Steal Something: Bring Me The Horizon Break Their Silence

Oli Sykes on the band's open-minded creativity...

Bring Me The Horizon dominated music debate in 2019.

The band's album 'amo' pushed them into fresh spaces, with the metal group embracing electronic sounds in a bold, new way.

Incorporating new techniques, the record divided fans, but led to some exhilarating live shows as Bring Me The Horizon toured the world.

Determined to break down barriers to their creativity, the group contributed a brand new song – 'Ludens' – to a computer game soundtrack, before heading back into the studio.

Working relentlessly, Bring Me The Horizon closed 2019 with eight track project 'Music to listen to…', featuring some of their most daring, unexpected, and experimental music to date.

Clash tracked down frontman Oli Sykes to his hotel room in Ukraine for a lengthy conversation, discussing the band's current mindset, the recent project, and why they want to keep all options open for the future.

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2019 was a huge year for the band, when did you actually get time to put the project together?

Just before Christmas, really, in December. I mentioned the idea to Jordan when we were on tour, I said: would you be interested in doing something like this? The first idea I had was trying to do something like, a bit of a study album, or something long, using bits and bobs from what we’ve got from ‘amo’ or demos and stuff like that. When we got together it turned into this whole different thing, and we just rolled with it.

The whole idea was not to make it work, basically, because we were tired from the year we’d had, and all that stuff, so we just wanted to do something fun. We’re not going to turn this into a big thing, no matter what the label says. There was a couple of reasons. Just trying to almost get into this mentality of being able to make music and put it out quicker, and not have to have this big lead time… so it’s not such a big deal.

I think after how long it took to write ‘amo’ we needed to get our heads into a space where we were a little more like, this is not such a big deal.

It was a bit more fluid, then? Getting away from that record-release-tour cycle, in a way.

Yeah. I think an album just takes so long to make, and ‘amo’ took us so long. I’m proud of it and everything but it’s a lot of time to go off and do something when you know that not every song can make it to the setlist. There’s all these things that you want to make work, and you have to spread yourself a bit thin because when you make a 13 or 14 track album you can’t always concentrate on the important things, and you lose sight easily.

There’s loads of things to do with an album – it’s such a big thing, you’ve got to spend a lot of time on it, and it’s going to be the thing that everyone hears from your band, and for better or worse it’s going to be the thing that you promote for the next year, or two years.

It feels like it has to be not only your best work but it has to be polished and perfect. Sometimes it almost feels like a project you’ve got to do for university. It’s like your grades! And sometimes you just want to chuck paint at a wall and see what happens, and not worry about it. So I think that’s what it was. It was a bit of a creative vomit, this process!

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‘Ludens’ seemed to tap into a similar type of energy – written and recorded in a week, we’re told.

Yeah. Pretty much. It was very quick. We didn’t have long to do it. Maybe that helped us see that it is possible, and also the reaction of how it went down… because when we did it we were just like, well fuck, maybe it isn’t that great… it was such a blur we couldn’t get any perspective! Maybe it isn’t great, but fuck it – it’s for a video game, it feels as though it fits the tone.

But then the reaction to it was good and it reminded us that sometimes there’s a lot to be said for just going with your gut reaction, and feelings. On ‘amo’ we made it hard for ourselves, through saying “right, we’re not going to lean on anything we do well, we’re not going to go down the same routes as we have”.

We wanted to force ourselves to flip everything on its head, and it was cool, but it’s incredibly hard when you don’t just play to your strengths.

Completely. This project takes huge risks – a 24 minute long track is quite a gesture in itself.

(laughs) I guess so! Again, being able to put it out in that way and not talk about it, that’s what I was trying to get across to the rest of the band, and to everyone in our thinking. This is for the people that want it. This is not our next album, this is not our next CD. And I said, I really don’t want to have to explain this to people, because then it’s almost like you’re embarrassed or whatever about it.

You don’t want to play up to people, because at the end of the day I appreciate that we’ve come from a metal and rock scene and that’s what people still want to hear from us but there’s things that we just want to do creatively and we can’t help ourselves. It’s almost like a creative purge, in that sense.

At the end of the day if you don’t like it, it’s fine – we’ll have new stuff coming. It is just for the people who don’t like our band because of it being a certain genre or certain style, they like our band because it feels like what we do speaks to them. So it doesn’t matter if we’re doing a poppy song or a heavy song or whatever – I meet people and really feel like they like our band for the same reason that I like our band.

It’s not to do with having a breakdown – or whatever – it’s to do with what I sing and how we present ourselves and everything I do. It’s really hard… when you’re doing an album it’s hard to be your true, pure self. It’s not that the lyrics aren’t honest, or they aren’t about real things, but just to be who you are is really hard.

As soon as a piece of recording equipment comes along, it’s like having a camera put on your – it’s impossible to carry on being exactly who you are because you’re so aware that something is recording you, something is documenting you. So you start to watch yourself, and you start to try not to say certain things.

With an album the average song is three, four minutes, and it’s really hard just to be who you are. I just wanted to capture – for better or worse – who I am, and what I think, and how I feel about stuff. I guess that’s why it ended up being big monologues. I thought: warts and all, I’m just going to do it and leave it as it is, even if I say something stupid, or a bit dyslexic… it is what it is. I wanted to get that across, so the listener felt a bit more connected to us, and what we’re about.

It’s hard to get that complete image across on an album. That’s how I feel about it, anyway.

The weight of expectation must be huge when making an album. Did this feel necessary, in that way, to experience making music without that obstacle?

Totally. That’s the thing with artists, especially when you’ve been in a band for as long as we have, and you get bigger… it’s not that you want to get away from where we came from, but there’s all these other things inside that you want to explore, and it’s not necessarily what everyone wants to hear. And I appreciate that. Some people will like us because we’re a rock band who make music that is different to everyone else – they don’t want to hear pop music or jazz or whatever.

I can understand that and I can also appreciate it, at a time when there’s not that many heavy bands that are popular or up front or fit that same bracket as us. So I can appreciate that. I think ‘amo’ was a purge, in a sense, because there’s loads of music and styles that we just love and wanted to do. But at the same time there is a lack of seriously heavy music, and angry music, and passionate music, in that sense, where it’s about rebellion.

There’s a lack of that in the mainstream. We want to write another record like that – whether we will or not, I’m not sure, but it’s still what we love… it’s just where I was last year, there wasn’t any of that in me. So through being able to get this out, and be creative, it makes you think: well, I’ve done that now, I’m ready to play to our strengths a bit, and be the band that those fans want.

Not to write music for anyone, but to just maybe re-visit some parts of our band that people fell in love with us for. 

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The guest cast is enormously diverse. How did Halsey come into the picture?

We did a session for her last year. We wrote her some music for a movie she was doing. Just a couple of sessions. She really wanted to do some rock, and we just wrote with her for a bit. That was one of the first things we did, just to try things out. We wrote it, talked about releasing it, and she came up with these alternative lyrics. We wrote them down, and it took her about 15 minutes to record it. It was one of the things that just sat there, but we always thought it was cool.

That’s kind of what the album became – sessions we did with other artists, or demos we had for ‘amo’, or even further back, that we didn’t have time to finish. There’s Lotus Eater, BEXEY, and those are artists that we like and dig.

This did all come together insanely quick. I must have messaged all the people about a week before about a week before we finished the album and said, oh we’re doing this record, would you be interested in doing something on it? I’ll send you a demo! Basically everyone we asked was keen to do something. It was really cool in that sense.

Was it as a free as that? Just sending demos and mp3s over email?

The demo we sent Halsey – the structure was a little different – it was one of the first things Jordan ever wrote for the band. If you listen to the main lead sound on the chorus, it’s actually in ‘Can You Feel My Heart’. So we just sent that over, and told them to do whatever they wanted. She wrote a full song around it, which was really cool. I added a little bit based off her melodies, and then we hooked around with it.

The bulk of the song was an mp3 – we didn’t have the stems, everything else is just slapped over the top.

‘Underground Big’ is 24 minutes long – how do you even conceive of something like that?

That came at the very last minute, to be honest. Dan Lancaster who mixed it… we were running out of time, and Jordan was mixing it at his house, and he was just too busy with family. So we sent him up to Sheffield and thought we could figure it out. He came up for a long weekend, and we mixed it, but we just added loads of stuff, and one night we were just talking, and I said: we should record something, and do it like this! I was stoned, saying stuff like: this is cool man, record it and see what happens!

The computer crashed, and the loop that you hear underneath me talking was on there for 15 minutes, and it started to become a little bit hypnotic as we were talking. It felt like a mood, that we should try and capture.

So we just pressed record. Dan was like, you’re not serious are you? And then we did it, and we all thought, well, it’s kinda cool… I guess people can sleep through it if they don’t like it!

Have you written anything since this? Has this project helped open up new areas already?

We have. We went to Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, and started writing. Jordan has been writing little ideas – as have I – so we’re definitely writing a lot. We’re about to prepare to write a whole lot more, and start to get the next record together. It was cool. We did it almost as a test to our record label – we wanted to put this record out in December.

I actually wanted it out on Christmas Day, so give it away as a gift, but Friday fell on December 27th so we compromised. At first there was a little bit of resistance, saying they needed a certain amount of time… but I had literally been watching Kanye West live-tweeting the release of his album! So we had to be able to do something similar.

We kinda said: look, we’re going to make this, we want you to do something with it, and if you don’t release it this month then we’re not doing it. We don’t want it to be this big thing. We didn’t even want to do interviews! We wanted to put it out, leave it, and let it be what it is.

How will you approach your next project? Is it going to be singles-based, something like this, or a more traditional album release?

What I’d like to do is put something out that’s shorter. It got publicised quite heavily that we didn’t want to do an album again… and then people were like: well, this one has got eight tracks! We’re not really saying anything because the next thing we put out could be four tracks, it could be 10, it could be eight… it’ll be what it is.

But I think we don’t want to have to sit with what it is that we do for two years, we want to be able to put something out and let people react to it. People consume music so quickly these days that it’s over so quickly. It’s very difficult once you’re three or four songs in because there’s nothing left to promote as everyone has heard it. No one needs to see a music video for it.

The way people consume now is so different, and so fast, that it just feels like an album is a tiny bit redundant. Also, it would be nice to put something out there… like I said earlier, when you make an album you have to spread yourself a little thin, and you can’t just focus on what you want to do. You worry about everything. You write a heavy song, but then you’re thinking: what will work on radio? All this stuff…

And then you become very precious with that music – you don’t want anyone to hear it until it’s finished. I think that I want to get out of that headspace, of not allowing anyone to hear it until it’s perfect. I’d like to start writing music more often, and let the creativity find us. Get rid of writer’s block. And also involve people as well, and have people document us making the music, and let people hear it throughout.

When we did ‘amo’ last year we put out this documentary of us making the record, and it seemed to blow people’s minds a bit. I think people had this fantastical idea of how a band writes an album, in LA, in the studio, with all these late nights… it’s very romanticised! And for us, anyway, the reality is that it’s usually me and Jordan sat in a room – not even a very nice one – just hammering it out until we’re left going crazy.

I think people really appreciated seeing that. Fans reacted to ‘amo’ quite differently as a result, as people could see we’re not sat in a room with Swedish producers, or we’re not trying to chase anything, we’re just doing what comes naturally to us, what comes out artistically.

Whether people like it or not we’re not trying to chase anything, it’s just what we do. We’re just regular people, we’re not these perfect musicians… it’s just very mundane. It would be nice to keep that up, share the music with people when it’s finished, make people feel more familiar, and almost give people a sense of… not ownership, but that they know the record, and can feel what it’s all about, rather than being like: here it is, this is our new stuff… you figure it out.

I think getting into that mindset of not being as precious about music, and just saying: here it is. Maybe our next record will be heavier and more emotional, like what people who didn’t like ‘amo’ actually want, but then the next one could be a full-on dance album! And then people will be like: well, new music will come six months later, this record is still there… if that’s how people want to listen to our band.

It’s not as if it will be the only thing you hear from us for two years, so you either like it or lump it.

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'Music to listen to…' is out now.

Stay in touch with Bring Me The Horizon HERE.

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