This past week I had the opportunity to speak with All Time Low Guitarist/Backing Vocals Jack Barakat. We talk Dirty Work, the band’s climb to the top of the Pop Rock/Pop Punk scene, collaborating with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, and much more.
Mind Equals Blown: Dirty Work is your first major release as a band. The hype for this record is bigger than any ATL record. How does it feel to get this out?
Jack: It feels awesome. It’s our first major label release. We’re just excited to see what the fans think about it.
With die-hard fans in the Hustler’s Club, what’s the feedback been from that group of fans?
Almost no negative feedback, but we do have some of the most dedicated fans in the world (laughs). I was surprised a lot of the younger fans really liked “Heroes.” I figured they’d go straight for the ballads.
Have you read any reviews that have come out from any publications thus far?
I don’t really read reviews to be honest. I’m really stoked. Releasing a record is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. I’m really waiting for it to come out so I can be done with the nervousness.
Talking about this being the band’s first major label release, a lot of your fans have different takes on it. What did it come down to for ATL to sign Major?
We’ve always had it in our minds to make this band as big as possible and to reach out to as many people as we can. We felt were weren’t given that opportunity on an independent label. We love Hopeless and they did a lot for our band, but we just figured it was time to move on and open up to all these resources.
With the first week sales being 63,000 with Nothing Personal, What are the expectations going into the first week of album sales for Dirty Work given the climate of the music industry?
It’s super nerve-racking. It’s also been 2 years since Nothing Personal has came out and album sales are down a bit every year. I’m hoping for around the same as last time. Maybe a little bit less or more. That’s what my expectations are at.
Opening up more resources gave you guys a higher recording budget, and an opportunity to work with some big-name producers. While you had 6 producers on Nothing Personal, on Dirty Work 3 returned (Matt Squire, Butch Walker, The Dream) and worked on this record along with Mike Green (Paramore), John Fields, and John Feldman (Good Charlotte). Why did you guys decide to do this? Was this any different of a process from Nothing Personal?
I think it’s just the vibe we like to go to. It’s a totally different thing. It’s almost like making a hip hop record. We are in the studio with different people every couple of weeks. It keeps things fresh, and it’s fun. It isn’t just sitting in the same room with a person for two months and making you go crazy.
Is that the approach of All Time Low moving forward? The more producers and people on board, the better?
From an idea standpoint we’ve always been stoked on working with a bunch of different people. It opens you up to ideas you have never thought of. It really sets you up to have a diverse record that is super versatile and connects to a larger audience.
Dirty Work is definitely a diverse record and unlike any of your previous releases. You talk about appealing and connecting to a larger audience, and songs like “Return The Favor,” “No Idea” and the lead single “I Feel Like Dancin'” are prime examples of ATL going into uncharted territory for the band. Amping up the production on these songs and this record, how difficult was it for the band to write songs that will garner new fans while not alienating your die-hard fan base?
It’s only a little difficult. We’re going to write the same music. We’re going to stray off a little bit because we are getting older and more mature, but we are All Time Low. A pop-punk band. We’re always going to have aspects in our music we grew up on like Blink 182 and Green Day. We were 18 and 19 years old when we wrote So Wrong, It’s Right. Now we are 22, 23 writing this record. A lot happens in those years. You have to grow your fan base because they are getting older just like us. People who listened to So Wrong when it first came out might have been 15 or 16 years old. Now they are 19 or 20. That is the kind of thing where we kinda grow with our fans. We try to make people happy that way.
Does it ever get old hearing your fans say they miss The Party Scene or So Wrong, It’s Right knowing you are trying to expand the sound?
It does get old but it doesn’t really bug me. If you look to Blink, my favorite record is Enema Of The State which was two records ago. It’s kinda like whatever record that makes you fall in love with a band, that’s your favorite one. Every band has to change and move on. You can’t keep making the same thing over and over again.
On the lead single “I Feel Like Dancin'” you worked with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. Weezer was releasing some of its best work when you and I were 6 or 7 years old.What kind of a process was it like writing with Rivers? Did he have anything specific to say in the way of advice or anything in the songwriting process that you picked up from him?
It was interesting. It is definitely a different vibe writing a song with someone in a band as opposed to a producer. First of all, band dudes always wanna tell stories, where producers wanna get down to the gritty. It was cool. Alex and I went over to his house and we actually recorded the song in garage band initially. It was cool because he was basically like “Ok, let’s picture we are at a party. Let’s walk through the different things we’d see.” Things that he would say or Alex/I would say would naturally become lyrics to the song. It was cool to see how someone as inspirational and awesome as Rivers wrote a song.
Did he have anything specific to say in the way of advice for you two?
Not really, we had never met him before so it was more of a “Hey I’m Jack. Nice to meet you.” It was very friendly and a little awkward at first. Within 5 or 10 minutes we warmed up and everything was good.
Pretty much starstruck?
Yeah. Sitting in his house we almost felt like we were intruding but it was cool after the initial meeting.
Much has been said about All Time Low bringing in co-writers on songs with this record. Can you break it down when it comes to co-writing whether it is Butch Walker, Matt Squire, or anything else?
When we say co-write, it literally means we are in a room with a person and we are playing chords, exchanging ideas for melodies and bouncing ideas off each other. You are saying you like it, they are saying they don’t like it. Some bands get people to write songs for them, but we’ve never done that.
Co-writing is actually a really cool thing. It’s a good way for bands to connect and retake to each other. It’s bands helping bands out. It’s a really cool family style thing that has been in music for years. It’s the best way to open up your mind to ideas you would have never thought about.
What were some contributions co-writers made to Dirty Work that never would have made it onto the album if it was just the band writing?
I remember Alex was writing with John Feldman and I was in the room hanging out. Feldman was into a punk beat and said “You guys don’t have a fast song yet. Let’s write one.” We wrote “Heroes” from that and it has a breakdown in it. It was something that if we didn’t write with John Feldmann, it wouldn’t even exist.
Dirty Work will also be coming out as a deluxe edition and those songs from what I know, haven’t leaked. What can fans expect from these four tracks that never made it to the record?
Every bonus song that we included are songs we are extremely proud of. We just looked at all 15 or 16 songs and we just looked at what 12 songs would give the best flow to the record with the most diversity. You gotta have a deluxe edition with something a little more. You never just want to release a 12 song record. You wanna release a 12 song record with bonus tracks. You also don’t want to release a 16 song record because you will bore people (laughs).
What’s the meaning behind the name Dirty Work?
First of all, Dirty Work is an awesome movie. We’ve been touring non-stop for 4 years. 280-300 days of the year. It’s really grueling and almost wears down your soul a bit. We’ve all lost relationships and friendships from being away on the road so much and not keeping in touch. That’s where the title came from.
Mentioning the movie Dirty Work, it was starred by Canadian Norm MacDonald. Not a lot of people know you have a Canadian connection and actually used to live here for a few years. Any plans to come up north and run for Prime Minister anytime soon?!
(laughs) I lived in Canada when I was very young but I would go up every summer because my grandparents lived in Don Mills (suburb in Toronto, Ontario). I’d go up there for the entire summer and spend them all there. It’s one of my favourite cities. I’d go up until I was 16, 17 and we started touring in this band.
When I was up there I was really young and awkward (laughs). The one summer I was up there and decided I wanted to be in a band, I was in 8th grade. I would sit in my grandparents’ basement and listen to ___ every single day. I couldn’t even play the songs but would pretend on the guitar that wasn’t plugged in and I’d pretend to be on stage (laughs). It was pretty weird!
After that summer was when Alex and I decided we needed to start this band.
It became apparent when I attended the Toronto show of the Dirty Work tour just how crazy things were getting for the band. The massive amount of bras on stage, the entire tour being sold out, and so on. This isn’t exactly an overnight success however. You guys have been working away hard at this. With the amount of work you have put in, is it still surreal to see all of this come tenfold?
Absolutely. It was basically the exact opposite of an overnight sensation. It’s been spending the past couple of years slowly building, and slowly playing the same venues. Every tour just growing a little. Luckily it hasn’t fucked with our heads too much and it’s been a steady pace. It’s good.
With that steady build, there are bands like yourselves, Paramore, and A Day To Remember that grinded it out touring across the country relentlessly. Now in 2011 you are seeing more bands just signing onto major labels for their debut albums and becoming overnight sensations and blowing up. To see how many bands are taking this route in this day and age as opposed to building it up like yourselves, is it lost in this day and age in music?
Yeah, it’s definitely become a lot more uncommon. I think it actually discourages a lot of bands we tour with. They see us and they want to get to our level but they don’t understand it’s taken us years to get here. We started doing this 8 years ago and have been touring for 5 years; we started out playing 50-capacity clubs. It took so long. A lot of bands don’t want to put in the work but those who do will see it pay off. When we were in that position, we didn’t get it. There would be times when we would complain and wonder why things weren’t moving quicker. It’s frustrating to be in a position where you feel like you aren’t getting any bigger. We were but we just didn’t know it.
Now we’ve all known how crazy your fans are and some of the crazy antics that have happened to Alex (http://www.noiseaddicts.com/2010/01/fan-stalks-singer-alex-gaskarth/). What is the craziest shit that has happened to you from a fan standpoint?
It gets very intense in South America. It’s very crazy. It’s almost like Bieber or Beatles Mania anytime any band goes down there because they don’t get shows too often. When they do they are so passionate about music and meeting people it almost turns into Zombieland with people shaking the van and climbing on it, it’s pretty funny.
Anyone try to pull you away?
Yeah it’s intense. It’s very touchy and very grabby but it’s also pretty fun. It feels like a video game (laughs).
On 4 dates of your upcoming North American tour, The Starting Line will be direct support. Any chance more dates will be announced with them?
I believe it’s just those 4 dates. Bringing The Starting Line on, it’s kinda like our introduction to our smaller US shows of that tour. We figured we wanted to do it with a band that has a lot of drawing power and is just a good band to be involved with. The Starting Line is a band we have been watching since we were 15 years old so it is great to be able to bring them out on tour.
It was recently announced your clothing line JAGK was getting picked up by Hot Topics across North America for your Summer/Fall line. You also in the past year started partnering with bands such as I Call Fives. When it comes to partnering with bands, is this more getting bands to wear your line, or what approach are you taking with it?
Yeah at first we want bands to rock our shirts but eventually we wanna get it to the point that we are sponsoring tours and have our name on the tours to really get our names out there.
Coming up after your headliner with Mayday Parade/The Starting Line/We Are The In Crowd, what’s on tap?
We are talking about some stuff. Nothing is set in stone for the fall but we’ll be doing something. We are going to Australia to do Soundwave, Japan for a few shows, probably the UK as well. We are definitely world travelers. We don’t like to sit at home.
When will that headliner be slated for? November/December?
Probably more like October/November.
Congratulations on the release of the record and best of luck moving forward. I’ll see you guys out on the Give Me Your Summer Lovin’ tour. Something I like to do with the bands that I interview is I get them to choose a song from their catalogue and a song by any other band. Go for it!
All Time Low – “Do You Want Me (Dead)”
Ellie Goulding – “Lights”