Your next favourite American punk pop front man, Ben Liebsch talks to DIY in his underwear. By email, obv.
Little bands who get screwed around by the music industry usually just disappear when no one’s looking, run home to their parents and get a proper job. Hardly any of them keep going, and far fewer have the guts to talk about the bad times for fear of repercussions.
You Me And Everyone We Know, though, thrive off their past problems. Their debut album, which was released in the States at the end of last year (available digitally in the UK), opens with a track called ‘Shock And Awe’ - and if you want to hear the way every mistreated band should have reacted, it’s right there in a two minute, war-declaring pop song.
‘Some Things Don’t Wash Out’ is such a powerful, thematic and interesting pop album that saying much more would feel like spoiling the plot. Musically, its closest cousins are the likes of Panic At The Disco, Paramore and Fun: big, loud, dramatic pop music that shamelessly begs you to sing along. Maybe they fit in to the massive school of American punk pop bands you’ll find if you check their ‘Similar Artists’ on Last.fm, but few of those bands could dream of making a record so beautifully constructed, powerful, honest and fully formed as this.
Their front man and lyricist, Ben Liebsch, bizarrely never really wanted to be a singer or a musician – he joined the band because he couldn’t pay his rent, and going on tour meant he didn’t need to. Unluckily for him, he’s got lyrical genius and vocal prowess most band boys could only dream of.
Hi Ben, how’s it going?
It’s going well. Just sitting around in a new Oxford shirt without pants on.
Your album, Some Things Don’t Wash Out starts off with a bit of a tirade about bad experiences. It sounds like YMAEWK had to deal with a whole load of crap to get this far?
Yeah, we’ve had our obstacles to overcome, but I generally believe that everything has had to happen exactly as it did to be where we are today… So in the end it’s all worth it, right?
It seems to me that this stuff happens to so many bands, but not a lot are willing to talk (or sing) about it. Did it ever worry you that singing certain lines could either backfire on you or give the impression that you’re bitter?
I have habitually overexposed myself, lyrically speaking, throughout the existence of this band. I think this has given me the ability to be open about whatever I care to be. I don’t think it could backfire, because I haven’t said anything that’s not completely true. I don’t think people think we’re bitter because we don’t let it stop us or slow us down.
The music industry seems to be pretty much destroying itself now, right? What do you think its biggest failures are?
I don’t know much about the major label game, but… There was a big influx of money into this very wide genre a few years ago and a lot of people and labels moved into bigger offices, bigger houses, and nicer cars. That money is drying up and nobody wants to move back to the smaller office or sell their house or boat. Nobody wants to tighten their belts and it’s the music community that is suffering for it. Labels are signing safe bets that will make quick cash now instead of bands that, with a little development, could be much more gainful long term.
I could go on and on about this… I guess at 26 I am somehow ‘old school’. You’re not supposed to get rich in this genre. You have fun while you’re young and you enjoy this life, but we will all probably end up with regular jobs one day. Why are people not OK with that? I’ll be content with a studio apartment and a nice bicycle in a city I love if we should be so lucky to make a little money.
As per the lyrics of ‘Shock And Awe’, what support slots do you think you should have got?
We lost 6 tours to buy-ons in 2009. Based on our resume and draw, we should have gotten those… But had we been on tour and thriving that year, we wouldn’t have written these songs. Interesting trade off…
The album is full of awesome and fairly revealing lyrics that paint a pretty vivid picture of a period of reflection, reassessment and refocussing of your life… Do the lyrics come to you as easily as they read?
I generally know what I want to say, but I spend a lot of time figuring out just HOW to say it. I don’t really write stuff down until it’s staying put. I was always more of a figure-out-the-problem-in-your-head kind of math student, if that makes sense.
Have you started writing for a second album? If so, how’s that going, and is it developing along a different theme?
We are actually releasing an EP in May on vinyl with a US label Topshelf Records. I’m thrilled about making it to a vinyl release. I think it should be released in the UK, which would make that our first international release.
I am not planning on writing words for a full length for another year or so. I don’t think you can write as well on tour as you can while stationary. I am actually vaguely concerned about what is going to have to happen to me in my life to be inspired to write another 12 songs. I am half joking.
What bands / musicians / singers / lyricists inspire you most?
I never really had aspirations to do this growing up or in my later teen years, I kind of fell into/was forced into this position so I never bothered to look up to anyone. Live though, I steal everything, from the things I say to the way I move at times, from soul artists from the late 50’s and 60’s. Sam Cooke, Otis Redding… I want to be that kind of live entertainer.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
I’ve never thought about that, again I’m not actually a musician. Haha.
I read that you never really wanted to be a musician. How do you feel about it now?
I should have read this question before answering the last one. Being a singer is still really odd to me. I don’t find gratification in the recognition or the success, really. I mean I think it’s cool when we succeed, but that’s how you should feel when any hard work you do pays off in one way or another.
It just occurred to me that my relationship with our audience is very reciprocal. I talk to fans that say our songs have helped them in their own struggles with depression, addiction, low self worth, and otherwise. They say that it helps them feel like they aren’t alone in their problems. I just realized, as I typed this out, that when I hear them singing along I don’t feel so alone either.
If it weren’t for the band, how do you think your life might have panned out? Is there an alternate career you could envisage?
Had this band not happened, I would likely be a drunk loser somewhere in Dundalk, MD bullshitting my life away as an overweight fuck up. I’m not kidding about that.
Are there any plans to come play some UK shows and get the album physically released here?
Well, first we need passports. I am dying to see the UK and I’m hoping to get there this year. Fingers crossed, same goes for the album. Though you will probably be able to pick up our new 7’ in the spring!
The band’s new album ‘Some Things Don’t Wash Out’ is out now.