Some albums take an absurd amount of time to codify when there’s an ambitious plan behind them. Take Chinese Democracy, The Division Bell, and whatever the next Tool record will end up being (if we’re even alive to see it) for example. Most of those albums– by proxy of the artist’s often volatile blend of ego and ambition, sprinkled with a tad of disappointment á la the overhyping of their fanbases – end up sounding like shit. So it makes sense that The Great Depression sounds as juicy as it does: it was the quickest As It Is had ever formulated a record.
“It was three weeks before [our second album] okay. had come out,” says frontman Patty Walters. “We had the title, the vision, the message… It was all there, and all we had to do was write riffs and lyrics and full songs. It was such an amazing and thrilling opportunity that we had in front of us, and we were just so keen to embrace it. For almost the entirety of the okay. cycle, we were just kind of living and breathing The Great Depression – knowing so much about what it was going to be, how it was going to sound, what it was going to look like… We’ve been in this world for such a long time, it’s surreal to think that it’s out there with the world now. It’s not just something that’s living inside our heads.”
With The Great Depression came a great shift in the English pop-punk quartet’s systematic anatomy. Like My Chemical Romance before them with their generation-defining Black Parade LP (a confessed inspiration for the band), the change comes thanks to The Great Depression being a multi-act concept album complete with characters and an overarching narrative. But where As It Is differs is in the roots of their story.
“It didn’t really begin as a concept record, although that’s definitely how I’d describe it now,” Walters says. “It began as a lot of questions I was asking about myself, about this scene, about our society, and that we are potentially guilty of romanticising depression and mental illness, and by being of the conversation, there might be certain ways that we’re glorifying illness instead of eradicating the stigma around it. That was something I really needed to know within myself that I wasn’t guilty of, because that wasn’t something I had any interest in being a part of.”
The Great Depression marks As It Is’ most successful chart debut to date (no. 29 on the Billboard 200, as opposed to its predecessor’s no. 48 spot), and is currently enjoying a swathe of well-deserved critical acclaim. But as Walters explains, the band themselves are not in the least bit surprised.
“I think what’s really cool about the people that listen to As It Is is that they’re generally pretty open-minded,” he says. “It was something we learned with okay., that if we write a song as dark as ‘No Way Out’ or ‘Soap’ or ‘Austen’, or as poppy as ‘Pretty Little Distance’ or ‘Still Remembering’, as long as we remain true to our artistic integrity and it feels it’s coming from a genuine place, people are okay with us taking musical risks. That was really liberating, because it meant that with this next record, we would really push the boat out and embrace any opportunity we felt like taking.
“Even on the title track [of The Great Depression], there’s not even a real drum kit or a real guitar for, like, the first minute of that song. We were all in the studio like, ‘Wouldn’t it be just be really funny if we opened the album on that?’ And we were just like, ‘Fuck it, let’s do it. Let’s just see what we can get away with this point.’ And it’s so fun and fulfilling when you can do that, because as long as it’s something that we’re proud to release, it feels like we can do whatever we want with this band.”
So here’s where it gets interesting: despite all the optimism Walters expresses when he talks about The Great Depression, he’s gone on record in the past to say that, due to personal issues the band have tackled with in recent years, and a growing disillusionment with the project as a whole, it could very well be the official swansong for As It Is. Thankfully, when pushed for an update, Walters doesn’t waste a second in quelling our fears.
“I know for certain there will be a fourth record,” he says. “Our band was in such a negative place for such a long time, that just knowing we’d be making [The Great Depression] was the only thing keeping me in the band. To walk away on okay. would have felt – not disingenuous, but underwhelming. I think the people that support this band, even the people in this band, deserved more closure than that, so this would kind of be like our parting gift.
The Great Depression is out now via Fearless/Caroline. Buy here.