All Time Low frontman Alex Gaskarth talks the success of 2020 blackbear collaboration Monsters, new single Once In A Lifetime, and what it all means for the band going forwards…
It’s been a big month for All Time Low. Following an energised performance of Monsters on The Ellen Show, the Baltimore pop-punks have just shared their first new music since 2020’s 4K-rated Wake Up, Sunshine album: the brilliant Once In A Lifetime. For vocalist/guitarist Alex Gaskarth, it feels like band life is almost back again after the strange and unsettling whirlwind of this past year…
“The Ellen performance was really interesting,” he tells Kerrang! from an Airbnb in Los Angeles. “I think we were the first live band that they had on the show since the shutdown – since the pandemic began. So it was really interesting to be that artist on the show, because everyone was really, really excited; everyone was genuinely buzzing about having a band in the studio! It was cool for us because we felt really lucky and excited to be doing something that felt like a normal semblance of work, but then at the same time, we also had Ellen sitting out while we rehearsed the song – like, in the audience watching us do it, because she was genuinely so excited to have someone in the studio. The producers were coming up being like, ‘She never does this!’ It was nice to see that excitement translate through everyone. I think everyone’s on the same page with that.
“We had a great time doing it,” Alex adds. “I mean, we really haven’t had a whole lot of opportunities to play that song live yet. We did the livestream shows that we put on last year, but this was really one of the first times this year that we’ve gotten to do that song, not on a Zoom acoustic, you know?”
Away from Zoom shows and their first real-life performance, All Time Low – completed by guitarist Jack Barakat, bassist Zack Merrick and drummer Rian Dawson – have also been chipping away at new material. It hasn’t always been easy, with the pandemic still very much a part of everyone’s lives, but the band have been productive…
“I think there’s definitely an air of it being hard to find motivation and hard to find creativity when really all you’re seeing are the same four walls every day,” Alex ponders, “but it in some ways it was a good challenge and there was obviously still a lot to pull from and write about. It was easy over that whole year to not want to do anything from a personal standpoint, but getting over the hurdles of motivation and getting the gears turning felt really good – it was actually very rewarding to get stuff out. It was nice!”
Here, Alex opens up about the first slice of new material from these creative sessions – Once In A Lifetime – as well as where All Time Low are at right now, and what else is to come…
Following the huge success of Wake Up, Sunshine, it feels like All Time Low are on such a great songwriting streak at the moment – and Once In A Lifetime keeps that trajectory going. What do you attribute that to?
“I think I would attribute it to the fact that we’re really not that far removed from Wake Up, Sunshine coming out, and that whole creative process. Usually when we put out a record, we then go on tour for about two years, and it’s a very different gear that we switch into. So almost the creative brain switches off a little bit, but this time around, because that wasn’t an option, I found sooner than later it just made sense to get back into thinking about songwriting again. And I think because of that, it was all very much still tied up in the world of Wake Up, Sunshine and everything we had just done. That was kind of the thought process behind it, and Once In A Lifetime feels like it’s cut from the same cloth as some of the approaches we were taking on Monsters. I don’t know where this next thing is going yet – we’ve written a few new songs, and I don’t know if that means we’re going to make another album or if it’s going to be just some songs, or if it’s going to be an extended version of the last record or whatever. But it certainly feels like it’s all kind of an evolution of Wake Up, Sunshine, and it’s a continuation of that with some story-building in mind. I really liked what Taylor Swift did during this whole shutdown and everything, where she put out her first folky record [Folklore], and then immediately followed it up almost with sort of a sister album [Evermore], and it all feels like one big body of work when you listen to it together. I think that could be something that maybe we’re working towards… perhaps!”
So is Once In A Lifetime a standalone release for now, or is it a follow-up to Wake Up, Sunshine… or does it mark the start of a new chapter?
“It’s weird! We’re sort of just going with the flow, because that’s the nature of the world we’re living in right now. It helps to be a little bit agile and just kind of work with the times. But I do think we’re building towards something – I just don’t know what that ‘something’ is quite yet! But I think we’ll probably know, sooner than later.”
Was the single made in the same way as Wake Up, Sunshine – with all four of you under one roof?
“It wasn’t possible, to be honest. Jack and I wrote the song with our collaborator friend, Andrew Goldstein, who we also worked on Monsters with. So the three of us were actually together; we did like a week of writing together and everybody got tested, and everybody was kind of holed up in one space safely. We banged out a handful of songs in that moment, and Once In A Lifetime was a product of that writing session. We did end up getting the other guys in town – Rian and Zack both came into Los Angeles, and we recorded drums and bass and got everybody’s take on it. But it was a bit more remote this time around just because it had to be. But the core of it was still there, you know?”
You’d said there was an effort to make the last album have a fun, summer, light feeling, compared to Last Young Renegade which was a bit darker… Where does Once In A Lifetime fall, musically?
“It’s interesting, because obviously the subject matter is darker; it’s a song about dealing with loss and accepting loss. I think that was something that was a very universal constant for people through 2020; it was a very difficult year for most people, and we were able to write that song from a personal place. But as you peel back the layers and the surface meanings of the song, there’s a much deeper thing going on to it that I think was sort of cast from the shared experience that we were all going through in a very bizarre year. And I think a lot of the new music kind of lives in that world. I don’t want to say that it’s ‘dark’, per se, but [compared] to the fact that Wake Up, Sunshine was a light, celebratory, energetic record, I think this is maybe a swing in the other direction, ever so slightly, just because of the times. I think it would have been impossible for us to be holed up in our rooms for months and be like, ‘Let’s write happy songs!’ (Laughs) It just didn’t feel that natural at the time.”
It’s quite personal and specific – but have you also been writing more existential stuff lately just purely inspired by these strange times?
“Yeah, this song, Once In A Lifetime, kind of lands right in the middle of that. It was definitely inspired by events going on in Jack and I’s lives, and watching what was happening in the band and things like that. But, beyond that, there’s very much this looser, bigger concept of dealing with loss – that really kind of solidified the core concept of the song. And, you know, I’ve never heard ‘once in a lifetime’ used in that way before, of sort of referring to a negative, and, ‘I hope it never gets worse than this’ kind of thing. And that relates back to the line in the middle of the chorus, where we are self-referential and drop our own band name! It was an interesting dynamic, because on one hand we’re sort of talking about hitting your lowest point, but at the other end of that there was also this internal conceptual thing about how the band All Time Low is an escape for us as the members of it. You know, Wake Up, Sunshine was very much like a celebration of our band – it was us going back through the years and taking the pieces of our music and our sound that we love the most and putting that into new music. And I think, in a certain way, this song is a continuation of that, but we’re also sort of referring to what Wake Up, Sunshine was and how it lifted us and carried us through a lot of things. I think that’s kind of a cool meta commentary on the whole thing!”
Was the name drop a happy accident or was it intentional like, ‘Ooooh, I know what I could do here…’?!
“Sometimes you’re writing lyrics and filling in the lines, and obviously the rhyme scheme worked! In the moment, it just made a lot of sense to have that be the lyric. But as we wrote it down, we all looked at each other and went, ‘Can we do this? Is this okay to say? Or is this really cheesy?’ But the more we sat with it, the more it made sense – on so many different levels. And if you can’t drop your own band name after 15 years, then what have you been doing?! I feel like we’ve earned the right at this point!”
The single has that huge All Time Low chorus but there’s some different and slightly weirder stuff going on surrounding that… is that something that Wake Up, Sunshine has given you the confidence to do?
“I think so. Wake Up, Sunshine felt so realised as far as the different sounds that this band can get away with, and how we can work within those dynamics. And I think we’re just learning more and more about where All Time Low is able to go in the current landscape of music. And I think that’s really exciting, because we understand the space we’re working in it feels really authentic as we do it. It just allows us to be creative and a little bit more experimental with certain aspects of songs, without coming out with something that doesn’t sound like our band.”
You had a lot of success with Monsters in particular over the past year. Are you looking at that and going, ‘Well, we did something different there and it worked – so let’s keep exploring that’?
“Yeah, no doubt. I mean, it’s really cool when you see something click, and it clicks authentically. People latch on to it not because it’s being promoted heavily by the record label or something, but because there’s a genuine buzz for the song. That’s what Monsters did for us; the second the record came out there was a very natural reaction of, ‘Oh, that song’s streaming the best. Oh, that song is getting the most views.’ It just started to put its hands up, and then you go, ‘Okay, maybe we were really on to something with this…’ And I think that goes even further in that Monsters was a song that was a collaboration with blackbear, which was an experiment in and of itself to see if that would work and connect with people. And it did, so all of it – top to bottom – really informed where we’re going next.”
Does that success also make new music daunting? Like, ‘Oh god, well it better do as well as that…’?
“Yeah! It’s hard not to get a little caught up in the pressure of trying to follow up on a thing that’s been massively successful, you know? And I say that in the most humble of ways – I’m not trying to sit here and brag! We’re 15 years into a career and we’ve had some successes with a song that we’ve literally never had before in all the time that we’ve been a band. It would then be easy for us to look at that and want to chase it because it’s this new thing that’s bubbling for us, but I think you have to err on the side of not doing that – not feeling too much pressure and just writing songs that feel true and authentic in the moment. If they go and work and do amazing things then that’s great, but these moments come and go, and we’ve been in it long enough to know that chasing them usually ends up not working out as well!”
Were you at all reluctant to be releasing more new music in the pandemic in any way?
“For us it became about, ‘This is life.’ In my mind, the longer the pandemic and the shutdown drags on, the more it was like it almost felt like cheapening it to try and wait for the world to get back to normal – because I don’t think the world is ever going to be totally normal after this. And that’s not to sound darker or pessimistic; I just that this year is going to change things forever in a lot of ways. And so, as such, because this is the new reality that we’re living in, I think it’s important that we treat it that way: that we don’t let the idea of an indefinite new situation hold us back from trying to make people happy with our music.”
When you tour properly again, is it going to be the Wake Up, Sunshine tour, or will you have even more new music to play live on top of that?
“It really just depends on when we are able to actually get back to touring! We have we have these dates in the UK set for September at the moment, and things were looking dicey for a while whether or not that would be a thing that we could do, but it’s starting to feel more and more likely that it’ll be able to happen. Our hearts are set on that, and we’re cautiously optimistic! And so when we do get back over to play shows, I think there will be a heavy emphasis on Wake Up, Sunshine just because we didn’t really get to celebrate that record live with anyone, so that will definitely be a focus point. But I think we’ll have to adapt and build the show around whatever we have going in that moment.”
You spoke to Kerrang! in December and said you’ve probably got another two albums’ worth of music at this point. What’s status of that material?
“There’s always songs sitting around, and we had a few more leftover this time. It really just depends, because the further away you get from a writing session, sometimes the songs just don’t feel like they hold water anymore as you move away from them, and you actually feel more inspired to create new music. But we’ll see! There’s a handful of stuff that I love, and there might be a time and place where the songs make sense. But there’s also more music to be written, and I think the emphasis for us right now is that.”