All Time Low's Alex Gaskarth on 'Future Hearts': 'We wanted to tell a story'
Three years can be a long time for a band to not put out new material, but that gap didn’t stop All Time Low fans from attending shows and enjoying the music the Baltimore natives have created in the 12 years they’ve been together. The alternative-pop four-piece formed in 2003 and have built a loyal fan base along their journey, also experimenting with their sound through five different albums—four with Hopeless Records and one with Interscope Records.
The group started working on their follow-up to 2012’s Don’t Panic about a year ago, taking a break from rigorous touring and dedicating their time to their sixth studio album, Future Hearts. Frontman Alex Gaskarth tells EW the long space between records was much needed. “It felt like it made more sense to let a story develop,” he says.
Future Hearts certainly has a story—one that declares All Time Low has found a musical place that works for them. From softer rock ballads like “Tidal Waves” and “Missing You” to sing-along anthems such as “Runaways” and “Kids in the Dark,” Future Hearts is a powerful collection of tunes that will make fans and new listeners alike realize that waiting three years for an album isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Gaskarth called up EW to elaborate on the story Future Hearts tells, why the new record is a “very realized version of All Time Low,” and the dynamic career that has led up to it.
EW: What’s the story behind the title Future Hearts?
ALEX GASKARTH: Naming a record is always one of the last things we do—we kind of try to base the name off of what story we’re trying to tell on the record. With Future Hearts, the realization was the record was shaping up to be almost an autobiographical account of our career in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of songs on the record that harken back to the beginnings of our band, the times that we first bought our van and felt like we were kind of escaping Baltimore, getting out on our own, making our own way—the teenage reverie of feeling free. It kind of goes on to talk about all those moments years later that we got that similar feeling of freedom and “future hearts” is the term that we all managed to coin. It happened to be a lyric on one of the songs and we thought it was a really good title, summing up the whole record as far as feeling like we’ve been chasing this dream for our whole lives and living with this idea that we have parts that are bound for the future.
Was the autobiographical aspect something you were hoping to achieve on the album?
At first, I don’t think we knew exactly what the record was going to be about. When we wrote Don’t Panic that was the first time in a long time that we put together a record that from front to back had an overarching theme. I think we learned a lot from that record going into Future Hearts. We wanted to come up with a theme and stick to it and create this kind of dialogue that sort of leads you through as you listen to the whole thing, which is kind of an unheard of thing these days because people just download a song here and there and listen to one track. But we really wanted to make it a point for the fans that are going to invest their time—we wanted to tell them a story.
Aside from telling a story, was there anything you wanted to achieve through this set of songs or lyrics specifically?
I think really just instilling a sense of hope. There’s a lot of people out there that we meet that are feeling lost or out of place or not sure where they’re going next. This record definitely should speak to them. Also, this idea that it’s up to you to clear your own path—that’s kind of what we did and we got really lucky that we’ve had success doing so, and we want to tell people that those things are attainable.
Did anything feel different about this album while you were making it?
We’ve been a band for a long time, but with the last couple of records we became a much more realized version of ourselves. We know exactly how to do All Time Low now. It’s cool making a record with that mindset because you know where you can push the boundaries and you know where you can try to expand yourself, but we also know when something makes us uncomfortable or not quite right—we know when we’re going in the wrong direction, which is awesome for a band to be that self-aware. I certainly feel like with this record, it was right place right time and we were in the right mindset to make this record—it feels very us.
So if it feels very you, do you feel you’ve found your desired sound? Or is there still a style of music you haven’t explored yet that you’re hoping to try?
It kind of feels like we’re just breaking through on Future Hearts, but I do feel like this band has a lot of places to go. We’ve been a band for a long time, but we have no plans to stop. I think the next time we go in to start making music, there’s a very good chance that we’re going to want to push ourselves and keep challenging ourselves. But, without confining ourselves to being a band that puts out the same record over and over again, we still want to make sure that our audience is getting the music that they know and love. We don’t want to throw a curveball and suddenly scare everybody away.
Do you have a favorite song on the record?
I’m still finding out which songs I love the most, but I think “Missing You” has a really cool story on it. That’s a song that kind of wrote itself—it was a weird one. I started writing those lyrics and it just sort of fell into place really quickly. I think that’s got a really cool vibe to it and something a little different for us. Also, I think “Cinderblock Garden” has a really cool story on it—there’s a lot of imagery and a lot of storytelling on that song, which I really like. We’ve already started playing a couple of these new songs live and “Kids in the Dark” is a song that has already gone over really well. It’s connected with our fans in a cool way.
What was it like working with Mark Hoppus (“Tidal Waves”) and Joel Madden (“Bail Me Out”)? Those are pretty huge collaborations.
It was really cool for us—they’re great guys and they’ve become really good friends of ours. We grew up listening to their bands and I think both of those guys are a big part of why we’re doing what we do today. We always like featuring our friends, too—when we do collaborations, we’re not trying to get attention or just put a big name on the album for the sake of doing it. We really like collaborating with people who we’ve had a relationship with. I think that’s what music is all about— creating together.
You’ve also worked with 5 Seconds of Summer recently. What was it like to work with a band that looks up to you?
It’s a pretty awesome feeling to see it come full circle, knowing that we started in a basement looking up to bands like Green Day and Blink  and the Foo Fighters. To know that you’re that band for someone is cool and something special. I don’t think we expected to be that for anyone. They’re such good dudes and I see a lot of us in them—they remind me of us at that age, so it’s awesome to help guide them and pass the torch.
You just wrapped up a European tour. What is it like hearing your songs being sung by fans who don’t speak English?
It’s crazy that our music has managed to span the globe the way it has—obviously the Internet has helped with that, but at the same time it’s crazy to get everybody in one room and suddenly you realize no one there speaks English but somehow they’re still connecting with the song and what we’re doing, which is really special.
Are the crowds in other countries any different than here in the States?
It’s a hard comparison to make because our fans over here are amazing, too, but sometimes you get there and you just notice that it’s a little more rabid. Sometimes we go to Brazil or some Southeast Asian countries and the fan bases there—it’s like Beatle mania. It’s wild. You get off the airplane and people are trying to rip your clothes off and stuff (laughs). It’s like one part amazing and awesome and one part terrifying. I really sympathize with artists like One Direction or even going back to the Beatles where you see all that footage of them just getting swarmed everywhere they went—I don’t know if I could deal with that on a daily basis. Obviously it’s amazing and super flattering, but it’s also nice to be able to hide out when you need to.
No matter where you’re playing or the amount of new music you have, why do you always close your shows with “Dear Maria, Count Me In”?
That was the song that established us as a real act. I think what it means to us closing with it all the time is that we’re never really forgetting where we came from and where we started—I think that’s the point of closing with it. We could easily close with whatever the popular single is at the time, but I think it’s cooler to give people the origin story as well. I think a big thing is, we feel like there’s a long story – we’re a career band, we’re not a band that is a one-and-done single band each record. We’re building what we hope is a legacy. I think it’s important to us to recognize that.
Future Hearts is available April 7.