You’d be hard-pressed to find a bunch of more down-to-earth alt-rockers than these mainstays from Baltimore.
All Time Low‘s debut album, 2005’s The Party Scene is an apt reflection of where the boys began, forming in high school having no idea what they were doing. Yet a group that’s experienced few lineup changes is a testament to their bond, and the four-piece have taken that strength all the way from the first release to album staples like Nothing Personal (2009), and their latest hard-hitter The Last Renegade.
I sat down with the guitarist while on tour here to chat about being a Baltimore kid, having his life changed by being in Sydney and Tokyo, and making the dream All Time Low record.
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The 28-year-old was relaxing on a beach in Fremantle, WA, with no audible signs of fatigue.
After letting Barakat soak up the Aussie vibes, I invited him to reflect on just how much his perspective on travelling down here has changed since Soundwave 2015.
“I feel like the way we perceive shows is different because a festival’s completely different to a headlining set,” he mused. “So this is our first time ever doing a real, big-venue, headlining tour in Australia. It’s opened our minds up to how great of a career we can have in Australia and how much they appreciate us.”
The quartet certainly have a large fanbase, and the excitement on their Aussie tour this week has been compounded by them bringing along some friends, particularly Arizonian alt-rockers The Maine. Divulging just how new of an experience that’s been for the band, Barakat said, “It’s cool to bring bands that you’re passionate about and you want to hang out with across the world. It’s the best of both worlds.”
“The Maine is a band that we’ve been touring with since we were younger. We met them on Warped Tour years ago, and just hit it off. We’re very similar personalities with similar humour, and we just like having a good time. We took them out in the US, the UK… We’re also really big fans of their newest album. We’ve always been a fan of Maine but I think, more than ever, their new album’s [Lovely Little Lonely] their best stuff.”
Speaking of latest records, I was fascinated to hear about how Last Young Renegade synthesises this concept of a troubled character with ’80s sonics, as well as the positivity surrounding previous release Future Hearts. Considering that deeply, Barakat replied, “I’d say it’s darker and moodier. It’s an All Time Low album we always wanted to make and never got the chance to… It was just released on the new label and was a time for change, and it was the perfect timing for us to make an album like this.”
“We wrote Future Hearts with the future in mind, and as our younger selves wanting to get out of our town and become someone. This album’s kind of the opposite. It’s us writing about our past and things that have happened to us or our friends. It’s like the counterpart to Future Hearts.”
Barakat also had to dive into new territory to deliver those ups and downs of the chief character’s story through his guitars, and this feeds deeper into the band’s willingness to push the envelope.
“I think a big part of this album was to take the guitars and make them sound like synths. A lot of times you think, ‘Oh, this is a weird sound for All Time Low. This is new. This sounds like a keyboard’, and it’s actually a guitar… We were making the album secretly, so we took our time and messed around with tones and sounds for so long – Last Young Renegade is the product of that.”
“We always had one or two experimental songs on every album we’ve released, whether it’s ‘No Idea’ or ‘Take Cover’ or ‘Edge of Tonight’. Experimenting with sounds and tones and all that has been pretty common for us,” he finished.
A huge part of this new phase has been flagship label Fueled by Ramen, who the four-piece recently signed with. The musician sighed, “‘Fueled By’ is a label that I used to sit at home and look at their online roster and dream of being on it. It wasn’t the right time before but it is now, and everything fell right into the place at the right time. It’s definitely a dream–come–true situation.”
“We met with a couple of labels after our deal with Hopeless was up, and I think the thing that stuck out about Fueled By Ramen was that they shared the same vision that we did. They knew we wanted to step out into a new light. They mentioned producers’ names, bands that we wanted to inspire us on the new album. It just made the most sense, and we were impressed with how they wanted us to do our own vision and not get in the way… It was very, ‘Your band has been doing this for 12 years. You do what you keep doing best.'”
That kind of synergy with a label certainly hasn’t always been the case for All Time Low, with the band feeling like they were being dictated by Interscope Records during the recording of 2011’s Dirty Work, which remains an alt-rock staple.
“We were so young at the time – we just wanted to be successful,” Barakat shrugged here. “I don’t think we were grown up enough to know that you can hold your ground… There are so many songs on there that have been huge for us, but there are a couple that we probably regret.”
Rewinding further, I had to get nostalgic with the guitarist as I mentioned the group’s sophomore release So Wrong, It’s Right turning a ripe 10 this year. That was a real learning curve, and Barakat reminded me, “Before that, we were just a garage band.”
“We lived in our parents’ houses… Our songwriting was all over the place. After So Wrong came out, I was like, ‘Shit’. You just realise how these songs affect people. Like, ‘Remembering Sunday’ and ‘Dear Maria’ and ‘Six Feet Under the Stars’ – we’d never really had songs like that for us at that point that had this kind of effect on people. Ever since then, it made me really think, ‘Is this song right for our band? This isn’t just a song anymore, this could be someone’s life’.”
That nostalgia reached peak point as Barakat reflected on being a Baltimore kid, and finding himself a changed man.
“The one thing about Baltimore is it’s not really a big city. We grew up in the suburbs in what wasn’t a small town, but you’d go out to the grocery store and probably run into people you knew… I do think that growing up in a city like Baltimore, which was a very artsy city but kind of a blue-collar town, gave us that drive for wanting to get out of there and see everything.
“None of us live there anymore… You meet girlfriends, wives, fiancés, and you fall in love with other places. I feel like that’s what happened to us. It doesn’t mean you don’t miss your hometown. Every time I go back, I’m seeing 50 friends I haven’t seen in forever. The main thing I miss is being younger and growing up… The innocence, what you had when you were in high school.
“Tokyo and Sydney are two cities that really made me change my perspective on how big this world is and how different places can be. In Sydney, it’s so different, but everyone’s really friendly and it’s so beautiful. There’s so much landscape that I’ve never seen before… We went for a tour around Darling Harbour and through the neighbourhoods. The houses on the water… We’ve never really seen anything like that before. Tokyo is basically a different planet. It’s unbelievable how their daily lives function just like ours, but on such a different level. You could not feel more alien than in Tokyo.”
“There are definitely moments where you’re like, ‘Holy shit, how did we get here?’ Always a good one.”
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Immerse yourself in the four-piece’s most experimental album yet with Last Young Renegade, available here.