The members of All Time Low have always been very open about their formative musical influences: New Found Glory, Fall Out Boy, Green Day, Third Eye Blind and, of course, Blink-182. They’ve also been open about how their icons have inspired their previous albums—from the Saves The Day-esque pop-punk jams populating 2007’s So Wrong, It’s Right to the upbeat rockers on 2009’s Nothing Personal and the eclectic, ecstatic pop of 2011’s Dirty Work. But when it came time to make their fifth album, Don’t Panic, the band decided to look inward for inspiration.
“With this record, a big part of the process was finding what made our band special on each of our past records,” says singer/guitarist Alex Gaskarth. “This time around, rather than taking influence from anything we were listening to at the time—or anything we want to touch on generationally—the goal was to make an album that we felt reflected the best aspects of our previous releases.”
Indeed, Don’t Panic—which marks All Time Low’s return to Hopeless Records after a stint on a major label—brims with the type of energetic, hook-filled songs the band’s fans have always gravitated toward. Mixed by Neal Avron, the album encompasses anthemic pop-rock (“The Irony Of Choking On A Lifesaver”), ferocious punk-pop (“So Long Soldier,” a song with guest vocals from Bayside’s Anthony Raneri) ‘90s-influenced alt-rock (“To Live And Let Go”) and gritty emo-pop (“Somewhere In Neverland”). Don’t Panic is a record meant to be played at top volume in the car, with the windows all the way down.
In that sense, Don’t Panic recalls the fast-and-loose vibe of the band’s breakthrough album, So Wrong, It’s Right—a record the band members made when they were just barely out of high school. But All Time Low have grown up considerably since that release. Their last two albums debuted in the Billboard Top 10, while videos for the songs “Weightless” and “I Feel Like Dancin’” received love from MTV. Additionally, All Time Low grew into a fierce live act: Besides tours with Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard, Third Eye Blind, Simple Plan and Good Charlotte—as well as multiple stints on Warped Tour’s main stage and appearances at major festivals such as Reading, Leeds and Summer Sonic—they’ve even had the chance to play shows alongside idols Blink-182, Green Day and Foo Fighters.
For the band—which formed in the suburbs ofBaltimore,Maryland, nearly a decade ago—making Don’t Panic was a much different experience than creating Dirty Work. First and foremost, the songs came together quicker: Gaskarth first brought musical ideas to his bandmates in fall 2011, and then put the finishing touches on them this past spring with Mike Green, who also produced multiple songs on Dirty Work. Right away, the rest of All Time Low—lead guitarist Jack Barakat, bassist Zack Merrick and drummer Rian Dawson—could tell there was something special about this new music.
“I’ve never really heard a song that Alex has written or we’ve written and not been completely stoked on it,” saysDawson. “But for some reason, these just felt more us. There was less need to force anything, less need to prove anything, less need to chase anything. It was All Time Low writing All Time Low songs.”
Driven by these positive vibes, All Time Low chose to record the entire album with producer Green at hisLos Angelesstudio. The consistency was a relief—and a change from the recent past, when the band constructed albums with multiple collaborators in different studios. “It was a lot more relaxed,” Barakat says about the Don’t Panic recording process. “We didn’t have a timeline; there was no pressure from a time standpoint. You would just go in and write a bunch of songs—and when we felt like we had enough great songs, then we’d record the album. It was doing everything on our own terms.”
Still, it’s not like these sessions were easy. Green urged each member of All Time Low to push themselves and stretch their abilities; for instance, Dawson needed to practice for “three to four hours a day” to get some of his parts right, while the always-driven Merrick says the producer encouraged him to “try anything” in order to see what worked. All Time Low welcomed being challenged, though—especially because it came from someone who truly understands the band. “He’s not trying to force us to be something we don’t want to be—and he’s not cluttering up our vision,” Gaskarth says. “He allows us to be ourselves, but takes us in positive directions rather than taking us down paths we might not want to go down.”
This hard work resulted in the most complex All Time Low record, one with compelling sonic twists and turns. Take the fist-pumping lead single “For Baltimore,” an intricate combination of several distinct styles—spinning-top electric riffs, hard-charging chorus breakdowns and a tasteful, acoustic-driven bridge—which succeeds despite being wildly diverse. Or “Backseat Serenade,” which boasts hollering guest vocals from Cassadee Pope and a swooning string section on the bridge. And then there’s the marching, melodic “Outlines,” a tune co-written by Patrick Stump which boasts bright, stacked harmonies from former Acceptance vocalist Jason Vena.
But while All Time Low enjoyed recording Don’t Panic, the lyrics they came up with weren’t exactly universally upbeat. AsDawsonbluntly puts it, “being let down, basically, was the general concept” of the record. While romantic dissatisfaction comprises some of this disappointment—getting into ill-fated relationships against your better judgment or missing a long-distance love—other songs address much darker topics. On “So Long, And Thanks For All The Booze,” Gaskarth sings about needing to reclaim identity—“You gotta let me be me,” he begs repeatedly—while “The Irony Of Choking On A Lifesaver,” describes being unpleasantly taken by surprise by something he thought was an ally: “But you’re always out to get me / You’re the snake hidden in my daffodils when I’m picking flowers.” Even “Outlines,” which Gaskarth asserts is “a song about legacy and leaving your mark on the world” is bittersweet: “I’m just a moment, so don’t let me pass you by.”
Much of this residual frustration is left over from the aftermath of Dirty Work’s release, a time which found All Time Low and their then-label parting ways. “There was a lot to say about what we had been through, how it affected us and where we want to go now,” Gaskarth admits. But in true All Time Low fashion, they found the silver lining in this disappointment: “Thanks To You” is about breaking free from negative energy, people and habits, while the chugging “The Reckless And The Brave” celebrates the band’s status as defiant misfits.
“A big part of the way this band has always written is to find the good in things,” Gaskarth says. “I don’t think we’ve ever been one of those bands that dwells on the dark times. It’s really more about pushing through it. That’s always been something unique about this band. It doesn’t dwell on hardship—it takes hardship and offers a solution.”
Even the title Don’t Panic, which stems from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, is a reference to this forward-thinking attitude. The sci-fi book’s theme—staying zen in the face of chaos—resonated deeply with Gaskarth, especially where it related to All Time Low. “We went through some rough times for the first time in our band’s career, being a part of a label that didn’t quite understand us,” he says. “Through it all, we stayed positive. That’s the general outlook on the whole record—move forward, keep looking forward and keep grinding.”
Now and as always, what keeps All Time Low moving forward are their dedicated fans, the ones who have championed the group through thick and thin. All four members of the band know how lucky they are to have such loyal listeners—and don’t take their support for granted. “We’re not going anywhere,” Barakat says. “We’re going to keep releasing music our fans love and we’re going to keep touring. We’ve always been the same four dudes who’ve been releasing music non-stop. This is our music. We’re here to stay.”
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