Max Helyer – You Me At Six ‘Independent Underdogs of the Industry’
The time is finally near. After having teased a new record for quite some time now, You Me At Six are about to release album number six, titled VI, (our review here) but this time it will be under their own label Underdog Records. I caught up with Max Helyer not too long ago to have a chat about everything music, and more…
Thanks for chatting with us Max, so, this is album number six. Are you guys feeling old yet?
Hahah, essentially we’re not old but I think in musical terms, I think everybody is surprised that we made it to an album six, even us. We’re kind of like wow… When we started off the band we were like we want to have longevity and be a band for a long time and now, I think we’re about 12 years into our career and with album six it’s kind of like — oh wow okay we’ve actually made it this far.
We’re really happy that we have made it this far because not a lot of people in the music industry don’t make it this far and some people don’t even make it two or three, so for us we feel very humbled that we’ve made it to album six but its been a lot of hard work that we’ve put into it over the years that I think for us its just, we make the music and I think for us as a band we’ve only grown stronger as a unit together.
That’s so amazing to hear that you guys have grown so strong. Do you find that you discover new things each time you make a new album?
Yeah of course. I think we’re as artists and musicians, we’re always striving to find something new, always. I think for us it’s a disservice if we try to imitate what we’ve done on other records. We’re always trying to push the boat on what we’re trying to create musically but we’re also trying to constantly progress in sound because music is always moving and it’s always changing and lots of styles and genres are always coming in and out of — not fashion but in a sense of what people are listening to and especially with us and the band, we are also very similar to that, we listen to lots of different styles of music and for us we want to incorporate everything that we listen to, to what we do which I think makes it a more exciting journey when you’re listening to our band because you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
You’re absolutely right! Do you have any strange bands or artists that you listen to that people might not know about?
Oh, I listen to lots of styles of music. I wouldn’t say that I’ve got anything strange, but I do listen to a lot of old school, so bands like The Who and The Beatles and The Beastie Boys and their sound was always changing, as well as The Rolling Stones and their sound was always changing and evolving every time they made music and if you look at someone like The Arctic Monkeys, I think you would classify them as the modern day Beatles.
If you look at their music now with their new album compared to their first record, it’s totally different but every record has it’s own right and it’s own place in the musical world and I think that’s what’s exciting because you never know what you’re going to get and as a listener it always nice to keep you on your toes because I think you can get a bit complacent. I don’t listen to the same music that I used to listen to ten years ago, so I think that music in life is always evolving and changing and about where and when you are in that moment and whether you attract to it or not.
That’s a really good point — and so for this record you chose to go independent. Was that due to a bad relationship with record labels, and what benefits have you found since going independent with an established name?
So going independent for us was first kind of talked about when we were going into making this new record, what we wanted to achieve and set the premises of what we wanted to do. We’re a band that’s made I think the last three records before this one all in America so for us we were like “right, lets change that — we want to make a record back in England again” and work with an English producer who could co-produce it with us so it kind of spiralled into independency almost and we were taking a bit more control back of what we’ve done.
We’ve learned over the years from working with major labels and working with producers, how to do things ourselves really. What really lead us to starting our label under Cobolt which is called Underdog Records was creating a home for us and maybe in the future to come, that it would be other artists that would sign as well and we could see what happens with their careers because we started on an independent record label and we’ve grown through the major label system and gone back to independent now so I think that we’ve just got a little bit more entitlement with what we’re trying to do on this record and the directional creative flow with the album artwork, the album’s sound and it’s really us controlling that with our management. But I think its having that bit more hands on with your work, and having that opportunity to do so that allows you to really do things that we may not have done in the past.
Absolutely, and do you think that while you’ve been exploring this, do you think its something that you would encourage other bands to try out as well? Having that chance to be so hands on in the entire process as opposed to giving it to someone else.
I would say yes, but I honestly think it depends on who the artist is as well because sometimes it’s like you’ve bitten off a bit more than you can chew and it kind of gets a little bit stressful, so with us we’re kind of lucky that I think everybody in You Me At Six has something that they’re trying to do, whether it be making the music, designing the artwork or getting a bunch of people together in a room that can see where we want to go. We’ve kind of learned it over the years but I think certain people, if they were to do it independently, it’s a lot more work and you’re essentially taking on the entire workload yourself, so I think that if you’re the kind of artist that is so in love with the music and is very hands on then maybe that’s the way to go but if it’s something like an artist who just wants to make music then maybe having someone else look after you and do all of that work for you because it will be easier.
Luckily for us and our imprint of a record label, we’ve never actually run a record label before. We did it one time with our first ever manager but realistically we don’t work with records every single day so it’s always nice to have someone there that works on the record side of things and we can say “we can do this” or “show us how to do this” and have a journey which I think is very important as well because that experience is so knowledgeable and we can’t forget that.
It must be so good that you guys also have the element of design with the fact that a few of you have run clothing lines so you can be hands on in that area as well when it came to creating the album artwork.
Yeah, well, none of us are designers per se but I know that a few of us had visions of how we see things, especially when it came down to designing the album artwork for VI, we kind of knew how we wanted it to be and how we wanted it to look visually and luckily we worked with one of our friends who is a designer and he works with Dan on his clothing line, and he really helped create the mood and the art to really represent the music that we were making.
This album is quite different to any other that you’ve made before, though. It explores new sounds and styles. So how do you think that fans will react to it now that you’re creating the kind of music that you’ve always wanted to make without anything holding you back?
I think we haven’t really been holding back, I just think over our career, it’s been like stepping stones and each one has been a different step whereas this is a big jump, yknow? Doing what we’re doing, I think we kinda learned after Night People that it was a bit of a this different record for us to make as well but we kinda dipped our toes in a little bit but we didn’t kind of just going for it whereas now, having that creative freedom and being like this is the kind of music that we want to listen to, and the kind of music that we enjoy as well, it’s all retaining that You Me At Six sound and I think we’re quite lucky that our singer Josh has quite a unique sounding voice — I don’t think there’s many people that sound like him so I think he’s really the glue that makes it still sound like You Me At Six but we’re very adventurous in making music.
There’s a song that we released called ‘IOU’ which we thought was us just essentially having fun in the studio and jamming out, like taking a bit of urban music and hip hop and rock music and we were like “we don’t think we’ll ever get away with that” but it’s all us and it’s still a You Me At Six song because it’s still got that DNA of us and we’re just being a bit more adventurous with the sound and I think that is really allowed, and especially in the modern day of where and how we listen to music, whether it be listening through Spotify or Apple Music or any platform, if it’s still radio and I think when you ask someone what they listen to, they don’t really tell you any genre that they’re listening to, instead they’ll tell you what artists they’re listening to and that is really exciting in the world of music because I feel like there’s no bands anymore and I think for artists that’s a very creative place to be because you feel like you can make the music that you’ve never been able to make before and I think for us that’s why this record is so important. It kind of put a bit of life and energy back into us. It was something that we never thought we could do and we were kind of like “well wait a second, you could ask somebody who their favourite artists are and they could turn around and say my favourite artists are Pharell Williams and Metallica” and it’s that kind of a world at that the moment that we live in.
It’s funny you mention that, it actually leads me to what I was going to ask, which is; do you have any songs that never made previous records but you considered remaking or remixing to make it on the album this time around?
You’re always going to have that time of being creative, and there are definitely songs that we’ve had in the past and not made the cut of the album but we take influences and snippets of some of our older things that we’ve made and we’ve used it in a newer song, like there’s a song on the new record called Predictable and the chorus riff was actually written a while ago and it just didn’t make the album cut and for us, when we were jamming out the verse of that song, we just didn’t know where to go and I kinda said “hey guys why don’t we just use this old riff that I have? I think it’s gonna work” and when we all played it together it was like oh.. that really does work with this song. As a musician, I think you’ve always gotta keep writing and if at first it doesn’t get used, it might get used further down the line.
It’s so good that you have those things just stored away to be able to use at any time.
Oh I definitely agree on that. Like you might have something from five years ago and you might be making something new and you get stuck a bit and you kind of think back a bit to your songs or your ideas and something might jump out at you that you did five years ago and you didn’t think it was very good and think it’s such a waste but if I just rework it a little bit, it really fits in the current song I’m writing.
So, when do you boys think you’ll be coming back to Australia? Anytime soon?
We’ve definitely been talking about it and we have some plans in the pipeline right now so I think we’ll be back there hopefully next year. Hopefully in the first quarter of next year. For us, Australia has always been one of our favourite places. To think that so many people on the other side of the world are so into our music is just incredible. When we first started in making music, we just did it for fun so to have fans all across the world, that’s a humbling feeling, and the fact that people still listen to our music and still like us after all this time as well, so for us we definitely want to get back to Australia as soon as possible.
Which song on this record do you think was the hardest in terms of writing and recording process and is there one that was also the easiest for you?
This album was actually really enjoyable and it actually fell into place quite quickly, like it wasn’t a challenging thing in terms of writing, I think it was challenging because we were trying new things and new sounds and we took on new ventures of being behind the desk and being a bit more creative in how we wanted the record to sound which was really enjoyable and I would say it wasn’t hard. I think we really enjoyed that and I think the record sounds as it is because it sounds honestly like You Me At Six are having fun making music and I think that’s what music should be about. We want to recreate feelings of and sound like we’re having fun. We want people to have fun when they listen to our music, and that all just kind of fell into place quite easily for us to be totally honest with you.
Majority of the record was written last year in about two to three months at the end of the year — I think it was between November/December 2017 to about January/February 2018, we had the record written so it wasn’t challenging on that side of things but then it was going down to finding who was going to co-produce it and we had Dan Austin’s help getting it to really succeed in getting it to how we had imagined it in our head and exactly how we wanted it sound. I think Night People was a bit of a difficult record to write because we had a lot of time out, we had maybe three years where we didn’t really write any music so when we came back to writing new music for that record, it was almost like having writers block, it was kind of having to find our feet again and to keep that momentum going which is why I think this was done so quick because with after Night People, we were writing all the time so when it came around we were like oh, it’s pretty much already done. We’re already talking about making more music in the foreseeable future because we really just want to keep that momentum going and I think that’s where the industry is at right now, where you kind of.. can’t really leave it for too long between when you’re making music and releasing new music because there’s so much other stuff out there right now that if you don’t make a record within a year, someone else will come through and they will be someone else’s favourite band over you now.
It’s so true — there is so much out there and the charts are always changing. There’s so much new talent these days. But I think it definitely translates that you guys had so much fun writing and recording this album, to being able to hear it in the music itself.
I think that was the most important thing for us, when we listened back to the music we made for VI, we were like “yeah okay it sounds like we’re having fun” and I think that’s the most important thing is, if we can feel like that — and we’ve been writing that. We feel like it’s fun and energetic. There are definitely a couple of songs on the record that maybe don’t have that sound, like a song called ‘Pray For Me’, which are definitely a reflection songs that are going through a moment in life that maybe is a little bit difficult but I think that’s something that we’ve always been very good at doing, which is capturing feelings and emotions and putting them into music but with songs like ‘3AM’ and ‘Back Again’, they are just fun songs and songs that I think how we described them when we were writing them were songs you want to hear on a Friday night out in a bar, having a drink, yknow?
The kind that you’re with your mates, you’ve got a gin and tonic and it comes on and it makes you want to shake your hips a little bit. That for us was a target. I think we’ve really captured that with some of the songs that we have on the record.
If VI was the soundtrack to any movie, what do you think that the movie would be about?
Well that would all depend on who was making the movie, really. If it was something like a Quentin Tarantino, you’d have to think about the style of the movie and you’d have to kind of go back and you’d need a colour palette. It’s the same thing when you look at artists who have done that kind of thing before. A perfect example would be TRON and Daft Punk did the soundtrack to that — it’s very futuristic and electronica kind of sounding because that’s what the film is about and it’s a very futuristic looking film, so — if we were to make a film, it would be about the music industry and how much fun it is.
Well, honestly that sounds like a movie that I would want to watch.
I think a lot of people would want to know what goes on in the music industry and there’s a lot of trials and tribulations and you learn a lot, and the good times do come as well as the bad times in the music industry, I have to say, and I feel that we’ve experienced our fair share of it and we could really capture that if we were to make a movie about an upcoming artist and their way of coming into the music industry.
Who would play you then?
Well I don’t know, but you can’t really go wrong with someone like Ryan Gosling — he’s a musician and plays in a band, so that’s always good. You’ve gotta think about all the musicians who are also movie stars, so you could have Jared Leto, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, yknow? That’s a pretty strong cast of musicians who are also movie actors.
Aside from Jared Leto, I did not know that the other two were musicians.
Oh did you know! Ryan Gosling was in a band called Dead Man’s Bones, and Keanu Reeves is a bass player and has played in multiple bands over his life, I mean not really well known ones but I’m a big fan of Keanu Reeves and when you know about somebody and what they do — he’s a great bass player, so throw three musicians who are also actors into a film, it could be quite entertaining.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us!
No worries, hopefully we’ll see you again soon when we come back to Australia!
Interview by Heather McNab
VI is out This Friday via Underdog Records. Pre-Order here
You Me At Six – VI tracklist:
1. Fast Forward
2. Straight To My Head
3. Back Again
4. Miracle In The Mourning
5. 3 AM
6. I O U
7. Pray For Me
10. Losing You
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