Could New Years Day have made the poppiest metal record of 2019? Or perhaps the most metallic pop album? Frontwoman Ash Costello celebrates the occasion with Brendan Crabb.
That New Years Day has covered artists as wide-ranging as Pantera, Linkin Park, New Order and Kehlani is indicative of their musical outlook's breadth. When it came to crafting what would become hook-laden fourth LP Unbreakable, frontwoman Ash Costello's goals were clear.
“I only write music that I enjoy listening to, so it really depends on what I'm into,” she explains via phone, a couple of weeks removed from the band's first trek Down Under as part of the Download Festival. “'Cause I don't want to write music and be like, 'Oh, New Years Day has to sound heavy, but I'm not into that kind of music.' That's a horrible perspective to have. So I really enjoy catchiness with heavy riffs. The melodies are so catchy on this record, and I did that purposely.”
Before writing infectious single Skeletons in 2018, the Californian act had an album’s worth of songs, then canned them, deeming the results unsatisfactory. “Once we turned [the new album] in, our label came back and said, 'Well, you've either made the poppiest metal album or the most metal pop album,' and I couldn't have been happier with that description. That's exactly what I was going for, it's exactly what I wanted people to think. Because I love metal and heavy music, but it's not enjoyable, some of those vocals for me to listen to or sing along to. I just wanted it to be more fun.”
Lyrically, the singer dug deep again, but was also more direct. “The previous albums I beat myself up. I'm like, 'Is this the most deep way I can paint what I'm saying here?' in metaphors and imagery. [This time] I was like, 'Why do I have to do that, if I just want to say it?' If I just want to say the words, ‘Don’t tell me what I want, shut up and give it to me,' why can't I just say it? So I kinda threw all that out the window and just went straight for a literal attack on the way I was feeling and expressing that.”
And it's clear New Years Day is based around the vocalist's vision. The cheery Costello admits as much, and while the group has a lengthy list of ex-members, she's forged ahead undeterred. “It is very scary, because if it doesn't go well then it's all my fault,” the singer offers.
Does she put a lot of pressure on herself to succeed? “Oh yeah, but that's just how I live. I feel like if you want to achieve greatness, you have to put a lot of pressure on yourself to try and do better. And always be self-evaluating. 'Can I be doing more? Can I be doing better? Am I giving it the best I've got?' I'm no stranger to pressure; I actually thrive on pressure.”
"I'm no stranger to pressure; I actually thrive on pressure.”
Although New Years Day has been a going concern for more than a decade, Costello says it was only four or five years ago that she truly doubled down and the group became her fully fledged occupation. “New Years Day took up so much of my life that I had to make it my full-time job. [Beforehand] I was just doing the band, but just not making any money from it,” she laughs. “I've always dedicated my full-time to the band, but never really been able to have a job. I'll do like side work like design work or songwriting. I used to sing for commercials, like commercial jingles and stuff. It was a weird experience, but it pays really well,” Costello chuckles.
Like a terrible yearbook photo, thanks to the wonders of the internet it's rare for such past endeavours to remain buried once an artist rises to prominence. Not the case here though, it seems. “One of the ones I did was sing a KFC commercial way back in the day. I sang songs about chicken. I've actually tried to find it because I want to show it to people, and I can't find it anywhere. It was a long time ago, before everything got filmed and put on YouTube. I wasn't well known at all back then, so no one would have recognised my voice, or known to save it.”