Bring Me The Horizon: The rebirth of rock’s great innovators
If you want a picture of touring in 2021, imagine a swab sticking up a human nose forever.
As Bring Me The Horizon head out on tour this week – their first time stepping onstage since their last appearance in Kiev, Ukraine, on February 11 last year – things are very different. Everyone has to be tested constantly. There is to be no consorting with anyone outside the band’s immediate bubble of crew. Masks have to be worn at all times not onstage. When your tech hands you something, you sanitise your hands before and after. Absolutely nobody is to be at home to Mr. Fuck Up.
Even scheduling has been COVID-ed. Two proposed intimate, warm-up shows have now moved to become post-tour celebrations (“Sensible, really,” shrugs guitarist Lee Malia. “If we’re gonna get it anywhere, it’s there…”). When we speak to the band during rehearsals at Drop Dead HQ in Sheffield’s Kelham Island in the week leading up to the tour – via Zoom, rather than the intended face-to-face interviews – they reveal that one crew member has already been sent for an early shower. As a precautionary measure, the band had to pivot to keeping their distance even more while they play.
“Yesterday me and Lee had to be at totally opposite ends of this big room,” says keyboardist Jordan Fish. “Mat [Nicholls, drums] was on an entirely different floor.”
This is fine, though. A bit weird, kind of awkward, but fine. Everyone knows why they’re doing these things, and nobody wants to be the tripwire that sends the whole thing south. “I don’t want to be the guy who gets it and fucks up the whole tour and have someone go, ‘You should have been more careful,’” says Jordan. Being the first full UK arena tour to gear up since lockdown also means a few more eyes on things than normal.
But Bring Me The Horizon are a band for whom adapting and thinking differently is a natural instinct. A year ago, they dropped the furious Post Human: Survival Horror EP, all written and recorded remotely, without the band even playing it through in a room together. Now there’s the first look at part two of the proposed four-EP arc, DiE4u, a more melodic but no less fearless proposition.
And when Mat enthuses that, “The new songs sound better than the old ones,” in rehearsal, it’s echoed by each of his bandmates.
“You have a moment when you first play them where you’re like, ‘Ooh, that was a bit shit,’” says Jordan. “But then by the first few times through, I went, ‘Okay, this is gonna be sick.’ And actually, weirdly, they’re quite playable. They sound really good, they’re the ones that we’re enjoying playing. We’re really ropey on the old ones because we’ve been practicing [the new songs] so much. It’s like we’ve almost forgotten the old tunes. But yeah, they feel really exciting.”
“Everything feels a little bit like, ‘Is this what I used to do?”’ continues frontman Oli Sykes. “You’re just trying to get used to it again. It’s not as automatic as it used to be. So in that respect, you really appreciate it and everything excites you. It feels really good coming back together and doing it fresh.”
Lockdown hasn’t slowed Bring Me The Horizon down. It’s recharged and refocused them. For Oli, in ways he didn’t realise he needed…
Everyone in Bring Me The Horizon found their own way of passing lockdown. For Lee, it meant unexpected family time, managing to see his two-year-old daughter on both of her birthdays. Outside that, he got together with some old mates in Sheffield, doing covers of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin songs. “I'm so used to playing all the time, so I just went and jammed with them,” he says. “It was still allowed because rehearsal rooms were classed as ‘education’, so it was the only place you could go that wasn't home.”
Mat admits he found lockdown “fucking boring”. To combat it, he threw himself into dealing with the band’s merch to stay occupied, as well as keeping his drumming eye in by playing along to classic pop on Spotify (Sade was a particular favourite). He’s also one of the lucky bastards who got hold of home gym gear before it all ran out, “But I overdid it,” he grins. “I got tendinitis in my arm.”
Jordan juggled production duties with settling into being a full-time dad. For bassist Matt Kean, who lives in California with his girlfriend, the sunnier climate enabled a good amount of hiking and camping, “plus there’s more places to eat outside, so there was still somewhere sort-of normal to go.”
For Oli, having had a full diary for over 15 years between touring and recording, the brakes suddenly slamming on brought with it a lot of empty time for reflection.
“I was like, ‘Who am I?’” he recalls. “‘What are my values? Who am I without the band, or writing music and making stuff? What do I like to do? What do I do in my pastime? And what is the point?’ It was a bit of a rollercoaster at first.”
Hear Oli Sykes ruminate on what his life meant when the music stopped
These questions led to a realisation: he wasn’t very happy, and hadn’t been for a while. And where he’d previously been to rehab for drug abuse, and spent a lot of time looking inward and trying to figure himself out, the truth he came to was that there was still a lot of knots to untie.
“A lot of older problems came back, and I kind of realised that there was a lot of stuff that I hadn’t worked on,” the singer admits. “When I went to rehab eight years ago, I came out of it and I felt like I was healed. I was like, ‘I’m good now,’ and we went and made Sempiternal. I kind of realised when everything stopped that I was so busy and things were going so well with the band and stuff that I was more… distracted than healed.”
When he looked at where he was now, Oli realised that he was just doing “enough” to feel okay, but he was almost kidding himself. He was still drinking and taking drugs – though not to excess. He was still in a bad place. And when he looked in the mirror properly, it wasn’t great. Oli says he reached a point where, when people asked what he did, he’d tell them he owned a clothing company, rather than sing in a band.
“I didn’t like myself very much,” he says. “I don’t have much confidence in myself. I had a lot of shit like that, where I didn’t like when people said my name. [I was] embarrassed. I couldn’t even talk to people – things like going to a shop, I’d be embarrassed and scared. I didn’t ever want to put myself out there. I just wanted to remain hidden all the time.”
As lockdown went on, Oli decided to head to Brazil, the homeland of his wife, to take a proper break. It was here that he ended up spending a month at a Hare Krishna ashram, “in the middle of nowhere in the forest,” five hours outside of São Paulo. As he read the Bhagavad Gita and listened to the wise words of the gurus who told him that the contentment and balance they felt came largely from not allowing material and trivial things to attach themselves to them and weigh them down, he began to understand where the out-of-tune parts of his life were coming from.
“I basically became a Hare Krishna for a month. I’m not Hare Krishna, but I thought, ‘Fuck it – these people are the happiest people in the world, they’re just so content,’” he says. “I’d get up at 5am and chant with them and pray to all their gods and gurus. We’d listen to their gurus, and readings from the Bhagavad Gita. I learned a lot. For them, the worst thing ever is jealousy and ego and all this stuff. It’s basically all about being content with whatever you’ve got.”
The length of time spent at the ashram meant that Oli was able to properly immerse himself in this new way of thinking, and assimilate into his surroundings. As he did, more things began to fall into place. He’d been sweating the small stuff – money, tickets, numbers – rather than appreciating the joy and friendship at the heart of Bring Me The Horizon.
“Especially with the band getting bigger, you feed on numbers and fame and stuff like that,” he says. “It’s like, ‘How many Spotify listeners have you’ve got?’ ‘What’s your billing on the shows?’ It’s so ego-driven. You actually realise that you’re putting so much stock into that, but you confuse it with your personal worth.
“When everything stopped in lockdown, I was like, ‘I’ve got no worth,’” he continues. “I had to figure out, ‘Alright, if I wasn’t in the band, what am I? What would I do?’ But in Brazil, it was really nice, because I could just stay there and figure out how to be a normal person and not worry about the band every single day. I love this. I don’t mind doing it 24/7, never stopping. But at the same time, there’s more to life than just one thing. There’s other things to see. You’ve got to put your eggs in different baskets.”
Listen to Oli talk about his time at a Hare Krishna ashram in Brazil
Part of this as well was letting go of things from the past – worries and guilt and shame and wishing you’d done things differently. Again, as the guru said, that stuff isn’t good for you; it’s just weighing you down.
“I think a lot about the person I used to be when I was on drugs, and shit that I’ve done,” Oli explains. “It’s like letting go of a past version of yourself, and going, ‘That’s not who I actually am.’ Stop worrying about all these things that are out of your control and feeling guilty about times you nearly died or shit like that. You’ve got to, or else you’ll just stay trapped in that place.
“I’m so appreciative that I get to do what I do. I sometimes feel like I’m in a simulation. How did I, a kid from Stocksbridge, Sheffield go, ‘Right, I’m going to be in a band,’ and it worked? People come and see my band – who gives a fuck how many people come to see us? This is what I get to do for a living.”
A large part of this fed into the lyrics for DiE4u. If Post Human: Survival Horror was a blunt instrument, leaning into a metallic aggression some thought the band had turned their backs on, articulating the frustrations and fears of the times in which it was released, this next phase is taking stock among the rubble, and making the next step. A positive change.
“It’s about toxic relationships, or old vices, or obsessions,” reveals Oli of DiE4u. “The whole song is kind of written as if it’s a lover, or a relationship, and I’m talking to someone [and saying], ‘You’re so bad that I would die for you, but I will die for you. Because I’m so addicted. Even though I know this is no good for me, I will continue to do this to myself until I die.’ And to me, that was drugs and stuff. It’s trying to take a defiant stand and going, ‘This ends today, I’ll make a decision to stop that.’
“I think the next record is gonna be very much about how we can look after ourselves. How we can care about ourselves.”
That next record is still in the works. While Oli and Jordan both say that its predecessor came together relatively quickly (and the frontman confirms he’s got a big-picture idea of what three and four will involve, but remains tight-lipped), this one, Jordan says, has required “a little more digging around”.
“We’re kind of getting there now, but this one has been hard,” he admits. “There’s still a bunch of boxes you want to tick: you want to keep some heavy stuff, but you also want to explore other sounds for yourself, you want each record to feel a bit different. So it sometimes feels a bit like trying to thread the eye of a needle a little bit.”
As is so often the case with Bring Me The Horizon, they’ve learned and grown from what they’ve had to do to make these recordings happen. Having members spread between Yorkshire, Berkshire, California and Brazil isn’t without its logistical questions, but now they know how to do it, they’re going to keep doing it. Mat, a self-described “lazy bastard”, actually preferred the process of recording near home.
“I went to a studio in Chesterfield called Treehouse – it’s only like a 25 minute drive from me,” he explains. “From now on if I’m recording drums in England, and I want to go there because it was it was super-cool. I mean, I’m a lazy bastard, and [the engineer] kind of gets that I’m a lazy bastard. So he’s not one of these producers who’s just gonna make me do too much shit, because he knows he can’t!”
For now, Bring Me The Horizon are just delighted to be back in the same room, looking at actually playing live for the first time in a year and a half.
“I feel like it’s going to be amazing,” smiles Jordan, whose daughter is going to be seeing her dad ‘at work’ for the first time ever. “The show’s looking really good. The production is insane. The setlist is really strong. And we’re just all excited to be together again. I’m hoping that energy comes across. And I feel like the fans are going to be excited just to be there. It’s going to be sick.”
“We’re desperate to be able to do it,” adds Lee. “It’s going to be a shock to the system. My back and my feet are aching just from standing playing guitar because I’ve not stood for that long with my guitar on my shoulder. My body is definitely going to suffer.”
“I’m hoping that the shows are gonna be crazy,” continues Matt. “While I was in the States, I was keeping an eye on all the festival shows going on and stuff. So it seems like a lot of people have got like this ball of energy that they’ve been saving…”
Hear Oli discuss the impact of returning to what he loves
Like Oli, as well as the hunger to be out and doing something again, the past 18 months have also brought with them a sense of gratitude. Time off from the grind – real time off, not a month here or there every year – means that there’s a renewed appreciation for what the band are doing. Even the less-than-brilliant bits.
“I think sometimes you always think grass is greener,” says Mat. “Like, when you’re on tour, and you’re in a shithole in America. But then these kinds of things just make you realise how much you want to be in a shithole in America. I mean, it’s kind of put things into perspective, and it makes you realise how lucky you are, I guess, and just how different your life could be.”
Bring Me The Horizon are coming out of COVID stronger because they’re a band who have always learned from experience and used it to move forward. That’s how leaders become leaders. Nobody asked for the time off, but perhaps nobody realised how much a break was needed until they got one. While plans were scuppered by lockdowns, it also happened when the band were on an enormous high. Rather than blurring straight into the next thing, the past 18 months have served to charge them back up in a manner that might otherwise not have happened, from a point near the ground upward.
Oli, for one, knows how important it’s been to rebuild and rejuvenate. He’s singing better than ever, feels more confident about getting onstage, and says that just being back and playing – even at Drop Dead – is a joy in itself. And as the next chapter of Horizon begins, he’s heading into it without taking a lot of old baggage with him, to enjoy it for what it is.
“When it’s going full speed, non-stop, you never really have time to improve, you just keep, like, muscle memory with a lot of stuff, you’re just doing what you’ve always done,” he reflects. “And if that’s not right, it just stays not right. Having almost two years off and coming back to it, all that muscle memory is gone, so you can kind of reinstate good muscle memory. All the little things that I used to take for granted, or even felt a bit tedious, feel new and different. I mean, even listening to our music again, just getting back into it remembering lyrics and stuff, you think, ‘Fuck, this is amazing.’
“Now it’s all exciting again.”
Bring Me The Horizon’s new single DiE4u is out now. The band are currently on tour in the UK.
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