Nat Wood

‘All We Need Is Trust and Freedom’ – The New Neck Deep

We, too, cannot believe that this is our first time interviewing this fierce Welsh five-some, but there’s no better time than now given that they are in the midst their self-titled, self-produced, self-sufficient, and self-aware era.

Back with their fifth album one week from today, Neck Deep is ready to conquer the world. If you’ve attended a Warped Tour, seen Blink-182 live, or are even just remotely tuned into the pop punk scene, there’s a high probability you’ve been a fan of Neck Deep for a long time. With those credits and more, the band has more than proven themselves already, and with a discography as stacked as theirs, they could easily just coast on their current releases. We have to admit, though: we are thrilled that they are doing no such thing. 

Neck Deep’s new, self-titled album sees the band returning to their roots, but it comes with an updated sound. Ben Barlow is a better vocalist than ever before. His singing is clear and beautiful – it’s clear he’s put tons of work into perfecting his craft. The choruses on each song are catchier than ever, too, with tracks like “Dumnstruck Dumbf*ck” and “They May Not Mean To (But They Do)” providing instant ear worms. Although they have matured, the band still maintains their punk edge and pop sensibilities. Neck Deep feels like a full on rock album with the best kind of sing-a-long moments. It’s 10 tracks – short and to the point, but extremely concise. There is not a second of filler on this release, and every moment is crucial to the song and overarching album. For a band that’s well known as being a live act (IE: the aforementioned Warped and Blink tours), they wrote a record born for the live setting. Upon first listen, expect to want to create a mosh-pit in your living room.

The Aquarian had the amazing chance to chat with Neck Deep vocalist Ben Barlow about the new album, the band’s US Tour coming to Philly and Brooklyn, working with family, and even producing the new record. Check it out!

First question, Neck Deep’s self-titled album is out on January 19. What’s going through your head?

It’s always a weird limbo period when you’re waiting for a record to come out. People are finally hearing it I think it’s been out to a lot of press now. People have had their hands on it, so, yeah, it feels good. They’re saying good things. Fans are happy and that’s been our aim, really. We’re just waiting for it to get out in the world and get to playing it! We always write with our live show in mind, so it’s good that we’ll finally be able to unleash some of these new songs [on stage], because we’ve been waiting for a long time to play them. We’re just keen on getting it – and us – out there.

You say you always write with the live show in mind, how does that work? 

I think our shows, generally, are very lively. We expect a lot of crowd participation and I think fans of ours come to shows for that. Whenever we write, we [look for] a part that has a particularly good impact or has a particularly good lyric – something that we definitely can get stoked on playing live. It definitely goes into the decision making for sure. 

Absolutely! This record is self-titled. What went into the mindset to say, “You know what? We’re just going to call it Neck Deep. This is authentic and genuine us.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much the process by which we made the record and went into it! That was a big part of it, and we did it all ourselves. [We] took it back to basics, so that’s how we started. We started in my brother’s bedroom – that was before he played bass for us – and he hasn’t made a record in a little while, but we have a studio space close to home. We all got in a room together with no producers – just purely our decision making and doing what we wanted to do. No diss or anything, but it was the intention, or at least how we felt. We were throwing around a bunch of different album names; some will go into the locker maybe for future stuff, but I think when self-titled was suggested, it was like, “Well, yeah!” We’ve come this far and done so much of this ourselves. Whether we continue doing it like this or we switch it up again, who knows? If there’s ever a record to do it, it feels like this one. It’s a short, sharp, and to the point record. It’s how we’ve always been. It allowed us to be ourselves. 

What do you think the biggest challenge was going from producers to just you? Or were there any challenges when you took away all the lights and gadgets of the big studios? 

We had initially started working with a producer in LA, but we just weren’t stoked on what we were getting really. The songs weren’t too different, but it just wasn’t the right environment. I think we just realized we can do a lot of this ourselves and we can do it from the comfort of our own home. It was definitely tough. We knew we were going to have to buck our act up and really buckle down and get working on it. We were out in LA for over a month, so we set the record back a fair bit and we knew we would have to really get moving with things. That was tough. We worked really hard and worked everyday for like six weeks straight just making the record. It was ultimately the best thing to do as soon as we got into the studio. We wrestled the songs back into place and got them sounding how we wanted them to sound. It ended up being the best thing, and that was just a part of that entire process: having to realize what we needed to do with this record and what this record was going to be. You’ve got to fail to realize where you went wrong and pick it back up in a place and a space where you feel good about things. 

Absolutely, and what’s so funny is sometimes when a band self-produces and records an album like you did, it proves that no one knows you better than yourself. No one knows Neck Deep better than Neck Deep! You can get to the heart of music so much quicker.

It’s definitely us unfiltered, I would say. That’s how it felt. It allowed us to do what we wanted to do. No diss or shade! Working with producers is great for the most part! I’m trying to not sound cliché with it, but it’s so easy to say, “This is the most Neck Deep record so far. This is the best record we’ve made so far,” but it’s true! I think we’re the best songwriters we’ve ever been. I think it takes all the best parts of our best songs and does them better and bigger – elevates it all. We’re stoked!

Inverse, we’re kind of rediscovering ourselves a bit. I think we had to push the boat out at times in our career and try new things/test the waters/be creative/experiment, but it feels good to come back and just write pop punk. It comes pretty easy for us to write songs like this. Seb’s always been a key songwriter. We think very much alike melodically and hear how things flow, and Sam is always writing parts to bridge gaps and that flow. It felt good to just write our own songs and be totally in control of that. 

Seb, your brother, has obviously been a part of the band during the entire band’s trajectory, but in 2020 during All Distortions Are Intentional, that’s when he came into the public eye and started playing bass for the band. How has that been – being with a family member, but also being with him in the business, the band, and all that?

Good question! It’s chilling because on the business side of things, I don’t think me and Seb, especially, are too business minded. I don’t think any of us are too worried about the money, which is good because money makes people act really weird. We’re pretty good with that side of things and we’re pretty close. Seb and I grew up as best friends as well as brothers. It’s added a good dynamic to the band because in a way he can tell me off. Not that other people can’t tell me off, but we have this different relationship where we can go at each other if need be about things that we probably need to go at each other about. At the same time, as well, we share a lot of the same views and have a lot of similar tastes musically and visually, too.

There’s really a lot of trust between everyone in the band. We’re all pretty hands on with a lot of stuff. West does a lot of our design stuff. A lot of graphics you see us putting out West has a hand in. A lot of the stage design stuff? West does that. Powles, as our drummer, was a crew member for the longest time. Now in the band we have a guy who is a professional touring drum tech. He knows the ins and outs and logistics of things – where to get things made, done, etc. Everyone pulls their weight in a lot of areas. It’s just a good friendship between all of us, really. We can talk to each other about anything. Ultimately, although he wasn’t in the band until 2020, he kind of started the band with me in a lot of ways. We started that band in his bedroom. It doesn’t even really feel like a new member – it’s just somebody who was always meant to be doing this with us. He’s got just as much of a say as anyone.

I agree 100%! Going back to earlier and talking about writing the record for the live show, “We Need More Bricks” and “Dumbstruck Dumbfuck” and all these tracks we just have to hear these live. I feel like I could picture being in the pit for those.

Same! That’s exactly what we want. That’s what we’re excited for, especially on songs like “Dumbstruck” and a couple others. I think we already have such a good handful of staple live songs for a while. I think some of these songs are going to be in our set for a good while – that’s always good, too. You want to write an album full of stuff you’re stoked on playing and other people are stoked on. As long as it does that, our fans love it, and people are having fun at the shows, that’s the most important thing to us.

Of course! Last year you guys dropped “STFU” for Sad Summer Fest. That track isn’t on the record. Same thing with “She’s A God” not being on All Distortions. What goes into you as a songwriting to make a song then determine if it fits on the record? 

I think it’s because it was done a little bit separately. Maybe it was just a little bit too far away for it to be on the record? I don’t know. That’s another great one that people love. It goes down so well live and is really fun to play live. [The] lyrics and the chorus of that one are great. I don’t know, it was just putting what felt right on the record. It’s been out for so long now that it’s not really a new song. It’s kind of like, “Let’s keep that one as its own thing,” but in my mind it can definitely be considered part of that era. It’s a transition back into doing this sound!

The idea of, “We want the fans to get fresh singles. We don’t want a 10 track album where the fans have heard three of them already.” 

Oh, God. Yeah, exactly! Fans would have heard a good amount of the record by the time it came out. It’s short, sharp, and to the point. We knew it was going to be a short record and we knew we wanted it to be fast and fun – be this big boost for us. We felt like within ourselves were the best songwriters we’ve ever been. We have the means to be much more self-sufficient. We have a studio now. We can always make music. Just generally I feel like we have our best ideas ahead of us. This record serves as a really good return to the center of what is Neck Deep.

Ben, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear you say that. I do a lot of interviews in the pop punk scene and your newest material should be your best. It shouldn’t be your first record that you made 10 years ago. Switching gears, you have done something unique that not many bands do – in your entire career, all five records you have come out on the same label: Hopeless Records.

We’ve been with them a long time and I do feel like we have grown together over that period. We have a really good relationship with the people there. They do everything they should do as a label. We’ve been treated really well on that label. We’ve worked our way up from a young, hyped-up singing group for them to being one of the bigger bands on the rooster, which is nice. It’s nice to be a big fish in still a pretty big pond. They work really hard for us. As I said, this record got pushed back a couple months and they were very understanding, easy to work with. Obviously it has its complications, but they trust us a lot. I don’t think we’d ever want to go to a major label. We’ve heard way too many horror stories about that. For bands like us – indie/alternative bands –it can be a rough road. We’re always happy to work with an independent label and stick to people we know. They do bust their asses for us. It’s been awesome. 

I remember in 2014, after you had dropped the song “Wishful Thinking,” being like, “This band is awesome! They’re crushing pop punk!” Then watching The Peace and The Panic top Billboard charts? I was thinking, “They’re doing it! This is crazy!” 

Yeah, we’ve grown up with them and we are happy to keep the ball rolling. They allow us a lot of freedom and that’s all we need: trust and freedom. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

We do have to talk about the US Tour you’ve just announced but for all of our NJ/NY readers. You guys are coming to Brooklyn Steel on February 18. You were here last year for some very intimate shows with Rain in July anniversary shows. Back to big rooms! How are you feeling?

Stoked! Playing new stuff? That’s always fun and something to look forward to. [We’re] doing some cool production, too! We’re working on that now and we are just stoked to have those big moments. Playing the small stuff for the Rain In July anniversaries was fun, and kind of humbling, as well. In terms of being able to look back at where we’ve come from to the new album now… we’re on the rise and we’ve got both ends of the spectrum. We played the earliest possible stuff we could play and a lot of the new stuff, too, which is great. Just stoked to be back in the US doing a big headliner and to play some new songs and switch the set up a little bit, especially in the Jersey and New York area. They have always been awesome yo us. We’ve always, always, always had great shows come through there. Some of our favorite shows ever have been in Jersey to be fair, so we are looking forward to the Northeast for sure!

Those Rain in July shows have to have been such a cool experience, especially to go from Sad Summer Fest, headlining with tons of people in front of you, to being back to no barricade with crowdsurfers getting onstage to stage-dive off.

It definitely allowed us to switch up our live show a bit. It put us back on our toes a little bit more. It’s such a different kind of show and that’s the beauty of it. A big room with a barricade and a couple thousand people is a different energy, but still great, as well. You have a bit more production, the setlists are maybe a bit more complete, and maybe the band is going to be a little tighter. The smaller shows – 300/400/500 capacity rooms – are all about band and fan connection. It’s all about that, all about stripping everything else away and making it just about those songs and what they made people feel. If that’s mosh and jump around and fucking sweat, cry, and freak out? Fuck yeah! That’s what we want to do. Hopefully we can take some elements of that and apply it to the shows with bigger rooms; bottle that energy a bit and take that on the road with us.