For many bands, the lockdown allowed them to take stock and re-evaluate what they were about. However, for genre-smashing Brits Enter Shikari, those two years found frontman Rou Reynolds fearful that it was the end for a group that he had fronted since 2003.
Thankfully, that spark was reignited, and on April 21st, the band will return with their explosive new album, A Kiss For The Whole World.
In our latest Cover Story, we sat down with the Enter Shikari vocalist and spoke about that creative lull, how they reconnected as a band as well as getting his thoughts on how they plan to help the environment by reducing their carbon footprint.
“My sense of self-worth, self-esteem, that was all tied up with the band. Take the band away and I just lost confidence.”
Recently, you said the last couple of years felt like the band ceased to exist. How did that affect you, especially being a band that has got such a connection with each other and its fans?
“Yeah, it was. It was just a very strange experience. Enter Shikari has been going since 2003. I’ve been writing music since I was nine. Then, as soon as the pandemic hit and we stopped playing shows, I just seemed to lose the ability to write music. I think there were all sorts of reasons. I think I was thoroughly just overwhelmed with everything that was going on and people saying, “Oh, I can’t wait to see what you write about the pandemic and about everything going on in the world.”
“Also, I think retrospectively, the main reason that I had this creative drought was that I rely on the human connection that we get from live shows, that sense of purpose, that sense of cyclical energy. That’s fuel, that’s a complete fuel for me as a songwriter. It wasn’t until we started playing shows again that I sort of felt the urge to write and had the ability to write again. It was a really strange, disorientating, quite scary time because, at one point, it did feel like Enter Shikari no longer exists. We can’t play shows and I can’t write music. That’s it. There’s a lot of soul searching on the new album, trying to work out who I am outside of the band and everything.”
On that note, does this feel like a complete reset for you? For you personally and for Enter Shikari. Does it feel like this album is like a restart?
“Yeah. We’ve been saying it’s like the second act, you know? It was like we just took this mammoth pause, becoming dormant for a while, it was really odd. Now I think there’s this renewed sense of gratitude for what we do. A new sort of drive, not just in the gigs, but also in the writing. I think that’s why this album came out so high energy because it was thrilling to be able to write music again. There’s a lot of positivity around it. But, yeah, it feels like we’ve had this full stop now and everything that came before was one era or chapter, and this is the next.”
Something you touched about a minute ago which, to be honest, was something I hadn’t even thought about, was how people were looking forward to seeing what you made of the pandemic and the lockdown and the world situation. You, on the other hand, had that creative drought. Given the situation that was going on around the world, was it frustrating, not to be able to want to write?
“From a selfish point of view, it was really frustrating because writing music is, for me, it’s how I organize my thoughts on the world. I sit down to write lyrics and to write music, and it’s like becoming connected to my inner self, my subconscious. You see what arises, and it can be incredibly interesting, it can be a real sort of sense of personal discovery, I think. That was suddenly taken away and, having been something that was just there for me, forever, I just felt like I’d lost it completely. Like I’d lost a limb. Such a big chunk of my life was suddenly taken away, and I had to reassess everything.
Since then, a lot of the emotions and experiences of the pandemic I felt like I’ve already written. I’ve already written about a lot of this stuff. I’ve written about the downfalls of a healthcare system that is for profit, a capitalistic healthcare system, and many other aspects of it. At the same time, I had this cocktail of emotions and fears and things I knew I wanted to write about, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write about.”
There’s a lot of positivity around this record. It feels like we’ve had this full stop now and everything that came before was one era or chapter, and this is the next.
Listening to the album, there’s an energy and positivity running through the record. What do you hope fans get out of listening to it?
“There’s a part of me that almost doesn’t care. As I said though, we put it out into the world, this gift that then just becomes the audience’s so I’m happy if they get anything, any emotion, any sort of feeling or, a desire or whatever, that’s great. I think just affecting people emotionally is really interesting. I think one of the main things from this album is I want to feel emboldened. At the moment we live in times that are so frightening with so many crises, every week there’s a new crisis, and everything is dwarfed by the looming crisis of climate change so it’s easy to feel quite small and powerless.
“It’s also easy to go into a nihilistic way of thinking and just think about myself and live a self-interested, individualistic life and that’s what the system wants. That’s what it thrives on. It wants us to feel like disconnected individuals competing against each other, only interested in ourselves and our own wealth, bringing our own success. That’s also what the most powerful people in society want. If we feel powerless, we’re not going to try and change anything. I really hope that this album injects a feeling of empowerment, makes us feel emboldened, and is a soundtrack for hope. Hope that maybe it will activate an energizing force in the world. That’s the main thing that I would like to say.”
You’ve been somebody that’s been creating music since you were nine years old into a band that has tried to step outside the boundaries of what the norm is. A lot of bands who we’ve spoken to said they found that not being in that cycle of touring, writing, touring, writing, the break gave them a chance to sit back and explore where they went musically. That didn’t seem to be the case for you. Would that be true?
“I literally didn’t write anything in a year and a half. Every time I sat down, I just literally felt empty and then I just started to get anxious about it so I didn’t even try and write anymore. Luckily, I was writing the book, the account of the previous album, so that took some creative energy, and I felt like that was an outlet but it’s a very different thing. It’s not an emotional thing. There was a lot of research and a lot of the more rational aspects of one’s mind.
“So, yeah, there was just this gaping hole and soul-searching. I think one of the main things was me using that period to try and feel at ease and content with who I was outside of the band. It took up so much of my life that it was then really frightening when it was just taken away. It’s like, my sense of self-worth, self-esteem, that was all tied up with the band. Take the band away, and I just lost confidence.”
Was that the same for the rest of the band?
“I know they missed touring. I know they missed us being in the studio together. Chris and Rory have kids so that was their focus. Rory was home-schooling because his partner works for the NHS. I think we all just went into our home lives really. I think that’s one of the reasons why, when we came to record the album, we recorded it in the way we did. We got this dilapidated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. We wanted it to feel like just us again so we could reconnect, rediscover our friendship and our connection with the band and, yeah, feel like a band again.”
From struggling with creativity, what did it feel like when that spark reignited, and did it all just come back together?
“Well, I wish it was like a sort of Hollywood scene where we played the first show and then, suddenly, I could write again, and it all came good for me. It was actually very gradual, very slow. As I say, I lost all my confidence. I didn’t think… part of me didn’t think I’d ever write music again. Part of me thought I’d maybe just lost the ability to write good music so it was very slow. So, it was sort of like, have a few ideas then get them down.
“I think that at the beginning of any album, there’s a feeling of immense anxiety because you look back at the albums that you’ve done and they’re these glossy, finished things. You look at other people’s albums and then you look at what you’ve got, and you’ve just got this mass of ideas and it’s like you’re standing at the foot of a mountain thinking “Christ, how are we going to do this?”
“So, it’s always anxiety-ridden, but this was even worse I think. So, it did take a while but I think the pivotal moment, the pivot point was when I finished ‘(pls) Set Me On Fire’ which is the first song I finished writing and it was literally written about that process let me transcend into this creative flow again, let us be together, let us feel that euphoria, that the urge… all of those things. So, when that was finished, I was like, “Okay, this is a banger. There’s no denying this is a banger.” So, we’ve clearly still got it… let’s go.”
In terms of reaffirming the band, you headlined the Download Pilot, what was it like walking out and seeing those crowds again? Did it almost wash away the previous two years?
“Oh, for sure. I mean, yeah, the festivals are my favourite thing about the job, you know? It really is. I think they are the only thing left that brings people together indiscriminately. You can talk about religion or sports or other aspects of life, but music is truly indiscriminate, and there’s just there’s a real sort of deep, innate beauty to that, especially in a world that’s becoming more divisive, more tribalistic. That feeling when everyone’s together, and we’re just celebrating music and community.”
At the opposite end to that, the residency shows you’re playing in those smaller venues must really give you that connection with the crowd again. Is that a different feeling to festivals?
“I suppose these are just all about discovering the new songs live. Rediscovering the connection on an intimate scale. Also, with a lot of the older songs, it’s like relearning them and rediscovering how to play them. It’s a gentle way in. I think it’s only the last few shows of the last leg that I was truly just in the moment. Before that, there were just a lot of teething issues. A lot of bad luck. It’s taken a while, but yeah, we’re ready.”
You can read our review of the Manchester show here.
Let’s talk about recording the album in the farmhouse using solar power. How did that come about, and what was the thought process behind that?
“Well, I’ve been reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau, which is where he goes off into the woods, outside of Massachusetts, and lives a very solitary life in nature. I wanted to do something similar for our album. As I said before, one of the main reasons was that we could be completely undistracted, far away from London so we could actually reconnect as a band, and just focus on the music and getting the music down. I had this real sort of raw, pure, wholesome experience in mind.
“The most important thing that we can do as a band is to keep shouting and pointing our finger at those who aren’t doing anything about the carbon footprint, like our energy infrastructure.”
“So, we were looking at different places to go and we found this place on Airbnb down near Chichester. I contacted the owner, and they actually had forgotten that the property was still on Airbnb, because no one ever used it. Basically, they tried to persuade us not to use it. He told us it’s off-grid and was pretty dilapidated. Like some of the walls are crumbling and there’s no central heating. It had loads of bad reviews. I told him this is perfect because it was exactly what we were looking for.
“Now I’m saying all the negative things but the positive things were that it was in the middle of nowhere and no houses for two miles so we certainly didn’t have to worry about noise complaints. There were just these pockets of farmland, pockets of woodland, there would constantly be deer going across the horizon. It was very picturesque, and sort of romantic in an arty sense. It was really nice. We ended up just having this experience of, you know, we’re cooking for each other. We’d wake up in the morning, and chop wood for the wood burner to keep ourselves warm. Everything was solar power, which is another thing we really wanted for the album. We wanted it to be produced by renewable energy. It ticked all the boxes for us.”
In terms of the wider picture, on their current tour, Coldplay have been looking at reducing their carbon footprint, and, even today, the Premier League has been looking at the number of teams flying between matches. In terms of your own travelling and touring plans, is that something you will look at?
“Oh, absolutely, yeah, we’ve done a fair bit. It’s interesting because the bigger you are, the more you can do, and the more you can afford to do because you’re using such a broad infrastructure that you can actually make real changes. I think we’ve taken it as far as we can go. On our last UK tour, all the production, the trucking, and the tour buses, all ran on vegetable-oil-based fuel, which basically took a chunk of our carbon footprint down. Then things like the lighting rigging, we don’t use any like old-school lights anymore, which chuck out loads of waste heat.
“Then there are things like our catering on that tour which has been majority plant-based, which, again, cuts down your carbon footprint. Things like no plastic backstage, refillable water bottles, all those little things. When you add them all up, it’s not bad; I’d still like to do more. And we’re still looking at how we can do more.
“For me, the most important thing that we can do as a band keeps shouting and pointing our fingers at those who aren’t doing anything, like our energy infrastructure. We can all do little things here and there, but we need to change our whole energy infrastructure. That, for me, is the main thing… to keep hounding the fossil fuel companies. We need to make sure that people know because it’s interesting that even in the history of carbon footprint, it was the energy companies that came up with that term, to make climate change seem like a very personal thing, something that we all need to do which, of course, to a degree is true, but the buck really lies there.
“They need to invest in green energy far, far more, they need to have no new fossil fuel projects. I can’t remember the exact figure of what we’re considering here, but it’s like the 30 new projects at the moment being considered. The government says one thing then does something different; it’s frustrating.”
That’s a whole different conversation completely and one I think we could do hours on that. I wanted to get your thoughts on another equally contentious subject, AI. As a creative not just in the band but as a writer and a lyricist, what are your thoughts on the growth of AI in the creative space?
“It certainly seems to have sped up recently, or at least it’s become more available to the layman. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I don’t even know where to start on that. I still need to… I don’t really know where I stand or what I think about it because it’s all happening so fast. I suppose that we can talk about the innovations and things that will help society, especially if it’s kept open source; I think that’s the key. As soon as it becomes centralized and the power structures start using AI for their benefit, where the majority of society doesn’t see any benefit, that’s just going to suck.
“I assume that’s what will happen because that’s what happens with capitalism. If we can keep it open source as long as possible, I think that’s a good thing, but then there’s so much to be fearful about as well, you know, especially when you look at, like, the possibilities of things like autonomous weapons and things. It’s a scary, scary time to be alive, but you know, there’s, there are all sorts of things to be scared about.”
It is indeed and I think those last two subjects are ones we could just have entire conversations about on their own. Just to wrap up, then looking back over the last couple of years, do you have any regrets? Secondly, what did you learn about yourself as a person and as the band as a whole?
“This is a bit of a cop-out answer, but it’s the classic thing that the mistakes you make and the things you do wrong, you always learn from. I feel like I have many positive aspects of us as a band or as me as a person that has come from doing things that are probably later regretted. But by properly learning those lessons, because I live through a failure or a liberal mistake, I don’t really have any massive regrets.
“There are certain things that would have been easier if I’d done them differently. I would love to just go back and wring my neck as a kid and tell the person to be more confident and care less about what people think. That would have taken a lot of the sort of anxiety away from the writing process and from a lot of missed opportunities. Also, I’m often very reserved, but I think I’ve gradually learned, one of the main things I’ve learned is that most people who are creative are very introverted because you have to be in touch with your thoughts. You have to be in touch with your emotions in order to be creative.
“Another term for creativity is sensitivity, you’re sensitive to detail, and you’re sensitive to linking things that weren’t previously linked; that is creativity. It’s taken me a long time to sort of come to terms with that and stop beating myself up about not being an obnoxiously witty, entertaining frontman all the time.”
Just rounding up then, do you have any message for the fans that stuck with you?
“I haven’t felt this full of energy for a long time. We feel like this is a bit of a rebirth of the band. We’re so excited about new people who have come and started supporting us and we’re so excited to have the same people who’ve been with us for what seems like forever. We’re just looking forward to getting out there and connecting with people over the world again.”
Enter Shikari release their new album, A Kiss For The Whole World on April 21st and you can pre-order your copy here.