author: Bryan Rolli
All Time Low lead singer Alex Gaskarth didn’t account for a global pandemic when planning the release of his band’s new album, Wake Up, Sunshine, out today (April 3). The pop-punk foursome is one of countless artists whose touring and record release plans got derailed by the coronavirus outbreak. But rather than postpone the album until it’s safe to get back on the road—and, consequently, more lucrative to promote it—All Time Low released Wake Up, Sunshine as scheduled in the hopes that it will give fans a sense of comfort amid the turmoil, much like it did for the band members as they made it.
“It’s not about chart positions. It’s not about how this record performs at retail anymore,” Gaskarth says. “All of those things you stress about so much pre-release, and then it’s really inconsequential compared to the little bit of light that your music can bring to people.”
That’s not to say the members of All Time Low are strangers to strong chart positions or retail performances. The quartet—Gaskarth, guitarist Jack Barakat, bassist Zack Merrick and drummer Rian Dawson—rode the mid-2000s pop-punk boom to a level of mainstream success that most rock bands only dream of. Its 2008 breakthrough single “Dear Maria, Count Me In” became a stone-cold genre classic, and a flurry of effervescent alt-anthems and Top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 followed, including a No. 2 peak for 2015’s Future Hearts. The pop-punk veterans took a detour into poppier, synth-driven territory with 2017’s Last Young Renegade, but on Wake Up, Sunshine, they’ve returned to the sound and spirit of the albums that first turned them into Warped Tour darlings and Hot Topic staples.
“When you’ve been a band for a long time, you get to these places creatively where you’re like, ‘I don’t want to do that again. I want to go off on a tangent here and explore some other stuff,’” Gaskarth says. “That was the record that we made with Last Young Renegade. And it was a really important step for us as a band to make that album, and to do it in a way that felt like we were pushing ourselves, because then we were able to take all of that and apply it to what we were doing here.”
Crucial to the making of Wake Up, Sunshine was getting all four band members in the same room to write together. After wrapping up an extensive tour cycle at the end of 2018 and returning to their homes—Gaskarth in Maryland, Barakat in Los Angeles, Dawson in Nashville and Merrick in Hawaii—the guys rented a house in Palm Desert, California last summer to write songs and live under the same roof for a month. The result is an album that crackles with youthful exuberance and the energy of a live show. The band members had no master plan when they started writing these songs, and their joy in simply jamming with each other is palpable. But Wake Up, Sunshine is also the work of a band that has honed its craft for 15 years, and All Time Low dispenses gargantuan hooks and festival-ready choruses with surgical precision.
Although many of the songs on Wake Up, Sunshine would sound right at home on early All Time Low albums such as So Wrong, It’s Right or Nothing Personal, other tracks prove the band isn’t too old to learn new tricks. Emo-pop singer Blackbear (of “Hot Girl Bummer” fame) spits a verse on aggro stomper “Monsters,” while indie pop-rockers The Band Camino grace the soaring, bittersweet “Favorite Place.” Still, Gaskarth says, the primary objective of every All Time Low album is appealing to the group’s core fanbase while throwing enough sonic curveballs to keep things interesting.
“We’ve been a band for 15 years, and one of the things you realize in that is that your career is going to ebb and flow,” he says. “We always look at it from a very grassroots approach in the sense of, we need to, first and foremost, make our core fans feel happy and connected with and like we’re in this for them. And anybody else that then wants to come on board for the ride, it builds outward from there.”
While the members of All Time Low would much prefer to promote Wake Up, Sunshine by touring relentlessly, they have been eagerly exploring new ways to connect with fans digitally for the time being, including live-streamed performances that are quickly becoming the new industry standard. Gaskarth and his bandmates feel uniquely equipped to handle this pivot to digital promotion, having capitalized on the burgeoning MySpace music scene at the outset of their careers.
“We were lucky in that we learned early on that the new digital platform at the time was going to be our best tool, a great way to reach out and have people discover us and learn about us without having to go out there and grind on tour for three years and do press junkets and things like that,” he says. “I think just learning to be adaptable early on was always something that we benefited from, and trying to never get too stuck in our ways as we continue on, and just be flexible with how things are moving.”
That flexibility has kept All Time Low at the forefront of pop-punk, even as the subgenre (and rock music at large) has receded from the mainstream. “The scene kind of evaporated, as scenes do,” he says. “It was this sort of bubble universe for a while that made its way to mainstream for a little bit. And then I think some of those bands that were at the top of it broke out and went on to do different things and sort of changed up their styles and evolved.”
Still, the singer is encouraged by the renewed interest in emo and pop-punk among younger pop stars and rappers, citing Juice WRLD as an artist who recontextualized the genre for a new generation of listeners. Having traversed that generational gap with his own band, Gaskarth feels optimistic about the state of rock and the democratization of all music.
“It’s just really cool to see that there are very few rules anymore,” he says. “It used to be that you had to be this one very specific thing to appeal to this niche market. Otherwise you were called a sellout or a poser or whatever. And now it’s amazing how amalgamous it all is, and how you can sort of blur the lines between genres. I think it puts rock and roll in a really good place, because it sets it up to have another heyday.”