Frontman Rou Reynolds discusses the band’s new album, what he thinks makes an artist stand the test of time, and his most grounding experiences
It’s hard to believe that Enter Shikari initially formed way back in 1999. The band’s members have been together for almost their entire adult lives, and their fans have been able to watch them mature in front of their very eyes. Their newest release, The Spark, is their most thorough album yet, and finds the group fully focused on songwriting.
For The Spark, Enter Shikari looked both internally and externally for creative inspiration. From reflections on personal relationships to political commentary, the new record provides listeners a closer look into the hearts and minds of a band that has been near the top of the British charts for a decade.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with frontman Rou Reynolds to discuss the band’s new album, find out what he thinks makes an artist stand the test of time, and learn about his most grounding experiences.
Christopher Friedmann: We are talking because you just released your new album, The Spark. Just to start, how is the mood in camp?
Rou Reynolds: Great. Everyone is very excited. We’ve just done a few days in New York and are in Toronto, and the reception has been really good. We’ve done two release shows in London and New York, and couldn’t believe how many people were already singing along to the tracks, so the mood is good.
CF: It seems like you’ve gone through a lot over the past few years, and yet the album came off as a hopeful record. How do you push positivity into your mind in the darkest of times?
RR: I think it’s important not to feel the pressure to push positivity, like sometimes things are s***. I think realism is important for us, but I think that being said, I don’t think Enter Shikari can do something that’s completely devoid of positivity or hope. I think that’s kind of an essential aspect of the music we make.
CF: As I understand it, you really wanted to focus on your songwriting, and you have created what is your most melodic album yet. Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting process and how that might have changed this time around?
RR: I wouldn’t really say there is too much change in the process. I don’t really have a set way that I write. Sometimes it’s just in my head, sometimes it’s on guitar, sometimes on keys, but usually I’ll get some demos together, on the music at least, that I’ll put in as stop gaps, and then send them on to the guys and we’ll polish them up together, which was the same really.
Slightly differently, this time we a had new producer that we hadn’t worked with before, David Kosten, who we produced the record with. He was awesome. He sort of immediately understood what we were trying to do and was great for instilling confidence and pushing us and experimenting and had an amazing synch collection, so yeah he was really cool to work with. But, no there was not really too much difference. I think maybe the lyrics took longer than normal. The music usually comes first, but, yeah, some of them were pushed right up until the wire. It was a really great experience.
CF: As you said, you worked with producer David Kosten on the record. How did you come across him and what made him the ideal man for the job?
RR: We met a few times, and he just, I don’t know, I think we saw eye-to-eye. We’re big fans of some of the records he produced before. And I think because this was quite a step for us. It’s a different sound on this album. There wasn’t any reluctance, but there was a little bit of timidity and he just wiped that clean out of the way. He just kind of really emboldened us I think, sort of pushed us to make the record I think we wanted to make, but perhaps were still feeling some anxieties about making.
CF: Was there a moment from the studio that kind of sums up the entire recording process?
RR: I guess a lot of the stuff was about experimenting and finding different sounds, but then very much concentrating on making sure the original emotion behind the music was still there. So one example would be, we spent literally a whole day finding the right piano sounds, so we added this amazing upright piano in the studio, and we went through about 10 different mics and different positionings and techniques to record it, and it was about finding a sort of sound that kept all the imperfections of the piano.
So like the creaks and clicks, instead of, a lot of the time producers will try and get rid of that and make the piano basically just sound like a MidiPiano, so really it’s kind of pointless. So we mic’d up the actual hammers and the innards of the piano and it gave it a really interesting sort of percussive, dark sound and then we spent the evening recording the piano track. We wanted it to be in one take, same with the vocals, so we went and had a few takes of it, but the one we used wasn’t pasted together or anything, so it was about keeping all the original emotion and imperfections in the timing and the tempo going up and down, things like that were very important to keep.
CF: The album finds you mixing the struggles of your personal life with the difficulties of the outside world. I understand some of it had to deal with loneliness, how do you deal with crippling anxiety that comes from being alone?
RR: I guess it was a particular thing for me, having been in long term relationships pretty much the whole of my adult life, then being faced with being alone. It was a real sort of fear that I guess was in many ways quite illogical, but emotions are never really logical, are they? I think obviously music helps a lot, and creating this album helped a lot. It’s a focused thing. It’s a solitary thing anyway. It’s something I’ve always not just enjoyed, but something I have to do, really. It’s not like a desire, it’s like a need. That always is amazing to improve a mood.
Then, I don’t know, I think it’s like finding that there’s more. I think I’m definitely one for putting all my eggs in one basket. I enjoy feeling really close to just one person, where I kind of rediscovered old friendships that had been lost, and you get a lot more time on your hands obviously, so you want to connect with more people, and that’s become really important again. I kind of learned a lot about myself as well, so it’s really good.
CF: The record also contains some political commentary. In these rather tumultuous times, how do you view the voice of the artist?
RR: I don’t think my view has really changed. Social commentary is something that has always been pivotal to our music. I think, for me, it is kind of intrinsic for what art is. You’re creating a conversation. You’re creating a connection with people. It’s an amazing way to present ideas to present a sort of artistic gift, but then you can say a lot with that. Ever since we started becoming a sort of established band, and we were building up an audience, I think we immediately felt that we wanted to use our music to discuss these things and it’s something we’ve always felt the need to do.
CF: You found inspiration from a variety of sources for this album, from Shakespeare to Jean-Jacques Rousseau to David Bowie. In your opinion, what makes these artists stand the test of time?
RR: I think an element of fearlessness is important, certainly for Rousseau and for Bowie. The output that Rousseau had, he had to be very bold to do the things that he did, especially his more autobiographical stuff towards the end of his life. He was literally laying himself bare, from the sort of everyday very mundane emotions to the huge sort of debilitating emotions that come in life, be it like what we were talking about, like loss or anger or love or whatever else, and not being afraid to hide anything about the way you feel, so there is that element of fearlessness.
Obviously, that’s echoed by David Bowie. He always went his own way and was bringing in more artistic and niche influences and bringing them to the mainstream and not being afraid to follow down just one genre or fashion and stick to that. He was always changing that element of progressiveness, which I think is really important as well.
I think something that successful people always downplay, or even forget to talk about, is luck. Just the elements of your work coming out at the right time, being heard by the right people, I think that’s a huge thing because there are so many amazing names. Be it philosophers or artists or whatever that have sort of slipped through the neck of history, and won’t be remembered in the same way, but still had some amazing output.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
RR: That’s usually when we meet people face to face. You hear stories, and obviously I’m going to be speaking about my experiences here and hearing what people have said to me about Shikari’s music, but I think this is a wider point about music, I suppose. But when you hear people say that our music helped them through a certain period, a period of hardship or adversity or has helped them embolden their views in some sort of area where perhaps before they didn’t have the confidence. There are various ways where you can have a real impact on people’s lives and that means so much to us, and I think I wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t have that side to it.
I’d be sort of happier to not be touring really. Like as we’ve just talked about, the amount of relationships and friendships that have gone down the pan and it’s mainly, well not mainly, but a big aspect of that is being in a band and having to tour kind of 300 days a year or whatever. So there has to be that element of knowing you’re artistic output is helping people in various ways and is creating community. I actually do think, it’s not special to just this band, but it’s a genuine integral thing for this band, is the global community of people that listen to our music. We’ve had people that have met each other on opposite ends of the earth that would have never happened if Shikari wasn’t a thing. They’re just fans that have either contacted each other on various Facebook things, and we call it the Shikari Family, and have gone on to become great friends. There are a few people that have recently become engaged and stuff like that. Creating true human connection, I think that is something I really cherish about this band and that really keeps me going and keeps me grounded and keeps me wanting to continue.