Interview with Ben Bruce by Tyler Davidson
Photographs by Sanjay Parikh
The name Asking Alexandria was on the lips of countless metal fans in early 2015, with vocalist Danny Worsnop’s very public falling out with the rest of the band, including best friend and guitarist Ben Bruce. Over the next year and change, Asking Alexandria would move on with a new frontman, releasing The Black (2016) with Denis Stoff, while Bruce and Worsnop partook in the occasional potshot, sniping at one another in the press. After Stoff had a falling out of his own, however, photos of the former friends sharing a studio emerged, giving fans of the band a glimmer of hope. With Bruce and Worsnop finally reconciled, Asking Alexandria’s classic lineup recorded its latest release, a self-titled effort on Sumerian Records, produced by From First to Last’s Matt Good. Bruce chats about the reunion and the wide variety of influences on the album, as well as his acting debut in American Satan.
Each Asking Alexandria album has had different influences. What would you say was the biggest influence on this new album in particular?
Honestly, as conceited as it might sound, as far as music and other influences go, we just have so many spread across the board, from country to rap and hip-hop to rock to metal to pop, so there’s always gonna be influences from outside artists. But for us, our big thing is that whenever we go into the studio, we never want to repeat ourselves and do the same old thing, so we always look at our old records and think, “Okay, what didn’t we accomplish with this, and how do we grow from it?” Because, for us, if we’ve already done a certain type of record, why would we do it again? What’s the point? We’ve already explored that avenue, we’ve been there before, let’s try something new. Let’s go bigger and better. So, we’re always trying to just write the best we possibly can and do bigger and better things than we’ve ever accomplished before. That’s where the bar is set. Wherever the previous record left the bar, that’s what we go in intending to leap over.
Speaking of your past records, what do you think differentiates this album from everything else in your catalog?
I think we’ve grown as songwriters. And then obviously, with the departure of Danny, we did The Black with a different singer, with Denis, and so there was the departure and there was the time apart from Danny. So, I feel like when Danny rejoined, that time apart let some old wounds heal and it gave us also time to address wounds that we had and problems that we had in our past. When we came together for this record, we were all on the same page, we were all excited again, and we were all ready to do this. As opposed to, on From Death to Destiny , obviously we’re very proud of that record, but it was a very strenuous and toxic time in the band’s personal relationships with each other. We were just so burnt out and so angry, and From Death to Destiny was the result of that. Whereas this one, we’re all on the same page, all happy. Everything in the past is water under the bridge, and we’ve all grown up a lot and learned a lot from our time apart. We brought, I think, a lot more positivity and maturity to the table.
“WE’RE ALWAYS TRYING TO JUST WRITE THE BEST WE POSSIBLY CAN AND DO BIGGER AND BETTER THINGS THAN WE’VE EVER ACCOMPLISHED BEFORE.”
During your time apart from Danny, some harsh words were exchanged. How did you go about burying the hatchet?
It was just more along the lines of, you know, we’re adults. We know that people say things and do things out of anger and just out of passion. I feel like as artists—not just musicians, but anyone that does any kind of art—we wear our emotions on our sleeves. We’re emotional people at the best of times, and that’s why we create art. So, if we’re angry, we use that anger and we throw it towards our life. If we’re happy, same thing. So, we’re adults, and we realized that we said things out of anger and spite that we didn’t necessarily believe, but at the time, we needed to say to sort of cope and create and all that stuff. When Danny came back, it’s not like we had a sit down and said, like, “Right, you did this and that upset me, and you did this.” It was just more of a mutual understanding and respect. Like, we know what we did, and we don’t want to go down that road again. Now we make a valiant effort to make sure that we’re not putting ourselves in shitty situations again that can harm our friendship.
Once that was out of the way, what was it like writing and recording together?
It was amazing. It felt very much like when we recorded Stand Up and Scream , in the sense that we were just so excited and hungry again. When we did Stand Up and Scream, we were young, we were naive. We had no expectations, we were just in there, writing music to write music as five friends, and didn’t know where any of it was gonna go. And it was very much that way with this album. We’d been apart for a long time, and we were all excited to be around each other again and just create music together again, so we did it just for us. We just said, “We’re gonna do this our way.” And that’s what we did. We took our time, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
This is the first time you worked with Matt Good, where you had always worked with Joey Sturgis in the past. What did Matt bring to the album?
We’re still really good friends with Joey. I spoke to him two days ago on the phone, and we still work together on other stuff. It’s just Danny was joining the band again, and we wanted everything to be different. We didn’t want to go back into the same old mindset and just act like, “Well, we’re back together, let’s keep on going,” like nothing’s happened. We wanted to start fresh and we wanted everything to be new, and that’s where Matt Good really came in, because he was new, we’d never worked with him before. So, he pushed us in ways that Joey didn’t necessarily push us. Not better ways, just different ways. He’s a different person, a different producer. We had a different outlook when we were creating this, and I think it was exactly what we needed in order to create the record that we did end up creating. And we had a blast. We’ve known Matt for years. We used to tour with him when he was in From First to Last. He’s been a close friend for coming up to a decade now anyway. So, it was a very comfortable surrounding. It worked out, too, because I’ve got my kid at home—I had one kid at the time—and the studio is here in Arizona where I live. It all just worked out. Like I said, it made for a really enjoyable recording experience.
“WE WANTED TO START FRESH AND WE WANTED EVERYTHING TO BE NEW”
You mentioned having all sorts of influences from metal to hip-hop, the latter of which clearly influenced the song “Empire,” which features Bingx. Where did the idea for that song and to feature a rapper on the album come from?
I’d written a bunch of music for the record, and this particular song, “Empire,” I was listening to it, we were in Europe, and Danny was singing chorus ideas. And I just remember thinking, “Man, this song…” A lot of the songs, actually, the drums on this album sound very hip-hop to me. There’s just a feel and a groove to them, even if you listen to “Into the Fire,” if you pay attention to the drums and the verses. And I just remember thinking, “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a hip-hop producer or a rap producer mix this album, or at least this song,” because it just has that kind of feel to it to me. Everyone was like, “Yeah, that’s a really cool idea,” because it’d be different. It would definitely make the record sound different from things we’d done before. And it just progressed from there. Like, “Why don’t we actually get a rapper to rap some verses on the song and see what happens?” And a few names sprang to mind. We’re good friends with a bunch of people in the genre, so MGK and Yelawolf sprang to mind, and we approached them, but with schedules and stuff, things don’t always work out. And I thought to myself, “Man, wouldn’t it be cool to just do it with a lesser known rapper? Someone who we really think deserves the platform, someone who is genuinely talented and brings something extra to the song?” And Danny had introduced me to Bingx’s music. I’d been listening to him for a while, so I was like, “Let’s hit this kid up and see if he’s interested.” And he was, and the label and everyone was like, “It’s a big leap. If you guys are gonna try this sort of thing, you should really get a big name in there to help carry the song.” And we said, “No, because we’re doing it from an artistic point of view. We’re creating music, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a risk. We like it, we want to do it, this kid’s talented,” and they were like, “Okay.” And as soon as they heard Bingx on the song, they were like, “Oh, holy shit, yeah, this kid is amazing.”
Another track that stands out is “Vultures,” which seems like an incredibly introspective piece. Was it a conscious decision to include more tracks like that on the album?
No, it really wasn’t. Actually, funny enough, I wrote “Vultures” back in 2014, and it was back before Danny had left the band, when he was just really down about life. He was in that dark pit that he was in, and he was pissed off at the music industry. That’s where those lyrics came from. The lyrics are all about the suits up in the industry and how they’re using us as pawns in their game, and how we’re like puppets and they’re telling us what to do. And we’ve always loved that song, and obviously with the departure of Danny, we were both upset that it might never see the light of day. So, when he came back to the band, we were like, “Yes, we can finally do this song.” So, we rerecorded it, and it was actually the first thing we did on this new album together again. I think, like I said, when we started this album, we had no expectations, we had no rules, we just went in there to write music as five friends. That’s why there are songs like “Empire” and songs like “Vultures,” and then all the way on the other end of the spectrum, songs like “Eve,” because we were writing for us. We were writing what we enjoyed, what we wanted to play, and what we would want to listen to. That’s why there’s so many different genres throughout this record.
You made your acting debut recently in American Satan. How did your involvement with the film come about?
Acting is never something I thought I would ever pursue. I never really had the confidence. People might laugh when they hear that, but I always felt more comfortable behind a guitar or behind a microphone. With acting, you’re very exposed, so even at school, I never did drama, I never did any of that. I was never part of the school productions unless I was playing music in them, so it’s nothing I ever thought I would pursue. But Ash Avildsen, who’s a good friend of mine and wrote and directed the movie, was like, “This character is pretty much you. You would be perfect for the role. You’ve got the charisma. Let’s do it, man!” And I was like, “Dude, I don’t know.” And he convinced me to do it, and I think like a week before filming started, I called him, I was like, “I’m not coming, dude, I can’t do this. Too scary. Fuck you, I’m out.” And he was like, “No, you can’t do this to me. There’s been millions of dollars invested in this movie, you’re really fucking me,” and I went, “Fuck! All right, I’ll come and do it.” And I remember the first day on set, I turn up, and there’s like a hundred people in the room, boom stands and makeup and cameramen and producers and directors and all of the other actors, and they’re like, “Action!” And my mouth was just so dry, I couldn’t even say my lines, all I could say was, “Water! Water!” (laughs) I kept asking for water. And Ash had to pull me aside and was like, “Dude, you stand up on stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and it doesn’t bother you at all. What’s going on?” “Dude, it’s just different. I feel naked and scared.” It took that first day for me to really get into it, and then once I made friends with John Bradley [Game of Thrones], he gave me advice. I realized, “Oh, no one’s here to judge you. People are here to create art together,” just like I would do in the studio. And once I realized that, I had the most fun I’ve ever had in my career doing anything. It was such an enjoyable experience, and it’s something that I’m definitely looking to pursue. I’ve already been offered a few more roles that I’m going to be filming. So, yeah, it’s an exciting change of pace for me, but it’s definitely a welcome one.