Things got a little weird at Disciple HQ last week. Barely Alive’s mischief-featured test-screen logo took over their socials and a trippy, 90 minutes YouTube video popped up stating ‘we are Barely Alive’.
It didn’t take long to work out what the guys had planned: their debut album We Are Barely Alive.
And it won’t take you long to hear how devilishly diverse and exciting it sounds. Out today, it’s 13 tracks (and one interlude) of tempo-flexing, genre-blurring bass pressure… And a certified next level calling card for the duo who have gone supernovae since their early releases just over two years ago.
We’ve handpicked a few of the tracks for UKF over the coming weeks. We also got first dibs on the album interview. This is the deepest interview we’ve ever had with the guys, enjoy…
Dance music is a living, breathing thing that will evolve over time and we want to be a part of that evolution, rather than sticking with tradition forever.
Props on the album… It’s come as a bit of a surprise. How long have you been cooking this up for?
Willie: We have been wanting to write an album for a very long time. Since we started producing music it’s been a big goal of ours. About a year ago we started to save a folder of “album ideas,” and it just kept growing and growing over time with every studio session. Since the tracks range from almost a year old to being cooked up just a few weeks prior to the album deadline the full LP represents a lot of growth and maturation in our sound. As soon as we got the final tracklist made up, we immediately knew “yeah, this is us. This is Barely Alive.”
Matt: With the Barely Alive workflow we always have the luxury of possessing tons of unfinished projects. When the album idea came around it was honestly just more of a relief to me that we could get the music out finally. We were able to go through all of our projects that we had made over the last year and pick what we thought were the most awesome, and also the most congruous.
Were you particularly inspired by albums growing up? If so, what ones and why?
Willie: When I was a kid I listened to lots of rock music because my Dad worked as a music reviewer and took me to a lot of rock shows. That’s where my love for music began. When I was growing up I started listening to a lot of old school hip hop because I loved the style of production that would take old funk and soul music and flip it into something new. Albums like Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty and A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory, as well as the work of DJ Premier and Pete Rock, were hugely influential when I first picked up producing music myself. As far as bass music goes, Hold Your Colour by Pendulum was the first album that got me hooked on drum ’n bass and breaks.
Matt: I think our generation has a very different way of viewing albums than our parent’s generation. Now you can get songs individually much easier than you could 20 years ago, and to me, this has taken a lot of weight out of the mysticism of an album. Personally, I tend to pick and choose which songs I like in an album rather than listening to the whole thing. Despite that, some albums that really stand out in my eyes are ones that hold some sort of significance to me in some way. In my first car that I ever owned it only had a tape deck and the previous owner left a copy of Thriller by Michael Jackson. Due to the limitations of tape decks I ended up listening to the first half of it on the way to school while still half asleep and the second half driving home. To this day I can sing every word to most of those songs and I believe it is one of the greatest dance music achievements of all time.
You seem to be endlessly touring… Has a lot of this been written on the road or did you take time off the road to focus on it especially?
Willie: The touring has been pretty crazy this year, and we have been really lucky to bring our music to a lot of people. Still, we felt incredibly focused and motivated to write music. During downtime between shows we were really good about powering through studio sessions (and gaming sessions) and making progress. The vast majority of the work was done in the studio during off weeks, but a lot of these ideas were conceived while we were traveling. I love being able to take my work with me wherever I go, and I work on airplanes and in hotel rooms a lot while on tour.
A lot of artists tell me completing an album (especially the final nitty gritty stages) is one of the most stressful experiences an producer can endure… How stressful was it for you?
Matt: I think overall we had stress in a different way than most artists. Overall it was pretty smooth sailing on the production side. The only really hard part in my opinion was choosing what songs to exclude. This album was born because we had the recourses to make it, so we didn’t have to stress too much about making new music or finishing old music.
Willie: Yeah, it actually wasn’t too bad, since the album was something we really wanted to do for a while, and not something we felt like we needed to do. It all felt really natural and not rushed, even in the final stages of putting the tracklist together.
What was the most stressful part of the creative process? Any fights or meltdowns?
Matt: The hardest part for us is deciding who gets to use the mouse and who gets to use the keyboard. If we are not in complete mental harmony together when producing than this is impossible so we try to avoid fighting.
Willie: Yeah, we got into loads of fist fights in the studio. Matt would insist on stuff like using a certain kick drum that I didn’t like, so we had to settle all our differences in hand-to-hand combat. Nah, in reality we don’t get into disagreements about music. Arguing will just slow the creative process. Either the inspiration is there, or it isn’t. We don’t ever try to stifle it!
It made us kind of nervous to put our first drum & bass tune out on our debut album. We did it because it was another first for us, and we are always trying to bring something new to the table.
Obviously it’s your debut, you don’t get another chance to make this type of statement: before you started writing it did you decide on things the album had to include or do?
Willie: We didn’t ever sit down and say “Okay, today we’re going to start writing our album. We need to do this, this and this.” We already had a lot of ideas half-finished even before the album was a real thing. Everything else came together afterwards, and our main goal was to make (almost) all bangers and cover as many tempos as possible. It’s our debut album and we make heavy music, so we weren’t going to water it down for any reason. Still, we didn’t want to just stick to the same stuff we have been doing for years, and that’s why there’s only one tune at 140 BPM. Dance music is a living, breathing thing that will evolve over time and we want to be a part of that evolution, rather than sticking with tradition forever.
Matt: The only things we really wanted to include was consistency as to not alienate our fans, quality so people like it, and variation in tempo and genre so it doesn’t get boring. We just want people to overall have a positive experience listening to the album.
Tell you what I’m enjoying? The amount of breakbeats on the album…. There’s a lot of energy and funk across the whole album drum-wise. Was this an aim of yours or a theme that’s happened more organically?
Willie: I think that’s a big part of our “new” sound that we have been moving towards. Matt and I both played the drums for several years. The sound of drums has always been immensely important to us when it comes to writing music. We both started out mostly producing hip hop and drum & bass, which are both heavily reliant on drum samples. In hip hop, the way you design your kick and snare is a HUGE part of your signature sound as a producer, and in drum n bass it’s all about programming. With bass music, it’s kind of a mix of both. If you want to get that super high energy sound, you need to design drum sounds that pack a lot of punch and clarity, while also programming and mixing all the percussion in a way that carries the maximum amount of energy. It’s a lot of work!
Speaking of breaks – I’m feeling Fireflies. Nice to hear what a Barely Alive D&B track sounds like. Any plans to develop on this side of your repertoire?
Willie: It made us kind of nervous to put our first drum & bass tune out on our debut album. We did it because it was another first for us, and we are always trying to bring something new to the table. Luckily we had a little help from some talented friends of ours, Ewol & Espired, who helped a lot with getting the groove to sound like authentic D&B. It was very experimental but we love how it came out and look forward to seeing the reaction it gets!
We were able to send our humble little song over to the UK where these amazingly talented guys blessed it with some fire, then they sent it back and we made a song. How fucking cool is that?
Another track I’m feeling is Poison Dart – especially the Megadrive feels at the start – tell me about that…
Willie: Left to our own devices, we probably would have filled this album with 10 more tracks that sound like the first half of “Poison Dart”. When we’re not making bass music, this is our favorite kind of stuff to write. We actually have a whole other Soundcloud dedicated to cheesy retro 80s-style tracks that we write for fun after we’ve spent way too many hours making dancefloor tunes. However, we wanted to stay on course with the album, so we blended some of this style into the intro of Poison Dart. The resulting contrast worked out really well I think, with the vintage-kung-fu-movie backdrop suddenly disintegrating and twisting into a drop that hits you in the face.
Matt: We feel that Poison Dart is a very relevant song right now genre wise, which honestly is really hard to coordinate with the release of an album. It is really scary to think that a genre that you love a year ago could go in the same direction as big room house. As for the intro, both Willie and I make synth music as a palate cleaner. It is like an eardrum massage after a day of dubstep.
Now tell me about the Ragga Twins! Legends! Did you hook up in the studio for Windpipe or was it over the internet?
Willie: Yeah, we were really excited to work with them! We were working on this new hybrid sort of tune and ended up taking a loop from one of the Ragga Twins’ sample packs and chopping it up a bunch over the track. It sounded awesome, so we decided to make it a full feature. We sent the instrumental over the net and what they sent back to us blew us away!
Matt: The internet is a magical place. It has allowed us to so many things that we couldn’t have done normally. We were able to send our humble little song over to the UK where these amazingly talented guys blessed it with some fire, then they sent it back and we made a song. How fucking cool is that?
What was the most challenging track to write on the album?
Willie: Hackers would have to win that one, just by the sheer number of drafts we made of that tune before resting on a final. To be honest, it was really difficult writing a traditional-style dubstep tune like that without sounding like we were rehashing old ideas. Dubstep is still very much a big part of what we do, and it’s still a big part of the scene, but a lot of people see it as getting kind of stale – it’s all sort of starting to sound the same a little bit. You go to a dubstep show and it’s a great vibe and really high energy, but the individual songs that you hear don’t stick out from the rest a lot of the time. Ultimately we didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with Hackers but rather encompass the vibe and energy of dubstep as best as we possibly could.
Matt: Yeah, it’s really really really hard to make a song at 140 right now that doesn’t sound like some other song at 140 while still having the commanding energy that 140 has. It was a tough one to get right for sure, and I hope we did in the end.
Finally… What have you both learnt during the whole experience?
Willie: I think I’ve learned a lot just about songwriting and production. Finishing off 13 tracks in a few months seems like a marathon, but honestly it just feels like we were training for a marathon that we still haven’t run yet. We’re already getting started on our next few projects and it feels like the way we write music has changed a lot just by completing the album. Playing tracks off the album while on tour has been a great learning experience too, and is going to say a lot about where our music is headed next.
Matt: I think this album has allowed us to transition into what we think the Barely Alive sound really is. Just defining that sound and working within those boundaries, while also being able to take the liberty to shift those boundaries is really a great feeling.
Anything else to shout about?
Willie: I’d like to make a shoutout to the guys at Disciple Recordings, Rob and Rossy, for helping us put together this campaign and actualize our vision for the album. We couldn’t have a better team for the job! We’ve got lots of stuff planned for this fall to accompany the album and I feel like it’s about to get really crazy for us. Anyone who wants to stay updated should definitely get themselves on our mailing list, and also look out for us on tour this fall!
Matt: I hope you enjoy the album! Also, for extra fluffy pancakes, put in a tiny bit of rice vinegar. You won’t taste it and it will activate the baking soda for extra fluffiness.
We Are Barely Alive is out October 26 on Disciple Recordings. Pre-Order now.