Sheffield-based quintet Bring Me The Horizon are in a very intense twelve-year run and what they’ve conquer is probably more important than the music they’ve produced since the band’s inception, back in 2003. In their upward success spiral they’ve increased significantly the quality of their music, they were daring to the point of changing almost entirely their game, they’ve proudly maintained a working class ethos, and they refused to exchange their independence for whatever countermeasure you can think of. That’s The Spirit is probably the most accomplished work of the band so far, the answer to years and years of search by a band that refused to give up until their vision was turned into an unshakable reality. Bassist Matt Kean shed some light about what’s arguably one of the most important moments in the career of one of the best bands in the contemporary music scene.
Last December (2014) you played Wembley, which is the ultimate venue in the UK. I have to be honest, I thought it would take a few more years until BMTH would play in the Wembley Arena.
No, we were kind in the same situation as well. Our management kind of suggested it and we were like, “No, you’re crazy. It’s going to be half-empty and no one is going to come. It’s going to be a disaster.” But he kind of convinced us and then we said yes… And it sold out. So, that was kind of crazy. We were all taken by surprise.
How was the experience of playing in a venue like the Wembley Arena?
It was kind of insane for us. Obviously everyone knows about Wembley and us, we’re English so it’s even a bigger deal to us, I guess, because we’ve grown up with that venue existing and being in everyone’s mind. Most of the people on the street don’t know the majority of the venues by name but if you mention Wembley Arena then everyone knows what I’m talking about. Just to tell my mom and dad… it was like crazy.
“Drown” was released six weeks before the show in Wembley. It seemed that you were testing even further the waters. Does it feel, in retrospect, like a connection point between Sempiternal and That’s The Spirit?
Yeah, that’s kind of what we originally wanted to do. We wrote that song while we were on tour in the States and it was a while after Sempiternal had been out and I think Oli [Sykes, vocalist] and Jordan [Fish, keyboards and backing vocals] had this idea and they had been working on it while we were on tour. The first time they played it to the rest of the band we were all like, “This is insane. The song is great. We need to try and work on it more.” Eventually we released it and it definitely feels like that at that point was kind of like another step in the band’s history.
“Drown” wasn’t supposed to be in this new album, at first, but it ended up being included an alternative version of the song on That’s The Spirit.
We initially didn’t want to do it because we felt that people had already heard it, obviously, but then we wrote the new album and just lyrically Oli was like, “The lyrics in Drown really evolved with the lyrics I’ve been writing. They connect really well together.” And also, the music wasn’t like so crazy either so we decided to just put it on it. At that point we already had the other ten songs. We normally write ten songs for an album but “Drown” fitted on that so there was no good reason to leave it behind. We re-recorded all the instruments to get more of the production of the new album, to be more in line with what we had, but the vocals are still the original ones.
When did you start working on That’s The Spirit?
We were supposed to start in February of 2015 but after Wembley… I think we played Wembley in the middle of December and then we had some time off for Christmas. I remember texting Jordan in the first or second week of January asking his thoughts on when we were going to start working on the new album and he said, “I’ve been talking to Oli and I think we’re going to start this week.” My first thought was, “So soon?” I think that everyone after Wembley, because we were in such high point, wanted to get stuck into the next album.
That was a really fast process. Usually you guys take a few months off before starting working on a new album, right?
Yeah, especially because we tour a lot. When you tour so much in support of an album you just kind want to take a little brake and recharge your batteries. But we had so many ideas for the next album that we literally couldn’t wait. I think it was the feeling that you get as kid waiting for Christmas. You just want it so badly, and so we got stuck into it as soon as we could.
“We really wanted to show people what we could do on our own. That definitely came into it.”
Was it the first time that you started working on an album without anyone outside of the band knowing it?
Yeah, it was. Because we knew, obviously, that after Wembley there were big expectations for the next album. So, we wanted to write at our own pace. We knew that if we told our record label or our management that we were working on a new album they would want to book time in the studio and start planning things. We really just wanted to take it easy, writing in our own time, and keep it low overall.
Oli said that for BMTH “it’s always about finding that first song that’s going to represent the album.” Did you find yourself going through the same process?
Yes, kind of. But like I said, it was a little bit more relaxed this time around. We weren’t really under pressure. There was no “We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to do that.” We just let stuff flow. We had already in the first month about four or five different solid ideas that we would write them and then we got stuck at some point or something wasn’t working right we just saved it and then we would start working on a new one. We took it really relaxed.
Did Sempiternal boosted your confidence in terms of taking the next step with That’s The Spirit?
Yeah, definitely. I think that also having Jordan in the band it helps a lot as well because when we had written the albums previously we always wanted a more electronic-influenced sound. I mean, those influences were already present in [2008’s] Suicide Season and [2010’s] There Is a Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let’s Keep It a Secret, but when Jordan came along we were able to actually write the electronic side at the same time as the music. I think that definitely helps our confidence and helps us making music that we had been trying to for a while. We all play our instruments and we understood some of the electronic parts but we had a really difficulty creating them and they were always an afterthought in the music but then when Jordan came in we were able to even sometimes start with the electronic parts and add music to them, or add the electronic parts to the music as we wrote the songs. Basically Jordan helped us mold the sound that we wanted and it made the process of getting the sound a lot easier.
Was it easy to adapt to that new approach in the writing process?
It took some time getting used to it. Before Jordan came, we were writing in the practice room or in the studio, but with Jordan we were writing on a computer and that can be done outside of the practice room or the studio. It made everything a lot easier but, as you said, it was a little bit different to what we were used to. It also made possible, with Sempiternal and That’s The Spirit, going into the studio with a demo version of the entire album and so everyone knew where we were heading to. It definitely took some time getting used to it not being all of us in the room at the same time but it made things a lot easier.
And all of a sudden you have a lot of freedom to deal with.
Yeah. Also, you can listen back to stuff. If you’re writing in the practice room as a guitarist or bass player or a drummer you want to make sure that you’ve everything right rather than concentrating on the song. You can record the demo and then getting right and then listen back to it and then just analyze the parts just to make sure that they’re good.
“It helped us develop a thick skin as a band and it made us stronger and always try new things because we know that we can’t take anything for granted.”
Who do you deal with the process of analyzing the songs? I mean, that can be a very stressful process sometimes.
Yeah, it can be. I think especially when you’re writing as well you get into that mode and sometimes you listen to a song and you think, “Oh, this is terrible.” But then you can simply go away and check it again in the next day and have a little bit more of perspective and perhaps it isn’t that bad and you can work that idea a little more and change this or that. Jordan really focus on that aspect and sometimes he drives himself a little bit crazy with it, but we would take brakes as well. We were trying to write through the week and have the weekends off. So, when we came back the next week we would have a more clean and fresh mind to listen to everything and then decide if it was really good or really bad.
The album was recorded in the Greek island of Santorini. What prompt you to go somewhere remote to record the new album?
We had good times before [recording in isolated places], and I think it’s definitely good to be isolated. We found this studio, which was a beautiful studio in this picturesque island. The thought behind our decision was a pretty simple one, “If we need to go away for two months, why not go away to such a beautiful place?” It was nice to wake up and being under the sun. On the island there’s really not that much to do but the setting was really nice. Being from the UK we cherish the kind of weather that Santorini has to offer. [laughs]
How was the recording process overall and how long did you take to finish it?
We did it over two months but we finished it earlier. We finished it a week and a half earlier. It was really relaxed. We had two live studio rooms set up. One with the vocals and Jordan’s electronic stuff and the other one with the drums, bass, and guitar. So, we could record two things at once. We kind of took it easy. Just one song at a time rather than an instrument at a time. Probably the more relaxed we’ve ever been in an album.
Was the success of Sempiternal, which includes playing at the Wembley arena that made you want to go DIY on the production?
Not really. It was more to do with past albums and our way to produce and focus. Like I said before, we always make demos before going in the studio and once we analyze a song so much and once we decide what ends up on that demo… We don’t really want to change it, and so it kind of makes the job of a producer kind of mute at that point. We just realized that we really didn’t need one and all we need was engineers to help us to get the sounds right (stuff like setting up the mics, the technical side of it).
“I think a lot of people struggle with it in some aspect. It’s difficult and you need a lot of patience with people like that as well. It can be annoying sometimes.”
Would it be fair to assume that self-producing this album was not just about saving money but also a way to prove that the band is capable of doing it and that being signed to a major doesn’t mean that you’ll lose your identity?
Definitely. We’ve always had people who like doubt of us a little bit. Even when Sempiternal came out people were saying, “Yeah, it is a good album but clearly that’s just because of Terry Date [producer]”. We really wanted to show people what we could do on our own. That definitely came into it. And then also yeah, even though we are in a major label [RCA], we keep calling the shots for ourselves. When they signed us they wanted us to keep our sound and they knew who we were when they signed us. We only signed with them because we knew they could help us with the marketing and reach a wider audience, but also that they would not try to mess up with our identity.
Those doubts regarding the capability of Bring Me The Horizon as a creative force has been present since day one. Would you say that it ends up being a positive thing, in retrospect?
Absolutely! It helped us develop a thick skin as a band and it made us stronger and always try new things, because we know that we can’t take anything for granted. Some bands release their first album and it’s so well-received by everyone. Sometimes it makes them complacent. We are willing to work hard and that has been a constant during these twelve years as Bring Me The Horizon. We’re not going to just go away. We always try to improve and that’s what the band has been about since we started.
Researching for this interview I found out that “Avalanche” is probably not just your favorite song from this album, but also your favorite song from the BMTH’s catalogue. What’s about that song that makes you love it so much?
I just think is a good song, really. [laughs] I’m proud of every song we’ve written, but I just think that one has a really good potential in it and I can’t wait it to play it live because feels like it’s going to be a really good song live. I really like the drums on that one. I remember when Oli shared that one with us. My first thought was, “This is going to be awesome!”
That song is about ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and what Oli went through with it. How is it to live with a person that has ADHD and to see someone so close to you suffer from that disease?
It’s difficult. I think Matt [Nicholls], our drummer, has it a little bit as well because be can never sit still… But I think that’s one of the reasons he plays the drums as well. It’s a way for him to expel that energy. I think a lot of people struggle with it in some aspect. It’s difficult and you need a lot of patience with people like that as well. It can be annoying sometimes. [laughs] Especially when we first started, we were in a very small van and you have people going crazy all the time in that tiny place. [laughs] It can be a hard struggle but obviously in the last few years he’s been to see a doctor and he takes medication now. It’s still tough to deal with it, but it has improved. Being in a band can be a great way to learn how to deal with people, and it becomes easier to anticipate some situations.
“Basically Jordan helped us mold the sound that we wanted and it made the process of getting the sound a lot easier.”
It seems that everybody has a different meaning for That’s The Spirit. I would like to know what do you, personally, make of it.
When things are going against you there’s always a little bit of positivity that you can focus on, and that goes well with the umbrella, when it’s raining… A lot of people get a little bit down when it’s raining and the umbrella works as the shining light. You can use the umbrella and go out even when it’s raining. It’s all about focusing in the positive aspects of life, even if they are really small, and trying to forget or surpass the difficulties that life presents you daily.
You’re signed to a major label. What made you want to make that move?
They came to us and they had seen how we had been doing, so they were interested in signing us. We just felt that the level we were at the labels we were working with at the time were already stretching themselves already, because they’re independent labels and so they’re trying their best. But we needed a little bit of a push because at that point we had demos for some songs of Sempiternal and we knew that it was going to be this big album and we needed something that could help us take the next step. Someone that could put posters in the town and all around the world, make big shops take our albums, etc. We had a meeting with them and they were not even interested in the music. I know that a lot of people think, “When you get on these major labels they sat you down and they try to turn you mainstream,” but it was kind of the opposite.