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All Time Low on staying at the top of their game during a pandemic

Bar some of our known geniuses, the pandemic came at an unexpected time and blindsided the vast majority of us. Pop rock royalty All Time Low were in that majority, having built a career off of playing their music to fans in every corner of the world. When their way of life was put on hold, they still managed to release an entire studio album in the form of Wake Up, Sunshine, but it was what came next that propelled them to the top of their game. Between going viral on Tik Tok with ‘Dear Maria, Count Me In’ (it currently has 239 million streams on Spotify) and their smash-hit ‘Monsters’ taking them to every watched program on television, it would be safe to say that things are never going to be the same again for the scene boys from Baltimore. With dramatic change comes lessons learned, so we spoke to frontman Alex Gaskarth to reflect on what’s been special about the last 12 months, the band’s new single and the future of one of the biggest rock bands in the world right now.

You just released a new single which is about heartbreak. Was that specifically inspired by the pandemic, or something else that happened?

Jack and I wrote the song and it’s kind of about our collective experiences, throughout our lives, in relationships and things like that. But the reason I think we landed on that topic, and what we were really, ultimately writing about, was more of the shared experience of loss that I think we all felt and went through during 2020. The idea that our whole lives changed, as a people, and a lot of our normalcy was taken away from us without our control.

I think that was what we were touching on when we were writing that song. We reference our own band, and I think we referenced All Time Low, obviously as the surface part of the song being: “Until I hit an all time low.” But the idea, for us, is All Time Low is our safe place, and when we’re feeling down, the band brings us back to this place where we feel great again. And I think that’s kind of what we were trying to say in that song.

It seems like you’re somewhat settled, you live this very idyllic farm life. Has that changed what you feel like you want to write about?

I wouldn’t say that. I mean, yes and no. Obviously there are some things that just wouldn’t feel authentic for me to say when we write songs. But at the same time, I’ve been through a lot in my life, and seen a lot. And I have, again, I have the shared experiences, not only of myself, but of the people around me, the band, my friends, my family.

And I feel like there are ways to pull from all of that as inspiration and craft stories in that way, that it doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to something that I’m going through in the moment. It could be something that I’ve felt before, or something I relate to that I’m hearing about from a friend. And I try to like apply that back to songwriting because obviously after 15, 16 years of doing it, you can run out of ideas. And I think it’s important to keep the gears turning and find fresh ways to keep writing about new stuff.

Is there an album happening right now or was this a one-off song? You don’t have to answer if it’s a secret.

No, no. All good. To be fair, I don’t really know. We wrote that song. We wrote a handful of other songs, so there is music kicking around, but as far as when it’s going to come out and how, we haven’t really made our minds up yet.

I know that I’m really excited about the songs because they feel like a really cool extension of where our last album left off, given that we didn’t get to go on tour like we usually do for two years around a record. It kind of felt like there was a through line with the new music we were making. So it all sort of feels loosely connected, and that’s really cool. It’s growing and going somewhere.

But yeah, how that manifests? I don’t know yet. We’ll see. I think there will be more music to come, and maybe it’s an album, maybe it’s an EP. I don’t know. We’ll figure that out.

You guys are the best practice for artists operating during the pandemic. Do you see other bands interacting with their fans the same way that you are?

Thank you for saying. I mean, we just tried things. You know what I mean? I think the big…What it came down to for us, was we put our album out right at the climax of the first big wave of the pandemic. And so we almost didn’t have a choice. When the music was out, we had to find ways to connect, and to try to get people to engage in, and listen to the music, and enjoy the music with us, because that was the point.

It was just no idea was a bad idea. We threw anything out there, whether it was live streams, or Zooms with our fans, or we were doing these broad…Basically, a variety show. We brought our podcast back, but did it as like a livestream like this [a Zoom]. And that was another way for us to reach out and connect.

And you know, I think some things worked, some things didn’t. And the stuff that did work, we just stuck with that. And we were like, “Okay, well that’s the way of the world right now, and that’s what we have to do.” And it ended up being great for us because it did keep people entertained, and I think it kept people engaging with our music. We had some really fortunate things happen, like ‘Monsters’ kind of took off for us over here in the States and around the world. And that really helped propel us through the year.

I mean, I see plenty of people doing it, though. I’ve seen a lot of people connecting in great new ways. And I think the beauty of it was that there was no right answer. You know, I think a lot of people at first got a little scared because they just didn’t know how to put themselves out there in that way. But as more and more people started trying things, I think people observed what worked, and what was effective, and then more and more people started doing those things, and it just kind of fell into place. And that’s good.

You just mentioned ‘Monsters’, which you’ve been on television with a lot. How was that for you, going into that very different world and playing TV shows?

It’s pretty crazy because to be honest, we hadn’t played many other shows. I mean, we did a handful of livestream shows that we curated ourselves and shot ourselves, with really strict COVID protocol so that we could do it safely. We basically just put ourselves all in a bubble, and once we knew we were safe we filmed a bunch of stuff. That’s, to be honest, how we filmed some of our TV performances as well. We did it remotely then got it to them.

You know, the exciting one was when we were on Ellen recently, because that was the first time they’d had a live band back in the actual studio. And that felt really special because it was like, not only was everybody there really excited, but it just felt like progress. You know, it felt like it was really the first time we were stepping onto a foreign stage that wasn’t something we put together, and played the song together as a band. So there was a lot that went into that one. And again, it felt like a step in the right direction of actually getting back in front of people and being able to play songs.

So doing things digitally, working on things together remotely…Do you feel like that’s going to carry through post the pandemic, or that you’re just going to drop it and go back to playing shows at the end of it?

No, I think it would be kind of stupid for us to not take the things that worked and continue on when we can. I think we’re all chomping at the bit to get back and actually play shows in front of people. But I’m really excited about what we’ve learned from the last year, as far as how else we can engage with people and how we can connect.

It was really…We learned some valuable things just in even meeting and talking to our fans who were saying things like, “Well, I suffer from really bad social anxiety, so I don’t even go to shows because it’s too much for me. And your livestream show has made me feel like I can be a part of something that, oftentimes, I miss out on.” And hearing that was really eye-opening, and it’s something that now we want to move forward and do more often because we know it still connects with people who aren’t as fortunate to be able to go to live shows sometimes. And that’s great.

What do you still want to do – are there people you still want to collaborate with? What’s on the bucket list?

We have the graphic novel coming, which is really exciting. It’s kind of a new thing for us. We’ve never really gone into that space before, and it was fun to collaborate with the writers and the artists on something visual and completely different. And it was nice because we got to go in and tell a bit more of the story, or the intended theme, of what Last Young Renegade was all about, which was an album that we had a lot of ambitions for, and some of them didn’t get to manifest. And it was really cool for us to be able to go back and tell this story in a new way that helps expand upon what that album is really all about. So it’s an exciting thing, and I think people who are fans of that record, because that record was a little bit different for us, I think people who are fans of that album get to see it fleshed out a little bit more, which was always the original intent. So I’m excited about that.

And then we just have our hands in so many things at this point. I think what’s really exciting about All Time Low is we have built ourselves to be a band first, obviously it’s about the music. But there’s so much more to it because it’s about us, and who we are as people in the band, and how we connect with our fans and our audience. And so bringing things like that to the table, the comic, the wine that we like to make, the coffee that we like, things like that, are all these aspects of us that people haven’t gotten to explore before. And it’s just nice that we get to share that in different ways.

My last question is about Simple Creatures. Is that project going to come back?

Yeah, it is. I was texting Mark today, in fact, about when we’re going to get back in the studio and write some more music. We’re fully planning on doing more. Obviously I’ve been in full All Time Low mode for a little while and it’s like, finding the right time to do Simple Creatures again in a way that feels intentional, and bringing something to the table that’s not just like, “Here’s a song.” We really want to do something fun with the next…whatever the next thing is. So it’s just finding the time for that.