Relationships are hard to keep in your twenties. It’s guaranteed to be a decade of nonstop reflection and re-evaluation of the energy you give and have given to loved ones. UK emo rockers Way Back When are a sentimental troupe of dreamers whose art is a coping mechanism for this dilemma we all face. Despite being based between the two cities of Durham and Bristol, the band’s transatlantic sound borrows heavily from midwest emo crybabies and British math rock, eschewing angular rhythms for driving percussion and delicate, cascading guitars. Drawing comparisons between There Will Be Fireworks and Algernon Cadwallader, the band’s debut record Retrospectacular drips with misty-eyed reflections on companionship and quarter-life crisis lyrics. Lead guitarist and songwriter Kyle Hawkes effortlessly recites labyrinthine, gliding guitar passages while vocalist/lyricist Tom Lowman delivers soaring vocals with a charming English panache, with lyrics that echo the mutual anxieties of suburban towns and chaotic cities. With all this considered after dropping their impressive debut, I invited Hawkes and Lowman to curate a mix of their key influences for Retrospectacular. Stream the record below and then delve into their inspirations.
A big influence for the instrumental side of the record?
K: Yeah, originally we were gonna go more twinkly and [this song] just kept creeping in, especially with the punchy guitars.
T: I was with them up until about Intimacy, then I kinda got off at that point. I’ve seen them since they did their last record and it just seems like they’ve gotten off the board in terms of focus and being a proper band. Lyrically, I love the first two albums. Silent Alarm the most because it’s overtly political but hidden in a much more interesting way.
T: It was a big area of overlap for us, Death Cab.
K: When we properly started writing, I was listening to We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes a lot. That really heavily influenced us, in fact the one song that didn’t make it on the EP was just a slightly more math rock Death Cab song. I think we’re definitely leading towards the more Kintsugi era, especially with the effects we’re starting to use. Loads of chorus effects.
T: [Kintsugi] is great Death Cab album because it’s half full band and half singer-songwriter songs and does mime that more melancholic side. I don’t know if we really channeled that; Fireworks is probably the closest but with that more earnest midwest emo “feelings on the sleeve” vibe.
K: …that was me. I feel like we tried to go for [the song’s repetition] in Fireworks, and Victoria Park has a lot of slow build-up on structure.
T: I think Fireworks definitely has it, that kind of atmosphere and repetition, and the riffs circle round and round in a way that’s not so A-B-A-B.
K: A common criticism of Tom’s: “it’s great but you need to repeat sections.”
T: Yeah, when we write, Kyle writes a riff and then I’m like, “now do that eight times and I’m gonna whine about my feelings.”
K: You can definitely hear that in Tastes Like Stars and some of the heavier, bigger stuff. We actually used The Hotelier as a mixing reference in the studio. We wanted to replicate how punchy the guitars are and how the vocals sit in them mix. Originally they were a lot higher in the mix and we were like “no, bring them down.” They’re a focus but not the only focus.
T: I think they went a bit too far in that direction on the second album. There’s a few songs where it’s literally like “where are your vocals”? But there are a couple of our songs like Victoria Park and Tastes Like Stars where we want it to be a little bit harsh in places, not glossed-over or produced into everything, like bits where the guitars will glare out over the top. Again, lyrically Victoria Park [mimics The Hotelier] in that it’s songs about relationships, but not in the boy-girl sense, just camaraderie and breakdown of friendships, plus people’s general health and mental well-being being a little bit on-edge and contested. That’s really what we were getting at with Retrospectacular.
Okay, this one really sticks out.
T: Yeah! So I was thinking about how I approached a couple of the songs lyrically, like Gomorrah and This Year’s Thief, and it’s taking what Bad Kingdom does which is taking a grand concept like empires and globalisation while at the same time feeling really personal and immediate. I aspire to do that, I wouldn’t say I get it right, but I try to pull down these bigger symbols and historical moments to run more personal stuff through them. But no, production-wise it doesn’t sound anything like it!
This is actually one of my favourite songs. You don’t share Reuben’s sound but you can definitely hear similarities in the lyrics.
T: Yeah, what I like about Jamie Lenman’s songs is that it rhymes when it needs to, but it’s mostly just his train of thought. His ideas come through in a melodic way, but it isn’t bound melodic structure or everything matching up so neatly. It almost feels like a rant that’s taken on a melodic form, and that whole album’s amazing for that. Letting things soar is something this song does really well; his melody lines always tend to reach up and hang for a bit.
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