It’s no secret: One year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the political climate in the United States is volatile and people are polarized; across Europe the far right is rising. Countercultural musicians, who have long relished the opportunity to take to the pulpit, are back in action, and genres like hip-hop and punk, that fell into a political ambivalence during the Obama years, have returned to their activist roots. The pop-punk act Neck Deep, which will hit Denver on Friday, February 16, is one of those bands.
In August 2017, Neck Deep released its third full-length album, titled The Peace and the Panic. ”With this record, we wanted to show people what we can do,” says frontman Ben Barlow. “We were all quite collaborative with it. Generally, it has a much more profound, or at least thought-provoking, sentiment to it.” That is, compared to the band’s earlier output, Life’s Not Out to Get You, which embraced a pop-punk sensibility that the act built its career on.
But for this new record, the band wanted to go beyond writing “another song about girls, and partying, or doing drugs or whatever people are writing about these days.”
Why? “The spirit of the times…people are becoming more politically engaged,” Barlow says. “Even though there is a lot of unrest at the moment…it’ll be better to be informed and have an opinion. ... If everyone can develop some sort of political outlook, that’s better than having no political outlook whatsoever. And, hopefully, the future politicians of the world will look back on a time like this and want to make a difference and want to right the wrongs that a lot of the world is making right now. But, really, it was an attempt to get people interested, get people thinking, blow off some steam.”
Barlow, who hails from the U.K., says his country “ain’t much better,” and many songs on the album speak to the worldwide rise of the right.
The second track, “Happy Judgement Day,” sets the stage by claiming, “We almost had it, then we pissed it all away.”
What exactly did we piss away? As Barlow tells it, “Being a place that people were happy, or at least seemed to be happy. America had the best president it's had in however long with Obama. He seemed to be doing good things for the country, talking about the right things, at least on a surface level. For a minute maybe, there was a spark of hope that there would be change. In the last couple years, that seems to have flipped completely on its head.”
In the heaviest song, “Don’t Wait,” the band tells its listeners to pursue truth and not believe everything they’re told outright. That idea is at the heart of the album.
“Say it for yourself. Develop your own opinion, whatever side of the fence you’re on," Barlow says. "Don’t just follow people; make your mind up. … Whatever your beliefs or views are, make that informed decision, but have compassion for your fellow man or woman. Show some love to your fellow humans regardless of their views.”
Will Gould, Creeper’s frontman, personally knows what Neck Deep brought to the table with the new record.
"I heard it when they were making it,” Gould says. “I really like the song ‘In Bloom.’ That’s a really big progression for them in terms of their songcraft. They risked it all by making that song one of their singles; it could have gone wrong. That’s the game of this whole thing — you’ve got an audience built around this pop-punk formula; are you going to give them more of what they want and extend that success, or are you going to try to give them something more challenging, something that’s a little more interesting? And I think Neck Deep really did that.”
Creeper, similarly, pursues a stridently independent vision. “Being an uncompromising artist is the most important thing,” says Gould. “A lot of bands come on stage and tell you that they’re being sincere, when really they’re giving you a pantomime. But what we do with Creeper is we tell you we’re going to give you a pantomime, but underneath all that we’re being quite sincere.”
Though the two bands approach punk from different angles, their goals for the tour as well as their recent albums sound similar.
Says Gould, “The goal of the record was to try and take the listener from one place to another and to try and maintain that attention span, to make what was happening sonically moving.” The show hopes to offer an experience to the audience that will be more than worth the time and resources it takes to get there. If nothing else, the humanity and creativity of the artists on stage can grant a little peace in what can often feel like a time of panic.
Neck Deep, Creeper and more, 7 p.m. Friday, February 16, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, $25, 303-832-1874.
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