Meet Your New Favourite Pop Punk Band: Talking Music, Magic and Mac Miller With Better Than Never

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In a revived UK pop punk scene bursting with new and exciting talent, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd and make your voice heard above the tumult. One band who have overcome this hurdle, however, are Oxford’s Better than Never, as with their second EP ‘Head Under Water’, which follows their 2016 debut ‘Homemade Hero’, the six piece have created a roaring, punchy record that is sure to turn heads and pique the interest of many a pop punk fan! We caught up with frontman James, drummer Toby and guitarist and vocalist Will on the third date of their current UK co-headline tour with fellow pop-punkers Coast to Coast at an intimate show at Manchester’s Sound Control, where we discussed the uncertain future of their superhero mascot, the fallout of Brexit, and Hogwarts houses. Oh and music too, I guess!
 
How’s the tour been for you guys so far? Do you have a favourite show to date?

Will: Leeds was pretty banging!
James: We’ve only played two, but Liverpool and Leeds were just as good as each other, really
Will: They were probably two of the best shows we’ve ever played, and we’re only two days in!

What’s a typical day on tour like for you guys then? Give us an insight into the life we all secretly wish we had!

James: Get as much sleep as possible, try and shower if you can, and then get to where you need to be-
Will: You say sleep, but James is always awake! It doesn’t matter what time he goes to bed, like he might not have been to bed before you, but he’ll be awake!
James: I’ll go to bed at like 4 and wake up at half eight-
Will: You say he gets up at half eight, but no one is ever awake to find out! He could wake up at like 6 in the morning, and nobody knows what he does in that time! What do you do?
James: Business! Sorting out… band stuff!

Obviously this is a joint headline tour with Coast to Coast- do you think there’s an advantage to co-headliners for smaller bands who want to build their profile as opposed to solo headliners?

Will: Yeah, Coast to Coast are better than us, so yeah! I think there is an advantage because it appeals to a wider demographic of people.
James: We did our own headline tour back in January, and it is different, because when you go with Coast to Coast and us as well, because people recognise those names, more people come down because you get two bands in one.
Toby: It’s cool as well because for bands like us, to be able to get out there together, it’s good fun out on the road, but it’s also then a great way of pushing each other towards reaching more people.
James: It’s good to have Coast to Coast along because we make them look a lot better!

The UK pop punk scene is bursting with talent at the moment- does that add extra pressure for you when it comes to making music, knowing that you’re competing with so many other talented people?

Will: It just means you’ve got to be better!
James: You’ve got to be good, yeah, but the way I personally see it is less of a competition and more of a case of working together. There are some bands out there that obviously do take it more competitively, but I think we’ve always succeeded best from working with other bands rather than thinking that we need to be better than them- being more like ‘well, they’re good, we’re alright!’
Will: You need to build a scene as well because if you’re just doing it on your own you might pop up here and there-
James: You need to network with other bands as well, because that’s how we started playing more shows and bigger shows as well.
Toby: Make sure your band has a LinkedIn account!

Speaking of music, you guys have a new EP that you released at the end of last year, Head Under Water, right? First of all, it’s great, with a wide range of sounds rom bouncy pop punk to songs like ‘Forty Eight’ which is much heavier. Where does that variety in sound come from, is it from your personal music taste or elsewhere?

James: We all listen to different things, while we all have a central interest in what we play, some of us are into heavier stuff, some of us aren’t, and then when it comes to writing, it all comes together. I think the mistake a lot of bands make is that they feel confined to certain conventions that the genre expects, so we’d rather just write stuff that we enjoy than stuff that you might feel you have to write as a ‘pop punk’ band.
Will: You can write whatever you want- it can be pure shite, but people will listen to it, however shit it is, you’ve just got to find those people!
Toby: What we’re saying is, aim really low!
Will: This tour is basically about finding people across the country who are into really shit music!

What is the writing process like when you go to write a new track? Do the lyrics or the melody come first, and is it a case of slowly crafting each track, or do they come together really quickly?

James: Will and I pretty much write the same way-
Will: Sometimes we write songs together, but what usually happens is James will write a song, send it to me, and I’ll be like ‘No, this is crap!’ and I’ll send it back to him as a completely different song and be like ‘It should sound like this!’ and then James will do the exact same thing, until we just give up and whatever we have then, we just play that!
James: We tend to write at home, so the way I do it is I put all the music down first, then do the lyrics after a lot of the time. It does vary though- sometimes you’ll have the lyrics that come first, so I don’t think there’s any set way to write a song at the end of the day.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your lyrics from?

Will: I always used to come up with really good lyrics and stuff at work, and then they banned phones at work, so I couldn’t record them anymore, so I have to try and remember them, so if our EPs are shit it’s probably because of that!
James: I think for me, I tend to write lyrics about experiences that I’ve had, but I don’t necessarily write the songs from my perspective, I’d write them how I imagine someone else experiencing those same things.

As a band who are still growing and establishing yourselves, do you feel like it’s important to progress your sound through each record or find your comfort zone first before venturing on to experiment with new sounds?

Will: You never really want to get into a comfort zone, I feel, as then you run the risk of becoming complacent.
James: I think that was the mistake we made with our first EP was that we did something that we were comfortable with, that we thought ‘oh, people will like this, because it’s what people expect’. The last EP we weren’t happy with in a lot of ways because instead of doing what we thought was going to be good, we did what we thought other people might expect.

The biggest piece of continuity between the two EPs has been their covers, which both feature the same superhero character. Is there a story there that will be revealed as you release more records, or is there a symbolism behind that character that you can reveal already? (This is me pushing for an exclusive here!)

Toby: We’ve got big plans for that guy! I think maybe the third EP will be the one where we kill him off!
James + Will: Yeah, I thought we’d kill him off on the third!
Toby: Scuba man meets a grim end! That’s the name of the EP (it’s not really!)
James: How are we going to kill him off?
Will: I just thought we’d just retire him, let him have a nice life! Maybe we should put a twist in, like he takes his cape off or something-
James: I’ve always imagined him with his mask in his hand, still facing the other way-
Toby: Maybe we get to see his face! As you can tell, we haven’t really thought that far yet, but there’s a lot of avenues we’re going to explore with this little guy! In actual seriousness, was it just something that Jim doodled up one day?
James: How it came about was, we did a little demo EP which we sent out to labels, and for the cover, Jim made it out of stock pictures he found on the internet, and one of them was just a guy dressed up as a superhero, and then when we did the new EP, we thought we should follow up with the same sort of theme, as this ‘Homemade Hero’ from the first EP then goes underwater
Toby: So his head is under water
All: Aaay!

There’s been a large push in the pop punk scene especially, fuelled by scene titans like Green Day, of raising awareness for the social and political unrest going on in the world right now- is that something you’d ever consider writing about, and does it have any impact on the music you make, or is what you do based on experiences closer to home?

James: Well, ‘Forty Eight’ is a politically charged song, but from my standpoint I just write about whatever I’m passionate about at the moment, so I’ve never felt obliged to write to write a whole, say, album themed around that kind of stuff. I don’t really think politics and music should go together, but I’m not opposed to it.
Will: I think if you’re going to put that kind of message in, you need to be measured in the way that you do it, because then if you commit yourself too much to one particular cause, then you can cut yourself off from other things that also need addressing.
James: I think what we realised is that when we wrote ‘Forty Eight’, which some people know is about Brexit and such, it’s not actually about Brexit, but it’s about the way that it affected everyone else and the divide that it caused between the two sides. People think that because it’s called ‘Forty Eight’ it’s about the people that voted to remain and didn’t get what they voted or, but it’s really not about that because both sides are opinions people are entitled to, but it’s more about what I’ve experienced first-hand with people at work arguing a lot more about it, and it was interesting to see, but I think everyone’s ashamed that people can’t just unite over whatever the result was in a way and just try and make the best of it.
Toby: And that’s what we were saying about not wanting to cut people off, because music is all about unity as well, and how you get people coming down to a show, loads of people who are all there for the same thing, nothing’s tearing them apart and they’re just there for the music and to enjoy themselves, and that’s what it should all be about.

Well, that’s the serious journalism side of things over! Now for the most important question of all when it comes to finding out what kind of people you really are, behind the music- which Hogwarts house are you all in?

James: I don’t really follow Harry Potter, although I did win a competition when I was younger in the Birmingham Mail for looking like Harry Potter, so I’d have to go with Gryffindor!
Toby: I’d probably go with Ravenclaw, because you don’t really hear too much about those guys, so I can kind of blend into the background and not have to worry about anything!
Will: What house was Dumbledore in? He was a Gryffindor back in the day! Ah, that’s me then! In charge.
James: You’re Dumbledore?
Will: Yeah!

Do you feel you fit any of the pop punk stereotypes? (pizza, beer, caps, listening to Blink 182 all day, anchor tattoos- or a desire to get one!)

Will: Can I just say for the record, that I do drink beer!
Toby: Literally every single one of those things, I’d say! We do it ironically though!
Will: I think it just happens to be the case that, like most people, we like pizza and beer!
James: We had pizza last night!
Toby: Shout out to Maguire’s! Maybe if we say something nice about them, we’ll get free pizza? Go to Maguire’s Pizza Bar, Renshaw St, Liverpool! It’s great, you’ll love it!
James: Give them the opening times as well!
Will: And everyone who works there’s phone numbers!

What would your dream tour be- either with yourselves headlining or supporting a band you look up to?

Toby: Us, Coast to Coast-
Will: We’re living the dream!
James: To be honest I just like touring, I don’t really care who it’s with!
Toby: Do you know who we’d do a really good tour with? Roam.
Will: Or Mac Miller.
James: Who?
Will: Mac Miller! The rapper! Do you not know Mac Miller?
James: Is he the guy that does the really fast rap? The Alphabet one?
Will: No! Nevermind! I think ideal is a very different scenario to attainable though, because just being able to play packed out shows every night wherever you go and helping a lot of people have a good time is all you really need.
James: Obviously at the end of the day, any of the big pop punk bands would be amazing!
Toby: I want to play stadium on a different continent every night!
James: I do not want to do that! The jet lag!
Will: We want to do a Philippines tour, we’ve got lots of fans in the Philippines!
Toby: We’ve been selling lots of CDs in Japan as well haven’t we? Well, about four or five in Japan!
Will: That calls for a two-week headline tour in Japan!

Speaking of tours, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

James: Tours!
Will: Secret!
James: We’ve got a lot of stuff that we’re working on, but as with all these things, it’s got to remain kind of behind the scenes. We are going to tour with Homewrecked in October, and we’ve got a bunch that we’re trying to pack in between now and then, basically just getting out as much as we can, playing new cities, playing some of the same ones and just playing shows!
Will: Basically, there’s no excuse not to come and see us, because we’re going to be everywhere! You can’t avoid us! We will come to your house and we will play for you, we will find you! And you WILL enjoy it!
 
And if the rest of the night that followed was anything to go by, you certainly will! Better than Never are a band with all the hallmarks of future pop punk superstars, so get down to see them in these intimate venues while you still can, because my guess is they won’t be playing rooms this small for much longer!
 
Better than Never are currently touring across the UK with Coast to Coast, with support from Pine. Tour dates are below. The band’s second EP, ‘Head Under Water’, is out now via Fox Records.
Interview by Charlotte Hardman
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