“It’s caught the energy of what our band’s all about and what it always has been about into a recording which is quite an exciting factor”: An Interview with Max Helyer of You Me At Six

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You Me At Six have been away for too long. Over eighteen months ago, the acclaimed rock band released their fourth studio album Cavalier Youth which met with positive, though unmemorable, reviews. Dropping swiftly from the rock stratosphere, the – very underrated – album melted away, seemingly taking the band themselves with it. The band, celebrated for pop-punk hits like ‘Save It For The Bedroom’ and ‘Underdog’, broke their painful silence in August this year, surprising fans with a hot new single, ‘Night People’, promises of a new album, and an extensive UK tour of its smaller venues. On the tour’s penultimate date, The Edge got the chance to sit down with YM@6’s rhythm guitarist Max Helyer right here in Southampton.

What is the particular direction you’ve taken with Night People?

I don’t think there’s any particular direction we’ve taken, it’s just from the songs people have heard so far, ‘Night People’ and ‘Plus One’, they’re more rocky. I think half of the album is a very rock record, and the other half is rock in its own way but it is not as heavy. We’re just shutting off the heavier ones first. But stuff like ‘Night People’ has influence in multiple rock n’ roll bands, stuff like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin down to hip-hop-esque sort of bands with the electronic sampling and all. That was just the influences of what we’ve been listening to the past few years drifting into some of our writing. I think that’s why we’ve released it as the first song, just because it’s so different from what we’ve done before. So we just wanted to catch people off guard. You go away for such a long period of time and if you come back with a song that sounded just like every You Me At Six song, it wouldn’t be interesting.

Yeah it is very different from, say, Take Off Your Colours

Yeah, I think that’s also because that was over ten years ago that we were writing that record, and it’s such a long time ago, and I don’t even really listen to that kind of music anymore. And that’s not to say I don’t like that kind of music, but I just don’t listen to it anymore, I like different styles of music. That’s where we are where we are today because we don’t want to imitate what we’ve done before; that’s the past and we don’t want to go down nostalgia road. This is what we’re into right now, and we kind of want to portray it like that. And it’s always going to sound like You Me At Six because we’ve got Josh and Josh has a very unique, very distinctive voice.

You’ve said that you’re really happy to be “pushing the boundaries” with every record you make – what does “pushing the boundaries” mean to you and how have you done that with Night People?

Pushing the boundaries is like what I was saying before about not writing the same thing, trying evolve, and pushing ourselves to a new level of musicianship between a band – like this time with this record we’ve recorded it live, basically. On previous records we’ve never done that before, so it’s caught the energy of what our band’s all about, and what it always has been about, into a recording which is quite an exciting factor. So things like that, and hopefully show-wise as well – even though Guildhall’s not a small venue by any means, we haven’t played venues like this for about four, five years now, and it’s nice to do this again. If we’re going to push the boundaries, we’re gonna start here, and we’re gonna keep working our way up. Hopefully on an international scale as well, but I think with just the record it comes down to what we’ve done as a band and it’s got definitely different moments on there, that you wouldn’t have heard our band doing. There’s a song called ‘Spell It Out’ that was almost written as though it was for a film-soundtrack. So they’re the little things that we’re trying to do and take it out the box.

Night People will be your fifth studio album and you released Take Off Your Colours eight years ago – over those years, have you seen a noticeable evolution in those records, or do you think each record is fully developed in its own right?

I think it’s a bit of both to be honest. I think the evolution of our band has just been us five doing what we do, and kind of growing up, and spending over ten years together and developing together. And because it comes down to every point in our life, every record that we’re making kind of represents that. So Sinners sounds angry and dark because we were pissed off about stuff, there was a lot going on behind closed doors, and Cavalier Youth was just like a breath of fresh air, a whole lot of excitement. And then Hold Me Down was like the buzzride of having an album after the first album being successful and going to venues that we’d never played before. We were just younger kids then, and now we’re adults and we’re approaching things in different ways. So I’d say the evolution of each record has been because of who we are as people, and where we were at that time.

You’ve also said that Night People came about because you haven’t written songs in a while, but was there any moments of inspiration where you thought “oh I have to write this song! I have to write this record”?

I think the best songs from this record have just come naturally and unforced – they just kind of fall on your plate like ‘oh! Here we go!’ You don’t even realise sometimes how good a song is when you’re writing it and you kind of put it to the backburner, but then you go back around to it and you think “oh this is actually a really good song!” There’s multiple songs on this record that have done that, kind of secretly sat there in the background but are now staples of what we’ve been doing for the record. There’s a song called ‘Swear’ which has made the record, which was one of the first ones we’d written, but it’s kind of stuck around and over time we were thinking ‘oh yeah, this is alright, this is okay’ but it got to the point where even our record label and our team was going ‘no, this is a really good song.’

Is that the way that you work? Do you write a load of songs and then cut some so they’re not on the record?

There’s ‘Can’t Hold Back’ and ‘Swear’ which are on the record –  some of the first two that we wrote –  and we recorded them first time around with a different producer, just to see how it sounds. Those were a couple which could hear back for ourselves, and it sets the tone and the level for the record that you need to match expectations of not pushing higher, so that was really our goal and we did that last year, last June and July. So we worked and worked and worked and we started recording in February. We did eight songs then with Jacquine King [producer] and then we came back for two months and had time to write more music which was really nice, that’s when songs like ‘Plus One’ came about, and then we finished it in May-July time. But yeah it’s kind of pushing the boundary –  like you can sit there and write a song but the best ones on the record have come naturally to us and haven’t been forced.

It comes across as contrived when you’re trying to push yourself to write a song, unless you’re someone like Elton John who can just bust them out in five minutes, it doesn’t normally naturally happen like that. It’s gotta have an emotional feeling and then there’s a time and a place for that to happen in anybody’s life and it’s all about capturing it. And it’s about not thinking it’s the best thing in the world as well, every song’s a good thing but you can’t tell straight away – you have to write as much as you can. For this record we wrote 50 songs, we condensed it down to 12 for recording.

Over the summer you played two secret sets at Reading and Leeds festival, which was really cool, and you said that you only booked that a few months before – whilst there were a ton of rumours beforehand, was it hard to keep it under wraps?

Not really, I just think it was something for us to look forward to. A week before Reading and Leeds festival we wanted to drop our single, so if we kept hold of it as a secret it would be a great thing, like a week before we release a song then we turn up to Reading and Leeds as the secret guest. And yeah it is a great compliment to do that, a lot of great artists have been able to do that from Green Day to Them Crooked Vultures to Foals, just to name a few. We kind of just wanted to leave our staple there, Reading and Leeds has been a festival that we’ve done a lot in the years and to be asked to do that was a great privilege but also I think it was the right time as well. If it were to have happened before, I don’t think it would have made sense, so the timing was great.

Do you have any advice for any young musicians who want to start a career in music or start a band?

Yeah, just throw yourself into the deep end and just get on with it! If you’re shit at first you’re going to be shit, because that’s what happens and you have to go through that transitional phase of playing and writing music. And don’t be scared now because of the digital age and all that – use that to your advantage and put yourself up on YouTube and Soundcloud for free because you can, and that’s how you get discovered. And just keep working at it, keep writing music! If you love it and enjoy it, it doesn’t matter if you want to get successful in life – if you enjoy writing and playing music that’s what the main thing is. If you’re good, you’ll get recognised and if not, then just do it because you love it.

And finally, how does it feel to be back after so long, and are you back for good this time?

Obviously it’s great to be back – I think it was really nice for us to have that year and a half/two year break because we have done it for such a long time and it’s just kind of recharged our batteries and made us realise how much we miss playing gigs and playing in front of audiences all around the world. And yeah, I’d hope to say that we’ll be around for the long-haul now, so we just gotta see where the record takes us. It’s so early on right now to say what’s going to happen but we’re just going to carry on doing what we’re doing right now and enjoy ourselves.

Night People is set for release in January 2017. Listen to You Me At Six’s new single ‘Plus One’ below, and look out for their next UK tour in April 2017, tickets which go on sale this Thursday at 7pm.

 

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Third year Film and English student living in D.C., self-proclaimed go-to Edge expert on Cloverfield, Fall Out Boy, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Loves mostly those three things.

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