Oli Sykes: “I’ve Realised That What Bring Me The Horizon Do Is Special And We Shouldn’t Lose Everything”
Despite 2019 being a prolific year for Bring Me The Horizon (the release of amo, the Music To… surprise EP, and Ludens’ inclusion on the Death Stranding soundtrack), the notion of new material is always cause for celebration. Officially one of UK rock’s biggest bands, with festival headline slots and a Number One album under their belts, there has been much speculation about the direction BMTH would go in next.
And then they dropped Parasite Eve, the first fruit from the Yorkshire heavyweights’ lockdown sessions. Earlier this year, frontman Oli Sykes and keyboardist Jordan Fish decamped to Amsterdam to start writing with the idea of releasing something this summer, but as global circumstances changed, so did the band’s plans. But, forever looking forward, the five-piece embraced the opportunity to work remotely.
Working over Skype and Zoom, with Oli in his home vocal booth and the rest of the band in their set-ups, it became clear that expensive studios in far-flung places weren’t actually necessary. They could take breaks easily, Jordan could be with his young family rather than travelling up north to write, and they could still be creative.
“Coming from a world where you think you need to be in a studio to get the best sounds, it’s almost like this thing no-one wanted you to know,” laughs Oli today, speaking to Kerrang! from his home in Sheffield.
While not directly inspired by COVID-19, BMTH’s new track Parasite Eve does come from a fear of humanity’s survival. In fact, the idea came from last summer on the hottest day of the year.
“It was freaking me out. England should not be 35ºC,” Oli remembers today, still with an air of panic in his voice. “I went down a bit of a rabbit hole reading about stuff and there was an article about this superbug in Japan that was resistant to all treatments that usually combat it. They reckoned it was to do with the world heating up and it was becoming heat-resistant and there’s still no cure for it, it’s killing people in quite hefty numbers.
“Not that I think COVID-19 is anything to do with climate change, but it’s obviously to do with us getting closer to nature and animal life and deforestation – it’s happening because of the way we’re living. It freaked me out and I thought, ‘Is that our future? Is our future going to be us fighting invisible wars?’”
The name Parasite Eve comes from a 1998 survival-horror PlayStation game, a title Oli wanted to use before coronavirus really took hold. He explains how “weird” it felt that his lyrics were mirroring the TV news, so much so that they initially put a stop to the song’s production.
“As things started rapidly unfolding it was like, ‘Oh shit, this might be too close to the bone,’” he recalls. “We already decided that we wanted to show the world this song first, then we were like, ‘Is this going to be perceived in bad taste?’ People are dying every day and this song is talking about a pandemic, it’s talking about death and paranoia, so we shelved it for a bit.”
Photo: Gobinder Jhitta
Leaving the song for a few weeks, Oli was struggling to be productive or creative as he was so focussed on the world and its future. But after a period of reflection, the band returned to the song, almost out of duty, realising that sitting and watching Netflix wasn’t improving the situation.
“I wasn’t feeling any better and I was like, ‘That’s why I was writing about this stuff in the first place.’ I was worried about it, it was scaring me, I needed to process it. My main way of processing stuff these days is writing songs and lyrics and getting it out. I did a 180 and thought, ‘If it feels uncomfortable to talk about it that probably means I’m talking about something important.’
“We can escape or we can process, and maybe with this whole thing we’ve been looking away too much. For a lot of people, depression is through the roof; not just the people getting ill but the people stuck in a broken home, people who can’t go outside for months on end or people not seeing their friends. I thought we should persevere with this song because it’s poignant. It’s a sad moment in history, it’s claiming so many lives, it’s going to alter our future for better or worse. This is the start of very fucked-up times if we don’t talk about it now. So we saw this song as our stamp and our take on it as that feels like the most important thing in the world right now.”
And stamp it does. The first track from a new mini-record (which Oli outlines below), Parasite Eve harks back to the heavier end of BMTH’s broad spectrum, almost acting as a counterpoint to the more chill/electro edges to amo. But, as we’ve come to expect from a band who released a 24-minute ambient electro piece on their Music To… EP, it’s not short of experimentation…
There’s a lot going on in Parasite Eve – from the chanting to the hip-hop beats to the heavier aggression. Was it a conscious decision to just throw everything in and see what sticks?
“There’s a vision for each part. It starts with Bulgarian choir vocals, which is something I really got into at the start of the year and listened to a lot, appreciating the history behind it. In some regions it’s closely linked to ceremonies involving walking over hot coals and they go into this trance. When I hear vocals like that – maybe because it’s sung in different scales and rhythms to Western music – it has this euphoric feeling, but also because it’s so foreign to me it has this feeling of panic and chaos. It felt like the perfect way to open a song that is about essentially that. When it goes into the first verse it’s all about that up-close, claustrophobic feeling, it’s that four-to-the-floor beat: it’s very atonal and in your face like an alarm’s gone off. It’s trying to embody the lyrics and the illustration I’m trying to give with the words.”
The band have been putting up videos from the ‘studio’ on YouTube. Originally they were tagged as BMTH8 then BMTHS2. What is the difference?
“Like amo was very collage-y in terms of it spanning from ballads to poppy songs to heavier songs to electro, we wanted this next record to be a mood. As the pandemic unfolded and everything changed, the mood I had in mind started to not feel right. Basically I had this idea to make some records – I didn’t know how many, but more than one – that all fell under a blanket name of Post Human. Each record would have its own theme and its own message. The first was going to be about compassion and self-love because I wanted to build up to a record about changing ourselves and changing our future because we need to self-evolve. We can’t just say, ‘We are humans, this is how it is’ because as humans we’ve already stepped outside of the food chain by bringing technology into our lives. We need to continue to modify ourselves until we can be proud of what we do on this planet and live harmoniously, not just with ourselves but other creatures. That’s the message I wanted to put out there, but I know the world’s not ready for that on the grand scale. First we need people to love themselves. There’s too many people out there that hate themselves, and I always think, ‘If you don’t have compassion for yourselves, how’re you going to have compassion for other people?’
“But as the pandemic unfolded I didn’t think the world was ready for that record. Just like everyone else, I’m pissed off, I’m scared, I’m angry… we need to write a record that embodies that. Before we get to compassion, we need to get out the frustration and anger. This first record’s going to be battle songs, like a recruitment record – songs of anger and hope. It’s not going to offer a solution, it’s going to be more about asking people to come and find a solution with us. This first music is to get you back up, get your blood pumping, get you pissed off and thinking about what’s going on. The record will follow a similar tone of Ludens and Parasite Eve and that’s going to be the first record of four. We’re going to release four different records over the next year, all under this name Post Human, and they’ll all be very different. There’ll be a thread, and the lyrical themes will progress as a story, but in terms of the tone it’ll be quite different.”
With amo being like a collage and the Music To… EP being so experimental, are you going to rein it in for these next releases?
“Time will tell. Whereas I appreciate records like amo as a collage and all over the place, I also appreciate that sometimes when you want to listen to music it’s because you’re in a certain mood. Sometimes you just want to keep that mood going – whether you’re angry, happy, sad, whatever – and that’s one thing Bring Me The Horizon haven’t done for a long time, really. Since [2008 album] Suicide Season our records have been quite all over the place, so I thought it’d be interesting to do a more traditional thing where they are tonally very connected so when you put it on it’s not going up and down and all over the place. It still will to a degree because it’s us, but at the same time, there’s almost a brief and a vibe to each record. This record’s going to have a very dystopian, cyberpunky, metal feel to it.”
BMTH fans are always trying to second-guess what you’re doing as a band. Do you relish in that?
“I try to do justice to what we’re trying to say and what we’re trying to do. amo sounds like that because of what I was singing about and trying to process, that was how it sounded in my head. It didn’t sound angry, it sounded poppy or melodramatic or more relaxed because a lot of what I was saying wasn’t coming from a place of anger, it was coming from a place of reflection or grief. I can’t say something happy and scream it at the same time, it has to be related. People might’ve missed heavy music on the last record but it wasn’t in my mind or in my heart to write that kind of stuff, it had to be what it had to be, and that’s the same with the next record being quite aggressive and violent-sounding. It’s not gonna feel like anything we’ve done before, but it’s going to be a more aggressive record, and that’s down to the fact that there’s something to be angry about.”
It’s all about honesty at the end of the day.
“Totally, otherwise it’s fake. People think they want to see you do something, to play a style of music they’d like to hear, but if we were doing it and it’s contrived then it wouldn’t be any good. That’s why we can’t write music like we used to write. It was a time and a place, it’s where we were at. The only way we can do it is when we’re ready to do it and it’s what we want to do. It’s got to come out naturally, it can’t be forced. Just as the next record’s going to be heavy, no-one should expect that’s what the rest of our music’s going to be like – the next record’s gonna change vastly and so is the one after. You’ve got to accept that if you’re a fan of our band that you’ve gotta come along for the ride.”
Away from the events in the world today, what is inspiring you musically?
“I’m always looking for ways to illustrate something, whether it’s vocally or musically; not as a gimmick, but as a new way to process something. What I’m most inspired by is that nothing is typical. Ten years ago a hit for a popular artist was very easy to gauge – even if you couldn’t write a song, you knew what kind of song would be popular. There was a formula then, but that’s out of the window now. Whether it’s Billie Eilish, Lizzo or the next popstar, it feels to me that honesty and being genuine is what makes someone successful nowadays. There’s a lot of bullshit in the world, but it’s anyone’s game now and it never used to be like that. It’s almost influenced me to be myself a bit more than I was being, realising that what Bring Me The Horizon do is special and we shouldn’t lose everything, we should always retain what made us special in the first place and not always try to push forward and be different.”
Is that something you lost sight of in the past?
“Not lost, but you fight against it because you get pigeonholed. So many people are like, ‘I just like this record’ or ‘I only like you when you do this’ and you fight against that like, ‘Fuck you’ (laughs). Whereas now I’m a bit more appreciative of our history. It does your head in because you want to tell people there’s other ways to express yourself than just screaming and heavy music, it doesn’t have to be so singular. But at the same time, these people fell in love with you for a reason, so it’s just about seeing both sides of the coin.”
Parasite Eve is out now.
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