Interview // ENTER SHIKARI
We caught up with Rou just after their Jager Soho session to chat about the ins and outs of the last year, and what’s unquestionably their most lyrically invasive album to date.
“Don’t wanna take my country back, I wanna take my country forward” muses Rou Reynolds into the mic in a tiny studio in Soho. After five albums, multiple Kerrang and NME awards and thousands of sold-out shows, Enter Shikari find themselves cramped into a room the size of a postage stamp off a dwindling back street in Piccadilly Circus, nestled inconspicuously between a bar and an independent clothes store.
Surprisingly for a band who’ve toured every corner of the world, they look slightly uncomfortable in their own skin in such a small space where nothing is sacred, and on listening back to their first recording, decide to give it a second go.
The absolute behemoth that is a live Enter Shikari show feels worlds away sat cramped between these four, watching them titter back and forth about one note being slightly off beat. If you’ve ever experienced Shikari live, you’ll understand the gravitas; a fiery juggernaut of technical masterpiece, pyrotechnics and lightshows heightened by Rou’s cutting vocals and sharp stage production.
With their upcoming mammoth tour, they’re rounding up The Spark era, a record that took a slightly different approach to their usual formula. Politics? Check. Anger? Check. Ostentatiously British accent? You’ve got yourself a winning Enter Shikari album. But underneath the inevitable, formulaic layers lies something closer to home, with their political commentary delving into the realms of one of the most important topics of 2017/18; mental health.
“Writing the Spark is definitely something that came with experience and time. I couldn’t have written an album like it at any other time in my life really. The experiences leading up to it gave me a reason to delve into more personal things and speak about my own experiences with mental health, whereas before I don’t think I had had anything. My life had been okay, I guess. There wasn’t a massive amount of hardship so it was about as quiet and uneventful as an – inverted commas – rock star’s life could be. So politics or philosophy, world events were what I was interested in at the time, and obviously with music you write about what you’re passionate about at that moment. Now there happens to be much more personal things.”
It took me a very long time to come to terms with what ‘Take to The Skies’ became
You’d be forgiven for thinking that fame and success is synonymous with an immortal sense of confidence, but Rou’s no stranger to opening up about his mental health and struggles with anxiety. Jokingly referring to themselves as ‘rock stars’ amidst a nervous laugh, he couldn’t embody anything less of the hedonistic, egotistical image the word has come to represent.
Addressing the personal worries and the anxieties is something he wishes he’d learned earlier: “I’m a big worrier and I would over-analyse everything that Shikari did, every decision that we would make.” So, if he could transport all the way back to 2007 where it all started, what would he say to his slightly more naïve ‘Take to The Skies’ era self?
“I should probably just tell myself to relax a little and that I was probably getting het up about too many things. Basically that it’s gonna be alright. Also, I’d try and convey some sort of confidence because I think it took me a very long time to come to terms with what ‘Take to The Skies’ became. At the time it was a bit of a whirlwind, it was difficult to just take in and digest what was happening.”
Despite the self-analysis that comes with their fifth album, a tiger never fully changes its stripes. There’s still plenty of politically charged lyrics scattered around the tracks, but it’s not surprising when the last few years have been full of seemingly endless ammunition for anyone not particularly fond of the alt-right.
“It’s the rise of a kind of philosophy that we thought had died. You could call it nationalism or almost a form of cowardice. It’s very much sort of retreating back behind one’s borders and putting a human face on any kind of blame that you can. We’ve seen this just continue to rise, recently we saw the Brazilian elections continue the rise with that mindset. It’s strange because you see all of the right-wing autocratic leaders congratulating each other – for example Trump was very quick to congratulate the Brazilian president. It’s strange because their policies are so nationalistic that you’d think they would be enemies, more against each other.”
He pauses, perhaps to find the positive spin on the daunting state of things, before continuing: “But at the same time, I guess they’re fighting a battle against a prevailing order, liberalism or whatever it is they claim they’re rallying against – I suppose they’re united in that aspect. But yeah, as for the future on the whole it’s pretty dismal at the moment. I’m only just sort of starting to write new Shikari stuff and I’m finding it hard to – there’s always been an element of positivity to our music but certainly in politics it’s quite hard to find that at the moment.”
Among other magical tweets like “#nameproblems Ok let me spell it out for you; It’s Rou like ‘cow’, not Roo like ‘moo’” (Yep, take a moment.) He stated in a flurry of mental health awareness tweets that for him it’s “vital to battle the divisive nature of ‘showbiz’ culture (I.e THE STAR! & the fans…) in every way possible”, which is a pretty grandioso gesture from someone who spends a lot of their life on an inadvertent pedestal, revered by hundreds of thousands of people (all 677,308 of them, if Facebook likes are still an accurate representation).
But his reluctance to become the classic rock deity feels genuine and impassioned, wanting to represent the people, as opposed to lead the people, but not in that insipid ‘we’re just regular blokes’ way that regular bloke Frank Turner nails oh-so-well. Rou seems to be understanding and accepting of the gravity and responsibility that’s been placed upon him, and uses it to build a genuine, caring relationship with the fans.
“I do feel comfortable with it and I am okay with it, but on stage I enjoy myself a lot more when it’s the songs where I’m playing guitar. I’m still sort of frontman, but I’m just a bit more part of a band I suppose when I’m actually playing an instrument. Not just out there on the front lines with a mic.”
So, going from commanding huge stadiums and being out there on the metaphorical ‘front lines’, a relaxed acoustic show to nobody but the studio staff must be a breeze, right?
“Yeah it was fun, although live radio things are weird – I probably will get nervous, whereas I don’t really get nervous going on stage any more. I’m not really sure why though, maybe it’s just because you can’t see the audience so you can’t sort of scope out whose listening or what their reaction is. But no, it was a lot of fun. I certainly love playing that stripped-down sort of vibe.”
You’d never see us on the front page of a magazine going ‘We’re gonna take over the world!’
Being such a tight knit team obviously helps ground him, with other members Chris, Rob and Liam being around for the last fifteen years.
“We wouldn’t be able to continue if one of us left I don’t think. It’s such an intrinsic part of who we are and we’ve been quite lucky to have stuck together.”
Not only the band line-up has stuck around for the best part of two decades, however. The idiosyncrasy and character that enabled ‘Take to The Skies’ to create such a seismic shift in the landscape of rock music hasn’t gone anywhere, perhaps even strengthening with each album.
“I’d say the way to keeping our sound is by just being quite stubborn. Even though we’ve never been this overtly confident, overambitious band; you’d never see us on the front page of a magazine going ‘We’re gonna take over the world!’ – or whatever you see everyone doing. What I do think we’re confident in, however, is our music and we just concentrate on that. So, people can say what they want about us, good or bad. We leave the hyperboles to others.”
He’s not wrong about the hyperboles – with five Kerrang awards and one NME John Peel Innovation award under their belt, people obviously can’t enthuse about them enough. Article after article about Enter Shikari innovatively paving the way for a new generation of rock artists, and how their political discourse perpetuates all the good elements of heavier music, supposedly being lost to a more vapid, uninspired incarnation.
So, what is it about them that makes them just so goddamn likeable?
“I was always around a very varied, diverse sound growing up, and that’s what Shikari naturally do. Every album sounds different and we’ve constantly been progressing. I was brought upon David Bowie, Radiohead and all these kinds of artists that would be constantly evolving, so that was normality to me, which I think has helped me quite a lot.”
Always quick to ponder on both sides of the coin, he continues: “Although saying that, some bands are incredibly successful and every album sounds somewhat the same, so I don’t really know what the trick is. There’s a hell of a lot of luck involved usually, people in any area of life who have had some degree of success downplay the amount of luck that’s involved, but that’s certainly a huge aspect of it as well.”
With said success, comes fans, and with fans, comes touring; something Shikari are far from strangers to. About to embark on their millionth tour (approximately), we wonder how they manage to pull it out of the bag every single night, without going clinically insane in the process.
“For me I just find it’s all about finding the right balance of things. So, y’know, not just being a person on tour, which means you’re in confined spaces traveling loads with the same people and around music all the time. I just try and balance that with reading and yoga and things that are completely different. We listen to all sorts on the road, it’s usually just a constant battle for the aux cable.”
And in terms of annoying habits? Living in each other’s pockets you’ve got to have a few, surely.
“I think we’re even just beyond that, we’ve crafted this very laid back, I mean we’re all quite chilled as people anyway, but we’ve managed to almost perfect that on the road and know when to give each other space when they need it.”
“It’s like siblings; everyone has annoyances and arguments and things like that, but some siblings then grow apart and don’t see each other much but some grow through it, we’re very lucky to be able to keep together and grow through it.”
We wouldn’t be able to continue if one of us left
Technically, Enter Shikari have been a unit since 1999 (sorry Liam), so what better way to round off the interview than to quiz Rou on his favourite 90s One Hit Wonder? It proves to be the most difficult question so far, using infinitely more brain power than his intelligent discussion about current affairs.
After lots of umm-ing and ahh-ing, I’m treated to Rou squeaking what I can only assume is Andreas Johnson’s ‘Glorious’ at me, “I haven’t heard it for like a decade but it just popped into my head. I think it might have been noughties actually, I can’t even remember what it was called or who it was by.. Glorious? Glorious! We used to cover it when we were about fifteen or fourteen. Wow, probably even younger than that actually because it was in our five-piece band, so we were probably about thirteen actually!’
There you have it, the promise of new music on the horizon and the comforting knowledge that Enter Shikari don’t want to ‘take over the world!’, but rather just live harmoniously in one with no right-wing agenda. Tattooed onto Rou’s skin are the words ‘Criticise by creation’, a Marcus Cicero quote. It serves as a reminder that in the face of adversity and uninspiring times, to not criticise others by finding fault and spreading more misery into a world already full to bursting point, but to create something that transcends the misery.