The guys’ bubbling energy and witty humour would charm just about anyone that crosses paths with them. Often playing off of each other’s sentences with the precision of choreographed dancers, Nathan, Alec, and Ryan speak to us about authenticity, social media and what pushes them to make music.
When talking to the boys, a couple of things quickly become apparent, the most important of which is their unflinching love of music and dedication to the cultural icons that have inspired them. They make no compromises when it comes to creating their songs - this passion being what brought them together in the first place when they met whilst discussing music over the internet. The band also speaks about the challenges of contemporary fame and their goal to eliminate as many filters as possible between them and their audience. This leads the way into discussions about the management of their socials, the idea of always being ‘plugged in’, and their love-hate relationship with TikTok.
With such a clear understanding of who they are, the boys make it easy to feel like you are watching your own friends follow their dreams and cannot help but be impressed. With New Rules, the artificial veil of perfection comes down and we are left with true talent without pretension.
Discover New Rules on Spotify and catch their new mixtape 'Go The Distance'. Out now.
To start off, let's imagine there's a documentary film being made about New Rules. If it were in three chapters, one about Alec, one about Nathan and one about Ryan, could each of you describe what each chapter would be about?
Alec: Have you seen Boyhood? The one that follows this boy over 12 years during his childhood and adolescence? If we modelled our film off of Boyhood, my section would probably be like the baby phase in that film. Ryan would be the adolescent phase and Nathan would be the adult phase.
Nathan: It gets reversed when people try to guess our ages though, they always guess I’m the youngest.
Ryan: Nathan has a good head on his shoulders, not like myself and Alec who are still a bit more wild. So, a documentary about each of us?
Well, I was imagining a documentary about the three of you, and there would be a chapter dedicated to each of you.
Ryan: So for chapter one, maybe it should be about Nathan since he was born first.
Nathan: I think we could begin the movie with me starting on my own in a different band. After doing more writing, I eventually moved away from that group which would lead me to this current project. And then I guess chapter two of the film would be you in Dublin, Ryan.
Ryan: I was in Dublin studying and kind of like Nathan, it just wasn’t really for me. I just wanted to make music. So, when Nathan asked if I wanted to write and make music I said yes straight away. That was a big moment because it was right as I moved from Ireland to England - well, I didn’t just write a song and move in immediately. I was travelling back and forth between London and Dublin at first. I guess that's pretty romantic, isn't it? You know, travelling for your love of music.
At what point did the three of you come together to create the band?
Nathan: It was about three and a half years ago now. We met because I messaged both these guys on Instagram. After chatting for a few weeks about music we eventually met up for a weekend to write songs and to see if we liked it and see if it kind of worked.
That's amazing. I didn't realise you had met online, you’re like the pop version of Brockhampton!
Ryan: Yes, I think we just need some more members! And maybe Alec should say something about his story as well. You’ve got a bit of a Superman thing going on, right? You're kind of shy, interested in nerdy things like dinosaurs, and then you go on stage and you're like this Superman figure.
Alec: Oh, hey, I'll take that.
Nathan: He might also be Shrek to Handsome Shrek. I prefer this comparison because there's context there. He gets called Handsome Shrek quite a lot. You know, you've seen the Shrek movie where he gets turned into a human right?
Ryan: We are thinking this Halloween that Alec could do Handsome Shrek, I would do Donkey and Nathan could do Puss in Boots.
It sounds like you guys have a plan. I’m looking forward to seeing the outfits! On that note, when do you feel happiest?
Alec: This one is quite easy for me. I'd say we are all pretty happy on stage. I won't speak for you guys, but I feel very happy out there.
Ryan: I think the stage for me too. I only ever really switch off when I’m playing sports too. Mainly on stage, but also when doing things that I love that take my mind off music.
Nathan: It’s when we’re working in the studio as well for me. When we write a good song, that's a great feeling. But the non-musical answer would be in an airport. I like airports quite a lot.
Alec: You like a ferry too! Nathan loves a boat.
Nathan: Actually, yeah, we go over to Dublin quite a lot because we have a lot of really great fans over there. When we take the ferry over these guys hate it and so does everyone else in our crew but I'm always having the best time. I take a wander around, put my earphones in and have a proper look at the sea. It's great.
What about you Alec? You said performing but what else makes you happy?
Alec: For something other than music, I've got five dogs back home, which I make sure to hang out with as much as possible. And it's always nice seeing them and the family when I go home.
Ryan: It’s dogs first and then family, right?
Alec: Yeah. So that’s what makes me happy. You could say I’m a family man and a dog man.
You started your journey as New Rules just before the pandemic. How have the past two years of lockdown shaped your creative process?
Ryan: It's been a weird time. We had a moment before the pandemic which was just tours, tours, tours, and our career was taking off. And then it felt like it wasn’t advancing so fast anymore because we couldn't go out and play. One really good thing that came from the pandemic was not being able to go to the studio. We had to make one of our own in our old house, on the top floor. We started to learn how to produce as well, which we couldn’t have done if it weren’t for everything stopping. At this time we also really focused on the writing process. We put out some of our favourite songs when working in our studio like Really Wanna Dance With You and Drunk Texts. For those two songs, it was just the three of us up in that room. So yeah, that was one really good thing to come from that time.
Nathan: It forced us to work out who we were as a group. Because we had nothing else to do, all we could do was write songs. So we did. And it was kind of good.
Ryan: It brought us closer as well.
So you produce all of your songs?
Ryan: We’ll usually record and master our stuff. And oftentimes we’ll bring in a producer that we've worked with before. We've worked with quite a few producers, so we like to think “Oh, this producer would nail this song. Why don't we bring them in on that?”.
During that period, you also grew your online presence quite a bit, right? How do you view the relationship between your social media and your music? Did you expect that you would have to do this as musicians?
Alec: It's definitely a toxic relationship, but there are some highlights to it.
Nathan: I think what’s hard about social media and being in music is working out TikTok, which was exploding at the start of the pandemic and is still the most important platform for musicians. We first had to work out what makes us interesting on TikTok and why people should like our music. We experimented with a lot of ideas which led us to our name songs series, where we wrote songs for different people on TikTok. Suddenly there was a lot of crossover between the music that we were writing for the band and what we were making for social media. And it's been interesting to see where those meet.
Alec: It led to us releasing an EP of the top six names that we'd written for our fans on TikTok about a year later.
Ryan: It's such a useful tool, it would be crazy not to use it. But we are trying to be conscious of the content we make. We want it to showcase our playing, as well as the fun side of New Rules. Because otherwise, if it was just posting and asking people to stream our music constantly, or if we're spending three hours editing a video every day, we would get absolutely nothing done, and I don’t think we would be very happy. So our main rule is to make content that doesn't drive us insane.
That makes a lot of sense, managing your socials could be a job in itself. It is also such an interesting phenomenon to see you make the name songs series because pop music is so often directed to someone (a love interest or something) and you are using the unique power of social media to make it directly for your audience. It feels like a streamlined version of what pop is in its essence.
Nathan: It really is. And the reason we started doing the name song series was because we have a song called Emily, and so many fans were asking us if we could make a song like that but about them. It all just fell into place, one day, we thought: ‘why don't we just write songs about these guys, too?’. Since we had so much time on our hands during lockdown, we made it happen.
Ryan: We always want it to be that way: music first and TikTok second. If people are coming to our TikTok and they've heard our music, that's all we want - for it to come back to the music. Because that's what we are first, musicians, not content creators.
Do you enjoy creating it?
Alec: We're fans of the app as well - I think the whole world is - but it's just great to scroll through and see something that makes you really laugh. You think ‘oh, how can I make this relate to me?’, and ‘how can I bring this all back to the band - back to the music?’.
Ryan: It's a nightmare sometimes though because of how time-consuming it is. But we're learning to manage that. We're making it work with all the other stuff we're doing behind the scenes that I guess sometimes people don't see as much of what we're doing.
Do you consume a lot of social media?
Alec: Yeah, we do and often it relates back to making the content. Because even when you're just having a scroll you’re always thinking ‘how can I make this?’ and ‘how can I make it talk about the band?’. It’s constant really.
Ryan: There was a stage when I wasn't on TikTok and I was really proud to be one of the few who wasn’t. But at some point, I thought, hang on, it’s kind of my job to be good at it.
Alec: It is truly crazy to say my job, in part, is to be on TikTok.
Ryan: It would be great though to be Harry Styles and to not have to use your phone.
Alec: Around the same time that TikTok was blowing up, we got a text from a guy on our management team. He told us there was some new app coming out that had taken off in Asia. We just thought to ourselves ‘oh, God, not another one’. Honestly hearing that there was another app we had to worry about was the scariest thing I think we could have heard at the time.
A whole other app to run sounds nightmarish. Do you deal with all of your socials on your own?
Alec: We take it seriously as well because we've got a really good relationship with our fans. We've set a good precedent with them where we always talk how we would talk to a mate. We’d like to keep it open and communicative in this way. So, if it weren’t us running our accounts –
Ryan: - They would know straight away. I mean, a lot of the time they just take the piss out of us. And even if we disappear for a few days, they’ll guess there must be something coming up. The fans always guess when we are busy and working.
Nathan: It's freaky. They do know who's on the account as well. One of us will write a Tweet for example and they’ll guess that Ryan's on the account or Nathan's on the account. They'll just know. It's strange, but also very sweet.
Do you ever have to deal with any online hate?
Alec: It’s been pretty good so far but I'm sure we've had some in the past.
Ryan: It's mainly on our most successful videos, like Pasta.
Nathan: Pasta had a bit of a moment on TikTok recently and anything that gets a lot of attention is bound to get some hate, like any big video we've had in the past would always get a bit of hate. But we kind of enjoy that because it's quite funny sometimes to see what people have to say.
Alec: We're definitely lucky since there are three of us. I think it'd be a lot harder for a solo artist who might not have someone around who understands it. But the three of us take the piss out of each other anyway. So if someone else does it, it's not really a problem.
Ryan: Alec will often say, “Can I go back and say this?”, and we'll tell him, “No. You can't call them that. No.”.
Keeping on with the topic of perception, how does the ‘real life’ New Rules differ from the New Rules on stage or online?
Ryan: Nathan is way weirder in real life.
Nathan: Yes, I’m definitely more reserved on socials. Other than that, I think a lot of what we do is quite genuine.
Ryan: I think so. And that has been a conscious thing, hasn't it? To really just show who we are. It's a lot easier that way. You don't leave fans guessing. We’ve also spent a lot of time chatting to fans after shows, and I feel like that's when they get a true sense of us as well.
Nathan: I wonder what fans thought when listening to our music at the beginning. We were mainly releasing very sad songs but our onstage presence was a lot more light-hearted.
You haven't found that there's any pressure to act in a certain way since your newfound fame? Because your situation has changed pretty radically in the past two years.
Nathan: We just concentrate on the work we do every day and try to stay as close to that as possible. We see it evolve daily, so we don’t really need to overthink how we are perceived usually. One thing that feels quite new is nowadays you have to be very careful on social media. I'll find myself going through something, which I think is quite funny, and then be like ‘oh, God, I hope I won’t offend anyone with that”, and most of the time it wouldn't, but having to overthink it is tiring.
Alec: It seems like you are always going to offend someone. But generally, we do feel like we may be scrutinised. I’d say it still might be for the best, it’s just an adjustment.
Nathan: There are obviously many reasons why being careful is best. But it's definitely made social media a bit of a tricky place, especially Twitter. It can feel like a minefield these days.
Alec: And Elon Musk is about to make it an interesting place.
Ryan: We take inspiration from the artists that we look up to when it comes to a lot of this stuff. I went to see Ed Sheeran last week and I've always admired how he is. I've heard from mutual friends that he is exactly how he portrays himself online and in interviews. I like to think of how I portray myself professionally in the same way as I portray myself to my friends. I think that it’s cool to just be yourself. That's what we've always wanted to do. We always said we wanted someone to be able to look at us and say “Yeah, I could go and have a drink with them”.
It worked, I totally want to get a drink with you guys! I wanted to ask you about the busking/street concerts you have been doing recently. Have you done anything like this before? How was that experience?
Alec: It’s something we started doing a lot more recently - and we want to keep doing it. We're going away to America soon and we hope to do the same thing over there, in as many cities as we can get to. Initially, we just floated the idea out on our socials saying where we would be and when. And we were pleasantly surprised by how many people came down. But yeah, it's what we came from, we used to busk all the time when we were growing up. The three of us individually would take our guitars when we were 14 or 15 and play in the streets. That's kind of how we started out so it's nice to come together and do it as a band.
Ryan: We haven't seen the fans in a little while so going out to play a little free gig on a Sunday is super enjoyable for us.
It sounds like such a direct way of connecting with your fans. That makes me wonder what your version of an ideal performance is?
Ryan: It's funny, I was going to say this for the last question but the busking thing is really cool for us because it's a different type of interaction. As you said, it's very direct. We've done gigs in Shepherd’s Bush and the Ritz in Manchester - those are such different experiences than street performances. We try to bring the direct feeling to bigger shows as well. This is why we had an acoustic session on our last tour, where we tried breaking things down and just having a chat with the crowd - like you would when busking. That's something we really want to keep doing going forward. I think that's where we thrive and where we can joke around a bit more.
Alec: One of my favourite shows was when we were in Nashville in January, we played a sorority gig.
Ryan: I wonder why you liked that one!
Alec: It was in the basement of someone's house. It was just great, the room was filled with students. We didn't have a proper sound setup. It was just us doing acoustics. And you know, it was probably the most fun that we've had playing a gig.
What is the story behind ‘Go The Distance’?
Alec: We tend to write together; someone will usually bring an idea to the others and we go from there. In terms of the actual writing, it's kind of doing the same thing that a lot of pop music does, which is taking personal stories and making them universally applicable. So anyone listening can apply the story to their own lives. With that song, you know, it's about being away from someone you love, and really missing them and just saying, ‘we've got to hold on, it's not going to be long until we see each other again’. That's something we face on the road, when we've been away from our families and our friends, sometimes spending months away from loved ones. It applies to when we were in lockdown as well. I think it's a concept that a lot of people can relate to and feel what they want to convey through the music.
Ryan: We really wanted to be uplifting as well. To me, it feels like quite an inspiring kind of message. Especially when you're singing it.
Nathan: We started with the post chorus and found that catchy tune. The fun thing about that song is that we wrote it with the lead singer of Circa Waves, who we were big fans of. We grew up listening to his band. We met him and when we wrote the song, it just worked straight away, we had a fun time working with him.
Ryan: That was also when we were getting ready for our tour. We were thinking: let's just write some songs that are going to be amazing on tour. Something that would really play great with a crowd. And it really worked out, everyone was chanting at the concerts.
With this song and the recent announcement of your US tour. What can your fans expect in the coming months?
Nathan: Well, a lot more music basically. The mixtape is coming soon. And we're already working on the songs that will come out after all that. We’re hoping to tour a lot more and are very excited for our shows in the US.
Ryan: I think this whole busking thing has opened up the door for people to have their say on where we go. We want to listen to the fans and see what's happening in each city. If Sydney, or maybe Berlin are streaming the mixtape like crazy and getting it on the radio. If they say “We need you to come and do a show in Berlin!”, you better believe we'll be on the first flight there.
In 2020, you threw your support behind the Black Lives Matter movement by asking fans to donate to get a sneak peek of your unreleased demo. Are there any other movements you plan on supporting through your music?
Alec: We see it as something that’s ongoing. Whenever we see a cause we weren’t aware of, whether it's a fan that brought it to our attention or it's something we've seen on the news, we will always do what we can without being preachy. We do feel a responsibility to mobilise this little army that we have.
Nathan: My sister actually started a charity in lockdown. It's called Pachamama and they provide sanitary pads for refugees. We're definitely fully behind them and could imagine partnering up at some point.
Alec: We always jump on anything linked to animal welfare as well. My mum has a foundation which brings over dogs from Cyprus and Romania, where animal welfare isn't as good and pairs them to people in the UK. That’s something the three of us are passionate about.
Ryan: Seems like my family needs to step up and get themselves a charity as well!
What drives you to make music?
Alec: To be honest, all we do is listen to music. I have a deep appreciation for music and we all grew up listening to people who share a love for music in the same way. People like Ed Sheeran who is completely obsessed with writing. John Mayer too. They make it as much of a part of their lives as they can and I love that. I want to do the same.
Ryan: We’re pretty music obsessed. None of us could imagine doing anything else since we were kids. Music itself drives us. Especially when you get a taste of the connection your music has with people. Realising we could be successful doing the thing we love, that makes you want to push as far as you can, because the more successful you get, the easier it is to do it every day of your life.
Nathan: The thing that drives me is seeing someone write a song so good that you can’t help but wish you had written it. When you listen to someone else crack the code, you kick yourself a little bit. Then you want to just put your head down and make something at least as amazing as that.
What's the hardest part about being a musician? And how do you pick yourselves up after a hard day?
Nathan: I’ve heard it a lot before but it's so true. In music there are really high highs and low lows, you know? The highest high, like doing great on tour, can lead straight into the lowest low like the pandemic and not being able to do anything. The intense contrast is what’s hardest for me.
Alec: It’s easy to say there's always someone who's worse off than you. Especially us, you know, even at our lowest, we're still living together in a place in West London making music for a living. We're much luckier than most people out there. But I don't think that takes away from the fact that there are moments where it is like a tough job and you really have to motivate yourself.
Ryan: It comes back to what you were saying earlier about all of the things that people don't see that musicians have to do, especially now which is basically being a digital manager as well as an artist. When it comes to the marketing, you have days where you're all over the place and you feel useless because you might not be able to do either of those things. You might think ‘I can't think of one single video today’. When you do feel useless, it's often important to remind yourself of why you do it. For me, that means my passion for music. It sounds simple but I listen to music and think: ‘this is why I want to do it’.
I can totally see why you would have intense ups and downs. You are asked to be fundamentally creative in almost every sense of the term. Okay, so here is a different type of question: if you were in charge of the world for one day, what would you do?
Alec: I'd create a new holiday. Let’s say 'Alec day'.
Nathan: For me, I’d make pasta free because that's on-brand for New Rules.
Yeah, that's such a good idea. You might need to contact Barilla and work out a brand deal.
Nathan: I’m afraid we’ll need to steal that idea from you. If anyone asks, we came up with it, okay?
What does the perfect evening look like for you?
Ryan: We have a bit of a routine these days, don't we? We'll be in the studio for most of the day. When the day is over, we’ll usually cook something, sometimes together and sometimes separately. We've all gotten quite into our cooking. Then, we'll watch an episode of Peep Show. That’s a pretty nice standard evening for us.
Alec: The cherry on top of the evening is playing the game where we guess the monthlies, which is a game we play together where we all guess the stats on our music.
Nathan: Someone gave us the login on our Spotify analytics and now we get lost in that data regularly. You can look at different cities. It’s so nerdy.
Alec: They seem embarrassed now, but you should see their faces light up when we play this game. We’re just nerds at heart.
Where do you see New Rules in the next couple of years?
Ryan: We want to connect to as many people as we can and have that impact that we spoke of before. We hope to inspire others. Like Ed Sheeran and John Mayer for us, we would love to inspire others at some point.
Nathan: When we write songs and are in the studio, we find ourselves saying: ‘what would this person do? What would John Mayer do?’, and I think if in a couple of years, artists are going into the studio and saying: “What would New Rules do?”, that would be very cool.
Ryan: As much as we love performing to a small number of people, all three of us have gone to see stadium shows at Wembley or Croke Park, that really is the dream. Connecting with that many people and getting to do your thing in front of that many people, I think that would be pretty special.