In the latest edition of Music Week, Enter Shikari’s frontman, Rou Reynolds, took us inside the making of the band’s seventh album, A Kiss For The Whole World, which is released today via SO Recordings/Ambush.
In an unpublished extract from the interview, Reynolds opens up about placing Enter Shikari’s sound in a ‘post-genre’ world, the importance of the grassroots sector and the therapeutic process of songwriting.
In your previous album, you explored the world of classical music. Do you think that your audiences embraced that sound? And do you feel that you carried that classical influence through to A Kiss For The Whole World?
“Yeah, I think it's just been absorbed into the palette that I choose from now. It doesn't even feel like a big thing, or like a big choice. It's like, ‘Okay, these are the instruments that would best convey this sort of emotion in this song. So that's what we'll use.’ You know, I also perfectly understand that I'm in a very lucky position to have the opportunity to work with classical musicians in that way, but I suppose the big step was on Nothing Is True, which was like, ‘Right, we're gonna release a piece of classical music.’ Now it sort of feels just more comfortable to use it in a more general way. That's not to say that we didn’t have brass, woodwinds and strings in previous albums, but I suppose it's much more of a staple now. It's like it's on the low shelf in the cupboard, we don't have to reach to get to it. It feels comfortable, and it's really part of our universe now.”
Many people still describe your music as ‘rock’. Do you find this kind of genre labelling reductive to your sound as a band?
“I suppose everyone has a slightly different perspective on what these words mean. People have different experiences with the word ‘rock’. It frustrates me that some people will hear the word and something will come to their mind that is so far away from what we do. The language is almost too flexible, if you like. But, you know, I've gone through so many different ways of reacting to how people describe us, there are times where I'd be really frustrated, like, ‘We're not this, how dare they call us this! They don't understand us!’ And then there were times when we tried to label ourselves, and now I’ve just got to the point now where I don't really care. We've written music that has always been pretty damn diverse. And it's only getting more so. At the end of the day, you can go into this real sort of simple philosophy that’s like, ‘Life is extremely varied, I like writing about life, therefore I need a varied palette to make music with.’ We've always strived to make music that's dynamic and passionate. And that’s it.”
Supporting the grassroots sector has been core to Enter Shikari's ethos throughout the years. Where do you think the band would be now if you hadn’t started your career playing in independent venues across the UK?
“It goes without saying that we wouldn't be here without the venues that we played year in, year out, up and down the UK. These venues are the lifeblood, if you like, of the UK music scene. They're pumping round the reinforcing oxygenating new talent in music, and I think it often gets overlooked just how important they are for new artists, new music and nuanced music that might never make it into the mainstream.
“If you have conversations with people in government or bigger organisations who are more interested in economics, they often forget that the more profitable side of the UK art industry at large is fed by the tributaries of nuanced, interesting underground music. And that's something that the independent venues are enabling. I think it's pretty terrifying at the moment, I was speaking to Mark Davyd [Music Venue Trust CEO] the other week and he was saying that we're losing a venue every week in the UK. It's so sad and depressing, and I don't think anyone expects our government to really do anything. It's just really quite tragic.
“So for this tour, we're playing five venues that we've never played in the UK before, and I thought we had played everywhere! It's nice to be able to support some new places. But there's so much that needs to be done. First and foremost, there’s all the current planning into, what is it, like 10 new arenas under construction or in the planning process? There's all this effort going into the more ‘profitable’ sides of live music, but where are the future artists that are gonna fill those arenas going to come from? Years to come, if we're not allowing them to have the spaces where they're able to hone their craft and create something interesting and beautiful, it's just not going to happen. It’s really depressing.”
These days, upcoming artists can gain overnight success on platforms like TikTok, before ever having performed live. What are your thoughts on the impact that social media platforms like TikTok have on the live music industry?
“I'm constantly trying to analyse my thought process on this because I never want to seem like I'm just old and romanticising live music, especially if it’s this thing that we're just gonna lose. But I think there is intrinsic value to it [live performance] because it really is the only thing left, maybe apart from sport, that brings us together indiscriminately. Even with sports you have teams, so it's kind of discriminatory! But with music, we all come together for all walks of life.
“Take the music festival, for instance, it's such a celebration of culture and art and human connection. And you can't really get that on Tiktok. That's not to say that people can’t showcase their skills and really interesting art, but there's something about the live experience, where you bring people together, that you remind people of their shared vulnerability, like, ‘We are going to listen to something together, in the same physical vicinity, and we're going to react in a very similar way, because we are very similar beings’.
“Even politically, it's good to be reminded of the reasons why we're the same and reasons why we need to do everything we can to get a sense of unity. Especially in a world that is becoming increasingly more divisive, angry and tribalistic.”
One of the singles from the new record, Bloodshot, is about questioning everything you see in the media and how it can be hard to find the truth in things shared. When everything can be taken out of context and distorted online, has that altered the way that you promote Enter Shikari?
“I suppose I hope that, because we've worked hard to retain a sense of authenticity and honesty in what we do and how we go about it as a band, there's a bit of trust between us and people that read our posts and things. But sometimes, things will happen and people will maybe take something that I’ve said in bad faith. So I'm not sure if reputation gets you very far these days. Even if it’s only subconscious, I think we all hesitate somewhat from talking about various things because the reaction can be colossal, you can go viral for all the wrong reasons. As a person, it’s funny when people think that I'm some sort of outspoken political activist, because I'm actually quite an introverted person who doesn't like conflict. I like sorting out people’s problems and making people happy!
“I do think we're lucky in terms of our core audiences though, they do know us, but people sometimes have an expectation that you need to take a stand on every single issue, and support everything constantly, which is just not possible, from any singular person, entity or band. So yeah, it's difficult, you have to pick your fights and see what you can have the most influence on and concentrate on that, as we all do in life, I suppose.”
With all this in mind, is songwriting for you a mode of catharsis?
“I think, as a songwriter, writing is a way I organise my thoughts on everything in the world or my internal world. We're not really encouraged in any capacity to ever sit and just think, or do nothing. I was talking earlier about how Einstein used to talk about the importance of, I think he called it, ‘No Time’, where he would schedule some time in his day to do nothing. He didn't say meditate, but I suppose doing nothing is a form of meditation, just concentrating on seeing what arises in your head. So for me, meditation has been a thing in my life for quite a few years now, but other than that, music is the only point where you just stop and go, ‘Okay, how do I organise? How do I analyse what's been going on internally and externally? And how can I process this and make something creative and interesting with it?’ It's not just catharsis. I think it's more than that, it's like a process of understanding yourself and everything that's going on in this mad world.”
Enter Shikari’s A Kiss For The Whole World is out today via SO Recordings/Ambush.