The last time Clash caught up with Architects it was backstage at Alexandra Palace in February, just a few hours before the band played their biggest show of their lives to a sold-out crowd of 10,000 people.
The night was a bittersweet triumph given just 18 months earlier, the band’s leader, guitarist and songwriter Tom Searle had passed away after a battle with cancer. Grief stricken, the tech metallers elected to soldier on, recruiting Sylosis guitarist Josh Middleton and heading back into the studio.
The result is new album ‘Holy Hell’, a stunning record that lays their pain, vulnerability and strength right out on the table. As they prepare to unleash it upon the world, we caught up with frontman Sam Carter and drummer, and Tom’s brother, Dan Searle, to talk about recording their most emotionally significant music yet … and what the future holds.
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What was the vision for ‘Holy Hell’?
Dan: I knew we wanted to extend our creative boundaries a little bit, break some new ground and make something that was a little more diverse than our previous work, a little more dynamic. But the important thing was that it expressed our emotions and feelings having lost Tom and it needed to express or communicate the grief we’ve experienced. Hopefully we’ve done that effectively.
To make this album you took over songwriting duties from Tom, which meant you needed to develop brand new ways of working as a band. How did you approach that?
Sam: We wanted to do another record because it’s all we really know how to do but for a while we carried on touring and finished the tour at Brixton. It was about two weeks after that that Josh sent two demos over to Dan. After that that we realised we had someone who was able to write riffs and obviously Dan was so heavily involved before, so we knew we could move forward from there. From there it was a learning curve. Dan and Josh created everything for the record, I just went; “Do you want me to sing on it? OK, let’s go.”
Dan: I had never written lyrics until Tom died. In the days immediately after Tom’s death I had a lot of disorientation, but really powerful emotions swimming about and I didn’t know what to do with them, so I dumped them all into some writing. The extremity of that situation is fairly unique. I was aware that some of that emotion or perspective would fade and it would easy in retrospect to forget just how extreme those feelings are.
I felt, to keep the record authentic, it was necessary to include them in there, even though they come across as very negative or miserable. I wanted to give a genuine account of where I was at that moment in time. Then a lot of it was down to establishing a creative relationship with Josh and establishing how that process would work. The band is at such a high level now that to just begin almost as if we were a new band was a massive mental challenge.
We didn’t want to write an OK Architects album, we wanted to write the best Architects we’ve ever written. There’s a lot of praise to go Josh’s way having found his place in what is a very complicated situation. There was a lot of pressure and he had massive shoes to fill so I think he deserves a lot of credit for an amazing job. We couldn't have done it without him.
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Dan, in your recent ‘Holy Ghost’ documentary, you said the band is at an incredibly high level to start releasing your “own material”. Do you feel more nervous about this album than any of your others?
Dan: Yes much more. I took a lot more responsibility to fill [Tom’s] shoes in a lot of duties that he carried out in the studio. Before I could just think, “well Tom says this is done or Tom says this is right, so I’ll take his word for it.” It also means I’m more excited as I’m more invested, this album is very significant emotionally and it’s such a massive step for the band. When you finish an album and give it to a record label, you tend to have about six months of twiddling your thumbs and that’s a lot of time to sit and think: “is it right? Did we get it right?”
Was the first single ‘Doomsday’ the first song to be written?
Dan: We’d already written maybe six songs when we picked ‘Doomsday’. From a musical perspective, felt like the right song because it had elements of Tom and elements of Josh and myself. It needed to be right song in that moment, it was a massive step for us to introduce new music in the post Tom era of Architects so we selected that one specially. But we had several songs on the album written before that. There are two songs on the album that Tom wrote, which are obviously the first ones that were written.
Which tracks did Tom write?
Dan: We don’t want to say because we don’t want people’s perspectives of the songs to be swayed by having that information. We just want people to listen to the songs without the knowledge of who wrote them.
Sam, you’ve said that Tom would always email you amazing snippets of music he was working on. Were any of these used on ‘Holy Hell’?
Sam: There is no real counter for how many we used. But whether in riffs, full songs or tiny pieces of ambience that Dan’s managed to morph into the record, he’s all the way through it which is really cool because it feels like it’s not just the five of us, it’s the six of us. Tom is such an important member of the band so to be able to have him in the record as well as Josh it makes it very special.
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Sam when we spoke at Ally Pally that you would come off stage and “Wembley next”. And now you’re playing it. Have you wrapped your head around that yet?
Sam: It’s not even happened yet and it’s like eyes on the next prize. The good thing about us is we never get comfortable. I don’t want to sit too still and think about Wembley. It’s obviously going to be a very special night but it’s silly to just focus too much on that. It’ll probably only hit us when we’re walking in the stage and it’ll be like why the fuck are we so blasé, this is mental.
Is there a mental jump involved in stepping up to play arenas?
Dan: When we played Ally Pally there was no other UK date. On this tour we’re attempting to sell 20,000 other tickets in other cities too. Also with Wembley you’re taking about thousands of seats as opposed to just standing. We’re obviously excited to make that jump because it’s not a jump that many bands in our genre have ever had the chance to make. Maybe just one. Maybe just Bring Me the Horizon.
You spent a packet on the production at Ally Pally. What can we expect from the Wembley show?
Sam: We’re basically going to make no money whatsoever.
That’s what you said about Ally Pally!!!
Sam: Yeah we didn’t make much there either because of that fucking light show. We’ve got used to this now. We’ve got used to the fire and the lights and the lasers.
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There’s always a debate raging about who’s going to take over when your Metallica’s and Iron Maidens decide to call it a day. Are you beginning to realise one day Architects could headline a festival like Download or Reading?
Dan: Headlining Download is definitely on the updated bucket list and it’s an ambition we think is perfectly reasonable. At some point the festival promoters are going to have to roll the dice on a new band. It’s easy to book a band that blew up 20 years ago. It’s going to take a brave promoter to have shot with a band like us in the future or Bring Me the Horizon now, I mean it’s unbelievable that they haven’t headlined one of these festivals yet.
You’ve said ‘Holy Hell’ is about the different stages of grief. What do you think you’ve learned about grief that might be able to help others who are going through something similar?
Sam: It’s summed up the whole journey for me. There’s no rights or wrongs with grief. For so long I was looking for these definitive stages of anger, sadness, all the different levels which I thought would come in the way I felt they were supposed to come. There’s no real way to deal with it, no one person’s journey is the same. That’s what’s great about this record. Songs like ‘The Seventh Circle’ and ‘A Wasted Hymn’ are completely different. Even now you can have a day where you’re completely fine and then you wake up the next day and it’s punched you in the chest.
Dan: I’ve learnt that you can’t run away from the pain, it catches up with you in the end. We can find all sorts of methods to evade having to look our feelings in the eye but at some point there will be a time when you’re given no other option. That moment is a sink or swim. But finding a healthy way to acknowledge our pain and understand it and also learn lessons from is it an important part of healing.
Everyone in our western culture would be smart to re-evaluate their relationship with pain. It’s enormously challenging, that’s why we run away from our pain because it’s difficult and uncomfortable but if we are able to acknowledge it and process it then we’re able to move forward. I had to learn the hard way because I avoided fully comprehending the enormity of my pain having lost Tom but over time I learned that I had to because I was very unhappy.
It was a long rebuilding process and bit by bit I had to acknowledge this new reality. And I’m in a much better place now. That single lesson was really valuable to me and one that Tom understand in the face of his pain while he was dealing with Cancer and it reaped massive rewards for him and meant he was able to spend his final weeks and months a happier, more content person.
Do you think you needed to make this album as a way to cope, and to heal?
Dan: Yes. Without a doubt. For me it’s a double edged sword. It was amazing in the sense I was able to do this symbolic act of taking the torch from Tom and moving his legacy forward and being able to write lyrics about my pain and my experience of grief and being able to experience that catharsis, but at the same time I was able to abuse the project to bury myself and forget about how much I was suffering. There were two sides to that coin.
Sam: Through recording I was very angry and very upset. Looking back on it the screaming for how many hours a day was actually quite cathartic, almost a primal release. It was only once we stopped recording when I realised I needed to go do some more work on myself. But while there were some points that were difficult there were also times that were very fun.
Dan: It’s a whole new chapter of the band, but a difficult page to turn.
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Words: Danni Leivers
‘Holy Hell’ is out on Friday (November 9th).
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