Neck Deep vocalist Ben Barlow explains why the band had to write 2020’s experimental 'All Distortions Are Intentional' to get where they are now as their 2023 Australian tour approaches.
Before a little series called Welcome To Wrexham premiered on FX (Disney+ in Australia) in August 2022, no one was really all that familiar with the town Neck Deep came from.
A Welshman through and through, vocalist Ben Barlow catches up with Kill Your Stereo from his home in the lead-up to the band’s September 2023 Australian tour. “I would hope that, at the very least, it [Welcome To Wrexham] has inspired people from Wrexham to do something,” Barlow says over Zoom from his couch. Wearing a Manchester United jumper, he promises he’s not betraying the local lads – why not support both teams?
In case you missed it: Welcome To Wrexham is a series about the Wrexham soccer team, but by the end of the first season, it’s evident that it’s a show about so much more. Actors Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) and Rob McElhenny (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) successfully completed a deal to buy Wrexham A.F.C. in February 2021.
Welcome To Wrexham tells the story of a “struggling” soccer club and, consequently, the tale of a town that had become lifeless. The Hollywood duo paired “TV money” and “superhero, movie star money” and aimed at reviving the world's third-oldest professional association soccer team, founded in 1864.
With Reynolds and McElhenny’s purchase of the club and their subsequent visits to Wrexham and the team’s matches, the spirit of the community lifted alongside the team’s significant improvements. Wrexham won the National League for 2022/23, finally gaining promotion after 15 miserable years and getting into the EFL League Two.
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It’s a promising time of possibilities and hope in Wrexham, and people in and outside the town feel it, too. Recently, UK BBC Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo spun Neck Deep on the station, “and she confirmed that we’re the most famous people to ever come out of Wrexham,” Barlow laughs.
“Wrexham truly needed something like this – it truly needed somebody with a platform and with some pull to come along and go, ‘I can see potential in this little town; I can see the charm of the town,’” Barlow explains. With the series, “They're putting the charm of the town out there in the documentary and stuff because it is a pretty rough and rowdy place.
“We've written songs about it; it's one of those places where it's very working class and people like a drink and people like a scrap, and there’s not really much reason to go there, or there wasn't before the football,” he says, noting that before Welcome To Wrexham, there were plenty of reasons to get out and not many to stay. “They've come along and shone this light on Wrexham, which is a town like countless other places in the UK. I do think it gives towns like that a little bit of hope.”
Neck Deep was formed in 2012, and like all the most memorable pop-punk bands, they do indeed write songs about their small town and unrequited love. Since releasing their first EPs, 2012’s Rain In July and 2013’s A History Of Bad Decisions, the group dropped their debut album, Wishful Thinking, in 2014. They followed it up with Life’s Not Out To Get You in 2015, The Peace And The Panic in 2017, and most recently, All Distortions Are Intentional in 2020.
For a long time, Neck Deep have flown the flag for people with bigger ambitions, just like them. Barlow says that just because you’re from a “shithole town”, you can still do anything. “You can take the thing that makes your town special – take the spirit of your town, make it your own and show that to the world. I think that's what we did.”
This September, the little band from Wrexham will return to Australia with special guests Yours Truly for the first time since December 2018. Neck Deep’s run of shows begins on Tuesday, 5 September, at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre, followed by Sydney’s Roundhouse, Brisbane’s The Tivoli, Adelaide’s Hindley St Music Hall and concludes in WA at Metropolis Fremantle. Barlow loves playing for Australian audiences, not only because the shows are “sick” but because he loves the people.
“Australia has the best bits of America and the UK,” he says, complimenting the cities that “sort of look like California” and “a similar sense of humour to British culture”. But there are some nerves about playing the Roundhouse in Sydney, thanks to the venue being one of his friend’s favourite venues and, well, the sheer size of the place.
“It’s good to take the step up, especially after being away for so long,” Barlow continues, “The fans out there still care [about Neck Deep] and know that we're still active. It’s great to know that we can get bigger off our merit of writing songs that people like. I'm hoping – we’ll definitely have one more song out – by the time we come out to Australia. There'll be some new shit for people to get down to [laughs]. It’s just good that we're not playing ten people, you know, we're coming back, and we're coming back strong.”
Their next song, Barlow shares, is about aliens “in a fun way,” the singer chuckles. “I think this album that we've got on the horizon is, you know–we're happy to be a pop punk band again.”
With 2020’s experimental All Distortions Are Intentional, Neck Deep were ready to evolve into something different. It’s the album they had to write – “If we hadn’t written ADAI when we did, I don't think we'd be so keen to write pop punk songs again,” Barlow explains. “We're feeling great writing pop-punk songs again.
“We've learned so much with our songwriting in general; we've become very good songwriters in our own right,” he says. “I think it's the most polished version of Neck Deep so far. These songs are just fun, and we’re not taking ourselves too seriously. We've basically done 90% of the production and recording ourselves, apart from drums – we went somewhere to do that. We’ve pretty much built this record from the ground up with little to no outside help.
“By that factor alone, it’s the most Neck Deep record there's ever been, or at least since our first record, Wishful Thinking. It's the first time since then that we've done everything ourselves.” Barlow’s brother, Seb, who produced music for Neck Deep for a long time, now plays bass in the band and engineered and produced their upcoming album. Barlow thinks fans will be “stoked” with new music, adding with a laugh, “I think the next song that we put out about aliens will be a good indication of what the record is gonna sound like.”
Neck Deep’s current outlook towards pop-punk and music, in general, is evident in their latest single, Heartbreak Of The Century, which had a simple goal behind the songwriting: “Don’t overthink it”.
The band wanted to write a big, catchy chorus fans could immediately remember and “Give people all the emotions they want when they're listening to a pop punk song. The best thing about music is when a song describes how you feel perfectly.”
On STFU, the single released before Heartbreak Of The Century, Barlow ended up writing a song unlike other Neck Deep numbers by getting into social commentary. The singer quickly realised that the more Neck Deep played the track live, STFU became a note-to-self type moment.
Barlow’s criticism of “social media culture, flex culture, grind set and all that sort of shit” is his attempt to understand the “madness” in the world, encouraging listeners to stop screaming into the void that is Twitter or Facebook and simply “SHUT THE FUCK UP.” He also hopes to take his own advice there.
Screaming in the void, aliens, touring Australia, Welcome To Wrexham, what more do you need to talk about in an interview? “When I say I’m from Wrexham now, [people are like] ‘Oh, Ryan Reynolds and that dude from It’s Always Sunny,” Barlow exclaims with a laugh. As a ten-year-old, he recalls writing to the blink-182 fan club, asking his mum, “’Do you think they'll know where Wrexham is?’ My mum was like, ‘Absolutely not. No one's ever gonna know where it is’. And now it's like, I bet they know where it is now!” And so do we.
Neck Deep will tour Australia with special guests Yours Truly this September. You can find ticketing details on the Live Nation website.
TUESDAY 5 SEPTEMBER – THE FORUM, MELBOURNE
THURSDAY 7 SEPTEMBER – ROUNDHOUSE, SYDNEY
FRIDAY 8 SEPTEMBER – THE TIVOLI, BRISBANE
SATURDAY 9 SEPTEMBER – HINDLEY ST MUSIC HALL, ADELAIDE
MONDAY 11 SEPTEMBER – METROPOLIS FREMANTLE, FREMANTLE