Barakat and Fisher met when the latter did some co-writing for All Time Low's 2017 album Last Young Renegade. They bonded over life circumstances; Each had gone through a painful breakup, which provided the story that informs the four songs on Stages. "We were both going through really similar things," recalls Fisher, who as Sweet Talker has written for OneRepublic, 5 Seconds of Summer and others. "It started out as just hanging out and talking about stuff relating to each other. And I'm in the studio every day, so I said, 'Maybe we should just try and write something, the two of us.' We didn't really have any expectations. Then everything started pouring out and we turned them into songs, and songs we liked. It was very natural and very unexpected, but it turned out really cool."
Barakat adds that Fisher "was just a good friend, being there for me during a rough time. He had a lot of good insights into breakups and how to get over it, 'cause he'd been through the ringer, too. We didn't have to look hard for things to write about."
Stages -- a blend of rock and electronic that the duo calls "dark pop" -- chronicle the stages of breakup grief, culminating in a wish of "Why Can't We Be Friends." "Wish We Never Met," meanwhile, was the second song Barakat and Fisher attempted, with a message obvious in its title and stemming from therapy Barakat was going through after his breakup.
"To be honest, I was over all the shit," Barakat remembers. "I'm driving out to sessions, spending money, spending so much time with this (therapist). I remember going, 'God, I just wish I'd never met this girl. I wouldn't be going through this.' So we're sitting in the studio and Kevin's asking, 'What have you been going through? Tell me about your sessions.' And I said, 'I wish the best for this girl, but I wish I'd never met her' and Kevin said, 'There's the song, right there!' It was kind of that simple. The rest of the song wrote itself in 30 minutes."
Fisher says that WhoHurtYou -- the group name comes from questions friends asked after hearing the songs -- has been good for Barakat beyond the emotional healing. "He's stepping outside of his wheelhouse for the first time. He's definitely been involved in all the music before, playing guitar and all that, but I feel like it's the first time he's personally super-attached to the lyrics. It's obviously his story all over this, so it's different than what he does in (All Time Low)."
Barakat and Fisher both hope WhoHurtYou will play live but have no firm plans yet. They do consider their pairing to be a going concern, however, and are already working on more material, which Fisher predicts "will build on" the themes explored on the EP. "These are the (songs) we thought told our story the best," Barakat says. "It does feel like we have a special connection together. The songwriting feels natural, never forced, so this is the start of something that could be really special. I'm just excited I got to, for the first time, try something I secretly inside of myself wanted to do for a long time. It's like I finally got to scratch an itch."