INTERVIEW WITH ROU REYNOLDS BY JAMESON KETCHUM
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DEREK RIDGERS
Enter Shikari never stops moving. Even when the world is literally in lockdown, Rou Reynolds’ singular focus is forward. The St. Alban’s four piece is poised to drop their sixth (and first with Reynolds at the producing helm) record Nothing Is Real & Everything Is Possible, a title as layered as the band’s career itself. Though boasting familiar territory with dance numbers and heavy hitters, Nothing Is Real & Everything Is Possible is an amalgamation of the underrated act’s entire catalog. There’s truly something for everyone. The record is a tribute to the past while keeping one foot firmly planted on the next mountaintop. In a time when so many have to pause and hold back, thank goodness Enter Shikari pushes ahead. Right now, this is the album we need.
How are you surviving this mess? How are you coping and keeping busy?
(laughs) I’m okay. I have my health, my family has their health. I can’t complain. I’m quite lucky to be busy with the new album as well, so I can’t complain about boredom. That seems to be the thing about lockdown that my friends complain about. We’re trying to concentrate on promoting the album since our whole month has been canceled, all the promotions and touring. So, mainly concentrating on that and getting some sort of life balance and not be on Twitter too much. I don’t want to be pulling my hair out. How are you coping?
“IF WE GET TO A POINT WHERE ART DRIES UP, THAT’S AN EVEN MORE DEPRESSING WORLD.”
I work from home mostly, so it’s not too bad. It’s been an interesting debate, if this whole thing will help or hurt a new release. Did you all talk about delaying it?
It’s a conversation anyone with this release schedule is going to be having. It’s definitely going to hurt the record. The amount of shows and promo opportunities we’ve had to cancel, it’s not going to have as big of a reach as it should. It’s important to keep on track and bring it out on schedule. As a music fan, I’m looking forward to various releases. If we get to a point where art dries up, that’s an even more depressing world. Now is the time people need all types of art, not just to keep them distracted, because that makes it sound like we are ignoring the world, but it’s a comfort. If life is like this big scary noisy building site, dangerous with a lot going on, art is the hardhat we wear that keeps us safe and comforted. We decided to continue as normal even though it unfortunately won’t have the reach we felt was important.
Enter Shikari has a very loyal fan base. People need art, but you wonder if it’s not as much of a priority at this time.
I hope it is (laughs). The promotion of our album is going to rely on word of mouth again, a very DIY campaign. There’s a sense of community and beauty in that. We just have to work really hard to get it out there. People seem to be digging the tunes we’ve released so far, so hopefully they’ll be enthused.
Enter Shikari has always been really fearless with experimentation. Is that a conscious conversation before each record?
I would agree. I think a lot of us just comes out of our upbringing quite naturally. At some points we’ll have considered conscious conversations and make decisions about where we want to go next. A lot of the time it does just sort of happen. I was lucky enough to grow up just outside of London where we had a really thriving hardcore punk scene. I got into that early. My uncle was a massive breakbeat fan, so he got me into everything happening in Chicago. Then in the 90s, rave culture and everything like that, he got me into that. Further back I was brought up on Motown—my dad was a DJ in that world. That injected melody into my bones from a very early age. I had all these influences and I also played the trumpet, was in the school orchestra, and was into classical music. It all touched me from a very early age, and I grew up creating music from what I heard, the amalgamation of all styles. I think it’s a conscious decision as well because life is varied. The single truth is we feel different emotions on a daily basis, a whole spectrum. That’s quite normal, so I never wanted to be in a band that just tried to convey one type of emotion. If we were a doom metal band or something (laughs), though a lot of the time I do feel pessimistic or depressed, that’s not the only thing I feel. I couldn’t be in a band like that. At the same time I couldn’t be in a pop group because there’s more to life than saccharine diluted songs about love or relationships. I think we’re lucky with Shikari. We managed to build an audience that expects the unexpected, and they’re comfortable with us going off in all sorts of directions. I feel lucky.
“WE FEEL DIFFERENT EMOTIONS ON A DAILY BASIS, A WHOLE SPECTRUM. THAT’S QUITE NORMAL, SO I NEVER WANTED TO BE IN A BAND THAT JUST TRIED TO CONVEY ONE TYPE OF EMOTION.”
Your fans trust you. They trust you to know where you’re going. Not a lot of bands have that.
I think often it’s played down how intelligent audiences are. I think people can see honesty. They can see through the attempt for a band to get bigger. They can see when music is made not just because of the love and passion involved. With us, we’ve never made music that isn’t that. I could never sit down and write a song if I wasn’t burning inside to write it. It’s almost not a choice for me to write music. It’s a necessity.
You’ve said this is the “most definitive Enter Shikari record.” That’s a big statement. What makes this one so big for you?
A few years ago I wrote a book, a collection of all my lyrics with an essay for each song that would dissect and explain my lyrics. That was the first time I ever really looked back at our journey as a band. We’re such a relentlessly forward facing band. We’re always looking for the next thing, experimenting, and trying new stuff. This was the first time I looked back and I had to do a lot of research into what were the influences to these songs I wrote 15 years ago. It made me want to write an album that had a tip of the hat to every era of our band. There’s a link to each album on this new one. I’m not really sure, but it felt like the time was right to do that. The book inspired me to make an album that we thought would be definitive.
Do you know the topics you want to tackle before you go into a record?
Not at all. I think the only album that happened with was The Spark. There are so many experiences that happened in my life that happened in a short amount of time, a year of hardship. I then felt I didn’t really have a choice. I had to write about those experiences in the music I was writing. Every album I just write and topics will arise (laughs). I can’t say I plan these grand topics that the albums are gonna be about. They appear out of the creative process.
“THAT’S THE THING ABOUT THIS ALBUM—IT FELT A BIT MORE LIKE FREEDOM.”
Do they come to you more when you start to hear the music?
Yeah, they’ll give you some sense or emotion, and that will trigger perhaps thoughts about something specific for you to write about. That’s the thing about this album—it felt a bit more like freedom. I was in a completely different headspace from when I wrote The Spark. I felt like I didn’t have to write about something. I wasn’t feeling compelled to write about my experiences with various hardship. I had more freedom, like, “What do I want to write about?” instead of feeling coerced into writing about something. That was quite nice. I think that made for an even broader album. It made the topics on the album increase in their width.
Your explanation about “The Dreamer’s Hotel” is sad but accurate. With how involved the band is in tackling political and social topics, do you find that you take time outs? What does that look like for you personally and as a band?
It’s really important for one’s own sanity. Going back a few years I’d always get caught up in just political commentary and activism, even just following current affairs, thinking I needed to be completely up to date on everything. I’d always read certain things and make sure I knew every detail. It was exhausting. I’ve learned how to force balance into my life now. There are lots of other things I’m interested in. I’ve let go of all the madness. It’s important. You can’t go through life with being inundated with politics all the time. That’s not what life’s about.
“YOU CAN’T GO THROUGH LIFE WITH BEING INUNDATED WITH POLITICS ALL THE TIME. THAT’S NOT WHAT LIFE’S ABOUT.”
Yes! You want to stay informed and appear intelligent in conversation, but it’s exhausting. There’s more out there.
Absolutely. We only have a certain amount of energy. If we’re using it up all the time, we can’t put as much into the activism we want to be doing, can we? It’s all about the balance.
Since Enter Shikari covers a lot of heavier topics, political and social, do you feel like you receive feedback on your thoughts? Reviews are one thing, but do you have interactions at shows or online where people want to have conversations about things in your songs?
Absolutely. I think that’s one of the main things that keeps us going—the amount of lives that you, whether you know it or not, affect. We’ve had people say certain songs or lyrics inspired them to do some grand life changes, take this job or take this course or make this decision in their life. It’s quite impactful.
You’ve stated that the song “the king” is a lesson in patience and forgiveness. You worked on it the longest, how long? Why?
It went through so many versions. It was the last song to make the album. It was right up to the last minute and almost didn’t make it. I wanted it to be right. I was excited about it, but didn’t want to force it if it wasn’t right. I didn’t want to look back a few months down the line and say, “No, that wasn’t finished, it wasn’t right.” I think there was a period where I wasn’t even sleeping to get this track done on time. I was the producer and the songwriter on this album, so it really takes it out of you. We went through about five different choruses to get it right. There’s a lot of detail on it. There are five different snare drums on it. It has a lot of groove to it. It was just getting it how one hears it in one’s head. It’s always a tough thing to achieve.
“BECAUSE OF THE BREADTH OF VARIETY ON THIS ALBUM AND THE AMOUNT OF DETAIL, IT NEEDED ME TO BE AT THE HELM.”
And as you said, this is the first time you have produced.
I’ve co-produced the last few. I thought it was time because I’ve learned so much on the last few. I think because of the breadth of variety on this album and the amount of detail, it needed me to be at the helm. I feel bad asking another human being to put so much of their life into this record because it took over my life for a year. It was everything I thought about. Everything else got neglected, from my family to my social life (laughs). It was completely absorbing. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Enter Shikari has achieved this great success by completing a great record. Is it hard not to already be looking at what’s next or how you’re going to top this?
That’s always a massive anxiety. It’s like you just climbed a mountain, walking away from this massive peak. You’re proud of it and the effort you’ve put into it, then you think about the next album and you’re standing at the foot of Everest again, like, “What am I gonna do now?” It’s really terrifying (laughs). At the moment I’m not even thinking about it.