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With some bands, you know exactly what you’re going to get with each new album. Not with Enter Shikari, though. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of ‘The Spark’.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8″][vc_column_text]On the back of ‘The Spark’, there’s a message. Six words that sum up everything you need to know about Enter Shikari. “Does this mean anything to you?” For over a decade, the band have been hoping for a yes. Battling for a connection.
Earnest, honest but never over-eager, Rou Reynolds, Rob Rolfe, Rory Clewlow and Chris Batten have always asked that question in their own, unique way. Aggressive and full-throttled, the band have never settled for a style. Refusing to stick to one idea or follow the same direction to closely, everything is in a constant state of flux. That grounding thread of togetherness the only thing holding the ship together.
Different is what they do but even still, ‘The Spark’ pushes things like never before. “This feels like more of a new era than just another new album,” starts Rou. “We feel very revitalised, fresh and confidence has never been this high.” And it shows. “We just wanted to be a bit bolder with the music. As a songwriter, I wanted to say that I can write as good a tune as anyone in the eras that have defined or influenced our sound.” Stepping up to wear the crown, “We’re now playing with the big boys.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”46124″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8″][vc_column_text]After years of merry surprise about how far they’d come, refusing to look too far to an uncertain future, and taking every day as it came, the band found themselves on a massive arena tour. It was the tipping point. At London’s Ally Pally, Rou declared that this was all “a hobby that got well out of hand,” but there’s ambition to the band. A sense that this is something more than just a laugh. “Doing that arena tour made us think about the possibilities. Seeing that many people and seeing how it brought people together, it inspired us to do something bigger,” explains Chris. ‘The Spark’ is a risk because it sees the band hoping for more.
“There’s an amazing quote from probably my favourite philosopher Bertrand Russell, who says, and I’m going to murder this, ‘One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important’. I’ve probably taken that far too seriously for most of our lives. Before, I’ve just thought that we play music and that’s cool. It’s just amazing to be here, and I guess we’re just carry on doing this.” Now, thoughts have changed. The runaways are setting the pace. “I don’t think our music is important, but it has its role to play. It’s earnt its place in the world.
“Before we were quite content being the alternative, slightly wacky, out there, all over the place band. Trying to be the craziest. Trying to be the most extreme in every sense.” They wanted every piece of the cobbled together genres to feel authentic, to be loud, proud and obvious. “I always wanted to be the most of everything, and that’s changed. Now it’s about the songs and the connection. Before I never had the confidence to do that. I thought we had our place.” Sure, “It was still very much our own place, we never felt at ease on any bill, and we’ve always felt a bit out of place with other bands, but now we’re ready to not just be something in the alternative world. We’ve got enough to say, and we’ve experienced enough to earn a place in the wider consciousness I want to make it as big and best as I can, I suppose.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSFSbZeShL0″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-1 vc_col-lg-10 vc_col-md-offset-1 vc_col-md-10″][vc_column_text]
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8″][vc_column_text]Following a trio of jarring standalone singles, the grime-dabbling ‘Supercharge’ and the aggressive, everything goes twirl of ‘Hoodwinker’ and ‘Redshift’, Enter Shikari “honed their senses,” and set to work on ‘The Spark’. From the dreamlike opening of the title track, all clear skies and crunch of dirt beneath heels into the straight arrow flight of ‘The Sights’, Shikari soar. “For the first time, I had a clear idea of the sound of this album. There was an atmosphere that I wanted it to be, and that’s never really happened before.” Music flowed out of Rou “like a projectile vomiting drunk. I’m just there with a bucket,” demos were shown to the rest of the band, “and it all became very clear that this was the right way forward.”
The band didn’t have a vision for how the record would flow or dance, but there was a feeling they wanted to capture. More melody was top of the list of demands. Simplicity was king. “Typically Shikari songs are five songs in one,” because the band feel bored or held back by the single direction travel of genre. “We’ve always had diverse sounds, so we’ve been able to satisfy our urge to do lots of things. This is the first time where an album has a focused sound. It’s still diverse, but it has that simplicity to it now, that clarity.”
There’s a space to ‘The Spark’ that Enter Shikari have always stayed well away from in the past. That decision to open things up and allow the songs to breath came about very early, a reaction to what had come before. “’The Mindsweep’ was so layered. It was very thick with a lot going on, and we were talking about trying to focus on one guitar playing one riff instead of this mesh of loads of everything.” Stepping back and deciding less is more goes against everything Shikari have ever done. “It’s always tempting to throw more things in,” starts Chris. “But we went into the record being focused on what we wanted. With that in the back of our minds, it made it a lot easier. If we hadn’t known what we were trying to achieve, a lot more would have been thrown in, and we would have just seen where it took us but knowing what we wanted to achieve, it was a far easier process.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”46123″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8″][vc_column_text]Enter Shikari have always been a politically engaged band. With even the most reluctant of groups now inspired and outraged by the way of the world, you’d think Rou would be spoilt for choice for what to scrawl across their placards but he, “was just stumped for ages. There was so much going on in my life but also so much politically that I didn’t know where to start. Every thing that happened, not just Brexit and Trump but other things as well, there’d be someone tweeting me saying, ‘Oh, at least we know there’s a Shikari album out of this’. Bloody hell, pressure. It wasn’t until I found a lot of parallels between the personal stuff and the more global stuff that I realised ‘Okay, I’ve got a path I can tread now and write about’. It was difficult at first.”
Rather than fists up, fighting the system and screaming fuck you I won’t do what you tell me, ‘The Spark’ is smarter. “It’s always been important to us to be a little more positive than that,” offers Chris. “It’s never felt right to be just doom and gloom about it all.”
Instead, ‘The Spark’ sees Rou and the rest of Shikari at their most intimate. The music might be opening up into new space, but lyrically, it turns inwards to make sense of what surrounds them.
“Honesty was the big thing that kept coming back for me. It sounds wanky, but I was influenced by a lot of people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who I name drop in one of the songs. He was a philosopher, and one of his things was about just laying your soul bare and speaking about everything from the mundane little things to the big emotions. I have this desire to connect and to make sure people knew, ‘Oh I feel that way too. Oh, I’m not weird anymore’. I wanted to embrace vulnerability, lay my lyrics bare and not try and be this constantly cool pop star who’s got it down and is always cool, calm and everything is fine. It’s not lifelike, is it? I don’t think anyone wants that from musicians.” [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuvVOA8uvsc”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-1 vc_col-lg-10 vc_col-md-offset-1 vc_col-md-10″][vc_column_text]
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8″][vc_column_text]Their music has always come from the heart, the soul and the gut but ‘The Spark’ digs deeper. It doesn’t hold anything back. “The last few years I had a lot more to write about. Before I was absolutely compelled to write about politics, social issues and unity, and I still do. I have that feeling, but I had a bit more confidence to open myself up, which I’ve never had before. I’ve always just figured I’ll write about my life another time and now that another time has come.” That confidence in dropping his guard and letting others in comes from experience. “We’ve been doing this a long time, and people obviously care about what we do and are interested in what we have to say.”
“I might be wrong in saying this,” starts Chris, “but I’ve noticed, since you’ve started having more anxiety issues, you’ve started talking about it a lot more openly. Maybe the fact you did that has given you the confidence to do that within your writing and lyrics as well.”
Rou continues: “Before, maybe 2014, I didn’t really know the ins and outs of anxiety and depression and insomnia and how they interlink, what the do and how you can stop them. I just thought I probably had something like that; I guess I’m just a bit weird. It wasn’t until I had a big panic attack and we almost had to cancel Download in 2015… All this shit happened and it was only then that I learnt about all that in a lot more detail. Now, I’m more confident; I know who I am a bit more, and how I can deal with those problems. The other thing is that when you’re going through insomnia, anxiety and depression – I think it’s probably the case with most mental health spectrum stuff – your desire to connect and be open increases because I guess you don’t want to feel alone. Before, when my life was much more on the straight and narrow, I had anxiety, but I was able to kinda deal with it. There wasn’t as much of a yearning to want to connect and to want to find an outlet for it all. It’s only when you go through all that shit that you feel like you want to connect.”
Showing off this side of himself is new ground for Rou, but he knows people will connect to what he’s saying. “I don’t know how many people or to what degree but they will. It’s already happening with ‘Live Outside’, the lyrics are connecting to different people for different reasons. They see meanings that you didn’t even put there which is amazing.” Allowing more space, “The song now has all these extra layers and depth that we didn’t even plan for.” They’re going to mean the world to countless people but the songs on ‘The Spark’ also mean everything to the band. The joyous cry of “They don’t know about us” on ‘Live Outside’ comes from “the innards of one’s skull. It can be so busy. You can have so much going on; it can be intense. In the outside world, no one will have a clue. That was something I learnt through seeing a psychologist. You internalise everything, and it’s almost close to ego because everything is about you. You worry. ‘Should I be putting my hand there? No that probably looks weird, he’s probably thinking this, they’re probably doing that’. But you have to realise that no, they don’t even know what’s going on up there.” They’re not paying that much attention. “They don’t know about us.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”46126″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8″][vc_column_text]Elsewhere, ‘An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces’ “is all about loss in all its various guises from losing grandparents to losing structure. For most of my life, certainly most of my twenties, I was in long-term relationships. You get very comfortable in that structure, and when they fall apart, you feel really haywire. Your life has completely changed, and it’s lost its structure, as you do when a close family member dies. It’s just addressing that feeling of loss.”
Rather than falling apart or feeling broken, ‘The Spark’ sees an opportunity for growth. “I am currently under construction,” sings ‘Undercover Agents’. “Thank you for your patience.” “Yeah, no one thinks that they’re fully constructed. No one believes fully that ‘I am a perfect human being and everything is fine’. Life is a constant, relentless road of construction.” That ability to carry on and unfurl is also found on ‘Airfields’, which “was inspired by the idea of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. As Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ says, ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity’. When you go through shit, you learn about yourself, you learn about the world, and it can end up being beneficial in many ways. I try and write as a friend speaking to another friend, or to whoever is listening to it and offering that shoulder. Trying to say, ‘Yeah, you’re probably going through hell, but it’s probably having some really good benefits to your life’. Glass overflowing, “’It’s giving you knowledge. It’s giving you experience.”
“The outro always summed it up perfectly for me,” Chris says.
“’When the wind’s against you, remember this insight, that’s the optimal condition, for birds to take flight’. It’s a lot easier if you’re taking off into the wind. You don’t know what’s around the corner and you don’t know how this shit is actually helping you in the long run.” There’s empowerment in facing the storm, “which should not be confused with ‘everything happens for a reason’ which is something completely false because that implies some sort of tinkering creator or something.”
In amongst all the honesty, reality and gritty truths of ‘The Spark’ sits the madcap tale of ‘The Revolt Of The Atoms’ which tells the story of what would happen if all the atoms in existence decided to band together and dissolve everything. It’s far-fetched, bordering on ridiculous, but somehow works in the expansive soar of the record.
“While we were writing this album, I was doing my lyric book ‘Dear Future Historians’ [which collects and annotates all of their lyrics]. It was really interesting, going back to the beginning of this band. A lot of it was detective work, trying to remember what I was saying with the lyrics and what I had in mind. When it came to ‘Mothership’, a sci-fi story about aliens, peace, climate change and all this stuff coming together, I just wanted to do it again. A lot of the time my lyrics are statements rather than narratives that develop and run through a whole song. I wanted to create a whole world and a whole story in a song. Interestingly enough, that first synth is one of the first things Shikari ever did. It’s finally being used. There are a lot of threads back to very early Shikari on that track.” Yes, it’s a bit silly, but it’s a world with such heart. The repeated cries of “everything is crumbling” echo and swell, reflecting the real world in their escapist, chaotic snow globe.
“When I didn’t know where to start lyrically or what was going on in the world, and everything was so overwhelming, it was one of the first songs that gave me a bit of a bearing. It felt like everything was falling apart at some points, and it still does, with Trump and North Korea and the nuclear onslaught that could be around the corner and everything. That was what inspired the ridiculous notion of what if atoms banded together, every atom got together and had this meeting and said actually, we’re going to pull apart and disintegrate everything that matters. I thought it was quite an interesting take.”
The song, like more of ‘The Spark’, has an underlying feeling of doom just out of the corner of its eye. It’s “teetering around a hole of complete darkness. But we all feel like that from time to time. I certainly feel a lot better on a personal level than I did when I wrote this song. That’s why a lot of the music is so positive on this record. ‘Live Outside’ for instance, even though the lyrics are quite thick, a lot of time I was writing music and thinking, ‘Y’know, in a year’s time when this comes out, I’m going to be in such a better position mentally. I want to be able to enjoy these songs and play them with a smile on my face’. I think now I can. I’m happy to report that I can. That gave the songs such a depth that I couldn’t have achieved if I was happy. Sometimes with writing happy music, there’s such a fine line between cheesiness and contentment. It’s very hard to do contentment in music, so having that underlying doom works with the bigger picture.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”46122″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8″][vc_column_text]From ‘The Revolt Of The Atoms’ to the self-aware snarl of ‘Rabble Rouser’ that sees the band poke fun at rock stars while doing a brilliant rock star impression, Enter Shikari still have a tongue firmly pressed against their cheek. There’s a sense of humour to the situation, and despite wanting to reach more people, it’s all still a bit silly. “It has to be. We’re always the first to start ripping the piss out of any band that’s getting too far up themselves. Hopefully, we haven’t fallen down that yet. We found humour in the darkest of places. It’s a defence mechanism. When everything is going to shit and what do you have left? Humour. That’s the only way we can process things without going absolutely mad or losing it. That’ll always be there in our music.”
‘The Spark’ is evocative, a lit stick of dynamite into the pool of expectation, but that was always the point. It sees the band embracing the unknown, and it’s not always easy. “I have to push myself. I still get comfortable in my little bubble,” and it’s not going to be universally championed. “It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but that’s what we want. I couldn’t possibly be that mediocre darling, he says sipping a gin and tonic,” narrates Rou while drinking a tap water.
“Music still excites me, creating still excites me. Creating music has always been one of the things I’ve had that helps me through the shit, and I’ll never not be excited to write music.” Despite the smart money being on Shikari’s fifth album being a furious and relentless attack on a world flirting with doom, ‘The Spark’ is hopeful without being naïve. “It’s fine to be negative and just be honest in that as well. I didn’t want it to be a record that shoehorns positivity in and again, just being honest is key. Things might get a lot shitter but y’know, there’s still the odd chance it won’t. Always look on the bright side, that’s just an intrinsic thing about being human.”
And Enter Shikari have always found the humanity in every situation. “I’m constantly surprised [by what we’ve been allowed to get away with]. I don’t really know what our trick is, but there’s something about honesty that people want in music. It’s very clear we’ve never made an album that, to any degree, has been something that someone else has wanted us to make. Be it a record label or fans and people respect that. People can see through that. The music feels real; it has integrity.”
They have no shame in wanting to be bigger, in aiming higher. ‘The Spark’ is the most accessible thing they’ve done, and that’s no accident. Shikari want to be heard. They want to connect. They want to offer a meaning in the murk. “Going back centuries, the ability to have very wide spread, easy to access literature improved empathy in the human species. We were able to understand other people’s points of view and perspectives, and it declined violence. Stephen Pinker does a lot of research into this, and it’s really interesting. Now that literature is world wide and most people can read, the next bastion of that is pop music. In pop music, you can offer your soul. You can offer what it’s like to be me, or what it’s like to be in this situation and people can then latch onto it and again, it increases empathy and connection. That’s something we’ve just always been about, connection. And unity. And community.” The thing is, it isn’t the masses Enter Shikari want to forge a connection with. It’s you. “With this album, the music is now there to hopefully reach more people. And connect more with people. And why else would we be doing it? That’s what art is for.”