“We Still Feel Like We’re Tom’s Band. And We’re Very Proud To Be” – Sam Carter, Architects
Last September, Kerrang! Editor Sam Coare sat down with Architects to discuss the band’s future, following the tragic passing of guitarist Tom Searle 12 months previous. Tomorrow, the band play the biggest show of their career so far at Alexandra Palace, capping a journey that’s been both tough and inspiring. Here, we revisit that interview, as a reminder of just how far the band have come and what they’ve endured…
Grief, as Dan Searle will tell you, is an emotion awash with confusion.
“That’s just the nature of it,” he says, pushing an empty coffee cup around the table in front of him. “You feel okay one day, and not the next. You know, one of the first things that hit me in the wake of my brother’s death is that everyone has to go through this feeling. You don’t know who is walking next to you in the street that has just lost someone. I don’t go walking around in tears, but I’m struggling. And no-one really knows how to deal with or cope with grief. People say that there’s no right or wrong way, but I suppose they tell you that to make you feel better. But definitely, the only right way is not to pretend that you’re okay. You can’t just cover grief up. At some point, you have to suffer.”
“For so long, it didn’t feel real,” Sam Carter explains. “Even in a situation [of someone’s passing] who you’re completely separated from, like [Linkin Park vocalist] Chester Bennington, it just doesn’t feel real. It was the same for us. Even in normal life, everything can feel fine, then all of a sudden…”
Sam makes a boomph noise to demonstrate reality hitting home.
“All of a sudden, you realise that Tom’s not just on holiday somewhere.”
If grief, as is often said, is the price of love, then there can be no doubt that Tom Searle was a man adored and cherished by those closest to him. The pain of his loss, has been carved into the fabric of his Architects bandmates – Sam, Dan, guitarist Adam Christiansen and bassist Ali Dean – whom Tom left behind ever since that dark August day, when he lost his private, three-year battle with cancer. It’s been there every time they’ve since stepped onstage; it’s there in their voices as Dan and Sam speak to Kerrang! on a crisp summer’s day, sat outside a coffee shop in the band’s hometown of Hove.
Because the loss of Tom Searle on August 20, 2016, with the guitarist aged just 28, didn’t just deprive music of rock and metal of a virtuoso talent; it robbed those around him of a brother, a son, a bandmate, a friend.
“Tom and I were twin brothers,” Dan says, slowly. “We grew up together. We had the same friends at school. We had the same friends at college. We had the same job. We joined a band together. We were different, but so similar in so many ways. We did everything together for 28 years.”
“He was my best friend,” Sam says. “And it’s horrible just not being able to talk to your best friend every day.”
The pain, too, is there for all to hear on Doomsday. The standalone single marks the first new Architects music since Tom’s passing. “It’s a song about those first few stages of grief,” Sam will explain, “when you wake up every morning feeling defeated by the world, you work through the day to find some positivity again… only to go to bed and wake up again with that same feeling of doom.”
“It’s a little scatterbrain,” offers Dan, who for the first time took to writing the raw, exposed lyrics. “It’s the ramblings of someone grieving, asking themselves, ‘Will I ever get over this?’”
He pauses to think what to reveal to Kerrang! of the track.
“Doomsday is a song that Tom had started,” he begins. “It’s the last song that Tom started to write. For the last six months of his life, he was too consumed in his battle with cancer to be thinking about songwriting. But I remember him sending me the riff. There’s a little bit of Tom on the song today, too, from the demo he recorded. I sort of created a loop out of it. It’s played really badly… Tom would have re-recorded it!”
“But it’s really special to us that Tom’s actual playing is on there. I think it’s the perfect way of opening this new era of the band.”
There was a time, Sam Carter admits, when “the music didn’t matter at all”. Modern metal’s finest voice is today speaking about the “journey” of the past year for the very first time. It’s not always easy for him to open up, he smiles, “but this past year, we’ve all had moments where we’ve needed to be extremely vulnerable with each other, and to be honest, and say, ‘I’m finding this really hard.’”
Contrasted to how he felt 12 months ago, today Sam Carter is consumed by an obsession over the new music on which Architects have spent the past weeks working. “It’s been so important to us that we get Doomsday right,” he says, while spinning a bottle of water in his hands. “I can’t tell you how hard we’ve worked on this, how many times I’ve sung these words, only to scrap it and start again from scratch.” Tomorrow, Sam says, he and Dan are returning to the studio again to do exactly that once more. “We could have gone and decided to write another ‘Architects’ song, but there isn’t one; there can’t be. Doomsday has had too much put into it for people to react with a shrug and to say, ‘Yeah, I like it, it’s okay.’”
Getting to a point where music meant anything at all, let alone as much as it does today, was a position that the frontman admits he wasn’t always sure he’d arrive at again. Within three weeks of Tom’s passing, Architects were back onstage in Australia, yet the return to performing was as much part of the process as it was a pleasure.
“We didn’t know whether to stay at home, or just pick up our bags and go,” Sam says of that most difficult of decisions. “But I think we would have gone crazy if we hadn’t done it. “We had to do that. We didn’t have a choice.
“We’d have people at the shows cheering, chanting Tom’s name, and at first I just didn’t want to hear it,” he admits. “It was like, ‘Blinkers on, I just want to get to the end of this; I don’t want to be reminded of it.’ There are times onstage, even now, that are too emotional, and I can’t hold it together. Sometimes, when people cheer Tom’s name, I’ll be onstage smiling, thinking about something ridiculous we did together. Other times, it punches me in the chest and I just can’t talk. But I think that we just needed to be there for each other, and being onstage was the way to do it. That was our way of remembering Tom, playing his music every night.”
Sam nods in agreement when asked if he feels that he and his bandmates would be in a very different place today had they not faced that pain together onstage each night. Yet despite that, “there’s still certain shows where something will happen and all of us have been affected by it,” he says with a sigh. “Some nights we’ll come off stage and… We won’t know what it’ll have been, but we will feel crushed. But now, every day I almost enjoy that pain. We can connect with people in the audience – people I’ve really learned don’t just like our music, but had love for Tom as a person – and grieve together. Being onstage, you know, that’s the part of the day where I can feel pain, let it all out, then I can step off stage and try to enjoy this life that I’m lucky to have, which simply wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for what Tom gave me through Architects.”
Reading festival 2017, marked the 70th and final show for the band in 2017. In total, Architects have stood onstage 103 times without their best friend, and night after night, Sam has stood in front of audiences prior to playing Gone With The Wind and paid homage to Tom, lump in throat, tears in eyes, love in his heart.
How difficult has that been for you?
“You know, it wasn’t until after the UK tour that it really… fucked me up,” Sam sighs. “Dan chose to speak about Tom when we played at Brixton Academy at the end of our UK tour last November, and as he left the stage that night he gave me a hug and said, ‘Thank you for speaking for Tom [every night] – I don’t know how you do it.’ I’d almost not stopped to think about it. I’d planned on speaking before Gone With The Wind, but I never planned what to say. I never said the same thing twice; I just opened my mouth and whatever I was feeling came out. When Dan said ‘thank you’… that’s when it first hit me.
“But it was never about me,” Sam adds, after a moment’s reflection. “It is important that people in the room understand how important Tom was to Architects. Tom wrote these songs and put his life and soul into this band. It had to come from a sincere place, to make people know that these were his lyrics, his songs, his riffs, his artwork… Everything was Tom. We still feel like we’re his band. I say that every night. And we’re very proud to be Tom’s band.”
Architects, Gone With The Wind
Despite that, Sam says he “feels like we’re ready to move forward with Architects, to do Tom proud, and not settle where we are.” The past year has seen the frontman, like his bandmates, learn a lot about himself, he admits. He ascribes the rekindling of a positive outlook to the support of his friends, family and partner, Leilah, and even to newfound gym routine – “my meditation” that helps him keep his head in check. Returning to writing, meanwhile, has been like “a counselling session”. “When I’m writing, I’m going back to the real pain of everything,” he explains. “Getting it down on paper, and getting it off my chest… Whether we use it or not, it’s off my chest, I can move forward. I’m moving away from a lot of my anger.”
He’s enjoyed the challenge and responsibility of stepping up to help fill the creative and organisational void left by Tom, for so long the leader of the band, to define a path that is both respectful to the past but focused firmly on the future, too.
“We believe in ourselves and what Tom left us. Everyone knows what they’re doing and that we have to work, work, work, and we’ve all pulled together to do that,” he says. “Before, Tom would do everything [for the band]. We’ve had a 10-year masterclass in how to do stuff and how not to do stuff.
“I never want to forget what happened. Because there were so many lessons Tom taught us. This has been the worst time of my life, but also the most beautiful time seeing how much everyone was there for each other. Going through something that massive, it really brings you together… I don’t think you can become as close as we are now without going through this.
“Now that the dust has settled,” he adds, “the music has became the most important thing again.”
Architects, A Match Made In Heaven
Dan Searle is laughing a self-deprecating laugh, wondering how, without noticing, he has become quite so much like his brother.
“Sometimes I don’t know if I’m subconsciously pretending to be Tom, or if he’s channeling through me and making me like he was…” Dan smiles. “It’s one of the two. I’ve driven myself into the ground working on Doomsday – and we’ve got others, too, you know (laughs)! I used to look at Tom when he was working in the studio and think, ‘You’ve got to stop this, and come up for air.’ I’ve been doing everything that drove me crazy about him. And I don’t know where that comes from, because I certainly didn’t approve of it when he was doing it!
“Tom was so… I don’t know what the best word is…” After a moment’s thought: “Tom would drive me crazy doing such radical things. You’d think something was done; an album would be mastered, then Tom would want to redo loads of things. But he never made a song worse. Yet it’s hard to find where Tom’s obsession intersected with getting it right. Was the music great because he was obsessed – or was it great in spite of his obsession? I’m wary of the advice I used to give Tom, to take a step back. Life’s too short to be ruined over wanting to write perfect songs. I want to write perfect songs because I want to do my brother justice. Why he did…” he asks himself rhetorically. “Well, that’s a question for him, and we can’t ask him.”
Dan Searle laughs again. That is just one of the many questions the drummer has been dealing with in recent months, and spends much of our hour together - the sun going down as we talk - working through out loud. Dan doesn’t so much as wait for questions as ask himself his own, the vocal search for an answer simply leading to another question. Some of them are logical, rational. “Much of the past year has been about, ‘How does this band work now?’” he says. “Who leads the way? Who puts their foot down? Who dictates the direction?” Others, less so. “There’s the paranoid part of me that asked, ‘Can our first song back be a ‘Tom song’?” he questions of digging up the material left in demo format by his brother. “I didn’t want to be like vultures at the scraps of Tom’s work, trying to stay alive off what he left us… There are times I write something and it sounds totally like Tom would have written it. Then part of me thinks that I don’t want to sound like I’m ripping off Tom… This is the sort of paranoid dilemma of someone in my shoes, you see.”
Doomsday is where many of those questions play out, embodying that confusion that gnaws at a grieving mind. Dan describes it as “Jekyll and Hyde”, a reflection of a heart weighing heavy. Grief is such, says the author of words says that struggle of acceptance (‘You said you cheated death / But heaven was in my head’) and hint at guilt (‘What if I completely forget? What if I never accept?’), yet offer a chink of light (‘But I sometimes forget / I have to do this for you / And the only way out is through.’) Because grief is not so much a black cloud engulfing the sky, day in, day out, there is happiness to be found in the everyday, still, even during our saddest time – as one that looms in the background, threatening to block out the sun without warning, to prey upon a guard left down however temporarily.
“It was hard to know the right approach [with Doomsday],” Dan says. “The song was about Tom, but in what way? I could come at it from all sorts of perspectives. I felt such nihilism when Tom died, like the world and everything was totally pointless. But I didn’t want to come out with a song that was all angry and bratty about Tom dying, like a toddler throwing their toys about the pram. I am angry about it, but it felt like the first response to it being some angry fuck-the-word thing felt… childish. After all, it was Tom who lost his life. Who am I to be all ‘Woe is me’?
“It seems very self-centred because Tom went through to much, but it feels like we’re not quite ready to speak about what he went through, and how even do we do that?” Dan continues. “Obviously, whenever our next album comes, that will be covered, but I’m still figuring out how that is approached. How to be poetic about that, but also how much people should know about what Tom went through… It just felt the most immediate thing that comes out when you are suffering is what you know about what you feel, and seeing if writing about that can help.”
And did it?
“Songwriting has definitely been a good thing for me,” he nods. “I’ve enjoyed it. You know, at first I didn’t know if the band would continue. I really didn’t want to pretend that it would… and it felt like really poor taste to even discuss it. I had to say something immediately afterwards, because people were going to ask, but I didn’t want to go into it too much. I didn’t want to make any promises. It wasn’t about the band, it was about Tom. And I didn’t know how Josh [Middleton, who has taken up Tom’s mantle on guitar]’s talents would work in this band. it’s worked really well, but I don’t want to make any promises about when an album might come. I just need to make sure that it’s the album it needs to be. It’s hard for me not to think about what other people might think. It’s hard for us now to imagine it like Tom had written it. I’m excited to build for the future, as long as we do it right. I don’t want to lose sight of Tom within the process.”
How do you balance that with your own vision within that, though? To fulfill what you want to…
“…Because it’s my career, my life, my livelihood?” Dan interjects. “Sure, I know. It’s difficult. I think going into the studio has made me remember how much I need to keep Tom in mind. We talked about where we wanted to take the next album. The assumption was Tom would write another album. Which probably sounds daft, yeah, but we talked about the next album, we wrote some songs… It’s funny…”
Dan pauses, as if to think about quite what he wants to reveal.
“Further down the line…. when Tom was in a more dire situation… At that point Tom’s perspective on the band cut through all the bullshit of this being our ‘career’. When we first started this band, we just got into a room and made music – we didn’t think about anything else. And that was kind of what Tom had been stripped down to by his illness. I think if Tom had written an album at that point, it would have been 16-minute songs (laughs). Now, we can’t do that – it would end the band! But I want to take some of that spirit. I want to honour what Tom wanted. When an album does come out, there will be some songs on there that Tom completed, and I can’t wait for you to hear them.
“I don’t want [whatever we do from here] to be all doom and gloom,” Dan continues. “I don’t want it to be a message of total despair. I don’t feel like ‘fuck the world’ because Tom died. I feel like I have more incentive to live, and make the most of my life, and feel gratitude for everything we have. I owe it to Tom; it’d be terrible if I just wasted it away. Tom would think that was ridiculous. You have to use things like this to evolve and learn more about yourself. And that’s what I’m trying to do: use it as a chance to grow, be a better persona and live a fuller life.
“People think they’re immortal, but losing your twin brother, you can’t get much more of a wake-up call,” he says, voice heavy. “Life does end, and not necessarily when you’re elderly. Live it. Don’t day-dream your way through it.
“Tom wanted to live,” he finishes. “I’ve gotta do this for him.”
Words: Sam Coare
Architects photo: Tom Barnes