"The thing that has benefitted me the most is gaining the confidence to say that I can be a songwriter and contribute artistically - not just as a performer." - Jack Barakat.
You might know Jack Barakat best as the guitarist of All Time Low - but during what he credits as the worst break-up of his life, he found solace in writing deeply personal songs with friend and collaborator Kevin Fisher. Those songs started out as a form of therapy for both Jack and Kevin, and ultimately turned into the formation of the band WhoHurtYou.
We caught up with both halves of the WhoHurtYou equation to talk through their what it's like telling such personal stories to the world, and what it's taught them about themselves along the way.
Where did the concept behind ‘Stages’ really come into play for you both?
Says Jack Barakat: "Well the actual concept of ‘Stages’ didn’t really come into play until everything was written - it was when we were working on our bio and discussing what the EP was actually about. We never set out to make a record, we were just writing a song every couple of weeks. We would go into the studio, write a song and then come out, then a couple of weeks later go back in and write another song. We didn’t really have time to reflect and say, ‘We are writing an EP’ - it wasn’t until we had all the songs finished and looked at them as a whole, that’s when Kevin said, ‘Oh these are all have the same theme but they are all about different emotions’."
Kevin Fisher: "It’s pretty crazy how each of the five songs encapsulate a different phase of the process. It’s amazing it worked out that way, because we could very easily have written five upbeat songs about being pissed off or something. Each song has it’s own place."
Jack: "It’s interesting as well because with most bands there is only one main songwriter, but with this we have both been heavily influential on the lyrics. Me and Kevin are very different people with very different stories, but it was interesting seeing how the songs came together because of that. Each song is about a different phase of a break up, but some songs I don’t connect with as much and some I really connect with. I’m sure Kevin is the same."
That’s what makes this so fascinating, really - the fact that you have both come from different timelines and different experiences, but found this middle ground where you can both relate, but also where people listening can relate as well...
Jack: "Totally - and the thing that’s even more interesting is how Kevin has been a songwriter for a while now. He’s a veteran at this point. He can write from different perspectives, which is something for me as a new writer I’m still trying to figure out and learn. I have such a hard time writing about something that isn’t from a personal experience. It’s the only way I can write - even when I’m writing with All Time Low it’s hard for me because all I know is break-up. Kevin was really good because he’s such a great songwriter and storyteller."
Kevin: "Aw, thanks man!"
Jack: "I’ve learned a lot from Kevin and Alex [Gaskarth, All Time Low fontman] - they are both veteran songwriters who are great at writing about something that they don’t necessarily connect with."
So how did the subject matters of these songs come out when you were writing and how did that measure up to the emotions that you were feeling?
Kevin: "Honestly, I think we got really lucky in that sense. With every song we have written for the project, I think there is one where we have gone, ‘Yeah, this is only okay, but let’s still use it’. Every time we have sat down to write something it has been totally meaningful. That’s just because we’ve always managed to have something to talk about honestly with each other. That’s the thing - there really was no plan. There was no conversation like, ‘This has to be like this’."
Jack: "Yeah, there wasn’t any real order with the songwriting. We weren’t going, ‘We need a song about anger and a song about acceptance’. It was more a case of, ‘What do you want to write about today?’ and I would say, ‘When I used to hook up with girls and they used to remind me of my ex’. So we would write about that - that’s how ‘Not The One’ came to be. It’s almost like a therapy session or something."
"Much like therapy, you can’t predict how you’re going to feel on that day or what you’re going to want to talk about in that moment. So you just go with it."
Kevin: "Yeah, like one day you’re pissed off. Another you’re sad. Another you’re like, ‘Yeah whatever’. There’s no science behind it - you just feel certain ways throughout the process."
Jack: "It made me think back to listening to my favourite albums, and thinking how you can tell how the person who wrote it was feeling at the time when they were making it - it’s like a public journal. It’s weird how now that the songs are coming out and people are saying to me, ‘Hey man, are you okay?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, totally’. These songs were written so long ago and I like to think that we are both in much better places in our lives now than when we were going through it. These songs are exactly how we were feeling then."
So how would a song exactly come together? Let’s take ‘Not The One’ as an example...
Jack: "So the thing about ‘Not The One’ was that the concept came from us talking about how you are taking a girl home from a bar, but she isn’t your girlfriend. The girl that you’re spending the night with isn’t the girl you would normally be spending the night with. That’s how the concept of the whole song started - it’s that feeling of being with a stranger. You’re only used to one kind of kiss or one cuddle and it feels weird and different - it feels alien and that’s what we want to convey. So the whole concept really started with the chorus, then we wrote the verses around the chorus. That’s how we built it up."
Kevin: "Yeah, it’s like through that process when you’re trying to move on and seeing other people, it’s in those moments that you start thinking about that person you just broke up with. It’s doing things but eventually still ending up back at square one."
Jack: "In all of the choruses that we wrote, we tried to have one uniform idea that everybody can relate to - in the verses that’s when we tried to be a bit more specific. Those were the moments for us to be able to tell our own stories, then the chorus can be something for everyone."
How did you go about how you wanted particular songs to sound when you had those lyrics in place. By chance the EP manages to ebb and flow the same as the emotions within the lyrics do, so how did you fall upon a particular sound?
Jack: "We like to kind of reference a song or band at the start to get a feel of what we want our own song to sound like - so with ‘Lesson In Letting Go’ for example, even though it didn’t end up sounding like it at all, we wanted it to sound like The Cure."
Kevin: "Yeah, it never really turns out to be exactly like the reference."
Jack: "But it does feel good to have a jumping off point. Whether that be a tempo, or the chords, or a type of key that it’s in. We start there and then build it up from that."
Kevin: "I think for ‘Not The One’ we were trying to go for a The Police vibe or even a U2 vibe. We wanted to find a modern way of sounding like that, almost in the way that a band such as The Japanese House sound."
Jack: "Yeah, the Police are a very good reference."
What were the feelings that you both had when you realised you had produced this journey of emotions over the course of five songs?
Jack: "Well initially it was just a four-song EP - we only wrote four songs, we felt good about the songs and we felt like we had told our story. I think it was Kevin who thought that we were missing a big piece of the puzzle, so we delayed everything and went back into the studio and we wrote ‘Lesson In Letting Go’. Before that we didn’t have a song about acceptance or moving on. We were so caught up and so in love with these first four songs that we didn’t even think about how we had something missing. It turned out being a happy accident really."
Was that the point that it really sunk in what you had created?
Jack: "I think it was when we released ‘Wish We Never Met’ and we put out the story of how we started the band. It really hit - I’d never done this before. Kevin had done it in some capacity. That was a really big unexplainable feeling of putting yourself out there. It was fucking terrifying - like my mum will see this, my friends will see this, my ex will see this."
Kevin: "It’s so different when it’s so personal - you are putting yourself completely out there. It’s not like these songs are just party songs, they are actually saying something. There’s something very real about that."
Yet on the other hand once it’s out there you realise just how many people are relating to it. It makes you feel much less alone...
Kevin: "That’s the greatest thing about music, especially if you do something real and honest like this. Everybody goes through the same things, even moreso when it is about something such as love - that’s the beauty of it."
Jack: "Yeah, I was already surprised by how many people were saying, ‘Shit, this hits close to home’. It made me go ‘Oh my god, everyone is fucked’."
What did creating these songs do in terms of making you realise something you probably hadn’t even considered before?
Kevin: "For me I think different songs mean different things to each of us - for me in my experience, things ended super poorly. It was very weird for a long time. Yet ‘Lesson In Letting Go’ was one of those moments were I knew I had been feeling that way, but it was only when we wrote it that I actually really truly felt that way. I feel like everybody who goes through something like that where enough time has passed, you can look at the situation and be thankful that it happened. It helped me become the person that I am now."
Jack: "When we first started the project we didn’t know anything - we didn’t know what we were going to sound like, we didn’t know what we were going to write about. Just watching everything come together was super cool and rewarding. From the beginning to now, it’s really surprising to see what this all actually became."
How do you feel this process has benefitted you both, aside from the obvious?
Jack: "Personally the thing that has benefitted me the most is gaining the confidence to say that I can be a songwriter and contribute artistically. Not just as a performer - that’s how I had personally viewed myself for years. I think that working with Kevin and writing these songs has given me more confidence in myself to be more than just a guitar player."
Kevin: "For me, it’s been an amazing experience because my day to day is usually more behind the scenes. That’s not saying that I don’t put my heart into everything that I do, but you write a song and hand it off to an artist and they just go and do their thing. To be in the front of the vehicle, singing and performing it has been amazing. It’s definitely a different experience."
Jack: "It’s almost been like the opposite for both of us. After doing the same thing for 12 - 13 years you get stuck in the idea that this is all that you do. It’s hard to change a part of your life and do something that you’ve never done before. Everyone does that in all parts of life, so it definitely helps you to feel a bit more complete."
Finally, what do you the future holds? Now that you have kicked things off what do you feel comes next?
Jack: "I think the cool thing about this project is that there’s no pressure - we can do what we want. We have fans now, which is cool to say, but in the end we don’t have the pressure to write for other people. We can write whenever we feel like it - we don’t have any expectations or anything. If we want to go in and write some songs, then we are going to do it. It’s not like people are expecting a record or a tour or anything. We are just going to make music that we hope people like when we want. It can continue to be very personal."
I guess it’s a case of if you were to write something just for the hell of it, it defeats the whole purpose of the band...
Jack: "Yeah, I agree. I think that the EP is short, but the songs are so emotional and personal. If you have 12 songs the story gets a little lost. It’s cool that this project can stay very specific."
The debut EP 'Stages' from WhoHurtYou is out now through Fueled By Ramen: