It’s been a long time coming but on June 7th All Time Low will release their major label debut album Dirty Work on Interscope Records. Calling this album a crossroads of sorts the album title harkens back to the fine line musicians have to balance between their careers and their personal lives and the songs that were sprung from those experiences. Offering up a multi-dimensional All Time Low, Dirty Work has allowed the band to grow as songwriters and their hopes are that their dedicated fanbase will come along for the ride. Forever grateful for all their time spent with Hopeless Records, it was an appropriate time for them to leave the nest and spread their wings with Dirty Work.
author: Mary Ouellette
The first single “I Feel Like Dancin” was written with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and shows the band stepping out of their comfort zone a little while still keeping the tongue n’ cheekiness that we’ve come to love and expect from them. Working with several different producers on the album from Butch Walker to Matt Squire to Mike Green to only lends to the overall dynamic of the album.
We recently caught up with ATL’s front man Alex Gaskarth (who started All Time Low along with guitarist Jack Barakat, bassist Zack Merrick and drummer Rian Dawson back in high school) to talk about the new album, their journey making it, and what fans should expect.
Is it true that the overall creative process on this album was more focused on your writing and less of a band approach. What made you decide to go in that direction and was the band on board with that?
It wasn’t actually a big change from the last record, Nothing Personal, was pretty similar in terms of me kind of writing the brunt of the songs and then having the rest of the guys come in add parts to them. A big part of it is just not having too many cooks in the kitchen. It can be a conflict when you’re trying to agree on something that doesn’t even exist yet. Sometimes it’s easier to build the skeleton of a song first and then introduce people to it so there’s something to build on. It’s a little bit easier and it works best for us.
So everyone is still involved, they just come into the process a little later on?
I know there’s a conceptual idea behind calling the album Dirty Work and how it applies to the album – can you tell us about that?
The record is sort of a story within itself of the last few years of my life and the whirlwind that it became. Between the extravagance of being young and on tour and having some kind of success in an industry that is very fast-moving and trying to balance that with reality and with friends and family and loved ones. Also the rigor of working to make a new album, there’s even songs on the record about writing songs for the record which is always a slightly stressful situation. It’s just a story that summarizes all that.
With that in mind, it seems like song-wise that Dirty Work is very personal to you. Do you feel like you kind of laid it all out there more so than you have in the past?
I would say so. We’ve always written some songs that touch on a more personal level but I think on this album more so than anything before. We do have a couple tongue in cheek songs that we love to write but at the same time I think this one does take a more personal approach with the songs that most people haven’t heard yet.
Is there a song on the album you can point to that you feel most connected to?
There’s a song called “Guts” on the record that I’m very attached to and I think it’s one of the more honest and thought out songs on the record.
And “Guts” has a guest vocal part doesn’t it?
Yeah – it features Maja Ivarsso from the Sounds who is really rad and contributes a really cool part on the album.
You made the transition from an indie label to a major label (Hopeless to Interscope) on this album and you received the advice to write songs that have a universal appeal, which seems like a pretty open ended challenge when you’re going into the writing process. How did you keep that in mind when you were writing?
The coolest part about them saying that is that it wasn’t that they wanted us to change anything specifically, they were never telling us “You’re not ‘this’ enough, or you need to be more ‘that’”. That piece of guidance, although it is open-ended, it did help to push me in directions and push me in a way where I found myself saying ‘why hold back, if the song is pop let it be pop and if the song is rock then let it be rock.” It guided me in that way to not hide behind a genre or bend the natural writing process to fit the scene that we started in. In that sense I think we have a much more dynamic record because of it.
Everyone likes to throw around words like “matured” whenever a band releases a new album, I’m not going to ask if you if you “matured” because using the word Mature for All Time Low is troubling for me but do you feel like you made the album that you set out to make with Dirty Work and how do you feel the band has grown since Nothing Personal?
Absolutely, I definitely think we made the album we set out to make. We’ve really come a long way in our writing process and in our attitudes as a band. It’s a new leg of this journey for us and I think we learned a lot during this record. We learned what we like and what we don’t like and I think from here on out the band is very realized. We’re very self-aware at this point in terms of what we want to play and what we want to write and create. I think that was the most beneficial part of the whole transition, it really helped us grow up.
You have gone with a producer by committee kind of approach on this album which you’ve done in the past as well (Matt Squire, Butch Walker, David Bendeth) – some bands might find that to be hard to adapt to but it seems to be something you thrive on. What is it about having many different producers and influences contribute that’s been so successful to you?
One of the big things that’s important to clear up is that the producers are not working together, we’re not working with several producers at one time. When I’ve said we’ve worked with multiple producers on the album it seems like there were people who actually took that as us being in a room with four different producers.
Now THAT would have been interesting.
It would have been a nightmare! But yeah one thing to clear up is that I’m doing a handful of songs with each individual producer. It’s a process that I really enjoy. Creatively it pushes you in different directions and takes you on a journey because no producer is the same, they all have different methods and they all have different tastes and visions. In that sense it’s cool because you can weigh your options so with this album we ended up with quite a few songs. We got to handpick the ones that we loved the most and see those through to make the record we wanted to make, so it really works for us. I don’t know if we’ll do it again in the future, it’s just one of those things that for the past two records that’s worked really well.
And you mentioned that you feel that this is your most dynamic album to date and I would imagine working with multiple producers had an impact on that.
Absolutely, it really brings out the best but from different walks of producing which is cool.
Let’s talk about some of your writing collaborations on the album because you wrote with not one but two of my favorite songwriters so let’s start with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. That had to be an amazing experience for you, what was it like and how did that fall into place?
It was sort of a shot in the dark. We had the idea that it would be fun to collaborate on a song so we had our manager contact his manager letting him know we were interested and sure enough they responded and it just kind of came together. The first single from the album “I Feel Like Dancin” is one of the songs we wrote with him and it’s a fun song.
You also worked with Butch Walker on one track on the album. Can you tell me a little bit about the song?
There’s a song on the album called “Just The Way I’m Not” that I wrote with Butch and it’s a very fun one. It’s very 80s inspired, kind of like the hair metal of the 80s and early 90s, it’s a banger. It’s a really fun song and he and I have this really rad chemistry when we’re in the studio together, we always end up making fun songs.
I’ve noticed lately that you seem to have quite a connection going on with the hair metal era from quotes I’ve read and t-shirts I’ve seen you wearing and little references here and there.
Yeah, It was an important part of our history.
I wanted to ask you about the song “Time Bomb” and the connection it has with Simple Plan?
It was a skeleton of a song that Simple Plan was working on for themselves and they had been working on a bunch of songs with the producer Matt Squire, who we also worked with on Dirty Work. He actually had a few of their demos and in passing he played them for me and said that they were having trouble with the song and it wasn’t quite fitting them the way they wanted it to so he just played it for me to get my take really. I sat back and thought it was a good song and gave him my feedback. Having said that, when they caught wind of it they said that their record was almost done and said I should finish the song because it seemed to fit the vibe of our album more than it did theirs and we could just all collaborate on it together. So that is what ended up happening, I finished writing the song with Matt in the studio and we tracked it the next day. It was a good time.
Having worked with so many talented songwriters what do you take away from those experiences as a songwriter yourself, are you able to learn from them?
Absolutely, it’s difficult to explain because it’s hard for me to sit down and explain the creative process without actually being there. It’s something that’s very natural and organic so it’s difficult to put into words. There are definitely tricks of the trade that you learn from these guys that have been doing it for so long – focusing on hooks or riffs or melodies and how to build out from it and push the song in a certain direction. Those are really all the things you learn to do. It’s just like anything else, practice makes perfect so when you’re working with these guys who have been doing it for years you’re learning from the best, you’re learning from Myagi so it accelerates the process.
So I have to ask then, are you brainstorming the Weezer/Butch Walker/ All Time Low World Tour plans yet?
Oh yeah, we’re working on that right now. (Ha!)
I know its part of the business but the album has been pushed back a few times and I have to wonder, from a creative perspective does this take some of the momentum out of your step?
I don’t really think so. It’s something that we were always prepared for. You have to go into it knowing that the first date they give you may not be the one that actually working, for whatever reason. There are so many things that go into the release of an album and a lot of it is out of our hands. There are so many different departments at the label that all have things to do to prepare for a release in order to make it cohesive and successful so as frustrating as it may be, it’s a business. We’re obviously dying to get the new songs out there but we do have to roll with the punches and realize that it getting pushed back is for the best, it’s not because they don’t like the album or want to change anything, and they just want it to be set up correctly.
I always like to ask bands when they have a new album on a horizon – at the end of the day, what do you want fans to take away from this album?
I hope that they take away a sense that All Time Low is growing and expanding and becoming more than just a pop/punk band. Our goal is to make the music that we love and our tastes are developing as artists and our talent is always expanding. We just hope that people grasp that and share the experience with us and grow with.
Yes, growing with you, you said something that struck me. You’ve said that you think that the fans and the band should grow together. What I think is cool about that is that ATL started when you were so young and we really have been able to sit back and watch you grow and watch your careers thrive. Do you feel that your fans have grown with you over time?
I think so. We have such a committed and dedicated fan base. It’s pretty crazy how dedicated some of them are. There are people that follow us around the world and tattoo our lyrics on their bodies, it’s a very passionate group of people. The fact that they haven’t disappeared and haven’t gotten over it yet definitely says to me that there are people that are along for the ride which is awesome.
You’ve recently kicked off the US leg of your Dirty Work tour. How much of the new material are you playing live at this point and do you see that increasing throughout the tour? (You’re not in Boston until the last date so I’m just wondering how much of the new album I’ll get to hear live).
We’ve been mixing it up a little bit. The album hasn’t been released yet so we can’t play too much because it would just throw people off. We are playing the few songs that are out “Time Bomb” and “I Feel Like Dancin’” and before that we were playing “Under A Paper Moon”. We kind of dip that one in depending on how the crowd is reacting and whether or not we feel like playing it. We have that luxury on this tour because we have a long time to play so we throw it in every now and then to keep the set fresh. It’s a good time so far. I’m excited to get the record out and really get into the meat and potatoes of these songs live.