The Cover Story

Bring Me The Horizon: “The way we’re doing stuff now, it feels like I’m making art again, for art’s sake”

We’ve waited long enough: NeX GEn has finally arrived, and with it, a whole new chapter for Bring Me The Horizon. It’s taken a lot to get here, but it’s only made Britain’s biggest band even stronger. And, as Oli Sykes takes us inside BMTH 2024, it’s leading them into a golden age…

Bring Me The Horizon: “The way we’re doing stuff now, it feels like I’m making art again, for art’s sake”
Nick Ruskell
Jonti Wild

“It’s taken longer than we said it would, I know…”

In another timeline, Bring Me The Horizon are all done and existing in a post-Post Human universe. In this one, what was originally conceived as a COVID lockdown plan to blast out a series of interlinked but individually charactered EPs in quick succession has taken almost four years to bear a second round of fruit.

From his home in Brazil, Oli Sykes shrugs off the wait. Ironically, he admits, it was the end of pandemic restrictions that were partly to blame.

“I thought we were gonna be locked inside for years,” he says with a what-can-you-do chuckle. “Suddenly we’re out of lockdown and we’re back on tour. The first EP [2020’s Post Human: Survival Horror] became more of a thing than we expected. Then Can You Feel My Heart? blew up on TikTok. People all over the world wanted us to come and play, we headlined Reading & Leeds, we headlined Download...

“It took ages, but we still stuck to the plan.”

Welcome, finally, then, to the NeX GEn. The second part of Post Human does indeed stick to the plan, delivering on the early promises that it would follow the heaviness of part one with something more in tune with early 2000s post-hardcore. Indeed, on this front, Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo puts in a guest turn, as do Underøath’s Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie.

But it’s also much more than originally intended. Bigger, longer, at times weirder, and with a more ambitious vision than its predecessor, it does a lot of world-building with the concept, as Oli admits the whole thing was more than they first thought. At Download last year, where the album was announced, and on their enormous UK arena tour in January (130,000 tickets sold, thank you very much), the hazmat-suited apocalypse vibes of Survival Horror had morphed into a full-on sci-fi backdrop, involving a HAL 9000-style AI head named EVE on a giant screen. They had, quite literally, created a monster.

“It just became a different beast to what I had in my head for it, and what we thought it was going to be,” admits Oli. “I thought I was going to be sitting around for the next couple years, bang a few EPs out, you know, that’ll be cool for people.

“The concept of the record just grew and grew and grew. And then we started playing the live shows and bringing EVE into it, which initially was a quick idea to gel all these different visuals we had together, and make it feel like there was something overarching. That grew and became bigger, and it started feeding into the album. It became this massive concept.”

Again, the thinking behind this was always part of the plan. If the first record was a return to something more straightforward thanks to its remote recording, leaning into known skills with heaviness as taking what Oli calls “the path of least resistance”, it also set up the narrative of an explosive, visceral opening throw.

“The first record was more of a call to arms: we're angry, we're scared, basically just shouting about all the things that we were scared about, the pandemic and everything,” he begins. “The second one's like, ‘Okay, so what do we do about this?’”

All this is meant to be hopeful, even in the sense that it’s looking for where to turn to find something better. This was just one of the challenges the band – Oli, guitarist Lee Malia, bassist Matt Kean and drummer Matt Nicholls – found as what the record was turning into became clear.

“That was a challenge in terms of, it had to be quite a positive record. Or, at least, that's how I went into it…” he says.

There was a problem, though.

“I just realised I can't do positive lyrics. Not full-on positive. It has to at least come from a place of darkness or connect to a place of [pain]. It’s not like Coldplay, saying, ‘Believe in and love yourself,’ or whatever. That doesn't feel good to me, and it's not gonna feel good to anyone who listens to our band.”

“I thought I was fixed, but really I was distracted”

Oli reveals how lockdown sent him back into old habits

Part of this narrative of looking for something better ties in to Oli’s own personal experiences and realisations. In the past, he’d been frank and open about drug use and addiction, specifically ketamine, rehab and recovery. When the world stopped turning for the pandemic, where his time and thoughts had been occupied by band stuff, the singer found himself questioning how okay he actually was.

“I thought I was fixed, but really I was distracted,” he says now. “I was feeding on all the love the band gets, and the streaming and the tours and everything. And when all that went away, I was back on drugs in a matter of months.

“It was so similar to lockdown, how consumerism, society, the hierarchy we’ve created… it all works, until someone chucks a little spanner in the works like COVID, and it stops and it’s fucked, and it doesn't work whatsoever, and there's no support for the greater world," he continues. "I had to really work on myself through those years. And there's so much that I realised, and so much of it is quite cliché and quite cheesy, about talking about having to become someone that you love, and you can say to yourself, ‘I love myself,’ and all these things that are quite self-help book-y. I had to get all these things into the record. But at the same time, I can’t just shout it like that.

"The way we did it, or the way I did, it was actually burying all those messages in there. There's a lot of secrets, and a lot of hidden things, and a lot of stuff that's there for people to find out if they want to dig deeper.”

Oli has spent a lot of time trying to figure out life’s puzzle over the years. When he says that he was just distracted, that he had something better to do than drugs, rather than having cracked the code to happiness, it’s something that can apply to many things. For him, it’s been drugs and the associated behaviours, but he also sees such things as a symptom of a world in which genuine connection and happiness and fulfilment are rare, but simulations are easily available.

“One of the biggest things we're all suffering from now is that it's quite easy to take the dopamine hit of social media or a vape pen – all these empty things,” he explains. “It's a lot easier to go for those quick little synthetic highs, rather than trying to take this other path, which is listening to your brain and feeling when things don't make you actually happy. Those things can take you down a destructive path where you're looking for the next hit. So, there is still stuff that's dark in tone, but the lyrics are there to be read into as a kind of a warning.

“There’s three layers,” Oli continues. “The first one being what this song means to me personally, whether it's about drug addiction, or breaking off ties with people who don't serve you anymore, or whatever – on some level it's got to relate to me. sTraNgeRs is actually about Ukraine, refugees and people looking for safety, and connecting it to my experience in rehab. And then it's got to operate on [a level of asking] what does this leave? What does this mean to society? And then the third layer is how does it operate in terms of the grand narrative?”

These are the thoughts that make up part of NeX GEn’s narrative. On n/A, we find Oli taking a nakedly confessional approach, styled as a rehab meeting, with the ‘Hello Oli, you fucking knobhead’ chorus, captured on tour in January, taking on a tone of regret, self-loathing, and having a word in the mirror. On liMOusIne, he deals with “repetitive habits”, and the simpler choice of an instant high, “rather than take the long path of actually being someone who's happy on a more consistent basis”. Again, it’s probably more familiar than it may first seem.

“There's a line in YOUtopia where I say, ‘There's a place I want to take you / But I'm not quite there myself.’ That was the overarching thing: I want to make this record about self-love, and find this place where you can be content. But I'd be lying if I said I've reached that point in my own life as well.

“I think on some level, we're all depressed and we all struggle with things. And I think a lot of us struggle in very similar ways. [This] can't be another record about how we're angry and pissed-off, or how I'm depressed. That can be in there. But it's got to be more focused on saying: this is the problem.”

One source of inspiration came in the form of Mexican spiritual author Don Miguel Ruiz’ book The Four Agreements. In it, he outlines four principles by which a person should navigate life, so that not only are you good in the moment, but that the turning of the world doesn’t pull you back down again. Oli has his own way of putting it.

“I dunno if you’ve ever taken acid or mushrooms, but you have that moment where you kind of rethink your whole life, and when you come out of the other side you're so much lighter and so much better. But then it's easy to go back to society and let the smog and the shit and reality just clog you back up.”

What The Four Agreements are is a long-term plan for improvement. Like all things worth doing, they’re not easy. And, he says, he’s not immaculate with following them. But it’s the trying that’s important. And that’s the heart of the album, too.

“’Be impeccable with your words’ is the first [agreement],” he explains. “Your words are spells, and your words are so powerful, and your words have so much influence over everything that you should be really careful with what you say.

“The second is: don’t take anything personally. If you can learn not to take anything personally, like criticism, you're going to be a lot happier. The third is: don't make assumptions. And the fourth is: always do your best.

“They sound really cheesy, but when you read them and listen to what he's got to say, you feel like, ‘If I live like this, I’ll be happier already.’ It was so powerful that it made me want to insert something into the record of a similar ilk. I felt like this record could be almost a self-help book for people that want it or people that need it.”

The other big change for Horizon is that much of NeX GEn was written and recorded following Jordan Fish’s exit from the band at the end of last year. As a production whiz and a musician with a knack for getting what Oli was driving at during his years in the ranks, his departure raised a question for how things would work in the studio going forward. As it turns out, when the band continued chipping away at the album, it made Oli realise a few things as well.

“At first, it felt like it was going to be like losing a limb, to be honest. Just because Jordan was such a massive part in the record, and I’ve grown as a musician with him over the last 10 years. And there's no doubt that he's an incredible producer.

“I guess what I hadn't realised and seen in those 10 years is that I think it became ‘the Oli and Jordan show’ a little bit. We were just so keen to be making music all the time. Post-rehab for me and coming off drugs, I was thinking I needed to throw myself into something, and I threw myself into music. And I became addicted to that. What I didn't realise was how much the rest of the band were being pushed out in the process. Not that we weren’t letting them in, but we were moving so fast that we weren't stopping sometimes to [ask the others] to have as much input.”

It was when the band reconvened to write Kool-Aid, the first music of the new age of Horizon, that Oli saw this.

“It was really cool to see how happy it made them, for a start,” he smiles. “And then also to realise how much we’d been missing [without their input]. It felt like there was some Bring Me The Horizon DNA that’s maybe been missing in the last few records, that came back instantly. Matt, just taking the drums that we'd done while we were writing, and doing what he likes to call ‘humanising them’. It was great to see how fucking stoked he is to be a part of it. Maybe at one point, I thought they were all happy to take a backseat, so it's really brought us as a unit together so much more, and the music’s shone.

“I will never say a bad word about Jordan in terms of the creativity he brought,” Oli continues. “He taught me to sing. He taught me so much about music, and I think he'd probably agree that I taught him a lot in a different way. But I always knew what I wanted. I always have a vision with our albums and our songs. And so it doesn't really matter who we're working with or whatever – we'll get there, one way or another.”

As Horizon have always done. Massive as a change as it all is, part of the reason for both their success and the evolution that’s enabled them to do the things they have is an ability to adapt and roll with the punches.

“It was a massive shift and it’s something I never thought would happen,” agrees Oli. “But without being negative to anyone or situation, it feels like Bring Me The Horizon again. And the future feels super-exciting. It's a really different energy.

“This is a weird record, because it's halfway in a new direction. We started halfway through a record with six songs already out and kind of tearing the book up going, 'Right, this is a completely new direction.' And at the same time, it's pretty much destroying everything that we've made and starting again, apart from songs like that were almost finished. It's exciting to see how it'll work.”

Oli says part of what BMTH were craving this time around was rawness, “less symmetry”. Having mastered polish already, they wanted everything in the red, “cranked up to 11”. When Kool-Aid came out, he saw some people complaining about the production, “And I was like, 'That sounds cool.’ To me that just sounds like a fucking hardcore show back at The Cricketers Arms in Sheffield.” This, he reckons, has given the band a sense of liberation.

“The way we’re doing stuff now, it feels like I’m making art again, for art’s sake,” he says, proudly. “As a kid, I used to love painting and drawing, I used to love arts and crafting with my mum or whatever. And that's how making music should always feel. There was a point where it got a bit more cynical and corporate and worrying about exterior factors more than just, ‘Let's get in the studio, let's make some art.’”

“There was a point where it got a bit more cynical and corporate”

Hear Oli on rediscovering the freedom of music

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Not the circumstances, perhaps, but the learning, the growth and the reflection. This hasn’t been the first time Bring Me The Horizon have found themselves going far from a plotted route, nor the first time they’ve had to take stock and figure out what’s next. Neither is it the first time they’ve creatively thrown paint around to see what works.

NeX GEn, then, is once again a document of where they are, what they’ve learned, what risks they’ve taken, what they’ve had to navigate. And that goes for the good as well. Every opportunity they’ve had to learn over the past 20 years, they’ve seized it and used it to the fullest.

And now, with nothing left to prove, where the path of least resistance of which Oli speaks in reference to Survival Horror could easily just be The Way Things Are Done, they still want to grow. The mundanity of things like money are no longer the barrier they can be, where you don’t have to give a shit about getting told off for missing your homework, as artists, that’s a marker of a band who still want to “make some art”.

“It’s just reminding yourself that you love it,” nods Oli. “And also not to let the pressure of it get to you, because you can throw the towel in whenever you want. The deadlines that are imposed on you, they're not real. I always say: no-one dies if you don't meet a deadline!”

“I feel like we can do whatever we want”

Listen to Oli explain why BMTH can finally try their hand at anything

Even so, Oli says ideas have already started forming for part three – “bits and bobs”. He knows where he wants things to go next. More importantly, where in the past there were ideas and themes on the whiteboard that they couldn’t use at the time because they didn’t feel like the band were “there yet”, now they can turn their hand to anything.

“[Some things in the past were] very straight-laced and stern-faced. You wouldn't be getting those tongue-in-cheek lyrics like you do on maybe Dear Diary [from Survival Horror], where it's this more satirical look at things. I remember clearly when we were writing That's The Spirit and really struggling with wanting to go there, but the music wasn’t feeling right,” he says. “Not in a bad way, but it was all more polished, more stadium rock, it didn't lend itself to a nod and a wink, you know?

“Where we are now, I feel like we can do whatever we want. In terms of what we do creatively, musically, whether it's the heaviest thing you've ever heard, or the poppiest thing you've ever heard, or the most left-wing or avant-garde pop thing we do, nothing feels off the table. And nothing feels wanky, or like we're doing it to appease some kind of weird, creative thing, and it's not going to do anything for anyone else. It feels like for the first time in our career we can do all this stuff. And we can make sense of it as well.”

Bring Me The Horizon: still boldly going where no band have gone before. Welcome to the NeX GEn. Time for everyone else to catch up. Again.

NeX GEn is out now. Bring Me The Horizon headline Rock For People on June 13 – get your tickets here – and Electric Castle on July 19 – get your tickets here.

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