Two years ago, it would’ve been easy to look at You Me At Six’s career and wonder if they’d hit the peak of their powers. Having scored themselves a Number One album with fourth record ‘Cavalier Youth’, an arena tour would follow just a year later and all of a sudden, the Surrey five-piece found themselves co-headlining The O2 and topping the bill at Slam Dunk Festival. But, as any rock band who’ve risen through the ranks of the mainstream soon comes to learn, sometimes the next barrier is one calling out to be smashed right through.
That’s why, after a smattering of shows across 2015, the quintet all but disappeared. Their social media lay dormant, their touring schedule vanished. But the time away from the glare of the spotlight became a key part in what they would do next; the break was a tool for survival.
“I think it was about finding our hunger again,” begins drummer Dan Flint, on why this was such an important move for them. Just as 2016 is drawing to a close, three of the band sit backstage at Dingwalls to discuss new record ‘Night People’; an album that sees the band rejuvenated and confident. “We probably could’ve gone into a studio, recorded an album and gone back out on tour but maybe we would’ve resented going back out. We needed to go away to really find that fire in our bellies; to not only write good music, but to then also spend the next two years going out and playing it live. It sounds ungrateful to say we didn’t enjoy that – obviously we love it – but you’ve got to go out there and believe it, give it your all. It takes a hell of a lot to do that, to go away and miss all your friends and family. So it was more about finding that inspiration again, and that want to really go out and prove we’ve made something amazing.”
In the eyes of some, it could’ve been career suicide, but having spent close to a decade riding on the momentum they gained from album to album, that approach no longer felt like an option. “I think we’ve always entertained the idea of doing things that people don’t expect us to do,” frontman Josh Franceschi throws in. He’s probably right. “I think even the fact that You Me At Six is still a band ten years later, is us not doing what we were meant to do. I don’t think it’s an arrogant standpoint but we really do believe in what we’re doing and we don’t necessarily need outside validation.
“We really do believe in what we’re doing.”
“The easiest thing for us to do would’ve been to make ‘Cavalier Youth’ or ‘Sinners Never Sleep’ part two,” he continues, “written a record in two or three months, and put it out a few months after that. Maybe some fans would’ve wanted that but ultimately, we’re not making music for anyone but ourselves. This time, we really wanted to make sure we made something that justified all of our fans’ support because to not make your best record at that moment in time is a real shame.”
Over the course of eighteen months, the band found themselves going back to basics. Rather than speed through it all over again - “sometimes, we’ve felt pressured to rush that process,” admits Josh, “and maybe we’ve overlooked certain things” - the group decided to take their time, schedule in rehearsals at Dan’s own studio, and bring ideas to the table as and when they had them.
“For us to love the record, we needed to take that time away,” bassist Matt Barnes continues. “Some weeks, we would go in the studio once a week, but everyone was coming in with so many ideas that the session wasn’t boring because there was so much new shit going on. Instead of turning up and going through the motions, it was fresh and exciting the whole time. It felt like a different thing than we’d ever been used to and it put us on our toes and we ended up writing loads of songs, then picking ten out of fifty or sixty.”
“Music isn’t meant to be regimented or perfect.”
And with the gift of time, the band were able to concentrate on the narrative of their new record too. This time around, it was about getting the right set of songs to match up to what they wanted to say. It became about more than just the tracks themselves but about the light and shade of the record, the feel of it all.
“It was also an interesting twelve months for us to all grow up a little bit – not in terms of maturity – but to take a step up in terms of musicianship,” adds Josh. After demoing tracks at Dan’s studio, it was then that they travelled to Nashville, Tennessee to work with Kings of Leon producer Jacquire King. There, at his Blackbird Studios, they’d face a new challenge altogether. “You can’t underestimate how tight these guys had to be to record an album live,” Josh goes on. “There are a lot of bands who wouldn’t be able to make records live because there’s some weak links in the group. The only way we were able to execute that was through the amount of rehearsing we did, and that in itself speaks volumes.
“I really feel like by recording live, songs like ‘Plus One’ or ‘Swear’,” he continues, “the whole point of those tracks is that you understand the groove or the energy or the mood of that song. You wouldn’t get that any other way.” “Music isn’t meant to be regimented or perfect,” Dan picks up. “So many people record and get every instrument to be so perfect but that’s not what music is. Music is a movement and a feeling.”
‘Night People’ is a record that embodies that spirit. With their fifth album, the band have managed to explore an array of different musical avenues, but developed the confidence to know which to pursue. It’s an album that will undoubtedly throw some fans off – the sugary highs of its predecessor have been swapped for roughed-up vocals and bigger riffs - but it really does nail the energy and feel of their live shows. So, what exactly are You Me At Six saying with this new album, as a whole? The answer’s simple.
“That we’re one of the best bands in the world,” Josh answers without flickering, his confidence taking the driving seat, “which I think we are. I actually think this is the best You Me At Six record we’ve ever made, and I don’t think there are many bands out there that do what we do, and do it better.”
You Me At Six’s new album ‘Night People’ is out now.
Photos: Ed Miles