It is 7:30 PM in Mansfield, MA, and it is monsooning outside. Rain is crashing violently and relentlessly onto the Vans Warped Tour crowds, drenching a sea of black band t-shirts, smudging heavily-applied eyeliner, and wreaking havoc on freshly-dyed neon hair—one unlucky punk already has a steady stream of purple Manic Panic dripping down her neck. However, despite the weather-fueled chaos, inside the amphitheater, As It Is is incredibly happy. As they perform to a room of hundreds of people, undeniably wet but still dancing and screaming with undampened energy, frontman Patty Walters seems physically unable to stop smiling. To the crisp pounding of the drums and unrelenting rhythm of the guitar, Walters never stands still for more than a second—he is perched on the amps; then he is jumping vertically in time, looking indisputably pop-punk; and then he has launched himself onto the barrier to sing with the army of fans before him. Every now and then, I catch guitarist Ben Biss smiling to himself through his impressive mop of blonde hair, or bassist Ali Testo looking out into the amphitheater with wonder—though the band plays to loving crowds on the daily, they still give off the “ecstatic disbelief” energy of 5 garage-band teens from England, finally playing the festival of their dreams.
It’s safe to say that As It Is have successfully broken into the American alternative scene, yet playing with the British flag draped proudly over their bass amp, they have never been shy about their love for their home country. Since forming in Brighton, England in 2012, they had self-released 3 EPs before signing with Fearless Records for their 2015 full-length debut “Never Happy, Ever After”—a feel-good pop punk masterpiece with loud, clap-along hooks perfectly crafted to translate into a fun, dynamic live show.
Before it started pouring, I was able to catch up with Ben Biss and Ali Testo at Warped Tour, where we chatted about recording their new album, the differences between the US and the UK, and dream-come-true moments.
Could you give me a brief history of the band?
Ben Biss (Guitar): Basically, me and Patty [Walters] and Andy [Westhead] got together and started writing songs on acoustic guitar. We didn’t really have any more friends that liked pop punk, so we put an ad up on JoinMyBand.com, found [Patrick] Foley, and then after a little while, found Ali.
Ali Testo (Bass): Yeah, me and Andy went to the same university together, so he got in contact with me one day and said “We need a bass player”.
BB: And then a little while after you joined, it all kicked off, so I think you were kind of a good omen in that way! We did three EPs before the album, one pretty much every year, and now we’re here with album one.
Did any creepy people try to contact you on JoinMyBand.com?
BB: No, but we had some pretty terrible auditions. I mean, if you’re going to audition someone, don’t audition someone who cites their main influence as Electric Six! (laughs) So, that’s one thing we did learn.
How would you say Warped Tour has been so far?
BB: Surreal, I think, would probably be the best word.
AT: It’s kind of like this crazy bubble that you don’t get much chance to go outside of, but it’s so fun. Everyone’s super friendly, it’s a great family vibe.
All the bands get really close?
AT: Yeah, the buses are all parked out next to each other so everyone just hangs out, and there’s barbeques and social events that go on in the evening.
Yeah, I saw a flyer out there for a meditation class!
BB: Last night, for the whole evening, there was just some drum-off going on in front of the buses. All the gospel drummers were showing everyone up, and it was really fun. (laughs) Something crazy is happening every night.
AT: And the shows, I suppose we should mention them! They’ve been amazing so far…
BB: People have been showing up!
AT: Yeah, everybody who’s come has sang their hearts out along to us.
BB: Or if they didn’t know the words, afterwards they would at least come and buy a CD! We seem to be gaining new fans, which is half of what Warped Tour is about.
AT: I feel like the crowds are growing as the tour goes on, so I feel like we’ve been doing something right.
So the crowd energy has been good? Has there been a lot of moshing or crowd surfing?
BB: It depends. On the East Coast it’s increased, like New York yesterday—we didn’t have to tell them to do anything, they were just super responsive. I have a thing where whenever I see a mosh pit at our set, I initially think it’s sarcastic. (laughs) But most of the time it isn’t, so that’s good!
You put out your first full-length album, “Never Happy, Ever After”, in April of this year with Fearless Records. How was this writing and recording process different than that of your previous EPs?
BB: I don’t necessarily think the way we wrote together was any different; it was just over a much longer, more intense period. We lived for four months in a house together.
AT: Yeah, we pretty much shut ourselves away from the world in a house together and wrote for four months, and that’s how we went about writing the album. We would all sit up in the loft and jam and work out ideas. It was very fun.
BB: And Fearless just left us to it. At the end of it, we were like, “These are the songs,” and they were like, “Great!” We got to write what we wanted, and it was great.
AT: The label has been nothing but supportive, and they’re just awesome dudes to work with. And we recorded it over in St. Cloud, Florida, which was cool.
BB: That was the first time that we, as a band, got on a plane together!
Wow, that must’ve been a really big moment. What do you think has been your most dream-come-true moment in the band?
BB: There was a period where it just kept happening, like every week or month something amazing would happen. Actually, the last one that I had was yesterday in New York. The show was just… there were so many people there and they were so responsive. You could just see this sea of people, and it was great. There’s been a few shows like that.
AT: I think one of the big things was when, just before we started the writing process, we pretty much all quit our jobs to focus on the band. That was a pretty scary but satisfying moment, where we all realized that we did this full time, this was our job, and our lives now. It was pretty cool to be able to say, “This is what I do”.
Yeah, that’s huge.
AT: And of course, finding out that we got to play Warped Tour! It was like 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning and Andy woke us up.
BB: Yeah, Andy woke us up with that Blink-182 song, and he had the lyric set up where it went, “I couldn’t wait for the summer and the Warped Tour”, and that’s how he sort of told us! (laughs) It was funny because he came to my bedroom door and said, “Ben, I need to speak to you downstairs.” And I thought it was a super serious conversation, I was going to be fired or some shit! But then he came downstairs like, “We’re playing Warped Tour!” And we were like, “Oh, you fucking bastard.” (laughs)
Oh my god, yeah, that’s like the dream!
AT: Especially as a load of British kids, because we’d never been to this festival before.
BB: Actually, in the space of two days, we got confirmed on that spring Glamour Kills tour and Warped Tour. We went from having no US tours in the pipeline to having two. And we were like, “Okay, next year’s going to be cool!” (laughs)
How have the fan interactions been on your recent tours?
AT: They’ve been good! It’s so nice when people take the time to come say hi and just chat with us for a second.
BB: I always enjoy it more when kids actually want to interact and talk to us rather than just run up, take a selfie, and then run away. That’s why I really enjoy doing the TEI class—they get to ask questions and we get to give proper answers and it’s a more personal experience. So if any fans are listening, engage in conversation! We prefer it. (laughs)
How does touring in the UK compare to touring in the US for you?
BB: Everything is very far apart in the US.
AT: In the UK, you’re probably going to be doing a maximum of 4 or 5 hours driving, and that’s just like standard here. That’s the main difference. We love being in the states, everybody we’ve met has been super friendly! I don’t know if it’s because we’re British. (laughs) We stopped at a gas station once and there was a barbeque truck and they just decided to give us some free wings because we were British! So that was cool.
BB: It’s just the distances, really. The fans in both countries are cool. I wouldn’t put one set of fans over the other.
AT: I kind of like that at the moment it seems like wherever we go, there’s an equal playing field between America and the UK. It’s nice that, you know, we’re not going from doing 2000 cap rooms, to doing 100 in other countries. We’re growing evenly over the world, which is cool. Because a year or so ago, there were almost no UK bands within the scene that could manage to break into America, and now we’re here twice in a year!
AT: And I think there’s like 6 or 7 British bands on the tour as well. Flying the flag for Britain! Flying it literally, on our camps. (laughs)
Did you guys find the other British bands on the tour and flock together?
BB: Well, us, Mallory Knox, and Moose Blood were all on the same flight over (laughs) so we made friends with them on the flight. And we’re friends with While She Sleeps, so yeah, we do pretty much band together. I’m pretty sure the only British band I haven’t spoken to is Asking Alexandria, because I don’t think… I think they pretend that they’re American. (laughs)
AT: I saw the Kenneths for the first time yesterday. They’ve got a kind of old-school punk vibe, and they do a great show. I think I’ve pretty much seen all the British bands. Some of the best friends that I’ve made on this tour are in the Kenneths.
But there’s nothing annoying that Americans do?
BB: Not really, apart from the way you make cheese.
The way we make cheese?
BB: Yeah, it’s not cheese. It’s horrible.
Like the fake Kraft kind of weird cheese?
BB: Yeah! And even your “good” cheese that you get in like Walmart or whatever, is nothing on even Value cheese in the UK. (laughs)
AT: And also American chocolate is generally terrible as well, I have to say.
BB: Cheese and chocolate, things that start with “CH” in America.
Did you guys sneak any over from the UK?
BB: Well ours melt really quickly over here! That’s why yours apparently taste different, because you have to put like a waxing agent in so that it doesn’t melt in the heat, cause everywhere it’s so hot. The UK is cold, so we don’t have to put that. So ours tastes better. There you go. Chocolate facts for you, with As It Is. (laughs)
Speaking of food…
BB: Nice segue, I like that. (laughs)
If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
BB: Sushi. I don’t even have to think about it.
AT: We have this thing called Marmite in the UK, and I don’t know if it’s made over here.
I’ve heard that word but I have no idea what it is. (laughs)
AT: It’s like a yeast extract spread.
BB: And it sounds disgusting.
AT: Yeah, it sounds bad, but it’s delicious! And so mine would be that, on toast.
Hmm. Okay, alright.
BB: I think you can get it in the “exotic food” section!
AT: Yeah, it costs about five times as much as it does in the UK.
BB: I should’ve brought some over, although I’d probably just have marmite all over my clothes. (laughs)
What would you say are your main goals as a band?
BB: To still be a band! My thing with the album is that I want it to be an album that people still listen to in 10 years time, because all my favorite albums are like 10 years old. I’d love to have that kind of longevity with the fans, even if it’s only a small amount. But we don’t necessarily see an end-goal. I see it more as this journey that we’re going to see where it takes us.
AT: And enjoy the ride, basically.
BB: We’ve pretty much achieved more than we ever expected to already, so now the rest is just a surprise!
AT: If we’re still doing this in 15-20 years, that’d be cool.
BB: If I’m not dead in 15-20 years, that’d be cool. (laughs)
Yeah, that’s the goal. Stay alive.
BB: Yeah, stay alive, still be a band. Somehow manage to fit in some sleep. That’s a big goal.
Any last sentiments for fans?
BB: Thank you for coming and seeing us on the Warped Tour, and still coming to see us even if we clash with Pierce the Veil. (laughs)