All Time Low have a lot on their plate these days. Fresh off a trip from California, frontman Alex Gaskarth makes time for a phone call with PureVolume at the end of April from his home in Maryland. In just a few hours, he and the rest of the band will drive to Penn State for sound check in preparation of their show the following night.
"Make sure you tell everybody it's the best record anyone's ever heard and they absolutely need to get it [laughs]," the frontman jokes at the end of the call regarding his band’s newest album Last Young Renegade. Jokes aside, the 30-minute phone call included the vocalist talking about growing up on the road immediately after high school, which has involved many accomplishments and defeats, or as Gaskarth puts it “highs and and lows.”
Whether it was 2006's Put Up Or Shutup EP, (or for those who count The Party Scene as an official release prior to the EP), or 2015's chart-topping full-length Future Hearts that sparked your interest in the four friends from Baltimore, All Time Low's newest album embarks on a synth rock-based release that tells a story of those “ups and downs” through a character’s eyes brought to life as the last young renegade.
PUREVOLUME: On. Feb. 23, you posted on Facebook describing some of your mentality that went into this album. Can you talk about the part of the post where you said the journey on this album is the story of self-realization?
Alex Gaskarth: The record is very reflective. It's pretty internal and for a lot of it I felt like I was staring in a mirror and writing about the person I saw. A lot of that came together through this character, the last young renegade, the idea that there was something tangible there to write about. It let me write personally. I was writing stories about this embodiment about all the things I wanted to talk about, but it was a more comfortable way of doing it rather than fully stripping everything down and saying, 'This is me.' That can leave you feeling very vulnerable when you do that so this is sort of a device that let me explore all the things I wanted to talk about but it felt like I was still in control and not putting too much out there into the world when I wasn't ready to. I think our last record was written from a perspective of our younger selves talking about growing up and this album is about where we are now approaching 30 and looking back on everything we've done, the ups and downs which is a big part of this band's story and us as individuals. It's all about the highs and the lows that make us who we are and those are the themes I wanted to get into on this record.
PV: Your song "Dirty Laundry," as well as the rest of the album, features a more serious, somewhat darker side to the band. What demons specifically came out for you on this?
AG: It's about the highs and the lows. We've been doing this since high school and is the only life we've known since leaving home and trying to make something for ourselves. We've grown up on tour essentially and I think that comes with a set of challenges and unique life experiences that a lot of people don't ever experience. At the same time, I think everyone universally goes through those ups and downs when they grow up. We were just doing it differently from the other side of a fence. It's one of those explorations of would the grass have been greener on the other side at times when we hit our lowest of lows? Is this what we were meant to be doing? That's really a big part of what we explore on this album is the part that doesn't feel as great and I think that might attribute to some of the darker tones on the record. We're diving into the stories of the parts of the band when we've hit our lows and things have seemed like they're too much and how we've gotten through those. A big part of this story is how we've overcome. From the outside it's sort of always looked great. For the most part everything has always been great so it's hard to dwell on it too much. The ultimate message is that sometimes it's the struggle that makes everything that much more precious when you get through it and that's what we wanted to put the emphasis on with this album and what we wrote about.
PV: Hearing you say this is releasing something from a perspective as an adult and looking back, did you have the idea in your mind that maybe people who have grown with the band will find this as something they can relate to? Or was that not on your mind?
AG: I think it's a realization that we came to a little bit later. At first we were gone and writing stuff that felt right and made us happy and writing songs and telling the stories we wanted to tell. Further into the process we did realize maybe this would speak to the older generation of our fans a little bit and kind of give them something to hold on to. It's been an interesting journey with this band and a really cool one. We have fans that have been with us, like you said, since a young age and have grown with us and are still there waiting for what's next and we also have a group of fans from a newer generation that have just discovered this genre of music and have become fans of All Time Low within that last few years. We sort of have this slightly wider audience that span a couple of generations and so a big part of that is speaking to everyone and writing songs that anyone can relate to in that sense and so I think that was a big part of why we approached it looking back. We wanted to not only tell the stories for fans who have been there for a long time and would appreciate the angle we were taking but also do it in the way our younger fans can also latch on to and appreciate the stories as they're presented without needing to know or have been there from the [Put Up Or Shutup] EP or from So Wrong It's Right. Reflection is always such a big part of songwriting and looking back is such a valuable tool as far as seeing where we've come. This band has been on an insane long journey through it all.
PV: Where did the idea for the "Last Young Renegade" character come from and what does the mask over his face signify?
AG: We wanted to create this character that could embody all the themes on the record and basically tell a story of this journey. It sort of became a loose concept record. When we start the story, [the character is] at a high point and everything falls away and they get stripped down to a low point and it's all about building it back up. A lot of that in these stories about who he surrounds himself with and the people realizing who the important people in life is a big theme on this record and what the important things in life are rather than sort of the surface. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking things are important. That's a big theme on this record, creating that character and having that story felt like a good device to tell that story in a way that felt direct and guided rather than having these disjointed songs. The main reason for the bandana is when we came up with the artwork and the visuals for the record we wanted to keep it ambiguous. We didn't want to go out there and completely specify exactly who that character would be. It could be anyone. Music is always about putting your own spin on what you think the lyrics mean and the sentiment means to you.
PV: You've been on and off with Hopeless Records and had a taste and learning curve with Interscope Records, but why decide to hop on the Fueled By Ramen train?
AG: It was the right time. FBR was a label we grew up looking up to and admiring and it was the first label we ever showcased for. We were very familiar with Fueled By Ramen and what they were doing throughout our entire career. It was really that our time with Hopeless felt like it was coming to an end for no reason other than to say we felt maybe it was time for something new. Our contract with Hopeless ended and we wanted to see what else was out there and we went and spoke with a lot of different people and picked the minds of a lot of people we knew who worked in the industry. It came back full circle with Fueled By Ramen pretty easily. It was apparent they would be the best people to work with and the best partner. Fueled By Ramen has always been successful because it treats its bands the right way. They approach music and artistry the right way. They let their artists do their thing and cultivate that rather than trying to influence or shape it indirectly. Over the years that we've been a band that's always been our experience that works better.
PV: In "Life Of The Party," you sing "in a sea of strangers I can't find me anymore." What kind of self-realization did you discover about yourself?
AG: The line is talking about after all of these years and doing this and growing and our sound changing and our lives changing, people kind of formulate this idea of who they think you are and who they expect you to be and that comes from all sides whether it's from our fans or whether it's from people within the industry or other bands or anything. There's all these people with all these different preconceived notions of who we're going to be when we get to talking and sometimes I think that has an effect on us directly. That line is specifically about saying, 'Here I am on stage in front of all these strangers,' or 'Here I am at the bar with all these strangers,' or whatever it may be and it's like, 'Where do I exactly fit?' I think that's the struggle with finding your identity in such a fast paced ever-changing world can be very difficult. Growing up on the road really exposed that because we were always ... we were vulnerable. There was always someone watching and formulating an opinion. Sometimes it's tricky to grow up on that environment. One of the things I've learned about this band is how flexible it is. We take a lot of turns and swerve and move around. One thing that's made me feel proud looking back is we have a catalog of music that sounds like All Time Low. Unknowingly we've done an awesome job of carving a sound out for ourselves. We took a lot of chances from the beginning. Every record has some songs on it that I don't necessarily think at the time people expected us to write. That's something I'm proud of in this band in general is the fact we've always wanted to push ourselves even when we didn't know what we were trying to do, the desire to continue to push and do something a little different was always there and redefining is a really different part in making music and that's something we've carried all the way to this record. This record sounds different from our last record and different from all the records we've put out but at the same time when I check out songs from this new album and then go back and listen to older songs it still works for me. It still feels like All Time Low. That's something I'm proud of as we've grown up is we have fallen into our own identities and grown into our own skin.