Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes: “We Need To Teach People About Compassion”
For a while there, Oli Sykes had lost faith in humanity. The Bring Me The Horizon frontman spent a great deal of 2019 trying to figure out the wider world, and found himself wondering where things had gone so very wrong. “There’s so much shit going on,” he sighs. “Environmental issues, and all this stuff where you’re bombarded with a new problem every day…”
Oli was perpetually worrying about these issues when an unexpected offer was put to him and his bandmates: did they want to release a brand-new song as part of the soundtrack to highly-anticipated video game Death Stranding? It was a no-brainer for the rock titans, who are longtime fans of the project’s legendary creator, Hideo Kojima. And Oli decided that he would use this opportunity to spread a message of hope into the world. Enter Ludens – Bring Me The Horizon’s boldest musical effort to date. With its, ‘I need a new leader / We need a new Luden…’ refrain, the genre-smashing, four-and-a-half minute single not only ties in with Death Stranding to keep video game fans happy, it also serves as the next lyrical step for Oli, who is learning how to use his platform to promote change…
Tell us about Ludens, Oli. Were you sent Death Stranding footage as you were writing the song so you could envision how it was going to fit within the game?
“Not really, to be honest! They didn’t give us any instructions for what it was supposed to sound or be like. It was a Monday at this point and our management were like, ‘It has to be done by Saturday, otherwise they can’t use it.’ There was no leeway on that. We’ve never had to write a song in five days before and we weren’t sure if we could do it. And we didn’t want to put out something shit, obviously! But we were like, ‘Well, we might as well just try, and if we don’t like it or it doesn’t happen, then whatever – we can work on it for something else.’”
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What was that fast-tracking process like?
“We hit the ground running, and I’d been following the game closely because I’m a big fan of Kojima and his work. I went back and dug through all the trailers and fan theories, just trying to get my head around what the video game meant. I started looking at how I can use that theme and apply it to something a bit bigger than the game, and what was on my mind, too – and lyrically I had an obvious point of inspiration. We’ve never made a song for a game before, so it was a chance to do something that felt a bit more cinematic. We dug through the original Matrix soundtrack and stuff like that – that cyberpunk, nu-metal stuff – and that kind of inspired it. We didn’t have much choice other than to have fun with it, and just make something and see what came out. We can be quite anal about our music, and we just go over and over and over it. It’s easy to second-guess a song to the point that you actually get rid of it. But we didn’t have the time to do that with Ludens, so we just went with our gut.”
Is that something you’d do more of when it comes to future Bring Me The Horizon music – restricting your time limit?
“I don’t think we’d ever want to put such severe time barriers on ourselves, but it taught us a lesson that maybe spending a year making an album isn’t the best thing. Maybe we should put all our attention into one song [at a time], because when you’re writing an album, you’re bouncing back and forth between, like, 12 songs, and you’re spreading that creativity a lot thinner. Whereas when you’re just working on one song, it’s a lot less stressful in a way, because you’re not worrying about how it’s going to fit within a whole album – it’s just about writing this one really good song. That was definitely something we took from it.”
How did you piece Ludens together? It’s like a bunch of different songs in one…
“Now we’ve put six albums out, and we’ve made such different music over the course of that, we’ve learned what works and how you can change stuff up. It’s really just playing with that and pushing it to its limit. We felt like, after [this year’s 5K-rated album] amo, the structures of which were mostly very pop-oriented, we wanted to do something a bit more unmethodical, I guess. We weren’t thinking that we were going to take bits of everything we’ve ever done, but we decided that we can do stuff that we might not have done on amo, and just do whatever we wanted, really.”
Being such a fan of Kojima, did that bring added pressure?
“Definitely. To be honest, there was a part of me that was like, ‘Am I fanboying too much? Is this actually a bit embarrassing?!’ (Laughs) For anyone that knows the game, I’ve really gone overboard. Jordan [Fish, keys] kept thinking that the game had leaked because he was seeing little things online that are my lyrics, but then he realised that that’s just where I took the lyrics from in the first place! There are other artists who have done songs for this soundtrack, too, and I was like, ‘I bet none of them have put this much effort into making all the lyrics have some kind of connection to the game.’ I don’t know if that’s a tedious thing or not! We took things that are used in the video game but we gave it a completely different meaning, so if you took the video game away then the song would still make sense.”
Was it a no-brainer to call it Ludens – the name of the company mascot?
“It’s something that I didn’t really know about until I started looking. The first place I went was Kojima’s website to see what was being said straight from the source, and as it was loading, the website said, ‘From Sapiens to Ludens.’ I wanted to know what that meant, and it’s obviously to do with the game and the company, but there was also this blurb about if the world ended and everything went to shit, there would still be hope if humans were on the planet. I think it said something about the fact that even with all the terrible things we do, our greatest asset is our creativity and the fact that we can always find a way to make something out of nothing. We build these new inventions, and this technology that can help people. I was reading about this 16-year-old who has invented a microorganism that can eat microplastics in the ocean; sometimes things can get so dark that you don’t see there are still these little rays of light everywhere. After reading all this, I felt like it needed to have at least a semi-positive message about what’s going on. If it’s not you, who is it going to be that makes a change or helps? Everyone goes, ‘Someone else will sort this out.’ And that’s how I was for ages, too – I was like, ‘I’m just going to quietly keep my beliefs to myself and hope that people see that things need to be done, and they change in their own way.’ But I think what’s happened, maybe even over the past six months, is that if you believe in something, you really do need to stand up for it. The kids that are going out and doing that are making a difference. I didn’t have that faith before, and now I do. I want to join that fight, and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t. That’s the message of the song: that we need new leaders and new heroes, and new people to try and beat this fucked-up game.”
Do you feel ready to step into that role?
“I don’t feel ready, but I feel responsible. If I’m going to do this job and travel the world and get to do this amazing thing, I can’t just offset it. It’s now a case of figuring out how to do it in my own way, because I’m not a politically-charged person. I’ve got an interest in it, but you have to know a lot about it. Right now I’m trying to figure out how I can help the most, and how I can make a difference in my own way, before I jump in and start blabbing about shit that I’ve never spoken about before (laughs). It’s always meant something to me – I’ve always loved animals and cared about the world – but I guess a lot of people don’t want to hear about it, and they don’t want to talk about it, and I’ve always wanted to be that person who’s just cool with everyone; I don’t wanna ruffle anyone’s feathers. But it’s gone past preaching now: these are facts that need to be repeated so people can finally start being able to hear the words ‘mass extinction’. I think when they hear something like that, it makes their skin crawl and they go, ‘No, I don’t want to think about that.’ And if you do believe in that stuff, you really do have to do something about it. This is something that goes through my head every day, so if I’m not using this small power or influence that I’ve been given, then it makes me feel like I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
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Do you think people might respond to an uplifting stance a bit more positively?
“Yeah, I think it’s like… I’ve always had the same feelings about eating meat [Oli became vegetarian in 2003, and fully vegan 10 years later] – I don’t judge anyone who eats meat, because it’s all to do with compassion. I think we need to teach that compassion. It’s easy to say, ‘Everyone needs to stop eating meat.’ But when people say that, they’re not really thinking about these people’s individual lives – how they’ve been raised, what’s normal to them, and how much money they make a day. It’s not easy for everyone to be a vegetarian or vegan, so just try to present facts and do it in a different way. I don’t want to be singing about politics or the government. I want to present things in a way that makes people think about it, without really knowing that they’re thinking about it – and I don’t know how that works yet, if it’s through a fictional story or world, or something. Our music has always been about escapism and feelings, so it’s a case of trying to figure out how to talk about this while not losing what I do. I still need to play to my strengths.”
Has amo been a good stepping stone into this sort of mind-set as a band?
“Yeah, I guess so. But I think amo was like a last chapter in many ways for us. It was obviously a very personal album, and I didn’t want to write it in the first place, in terms of what I was singing about – but I had to. You can only really sing about what’s going through your head, and that was all that was there at the time. But each day that’s passed, it’s more and more insignificant to me. I can still sing something like [2013 single] Can You Feel My Heart and feel the emotions that I felt when I wrote it, but with amo, everything that I was talking about feels so irrelevant now because it doesn’t sting. I can’t even remember the person I was talking about. And that’s how all personal kinds of things feel to me right now: not very important compared to other stuff that’s going on. I get way more upset over world issues than I do anything in my own life. We wrote the album that we always wanted to in terms of doing whatever the fuck we wanted – writing some pop songs, and getting to explore more electronic and dance, and just going absolutely crazy! And it’s left us in a position now that it feels like we can do anything. We could make a straight-up pop album, we could make a death metal album… we can go wherever we want. With amo there was a different set of barriers, and to go to those places it felt like we maybe couldn’t do certain other things. I don’t know why, but it feels like we can do whatever we want now. We’re more free than we’ve ever been.”
Ludens is out now as part of the Death Stranding: Timefall (Original Music From The World Of Death Stranding) soundtrack via RCA Records and Sony Interactive Entertainment.
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