After more than a decade spent as the self-proclaimed comic relief for pop-punk heroes All Time Low, lead guitarist Jack Barakat knew he needed an outlet for his pain following a devastating breakup. Cue: WhoHurtYou.

For his latest music project, Barakat linked up with songwriter Kevin Fisher (who has written for the likes of OneRepublic and 5 Seconds of Summer) to deliver a dose of brutally honest, yet delectable pop. Having just released their debut single, “Wish We Never Met,” WhoHurtYou is an avenue for both Barakat and Fisher to lay their hearts out on the line, turning life experiences into influences for their forthcoming EP, Stages.

Below, PopCrush caught up with WhoHurtYou to discuss the challenges to starting a new project, leaning away from the guitar-driven sound of All Time Low and their new single “Wish We Never Met.”

How has it been adjusting to a new band where you’re sort of starting at square one?

Kevin: Usually I’m just songwriting and producing. An artist will come in and we’ll make a song and I hand it off to them and they go out and do it. But these songs are super personal to Jack and I so being able to be the vehicle for it has been amazing. Since they mean so much to both of us, I think it would have been hard to see somebody else do them.

Jack: Writing lyrics and melodies has been a new experience for me and putting a personal story out there has been, too. I definitely wasn’t prepared for what the reaction was going to be and how it was going to affect me, but after 12 years of touring in a band, it’s cool to have a new experience at that point.

I feel like if you’re not a primary songwriter for a band or if you’re writing for other artists, your feelings and emotions may not get accurately portrayed in the finished project. Do you think that’s true and if WhoHurtYou has helped accentuate your voices as artists?

Kevin: It’s one of those things where some days I’m working with somebody and it’s not personal, and then some days where you pour your whole life and experiences into it. With this project, it’s completely Jack and I’s story.

You both have collaborated with many other artists and songwriters in the past, but what was it about your connection that made you want to go further and keep creating as a unit?

Jack: Our friendship just blossomed and we became really close buddies, and Kevin just happens to be a really great songwriter. It’d be like if I befriended a really famous actor and they were like, “You should start acting!” [Laughs] It just happened to work that way that he was like, “Let’s turn this sh---y situation and heartbreak into something positive.”

Kevin: We became fast friends because we have the same humor and mutual friends, too, but it was really because we were going through very similar things as far as our breakups went. I had been through something a little crazy and was just coming out of the other end of it, and I was just watching Jack starting to go through his own thing. Having to relate to that with each other definitely brought us a lot closer.

The songs you worked on together for All Time Low’s Last Young Renegade album has a different sound and feel than “Wish We Never Met.” Did you go into writing for the new project with a certain genre in mind, or did this dark-pop vibe come out during the process?

Kevin: My gauge for whether a song is good or not is like, “Does it hold up on piano? Does it hold up on just guitar and vocals?” When we got intentional about it, we were like, “Is it open, is it honest, is it good?” At the end of the day, I guess you can say these are pop songs but I think all of the lyrical content makes it a lot more deeper than that.

Jack: A lot of the songs started off on acoustic guitar and piano, and then our producer Sean Myers, who did the whole EP with us, tends to lean more pop. I wanted this project to be something that I haven’t been able to do for years. All Time Low has been a rock band for 12 years—we’ve been very guitar-driven. I kind of wanted to lean the other way.

With the EP called Stages, is there a point in the EP or maybe in future music down the line where you get past heartbreak and find happiness, either by yourselves or with somebody else?

Jack: This week we’re actually writing already for new music. I feel like we’ve still got a lot more hurt to talk about. [Laughs] I feel like I have a lot more to say with what went down and all of the different emotions. When you go through a breakup, a trillion things go through your head. It’s not just, “I wish we never met.” It’s so many things.

Kevin: As far as the name goes, it was kind of a happy accident. We were talking about the EP a little bit and we realized that there’s the stages of grief and that the songs we had so far represented each point you’re at. There’s anger, there’s guilt, there’s sadness, there’s acceptance. Even with the future music, too, there will be different stages. One day you could be sad and pissed off and one day you can wake up and be like, “I don’t even care anymore, I hope they’re happy.”

Even though this band is a passion project of sorts, how do you make sure you don’t get wrapped up in the industry side of things, turning an outlet for stress into something more stressful?

Jack: That’s something that always pops in my head because Kevin has been on the other side of the industry for so long but not the label-releasing side. We’re just trying to simplify everything as much as possible. We’re just going to write the songs, we’re going to figure out how to put them out, and we’re just going to let the rest be handled by the label and management. What’s most important for us is everything coming out the way we want it to, from the look to the music video to the songs. That’s what we’re focused on, and the other stuff—as I know from years of it—is out of your hands.

Kevin: I will say that Fueled By Ramen has been completely amazing. I see so many different artists on different labels being micromanaged and at the end of writing a record that they’ve poured their heart into, they go to their A&R and they’re like, “Ehh, I don’t know if we like it yet.” Fueled By Ramen just literally let us do our thing.

What stands out the most about this project is that it’s showing people that they don’t have to keep inside what’s hurting them.

Jack: In the beginning, this project was literally just to help ourselves, but when we posted our video and saw what everyone was thinking, everything became more real. But one of the biggest things I realized, because of social media, people have this unfair look into celebrities or bands and how they live their lives and it puts unfair expectations to live like that. But it’s not the truth. It’s not real. No one is always happy. I think it’s important for people to see that everyone goes through s---, whether you’re Brad Pitt or the average Joe.

Kevin: I think an interesting part about this whole project was when Jack and I were going through all of this, both of us for the first time went to therapy. That was a really hard thing to get myself to do. Another message with this whole group is, “It’s okay not to be okay” and just portraying it as, “If we can go do it, you can go do it.”

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