It’s a difficult task in itself to confine Neck Deep to a stage, let alone keep them caged during a pandemic. The romanticism of painting a picture of a practice space or band hangout is replaced with an online conference room, likely the last place the five-piece would like to be at the moment.
Each member has almost entirely been locked up in their respective living spaces along with the rest of the world, sharing the struggle of filling the mundane gaps in the day. When your day job is traveling the world and making it a louder place, confinement to a living space provides a clear and painful sting.
The proof is the separated musicians’ fittingly unified response to the subject of getting back on the road. Letting out a collective groan, the lack of stage time has evidently been a trial. The pop-punk crew’s sentiment is summed up easily enough by an isolated Ben Barlow: “It’s absolutely killing me.”
Barlow chuckles as he begins to tell his bandmates of a film containing evidence of a summer romp with pop-punk forefathers blink-182. The enthusiasm soon turns somber, and the picture of a band robbed of their livelihood pulls into focus. The deeper losses are felt by the members of Neck Deep, whose need for friendship and camaraderie was greater than they had expected.
“[The photos] were all good memories, but…I just miss it so much, being on tour,” he admits. “Just little things, like eating together with your mates, just fucking around. I do miss it massively, probably more than anything. If people told me you can still go on tour, but you can’t go and frolic around, I’d be like, ‘Right, sweet. Let’s go.’ Like, at least give me that back.”
However, the yearning to play live shows and a return to pre-COVID life doesn’t carry a self-pitying undertone. Neck Deep have an album to promote, and the hive mind behind All Distortions Are Intentional are putting their surplus energy to use.
“We still have a goal to aim for. Let’s fucking make sure this record does as well as it possibly can,” Barlow says. “In that sense, we’re still busy and on our toes, which is good. I think if we had no end goal, we’d all be losing it a bit more, but everyone’s adjusting to this new normal. We’ve all been through the freakout of ‘What the fuck is happening?’ and having to come to terms with the world we’re living in right now.”
But not even the most entrepreneurial strategies can make up for a flop product. The confidence shining from the band, however, acts as convincing reassurance: This album is different.
Neck Deep instilled this desire for change far before entering the studio. Despite casually jotting lyrics down or messing with tunes on the road, All Distortions Are Intentional betrays its name. Studio time was open season, and breakthroughs came from unexpected places. The shift toward an evolving sound is one that some get sucked into, but this isn’t change for the sake of change. Neck Deep aren’t looking to make a statement with a differing tone. It’s as simple as making music they enjoy.
“I think Life’s Not Out To Get You is just the one. It completed that to its highest form of pop punk,” Barlow explains. “Everyone’s been involved now, so rather than being a short step or two-step process to a sound, there’s a lot more styles and people’s taste in this.
“It’s a whole diverse sound now, which is sick to get to the point where you’re comfortable to do that. When we went in, it was like, I’m sure Seb [Barlow, bassist] will say, ‘Let’s scare ourselves. Let’s do weird stuff we don’t normally and see something to the end.’”
The unconventional creative process spread its influence over all 12 inches of All Distortions Are Intentional. As chief lyricist, citing his own life experiences has been Barlow’s leading muse over the years, but building a world beyond their own through a full-album story is the band’s next endeavor. Penned far before any mention of coronavirus, it eerily fits into an ongoing narrative of isolation.
“[If] you go back and listen to the record, there’s some stuff now that seems weirdly more relevant than it was before,” he explains. “We’re having this realization that everyone’s in this together, and you’re not experiencing it alone. It does make you wonder. It does make you consider other people’s lives and how they’re feeling about it. [Quarantine] has shined a different light on the record and given it a different angle.
“A lot of what the record talks about and the narrative that runs through it now seems to have [more meaning],” Barlow says. “Not eerie Nostradamus-level predictions or whatever. It just feels like something people are going to need to hear when it comes out.”