You Me At Six: Truth hurts

Confronting the truth can be difficult, but for You Me At Six’s Josh Franceschi, it was the spark that lit their brilliant new album, and a return to reclaim their roots.

Words: Jack Press.
Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.

When all the lockdowns were lifted, we took life for a joyride, flocking to festival fields, taking back the dancefloors, and putting local boozers back on the map. Some of us are still racing down life’s highway at 100 miles per hour; others hit a bump in the road. You Me At Six’s Josh Franceschi set his car on fire and drove it off a cliff.

“It was Christmas Eve, I had a big night the night before, and I spent the whole day just being violently ill to the point where I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. This was that ‘oh, no, I’m gonna die’ shit,” Josh reflects as he strolls down the Brighton seafront avoiding all the seagulls on a Tuesday lunchtime. 

With the car pulled over and his girlfriend “completely petrified”, Josh saw his life flash before his eyes. The Number 1 albums and sell-out shows didn’t matter; this was “the catalyst for me to recognise when I’m about to self-destruct. This was the final warning, or I was going to completely fall apart.”

So, he got sober for six months, which allowed him to “completely integrate a level of discipline and routine into my life which I hadn’t had before.” It helped him clear the clouds on his past self, visualise what he wanted to do, and manifest who he needed to be. “It was pretty integral to having a mindset which was really clear and healthy.”

Putting booze on the backburner meant Josh was “the healthiest I’ve felt mentally for a very long time,” he explains, having “only allowed drinking to come back into my life for highlight moments, like celebrating something.” In fact, now he’s not “in the pub five times a week getting shitfaced,” he could crack on with making his band’s next move.

Staring the stone-cold truth in the face, writing the songs that have become the eighth You Me At Six album, ‘Truth Decay’, was like staring down the barrel of a gun as it goes off. Following up on your first Number 1 album in seven years isn’t simple, but sobriety sure helped figure out the bare bones of it all.

“My friend who has been sober for two years said the biggest thing you find when you’re living a life of sobriety is you have to confront everything, there’s nothing you can’t escape, and I felt that making this record.”

“Being able to have that ability to confront something uncomfortable as an anchor and then aggressively go after my targets and what I wanted out of these situations and being able to articulate things better just made for a healthier dynamic. I’m not trying to do virtue signalling, but it’s amazing how you can truly understand yourself in a much healthier position if you allow yourself to, and you want to, and you’re disciplined enough.”

With his ticker back in top shape and his mind honed, writing retreats in the Cornish countryside and recording sessions in the Santorini sun saw Josh, bassist Matt Barnes, drummer Dan Flint, and guitarists Chris Miller and Max Helyer take on complex topics such as mental health, negative cycles of behaviour, and toxic masculinity. 

“I didn’t have the intent of wrestling my demons; I didn’t sit down one day and have this premeditated thought of going to write about how fucked up we were and how, on a human level, we should’ve done better for one another, and how I wish I was a better friend or a better son or a better partner or a better brother.

“I didn’t sit down with that in mind, but it’s one of those things that when you’re making yourself available to feel it, I had a very clear understanding of how vulnerable I could allow myself to be. I think there’s something in the more vulnerable you are with your music, the more people can relate to it because they feel themselves in the songs.”

These creative realisations, these emotional epiphanies that seep through ‘Truth Decay’’s sights and sounds weren’t just from going sober. With tenth-anniversary shows under their belts for breakthrough ‘Sinners Never Sleep’, they saw themselves time-hopping back to that and the albums that bookended it – 2010’s ‘Hold Me Down’ and 2014’s ‘Cavalier Youth’.

“When we sat down to make this record, we were coming off the back of making ‘Suckapunch’, which is such a creative car crash of different sounds and different bands within the same record. We don’t really feel like You Me At Six on that record has an identity, like who is this band?

“One night, we spent a long time just listening to our favourite bands and our favourite records they’ve made, then going onto our favourite records that we’ve made, and we landed in 2010-2014, where we felt we’d established a place for ourselves in everything. We were that emo rock band from England that were massive – that was what we were and who we were and ‘Truth Decay’ is us trying to reclaim that for ourselves.”

Reclaiming what was once theirs felt like a sign of the times. With the likes of Blink-182, My Chemical Romance and Paramore returning, You Me At Six were down for it; they wanted in on the action. While there’s “been a bunch of artists that have done the emo, pop-rock, pop-punk sound and positioned it in the mainstream consciousness again,” that’s made it all feel like “a really important time for this genre,” says Josh. ‘Truth Decay’ offers something new to the conversation.

“It’s got everything that a great You Me At Six album should have. You get fans that are either on the journey with you the whole time, some people dip in and out, some turn off completely, and some are discovering you for the first time. And this album is the one that if you’ve turned off, there’s every chance you’ll turn back on again. If you’re trying to rediscover your favourite band, hey, we’re here.”

With a mission statement set in stone and the gauntlet thrown down, You Me At Six spent weeks away in Santorini with returning producer Dan Austin. When they weren’t “writing, singing, hiking, swimming”, they were stripping it all back to the band’s glory days. “On the last record, we really pursued this genre-bending thing – I want to do dance music, I want to do RnB, I want to do metal, I want to do punk, and I want to do this. We were trying to please everyone’s appetite, and it became disjointed at times; I don’t know where tomorrow’s going to take us.

“With ‘Truth Decay’, once we started writing, we agreed if it sounded contrived or it sounded like it aged badly, then we’d go nowhere near it. But it felt good putting songs together under that umbrella because the last couple of records we’ve made felt foreign, whereas this felt familiar – I knew what the next step was instinctively.”

By recognising their missteps, reclaiming their identity, and riding down memory lane, You Me At Six opened themselves back up to the things they’d lost sight of. On album number eight, it was time to stop aiming for targets and just shoot for fun.

“It’s difficult being on your eighth album and hitting a moving target every time; it’s difficult to land it exactly the way you want to. I think the best songwriting we’ve ever done has been instinctive, almost kneejerk songwriting, and I think that’s what ‘Truth Decay really is.

“There’s not this endless peril of getting in these creative holes of, fuck; what do we do now? How do we do something with a middle eight? And no, we shouldn’t have a middle eight because our manager’s told us TikTok’s a whole thing, and we’ve gotta keep songs under two minutes. It’s all the bullshit that plagues the conversation; you go through hurdles trying to black that out.”

If they weren’t heading for breaking point, they were certainly banging their heads against invisible walls. ‘Suckapunch’ might’ve sent them back into the public eye and back into arenas, but ‘Truth Decay’ reverses the curse, Josh explains. “It’s like we’re simplifying everything; that’s why we’ve reversed the type with the kind of music we’re making. Sonically, it’s stuff that we know and therefore facilitates a more honest interpretation of the band.”

When you take a trip down a rabbit hole like memory lane, you run every risk as a band of retracing your steps like you’re treading water. ‘Truth Decay’ was born out of knocking on the door of those fears and facing them headfirst. “In its simplest form, this is us not overcomplicating it. So, doing stuff to keep it interesting for ourselves, and to contemporise what could sound like an old sound for the band. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward, and that’s what we’ve ended up doing on this record: going back to move forward.”

If they’re going backwards musically, lyrically, ‘Truth Decay’ thrusts them forward. Starting by asking themselves questions like, “What is real? What isn’t? Who is genuine?”, they got caught up in the world’s problems like a conspiracy theorist does the dark web.

“I do think we’re living in a period of history where we’ve lost touch with what’s important in more ways than one. Social media has made us absent-minded, hellbent on validation from people and algorithms, and stuff that completely takes away the heart of something like music, truthfully.

“You find yourself being more intrigued by how many streams a song’s had or how many views a video’s had versus another human being screaming the words back at you all night and at the end of a show tells you that song saved their life. I think it’s still there but smothered in other bullshit.”

Sending themselves spiralling, You Me At Six found symbolism in the concept of ‘Truth Decay’ as a title. “It’s referring to the variations of something being true or not depending on how you’re digesting it or which side of the table you’re sitting on because everybody supposedly speaks their truth, right? 

“People have now swapped over what’s factual and what is an opinion and claimed it as fact. Just because somebody is projecting their feeling is true, how much of that is actually eroded away with other stuff? How much of that is compromised?”

If ‘Truth Decay’ is the theme, the songs within it are the essay. Take the windows-down, shotgun-riding anthem ‘A Smile To Make You Weak(er) At The Knees’, for example. As Josh sings, “I got friends on the internet, they surf their fears but never get wet, they wanna make it whatever that means, living ain’t easy, it ain’t easy”, they’re pulling the wool from social media obsessed eyes. 

“It’s about the ever-relenting bullshit; it’s what we’re pinning our biggest insecurities to; it’s that validation through a screen or whatever. It’s like, when are you ever really in it in real life? We have a rule in our house that phones are away past 8 o’clock at night. If we’re sitting down to have dinner or going for a walk, and my girlfriend gets her phone out, I’m like, wake up because you’re gonna miss what’s in front of you.”

Without sounding “like a bit of spiritual young Jedi”, Josh’s move to the seaside of Brighton was what saved him from overdosing on screen time. “Living by the seaside is a healthy reminder that everything that feels so massive when you see something like the ocean, you realise how small it is.”

“That’s not to say it’s insignificant; it can still hold importance to you, but in the grand scheme of things, there she is. If she wants to fuck you up any time, she can. And look at how beautiful it is; this is something that has always been and will hopefully always be; it’s calm and ferocious all at the same time.”

In many ways, the rising tide of the ocean and its crashing waves are symbolic of ‘Truth Decay’. Some of its most beautiful sounding tracks (‘Mixed Emotions’, ‘A Love Letter To Those Who Feel Lost’) are some of its heaviest. After 18 years of being in a band, this is an album that reflects life’s changing seasons as you blossom and grow. 

“You get to certain moments in your life where things start to change to what you hold dear and what holds serious weight to your thoughts, and your actions change,” Josh enthuses, proud of the personal growth that ‘Truth Decay’ finds its roots in. 

“I’m not going after anybody. Even on a song like ‘No Future’ where there is spite and there’s anger, it’s more about being resilient, definitive, and strong and saying, ‘Look, I know you’re trying to fucking take me out here, but you can’t’. It’s not a ‘fuck you’, it’s not about challenging someone who’s saying you’re too weak or you’re a piece of shit, it’s about saying only I can pull the pin, not you.” 

Songs like ‘No Future’ are the sound of a band accepting change in their own house of flies. You Me At Six have had their fair share of flack over the years, but they’re becoming better human beings, and they hope others can learn that too. ‘Who Needs Revenge When I’ve Got Ellen Rae’ is a watershed moment for Josh, a life-altering song for a life-changing songwriter. 

“It’s me finding out something I thought was one way is actually completely another and rather than needing answers or requiring someone to justify their actions or to take on board my feelings, it’s like fuck it, I’ve got this other person in my life and that’s all that really matters so I’m gonna walk away from that topic, walk away from that feeling.”

Without doing a Craig David and literally singing about walking away, ‘Truth Decay’ is You Me At Six acknowledging their past to protect their present and prevent the same problems from occurring in the future. It’s the self-love and self-development we could all use right now, and for Josh and the band, it’s course-correcting You Me At Six’s evolution.

“Without us all of a sudden becoming this ambiguous and floaty band, we have matured, and we have grown up. ‘Truth Decay’ is what this band should sound like if we had continued doing what we were doing up until 2014; that’s how we should have refined our sound. 

“It should feel sincere and without being too much of a departure from the band on ‘Cavalier Youth’. If we went straight to ‘Truth Decay’, that’s the journey it would’ve been on if we had taken a sabbatical from music. It’s not to take away from ‘Night People’, or ‘IV’, or ‘Suckapunch’ or whatever, but if those records are the spine of the band, ‘Truth Decay’ would be the head.”

That kind of clarity doesn’t come overnight. For a band who’ve built themselves on being underdogs, it’s taken nearly two decades to feel comfortable in their skin. In fact, it’s taken just as long to realise they belong – even if none of this was the plan.

“It’s bizarre because we’re just a bunch of ordinary dudes doing something pretty extraordinary, and the band has been the vehicle for that,” Josh laughs at the mention of nearly leaving the band’s teenage years behind. “I always find it a head-scratcher when that conversation of how long we’ve been doing it for comes to the surface.”

“When I left college at 17, I didn’t think I would still be doing what essentially was just my hobby, purely something that was an escape from the monotony of normality. There was no expectation past, can we maybe make one album? Can we maybe get signed to an independent record label? Can we play actual venues with actual staff versus floor shows at fucking pubs to four people? It was very low-end scale, so it’s remarkable to still be in the conversation.”

It’s safe to say staying in the conversation hasn’t always been easy. You Me At Six have been on a rollercoaster of a career – and that’s saying something for a band who’ve had their own theme park ride – but they’ve stayed the course and climbed back up the mountains they’ve moved. They’re no strangers to it; they know the drill.

“It’s a pretty huge accolade because longevity in music can be problematic,” Josh sighs as the seagulls swoop past his phone’s speaker. “Not everyone gets it – some people get a couple of albums and a handful of years, and it’s done.”

The scene they grew up in has all but disappeared. The same bands they toured the country with and shared hype lists with have been lost. But not You Me At Six; they’re standing tall like statues. Not that they were ever expected to still be here.

“Ironically, it’s probably us and Bring Me The Horizon who were like the Marmite of the MySpace era in terms of how much we polarised. You were either really proud to say you’re a fan of the band, or you were like, ‘That’s the worst fucking band on the planet’.”

So if half the world thought they were the worst band on the planet, what’s been the secret to their success? How are they releasing their eighth album in 18 years while so many others fell by the wayside?

“I think it comes down to luck and how you nurture it once you have it. I’d like to think if people were to talk about You Me At Six without us in the room, the majority would say we’re good people, that we’ve behaved with a certain morality which I think does serve you well.

“I’ve seen a lot of bands that I came up with let themselves down with the way they behaved or the way they saw it as even just 500 people coming to a club to watch them was a given. I don’t think there’s ever been a gig I’ve played where I haven’t gone on stage and been, ‘right, time to fucking show up and earn it’. You’ve got to earn a room full of people singing your words and going crazy.”

They didn’t teach themselves that lesson, though; it came from following other bands around them. In Josh’s mind, Enter Shikari stole the show. “We’ve been orbiting one another for the best part of 16 years. Our earliest memory of success was playing a youth centre in Guildford with Enter Shikari, with there being 400 people crammed into a room that holds 75, being completely over the top, unsafe, DIY. They were the best at going to any town around the country, plugging in and playing at a pub and it being chaotic.

“They were always ahead of everybody, and I’ve always been super aware of what they’re doing, and truthfully just a fan of them as people. We had the song ‘No Future’, and I thought Rou [Reynolds] could elevate the song and take it where it needs to go; it has to have that moment.”

With Rou on board for one feature, they’re helping pay it forward by bringing on rising star Cody Frost for ‘Truth Decay’’s grand finale, ‘A Love Letter To Those Who Feel Lost’. “She’s a beam of light; she’s got that colourful character, that wilful spirit, and that beautiful voice – she’s going to be an interesting artist for people to go on the journey with. She gets down, but she gets up almost just as quick.”

But it doesn’t matter if you’re festival-headlining Rou Reynolds or up-and-coming superstar-in-the-making Cody Frost, you don’t get on a feature with You Me At Six for being a name. You have to earn that right. 

“What’s cool is both features have the You Me At Six DNA in them – some people have it, and some people don’t, and Cody and Rou have it. They’re artist’s artists. There have been some artists who were meant to be on this record that, because of the behaviour of people around them, were doing lacklustre performances – I don’t want you anywhere near a You Me At Six record.

“Don’t get it twisted; you’re being asked to be part of something that’s gonna be fucking great and gonna be special to a lot of people. And if you’re not gonna feel it and treat it with that respect and that full sense of gratitude, then don’t worry about it, you’re just a name on a song, and that’s all you’re gonna be.”

That mentality has helped ‘Truth Decay’ develop into the definitive You Me At Six album. The same mentality has helped keep them on the straight and narrow for so many years. It’s why Josh has no problem hopping on features with bands like Yours Truly – “I think they’ve got that thing about them, and whether they make it to be the biggest band of all time is irrelevant – they care about the right things and understand how to treat people and how to behave.”

More to the point, ‘Truth Decay’ exists today because You Me At Six have never compromised. They’ve stood their ground, no matter who tried to hold them down. “You’d do well to sniff out some bullshit on You Me At Six because there isn’t, because what it is, is what it is.

“We’re just a group of mates who understood we’re not that fucking special. We’re not superstars and rock stars, we’re not doing gear in toilets of clubs, we’re just a couple of lads who love each other, we love what we do, we care about the people that invest in us like our friends, our family, our fans and that’s it. Win, lose or draw, if you’re surrounded by people who’re about the real shit, none of the other noise really matters.” ■

Taken from the February 2023 edition of Upset. Order a copy below. You Me At Six’s album ‘Truth Decay’ is out 10th February.