Neck Deep | Ben Barlow


Neck Deep are a young yet experienced when it comes to the music industry. With only a few years under their belt, they’ve accomplished more than some bands would in a full decade. With two albums, multiple international tours and festival slots to boot, their brand of aggressively optimistic pop-punk has sent them into the genres stratosphere. Now they’re gearing up to support All Time Low in Australia this May. 

As I went into this interview with Barlow, I hadn’t had that much planned in any grandiose way; talk about their second Wembley Arena support slot, talk about his musicianship and maybe this third album they’ve got in the works. You know, the usual stuff. Besides, we only had 15 minutes on the clock. But as I sat there on my veranda with a coffee in my hand, a dog on my lap and a Welsh singer on the other end of the phone, I found myself engaged in a forty minute conversation about the ethics of fandoms, fan fiction, Moose Blood, Brexit, The 1975 and so much more.

So, please, go and feast your eyes upon my massive, in-depth conversation with Ben Barlow of Neck Deep.


 

Hey Ben!

Hey man, how’s it going?

I’m well thanks. And yourself?

Yeah not too bad. Just played a casual show at Wembley Arena. So I’m pretty good for it!

Oh yeah, as you do. Just casually play Wembley Arena on a Friday or Saturday night.

[Laughs] yeah, I don’t even know what fucking day it is but yeah, a casual ten-thousand people.

I actually thought it was funny as this isn’t even your first time playing Wembley.

Yeah, this is our second time at Wembley. I mean, we’ve never headlined it so I can’t take all the glory but we supported All Time Low and now we’re supporting A Day To Remember.

Yeah, you’ve now played Wembley Arena, twice as much as some bands that have been around for twenty years.

Yeah,  it’s crazy! I think we might be less deserving of it than others but, people seem to like us. [Laughs]

You never know, in a few years after your fourth album you might be able to headline it yourself.

Hey, that’s a not bad idea!

How did the Moose Blood boys handle it all? I can imagine this must be huge for them.

Yeah, they did fantastic! It’s always hard being the opener, you’re the first one on and you’ve really gotta warm the crowd up. But they really took it in their stride, they deserve to be here and they’ve been making a lot of good moves the past couple years, I know their album was quite successful. They really are taking it in their stride, just sort of shrugging it all off.

That’s awesome. In some ways, they are a younger band than you guys maybe in terms of experiences. Do you sort of see yourself in what they’re doing at the moment, back when Neck Deep was always the opening band for others?

Oh for sure! You know we played Wembley like eighteen months ago and seeing them open to that crowd was very reminiscent of when we first played to that crowd. If they keep following this trajectory they one day could be playing it themselves.

You never know, you guys could always do a co-headline tour and sell out arenas all over the world.

Hey… you know, in a few years you could’ve given us an idea. [Laughs]

Yeah, man! Do a world tour and call it “The UK Invasion” or some corny shit like that.

You know, we’ve actually run that over a couple of times. I think it might have already been done by some other tours. We might be a bit late on the bus for that one.

How have the other dates been for you guys? They all seem to constantly be these massive spectacles of shows. Birmingham looked out of this world.

Yeah, to be honest, Birmingham – without paying any disrespect to Wembley – Birmingham and Glasgow and Cardiff went a little harder and were a little rowdier. We’ve been playing to thousands of people every night and getting an amazing response so there really is nothing to complain about.

So I was looking at the set times for the Wembley gig, sort of working out when I’d be talking with you, post-set or pre-set. And when I was on the website I saw that this gig was around thirty pounds. Now, is that cheap, expensive or about average for a show of this calibre?

For a show like this, I think that might be about right. For arena shows and bigger bands it is, unfortunately, the average. I don’t really know how this shit varies, to be honest. Neck Deep shows are probably around ten to fifteen pounds. But A Day To Remember have such insane fans they’d be willing to pay that. And of course, you’re paying to see a spectacle of lights and fire and screens and all this mental shit. You get your money’s worth.

Of course. I went and saw A Day To Remember when they came to Australia last month, so I know what it’s like. But the reason I ask is that when you convert those thirty pounds it ends up being around fifty dollars Australian. Did you know that this All Time Low tour your about to go on will cost people about a hundred dollars? 

I did actually hear that a couple of hours ago and I was like, “That’s fucking mental!” But then again, isn’t the average cost of a video game down there like that much?

Yeah, around there – well, if you buy from EB Games, that is. It’s sort of dropped to about seventy dollars or something as they realised no one wants to keep paying that much.

Well then, you could spend that money on a video game and get hours if not days’ worth of time out of that. But these tours only roll around once and All Time Low have a dedicated fan base so if this is the one time a year they get to see them up close and personal it’s probably worth it. I mean, I paid sixty pounds to see Blink-182 and have paid two-hundred to two-hundred and fifty pounds to go to festivals to see my favourite bands. I think if you love a band enough you’ll pay it. Otherwise, that money will just be spent on beer and ciggies and video games I guess.

Exactly! It’s the normal price down here and makes perfect sense but it’s just an interesting comparison is all. You did actually just bring up something I’d like to ask, though. How often do you get to be just a regular punter at a show? Like, just another face in the crowd? You said you went to Blink-182 and a few festivals but do you do it as much as you like?

It happens far more often than people think actually. I won’t blab my way into a show unless it’s a friend of ours. Otherwise, than that I insist that I pay and experience it like everyone else does. But the last time that I did that was probably seeing The 1975. I went to see them with my girlfriend and paid for all that and it was awesome. So I still do that and I don’t always wanna use my status as a dude in a band to wiggle my way in.

Did you like The 1975?

Oh, dude, I love The 1975! They’re absolutely amazing!

Yes! They’re so fucking good!

I’m not ashamed to admit it, I love that band. They put on such a great show.

That’s awesome. They get a lot of shit but they truly are, next level.

They do get a lot of shit but I think they get equally if not more love. People go crazy for that band! But for a good reason. [Matty Healy] is a hunk and they write good songs.

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Ben Barlow deep in thought, mid-set. PC: Joshua Halling

[Laughs] Too true. Do you think that still going to shows and being on the other side of the stage so to speak actually helps your profession as a performer and musicians?

Yeah, I think that just genuinely it helps with the person. It always is a danger of being in a world like this where you get a bit of an ego and think you’re a real cock star and better than you are. But we’ve always tried to remain very real and never forget we’ve come from because the second you do that you just become this ego… honestly it just simply ruins it for your fans. The more real you keep it the better it is for everyone.

To an extent as well, some of that falls onto the fans not to put these artists on such a high pedestal and, you know, not treat them like something other than just a normal human being.

I’m all for giving people praise and noteworthy when they deserve it. You do something cool and great and noteworthy then you deserve some recognition for it. I’m not disagreeing with [that side of it]. But when it turns into making that person out to be more than what they are, I really do shy away from that side of it with all this social media bullshit because I think people try and make me out to be some crazy… like you said, some crazy God like figure. Just appreciate the fact that I’m a person. I don’t wanna be fucking called “Dad” all the time.

[Laughs out of the absurdity of that situation]

Though I will say, I think that stuff has been toned a bit. I think fans are starting to realise that it’s all a bit annoying to spam some singer with “follow me, notice me, notice me!” That’s fucking weird, that’s fucking stupid! You wouldn’t go up to a normal person and just yell: “Notice me, notice me, notice me!” That is fucking weird! Just chill out! I do think it has chilled out a bit in the past year or so. The whole fandom thing has rolled back a bit but for sure. This whole ego thing falls on both parties. It’s down to the fans to not completely idolise these guys in bands to the point of making them something they’re not and it’s also on the part of the bands not to let their egos get to their heads and make them think they’re something they’re not.

I see it all the time, you know, someone gets a retweet from Matty Healy and they literally cry and to an extent, I’m just like what the fuck are you doing?

I think people put too much value on recognition from what is just simply another human being. I try and make that very clear, I am no different from you or anyone else. Do you think I’m gonna react well to being followed down the street? Being shouted from across the street? No, probably not, I’m probably gonna be weirded out! So when you see me, I’m not gonna react well to someone who doesn’t even say hello and just instantly goes, “I wanna have a picture with you”. I’m probably going to be shitty over that as you have completely overlooked me as a person and see me solely as a photo opportunity. It would be nice if you greeted me first with maybe, “I like your band” or “how are you?” rather than just, “hey, picture”. It fucking pisses me off. People need to think about real life before they think about their profiles.

So true. You even had Justin Bieber come out and said that exact same thing. He feels like a zoo animal. So it’s good we’ve got mega pop-stars calling this shit out too.

Yeah, I’ve got all the time in the world for someone who comes up and greets me and treats me like a person. I have no time however for someone who just sees me as likes on their Instagram. If you wanna get a photo with me after we’ve had a conversation and we’ve said hello and everything that’s fine. But if all you do is just want that photo and don’t greet me, that doesn’t make me think you value me, that just makes me think all you care about is social media.

It’s so interesting that this stuff has now seeped into the pop-punk and indie/emo scenes. Scenes which were supposed to be so real and so grounded.

I think all that happened when Tumblr happened. Tumblr made it cool to be fanatical about things. And I get it. It is cool to be fanatical about things. I know what it’s like to be obsessed with a movie or a TV show or a game or an album. I understand how it. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t waited outside of a show before to meet one of my heroes. But I think it crossed a line when it became about all this other stuff. Years ago before social media, the closest you could get to a band was either a documentary, a show or extremely lucky, meeting them after a show. Now, it’s almost as if fans get pissed off if you don’t go out and meet them after a show. I didn’t get into this music to fan over it, I got into this because I love music. I want to write and play music. Surely someone listens to a band because they like that music, not because they have to meet the singer and if they don’t meet the singer than they hate that band now. The logic is all fucked up. People’s priorities went from just wanting to listen to music to “this band owes me more than that, this band owes me a picture and a hug for all my friends at home” and it’s just like: “No.”

The part that pisses me off the most is the way it’s gone about. It’s never gone about in a way that is just “Hey, I appreciate what you do”, it’s gone about in a way that is a scream in the face and some freak-out moment. If some random person came up to you and freak out in your face, you’d be weirded out. You know what I mean? It’s a strange world. I love our fans but there is a line and that line is to remember that I am a person we may not like to be screamed at or chased down the street. Or called “Dad”. I ain’t your daddy!

[Laughs] You know, on that last part, I interviewed Brian Sella from The Front Bottoms a few weeks ago and when I was doing research for it, I stumbled upon a website dedicated to nothing but Front Bottoms fanfiction.

Ohhhhhhh. [Groans]

Yeah, it was nasty…

There was a fanfiction a few years back… and I better be careful of saying this ‘cause Chad [Gilbert, New Found Glory] might be walking around, but in it, I got with Hayley Williams… fucking weird! So fucking weird! Like, at what point – I mean – fuck me! So fucking weird…

Obviously, I don’t go reading that shit so I don’t really know the content. But I think people get so involved in what they’re writing that they overlook what they’re actually writing and it’s just their fantasies and weird thoughts. They’re not necessarily filtering out their thoughts and thinking about the people that they are writing about or the readers, you’re just reeling off you’re crazy fantasies. Just, don’t write that and put it on the internet. Just think it! Just think it and keep it to yourself like normal people. Fucking weird man. When it gets into the fan fiction that’s when it gets too deep.

I think it goes back to what you were saying beforehand about it all kind of starting with Tumblr and places like that. Those sites gave a place for people to meet and cultivate those ideas. They find someone else and are like, “Oh, you thought it’d be great if the bass player and guitarist fucked? I thought that too!”

Exactly. I think people don’t filter it out enough. Like, fair enough, speak about and talk about whatever you want. Free speech and all that good shit. But there’s free speech and then there’s just being weird. Maybe they’re sharing it on a private platform that’s a private thing just for the people who like fan fiction but it always makes it way out into the mainstream. It always does. At the end of the day, you’re fictionalising and making up these stories about these people who are so goddamn normal and aren’t these godlike figures that you make them out to be. You may as well write a fan fiction about your next door neighbour!

It may have similarly died down in the past few years but do you still get the, “your band saved my life”, “hey, here’s my razor blade, I don’t need to use it anymore because of you”…?

We still get that, but I find that more endearing and more meaningful than just “I am obsessed with your band because I need something to obsess about.” If someone says, “Hey, your band saved my life,” whether they mean it or not, that is a far more touching sentiment than: “Dad.” Or “Notice me!”

I’ve been given a couple of razor blades before and I actually spoke about this in an interview beforehand, but it’s a lot for me to take in. It’s quite a lot in terms of the emotion behind it how endearing and meaningful it is for someone to say, “Because of your music, I’m gonna stop doing this shit”. I appreciate that above anything else. Without being narcissistic, I feel like if I have actually saved someone’s life and it’s true, then that is the greatest thing that we could do. If we could stop someone from killing themselves or cutting themselves then awesome. But it’s when people maybe aren’t genuine or when people are… I mean, being a teenager can be pretty rough. It’s very up and down and you’ve gotta call each situation on its own merit. You can’t really… you can’t… it’s fucking strange man. There are elements of our fans that I fucking love. I think they are amazing, amazing, amazing fans. They’ve been supportive of us, supportive of me personally and they’ve been there through thick and thin. There’s a lines that fans sometimes cross. The vast majority of fans do respect our privacy and our space. But this whole, fandom, crazy fucking way that fans act is blown out of proportion by this small minority of people. They are so fucking set on blasting the idiot as much shit as they can that it seems like it’s such a big thing. The people I often speak to all agree it fucking sucks, I don’t think I’ve ever met one of these actual fangirls – oh wait, nope, I definitely have. Many fucking times. You meet these people in real life, I will try to give them the most respect I can because I know they will grow up. It’s double edged sword. It’s great that people love us so much but it does wear you down after a while.

That’s awesome man. A good outlook on that stuff. We’ve been talking about this shit for about twenty minutes now, so we’ll move on a bit to the next thing I wanted to talk about. And that was that, as a UK musician, has Brexit affected you and your profession much at all yet?

Not yet. Brexit hasn’t actually, officially been triggered yet. I mean, everyone got a little bit “triggered” over Brexit but it hasn’t actually started yet. As far as American touring plans and Australia touring plans go I don’t think it will affect much, but where it will hit us is the European touring. It will it make that a fucking nightmare. We’re gonna need visas for every single country we have to go to, we’re gonna get stopped at every single border and checked, it’s gonna cost us an obscene amount in tax on all of our earnings in those countries. It could really fuck us up and fuck a lot of other bands up. Some bands operate almost exclusively in the UK and Europe, for them it may just now seem not worth it when you’re spending as much as you earn on tax and Visas and all that bullshit. Who knows how it will affect the overseas bands coming to the UK. I’m not sure if it will change the protocol for that.

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“Fuck Brexit!: P: Joshua Halling

Fuck…

Yeah, I know… People argue it might have it economic benefits and whatever and that it was always a hippie ideology to leave the UK in a “fuck big business, fuck the EU” sort of thing but after it got wind it became associated with being a fucking racist and a bigot and people thought remaining was a better option and it would have been! If you wanted to remain a peaceful country at least rather than a separationist one.

Well, fingers crossed it doesn’t hit too hard. One thing I guess we better talk about for the fans out there, and I myself am personally interested to know is, how that’s third album of yours coming along?

Really good, actually. We’ve got most of it done before we head into the studio. We’ve demoed a lot. The last record we had about fourteen songs and we went in with those knowing they were what we wanted to do whereas this time we’ve got something like forty demos and maybe like, a big handful of those that are finished songs. We’re going into this record with a whole lot more than we did last time. It’s very much on its way and it’s gonna be good. I think fans can expect a good natural progression of the band. We’re a bit older so as the cliché statement goes, “it’s a more mature album”.

[Laughs]

Hey, it’s true! [Laughs] We might be trying a few new things here and there but bottom-line it is still a Neck Deep record. I don’t think we wanna be one-trick ponies where we just write the same positive, blasting pop punk songs. Those will still be there but we are constantly maturing and we’re creative people so expect maybe a different vibe. We don’t listen to pop-punk all the time, we have a very broad range of taste and we want to apply that while still keeping it a Neck Deep record. Fans can expect something a bit different but it will still be Neck Deep through and through.

Fantastic man! Any idea who you’re gonna get in to produce this one? Going back with Andrew Wade or Jeremy McKinnon?

We’ve got someone locked in to do it but we haven’t announced that as a band yet, we wanna be the ones to break that but it’s not gonna be Andrew or Jeremy, we’re trying something new and different. That’s for the reason alone of doing something different. The last album was fantastic but we don’t wanna tie Jeremy into doing another record. He’s got his own records to write and his own band to work with. So we’re going with someone else but only because we want to try it out. There’s no beef. I know that it wouldn’t get twisted that way but I still revere Jeremy and Andrew and Tom Denny as friends and very talented people. So no beef with them. It’s just a slight change.

Oh of course! I always find it slightly odd when bands use the same producer five times in a row. Like, you have the ability to add a new member to your band every time essentially, why wouldn’t you?

Exactly! As the band grows, you get access to bigger and better producers. People who have esteem to them and people who have countless albums to their name. The opportunity to work with someone lime that presents a great opportunity we can’t pass up. We love the other people we’ve worked with but progression requires progression.

And it also gives you the chance to do some cool genre crossover stuff with people who are more poppy or heavier.

That is exactly it, man!

Alright, well Ben, I think we might wrap this up, we’ve been chatting for a good long while!

Yeah, this has been the longest interview yet! [Laughs] Got a good forty minutes worth out of this one! You struck a nerve with the whole fandom thing and I chat a lot, sorry.

No, it’s all good, Ben. I’m the same with my mates, always going off on tangents. Well man, I hope it’s been a good day for you and the show and hope all your other interviews have been good –

Yeah, they’ve all been good but this one was by far the longest. Then again no one asked those sorts of questions and I always like interesting questions so thanks for that.

Same here. I’m not gonna ask if you’re excited to tour with All Time Low. Of course you. It’s All Time Fucking Low!

Oh, exactly, like, duh! [Laughs] Of course we are!

Alright, mate, thanks so much for your time. Have a good one and I’ll see you in May.

Thanks so much, take care.


Neck Deep hit our shores later this May with All Time Low and The Maine. Grab all the details here before tickets go on sale February 2nd. Also, go pick up a copy of Neck Deep’s ‘Life’s Not Out To Get You’ because Ben and his bandmates are lovely blokes and deserve happiness, peace and love for their work.

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