When You Me At Six gathered together to begin the process of writing their new album, the classic-sounding Night People, they set up a whiteboard in their London studio. On it, along with the 50+ songs they wrote for the project, they listed the considerable achievements they’ve notched up since forming as teenagers in Weybridge, Surrey, in 2004.
The list included: playing Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace), Wembley Arena, and The O2; scoring two Top Five albums (2010’s Hold Me Down, 2011’s Sinners Never Sleep) and a Number One album (2014’s Cavalier Youth), and taking 13 consecutive singles onto the Radio 1 A-list
The purpose was not to slap backs, or to pile on the pressure for album number five; it was, instead, a chance to take stock, and to reaffirm their goals. “We were laughing as we were writing it out because we'd almost forgotten about some of the stuff, it’s all happened over the course of 10 years hard work,” says frontman Josh Franceschi with a smile. “The idea was to list stuff that gave us an injection of confidence before we started going. It was us saying, ‘That's what we've done now, but we want to play bigger venues, and we want to headline more festivals. That was the benchmark, and we can't go back, we can only go further.’ It's our launchpad.”
Now, a decade into their career, the five friends who form You Me At Six – frontman Josh plus Max Helyer (guitar), Chris Miller (guitar), Matt Barnes (bass) and Dan Flint (drums) – are focused on the serious business of becoming Britain’s biggest and best rock band.
Promotion of Cavalier Youth ended – as the rest of the campaign had ridden – on a high. The group performed before headliners’ The Black Keys, mainstage at the Isle Of Wight festival, and vowed that next time they returned, it would be their name topping the posters. For a group with a devoted online fanbase, they then took the brave move of disconnecting themselves for a while, bowing out of social media and heading to drummer Dan’s brand new home studio to begin hashing out songs. “We've been in the limelight for years, so we wanted to go away, be us, enjoy writing music and create songs we'll want to live with for the rest of our lives,” says Max. “Taking that time away and not being in people's faces, it made us reconnect with who we are as human beings and really think about what we want to write and what we want to achieve.”
The time out of the limelight was a chance not just to rediscover their essence, but also to find ways of incorporating new influences and to make the sharpest You Me At Six album possible. The first taste of the album – the collar-up strut of the title track and first single – shows what a success that’s been. “We really wanted to make a record that wasn't a reflection of what somebody else was doing on the scene, or in rock music in general – we were hoping to create something timeless,” says Josh. “That's why on Night People there's this massive hip-hop energy and influence to it because that’s what we were listening to a lot of while we were making the record.”
The search for a new sound led the band to a new producer – Jacquire King, known for his work with James Bay and Kings Of Leon. With the band already fans of Jacquire’s work, they were delighted when—after a 20-minute phone call—he decided he wanted to produce the new album. It meant decamping to Nashville, Tennessee, first for three weeks in February 2016, and again for a further four weeks in May.
Being in Nashville, where King is based, and working with the producer inspired the band in numerous ways. “When you're in LA, where we’ve often recorded before, you're focusing on socialising and parties,” says Max. “When you go to Nashville, recording in the room where KoL recorded their biggest albums, you’re there trying to create magic.” Josh agrees: “In Nashville, you are constantly around people that want to make great music and great songs. When you go out for drinks with people, they talk about the heyday of great songs; you're always thinking about songs and songwriting.”
In the studio, King’s preferred technique – taping the band live – helped them catch lightning in a bottle. “To play live in the studio, all five of us at once, capturing the energy of the song, capturing the emotional feel, feeding off each other, working as a unit, you can’t beat that,” says Max. King’s methodology tallied with the group’s desire to disconnect for a while, too. “Jacquire was very keen that the outside world doesn't penetrate the studio, so the only things that entered the room were weed, food, Thirsty Thursdays and football,” says Josh. “Thirsty Thursdays were our fun day in the studio: we'd bring in booze, turn up the music and watch a guy who's won three Grammys mix our record and have fun,” says Max. “That's been the mentality of this record: have fun.”
Finding quiet and solace was also key to the process for the band, whose party days are far from behind them, but who take the business of pleasing their audience just as seriously. New to this album was an interest in meditation, inspired by “our gaffer Dave, who is heavily into it.” Josh explains: “Dave had been doing some work out in New York with the David Lynch Foundation, so we went out there to learn how. I think it was just sort of, we're always trying to find new ways of dealing with the pressure, not being consumed by that feeling of 'oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck', finding a mechanism to shut it off a bit. There was a time where, you know, you'd think you're in a band, you're vegetarian and you meditate: and you should probably keep that to yourself!! But actually, culturally I don't think we live in a society where that stuff should be poked fun at, because it's no more/less cool than going out and getting off your face. But it brings real benefits in your week to week psychology when you are constantly on the move and in the public eye”
Returning to the UK between sessions in Nashville, the band returned to Dan’s studio, to review their work in session one and write more new material inspired by their time in Nashville. The new songs included the short, sharp Brand New and another titled Take On The World, which saw them working with former Snow Patrol member Iain Archer. Josh says he went into the session with Archer with no expectations or preconceptions but left with a song that demanded to be recorded. “I feel like what he helped me do was write a ballad but without it being cheesy,” says the frontman. “We've had songs like Crash or Fireworks or Wild Ones before but they feel like slow ballads from within the world that we come from.
“We're not sitting there saying we want to be the next Coldplay musically, but do we want to headline Wembley Stadium four nights in a row and headline Glastonbury? Yeah. Fuck yeah, we do. I look at Biffy Clyro, Bring Me The Horizon, Tame Impala, Arctic Monkeys, Foals, all these bands who are having their moment and trying to become the new headliners, and we believe it’s our turn next. I want to watch our band blow up.”
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