,” singer and guitarist Alex Gaskarth muses, chuckling.
“Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s a very fine line to walk where you’re either regurgitating the same thing that you’ve done a million times, or you’re going completely off on a tangent at the cost of maybe alienating some of your fans.
“We’ve built something up over 16 years, and there’s an expectation for what people want from this. It’s finding that space and meeting those expectations while also staying true to ourselves as artists and not just regurgitating another Goosebumps novel.”
After the touring of 2017’s ‘Last Young Renegade’, which saw them explore different territories both sonically and conceptually, the good ship All Time Low needed to dock.
“We should be clear about this, too: there was no, ‘Alright guys, it’s time for a break’,” drummer Rian Dawson dazzles with his Hollywood smile. “It was not a hiatus. It was more, ‘We don’t need to do anything this year, we’ve earned a vacation.”
Just as Rian says, the time off wasn’t for any need to escape each other. The core of All Time Low, finished by guitarist Jack Barakat and bassist Zach Merrick, has always been the teenage bond that still runs as strong today; with the four of them sat around a bar table with Upset, at ease, and a clear air of ‘friends before band’ and smiles never wavering.
“I remember Alex told me about Simple Creatures,” he motions to his bandmate. “We’ve been in the band for fifteen-plus years, and we’ve never really talked about side-projects at all. I remember the call, he’s like, ‘Hey, so I’ve been writing with Mark [Hoppus, from blink-182] a lot, and we’re thinking about doing this thing’. And it was just same with Jack [and WhoHurtYou, his band with singer/songwriter Kevin Fisher] – there was nothing but excitement. There was no resentment about it or anything like that. We were all very much in contact.”
“It was really nice to have some time to ourselves,” Alex agrees. “You know, we all got to do various things; whether it was just spending some time at home with our families, which is always great and very welcome, or whether it was diving into new projects new endeavours. Jack started a new thing, and so did I. It was kind of a way to reset, get some headspace and clarity and just move away from All Time Low world for a minute. We’d been on tour for so long too.”
“Fifteen years!” Rian laughs. “Everything just kind of fit into place in the discourse. There was zero contention, zero anxiety about that. No, ‘But what about All Time Low if you’re doing that, and you’re doing that?!'” He continues.
“It was just like, ‘Okay, yeah, you guys flex that creative muscle that you need to, and then when we come back, we’ll be able to focus in on what we need to do next.”
“It definitely refocuses you to take that year off and to be able to do whatever creative processes you want to do on your own maybe. And then it also just made me realise at least like ‘Fuck, I really miss it’ in a very good way,” Rian says.
“It’s like coming back to school, except you like school, and you like everyone there, and you actually enjoy it!” Jack laughs behind sips of gin.
When it came to the four of them getting back in the classroom, or studio, it had to be something special. While they did drop the double A-side of ‘Birthday’ / ‘Everything Is Fine’ out of the blue back in 2018, “At this point, we didn’t feel like we needed to do that again,” Alex says for their decision to go all-in on an album.
“We’d done that, and it served its purpose. The big thing with those two tracks was that we felt as though ‘Last Young Renegade’ was tapering off record cycle wise, and we had a lot of touring left to do. So, we felt like it needed some kind of injection of a new excitement. It was a nice little transitional moment to wind down that record cycle, but without it feeling like we dragged it out.”
So, endeavouring to keep everything barebones, they took themselves away to a house in the desert, where the band set up shop with one simple purpose in mind; to be All Time Low.
To do this, they stripped things back to basics, no rigid timescale, just living and breathing what they love. No one was aware a new record was being made, it was just the four of them – and a producer, Zakk Cervini – hanging out, pushing away any of the bullshit that can crop up from being a band for so long.
“We’re in a unique position because we’ve made a lot of records,” Alex ponders. “This is record number eight for us, and I think, to be honest, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Sometimes having a more rigid timeline and needing to deliver on time actually pushes you to make something great in the constraints of what you’re working with.
“But at the same time, it’s all cyclical, and sometimes that can be too much. The beauty of this album is that the break and a lack of pressure came at the right time. It came at a time when we needed that to make a record that truly represents what All Time Low is in 2020.”
While all four figures of All Time Low were present, and doing what they do best, it was the addition of producer Zakk that helped Alex, Jack, Zach and Rian bring it all back to that question; what would All Time Low do?
“Zakk is the first producer we’ve ever worked with who was a fan first of our music,” Alex says. “He said to us before that he grew up listening to All Time Low, so it’s pretty cool to make a record with a 100% professional and insanely talented producer, but also with that added caveat that he grew up on our music.
“You don’t often look back and reference your own music when you make new stuff. But in his mind, he was able to know where the energy is, and what he wants to unlock from you and that made for a really interesting time again.”
Having met Zakk after Alex worked with him on the Simple Creatures EPs, “He was someone that was fresh in our mind to do our record,” Jack says. “I think that had a lot to do with it as well. Alex liked working with him a lot, and we knew him personally, but All Time Low hadn’t worked with him a lot.”
“Speaking personally, creatively, Simple Creatures gave me an avenue to do something that was very different and off the wall,” Alex says of its marks on ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’. “There were no expectations tied to it, and it was nice to be able to go do that and then come back with an almost even more focused sense of what All Time Low is and should be. It should sound like what we are trying to do.”