In the little over a decade since Neck Deep formed in the Barlow brothers’ spare room in Wrexham, Wales, a lot has changed. From the scrappy, naively hopeful beginnings that define the starting of so many teenage bands, the pop-punks have gone on to be one of British Rock music’s most successful global exports in recent memory: top 5 records in both the US and UK, global touring, viral hits and over a billion streams just some of the fruits of ten years spent mastering their craft.
But now, as the band stand on the brink of their fifth, self-titled LP, there’s an acknowledgement that the more things change, the more – in some ways at least – they stay the same.
“This album is the sound of us knowing ourselves and knowing our ability,” explains frontman and youngest Barlow sibling Ben. “It’s unapologetically us. We’re professional songwriters now and we’ve really honed in on what we’re good at – but it’s also about having fun and enjoying writing these tracks. And there are those little sonic signatures in the mix that even I can’t really put my finger on that just make it Neck Deep. It happens when we get in a room together and it clicks - it’s us just doing our thing like we always have.”
For this record, the band, completed by Ben’s older brother and bassist Seb, guitarists Matt West and Sam Bowden and drummer Matt Powles, took ‘doing their own thing’ – and only their own thing – to the next level. Eschewing a keen list of collaborators and producers eager to work with one of rock’s hottest properties and choosing, instead, to write and record in their own warehouse space, mere miles from where they grew up. Old school, just like it used to be.
“It was all us,” smiles Barlow. “There have been no compromises and that’s the way we like to do things these days. At this stage in our career it’s what we needed to give ourselves the freedom to make the exact album we wanted to make. It was hard at times, but it also meant we talked a lot internally and got really clear about what we really wanted this album to sound like - what we really do best.”
True enough, this collection encompasses everything the Walians have excelled at across their career, enhanced and dialed to eleven. From the bouncing bombast of Dumbstruck, Dumbf**k and Sort Yourself Out’s ripping intensity, to the poetic introspection of They Don’t Mean To (But They Do) and sun-down-at-a-festival singalong of It Won’t Be Like This Forever, it’s an LP that boasts a song for almost any occasion (including, in recent single Take Me With You, the impending alien invasion).
“I think it’s one of my favourite songs we’ve ever written,” extolls Barlow when asked about It Won’t Be Like This, the track the band have chosen, amongst stiff competition, as the lead single for the album. “It’s a tune that has a wide appeal. That song is a real arm round the shoulder to the listener from us, the songwriters. That’s the thing about our band, we can write these fun songs but when we touch on something emotional it normally works because it tends to be these quite universal emotions that everyone can relate to. I’m really proud of that.”
And perhaps it’s that metaphor of the arm round the shoulder of the audience, more than anything, which sums up where Neck Deep find themselves ten years into their career. “We want to do this forever,” nods Barlow. “And there are fans out there who have given so much to us in the last decade. I’ve always said I hope Neck Deep can help get people through some of their worst times and be the soundtrack to some of their best times. If this music can reach someone a thousand miles away and get them out of a funk they’re in, then that’s what it’s all about for us.”
“We don’t need to be models,” finishes Ben. “We don’t need to be fashion icons, we don’t even need to be political commentators. We just need to be the soundtrack to people’s best and worst times.”
And as they move into this new era, Neck Deep look set to be nothing short of just that for a growing army of fans.