Patty Walters made a name for himself in the YouTube world. Videos of him putting unique pop-punk twists on tracks from bands like Paramore and All Time Low, as well as on some well-known Disney tunes, have garnered more than 32 million views since the first one was uploaded seven years ago. (Must watch: a screamo take on "Let It Go.")
In 2012, Walters distanced himself from his life on YouTube to take on a new venture in the music scene: fronting the U.K.-based band As It Is. Crossing over into alternative music as a touring artist with a viral background allowed him to pursue his childhood dreams of being in a band while still being immersed in internet culture, bringing his viewers along the ride. As It Is just finished a tour with Sum 41 (casual) and dropped their new album, okay., their most personal and vulnerable work yet. It's thematically centered around the phrase "It's OK to not be OK," something Walters said "was never the intention from the start; it was just kind of where writing this record took us."
MTV News talked with Walters before As It Is heads out this spring for the Okay. USA tour (their first North American headlining tour) to discuss his journey from screen to stage as well as his band's stance on advocating for mental-health awareness.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
After you found YouTube success on your own, why did you go the band route as opposed to just continuing to build your audience as a solo artist like, say, Justin Bieber did?
Patty Walters: Personal success in the music industry was always, from the beginning, the end goal in making my YouTube videos. I started making YouTube videos when I was 17, and As It Is formed when I was 20, so I was doing both at the same time for a while. The band was never busy enough — or in a way, ambitious enough — and I never felt like I was withholding any of my efforts from the band, so I could do both at the same time. When the band was approached by Fearless Records, that seemed like the fitting time to give 100 percent to just the band. When it came down to having to write an album and tour as relentlessly as we did, doing the two was not an option anymore.
What was the transition like? Did you find that your YouTube audience followed you to your endeavor with As It Is?
Walters: Yeah, definitely. I found it strange, to be honest, that the two scenes [YouTube and alternative music] were not more intermingled, because the people that go to conventions like VidCon, PlayList Live, and Summer in the City also love bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Panic! at the Disco. To me it was so very bizarre that there was this kind of strict separation for a long time, and that's, at the very core of it, what my YouTube channel was trying to bridge. As much as the band has come to find our own demographic and find our own success in where we belong, there is still an element of YouTube there, and I'm proud of that. I think it's incredible.
You've shared a lot of personal stories and thoughts in your YouTube vlogs, and now you're sharing personal stories through your music. Having both YouTube and music as outlets, can you compare and contrast the two as platforms? Has one been more therapeutic/rewarding than the other?
Walters: The thing that is more rewarding about putting my thoughts into lyrics, melody, and music is that I get to perform them. When you're just kind of speaking your thoughts, to me that wasn't a performance. That was just honesty. And as much as these lyrics are honest, being able to perform them and to feel that kind of catharsis and therapy onstage or in a vocal booth or just listening back to our songs and our records is more powerful. It just adds an extra dimension to the honesty of the words alone.
Your latest single, "Hey Rachel," serves as a really meaningful and heavy apology to your sister, who suffered a debilitating patch of depression and anxiety. Do you have any advice or insight for someone who has a loved one suffering from mental illness but doesn't totally understand what's going on or know what to do about it?
Walters: Just talk. Open the conversation. I still to this day struggle with, and don't know why I struggle with, finding open conversation so difficult. As soon as you kind of begin a discussion and a conversation, it [becomes] comfortable after the immediate kind of initiation of that conversation. It's uncomfortable at first, and the idea is uncomfortable, but from experience these conversations are never difficult once they're going. They're only ever beneficial for both, or however many people, are involved. To present this finished song to Rachel and to have to ask for her blessing to tell her very, very personal story was a very difficult thing to have to do. I'm very fortunate that she understood that the song came from a place of love and that I'm very proud of it.
It's been a few years since you have filmed a cover or vlog for your YouTube channel. Do you think you'll ever go back to it?
Walters: It's a real genuine possibility. I still very much feel what's right for me is giving 100 percent to one thing. So for it to happen again, it would have to be at a time when the band is less busy. I'm still in love with YouTube culture and the YouTube community. At the end of the day, I've been obsessed with alternative music since I was 10 years old, and this is my childhood dream come true. As much as YouTube became a place where I felt like I belonged and where I was hugely validated and fulfilled, it was this really unexpected reward. Being in a band is the thing I have been aspiring to achieve my entire life.