This year, Josh Franceschi spent his birthday in Los Angeles. His girlfriend, his best friend and his sister had all flown out to help him celebrate and they had a big day out planned. First, though, Josh had to stop by the studio for what he thought would be a quick meeting. He and his band mates in You Me At Six had been holed up in producer Neal Avron’s home studio near Sunset Strip, making ‘Cavalier Youth’: their fourth album, soon-to-be defining statement and follow-up to 2011’s gold-selling ‘Sinners Never Sleep’.
Things had been going well, so Josh was a little surprised to find Neal, guitarists Max Helyer and Chris Miller, bassist Matt Barnes and drummer Dan Flint’s birthday surprise for him was to suggest that his contribution to ‘Wild Ones’ – the epic closing song on one of the most anticipated rock records of 2014 – wasn’t quite up to scratch.
“If on ‘Sinners Never Sleep’, they’d have said, ‘Josh, why don’t you rewrite this?’, I’d have been like, ‘Why don’t you go fuck yourself?’” laughs Josh. “But when they said, ‘Musically, this is such a massive song, do you really want to be the one that lets it down?’, I was like, ‘I really don’t’.”
So Josh spent his birthday holed up in Neal’s garden with his laptop, rewriting the lyrics and vocal melody until they matched the scale and scope of the music. When he emerged triumphant – “like a kid at Christmas”, according to Max – with the revamped song, Josh knew it was a “defining moment” for the band.
Such incidents show the ambition and renewed appetite at large in the You Me At Six camp. The band has been a model of musical development from 2008 debut ‘Take Off Your Colours’ through 2010’s ‘Hold Me Down’ and on to ‘Sinners Never Sleep’, but now nothing less than brilliant will do.
This is an all the more remarkable state of affairs considering the staggering achievements around that last album. ‘Sinners Never Sleep’ debuted at No. 3 in the UK album chart. The band were hailed as leaders of Britain’s new rock scene by everyone from Radio 1 to Q magazine and The Times. Their song The Swarm became the theme tune for Thorpe Park’s blockbuster rollercoaster of the same name. And – having stormed stages at Download, Reading & Leeds and all over the world – the campaign finished with a sold-out show at London’s 12,500-capacity Wembley Arena in December 2012.
That show – documented on 2013’s ‘The Final Night Of Sin’ DVD – was the culmination of eight years hard work, since the band formed as teenage pop-punks in Weybridge, Surrey, in 2004. It also – in Josh’s words – established them alongside “the big boys” of British rock. But while many bands would view such an occasion as the peak of their career, You Me At Six see it as base camp. After Wembley, change was inevitable: the band had switched management company and split with their old label, eventually finding a happy home with BMG’s new recorded music arm.
But things had changed within the band as well. ‘Sinners Never Sleep’, for all its triumphs, had not been the smoothest recording process while the squabbles with their old label – which Josh had to battle to get to release ‘Reckless’ as a single, only for it to become their most played radio song ever – had taken its toll. “If somebody had asked us ‘What’s next?’ after Wembley, the answer would’ve been, ‘We really don’t know’,” says Josh. “We had no label, no management, no idea really.”
That they rediscovered their verve in such spectacular fashion on Cavalier Youth is testament to the studio environment created by Neal Avron (Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy, Weezer), who worked them harder than they’d ever worked before, but also encouraged them to broaden and stretch their musical horizons. But it’s also due to the giant strides made by the band itself. Hence the next-level musicianship displayed on the album. Max Helyer’s riffs are catchier than most people’s choruses. Dan Flint’s drums are more colossal than Godzilla’s big brother. And, where ‘Sinners Never Sleep’ successfully tried its hand at a pick’n’mix selection of different genres, ‘Cavalier Youth’ displays a consistency born of confidence.
There’s still plenty of variety of course, with songs ranging from the all-out rock attack of ‘Room To Breathe’ and ‘Win Some, Lose Some’ to the acoustic, Best-Coast-and-Joy-Division-namechecking ‘Be Who You Are’. ‘Lived A Lie’ has already become the band’s (and BMG’s) biggest-ever hit single, charting at No. 11, its inspired marching band-style middle eight showing off their current willingness to push their musical boundaries. Meanwhile, the crossover alt-rock anthem ‘Forgive And Forget’ boasts a chant so infectious, 2014’s festival crowds are probably singing it already.
Lyrically, too, Josh is fizzing with fresh optimism, exemplified by the pulsating positivity of ‘Fresh Start Fever’, its “Dream a little bigger!” chorus surely destined to soundtrack a million New Year’s resolutions as well as spur the band on to new heights. Because, more than anything, this is the first You Me At Six album to establish a big, beefy rock sound that belongs entirely to, well, You Me At Six. “For the first time, there’s a real cohesiveness in our sound,” says Josh. “We wanted to write a record that in five or ten years time would still be relevant and make sense.” “We’ve got bigger ambitions than just staying in our world and scene,” states Max. “We want to be a band that’s listened to by everybody.”
So they enthuse not just about their dreams of appearing high up the bill at Reading & Leeds, but also to play Glastonbury for the first time. They enthuse over the strength-in-depth of ‘Cavalier Youth’, an album they hope will spin off “at least six” singles. And they make no bones about their desire to graduate to arenas, not just as a London one-off, but as a regular occurrence all over the world. They’re already making headway in Australia and America – where YMAS recently completed their first headlining tour after years of groundwork on package tours and in support slots – and are primed to become the UK’s next enduring international rock success story.
“That’s the ambition for this album,” says Josh. “We’d be lying if we said breaking America isn’t something we want to achieve.” And they certainly have the ambition, the ability and, in Cavalier Youth, the album to accomplish such aims. “I don’t think our band’s ever sounded this good,” says Max proudly. “If there’s ever a time for You Me At Six, it’s right now.”
He’s right too. That’s why ‘Wild Ones’, the song Josh so successfully tweaked back in that LA garden on his birthday, finds the frontman posing the question, “Are we going to live forever?” with the confidence of a man who already knows the answer. Josh might not have had much of a birthday bash this year. But ‘Cavalier Youth’ marks the happiest of returns for You Me At Six -- and now the whole world gets to celebrate.