Five years on, Ben Barlow, producer Seb Barlow and manager Leander Reading-Gloversmith tell us the full story of one of Neck Deep's breakout early releases.
Five years ago today (February 19), Neck Deep released 'A History Of Bad Decisions', a three-song EP that catapulted them from being a scrappy UK pop-punk quintet to becoming a Very Big Deal indeed.
We spoke to the people at the centre of its creation to find out exactly what it was like to stand on the edge of a phenomenon.
BEN BARLOW (VOCALS): "I knew that this was my last shot at doing music full time. There was a little bit of pressure in that sense. It was kind of the first real test that we had as a band. After 'Rain In July' it was either we write three more good songs or three bags of shite. There was a bit of pressure. It was our chance to prove that we weren’t just a flash in the pan."
SEB BARLOW (PRODUCER): "With 'Rain In July' we didn’t have many expectations. It was just, 'let’s record songs that we wanted to record'. With 'A History Of Bad Decisions' it was different. Because there had already been hype around ‘Rain In July’ we were still in this same mindset. There wasn’t a pressure. There was just a feeling of, 'let’s just try and do more of the same'. I think it was just around that time that Leander had started managing us, so there was that bit of excitement too."
The arrival of the band's 'A Part Of Me' video and debut EP 'Rain In July' prompted a major surge in interest. The band had never even played a show, but they were already the talk of the town on Tumblr.
Something was stirring.
LEANDER READING-GLOVERSMITH (MANAGER): "They had self-released 'Rain In July' online then re-released it through Pinky Swear and We Are Triumphant. They put out 'A Part Of Me' in May and the EP in September of 2012. Then I found them September / October time. I found them online and was intrigued by the buzz. I then hit them up and we got chatting on email. I was actually chatting to Seb. He was acting as their representative at the time and we just arranged to meet in London on December 04. That was their first London show and second ever gig."
"We talked about ideas and what I thought they could achieve and what I thought I could do with them. Then I saw the show and it was scrappy and whatnot, but there were 20 kids or so losing their minds and I felt like I could see where it was going from that moment. We started working together then. ‘A History...’ was the first creative project we all did together because I felt they needed to prove that they were more than just a hype band and they had more in them than 'A Part of Me'. I was keen on getting them to release something new."
"'Rain In July' hadn’t had any press or media push whatsoever. So I wanted to get a release together that we could push out and get people talking. That’s the premise of ‘A History...’ and that’s why it’s only three songs. It was almost to fill out 'Rain In July' and make an album’s worth of material. This was to prove that this was an actual band and not just some Tumblr hype."
SEB: "The actual process was pretty much the same as 'Rain In July'. I think that there was a little more budget into it. All the guitars were real and recorded but the drums were programmed. They weren’t real. We took a bit more time on them though, because on 'Rain In July' they were much more hard and heavy. We didn’t really care about humanising. We wanted to pay a little more attention to that on 'A History...'. Overall it was a similar mindset though. Because these three songs got re-released later on, I class them in the same EP as 'Rain In July'."
LEANDER: "I don’t remember much about the band’s actual performance. I remember that there was a very positive energy emanating from them and they had an immediate connection with the kids in the room that knew them. They were already nourishing that. I was seeing a fan / band connection that usually takes longer than three months to nurture. That was my big takeaway. Something was happening. The fans didn’t seem to care that the band weren’t particularly tight. Ben was still learning to be a singer. Prior to Neck Deep he just did acoustic covers down at his local youth centre in Wrexham. Not on the regular.
"There was a lot of polishing that needed to happen. But I could see it all in that moment. I remember [revisiting] that feeling years later when they supported All Time Low at Wembley. They could do this as effortlessly as they could the Barfly."
BEN: "I don’t remember feeling [the pressure] to an insane level, but it was definitely there. I think it just came from ourselves, really. I don’t think anybody else was really putting that pressure on. Or maybe they were, I don’t know. I feel as though we piled a little bit more onto ourselves, but people were expecting something. People were expecting us to carry on making good music. We were lucky that we pulled it out the bag though. If we had followed up 'Rain In July' with something bad, people would have lost interest.
"I think it was the perfect little bridge between 'Rain In July' and 'Wishful Thinking' really. It showed some kind of progression even in our early days. It tided people over. They now had a full album's worth of material."
It was clear to everyone that Ben was setting the band apart from the rest of the pack, and he wasn't going to let an opportunity at stardom pass him by.
SEB: "It was the same [pressure] as every release that we have worked on. 'Let’s do it the same, but better'. I think Hopeless [Records] were on board by then so we knew that was on the backburner. We knew we had them to impress but at the same we weren’t trying to impress anyone."
"It was the first set of songs with the full band. 'Rain In July' was just me, Ben and Lloyd [Roberts, guitar] really. It was just us three that worked on that EP, and to be fair it was just us who worked on 'A History...' too. Even though the drums were programmed, Dani [Abasi, drums] came down for a day and we worked on the drums together when on ‘Rain In July’ it was just me really. Then Fil [Thorpe-Evans, bass] came down and did his thing and made those three tracks a little more interesting."
LEANDER: "I really liked them as people. We had this really extended meeting where we all super clicked. I really understood where they were coming from and I really liked their mix of personalities. West had a Carrier T-shirt on and Dani had a Last Witness hoodie but Ben was obviously really passionate about classic pop-punk. Ben has always intrigued me, ever since I saw the 'A Part Of Me' video. He was an interesting looking guy and he had a unique way of articulating himself. He was just 17 back then and I could see this shying away from the limelight, introspective, talented creative."
"We just had to get everything in shape, including his vocals. But he had the thing that you look for. That star quality. He has a swagger and mystique. He either doesn’t say anything at all or he’s incredibly robust and talks for ages. He had the frontman thing and that magical chemistry that you need to be a star. I could see it in the 'A Part Of Me' video. It comes from sincerity. He really means it. He’s closing his eyes and singing like he really means it."
BEN: "It showed that we were here to do this for real. I was young as hell at the time, Like 18 / 19. I was 17 when we wrote 'Rain In July'. I had no idea where my abilities were. I knew I could write a song. I had all these lyrics and ideas but it was the next little test for me. I mean, we never ever play 'Up In Smoke' anymore, but that may be my favourite song that we have written. That was the first song that I ever wrote about my parents. It was me trying to prove to people that I was good at this. It wasn’t just me reacting to a couple of bad breakups. It was me showing that I could pull from these different things that were going on around me."
'A History Of Bad Decisions' was the next logical step. These three songs would tide Neck Deep's fans over until they could drop a full-length record, and also add a bit more depth to their live sets. All eyes were now on them to deliver.
SEB: "It’s kind of a blur because it was so quick. That whole year where they were blowing up is. Someone would just come in with a riff or a chorus or a verse and we would just take it from there. Thinking of the songs individually, ‘Tables Turned’ probably took the longest what with the weird drops and noodly bits. ‘Head To The Ground’ was just Ben and me. Where we tried to flesh the other two tracks out, this was pretty much already done. Ben had written it himself. From a young age when we were writing music, his thing was acoustic."
"I played his girlfriend the EP that he recorded when he was 15. There are lyrics on there that have made it on to Neck Deep songs. Like, 'Hands up if you’ve been left bruised and broken’ made it on to 'Life’s Not Out To Get You'. Even then he understood songwriting even if consciously he didn’t know what he was doing. I think that 'Up In Smoke' is the bridging song on that EP. That was the one that connected 'Rain In July' and 'Wishful Thinking'. It’s not like we sat and thought about it. It just happened. We just had a loose idea of which way we wanted to head."
BEN: "I think at that point it was all quite natural. We just had to keep the ball rolling. Like, 'We have some attention and some buzz so if we can keep it rolling rather than waiting all that time to write a full-length record...' We knew how short people’s attention spans were and we knew that people wouldn’t care and stick around for too long. 'A History...' was us writing an extension of 'Rain In July'.
"Overall the EP was us proving that we weren’t just a bunch of kids from the UK trying to do this thing. We were a bunch of kids who were actually doing this thing. It kept the dream alive. It kept perpetuating the fact that we were a good band and we were doing something special that other bands weren’t doing or we had something that other bands didn’t have."
SEB: "Ben and me have always been the same in that we don’t really think about how big the band is or how well they are doing. We’ve always been like, 'whatever happens happens'. If it does well, it does well. If it doesn’t, that's fine too. It was literally just a case of writing music that we wanted to write. We’ve been writing music together for like 10 years, so it’s not like this was our first experience of writing music. It was just a case of putting a bit more music out for us, but on a bigger scale."
"Nobody in the band ever looks online at any of that stuff. I run all of their social media. I’ve always been the one who is on the forums. Even if I don’t tell them what people are saying, I bear it in mind. I know what people are saying and I know what they like and what they don’t like. In those early days it was all about The Story So Far. People knew and the other guys in the band knew that too. I guess there was a decision made to avoid that but if we wrote something that we liked and it sounded like The Story So Far we weren’t going to be like, 'oh we won’t use this.' With me at the helm I kind of guided it in a way based on what people were saying online. Overall we were still just writing music for ourselves."
Not everyone got on board immediately, though. Naysayers and haters alike were ready and willing to rip the band down at every opportunity, especially online.
Even so, that didn't ruffle their feathers. It just inspired them to prove everybody wrong.
BEN: "I don’t think all of the naysayers were won over. Even now. People are still only just having their opinions about us challenged. Back then I felt like we were pretty new and people hadn’t quite written us off yet. We were still fairly fresh. Obviously there was some elitism immediately from people who don’t like anything incoming and new. For the most part we were potentially the next something.
"I do think that it was the start of something big. Not to blow my own horn, but we were the start of the next wave of UK pop-punk. It was the start of something really special and I felt like a lot of people were onto that and felt it too and wanted to be a part of it. But yeah, there were definitely a lot of people who didn’t want us at all. They didn’t understand it and thought it was lame, but that’s fine. We’ve pretty much had to deal with that from day one. We’ve always had someone to prove wrong. I think we did that."
SEB: "Ben and me have been listening to this sort of music since Ben was super young. We’ve always grown up on Punk-O-Rama and found our own way through Blink-182 and Green Day. It wasn’t until 'Rain In July' when we stepped out and wrote some pop-punk. We already had a broad knowledge. We’ve been listening to this music so long that it’s now ongrained into us. It wasn’t like we saw these bands were doing well and we wanted to get on it."
LEANDER: "They’ve obviously had to grow into themselves as a band. Neck Deep has always been a work in progress. People write them off a lot and that’s the thing that we have had to work with. They’ve continually proven themselves though. You have these five misfits that not even the most proficient Simon Cowell could put together. Neck Deep have always been this underdog thing but it’s been worth it for the people who have stuck with it. There’s a circle of trust that was formed in that first six months around 'A History Of Bad Decisions'. Everything that we are now came from that."
As they say, the rest is history. But at the time, it was all just business as usual: a bunch of lads making the music that they loved, just because they wanted to. That's not to say that they weren't just a little excited about what was happening…
BEN: "For me it was just exciting. As lame as that is, it was all crazy. I was eager to write and eager to see what people thought of this stuff we were working on. It was the first time that we truly recognised the band’s potential and that’s what made it such an exciting time."
LEANDER: "For me personally, it was [about] perseverance. I was so sure that this band had it and everybody was telling me no. I was just so certain. Journalists and agents turned us down. Nobody believed that the little Wrexham band was going to make it. I feel that the six-month period of January 2013 to June 2013 was the building block of their entire career. It was six months of going, 'this is going to happen', and then it did."
SEB: "It was a weird time. It’s always exciting with Neck Deep. I feel as though the excitement has died down a little over the last couple of years because we’ve become accustomed to it and accustomed to being surprised. I guess at that time it was anticipation. We weren’t setting out to prove anything to anyone but at the same time with 'Rain In July' came a lot of criticism. ND have always been the underdogs. People never accepted them straight away but with 'A History Of Bad Decisions' it was kind of a 'fuck you', if you can do that in three songs. It was a steam train. We were going forward no matter what. We were writing the music that we wanted to write and we knew we had all this cool stuff lined up. It was just excitement. Everything was full steam ahead."
You can listen to 'A History Of Bad Decisions' right here.