You Me At Six’s fifth album, Night People, only hit shops on January 6 but the journey began in August 2016, when the band made an appearance at Reading Festival.
“People were asking me questions there like, Do you think you’ll ever headline this festival?” remembers frontman Josh Franceschi.
“And I said, The only reason I still get out of bed in the morning is that I have to headline this festival. I have to be part of one of those stories where we can say, We grew up going to this festival as punters, we’ve played every stage the whole way up and now we are closing the show. It may not be this year, may not be next year, but it will always be part of our DNA that we want to continue to grow.”
And growing is what You Me At Six (completed by guitarists Max Helyer and Chris Miller, bassist Matt Barnes and drummer Dan Flint) have been doing.
Before Little Mix and Pete Tong conspired to narrowly dethrone Night People from its midweek No.1 slot (it eventually charted at No.3, moving 14,318 in its first week), every YMAS album had charted higher than its predecessors.
Its 2014 BMG debut Cavalier Youth gave both band and reformed label their first UK No.1s (although 2011’s Virgin-released Sinners Never Sleep is their top seller to date, with 160,050, according to the Official Charts Company).
Similarly, the band’s progress on the live circuit has been steady – now booked by Mike Greek at CAA, they’ve become UK arena regulars, while their April UK tour includes a stop at London’s 10,400-capacity Alexandra Palace.
Franceschi has even become one of the most vocal artist voices raised in opposition to secondary ticketing.
In short, without the mainstream ever quite catching on, they’ve become one of the UK’s biggest and best rock bands.
But, while some outside the genre might assume they’ve arrived at modern UK rock’s glass ceiling, Franceschi is having none of it.
“We always want more,” he declares. “We’ve always thought that, if we always look forward to the next out-of-reach milestone, then at least if we fall somewhere between where we are now and there, we will be somewhere better off. We want to reach as many as people as possible.”
They seem to have found the ideal backers in that quest in the form of BMG. BMG’s reinvention as a record label as well as a publishing company goes hand-in-hand with its signing of YMAS.
Franceschi praises BMG EVP of new recordings Korda Marshall for “living and breathing his artists” and compares the label’s recruitment policy to “a football club going out and scouting the very best people”.
In return, BMG backed YMAS big time this time around, the album being recorded with James Bay/Kings Of Leon producer Jacquire King in Nashville and featuring, for the first time, outside writers such as Iain Archer and Crispin Hunt.
The result is a state-of-the-art rock album crammed with anthems such as Brand New and Take On The World that could take the band beyond its natural heartlands of Radio 1 (where it has enjoyed umpteen A-listed singles) and Kerrang! (where the band have scored countless front covers) to Absolute, Radio 2 and mainstream US rock radio.
“We wanted to put them on a more significant rock platform,” says Marshall, who A&R-ed Night People. “At the moment, they are a gold-plus sales and arena act in the UK. We’d like to get them to the point where they are a platinum act and a multiple arena artist.”
One thing that’s altered since YMAS last released an album is the landscape for streaming. Cavalier Youth was held off streaming services for two weeks but Night People debuted everywhere on day of release.
The band’s actual sales held up well, with 9,490 on physical formats and 3,604 permanent downloads, but Franceschi says the band is happy to embrace the possibilities of the streaming world.
“It’s a great service that Spotify, Apple and Deezer offer,” he says, “But, at the same time, I’m not sure if it’s translated for rock bands over the last two or three years. I’ve only really seen one or two in the Spotify charts, Twenty One Pilots and that’s about it.
“But we have 1.8 million monthly listeners on Spotify and, ultimately, if 10% of those people go and buy an album, that would be great. As young bands we have to accept that times are changing and you have to embrace change.”
And this time, not even Little Mix will be able to stop them.