A Day In the Life With Neck Deep on Warped Tour

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Elliott Ingham
Neck Deep

Summer’s winding down, but for U.K. pop-punk rockers Neck Deep, things are just starting to heat up with the release of their third studio album, The Peace and The Panic.

Gearing up for the release, Neck Deep spent their summer on Warped Tour, hyping fans with performances of a select few of their upcoming songs, and allowing Billboard the opportunity to shadow them for a day at their Jones Beach, NY, stop July 8.

Early on the guys’ tour hit a snag, when their tour bus’ air conditioning malfunctioned on some of the hottest stops on the tour. “We had to go from Las Vegas to New Mexico with no air,” bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans explains.

In the close quarters of the bus -- and with additional friends on board -- the band spent two days in sweltering heat, stopping every few hours to hop off the bus and briefly relish in the fresh, albeit still hot, air.

“We were sitting in the front of the bus, in swim shorts, with tons of ice in the cooler, and after two hours it was all melted,” recalls guitarist Sam Bowden.

But they took it in stride, enjoying any brief downtime they found. A favorite way of killing time was taking their “rigs” -- motorized Coleman mini-bikes -- for a ride between the buses. One of their many ventures left Bowden with a few scrapes and a hefty purple-and-yellow bruise down his thigh.

Even though today's Neck Deep set isn’t until 4:45 p.m., the band doesn’t have much free time. Drummer Dani Washington is already out working the line and prepping the tent: promoting the band, The Entertainment Institute class he’ll be teaching later that day, and his independent clothing line The Rain Supply.

For half an hour the rest of the band -- Thorpe, Bowden, singer Ben Barlow, and rhythm guitarist Matt West -- gather under the tent pitched behind their bus, while masses of attendees continue to file into the venue.

The tent bears both an American and a British flag, and as discussion turns to their latest album Barlow notes the likeness between the two countries current states of social and political turmoil. The shared discord of which influenced a few of their new tracks, specifically “Happy Judgment Day.”

“We’re all on the same page politically, but I’m definitely the most vocal and putting stuff on my page,” Barlow tells Billboard. “I think about the time we were writing that [“Happy Judgment Day”] there was all this talk of bombs and crazy shit. That song in particular wasn’t supposed to be a straight-up political song. I wanted to go for the zeitgeist; for the feeling of the time. “

While the members of Neck Deep do harbor their own personal political leanings, their aim isn’t to persuade listeners to come to the band’s own beliefs, but to encourage people to involve themselves in a larger context.

“If we can inspire our fans to even be interested in the world around them, interested in politics and realize that it’s not this boring game that doesn’t mean anything -- it is important,” explains Barlow. “It does mean something and we have a platform, and I’ve been told many times, ‘You’ve got a platform, use it for something fucking good.’ So if we can inspire someone to take an interest in politics or take an interest in the world or society, then that’s something good that we feel good about.”

“We travel to so many different places and meet so many people, your worldview changes,” Bowden adds.

“The more lackadaisical people get about shit, the more they’re putting the power in someone else’s hands, and that can be dangerous,” Barlow counters. “We aren’t a political band, but that is one part of Neck Deep. We have a positive outlook on life, but we do talk about death. Kind of just being quite existential about things, like looking at how you kind of go through life -- part of that is politics and part of that is trying to get people to care about the right things without going full-range on it.”

These larger implications are examined lyrically throughout The Peace and The Panic, and like most artists, have been drawn from personal experiences. “It’s tough,” Barlow divulges, leaning forward in his chair and placing his coffee mug on the ground. “My dad died while we were on tour. I got a call one morning and they were like, ‘He’s in the hospital; you need to go. You need to come home,’ and by the time I got to the airport he was gone. So that was fucked up. That was the thing that I was most scared of.

“That fucked me up, and that obviously put me in a weird place for a minute about being on tour,” he continues. “Like, shit, can I go away on tour for another couple of months with that in the back of my mind? Knowing that the last time I went away was the last time I saw my dad. And it kind of fucked me up, but then the writing process was super therapeutic and it became a time for me to let loose.”

Soon after the loss of Barlow’s father, tragedy struck again when Thorpe’s father also passed away. “We weren’t actually on tour, but we were a couple days from going on tour, and I wasn’t even in the country at the time,” explains Thorpe. “And again, it was very unexpected, there wasn’t much warning, it was just in a day. So just going from that to knowing in two days I’ve got to be on tour playing shows, it’s hard. You never really know what to do, what to feel, what to say about it. You just kind of have to go and digest it in the way that you can.”

Though this trying time left them contemplating life and death, the two remain steadfast that their fathers would be gratified in how they’ve managed and continued on. “Both of our dads would have been super, super proud of us, and it would never be like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Barlow tells Billboard. “When we finished the tour we had some time off and it was kind of like, ‘Shit, well, there’s the next record. It’s gonna take me a few months to get all my thoughts in order and make sure I’m in the right place after all of this.' And I didn’t want to set out to write an album about losing someone, but from that, a lot of the record became about death. I got to thinking about death a lot.”

Despite the darker aspects, the album isn't entirely focused on heavy topics. “We were thinking that the balance is right, that we’re in the right place and it’s touched on in the right amount and the right way,” explains Thorpe. “But we’ve got that shift in perspective, it strikes a balance between the two [life and death]. You’ve got to find a balance.”

“That’s why it’s called The Peace and The Panic, because rather than just be like, ‘Hey, everything is sweet!’ it’s like your life can be awesome too, but I still think life’s out to get you,” Barlow adds, referencing the band’s last album, which peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200. “I do think that what you put in is what you get out, but there are some things that are unavoidable. The bad things in life come and it’s inevitable. The Peace and The Panic deals with death, and failure, and all this other shit alongside the good stuff as well. You can’t have the bad without the good.”

This is echoed later at their meet-and-greet, where a line of fans is wrapping in and out of other tents anxiously waiting to meet the Brits. “Their music is really good to relate to, in terms of lyrics and stuff,” teenage fan Bonnie Chen tells Billboard. “It’s just a variety of emotions; I love it.”

While their lyrical content is cited by most fans, some like Daphne are equally drawn to the versatility of the band’s sound, from acoustic gems to swelling chord progressions. “You know how some bands just have one sound straight through?” explains Daphne, beaming from ear to ear. “They [Neck Deep] don’t, and I just love that. I’m so excited right now, I might cry.”

This versatility isn’t something Neck Deep specifically planned out, but rather grew organically through their process. “We went into it saying, ‘Let’s just do what we do. Let’s not set any goals for ourselves, and just write what we want to write.' And it ended up coming out as a really progressive Neck Deep,” says Barlow. “As long as it was a progression of our sound -- and it was us moving forward and writing a good record -- that was all we wanted.”

An immense crowd looms when Neck Deep finally takes the stage, with fans engulfing the designated viewing area and spilling over past multiple tents. Attendees sing and crowd surf to every song -- from staple tracks like “Kali Ma” to their new single “Happy Judgment Day” -- leaving stage security working hard throughout.

Being the tight-knit crew they are, the band even gives a special shout-out to their publicist, Dayna Travers, who arrived just in time for their set despite enduring a harrowing week working from the hospital in the face of a family emergency.

As they leave the stage, sweat-dripped but all smiles, the band heads back to the bus to briefly change before four of the five members set out to teach fan-classes for The Entertainment Institute. While Barlow heads to the press room to hold interviews, the rest of the guys prep to demonstrate classes on everything from creating a break-out band, to drumming technique, to the art of riffing.

It’s this hard-working attitude that partially drew Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman to the band. “They take advantage of every opportunity when they’re out here. They’re not slacking off, they’re not sitting on the bus playing video games,” Lyman tells Billboard. “That’s the kind of band that -- if we’re gonna develop new headliners, especially in this scene, and during what is a tumultuous time for this scene -- that is what we need.”

At the end of the day -- as members head outside to shower, pack their gear, and steal some time to visit with other bands and friends -- this is what Neck Deep are living for.

“If I didn’t have this band when my dad passed away, I’d probably still be at home, in a hole trying to figure it out,” says Barlow. “This is all therapy. It’s always been therapy to write music and to have that outlet. I’m happy for the small stuff: just good people, the fact that we get to do this. That is the peace. The peace is those moments of clarity when you realize you do have the good, and make sense of everything. It’s spending time with your girlfriend or your best friends, when you have a good moment out here. That’s the peace, that’s the shit you live for. Finding happiness in the small things.”

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