British rock band, Enter Shikari is currently on the North American leg of their tour In Celebration of The Spark. I had the good fortune of meeting up with the band’s vocalist, Rou Reynolds, before the first show of the tour in Austin, TX. He is one of the most eloquent and charismatic individuals I’ve had the pleasure to speak and his interview blew me away. We discussed 80s bands, innovative bands, and tons about their new album and the process of touring. Enter Shikari isn’t just another rock band out on tour – they’re highly talented and intellectual creatives bringing an energetic and innovative show to the cities they visit. Their new album, The Spark, could not be more appropriately named, as it’s truly the spark of a new sound and what feels like new energy for the band to catapult. Make sure to head to the show nearest you for a healthy dose of singing and dancing and what’s sure to be an all- new experience.
Colleen Brent with Music Mayhem (CB): What are some bands that most influenced you from the 80’s?
Rou Reynolds (RR): From the 80’s? Oh my god. How long have you got? Well I was, I discovered…the first thing from the 80’s I probably discovered would have been probably Queen, I suppose. And then Bowie, who was just one of my all time heroes. And then we were very lucky to meet; oh I’m not going to be able to remember his name now, Tony Wilson! Who basically was, sadly he’s died now, the king of the Manchester scene in the 80’s – so post punk and synth-pop and all that kind of stuff. He was an awesome guy and did a lot for us actually. He basically introduced me to Joy Division, Happy Mondays, New Order, all of that kind of stuff, which I absolutely fell in love with as well. Human League are one of my favorite bands as well, I mean, so much stuff! The Sound! They’re more obscure, like not many people know The Sound. They’re one of those almost forgotten bands. For me, they’re just as good as like, Bauhaus and Joy Divison and just as tragic as well. The singer of The Sound also committed suicide, and so there’s a real interesting story behind that band, but they’ve been a big influence. Very interesting, You can clearly hear how they’ve influenced other bands as well – you can sort of hear Radiohead in them, you can hear Blur and Oasis in them, you can hear all this stuff that obviously followed on from that. So yeah, the 80’s are big.
CB: Are there any bands you adore that you think would surprise people to learn about you – almost guilty pleasure bands?
RR: Oh okay, um, the one I normally say in this, ever since I was 12 I’ve been a huge Coldplay fan. And people are always like ‘What? Coldplay?!’ I mean, you know, obviously it’s pop but I think the song writing, the sort of grand nature of the shows, I’ve always found it very inspiring. But that seems to shock people.
CB: Yeah no, I would not have guessed that!
CB: Enter Shikari is super innovative in the industry, what other bands do you see as being innovative within this scene currently?
RR: It feels like just to survive at the moment you have to be constantly on your toes and thinking about the best new ways to do things, whether it’s releasing music or everything’s so about social media now – you have to be thinking about content all the time so it’s like, I think to be innovative is almost a must. Though, saying that, there’s still a lot of bands that sort of are clearly a carbon copy of their favorite bands and they still make it because people enjoy listening to stuff they find predictable, which doesn’t interest me, but yeah, I dunno. It’s hard to single out. I’ll have a think. There must be a specific example.
CB: Right, I think of it as looking at a lot of, for example, Warped Tour bands, and they’re not, not all of them, but many of them, are doing similar things. But there’s you guys, with your surround sound shows, the arena shows you’re doing, are there any bands you know of that are doing cool, new things?
RR: There’s a band from, well not even really from the UK, they all met at University doing art degrees, but they’re from all over. I think some of them are from Greece, some of them are from, just all over, so I don’t really know that I can say they’re a UK band, but they’re called HMLTD and they’re, I guess they’re like art-pop basically? It’s really interesting. They’re very much – the first thing you notice is the image. It’s extremely 80s. It’s very sort of flamboyant and interesting and provocative. And the music, I dunno, it’s reminiscent of all sorts of kinds of stuff, but with their shows – they’re just starting out, very small band, so they don’t have a budget to put into stuff but because they’re all art students. The way they look, their stage set up, the sound – it’s all really interesting. They sound and look like no one else at the moment. So I think for me, they’re probably – I just did a load of “who was your band of 2017” “who are you looking forward to seeing develop in 2018” [kind of questions] and they were always up there for me.
CB: You ended 2017 with a European arena tour and you’re well known for the entertainment and production value of your shows so how do you then translate that into this North American tour doing smaller, more intimate shows?
RR: It’s difficult, it’s really difficult. We just try and think about them as two separate things because there’s no way we can take what was an arena show and condense it because it relied so much on the whole experience. The visuals, the surround sound, it was like this fully immersive – you know – when you’ve got things whipping around your head, it’s almost quite disconcerting, it puts you on edge. So, we just have to think about it in a completely different way and, I feel like I’m really happy to have both of those environments to be able to play in. I love small shows, and I love huge shows. So yeah, we just put a different cap on, if you like, and think about it in a different way and think about how the set will run in this type of venue. In a way this is more like just getting back to just thinking about the music and thinking about trying to connect with people. Whereas, when it’s an arena show, the job becomes a lot bigger. Even when we’re doing arenas we try and keep it DIY as much as possible, you know, we’ll be sorting out the MIDI of the keyboards and how are they in-sync with the lighting and production. It becomes a very exhausting thing, so I’m actually ready to just enjoy just playing music – just turning up and playing our songs again and just relying on that energy and that connection in the crowd.
CB: What can a new fan of your band look forward to seeing at a club tour?
What can they expect the vibe to feel like?
RR: It’s quite a diverse set list – we’re playing a bit of everything. Obviously we’ve got The Spark, it’s just come out, and so we’ve got maybe 5 or 6 tracks from that album. But we like to keep it quite varied, there’s a bit something for everyone, something for all the fans. Yeah, other than that, I kind of find it difficult to like ‘sell-it’ because I don’t really know what to expect.
CB: Well especially cause this is the first night of the tour and you haven’t, you’ve rehearsed sure, but haven’t experienced the full show yet.
RR: Yeah see, you never really know what will happen. Like tonight’s venue is super super exciting, lots of levels. It feels so primitive, in a really good way, I love being able to look up and see the sky when I’m playing, I’m really very excited.
CB: Your newest album The Spark has been out for about four months, how’s the feedback on it been? And how do you keep the balance between, I guess, appeasing your old fans and gaining new fans?
RR: We do that by not doing that, basically. I think it sounds weird when you say it, but you have to almost ignore public opinion. Oscar Wilde said a lot about this how, the more you think about public opinion in your music the more it’s sort of fatal. Because, it’s the classic thing, you’re never going to please everyone. And so we just tend to, I mean, progression for us is really key, each album has been really different. This is probably the biggest step, The Spark, but because we’ve – I think we’ve lost the people who just expect us to sound like one thing by now. Every album we’ve had people who are like ‘why don’t you sound like the last album, or the first album?” And by now, this is our 5 th studio album, I think those people have just had enough, they’re not even gonna listen to it anymore. I think the people that have stayed with us or the new people that are getting into us – they get it by now. They know to expect the unexpected and I feel lucky. I feel like a true supporter of the band, all you probably want, and speaking as a fan of other bands and from my experience, you want honesty more than anything else. I don’t want my favorite bands to feel like they’re making music to appease audiences or to try and appeal to everyone. I don’t want that. I want music that’s in their head, that they’re excited about, yeah, so I think you just have to sort of put blinkers on like a horse and just fuckin’ do what you have to do and then if people like it, sick. And that’s the thing – I make music because I have to, because I’m compelled to. Even if I had a day job and wasn’t, I was about to say ‘professional’ musician, I don’t feel like a professional musician! But, I’d still be making music because it’s just what I love to do! So as long as you have that drive, it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. I just feel lucky that I’m able to do it for most of the hours in the day.
CB: You mentioned that this is kind of, I mean it is a totally different sound from the previous albums. I think you’ve kept your creativity and complexity but you’ve almost made this album less busy than past tracks or albums have been – was that a planned change or was that from maturity wise as musicians? What made you go that route?
RR: There’s all sorts of reasons that sort of culminate in why this album is so different. I think the lucidity became really key and I’m not really sure where that came from. I think a lot of it was being frustrated about sort of being lumped in as a “noisy” band and that was it. For a lot of people that’s an immediate turn off and I felt like there was a lot more to us than that. In terms of the musical spectrum, we were influenced by a lot of music that we were very lucky to grow up around – everything from hardcore and punk but also classical, also drum and bass, also folk. You know, all these other influences are coming in there, so yeah, I think that’s what we’ve always tried to do – just absorb as much as we can, just immerse ourself in all these things that are gonna inspire us and then see what comes out.
CB: In a previous interview you mentioned that pop music has an ability to create a connection, have you seen a change in that connection since you became more vulnerable in your writing for The Spark?
RR: I’ve certainly seen, it’s funny, there seems to be this perception that speaking about something that’s incredibly personal – like emotions or things that you’ve gone through – is kind of noble, and I especially think that speaking about mental health and stuff – but for me, it’s like I feel that’s a way of connecting. As soon as I – 2015 for example, was a horrible, horrible year for me – and I ended up speaking a lot about it on twitter and just connecting with people. And when people say ‘oh, I’ve been through that’ or ‘I’ve been through something similar’ and you immediately have a conversation and you feel like you have this immediate road into the persons mind, that makes me feel better. It’s not like I’m sitting there thinking ‘I’m going to be noble and I’m going to open myself up to the world!” It’s almost a selfish thing! You feel sort of vulnerable and you’re like ‘does anyone else feel like this?” ‘Help!” So, for me, it just feels like the right thing to do. But I think I almost couldn’t have done it until I went through all of the shit I went through and then felt like, okay, as I was saying before, I felt compelled to then do it.
CB: So since this new album is both politically and personally vulnerable and difficult, and this is the first night of this tour so I guess you haven’t had that experience yet, but on your arena tour – is it difficult to relive that by playing these songs every night?
RR: That’s a good question, yeah, who’s that guy… I was watching a documentary a few weeks ago. That guy kind of looks like Elvis, but sings quite high. American. See it’s not gonna come to me – but anyway, I feel really bad, he was huge, like massive, but he spoke about how you sort of give 80% of yourself live, it’s like going to the edge of the cliff but you don’t jump off. Because, basically, no one wants to see a sort of blubbering, breaking down in the middle of the set. But saying that, we actually purposefully haven’t played, well, we’re playing Airfield, which is pretty damn emotional, but we’re not playing Ode to Lost Jigsaw Pieces, because that would happen. That’s still so raw for me that, hopefully we’ll play it live at some point, but yeah, you just have to think I want to give as much as I can but still be able to like… sing, and perform these songs how they’re supposed to be performed, so yeah, it’s just finding the right balance.
CB: What do you hope listeners new and old can take away from both The Spark and seeing you guys live?
RR: I dunno, I always struggle with that question. It’s not like I’m trying to achieve something? I think, for us, it’s quite simple and basic and primitive what we’re trying to do. I feel that music, if you look back through anthropology and what music has been used for, it’s a tool that’s brought people together. You know, going back to tribes and societies or back through our species ascension, it’s all about – it’s a very inclusive thing. It’s only the last 500 years that music has become, you know, with the advent of classical music, that people went and sat down and watched a performance. That was kind of unheard of in the species before that. Music was this all inclusive everyone just gets involved – there were dances, in a lot of languages music and dance is actually the same thing, they just go hand in hand, so for us I think what we’re trying to do is just kind of go back to the core of what music is. Especially in this world that’s becoming more increasingly divisive. Music is this last bastion of unity and community. It brings people together, indiscriminately. It doesn’t even matter what you’re singing about in a way – it’s just, at least you’re providing an environment where people can come and get away from all the divisive shit everywhere else and enjoy themselves and meet people and then maybe discuss ideas and whatever else. So, yeah, I think that’s all we’re trying to achieve really, just community.