Punk therapists

Punk therapists

Candace Kwan manages to keep calm as she meets pop punks All Time Low, and learn how their music has helped fans through hard times


From left: Zack Merrick, Alex Gaskarth, Jack Barakat and Rian Dawson.
From left: Zack Merrick, Alex Gaskarth, Jack Barakat and Rian Dawson.
Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

"Truly, I just came [to Hong Kong] to do the BASE jump that Batman does [off the IFC Building]," jokes Alex Gaskarth, lead singer of American pop-punk band All Time Low. This snippet reveals a lot about the band's on (and off)-stage persona - and if that doesn't make it clear that the guys take every possible opportunity to inject humour into their conversation, I don't know what will.

The fact that All Time Low is often considered at the forefront of pop punk makes their beginnings as four students playing cover songs all the more humble. A handful of EPs, five full-length studio albums, one live DVD and 10 years later, the quartet has turned their side project into a fully-fledged career.

The pop-punk quartet was in Hong Kong for the first time, playing at Kitec last Monday and promoting their latest record, Don't Panic, which Gaskarth considers their "most fully-realised album ever".

"This album is the first time, I think, in our professional careers where we look at the record and love every single song," he says. It "represents the band correctly".

Part of the appeal is the band's humour (off-colour jokes and toilet humour are the norm), and - surprise surprise - their good looks. A casual Google or, if you're feeling particularly brave, Tumblr search should bring up images of the legions of fangirls following and documenting the band's every move, quite literally - have you seen the gifs?

But don't be fooled into thinking this is the extent of their appeal - they have far more to offer than their fun-loving, swoon-worthy exteriors.

Look past the hype about the band itself - and the members' hair - and you'll find a plethora of photos with quotes layered on top - quotes from interviews and song lyrics showing that All Time Low "plays a role of healer" and "helps people going through tough times", adds drummer Rian Dawson.

The song Therapy "ended up speaking to and for a lot of people," Dawson says. "Music was always that for me, like whenever you feel alone, you feel left out, or ... out of place in the world. It's coming to concerts, being part of this lifestyle, it sort of becomes your own bubble, if you don't fit in at school, or if you don't fit in ... this becomes a second home for a lot of people."

Gaskarth concludes that "what's important is that people don't lose sight of the fact that what's helping them is the music and the community that is built through the band, because that is the part to me that's the therapy to people. I don't think it's getting a tweet from your favourite band member, it's not about getting that personal recognition. I think what matters is that you're becoming part of something."

All Time Low does a lot for just for the laughs - jokes about how they met in middle school (which Gaskarth affectionately refers to as "how they became enemies") and the shenanigans they get up to on tour. There are plenty of running gags at gigs you have to see for yourself (guitarist Jack Barakat's microphone stand, for example). Rather than lessen the positive impact of the band, their antics emphasise the hard work all four put into their music.

Simply put, All Time Low wouldn't be where they are today without hustling all day, every day.

"Sleep. Fly. Land. Play - rinse and repeat, it's a four-step process," Dawson and Gaskarth say, riffing off each other's sentences. "There's not a lot of glamour, not as much glamour as you might think - but there's an hour of glamour when we're up on the stage, and that's the payoff."


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