Alex Gaskarth is “sick of talking about” the pandemic, he groaned over a Zoom call. “I think we all are.” Unfortunately for him: it’s all part of the narrative for All Time Low. Although the band’s fans have been waiting a long time for the Maryland rockers’ ninth album, “Tell Me I’m Alive”, their frontman has been waiting even longer. The record – which hits store shelves this Friday, March 17 – follows their 2020 pandemic darling “Wake Up, Sunshine” which arrived mere days after the first lockdown was announced. After that, tours were cancelled, restrictions were adhered to, and All Time Low – along with the rest of the world – went on an unwanted pause. Ever since, Alex has been writing All Time Low’s take on their toughest years in the industry.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Alex revealed Tell Me I’m Alive was penned with “isolation and loneliness” in mind.
“These were the first songs we sat down and wrote in that new context, in that new frame of life,” Alex mused while rubbing his temple. “So yeah, there were a lot of themes of like loneliness, isolation coping… positive ways and negative ways of coping – those bad habits that we throw ourselves into to recover and to feel something. But, oftentimes, they send us back.”
Alex is effortlessly cool and seemingly a lot more genuine than many other frontmen I’ve spoken to in my time. But Alex seems to really care about these songs in particular. Whether he wrote them alone or alongside his band, I got the feeling they have a direct route to his heart.
The most blatant example of this in Tell Me I’m Alive is the heart-wrenching track Are You There? Told from the perspective of someone coming down after a vicious drug binge, begging for someone to connect with. It’s heavy material, but Alex explained how he only wrote what he was seeing play out in front of him. “It was stuff that I was living personally, it was stuff that I was seeing other people go through,” he said. “It was this universal struggle for a lot of people on the back end of the world shutting down and sort of coming out of it and relearn how to be. A lot of that went into the album.”
While the lyrical content of Tell Me I’m Alive is top-notch, it’s the musical composition which is really astonishing. All Time Low have gone on a new exciting journey every time they released an album. Sometimes, the fans didn’t take to it too well (Last Young Renegade), while other records have since been somewhat pooh-poohed by ATL themselves (Dirty Work). But Tell Me I’m Alive puts an exciting new emphasis on its homegrown, punk structures combined with the band’s signature bright and poppy choruses (as demonstrated in the album’s title track and the absolute hit Sleepwalking). But this new transition hasn’t happened by accident.
“We’ve meandered with our sound here and there,” Alex admitted. “And we’ve tried different things, and it’s always in an effort to try to keep things feeling fresh to us.”
He recalled people raising eyebrows and demanding “what the f**k is this?” when All Time Low released Dirty Laundry alongside Last Young Renegade. “People, at the time, weren’t that stoked on it,” he smiled. “And now it’s a staple in our set, and our audience seems to really connect with it. It’s one of those things where that record was sort of us experimenting with this new sound and this new sound bed.”
As a result, Alex described Tell Me I’m Alive as an “amalgamation” of the best pieces of Last Young Renegade and the effervescent songwriting of Wake Up, Sunshine. “There’s quite a lot of piano and synth on this record,” he revealed. “But we did it in a way that didn’t feel so jarring, maybe.”
It’s very obvious Alex never thinks about the band’s current album cycle in a vacuum. He looks in every direction at all times. The sprawling narrative of All Time Low, how they’re perceived, how their hits translate to the stage, their preceding albums, and where they might go next.
With that in mind – and the fact that 2023 marks two decades since All Time Low formed – does Alex often think about their legacy? “I do,” he confessed. “In the sense that we’ve lasted 20 years… I mean it’s no easy task. We were freshmen in high school playing on weekends, really, and then it turned into something. We’ve worked our a**es off ever since to keep it going. I think it’s one of the proudest things in my life.”
Maybe it’s All Time Low’s endless string of massive hits, or Alex’s charisma, but the band have seemed almost indestructible through the years. Despite being one of the surviving few pop-punk bands from the early 2000s, they were even caught up in the “resurgence” of pop-punk nostalgia that cropped up in recent years. Alex even jokingly referred to All Time Low as “that Dear Maria” band, before adding that he’s “f****ng stoked” about how far the band has come. “I’m super proud that we’ve been able to do that,” he continued.
But, Alex added sombrely, “it hasn’t always been smooth sailing”.
In October 2021, sexual misconduct allegations were made against All Time Low by multiple anonymous Twitter and TikTok accounts, including claims of “sexual assault on an underage girl” (Via The Guardian). These accusations were met with a firm denial from the band later that month when they posted a lengthy statement on their Twitter account. It called the accusations “absolutely and unequivocally false”. In February 2022, the band filed a lawsuit to prove this response. It stated: “The purpose of the lawsuit is to establish the unambiguous truth and quash these malicious lies so that they won’t be repeated in the future.” (Via Rolling Stone)
Almost two years after these hand grenade allegations were dropped in the band’s lap, Alex was cautiously candid about how it has affected the whole group. “It’s proven to us to be one of the most difficult times of our lives,” he breathed. “And our career, and our legacy. And it’s put us through an absolute s**t-storm.” He noted how the allegations “snowballed” and turned into something “that actually started to affect our livelihood and our lives”. He went on: “And when it’s all predicated on nonsense it’s really difficult to survive it. Because you’re sitting there just doing what any person would do, and going: ‘This didn’t happen.'”
Alex added that the band had “said their piece” (referring to their Twitter statement), before being clear: “None of it was true, and if it were true we wouldn’t be in this band. This band wouldn’t exist. We are not those people, and it’s kind of an obvious thing, if any of what was being said were remotely true we would have been over because we wouldn’t want to be around that kind of thing.”
On top of that, Alex pointed out All Time Low have “always been proponents of speaking up for marginalised voices and we, sort of, fell into the other side of that ire”. “And again,” he cut in. “Based on a lie. Nothing.”
With his eyes set firmly on the future, Alex went on: “I think what’s important is that we’re forging ahead and we’re really happy to be out on the road playing shows for people who are coming to support us, that means so much.”
Following this controversy, Tell Me I’m Alive feels like All Time Low have returned to the forefront of their journey with their defences deactivated once again. And Alex was adamant they’re going to let the music speak for itself. “I feel like we always have something to prove,” he said optimistically. “I feel like, over the years, this band… we’ve had high highs and low lows. And I feel like every time we put a record out it feels like we’ve got something to prove.”
“20 years in,” he grinned. “I think the proof is that: we’re still here.”
All Time Low – Tell Me I’m Alive is out Friday, March 17.