Words: Ali Shutler
Against The Current’s 2016 debut album, ‘In Our Bones’, was a little bit of everything. A record that didn’t have time for ideas of genre, aiming small or taking things slow, it bounced between shiny pop-rock songs with a young and relentless energy. They were going to take over the world. Nothing was going to stand in their way. And why would it?
With two self-released EPs in their back pocket (2014’s ‘Infinity’ and 2015’s ‘Gravity), a world tour to their name and the scene-shaping label Fueled By Ramen in their corner, “Everything was great,” says frontwoman Chrissy Costanza. “There was no reason to doubt ourselves. When we were writing ‘In Our Bones’, everything was bubbly champagne all the time so that’s what ended up on the record.”
Even the hometown escape anthem ‘Running With The Wild Things’ found a bright side to their outsider angst – and they were never naïve about things: ‘Wasteland’ saw Against The Current aware of the dangers that surrounded them. “It’s a metaphor for the music industry,” Chrissy explained on Twitter: “People will offer you everything, but if you buy into it you’ll wake up with nothing.”
It's a metaphor for the music industry. People will offer you everything, but if you buy into it you'll wake up with nothing, in wasteland. https://t.co/CoYz2xogpw
— Chrissy Costanza (@ChrissyCostanza) April 2, 2017
Following tours with Good Charlotte, Fall Out Boy, All Time Low, a stint on Warped Tour, appearances at Download and Reading & Leeds Festivals as well as countless headline shows of their own, it looked like the champagne would never stop flowing for Chrissy, Dan Gow and Will Ferri.
“When we were writing ‘In Our Bones’, everything was bubbly champagne all the time”
– Chrissy Costanza
However, behind the scenes and despite their best intentions, “I feel like I ended up in a wasteland myself,” says Chrissy. “We were all shedding our skin and it was an uncomfortable situation to be in because we were growing up in front of people.”
Triumph, celebration, self-discovery, defeat, heartbreak and confusion were being dealt out on a daily basis and on the road, there’s nowhere to hide. The band demanded attention and so ATC had to push their personal problems to the back of their minds. “There was a lot of not taking care of myself enough,” says Chrissy.
While ‘In Our Bones’ skips with playlist-shuffle abandon, ‘Past Lives’ – out now – sees the band find their voice and address their demons. It’s deliberate, to the point and wastes no time in sugar coating. “We wanted to peel back the curtain and be more raw. This album is meant to be a statement, not a poem. I wanted to be real about things. This is what’s going on and there’s no prettiness about it.”
From the grief-addled wrestle of ‘Personal’ that deals with the death of a friend, the necessary heartbreak escape of ‘Strangers Again’ and the war inside the mind of ‘Come Alive’, ‘Past Lives’ sees Against The Current fighting with those little grey clouds.
“If love is blind, why do we got to be pretty all the time?” sings ‘P.A.T.T.’ addressing, “that pressure to always be the top version of yourself. I hate that pressure because I listen to it. I’ll have people ask if they can take a picture with me when I’m not wearing makeup and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have the self-confidence for that’. I wanted to write about how ridiculous the standards are that we hold ourselves to, especially as girls, and that other people hold us to when it shouldn’t matter.”
There’s a similar message in ‘Voices’. “P.A.T.T.’ is the sarcastic, fuck off song. ‘Voices’ is about how much it does affect you and how difficult it is when you do have that chorus of noise in your head at all times, There’s always something you could be doing better but why do we have to focus on those things. Why isn’t just being ourselves good enough? ‘Voices’ was me addressing that bullshit and how much it can build up and feel so intense and so serious, you just want it all to shut up.”
There’s a powerful resilience across ‘Past Lives’ that comes from Chrissy standing her ground. “I’ve learnt that over the years, sometimes I was caring so much about how other people felt, I wasn’t standing up for myself and I wasn’t caring about how I felt even when people were straight up bullying me online.” Now, she’ll happily call out people being dicks. “I wanted to be a role model to our fans and say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to put up with this shit.’ There is a time to ignore it but there’s also a time to say I deserve better than this and you’re not treating me like I deserve to be treated.”
‘Past Lives’ comes with the “stereotypical takeaway that it’s OK to not be OK, but also it’s OK to save yourself,” says Chrissy. “It’s OK to know what’s best for yourself. That was my biggest issue. I was looking to other people to tell me what I needed. When I finally turned inwards and took responsibility for the way I was feeling, that’s when everything started changing.”
She adds: “‘Strangers Again’ is about a very toxic relationship but it’s saying let’s go back to being strangers, let’s end this now. It takes responsibility. It says I’m going to save myself, and a lot of the songs have that in them. That was really important for me to tell myself. Sometimes I needed to be my own hero and realise that I was strong enough to do it.”
Time and time again, Against The Current live up to their own expectations on ‘Past Lives’ – and to hell with the others. The record trades in the outsider longing for escape and acceptance that weaved through their debut for something a little more cohesive, pop and in their control. There’s a refusal to play into the easy-fit story that they’re a pop-punk band.
“We didn’t quite fit that scene,” says Chrissy. “We’d always floated between worlds and this time, we just took that full step and made the record we really wanted to make without worrying about satisfying any boxes.” Sharing a label with Panic! At The Disco, Twenty One Pilots and Paramore helped. As did touring with Fall Out Boy. “It’s really inspiring because it’s given us the opportunity to be fearless. We’ve seen the biggest bands in their scenes leave their scenes and take all their fans with them.” Not that Against The Current are sure they want to be the biggest of bands anymore.
“It’s a scary thought, to be a big band like that,” says Chrissy. “There’s a whole lot of pressure that comes with it. We get a lot of noise online but there are bands that do the amount of tickets we do in an entire tour in one night. Thinking about that is terrifying but this is what we love to do. This is what we need to do, where we want to be, and what our bodies tell us we’re supposed to be doing. We’re on the path we want to be on but that path isn’t fully carved out yet. We’re doing it as we go. I don’t have a good idea of what’s next, and I’m glad. There’s just so much more out there for us. I’m still so excited by it because it does only feel like we’re at the beginning.”
Against the Current’s second album ‘Past Lives’ is out now. The band will play Reading and Leeds festival in August.