“Our old stuff was technically pop-punk but it was a certain type… our minds weren’t working like that any more”
Having quick-fire success can have its pros and cons. For Liverpudlian group, WSTR, being on the receiving end of the instant recognition in 2015 opened many doors for the quartet. Shows alongside names such as Neck Deep, Creeper, Roam and Trash Boat placed the band next to some of the UK’s brightest up-and-coming bands. Likewise, their debut EP (‘SKRWD’) and album (‘Red, Green or Inbetween’) put them on the upper echelons of a burgeoning UK pop-punk scene. However, their rapid rise hasn’t all been plain sailing so with their second full-length, ‘Identity Crisis’, WSTR look to find their feet.
“Our old stuff was technically pop-punk but it was a certain type, almost underground, modernized pop-punk that I think we did pretty well but we wanted to expand,” states vocalist Sammy Clifford in the lead-up to ‘Identity Crisis’‘ release. “Our minds weren’t working like that any more. It wasn’t coming out like that, we had done that. It’s a natural progression,” adds Sammy on the making of the record.
While Clifford, along with guitarist Tom “Boots” Hawkes, admits “the roots” of being a pop-punk remain on ‘Identity Crisis’, it sees WSTR evolving their sound embracing big earworm hooks, streamlined songwriting and hints of organic growth. “We worked more on the science of songwriting, where to leave people hanging, where to bring it back. It feels more mature,” Clifford explains.
“I feel I’ve simplified things. I wasn’t too scared to be myself and make things stripped-back. The lyrics are more to the point. They’re not really concentrated on “being pretty”. The use of metaphors are still in there, but it’s more simple and universal. It’s easier to digest to more people.”
As a whole, ‘Identity Crisis’ is a more focused effort that isn’t anchored by clichés with a sharper, fuller sound. Tracks such as ‘Bad To The Bone’ and ‘The Latest’ are energetic and delivered with snotty confidence. Whereas ‘Silly Me’ and ‘Hide Everything Sharp’ highlight their willingness to deliver driving rock choruses. That hunger to deliver anthemic songs was something that sparked Clifford’s thoughts while he was writing the record:
“We listened to bands that we wouldn’t really have thought of before like Oasis and My Chemical Romance, big bands that play stadiums. We questioned ‘why or how are they doing that? What makes those songs so big?’ We just wanted to make our songs bigger and better.”
Just like many bands in a similar situation to theirs, WSTR have benefitted from spending life on the road. Having toured the UK several times and ventured into Europe, their experiences have influenced ‘Identity Crisis’. “Touring opens your mind, you’re travelling, meeting new people every day and different types of people all the time,” Sammy suggests. “I think for everyone in the band, your mind just opens, especially when you’re chasing your dream and you’re all doing things together. It’s something that isn’t the norm, it’s not an everyday occurrence.
“Your mind opens and that’s crucial to good songwriting. If you think you’re on to it and you’re confident, you write about what you’re experiencing; where you’re are and where you’re at.”
Although Clifford is the chief songwriter, the shared experiences he’s had with his bandmates means ‘Identity Crisis’ is lyrically relatable as Boots explains; “you’re writing what you’re feeling about because you’re there, Touring has its ups and downs, and from when I listen to Sammy’s lyrics on this album, you can definitely tell it’s about touring.”
Away from the road and in the studio, WSTR reunited with producer Seb Barlow for the making of ‘Identity Crisis’. By working with a familiar collaborator, having Barlow involved adds to the confidence that flows throughout the record.
“It was good to keep him involved. I’m never rushed with him and I feel like he gets the best out of me,” explains Sammy. “We can chill. It’s not like you have five days to get your vocals done then you’re out. We can take it easy. I work better that way.”
Without a doubt, ‘Identity Crisis’ flourishes with the realisation of the band WSTR want to be. Add to that their new label home of Hopeless Records, one which Sammy says are “in a position to help us expand”, and it’s clear the Liverpool four-piece are comfortably marking their territory amongst pop-punk peers. Whereas a first visit to America alongside longtime friends Neck Deep, as well as Trophy Eyes and Stand Atlantic, is sure to reinforce the fact that WSTR are here to stay.
‘Identity Crisis’ by WSTR is released on 31st August on Hopeless Records.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)