Story and photos by Maria Sherman
The other day, I got to live out many a pop punk fan's dream: I got to hang with All Time Low for an entire day -- eating burritos, chilling with child stars and, of course, petting Internet-famous dogs. Take a moment to be jealous while I continue on with my account of this magical day.
If you're unfamiliar with ATL, well, it's time to get schooled: In pop punk world, like any other musical landscape, there's a canon. For those who prefer palm-muted power chords and gang vocals to other genres, there's Blink-182, Green Day, and if you're of a certain age, there's All Time Low.
The Maryland-via-California band formed 12 years ago while the boys were still in high school, their juvenile antics and youthful enthusiasm securing them a place on Warped Tour, and, later, the hearts of melodic rock fans everywhere. In that time, they’ve managed to do what many pop punk bands fail at: reinvent themselves. They’ve stayed relevant; they’ve grown with their diehard fans and have adopted their young ones with open arms.
Their secret? Well, it’s hard to be certain, but one thing’s clear -- the guys are endlessly entertaining, fun, smart dudes. Which is why we -- and probably many of you -- wanted to hang out with them.
So, as the band wrapped up their Future Hearts tour, we shadowed them at their penultimate date at Manhattan’s Pier 97, overlooking the Hudson River. Here’s what it’s like to be a fly on the wall with one of the biggest bands in the game.
12:00 P.M. I'm told the band usually gets up around noon, and to show up to the show grounds around 1pm for soundcheck.
1:13 P.M. Soundcheck. Only half the band shows up. This is normal. Drummer Rian Dawson and bassist Zack Merrick report for duty -- it’s always the percussion section doing the leg work, right? (We kid.)
1:13:24 P.M. I realize they're not soundchecking with any ATL songs. They're playing Dashboard Confessional's "Vindicated," a perfectly self-deprecating tune that gained popularity via the 2004 "Spider-Man 2" soundtrack. With frontmen Alex Gaskarth and Jack Barakat not on stage, roadies and their tour manager take over. The tune feels especially heartbreaking in the summer heat.
1:23 P.M. They're still working through "Vindicated." I learn this isn't a song they've practiced, and one of the guys playing guitar has never even heard the song before. A voice cracks through a walkie-talkie, "There's been a request for 'Boys of Summer.'”
1:26 P.M. Brian, ATL's tour manager, asks if they're ready to play the Dashboard cover at the last show on tour. They aren't.
1:27 P.M. They begin to cover "Boys of Summer," but the Ataris version. Very pop-punk. Rian walks over to me. “A lot of the time the guys are doing something during soundcheck so if there are two or three of the guys are available, we'll soundcheck with the crew," he says. "We used to have a band with the crew called the Crew Fighters. We used to do eight to 10 songs but a bunch of them left. As of now we have one song -- we do 'Boys of Summer,' the Ataris version. We have [tour manager] Brian Southall on guitar and the band is called the Southalls for now.”
1:45 P.M. Alex walks over. I ask him about their daily, multi-hour meet and greets. Most bands don’t take the time. In the middle, Jack Barakat joins in. “We do a 300-hundred person poster signing and then after that we do a 50-person, very personal meet and greet that we've always done," Alex says. "It's through our fan club. We've looked at a lot of people's meet and greets and seen how sterile and regimented they can be so we try to keep it small and very intimate. We just hang out. There are no lines. There are no tables. Come talk and take a picture.”
Jack interjects: “You’re allowed to kiss and touch.”
Rian stops him. “I had to stop doing that," he says. "Especially with this tour -- it's the first time it's ever happened. Kids have started requesting certain poses --squat poses, this pose, that pose. They're doing the prom pose and I just have to say no now, I feel so uncomfortable. One time on this tour a girl asked her dad to take a photo of us and then said. 'Dad, your turn.' Dad just comes up to me and picks me up. I didn't like it.”
2:00 P.M. Rian gives Jack a back massage. Jack asks for Zyrtec.
2:30 P.M. The first of the band's daily meet and greets commence. A mom mentions meeting the guys on Warped Tour with her daughter almost a decade ago. Another girl isn't as lucky. "It's taken me 10 years to meet you," she says, and asks them to sign her boobs.
2:39 P.M. Surprise celebrity appearance from Marnie the Dog! She successfully steals some of the thunder from the boys -- kids see it as a two for one deal. She’s also wearing an All Time Low crew shirt, gifted just for her.
2:45 P.M. The meet and greet continues. One kid says ATL were the first band he saw while in college and that he's graduating next week -- they'll be the last, too. One mom drove her twin daughters from Cleveland. A girl brings a One Direction shirt with Zayn Malik crossed out because Alex wore a similar one once.
3:00 P.M. As the guys continue the signing, I'm introduced to a man named Dave Sherman who works for Living the Dream Foundation, an organization dedicated to making the dreams of children facing life-threatening afflictions come true. Today, he's here with Mariah, a teen with cystic fibrosis who is excited to meet Issues, a band opening the show. She wants to meet ATL, too.
3:20 P.M. Eventually the meet and greets wrap up and we end up relaxing in catering. Rian is given a few free burrito gift cards from Chipotle with the message "Great tweeting with you." The rock 'n' roll dream.
4:00 P.M. It's time for part II of the meet and greets -- this one for the fan club. Each member stands a few yards from the other as kids who had paid like $40 come up to each individual member for some one-on-one time. They're also admitted into the show early. The entirety of Blink-182's Enema of the State plays over the loud speakers. It's impressive that kids born in 1999 know the 1999 album so well.
4:05 P.M. Marnie the Dog decides to join in the fun and distracts some girls. Rian even helps a fan take a photo with the Internet celebrity.
4:41 P.M. The guys are in a top-secret band meeting. I’m not allowed in.
5:00 P.M. Alex and I get to talking about the new album and the difference between UK and U.S. audiences.
Future Hearts hit #1 in the UK, which the guys are really excited about. “England has their finger on the pulse of what's awesome," Alex says. "They've supported us and we're almost, in some ways, bigger there than we are in the States -- which is weird because we obviously didn't start there. They appreciate rock music. Some Americans are a bit jaded. It seems to be coming back around over here.”
6:00 P.M. After a few hours of sitting around (such is the life of a touring band), Jack makes a cocktail and tells us his friend Abigail is coming and that she really wants to meet Marnie the Dog. Turns about "Abigail" translates to "Abigail Breslin," child-star-turned-badass-babe and genius behind “You Suck,” a song allegedly about 5 Seconds of Summer’s resident punk Michael Clifford.
Highly Relevant Sidenote: Barakat wears a 5SOS shirt on stage -- and the two bands are as close as brothers.
8:00 P.M. When ATL hits the stage, girls immediately throw bras. Somewhere near the hour mark, Jack puts one on, shedding his 5SOS tee.
9:30 P.M. When All Time Low get on stage for their encore, they cover Green Day's "American Idiot" and Blink-182's "All the Small Things." They end their performance with their 2007 single "Dear Maria," a track that was recently certified platinum -- and one I especially like, for obvious reasons.
This is the kind of band that makes almost two hours on stage feel like 30 minutes -- a brevity inherent in punk, an immediacy that keeps us coming back. The kids, as they say, are alright.