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With Reading & Leeds in the history books, Bring Me The Horizon now stand on the eve of a career-defining moment. Nick Ruskell joins Oli Sykes and the band at the Drop Dead HQ to find out how embracing darkness on That’s The Spirit is leading to an impossibly bright future…
In the moments after Bring Me The Horizon walked offstage on December 5 last year and headed into their dressing room in the bowels of Wembley Arena, the silence was deafening. The previous two hours were deafening, as the Sheffield sluggers grabbed one of the most famous rock venues in the world by the throat, and wrestled it until some 12,000 people inside were little more than an exhausted, jubilant mess of humanity. As those who watched will know, it was quite possibly the gig of 2014. It was a triumph, where incredible volume, insane visuals and barely controlled energy collided in the perfect storm of power. This was a gig to change lives.
And backstage, as they caught their breath, Oli Sykes, Lee Malia, Matt Nicholls, Matt Kean and Jordan Fish didn’t know what to say to each other.
“Nobody wanted to be the first one to speak,” smiles Jordan today.
“Normally after a show, there’s one of us who didn’t have as good a gig as the others,” adds Lee. “And nobody wanted to find out if that had happened.”
Eventually someone did open their mouth. Quietly and cautiously, Jordan ventured an opinion.
And suddenly, where there was stilted silence in the air, there was sheer joy. Celebration. Victory. A decade on from their first terrible gig in a pub in Rotherham, Bring Me The Horizon were The Bollocks. But there was something else. Because this wasn’t just a night to remember. Oh no. This was booting open the door to something even bigger.
“We’ve toured with bands who get to somewhere like Wembley, and then it’s kind of like, that’s either going to be their peak, or it’s the start of their next phase,” says Oli Sykes. “We’re on Reading & Leeds as main support to Metallica – that’s gotta be off the back of Wembley.”
Wembley. Metallica. A new album, That’s The Spirit, tipped to debut at Number One in the album charts. Oli – sitting in the breakout area of his clothing company Drop Dead’s enormous Sheffield HQ – takes it all in for a second, and looks thoughtful.
“This definitely feels like the start of something,” he confirms. “It’s definitely not our peak.”
Confidence is high around Bring Me The Horizon today. Lounging around Drop Dead in-between photo shoots and interviews, the weight on their shoulders is there, but there’s also a lot of calm shrugging at the notion of pressure. So much so that it’s suddenly realised that they should probably do some rehearsals or something before they do any gigs. In fact, Lee Malia and Matt Kean seem more concerned about their forthcoming post-gig bangovers.
“It’s getting worse as I get older,” chuckles Lee. “It goes after the first shows, but after Reading & Leeds we’ve got about a month off, so I’ll get rid of it, rest, and then get it again when we start again.”
If this all seems surprising, then it sums up That’s The Spirit perfectly. When word filtered through in May that Horizon were on the final lap of having the new record finished, it didn’t seem like five minutes since Wembley. Then they announced they’d recorded it on their own, choosing to produce it themselves rather than with a big name knob-twiddler, at a luxurious studio on the sun-kissed Greek island of Santorini. Which they chose because, well…
“We just Googled ‘Best studio in the world’ and that was the first thing that came up,” grins Oli. “We saved money on a producer, so we thought, ‘Fuck it.’”
But let’s not get ahead of the story here. Because, unbeknownst to their management, record label or pretty much anyone not in the band, nobody knew Bring Me The Horizon had even started making a new record at all. In January, a month after Wembley, when they were officially on downtime after that closing show of the two-year Sempiternal touring cycle, the band reconvened in secret at Oli’s house and started work.
“Normally we have a few months off before we start work on a new record,” reveals Oli. “Usually on tour we burn ourselves out fucking hard.”
“Before, by the end of a tour and coming time to write a new record, it’s usually, ‘For fuck’s sake…’” reveals Matt Nicholls, “’cause we knew it was going to be a stress.”
“Every other campaign, by that last date you’re like, ‘I don’t want to even think about this band for a good couple of months,’” adds Oli. “But the Sempiternal tour was such a positive experience. There were no real negative big downers, where for this band there usually is. On There Is A Hell… it ended on the Machine Head tour [where BMTH were bottled onstage], but Sempiternal was so good that after Wembley we were like, ‘Let’s get on with it!’ We didn’t want to be gone too long, either.”
“Our management didn’t even know what we were doing!” hoots Jordan. “They messaged me in March saying, ‘Do you want to start talking about the next record?’ I replied going, ‘I don’t think we’ll be starting it until at least April or May.’ I did it to kind of freak them out a bit, but the thing is, if we told everyone we were working on stuff, we’d have ended up feeling rushed and getting deadlines and talking about studios and stuff. We didn’t want that; we wanted to be able to relax and work on it at our own pace.”
And so, with nobody checking in, the band got to work in Oli’s Yorkshire home, jamming ideas, fleshing out things that had been worked on over the last year, coming up with new ones, building what would become That’s The Spirit.
“We knew it wasn’t going to come easy or quick,” says Oli. “We knew the music we wanted to write wasn’t going to be easy, and it would take ages, so we had to get on it straight away.”
It was Jordan who produced the record. It was he who produced last year’s Drown single, getting the band’s performance and – crucially – vision down onto Pro Tools. So, when it came to setting up camp in Santorini, it was the obvious choice. Not just as a money-saver, but because of the producer’s role in the studio. Producers are the conduit between band and tape machine. If songs are the script, the producer is the director. If you want a blockbuster movie with holy-shit special effects, you get Steven Spielberg. If you want gore and violence, you call Rob Zombie. Music’s the same. If you want a record that’ll bite your nose off, Converge guitarist and studio whiz Kurt Ballou is your man. If you want your band to sound as stadium-sized as Bon Jovi or Metallica, you pay through the nose for Bob Rock.
But if you’re Bring Me The Horizon and you want to both sound like Bring Me The Horizon while also bringing the band into the now, you get a member of Bring Me The Horizon to do it.
“We all knew what we wanted, and we had a clear idea of how we wanted it to sound,” explains Jordan. “We had a lot of creative control on Sempiternal with Terry Date [Machine Head, Fightstar], so this wasn’t that much different.”
“No disrespect to anyone we’ve worked to in the past, but every time we go and record with someone, somewhere down the line it’s a compromise on what we actually want, and it’s always seemed like a fight,” says Oli. “If you work with a producer, and a big name, that’s just what happens, because they have an opinion, and they’re getting paid for that opinion. But we don’t want that opinion (laughs). When we were writing, every song went through about a hundred different changes. We worked so hard on every song, day and night. So, you don’t want to go to the studio and have someone go, ‘Oh, you probably should change this bit,’ or, ‘Have you thought about this?’ It’s like, fuck off.”
“If we had that again, we would have just ended up arguing with them,” says Lee. “We knew what we wanted from the start, and we didn’t want anyone trying to change that.”
“Recording’s not as romantic or exciting as you might be led to believe,” Oli continues. “Writing the music is – that can be a spiritual experience. But to me, in the studio that’s not the case. You’re just trying to get it to sound good, and there’s no benefit in getting Matt to play the same drum part a hundred times, because it’s going to get put in Pro Tools and moved anyway, because no-one’s a robot.”
“It gets frustrating,” adds Matt. “How can I do this better? I’ve played it 50 times the best I can.”
This time around, there were no such frustrations. Hard work, yes, especially for Jordan behind the desk, but every single member of the band uses the word “relaxed” when discussing the vibe in the studio. Of course, the exotic location didn’t exactly hurt.
“Usually, when we’re recording we’re used to doing it in, like, dingy little studios,” laughs Matt. “When we did There Is A Hell…, we were on an industrial estate [in Sweden] with nothing around but old lorries.”
And what Bring Me The Horizon made in this Mediterranean paradise is perhaps the biggest surprise of all. Because while That’s The Spirit is immediately identifiable as the work of this band, it’s not a metal record. There’s none of the thrashing riffs of old. Oli barely screams. And electronics, samples and big beats are way at the forefront.
“We feel like we squeezed everything we can out of that genre, of straight-up metal,” explains Oli when asked about taking such a huge step away from something so core to his band’s sound. “We’ve done breakdowns the best we can do them, and everything else that comes with it. We felt that we pushed the genre as hard as we can, and if we were to do it, we would be trying to do something that we didn’t want to do, and it wouldn’t feel natural to us.”
“It wasn’t a conscious decision,” offers Matt Kean. “You just know when you start writing that things are gonna go a certain way.”
“It’s funny,” muses Jordan, the man behind the album’s keyboards and electronics, “because people are gonna assume that because Lee’s the guitarist, he’s the heavy element, and I’m the ‘soft’ guy. Like, I must have been telling him not to play certain things. But he wrote those guitar parts he’s playing. You think there’s Ibiza-sounding bits? It’s good you spotted that, because that’s a big influence on it. In fact, if you ever need to rip something off, ’90s dance music is perfect. Someone like Faithless is dark, but it’s got that euphoria as well. And it’s live music, like metal, so it’s not that far off.”
“We’ve been a band 10 years, and the heavier songs are still there, but we’re different,” concludes Oli. “Happy Song is arguably the heaviest track on the CD. We put that one out first, and everyone’s fucking saying it’s radio rock!
We were like, ‘Oh shit! Wait until you hear Follow You and stuff, because this is the heaviest you’re getting…’”
The heaviest you’re getting it may well be, but only in the musical sense. Because the lyrical soul of That’s The Spirit is a place awash with depression, self-analysis and doom. When asked if he’s become more cynical, Oli’s reply is blunt: “I always have been.” When asked to sum up the album’s lyrical vibe, he says it’s “positive-negative”, about accepting and embracing negativity, instead of turning up the volume on false positivity during times of strife. Or, to put it another way, everything’s shit, but now we know that, everything’s a bit easier.
“Once you accept how shit everything is, it’s great!” he laughs. “Rather than trying to force yourself to be happy and see the good in everything, it’s, like, everything’s shit… I can’t think of a good analogy! Say you went to see a film. Some people can’t accept they paid £10 to see something that was shit, so they have to convince themselves that it isn’t, rather than saying, ‘This is dog shit!’ and walking out. You don’t care, it washes over you, and that’s what the album is all about: embracing darkness and depression and letting yourself feel it.”
When it comes to the personal side of Oli’s lyrical coin, it comes in the shape of Avalanche, a song about being diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (see panel). Or there’s the sarcastic Happy Song. But by and large on That’s The Spirit, it’s the cloud over us all that Oli is singing about.
“We all do feel shit, and sadness is the only emotion everyone can feel,” he explains. “Every other album I’ve had this personal crisis, or this huge thing that has happened that I can write about. But this time, I’m alright, but we’re not alright. The world’s not alright. It’s like, if you’re a kid at school and a kid comes up to you on Monday and says, ‘I’m going to kill you on Friday,’ it’s not the punch that’s actually that bad. If he just goes boom and smacked you in the face, it’s not that bad. But it’s that waiting until Friday, going up to getting beat up, which you think will be the worst time of your life. It’s putting off the inevitable, and that’s what we’re doing; we’re letting all this shit pile up and getting bigger and bigger and bigger, but we’re not addressing it. We’re doing trivial things like watching reality TV shows or texting. We’re never alone.
“If we don’t want to think about it, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger, whereas if you just go, ‘Alright, let’s fucking feel it,’ then it has to be alright because you don’t have a choice,” he continues. “The Pharrell song Happy, to me it seems like it’s a song for depressed people. I just imagine a housewife at home going (adopts cheery, higher voice), ‘I’m happy!’ Happiness is not like sadness; happiness is when you don’t think. All that meditation and mindfulness and all that, that’s what they practice, complete peace of mind, and that’s what true happiness is meant to be. You’re not thinking, no thoughts are going through your mind, you’re not worried about anything. That’s true happiness.”
Worrying isn’t something Bring Me The Horizon are doing right now, however. As mentioned, That’s The Spirit is tipped to go in at Number One. The gig with Metallica is a tone-setter for Bring Me The Horizon’s forthcoming fortunes. But, even though they will admit things are seriously cooking right now, as with every time they’re interviewed ahead of a new album, the band are cautiously optimistic. Content and excited, rather than working on any kind of game plan.
“We never expect anything,” says Matt Kean. “If you do that you’ll always be disappointed.”
“You get what you deserve,” reckons Oli. “All we do is write music, and whatever that brings is what it brings. People get bummed out with shows that are half-sold-out, thinking, ‘Fuck’s sake, why’s it not been promoted?’ or this or that. No, man, that’s the amount of people who want to see you play. So, if you’re pissed off, you should’ve written a better record. You can’t blame it on anything else. At the end of the day, that’s the amount of people who like your music.”
But come on, things are going really well for you…
“Yeah, but it still seems weird. Even when we were booking Wembley it seemed daft,” admits the singer. “But with this album, this is the first time we’re all really confident. We’ve got so much further than we ever thought we would as a band, or further than we ever aimed for, and now it’s like, ‘Fucking hell.’ We keep surprising ourselves, so let’s not rule anything out.”
“We had to have our arms twisted to do Wembley,” adds Matt Kean. “We were like, ‘Really? We couldn’t fill Wembley…’”
But Bring Me The Horizon did. And, as Oli says, that gig wasn’t a peak, the start of the closing chapter of a band. It was not the point at which Bring Me The Horizon began their decline. It was the point at which they reared up and showed that arenas and big leagues are where they belong. Forever.
“What will I do if this album goes to Number One? Be really happy!” laughs Oli. “That’d be fucking awesome. It’s like we say when it comes to shows: whatever we get, we get, and it’s what we deserve. Again, you don’t want to hope for anything, and I think whatever we get we’ll be stoked with, whether or not it goes to Number One in the first week, I think it’s going to be a huge album for us.”
this week’s issue of Kerrang! for The Secret History Of Bring Me The Horizon mini-mag:
And keep your eyes peeled on the new issue of Kerrang! (out this Wednesday) for a Bring Me The Horizon poster special!
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