Oli Sykes And Sam Carter: It’s Time For Rock Music To Step Up
Two men walk into a bar. There’s no punchline. But here they are, the frontmen of two of Britain’s biggest rock bands, meeting up in a fancy Highbury boozer.
Once upon a time, this would have been a more regular occurrence, but as the schedules of Bring Me The Horizon and Architects have become busier, opportunity for Oli Sykes and Sam Carter to meet in this manner has become rarer. When one has downtime from tour, the other will, invariably, be on the other side of the world. Such is the price of success.
As the pair enthusiastically shoot the shit and catch up, the signs of long, strong friendship are clear; undimmed by age or absence. This Friday (May 31), both bands will hit London together for All Points East, the festival curated and headlined by Bring Me The Horizon, for a day that celebrates not only how far they’ve come, but also brings together a diversity of sounds and throws light on bands the bill-toppers think you need to hear. You won’t find Run The Jewels sharing a stage with IDLES, Employed To Serve, While She Sleeps, Scarlxrd and YONAKA anywhere else. It’s the first time in ages the pair will be playing a show together, but it’s also in keeping with how things have always been between them – bringing your mates on board because you want to have a laugh with them and because you want people to know about them. It was Oli’s band who took Sam’s on their first big tours, and both talk with smiles and enthusiasm of those early days of a decade or so ago, when both were first making a splash in a British rock scene that was a fertile breeding ground, turning contemporaries like You Me At Six, Bullet For My Valentine and Gallows into stars.
Looking back from the arena-smashing altitude Oli and Sam find themselves today, it quickly becomes apparent that while some things have changed, others have stayed the same. And so, as they prepare to share what’s sure to be a landmark festival together, it’s time to reflect on what was, the here and now, and what this all means for the future…
When did you guys first meet?
Oli: “Uh, do you know, Sam?!”
Sam: “(Laughs) I think Bring Me and Architects had played some shows together before I joined, and then the first tour I did with these guys was in Europe. It was a month in Europe, we were on the same bus, and it was amazing. It was my first proper time in Europe.”
Oli: “It was us, Architects, and Blessed By A Broken Heart on one bus, plus crew, which was minimal. How many people were there? Eighteen or 21 or something? It was chaos.”
Sam: “Everyone got absolutely hammered. I couldn’t drink like that these days! We were young men then; younger livers.”
Oli: “Back then, for every tour we’d be like, ‘Do we get to go on a bus this time?’ That was the first time we’d managed to swing our own because we’d all shared. Everyone was really excited, it was like a massive sleepover or a camping trip or a school trip.”
What was it like seeing each other’s bands becoming more and more successful?
Sam: “Do you know what? One of the coolest things about growing up with Bring Me is that we used to be really jealous of other bands’ success and how well they were doing. We could get really bitter and pissed off, but we never had that with Bring Me. Any time they did anything we were like, ‘This is sick!’ because we were mates and you want to see your mates do well. And they always looked out for us as well.”
Oli: “I’ve always said: you need more than one good band to keep a scene alive. That’s always been my fear with metal and hardcore, that question of, ‘Are there going to be enough bands to keep kids into rock?’ I’m always supportive, not just of my friends’ bands, but any bands. The fact that we’re here with Architects… we’ve grown up with them, so it makes it even sweeter to see them doing so well. It’s mental that we’re still here, even!”
At that time, there were loads of British bands – You Me At Six, Gallows, Bullet For My Valentine – all breaking. Did it feel that way for you, being on the inside?
Oli: “It’s weird. It’s like what Sam said about being jealous of other bands and stuff. I remember all those bands like Bullet and You Me At Six, they were exploding, and we were just doing our thing. We never thought about catching up or being there, so we always felt – not separate – but our bands became successful without much help. I think the press started covering us because they had no option.”
Sam: “It got to a point where people had to write about us because it was getting awkward. We’d got so big it was like, ‘Why are you not doing anything on this band who are doing really well?’”
Did you wonder if that success might not happen for you?
Oli: “I’ve never been an envious person in that way. You wanting someone else to fail doesn’t make you more successful. It feels much nicer to be happy for someone’s success than to be jealous of it. I remember playing in small rooms of venues while other English bands were upstairs in the big room. People would go, ‘Why aren’t we up there?’ And I’d say, ‘Do you want to make that type of music? No. Is what we do, the music we want to do, accessible to everyone? No.’ If we’d get to a venue and it was only 60 per cent sold, I wouldn’t go, ‘Oh fucking hell, what’s going on?’ I’d go, ‘This is who wants to see us at this moment in time. Be thankful for it.’ At the end of the day, if people are spending their hard-earned money on tickets to your shows, that’s still something a lot of bands don’t get. And I think you have to appreciate that.”
Come on, it’s easy to be zen about it now…
Oli: “Well, I do remember being very jealous of Arctic Monkeys, ‘cause I went to school with them! So, yeah, when you’re younger it’s sometimes hard not to be like that, but growing up you just realise how lucky you are to be a band that people want to see.”
How important was the support of bigger bands to you?
Sam: “The big tours we got early on were nearly always with Bring Me. Parkway Drive helped us out, too, and still do. A Day To Remember were really cool as well. But other than those three bands, we didn’t really tour with anyone really big.”
Oli: “I actually remember a review in Kerrang! calling us ‘Dial-A-Support’, with Killswitch Engage [in 2007]. And we loved that! Someone had pulled out so we jumped on last minute. We kept getting lucky like that. I also remember getting a tour with Megadeth in Australia, and the first thing Dave Mustaine did when he saw us was go, ‘Who are you?’ ‘We’re Bring Me The Horizon.’ ‘Why are you here?’ ‘We’re supporting you.’ And he just walked off. Half an hour later he came back with some champagne. But he’d told his whole fanbase that we weren’t on that tour, and obviously someone had to go and tell him, ‘No, actually, they are…’”
It’s gone awry sometimes though, hasn’t it?
Oli: “There were a lot of tours like that Megadeth one where we’d be with someone whose audience did not want to see us. Machine Head was another one. But it’s character-building. And the spirit was there between the bands on the  Machine Head tour: they liked us, that’s the funny thing! These bands like us!’”
Sam: “I remember Robb Flynn came to see both of us in San Francisco. He sang with Bring Me, didn’t he? ‘Party ‘til you pass out…’”
Oli: “He might have done, actually!”
Now you’re both in a position to give back, is it important to you that Architects and Bring Me can help younger bands get a leg up?
Sam: “Yeah. I think we were lucky on the last tour that we could take Polaris out ‘cause they’re sick. It felt good to have them on the tour.”
Oli: “They’re sick, that band. I listened to them after that, they’re really cool.”
Sam: “They remind me of us when we were younger. And they were really nice, humble dudes who just couldn’t believe they were on that tour. That’s the coolest feeling, seeing a young band turn up to a venue like Wembley like, ‘Woah! I can’t believe we’re doing this!’ That’s almost more rewarding than doing the show yourself, seeing how stoked someone else is about playing it.”
Oli: “And the thing you do realise is there’s so many great bands around, and there have been so many great bands who just never make it. And that’s so unfair. So bands like YONAKA, I think they’re making songs that, if No Doubt came back and played those songs, they’d be massive. So why shouldn’t their band have the same chance? If you think something’s good, you can’t just think, ‘They’ll do fine, they’re gonna be massive,’ because it’s not always the case.”
Things for new bands are different than they were when you guys were starting out, with venues closing and so forth. How do you view the environment they’re coming into?
Sam: “I think it’s sort of gone through that dip. I can only speak for Brighton, and there’s venues closing, but new ones are opening, too. I think as you get older and become a bigger band, you’re a bit separate from those things. When I was a kid playing shows in my hometown, this tiny village, I felt like the scene was wherever you were. So when I was 13, I thought our local scene was fucking booming! But I like to think there are still these little scenes where the bands eventually move on and become these bigger things, like Loathe or Lotus Eater.”
Oli: “I got into hot water with some of my comments on rock music recently, but all I’m trying to say is that it’s time for the scene to step it up a bit. For the longest time it’s been that people just wanted to go to a gig ‘cause they liked rock music and that was enough for them. But now that everything’s so readily accessible, people need more. I think what’s good is, because there’s less rock out there, people are becoming a bit more open-minded and saying, ‘Right, I don’t just like Architects or Bring Me The Horizon, I like The 1975 and Post Malone and Stormzy.’”
That’s a type of thinking both of your bands seem to have embraced…
Oli: “It totally is. What we’re trying to do with All Points East is say: forget about the scene. The bands that will persevere are the bands who are just making good music and doing something interesting. And because of that, I think there could be a resurgence of rock, because everyone’s bucking up their ideas and pushing and trying to do something special. It will happen. Rock’s not going anywhere. It was just lagging behind a little bit in terms of progression, and I think it’s time for the audience to become more open-minded and step away from boundaries.”
Sam: “If you look at bands like Arctic Monkeys or The 1975 or Bring Me, they’ve all released different albums to what they were doing before, and they’ve all gone to Number One. They’re all pushing themselves creatively and made something amazing that people aren’t sure of at first, but then love. And that inspires bands like us because we don’t want to stay in this safe lane.”
Sam: “‘Cause after you’ve been in a band 13, 14 years, you can piss out a heavy record (laughs)! You can’t go in and just chug, it’s boring. Push yourself. Don’t do something that’s safe, because eventually you’ll lose that excited feeling you used to get from writing music.”
Oli: “I appreciate that as a kid that it’s hard to understand that your tastes evolve. When I was 16, all I wanted was fast heaviness, and I couldn’t imagine myself growing out of that. And I haven’t grown out of it, but your palate just changes. I think what you have to do is be a band that surpasses a genre. Look at all the most successful bands: Linkin Park were a heavy band for people who don’t like heavy bands. Arctic Monkeys are an indie band for people who don’t like indie. I hate indie, but I love Arctic Monkeys. Architects – loads of people don’t like heavy music or metal, but love Architects.”
Do you think that the redrawing of those lines – liking metal bands without having to like the 50 years of metal history that’s come before – is going to be helpful for new heavy bands?
Oli: “I mean, that’s the problem with the metal community and the rock community. They want to keep it to themselves. They don’t like the idea of other people coming in and enjoying just a bit of it. When amo came out we had so much support from every other band, and the way I saw it was people going, ‘Yes! They’ve done something different – we wanna do that, too.’ But I’d see people saying to Architects, ‘Please don’t go down the same road as Bring Me The Horizon.’ Why are you so scared? Why do you think you want us to all stay the same?”
Sam: “I also can’t get over people having a go when a band changes, because that album you love is still there. That’s been given to you. I think people forget that the band is our band. That’s our creative output. And I think there’s a lot of angry people who just want to point and be angry at something.”
Oli: “I get why people think like that. For a lot of people, me included, getting into rock music comes from being isolated, maybe being bullied or being alone, and it’s your outlet and you connect with it. But you’re ridiculed by people for that as you grow up, by kids at school who like indie or hip-hop or whatever. So when they start coming and liking ‘your’ music 10 years later, you’re like, ‘Fuck off, this is mine.’ We need to be the bigger people, though, because music is the last thing we have, the last hope we have of uniting people anymore. Everything else is a massive war: environment, what you eat, government, race. Music is the last shared thing.”
Sam: “People have to be careful, because records like [The Beatles’] Sgt. Pepper won’t happen if you keep starving bands and saying, ‘You can’t do this.’ Or there’ll be backlashes. Like, when people say to Architects, ‘Don’t follow Bring Me,’ I think, ‘Fuck off!’ If people keep saying that, I’ll go to the woods and write an acoustic album and call it Architects.”
Oli: “Doing what we do is fucking hard. It’s not easy. It’s not selling out. I can write a fucking breakdown in my sleep. But I want to challenge myself. Selling out would be making something we’ve already done.”
Sam: “People think there’s this sliding scale. Like, selling out is sounding like Drake, and that’s really fucking easy. Do you know how hard it is to write a hook, or nail a fucking chorus? If it was that fucking easy to do what Drake does, don’t you think we’d all be doing it? That’s just as hard to create.”
For All Points East, was it important to put a day together that really reflects this type of thinking?
Oli: “Yeah. I mean, it’s our way of trying to coax our fanbase into being more open-minded. We’re going, ‘This is us.’ We’re not being cool or dismissing the scene we come from, it’s just about good music. It’s a risk, ‘cause you don’t know if people will go, ‘Don’t like that, not gonna come.’ I hope people think it’s cool, though, as it reflects us and who we are.”
Sam: “When we got the offer, it was a no-brainer. And we’d never get to play with Run The Jewels, who I love. Then there’s the other aspect of all these heavy bands playing a big show together for the first time in ages.”
Oli: “I can’t remember the last time some of us played together.”
Do you think it’ll go both ways as well? Will a Run The Jewels fan check out you guys or Employed To Serve and dig it?
Sam: “I think Run The Jewels will absolutely smash it. They’re such a good live band, with so much energy, that playing to a metal crowd will be quite an easy crossover, and maybe for their fans seeing us will have a similar vibe for them.”
Oli: “You can’t go, ‘They’re shit ‘cause I don’t like hip-hop.’ When they play, you haven’t got a choice ‘cause there’s so much energy and they’re so into it. Every song’s a bop. People are gonna love it.”
Sam: “Our music isn’t always palatable to everyone the first time they hear it. But live, people get the energy. Like, we’ve got family and friends who have seen us and go, ‘I get it now.’”
Do you think this will open the gates a bit for newer bands to head higher up festival bills?
Oli: “I think what Glastonbury have done with Stormzy [headlining this year] is cool. Not only is it a talking point, but you’re giving artists a chance to be the next massive one. And that’s as exciting as getting a legacy act on. It’s about making those bold moves and giving people a shot. And when bands get that chance, they’re hungry, they’re gonna go out and prove it. We’re hungry – we need to step up.”
And what kind of moment are you going to create?
Oli: “A timeless one. Think about The Prodigy being on the cover of Kerrang! the first time [in 1996] – that’s a timeless moment, a turning point. But for us, every single song is gonna be, ‘How can this be the most incredible thing we’ve ever offered?’ That’s what we’re aiming for.”
Sam: “I’m looking forward to that so much. It’s going to give a lot of people hope that more of us can do this. That’s what’s exciting.”
Bring Me The Horizon and Architects play All Points East in London on May 31. Get your tickets now.
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