For guys who are only in their mid-twenties, All Time Low—and their pop-inspired punk sound—have experienced a great deal of success.
In the 10 years since starting out as a group of high schoolers from Baltimore, All Time Low have released six studio albums and toured constantly. Their latest release, Future Hearts, which came out in April, was their highest-charting album to date, hitting Number 2 on the Billboard charts.
I recently sat down with bassist Zack Merrick on the eve of All Time Low's Back to the Future Hearts Tour.
GUITAR WORLD: On Future Hearts, you worked with John Feldmann, who has worked with Black Veil Brides, Papa Roach and the Used, among others. How did he influence the way you guys work? Was he tougher than other producers you've worked with?
He drove us hard but in a good way. When I hung out with him and was recording, if I wasn’t getting something, he’d be like, “let’s go play ping-pong." He had this craziness about him in a good way. It was inspiring and fun. You were working, but it was never like huge seriousness. It was serious when it needed to be but a lot of fun. It was just something to get your mind away from what was going on. You’d come back fresh and loose. Things would come out that didn’t come out before.
John is known for getting the very best out of artists. The album was your best first week yet. Do you continue to be surprised—especially in this era where records don’t sell?
It’s funny; we get a weekly report of how things have sold. This record did really well, and it’s surprising. The record industry is going down, sales-wise. This album surprised people [in terms of] how it took off. It wasn’t expected to do that well right off the bat.
You guys are all in your twenties, correct?
We're all 27.
So you're truly from the post-Napster generation. When the band came together and you were kids dreaming in your garages, did you dream of platinum albums or was touring more of a focus?
We were more interested in tours like My Chemical Romance, the Used and Story of the Year, and they played this thing called Tigerfest. We all looked at it like, “we want to be on that stage." We didn’t look at it as plaques on the wall and awards. We wanted kids to go crazy. We all shared that mentality. We still rate shows on our interaction with kids and how they interact with how we play.
It’s probably a more organic experience than bands 20 years ago when the dream was a multi-platinum album. You guys are closer to the fans.
We feed off their energy. Everyone is having a good time.
Was bass your first instrument, or did you convert?
Alto-sax was actually my first instrument. Bass was my first in the guitar world.
When you picked up the bass, were there any players you gravitated toward in terms of influences?
The first song I learned was a Foo Fighters song. I took lessons at a place in Baltimore called the Music Workshop. My teacher would make me take home his records. The first thing I was really into was John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. I started there. In the genre of music All Time Low falls into, the first bass player Sean McGrath of Save the Day. I watched him live when I was 16. He was in the back and played really well, just did his thing like all bass players do. He was such a backbone in his music. Not everyone could hear it, but those who understood bass heard it.
In terms of gear, is there a particular bass you prefer?
I've played a Fender Jazz forever. Finally after recording and playing with John Feldmann’s P-bass, I had to get my own. I was strictly Jazz because I play a lot of jazz and blues. But for rock, the P-bass has this ballsiness to it. I never understood it until this last record.
It's funny how divided those camps can be. On the back end, do you use many effects or go straight into the amp?
Right now I'm going into Aguilar AGRO pedal, which is my dirty channel. I’m going into a SansAmp and an Avalon. Two DDI’s. Nothing fancy.
Do you handle channel switching off stage?
Yes, off stage.
You just kicked off a run of dates on the Future Hearts tour. What can we expect from this tour? Are you heavy on the new record or are you spreading it around?
We do a bunch of new songs off Future Hearts. It’s split. We have so many records out and we only have, like, and hour and a half. Being that it's the Back to the Future Hearts tour, we wanted to play some songs we haven’t played in a while. I’ll play a little acoustic guitar, even. People are going to enjoy it. We will be playing all the songs people want to hear and a few people won’t expect.
The Future Hearts tour continues in the U.S. through November. All Time Low hit the U.K. in February 2016. Find out more at alltimelow.com.