They’ve conquered Reading & Leeds. They’re dominating the airwaves. With their latest album, Bring Me The Horizon are ready to rule rock once and for all.
Words: Tom Connick.
Photos: Phil Smithies.
About a mile north of Sheffield centre lies Neepsend, a suburb of the city whitewashed by early twentieth century industrialisation and its subsequent post-Thatcher destruction. As with most such places, it’s largely derelict now, boarded up windows and copious graffiti replacing what was once a bustling hum of industry. Sadly, these streets are perhaps now more famous for their problems with prostitution, as immortalised in early Arctic Monkeys single ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ – but amongst the wreckage, at least one legal local business is booming.
The former site of Samuel Osborn & Co steelmakers is now home to the Drop Dead warehouse – the hub and flagship store of its impossibly popular namesake clothing line, and a second abode for each of the members of Bring Me The Horizon. Sheffield’s Steel City nickname may be long-since made redundant, but with Bring Me’s new album ‘That’s The Spirit’ looming large, it seems metal will always have a place within these walls.
Indeed, while the warehouse below churns out clothing orders from across the globe, the upper corridors are shaking as pre-production for the band’s massive Reading and Leeds sub-headlining slot hits full swing, each of newest member Jordan Fish’s sub-drops and samples echoing around the building. “He’s the last piece of the puzzle,” smiles the band’s iconic frontman Oli Sykes.
“He just unlocks so many possibilities for us, that weren’t possible before,” Oli continues. “I think it’s been apparent really since our second album that electronica is stuff that we’re into and wanted to mix in, but we’ve had to rely on other people to interpret what we want. It weren’t ever someone who could bring something to it, just like another band member who can bring it as an instrument and be like, ‘this is what I’m gonna do’. It just used to be more saying, ‘right, this is what we want; can you do it?’ So we’ve been limited in what we could do.”
‘That’s The Spirit’ is the sound of Bring Me The Horizon finally becoming limitless. Recorded and produced entirely by the band themselves, it’s a bold, melodic new step for a band who started out swathed in nails-on-blackboard deathcore extremity.
“I think it’s every record label and management’s worst nightmare when a band turn around and go, ‘We’re gonna self-produce!’ because it’s always shit,” jokes Oli, “but we were confident that we knew what we were doing and we knew what we wanted”
While the band might have hired mega-producer Terry Date – who boasts Slipknot, Limp Bizkit and Deftones as past clients on his packed CV – for ‘Sempiternal’’s knob-twiddling, it quickly proved to be nothing more but another barrier to what Bring Me really wanted – to take the whole thing on themselves. “It’s kind of something we’ve done for every album,” he divulges, “but we never got credited for it. I think that’s ultimately something we got fed up with: with ‘Sempiternal’, there were still people going, ‘Oh, Terry Date really sorted them out and made them good!’ It’s like ‘Nooooo! We did this on our own!’
“Even with ‘There Is A Hell…’ and ‘Suicide Season’, I feel like I produced it – I probably over-produced it to be honest,” he laughs, “’cause I was sat there going, ‘Do this, do that, do that’. It’s still always been in our control. So it came to the point where, if someone comes in – a big name or whatever – it’s just gonna be a compromise for what we really want. You have to plan your battles; like, ‘I’m not happy with that, I’m not happy with that; but I’ve gotta pick one’. Rather than just being like, ‘This is how I want it. Can’t I just have it like that?’
“Even mixing and everything, it goes through a hundred times, and when it’s someone else doing it it’s still not exactly how you want it. With ‘Sempiternal’ it was like, ‘yeah, we really know what we want and we don’t wanna fight for it.’ So yeah, it just felt like the natural thing to do.”
Every step Bring Me have taken has been underpinned by that desire for natural progression. While ‘That’s The Spirit’ might see them at their most overtly melodic to date, the band’s evolution is easily traceable, each release sharpening their assault and introducing those electronic flourishes. ‘That’s The Spirit’ is like nothing that’s come before, though. The earliest indicators of its gargantuan leap forward came late last year with ‘Drown’ – a track written with the band’s year-ending Wembley Arena headliner at the forefront of their minds.
“It wasn’t a conscious thing to do,” explains Oli of Bring Me’s melodic new dressing, “like, write ‘Drown’ and see how it goes because it’s so different – but at the same time I think the overall positive reaction to it and response just gave us that confidence to go, ‘Right, we won’t make any compromises with this album, we’ll do exactly what we want and not worry’. I mean, there was still a doubt here and there, but in the end we did exactly [what we wanted]. Even ‘Sempiternal’, we compromised slightly. Just like, we still kept it heavy because we didn’t want to transition too quick. There’s nothing on that album we don’t like, but at the same time, we would’ve been too scared to do a record like this then.
“Luckily it’s never happened to us, where we’ve had a complete backlash on an album, but I know even if we did we’d never be like, ‘Right, let’s go back and write ‘Sempiternal Part 2’’, because as soon as you do that, you just put final nail in t’coffin. You’ve admitted defeat, and you’ve gone back to something that you’ve obviously wanted to step away from.”
“We’ve been through a lot and I think this is the first time that we’re all good,” he ponders. “Everything’s good and everything’s a lot clearer, I guess, off the back of ‘Sempiternal’. That was our first campaign where it just felt overall positive – there weren’t really any big downs. I guess we’re all in good spaces and good places, and we’re a lot more of a unit that can do everything on its own now.”
That unit mentality is clear, each member of the band laughing and bouncing off one another as they roam the streets of Sheffield. Each of their cars is emblazoned with ‘’That’s The Spirit’’s umbrella iconography – it’s almost mafia-like, the sense of second family among the five of them, but this is a gang that’s distancing itself from the underworld.
Last summer, as Oli accepted ‘Sempiternal’’s AP Award for Album of the Year, he opened up for the first time about the problems he’d faced leading up to its creation. “I wanna say something that I never thought I’d actually talk about,” began his acceptance speech. “Before we wrote ‘Sempiternal’, I were a fucking drug addict. I was addicted to a drug called ketamine. I was on it for years, and I was fucked off my head.
“My band wanted to kill me; my parents wanted to kill me; my fucking brother wanted to kill me. Everyone wanted to kill me; they wanted to take me to hell. But they didn’t – they stood by me, they supported me through all that shit, and we wrote ‘Sempiternal’ because of it. When I got out of rehab, I didn’t wanna fucking scream anymore; I wanted to sing it from the fuckin’ rooftops”“ It was a poignant moment – while Oli had never shied away from confronting his vices through song, to finally admit to it in public “were cool”, he admits.
“I have no problem about talking about it now. I wanted to write about it and sing about it, and I wanted ‘Sempiternal’ to be about it and overcoming it, and everything about it – but I didn’t want to come back out and do the cliché, ‘I’m saved!’ Y’know, like the recovering addict fucking gag, for publicity. I just didn’t want that, because the people that do do that and everything they say, to me anyway, is just complete and utter bullshit. The whole fact about it being a ‘disease’ and ‘seeing the light’ and ‘handing yourself over to God’ – just the way people act about it, like they’ve been through some terminal illness and recovered, I think it’s so offensive to people who actually have to go through stuff, things that aren’t self-inflicted. So I didn’t want to make it all the focus.
“It’s just a cheap way to get attention. It obviously makes good content for lyrics and things, and when it came to the end of if and I won that award at AP, that’s when I decided I wanted to come forward and outspokenly say about it, because it was over – we didn’t need to promote ‘Sempiternal’ anymore, but I did want to share it with everyone; where I’d been and what had happened. Because I’m not embarrassed about it, I’m proud that I’ve been through it and overcome it, and I know there’s so many people out there going through similar things – I think it’s important to let them know that I’m just the same and it can happen to anyone.
“I just didn’t want it to be like, y’know – if it were this album now and I started going, ‘I’ve just been to rehab’, cause that’s all it’d be about rather than the album, rather than what everyone else has done for the album. There’s so much more to it than just one person and one person’s experience. That’s the only thing that were important about coming out with it all.
“People, they’re saying it’s terrible, but it’s almost like they think it’s cool. Like, ‘Oh man, I used to just drink straight whisky and I’d do lines of coke off hookers’ – you’re still glorifying it! You’re still making it all about you and making sure the spotlight’s on you. I didn’t wanna come across like, ‘I were fuckin’ craaazy, man!’, cause I weren’t – I were just in a bad place. It weren’t romantic – it were just sad. It’s not like people try and make it out; that’s not what it’s about.”
It’s a dark turn that Oli admits he was all-too-easily drawn into, as the band began to take off before he’d even hit his twenties. “It’s so easy to completely lose touch with reality – because you don’t have to be in touch with reality if you don’t want,” he states. “Look at the huge bands that have done it, and they come out 30 years later and they don’t know how to write an album anymore because they’ve just been in the haze for so long. They’ve lost all touch, social touch, all touch with what music is, just everything, because you never have to… you don’t even have to wipe your own arse if you want. You’re not living in reality. And that’s a really important thing for us – getting back to reality every now and then – making sure everyone’s grounded, making sure we’re not burning ourselves out and stuff.
“We’re just lucky that it were just me. It was just me who had the addiction and that everyone else wasn’t on the train, wasn’t into it. I have such a new outlook on people who get fucking destroyed in tabloids – people like Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber and stuff like that – people fucking rag on them, but it must be so hard when everyone around you is using you, and they don’t want you to get better because they’re riding your coat-tails – they’re taking the drugs with you and it’s not in their interest to make you better. They’re selling your stories, taking your drugs, and if you got clean, everyone would just fuck off.
“I saw that with my own life – all the people I thought were my friends, when I came off drugs, I had nothing in common with them. It was really sad to see that our only connection was drugs – it was fucking weird. I lost so many friends, or what I thought were friends. It’s not like I even lost them like fell out with them, just lost any touch with them and any common ground. So yeah, I look at those people now, and I just think it’s so irresponsible for people to be destroying them when they’re going through that, but I guess people don’t see it like that. They just want a story, don’t they?”
Ultimately, it was the four other members of Bring Me that proved to be Sykes’ safety net. “I’m just lucky that I had a bunch of people around me that weren’t interested in what I were doing and wanted to see me get better and, y’know – strong family and friends,’” he confides. “The hardest thing is to help someone when they’re in that state, because all you do is kick back – you try and help someone and they just tell you to fuck off. I guess I’m just lucky for that.”
A week later and a couple of hundred miles down the road, Sykes is addressing a ten-thousand strong crowd from the centre of Reading Festival’s main stage. “If it weren’t for you, I’d be a drug addict,” he admits. “If it weren’t for you guys, I’d be fucking dead.”
It’s a rare moment of serenity amongst the set’s bluster, sandwiched between a nine-pit strong rendition of ‘House Of Wolves’ and a rain-soaked, deafening singalong to ‘Sleepwalking’. “This is fuckin’ it,” grins Oli as they step on stage to ‘Happy Song’, “tonight we’re gonna make history.” It’s yet another gargantuan milestone for the band.
“It’s just weird – it’s just surreal,” stutters Oli ahead of the set, “because no matter how far you get, or how big it gets, or what you do, you can’t shake that feeling of ‘We’re just fluking it!’ So everything feels, not undeserved, but we’ve never had any goals or ambitions, and we’ve always just been catching up with what we’ve been asked to do. So it’s like, play Wembley and we’re like, ‘Are you sure we’re gonna be able to do that?’ And then it happens and it works and stuff. Again, with Reading, when we got the offer we were like, ‘Are they sure? We’re not that band yet!’ And [management] were like, ‘Well, they think you are’. I think we’re getting more confident in ourselves, just because we’re getting to that point where you can’t argue with the constant things, but we still always have that niggling feeling like we’re just getting lucky and fluking it.“
Just as ‘Sempiternal’ marked the end of the darkest period of Sykes’ personal life, the one-two of Wembley Arena last December into Reading & Leeds this summer is the full stop on Bring Me The Horizon’s first phase. Back in the shadow of what was once Neepsend’s Stones Brewery – the last remaining relic of which is the pub opposite, which drummer Matt Nicholls, master of the understatement, describes as “quiet” – the group are gearing up for step two.
The iconic ‘BMTH’ lights that formed the backbone of both ‘There Is A Hell…’’s stage set-up and the video for album highlight ‘Anthem’ lie discarded in a pile on the warehouse’s second floor. “We’ve done it to death,” admits Oli when quizzed on the band’s migration from those heavier roots.
“We don’t want to get out of the scene because we hate the music, we want to step outside the scene and be more accessible to everyone because it’s our lives – it’s what we want to do. We don’t listen to the music we listened to five years ago, ten years ago – you grow out of it. Metal and heavy, extreme music is awesome when you’re like 15, up to like 20-odd, but I think for most people… it’s just like sweets and burgers,” he laughs, ”after a while that food that tasted good to you when you were a kid; your tastes mature and stuff. So us trying to do what we did then, it wouldn’t make any sense to us, we wouldn’t be able to do it justice. There’s bands that are already out there that do that stuff good, so it were less about feeling like we had the option, and more like we had no choice but to do it because if not I feel like we’d have just failed.
“When you try and write music for other people, it just never works. People see through the bullshit even if they don’t know it – even if at first bands are successful, it’s a fad – it so quickly dies, because it’s not real. I think that’s something that people don’t even know what they can see, but they do. That’s why any band that just gets big overnight and it’s not real, it just never lasts.”
“We wanted it to still hit hard,” he says of the band’s new, fiercely melodic direction, “but in different ways. I feel like we’ve hit you as hard as we can with how heavy we can be, but I don’t think we’ve hit you with how powerful we can actually get stuff across. We wanted to just be big in a different way – be heavy and powerful in different ways. And do it in complex ways, do it in ways that are really difficult. To write a ballad-y, slower, soft song, it’s not easy to get it to hit and to have weight behind it – it’s not as easy as people might think. It’s fucking difficult. It’s so much more than just chugging and sub-drops and stuff, you’ve gotta do tempo changes and key changes and it’s just a lot more difficult.
“People might think these songs are simple, but it’s not simple, it’s really hard – or at least it is for us!” he laughs.
Hard though it may be, ‘That’s The Spirit’ showcases a band ready to take on the world like never before. Having battled through drama since day one, and subsequently emerged at the other side of Oli’s own personal traumas stronger than ever, Bring Me The Horizon have opened themselves up to a whole new world, reinvigorating their passion and lighting the spark on another decade’s worth of development.
“I think if we had one thing that we wanna achieve with this, I think it’s to step out of the scene we came from and just be genreless,” states Oli. “Just be our own thing. Bands like Fall Out Boy and Linkin Park and stuff – they just stepped out of the scene they came from, and now they’re just a band that people love. Y’know – pop punk fans don’t like Fall Out Boy, just people love Fall Out Boy. Same with Linkin Park – you don’t like Linkin Park and then only nu-metal, you like Linkin Park and Jay-Z and whoever else! That’s the most important thing for us – we don’t want to be elitist.
“Music shouldn’t be like that anymore, it’s such an old-school way, “ he enthuses, “to be like ‘I only like hip-hop’ or ‘I only like indie’ and there’s no mix, because it just sucks. It’s just a weird way of being, having all these mini wars between different genres. Music’s the last thing we really have that can be whatever people want it to be and it can be really fucking amazing without having anyone come in and put their own stamp on it, y’know? Even cinema today, it’s gotta be a 12A or it’s gotta have product placement to pay for it – music’s the last thing that can still remain untouched, and it shouldn’t separate people, it should bring people together.”
Sykes’ passion for unity echoes throughout ‘That’s The Spirit’ – far from the electronic embellishments of old, the band’s experimentation this time takes the fore, dragging every genre under the sun under the band’s umbrella. Expanding their horizons like never before, those crowds in the tens of thousands are sure to become a mainstay of Bring Me’s future. True to form, though, Oli’s hungry for more.
“For us, we don’t want to be just a metal band, we want to be just a band,” he states, looking to the future. “We want to be a band that anyone can like.”
Taken from the October 2015 issue of Upset. Bring Me The Horizon’s album ‘That’s The Spirit’ is out now.