After a lot of apologetic tapping on shoulders and stepping on toes, I find myself squeezed tightly between the barrier and the stage at a Neck Deep show. Even before the band ever takes the stage, I can say with certainty that their set is going to be insane. This crowd is legitimately the largest I’ve ever seen at a Warped Tour amphitheater set—the fans that have secured a spot at the barrier are surging forward hopefully each time the lights flicker, straining against the metal structure separating me from the crowd. Against my will, I now know exactly what a red-faced gentleman in a backwards camo snapback had on his hotdog for lunch, because I am approximately 6 inches away from his face. I am overwhelmed. I barely have the mobility to reach into my backpack, let alone to turn and face the broad shouldered security guard waving his hands as he barrels towards the photo pit. He starts yelling at the photographers over the blaring crunkcore background music. “I’m gonna let you be here for 3 songs, like usual,” he bellows, “but if the crowd surfers get too dangerous, you’re gonna have to get out of here.” A pang of adrenaline surges down my spine as I become acutely aware of the likelihood that I’m about to get kicked in the face. There’s a nervous exhilaration bubbling in the pit of my stomach—this is how those National Geographic photographers must feel as they’re approaching a pack of lions. Before I have time to panic, Neck Deep rocket onto the stage, already bouncing to the opening riff of “Losing Teeth”. I brace myself and the chaos begins.
***Disclaimer: I did not get kicked in the face. Thank god. But Neck Deep frontman Ben Barlow’s melodically abrasive sing-yelling, paired with the group’s penchant for double time drum lines, can sometimes feel like it’s own assault to the senses (in the best way, of course). Since their formation in 2012, the British 4-piece has released 2 EPs and 2 albums, the most recent of which, 2015’s “Life’s Not out to Get You”, charted at number 8 in the UK and number 17 in the US. In Neck Deep’s mere 3 years, they have already been through some intense ups and downs—they were signed to Hopeless Records, won the Kerrang! Award for 2014 Best British Newcomer, and gained fans in blink-182; but this August, they lost a member when guitarist Lloyd Roberts stepped down after allegations of sexual misconduct. Nevertheless, the band is still swinging—they’re currently touring the US with All Time Low and Sleeping with Sirens.
In mid-July, I caught up with Ben Barlow and bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans to chat about their riotous crowds, Warped Tour run, and playing alongside their heroes.
How has Warped Tour been for you so far?
Ben Barlow: Very good! It’s our second time out, so we kind of know the ropes a little bit, we’re not the new kids. It feels like we’ve settled in a lot quicker this time around and generally it’s just been, is it three weeks now…? Really? Fourth week? We’ve lost track of days already, and we’ve just been hanging out hard, so it’s cool.
Does it seem like it’s going faster than it is?
BB: Yeah, actually. It does feel like it’s going way faster.
Fil Thorpe-Evans: Yeah, I feel like once you get to this point, it starts rolling pretty fast. The days start to blend a little bit.
BB: It seemed like last year it went a lot slower, but maybe that was cause now we know it. It seems like—you know when you make a really long journey in a car, it seems to take forever to get there, but then on the way back it’s way quicker? I feel like it’s a case of that. Because we’ve done it once, we’re kind of used to the timing of things. But yeah, it’s good fun.
Is it really like a “punk-rock summer camp” deal, where everyone is really close?
FTE: It really is!
BB: Yeah! Well it depends; you definitely have circles of friends, but not in a bad way. You’re obviously going to gel with people that you gel with, and if you don’t talk to other people, that’s probably just because you never get to meet them. Cause how many crew members are there? There are like 800 people who work behind the scenes, you know, 800 people moving from city to city every day. It’s unlikely that you’re going to speak to all of them. Little cliques kind of form, but not in a bad way. So yeah, in a way, I guess it kind of is like a summer camp!
FTE: … I agree, I agree. (laughs)
Yeah, I heard there are big barbeques every night and stuff like that!
FTE: Yeah, there’s a barbeque near enough every night, unless there’s a long drive and the bus call is really early. They’re always themed and it’s always like “do this”, but they always end up being the same. They’re good, there’s always someone DJing, and there’s burgers and hot dogs, and a bar…
BB: And good vibes.
FTE: Most people will get pretty drunk and party pretty hard and there’s always a big dance party and all the bands hang out…
That sounds awesome.
BB: Last night was a PBR-beque, and tonight it’s like animal-themed barbeque. Featuring “Kevin Lion-man”, they said. (laughs)
That’s really fun! So how have the crowds and fan interactions been on Warped?
BB: Really good!
FTE: Great! Warped is a really good one for fan interactions cause you’ve got your whole day to walk around and meet people. Crowds have been great, everyone’s in high spirits. It’s Warped Tour, and if you get a good set time, people dance and party pretty hard.
BB: Yeah, generally, kids are really happy and really stoked on the day, so everyone’s in a good mood. And like we said, it’s a good opportunity to meet fans and put yourself out there. Fan reception has been awesome, we’ve had a sick crowd every day, met a bunch of fans, and it just seems like everyone’s really stoked. It seems like it’s been a natural progression since last year—people are saying our crowds have doubled and stuff, and that’s always good to see and hear! People are saying that we’re making progress, and it feels like we’re making progress, so it’s been awesome.
Has there been a lot of moshing or crowd surfing?
BB: Oh yeah! (laughs)
FTE: That happens every day!
BB: Apparently, on our stage, we’re one of the only bands that they have to call in extra security for, cause there’s so many crowd surfers and shit! But we tell people to do that. We want people to crowd surf, we want people to mosh, we want people to fucking move around and have a good time. So what if you get hurt? Fuck it, it’s all part of the fun! Move around, swing your arms, jump on people and have a good time! That’s kind of what the music’s written for.
I think that’s definitely something to be proud of, that they have to call extra security!
BB: If we can command that, if we go out and from the first note people are crowd surfing and fucking having a good time, then we’re doing something right.
You guys are signed to Hopeless, and you won the Kerrang Best Newcomer Award. How has your experience in a band changed since signing to a label and receiving all this praise for your music?
FTE: Not that differently. I mean, all the changes and the way it grows—to the outside it probably feels like it happens quickly, but to us it feels like it happens slower. You don’t just suddenly go from a van to a bus. You don’t suddenly wake up and you’ve got 15 crew, every tour grows a little bit. It’s like, “Now we have a guitar tech, now we have a drum tech, now we have this guy.” It builds very slowly, it’s always one new thing at a time. Its not like, “Cool, there’s 5 of us in a van, and now that we won that award, now there’s like 20 of us, now lets get a bus.” It doesn’t work like that. It happens quite naturally. As you get bigger, you’ll do a tour and you’ll learn, “Oh fuck, we needed someone to do this job on this tour, cause it was really hard without them,” so you fill that role. Then you do another tour and you learn, “Fuck, we needed somebody to do this next tour,” and then you fill that role. It just builds until all the bases are covered.
BB: It feels like, even though we know what we’re doing and we’re very comfortable with ourselves in the band, we’re still definitely learning how to be a bigger band. You see all these bands that play main stage, and they got it locked—they’ve been on fucking buses full time, they’ve got pure crew, they’ve got it all going. We’re building ourselves up to that and slowly learning. We still make mistakes from time to time, and it’s all about learning from those mistakes, same as anything else… We’re on our way. I wouldn’t say we’ve quite made it just yet. We’re still just a bunch of idiots who are trying to learn the ropes and trying to ultimately have a good time doing it. But we’ll get there.
Have you had any big dream-come-true moments in the band?
BB: Pretty much the ultimate dream already came true about a year ago—just after Warped last year, we played with blink-182!
FTE: We played a smaller club show. It was Brixton Academy so it was like 6000 people, but by their standards, that’s like a small show. They asked us and we wanted to do it, obviously, and we did it and it was amazing. We got to meet Mark [Hoppus] and Travis [Barker] and talk to them…
BB: Basically, we just got to play alongside our heroes.
FTE: They’d come out onstage sound checking while we’re sorting some gear out, which was pretty crazy.
BB: Yeah, we were just like, “Okay, I’m watching Blink sound check over here.”
FTE: It was crazy that we did it, but it was more crazy that they’re aware of our band! And now we know that they’re aware of our band and keep track of our band.
BB: Mark is supportive of our band.
FTE: Mark is a big Neck Deep fan, man! He has our new album that’s not out yet and he loves it. Like he’s messaged us personally just to tell us how much he loves it.
FTE: It’s pretty ridiculous.
So for that show, he found you himself and was like, “Do you want to play this?”
BB: I think it got shown to him.
FTE: Yeah, I think people showed it to him. There are some people at our label who are pretty tight with those guys. He came up like, “What’s cool, what bands should I be checking out?” And a close friend of his just said, “Here are some bands that are pretty cool at the minute,” and our name was on the list, and he liked that one the best. He was like, “Yeah, that one’s cool.”
BB: But Travis’ daughter is also a big fan.
FTE: Oh yeah, Travis’ daughter is a huge fan.
BB: She sat side stage the whole time, singing every word.
Wow, that’s crazy.
BB: So maybe she had a helping hand. If she did, then… that’s sick. (laughs)
FTE: Yeah, I think she did! (laughs)
BB: Yeah, she got us that gig! (laughs)
Did you hook them up with a bunch of Neck Deep swag?
FTE: Oh yeah!
BB: We were like, pick whatever you want, take it! We don’t care. (laughs)
Do you think touring in the UK is very different from touring in America?
BB: Not massively.
FTE: There’s some differences. I mean, the shows themselves aren’t too different. The differences are just what would be different if you were going across the country anyway.
BB: I’d say the kids out here are better crowd surfers, but kids in the UK and Europe chant riffs. Like, if there’s a guitar riff, they’ll chant the riff. And that’s sick! (laughs) I think crowds will act slightly differently, but it’s pretty much the same. You still get crowd surfers, stage divers, and moshers at every show. I’d only say touring the US is slightly different in the sense you have to drive way further, and you’re out here for 2 months at a time on tour. In the UK, you can do that thing in a week, and the most you’ll drive is like 4 or 5 hours. As far as crowd goes, and reception, and just general vibe, it’s pretty much the same. I’d say the scene is a little stronger out here, though. Obviously, it’s just where our audience is.
So there’s no difference in meeting fans or anything?
FTE: For us personally, I don’t think so. We’ve always been quite blessed and done really well out here—
FTE: #blessed. We’ve been really lucky with the states. A lot of British bands really struggle, and we’ve just always been quite lucky. We’ve always had a really committed and strong fan base out here, so for us, it’s pretty much the same.
What are your biggest goals as a band?
FTE: Right now… just to release a killer album.
BB: Release the next album, but ultimately, the long run goal is really just to write consistently good records, keep putting out good stuff, keep playing big shows, and really just keep stepping it up. We never want to take a step back.
FTE: I think for me, and for us, it’s about getting to that next stage of being, as a band. The part we’re in at the minute, it feels like we’re quite near the top of it, and that’s great, but I’d like to take a step into the next bit. And that’s just what happens with time and work and touring. We’re working towards it and I think it will happen, but yeah, I think that’s the next thing for us.
Any final sentiments for fans?
BB: Just thanks for checking us out! If you preordered the album or checked out the new album in any way, shape, or form, thank you very much. Hopefully we’ll see you at a show sometime soon! Love ya.