"It has been closure for me and maybe even my ex. I think it has been a positive thing." - Jack Barakat.
Jack Barakat is best known as the guitarist of All Time Low - but during one of the worst break-ups of his life, he found solace in writing deeply personal songs with friend and collaborator Kevin Fisher. Those songs became a form of therapy for Jack, and ultimately turned into the formation of his and Kevin's new band WhoHurtYou.
We caught up with both halves of the WhoHurtYou equation to talk through their unlikely formation, and what it's like telling such personal stories to the world.
How does it feel finally having this project out in the world?
Says Jack Barakat: "To be honest I feel like it was rather overwhelming at first. Neither of us really knew what to expect - I’ve never written music before, Kevin has never really been in a band before. Putting the lyrics out there, I don’t think I was personally prepared for how people were going to react. It’s been a new experience for the both of us. I wouldn’t say that we had zero expectations, but we had no idea what was going to happen. We’re very happy with how it’s all been received."
So first off, when did the two of you first meet?
Kevin: "We actually met on the last All Time Low record. I did a bunch of writing with the band through that process - we just became best friends from there."
Jack: "Yeah, Kevin wrote on ‘Life Of The Party’ and ‘Dark Side Of Your Room’ which are actually two of my favourite songs on the whole record. Alex [Gaskarth] basically just introduced me to Kev, and we soon realised we were pretty much going through the same thing at the same time. We soon became a support system for each other. That’s what is cool and unique to this project - like that friendship was taking place a year before this project even started."
Did working on those together spark your interest more in that sort of music and in turn influence the WhoHurtYou sound?
Jack: "For me, that whole record did that. It put me in that world, and introduced to me a whole load of new bands and artists I had never heard of before. When we first started writing songs we didn’t really know what we wanted to sound like - with Kevin coming from the pop-writing world, his influences were definitely vital in creating our sound. It was all such a new experience for me though after being in a pop-rock band for such a long time."
So, what was the point you realised that you needed to create an outlet such as this for your feelings?
Jack: "I don’t think there was one particular moment, but there was a month or two when I was going to therapy literally twice a week. I was so fed up and feeling like I was running in circles - I wasn’t getting better. I would wake up everyday and feel worse than the day before. It was really not good. I was in this vicious cycle of not being able to get over this person. I knew that therapy was where I needed to go - even just being in there not only helped me personally with my head, but also motivated me to want to write music. It was something that she had suggested as a healthy outlet."
Kevin: "It’s tough because you never know how much time is going to go by until something clicks in your head. It’s important to make sure that you’re doing stuff which is productive. So there’s therapy, or in our case having an outlet such as songwriting. Being able to put it all out there on the table, and then listening and going ‘okay I could have done this or this but instead I did this’. It gives a sort of clarity."
What were your early conversations like when you started talking about your situations and putting them into song?
Jack: "We were just friends at that point, and we just started talking. I had just gone through the break up and Kevin was just being a homie - like taking me out, and providing distractions and just being a really good friend. The song writing didn’t start until much later when Kev convinced me to go into the studio with him and just write. I had never written lyrics before so it was definitely a learning process for me.
"I got some advice from Alex, and from some other songwriters. We just wrote songs for the hell of it. It was only one day when we sat down for dinner, and I went ‘shall we put these songs out?' and he was like 'I’ve been waiting for you to say that'. I don’t know if we would be here if I hadn’t have said that. I guess Kev was a little bit shy about all of it and didn’t want to overstep."
Kevin: "It all just happened so naturally. This works so well because we both went through such similar things at almost the exact same time. I think while Jack was going through it all, I was just coming out the other end - everything was just really unexpected. Neither of us ever thought ‘hey let’s start a group’. I just had all these experience with writing and how it had helped me out, and I saw him going through it. It was just like ‘let’s see what happens’."
Jack: "Once we actually decided that we wanted to start the group, the next day we went into the studio and we wrote ‘Wish We Never Met’. That was the first song that we properly wrote together. I remember when I left the studio that day and I was driving home listening to it and was like ‘holy shit’. Just listening to the lyrics fucked me up a bit because it brought up some old memories but it was also nice putting it out there."
How was it for you realising that you had put all of these feelings into an actual physical entity?
Jack: "It was such a new experience going ‘oh wow now millions of people know how me and Kevin feel’. It took me a second to get my head around. In All Time Low, lyrics have always been Alex’s thing so I have never put myself out there like that. I was not prepared for what it would feel like."
Aside from the lyrics what was it that helped you form the sound for these songs?
Kevin: "With what I do, and especially with these songs, if it doesn’t hold up on guitar and piano first it’s not going to hold up anywhere. So a lot of the process was just making sure that the heart was there but also that they could stand up on their own."
Jack: "That’s a good point. All of these songs were written on the piano and the acoustic guitar - Kevin would bring a melody and we would just it there then build it around that. We kind of knew what we wanted going in though. One of our biggest musical inspirations was Robyn- the way that her music is so poppy and upbeat, but her lyrics are so gut-wrenching and dark. We really looked up to her because it’s so rare. You expect a pop song to be happy and upbeat and a party song. We thought ‘let’s turn this and make it a little darker’.
How does ‘Wish We Never Met’ compare to the other songs that you have produced? Is it a suitable taste of what to expect, or do the others differ?
Jack: "I would say this one is the most up-tempo. All the other songs... people will see more of what we went through, because it goes so much more in-depth. I think the songs get a lot more emotional - I think it’s important for us to take people on this journey of what we are calling ‘Stages’. The EP is going to be called ‘Stages’. It’s going to cover everything that you go through during a break-up: anger, guilt, jealousy, loneliness. It’s going to a special journey for people who are going through these things, and hopefully help them in the way that it has helped us."
It’s almost like an emotional handbook.
Kevin: "That’s bang on. We want it to be that for other people, because that’s what it was for us."
Jack: "The cool thing is that our situations were different, so I think there is going to be a song for everyone on here. There are songs that show both sides of a break-up, and I think that’s important. Ultimately these aren’t just our stories - these are things that absolutely everybody has been through."
What has this whole process done for you that you weren’t expecting?
Kevin: "For me, it’s all been such a new experience. When we decided that there was something here and that these songs were too good just to send to other people - we both just put it all out on the table. For me working with other people, I never really get to do that. This is 100% vulnerable and honest and exactly what Jack and I went through. No apologies, this is the way that it is. That's been really amazing for me. I’m lucky that I get to do what I do, but it’s so rare that I get to click play and know that this is mine and nobody else’s."
Jack: "Personally this project has felt almost like a little bit of closure. Whether it’s words unsaid, or things that you would have done differently, it has been closure for me and maybe even my ex. I think it has been a positive thing. I’ve learned a lot of things."
How has it been for you realising that the person that these songs are about will hear them?
Jack: "It’s something that I dreaded for the longest time - I was so excited to get the music out but also terrified. You’re not just putting yourself out there to thousands of strangers, you’re also putting yourself out there to someone who these songs are very personal to as well. That’s something I struggled with pretty badly. It’s putting something that is very private to you out there, and that’s a very scary thing. I think that selfishly we did this project a lot for ourselves, and that’s okay. It’s just something you have to deal with, and I've gained a whole new level of respect for artists. I guess it’s something that I have taken for granted over the years - like with All Time Low, lyrically it has always been Alex, and I have such a newfound respect for him for putting himself out there."
What are your plans moving forward with WhoHurtYou? How far into the future are you looking?
Jack: "I think the cool thing about this project is - unlike some bands - there are no rules. I think the lane is wide open. In this day and age with Spotify and Apple Music, nobody really has a schedule or plan. If we are feeling creative or feel like we have something that we want to put out, we can just do it. That’s what so unique about this. This isn’t going to replace ATL or anything - this is just an outlet for us to put something out whenever we want to. It’s open ended like that."
Kevin: "I think for us, during this whole process we have become that outlet for each other. I write with a tonne of people, and it’s definitely not the same as when me and Jack get together. I think it’s because we are good friends, but through this process we have been able to create this dynamic - we aren’t going to sugar coat it or anything, and I think that’s why the songs have turned out the way they have."
How do you feel your friendship and the bond between the two of you has changed throughout this creative process?
Kevin: "We were already good friends, but I think that looking at something like this and taking a step back you realise it’s a much bigger thing. The fact that we can put something like this out and have people react in such a way - that’s what makes this much bigger than just two dudes helping each other through a break-up. That’s everything."
Jack: "From a friendship standpoint, it feels like I now have a friend for life."
WhoHurtYou's debut single 'Wish We'd Never Met' is out now.