We sat down with ROAM‘s very own Alex Adam before their show at The Shed in Leicester. The show was part of their latest very intimate regional UK tour, where they brought tracks from their latest album Smile Wide, as well as older favourites. We discussed the new album and latest tour, as well as their insights of today’s pop-punk and how they have managed to find their own identity within the scene.
Before the interview we had a small chat and I asked how the tour was going. Alex said it was going very well, and the intimate shows were great – he did mention, however, that they were very tired, since their shows were all back to back, as they didn’t realise they had forgotten to schedule off days. But, so far, it was definitely worth it though.
You guys have very recently come off the co-headlining tour with With Confidence and now, shortly after, you’re on the road again headlining – what have you been up to in between the two tours?
In between the two tours – that finished in October I guess, maybe? We’ve been writing a little bit, obviously we’ve had Christmas, so everyone shut down a bit for a while and then just practicing for this, really. It’s been a couple of months, but It hasn’t really felt like it because Christmas was in the middle and everyone was busy at home, so it was nice to just have the best time to chill.
This co-headlining tour was one of the first times you presented Smile Wide – Have you noticed any difference between the audience then and the audience now and how they respond to the new material?
I think Smile Wide definitely divided people a little bit more than anything we’ve put out before, which is definitely what we wanted to do with it. We’ve established ourselves and we had this core fanbase, but now it was time to say ‘’This is us; this is our sound, this is the thing that defines us that no one else is doing’’, right? Because we can be a pop punk band, but there are a hundred other pop punk bands out there that kind of sound the same. So, this was our way of putting our own spin on that and adding a new sound to it. So yeh, I think it’s cool that it’s divided people a little bit, because it’s not for everyone and that makes it more special to the people it is for.
How has your perception of pop-punk changed over the years and how did you use that to develop your sound and find more of your identity as a band?
I would say, when we first started out, we were really just after the first wave of pop punk really being back again, I guess. And, I think at that point, it was really doing well. You’ve got all these bands coming through, like Neck Deep, Knuckle Puck, State Champs, As It Is, us – and the scene was really growing, very very quickly at the time then. Then I think it got to a point where maybe there was a little too much and there was too much to choose from – so, a lot of the new bands who came out then, didn’t really survive. Some people dropped off, some people changed sounds and went different ways.
I think we’re at a place now where a lot of the bands who were in that first wave are trying to find their own niche within their sound. They’re trying to have their own edge on it, because just being a pop punk band without anything necessarily unique about you, you’ve got to be really really good to actually keep going without anything special going on. So, I think we’re at an interesting place now where some of the noise has died down, where all these bands kept popping up – I think that’s dying down now, and so it’s interesting to see who’s going to carry on with the pop punk sound; Boston Manor are doing their own thing now, they’ve changed sound to be this more industrial-like Nine Inch Nails spin on not necessarily pop punk, but punk. And so now it’s just a case of seeing where everyone goes, I think, and what works and what doesn’t.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve divided your fan base over this new album, comparing the newer stuff and the older stuff – When you get people requesting older favourites that you haven’t necessarily prepared for the show, how to you receive that, how do you feel about it?
I don’t mind it; I think it’s fun that people want to shout out like ‘’Play Warning Sign’’ or ‘’ Play Tracks’’ or whatever. The thing that bothers me is if they continually do it, in every single gap of the set – I think that becomes a little bit rude. It’s fine to do it once or twice. We had someone in Exeter who did it at every single gap. In the end we had to say politely to them ‘’ You need to stop this’’ kind of thing. But the thing is, because this tour is so small and so intimate and because it is probably our real core fanbase that are coming out to this, we have put quite a lot of older songs in the set anyway, so it’s quite nice to play those and see that a lot of the people coming to these shows are very long time fans, which is cool.
[at this point Alex asked about my preferences in what I wanted to hear. I’ve mentioned that I liked the older songs, of course, but was really excited to hear the new stuff, as I was listening to the new album while drawing for my submission for their merch competition and we ended up talking about that]
How did you come up with the merch design competition idea?
I do a lot of illustration and I’ve done a lot of our merch recently. The thing is, people would tag us on stuff all the time, like ‘’I’ve drawn this for the sake of it, what do you think?’’ or people would bring us prints, or patches and things that they’ve made – we just thought ‘’What’s the point in paying someone who we don’t know, who doesn’t care about our music to design something when we could just say ‘’Hey, you guys are fucking talented, design us something’’. I know some people were saying we should just choose someone and pay them, rather than having loads of people submit designs and not use them and waste their time, but for us it was more about the community of everyone just getting involved and doing something creative. Whether or not you win and get payed, or have your t-shirt printed, it was more about giving back to the fanbase and let’s make something that everyone can get involved with.
It only came about because we have all these people who really care about us, who know what they want to see on a t-shirt, so why don’t we let them design the t-shirt?
There were some people who were obviously amazingly talented and then there were people who did simpler stuff – all of it was great. We ended up choosing something super simple; I wanted to choose the people who were more talented, but the guys were like ‘’We have to think about what’s going to sell the best, not necessarily what’s the most complex drawing’’.
We were looking for a hoodie design and Alex (Costello) asked me if I could design us a hoodie, but I didn’t really have time and there’s so many good designs, I was like ‘’Can’t we just contact someone else and say – Hey, you’ve also got it.’’ So, we did, and that one sold out very quickly, sold out all of them, which was awesome.
Your song ‘Piranha’ was inspired by some dreams that you were having – do you still get those dreams at all?
No – they only happened like three or four times, but it was all close together, so it was like ‘’Alright, what’s going on here’’, kind of thing. I guess dreams are obviously some kind of subconscious message from you being like ‘’Hey, sort this out’’, or if not necessarily, it’s a message, I think.
We actually went swimming in a BIG lake, I think it was in Texas somewhere – it was just desert and then this lake. I was there, there were no piranha, but I would just be in the water and know that I had to go to the other side, but I felt like there were these piranha that they were going to come and get me. I think it was me trying to say to myself ‘’Look, you know what you want, but you don’t know how to get there.’’
I think that’s what the song ended up being about; knowing what you want but not necessarily knowing how to get there. So that song’s really personal, I quite like playing that one because I can get back in that headspace again without feeling weird about it.
It was like a healing process kind of thing.
Yeh! I don’t think you realise at the time. When I’m writing the lyrics, I don’t feel like there’s any kind of therapy going on, but afterwards, when you look back on it, and you go… ‘’Oh, I don’t really feel like this anymore, I wonder if that helped’’. I think it does, but you just don’t realise it at the time.
Speaking of piranha, how’s Peter?
[for reference, Peter is their taxidermy piranha]
Peter! I don’t know where… Do you know what? Actually, I saw in the front of the van today, the stand that he came on. I don’t know where he is! The stand is there, but the fish is not. I know Matt had it for a while in his room, but the stand is in the van, so I don’t know if he’s got Peter laying in his room on its side… I don’t know, I don’t know where he’s gone.
And you spray painted him in the Turn MV?
Yea, which we’re not sure if we should’ve really done that, but the videographer was like ‘’Yeah! It’s gonna be great! We’re gonna do this.’’ Not really sure if that’s cool, to spray paint a dead fish, but no one picked up on it, so I think we’re alright.
When you were recording the album in the USA, did you find that there was a change in the songs or in their sound that was due to or inspired from the change in location?
Piranha was the location because we ended up with slide guitar in it, which is a very Texas thing and we were listening to a lot of cool country music while we were out there. But more the producer we worked with was very much like… we don’t have to fit in to what’s pop punk and what’s not, what you’ve done before and what you haven’t – we just need to write what comes out and instrument it in a way that fits what you’re trying to say. So, the character of the vocals, the character of the guitars; it wasn’t necessarily about the perfect take in terms of a technical part. If I played the guitar part where I fucked up a bit, if it had character to it, he wanted to keep it, like ‘’Let’s keep it, that’s perfect’’, which I thought was really nice. Same with vocals.
Before we would spend hours and hours doing one take just to get the perfect take, right? On this album, it was very much like ‘’ I don’t care about doing that’’ – because after an hour, you’re not going to be putting in any emotion into the vocals, you’re just going to be trying to get the perfect note. He was like… ’’I’d rather have the character of your voice when you’re singing it the first two or three times when you actually mean it, and rather it being a little out of tune or a little bit out of time, and we can fix it to an extend – but I’d rather have the emotion behind it’’.
I think this really shows in the album. There’s a lot more character in the vocals and he was really great at getting us hyped up – he was great in terms of a psychological way. He knew how to get the best out of each person; with Alex (Costello) it’s just shouting at him and getting him hyped up, with me it’s more about telling me where I’ve gone wrong and be very critical because I like to know what’s right and what’s not right. He was great at getting the best out of everyone, I think, which was cool.
So, he has been a major influence on you finding your sound?
Yeh, I think so! His whole thing was finding the things that make us who we are as a band, rather than going… ‘’This band does this, let’s do that’’; it was more like… ‘’Play me the songs’’ and then ‘’That’s really cool, and that’s got a lot of attitude, why don’t you do that there as well? Why don’t you make the guitar less in time and fit more what you’re trying to say? If you’re trying to be quirky then make a quirky guitar part, if you’re trying to be angry…the guitar part isn’t angry so what are you doing?’’
It was more about the emotion behind every single part rather than ‘’this is what song writing is, this is the formula, which was great. We’d really like to go with him again, just because there wasn’t a process, there wasn’t this set of rules that we had to do to get his record out – which is what I think a lot of producers are doing, they have their sound. The great thing about Machine (the guy we work with) is that he doesn’t have a sound, he just makes the band the most extreme version of what they want to do, which is cool.
Do you guys have anything exciting coming up…like the album documentary for example?
The documentary is taking a while – we got cut back, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to release it right now. We definitely want to release parts of it, but we’re not sure when yet.
Cool – well, best of luck, looking forward to it!
Is there anything you’d like to add regarding the album or any song specifically?
Uhm, I’m trying to think because there’s a lot of interesting stuff, but like… what is it? I’m trying to think about the songs and what we did for each of them, but… I mean, ‘Piranha’ for me, it’s a very weird song for us, it’s very different from the rest of the album, it’s very different to anything we’ve released before, but I like it because of that. Because it’s different, because the story is super real, there’s nothing made up in there, it’s all based in this dream. I think the chorus is cool, and the end part as well! Like, alright, we’ve had a bit of a chill song, but here’s a bit of anger and mess. It’s really cool and it feels like it goes down live very well, it feels like even though it’s not got the most energy in the world, it has its place in the set and it has a reason to be there, which is cool.
Awesome, thank you so much! Have a great show.
Thank you, I appreciate it!
Check out the gallery from the set!
Photos & Interview by Andrea Pavlou