Before Neck Deep, Pop-Punk and the United Kingdom were two things that you never really saw side by side. Yet when the band released their debut album, everything changed. We spoke to vocalist Ben Barlow about the album's legacy and how important it was for him and the band.
To incite a movement in this day and age is to do something truly special. To bring an element to the table that completely changes the course of things in a way that nobody could have predicted should be celebrated and remembered for as long as possible. For years the UK's pop-punk landscape was barren. Bands tried their best to break through from the backrooms and bars that they had cut their teeth in but nothing was budging. America had always been the place where the genre thrived and spread and it looked set to continue that way. The UK was in need of a kick up the behind. A band needed to come along and breathe life into a community that was gagging for air. A movement needed to take place.
Then Neck Deep released their debut album and the world turned upside down.
The lead up to the record had been one chock full of excitement and promise. The band appeared on musical radars across the country thanks to a single track ('I Couldn't Wait To Leave 6 Months Ago') posted on Bandcamp, which then materialised into their fast and furious debut EP 'Rain In July'. Word spread like wildfire with more and more ears getting acquainted with this new breed of British band and 'A History Of Bad Decisions' quickly followed. They were then snapped up by the legendary Hopeless Records as their first-ever UK based band. Fever pitch had been reached. The expectation was highs. Luckily the band had a few tricks up their sleeves.
"If the EPs were us just having fun and get material out there, ‘Wishful Thinking’ was the first time that we treated and approached Neck Deep as a real band" Ben Barlow explains. "We had a bit more wind in our sails and a clearer idea of what we wanted the band to be and where we wanted to go with it. It was the first time that we had a bit of responsibility on our shoulders and maybe even a bit of pressure. This was our first release with an actual label and it was like, ‘damn’."
Though each individual song on 'Wishful Thinking' has its own different quirk and personality, as a whole the record is a snapshot of what it means to grow, love and learn from your mistakes in the modern-day. The adolescent infatuation of 'Sweet Nothings', the scathing storytelling of 'Damsel In Distress', the rampant uumph of 'What Did You Expect', it all blends together to create a piece of work where every single person who comes into contact with it can find something to cling on to. Then you've got the inch-perfect delivery of 'Losing Teeth', the jubilantly pulverizing 'Staircase Wit' and the heartwrenching sadness of 'Candour'. And who could forget the wonderfully vibrant 'Crushing Grief' and playground petting of 'Growing Pains'. The fact that the album's focus jumps from pain to pleasure to purpose in the space of a drum fill is a testament to the area of interest that the band was attempting to cover, even if they didn't even really realise it.
Ultimately, 'Wishful Thinking' was pop-punk but not as we knew it. It was vibrant and full of life but with all different flavours of emotion thrown in. Though the forefathers of the genre are paid homage to, their elements are rammed up to 11 and given a completely new lease of life for a generation hungry for something fresher and fruitier. It's scrappy, misshapen, passionate and near enough impossible to ignore.
"With the two records that followed ['15's 'Life's Not Out To Get You and '17's 'The Peace And The Panic'] we had a real clear direction and idea of what we wanted to do and a real purpose behind it" Ben comments. "With ‘Wishful Thinking’ there wasn’t so much of that. Maybe that’s what we learnt from it, that an album needs a purpose or something more behind it. I think ultimately it was a huge learning curve for us. We were all still so young and it was all still such a mental concept for us. It felt very much like a transitional phase. Us learning that this was how it all worked."
The knock-on effect that the record had was unlike anything that had really come before. British bands found a newfound confidence and put themselves out there in more and more with the likes of ROAM, Trash Boat and As It Is flexing their muscles on the world stage. Neck Deep's pull as one of the most exciting bands the genre had to offer brought the stylings of Trophy Eyes, Knuckle Puck, Real Friends and Seaway halfway across the world to play shows alongside them. The scene was much united than it had ever been and it just kept on growing bigger and bigger.
"I don’t think that what we made was anything particularly ground-breaking but I do think it was a statement of showing that the next big wave had arrived" Ben admits. "For the British scene it was proof that you could be from the UK and make half decent pop-punk and also be semi-successful with it. I think it made a lot of other bands realise that there was a place in the world for this sort of thing. We definitely weren’t the first UK pop-punk band and we certainly won’t be the last, but I feel like we helped shove it all in the right direction. We helped shine the spotlight on it a bit more. We were proof that you could do this thing full time."
All it takes to knock over a line of dominoes is one little push. Once that catalyst has set things into motion, there is no stopping what happens next. In many ways UK pop-punk was just waiting for a band like Neck Deep to come along and get things moving. Though what has followed in recent years is what has helped them reach the sort of heights that only the most special bands can climb to, without 'Wishful Thinking' there would be no new path for them to tread. Without 'Wishful Thinking', the UK scene wouldn't have felt that surge of confidence it needed to get out there and show the world what it's made of.
Without 'Wishful Thinking', where exactly would we be?