For 16 years, Jack Barakat has been the comic relief in the American pop-punkers All Time Low. Whether the band were playing basements or arenas, Barakat would be stage right armed with either a guitar riff, a punchline or a grin. He’s always shared the spotlight with vocalist/lyricist Alex Gaskarth, without having to give too much of himself away. But following a break up that found him in therapy, Barkat teamed up with songwriter and friend Kevin Fisher to change all that.
Barakat and Fisher first met during writing sessions for All Time Low’s 2017 album ‘Last Young Renegade’, but it was their shared experience of heartbreak that brought them closer together and took them into the studio, where they created WhoHurtYou.
“It’s a weird way to start a friendship,” says Jack. “But it’s also really good to know who’s going to be there for you in your darkest moments.”
The band’s name is as emo as you’d expect from a project started in the wake of life-changing breakups, and the music even more so. ‘Wish We’d Never Met’ – the first taste of upcoming EP ‘Stages’ – blends the numbing anger of Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind with the same 80s pop twinkle that Sigrid or Pale Waves dance with. Elsewhere delicate new single ‘Nobody Wins’ takes a heart-wrenching look at the destruction of a relationship. The rest of the EP is less angsty, taking cues from The Japanese House and Robyn.
This isn’t just a band though, and both Jack and Kevin are doing different things with it.
For Kevin, WhoHurtYou is a chance to do something different to the day job, in which he writes songs for artists such 5 Seconds of Summer and One Republic, then moves onto the next thing. In WhoHurtYou he’s emotionally invested. “The songs are so personal,” he says. “So we have to do this properly. When we knew it was going to be a serious thing and we knew we were going to release stuff, we came to an understanding that it’s got to be purely vulnerable and real for both of us.”
For Jack, WhoHurtYou is a chance to expand his repertoire. “I’ve never done songwriting before,” he says. “Not like this, anyway. I wanted to do something different because you want to prove to yourself that you can. And you want to prove that, you know, you’re not a guitar player. Kevin sat me down and convinced me that this is something that can really help during those hard moments. It’s a constructive way to take a negative moment in your life and make something positive. The more we started to write, the more we realised how personal the songs are. I didn’t want to give them away to anyone. I wanted us to release them.”
He told that to Kevin one night and his bandmate grinned, and said: “I’ve been waiting for you to say that.”
The next day they wrote ‘Wish We’d Never Met’.
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The reason Jack’s doing this as WhoHurtYou rather than with All Time Low is because “lyrically, All Time Low has always very much been Alex’s thing and that’s not something we hide. Writing songs, is not something that comes naturally to me, but that’s where Kevin came in. It was almost like a therapy session. I would tell stories and he’d be like, ‘that’s a lyric right there’.”
Another reason he’s doing this as WhoHurtYou rather than with All Time Low is because he’s not always that smiley, jokey guy you see right of stage, and he wants people to know that. He says: “Even on tour or at meet and greets, if I’m in a bad place you still have to put a smile on your face because these kids have been waiting months to see the show or meet you.
“It was important for me to show that it’s an unreasonable expectation to think that everyone you love is going to be happy all the time. I don’t think it’s fair for kids to be online and see me happy all the time. That’s an unfair expectation to hold yourself, or other people, to. It’s good for fans to see not everyone is ok all the time. It’s good for them to realise it’s ok to be sad and it’s normal to be going through shit.”
Kevin takes over: “Throughout this process, it was really important to be transparent about the fact that we’ve both been to therapy because it helped us so much. I feel like there’s still a negative stigma around it, like if you go you’re weak but that’s not true. Everyone goes through hard times, but it’s all about what you do in those times. Therapy was something both of us are super glad we did. It’s so important that people who are going through something difficult have some way to express it.”
Above all, WhoHurtYou want to celebrate the idea of turning hurt into triumph. “The hardest part was bringing up all the shit from a year ago,” says Jack. “All the fights and the arguments, that make you feel like shit. But to put it on paper and turn it into a song, that makes you feel a little better.”
Releasing ‘Wish We’d Never Met’ was “a weird moment” for Jack. He says: “Something I struggled with was knowing that not only are thousands of strangers going to hear our personal stories, but our exes are going to hear them as well.”
But the reaction has made it worthwhile. “If this helps us,” says Kevin. “Then hopefully it will help other people too.”