When Alex Gaskarth, Zack Merrick, Rian Dawson and Jack Barakat first came together in 2003 to start Maryland pop-punk band All Time Low, they didn’t have big expectations.
The four teens were attending Baltimore County high schools, three at Dulaney High School and Merrick, the band’s bassist, at Towson High School.
“It was a weekend thing, because we were very much still in school,” said lead singer Gaskarth, 35, still a Baltimore County resident. “I don’t think we really knew what we were doing, or even had lofty aspirations to be a real band.”
They started toying around with covers of Green Day and Blink-182 songs, and soon enough were playing shows at local venues like The Recher in Towson.
“We would take [tickets] to school on Monday, each one of us would get 25, and we’d try to convince people to buy, like a $5 ticket,” Gaskarth said. “Even then, I’d take my allowance and buy a couple myself.”
Two decades later, All Time Low’s music has been streamed nearly half a billion times. The quartet of friends has put out multiple gold and platinum-certified albums and singles — including the 2008 song “Dear Maria, Count Me In” and 2020′s “Monsters” — and released a ninth album, “Tell Me I’m Alive,” in March.
“We definitely didn’t think that ‘Dear Maria’ would be the song that it became,” Gaskarth said of what is one of the band’s most well-known hits. It went viral on TikTok a few years ago, and was Orioles player Ryan Mountcastle’s walk-up tune for part of this season.
On Friday, Sept. 8, the band will kick off its upcoming “The Sound of Letting Go” tour with a concert at the Maryland State Fair, opened by rock bands Mayday Parade, Gym Class Heroes, Grayscale and English singer-songwriter Lauran Hibberd.
Gaskarth, who attended the fair growing up, said the performance will set the tone for shows to come.
“There’s always a special energy at our hometown shows,” he said.
All Time Low got its start in a “thriving” local music scene in Timonium and Towson, recalled Gaskarth, who was born in Harlow, England, and moved to Maryland around the age of 7.
Before they’d graduated from high school, Gaskarth said, the bandmates signed with Hopeless Records, an independent record label in California.
“[Drummer] Rian and I had turned 18, but Jack and Zack had to have their parents sign for them to make it official,” Gaskarth said.
Their rise to fame began with “this little groundswell of excitement around our band locally,” he added.
Independent concert promoter Paul Manna, a Baltimore County native, has worked with All Time Low since the band’s earliest days and still recalls booking the group’s 2004 show at The Recher.
“I’ll never forget that show,” said Manna, 56, who founded 24-7 Entertainment in 1997 and has booked performers such as Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Blake Shelton for past Maryland State Fair concerts.
“There were so many fans — mostly girls — lined up out front, waiting for the doors to open,” he said of All Time Low’s performance nearly two decades ago. “That part still hasn’t changed. I knew they had the ‘it’ factor the very first time I saw them.”
Since then, All Time Low has advanced to grander gigs in an industry that Manna described as “ruthless and fickle.”
“These guys are literally living their dream,” he said. “It’s proof of how hard work and following your passion can actually come to fruition.”
But the coronavirus pandemic presented a roadblock.
“Our main vessel for our music has been our live shows, throughout our entire career,” Gaskarth said. “We write our songs so that we can go play ‘em on a stage.”
When the band started streaming virtual hangout sessions on Twitch and YouTube, they were trying to connect with fans and “basically just throwing things at a wall and seeing what stuck,” Gaskarth said.
Then in October 2021 came anonymous allegations against the band and against guitarist Barakat of sexual misconduct. The claims, some of which were refuted and retracted, went viral on TikTok and Twitter, leading the band in 2022 to file a libel lawsuit against at least three people behind the social media posts, Rolling Stone reported.
All Time Low called the allegations “absolutely and unequivocally false” in an online statement soon after the allegations were made. A representative for the band told The Baltimore Sun that All Time Low could not comment on the case, which is “currently in the courts,” and referenced the 2021 statement.
Musically, All Time Low has long been dedicated to exploring and growing, Gaskarth said.
“There’s always moments where we’ve pushed past what we thought our band could accomplish, and just tried to write different kinds of songs … and evolve our sound,” he said, citing tracks like 2009′s “Too Much” and 2017′s “Dirty Laundry.”
At the fair, All Time Low will perform a set that “walks through the eras” of the band. “Six Feet Under the Stars,” a song written about Baltimore, is likely to resonate with fans.
“There’s something about Maryland,” Gaskarth said. “I dig it here.”
Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, for All Time Low’s 5:30 p.m. Maryland State Fair concert with Mayday Parade, Gym Class Heroes, Grayscale and Lauran Hibberd. General admission lawn tickets are $49 and include admission to the fair. Attendees may bring their own blankets and chairs.