We’re living in a peculiar world at the moment, everyone confined to their own homes to control a pandemic. I think if you’d said that this would happen to the world, I’d have scoffed and told you it was nonsense, but here we are.
Music is of great comfort during such trying times, and the news that Enter Shikari have a new album and tour on the way gives hope that this will all be over soon, that we can dance around our living rooms getting down to their strange and appealing mash-up of disparate genres, and that we can unleash all that pent-up energy at their legendarily raucous live shows at the end of 2020.
I only really understood that Shikari was one of the best bands in the UK relatively recently, having previously dismissed them when I took myself way too seriously and was only interested in REAL METAL. I had heard that Rou Reynolds, Enter Shikari’s whirling dervish frontman, was a passionate, likable, warm and fascinating man, and he certainly didn’t disappoint when I caught up with him roughly three weeks after the lockdown was announced, and he filled me in on hanging out with cats, his hopes for the future, and the state of the world.
But first, some confusion as to why I’m not an American…
ANTIHERO: Hi mate, how are you?
Rou Reynolds: You’re not American!
ANTIHERO: I’m not! I’m from Oop North, in Burnley. How are you doing? How are you coping with the quarantine, and how’s it all affecting you?
Rou Reynolds: I’m OK, I mean, I have my health, my family has their health. I’ve got a lot of friends who are getting it now, but it’s all been mild, before it gets scary, to the point of pneumonia, so I haven’t experienced anything too bad with anyone in my close life. How are you doing?
ANTIHERO: It’s all just scary isn’t it? It’s all a bit mad really. How are you coping in isolation? Are you keeping creative and busy or just slobbing about on the Xbox and taking some time out?
Rou Reynolds: Ah, I wish! So many of my friends, especially from this sector – like people in art and various creative things – are affected by boredom. Basically, at the moment we are doing so much promo and recording little bedroom acoustic sets and trying to work out how we can promote the album we’re about to release, after having to cancel our whole release tour and all the promo around that, so I’m actually really busy, which is strange because everybody else is going on those video calling apps and just hanging out and saying they’re really bored. So yeah, my life hasn’t changed much, it’s still very intense, but it’s just become much, much more solitary, I’m just here in my house with my cat, so it’s a bit odd.
ANTIHERO: Are you not driving yourself insane yet?
Rou Reynolds: It’s weird, isn’t it? There’s definitely been points where I’ve been pretty lonely. We’re pretty sure my girlfriend has had it (COVID-19), but obviously there’s no tests available so she’s just finishing the period where she should remain in isolation, so I’ll be able to see her soon. It’s just weird, I haven’t really had meaningful communication or experience with another human being for two weeks now.
ANTIHERO: Yeah, cats aren’t very good conversationalists, as comforting as they are. Regarding the current situation, you’ve shown in the past that you’re very passionate about the NHS, and I can imagine that this has ramped up that passion. How are you feeling about the political situation with the NHS and everything that is going on in that area?
Rou Reynolds: Well, it’s interesting, isn’t it? It’s so scary and so intense and affected our whole existence so it’s shown just how drastically underfunded and underappreciated the NHS has been in general. I don’t even think it’s specifically a failure of the Tory government, it’s a failure of neoliberalism as a whole. Since the 1980s, we’ve had this economic mindset where the Government basically steps back and we just let the private world run free, and businesses to act in that sort of rapacious dog-eat-dog manner, and health care is just such a ridiculous bit of life to entrust to the private world, to companies that will put profit before people. Especially with vaccinations, antiviral drugs and things like that – they’re things that, right now, have a lot of potential profit when there wasn’t a year ago, and that’s when we would have needed this research to be done.
Within Research and Development, you’re always looking for the blockbusters, they’re the really profitable bits of medical research – and this situation is just proving that’s not the case. We need a fully funded universal healthcare system that includes research and development and includes preparation for things like this which are going to happen again and again. This is just a dress rehearsal. If we have an avian flu that has a 60% infection rate or something, that would be a civilisation-destroying event. It would be a species changing event. So hopefully we can take this as a chance to reflect and change the many things that would need to be changed in order to prepare us for the next one, which will undoubtably be more terrifying.
ANTIHERO: That’s my hope as well, because I think that the situation we’ve found ourselves in at the moment is that leaning towards socialism probably works. Hopefully, we can take some points from that, especially with Boris Johnson in the situation he’s in at the moment. He’s in a bad way and I really hope he recovers, but I also hope he understands a little more than he has done before.
Rou Reynolds: Yeah, we are getting all sorts of hardened right wingers, libertarians and people like that who are making massive statements and basically embracing various policies that have been the skeleton, the backbone of socialism and socialist ideals for a long time. And it’s taken a massive event like this in order for those ideals to be taken out of the peripheries and now to become mainstream. We even saw an editorial in the Financial Times that was basically saying we need to seriously look at universal basic income and all these policies that have been there within left-leaning intellectuals for a while, and now it’s being taken seriously in the mainstream.
So yeah, it’s going to be interesting. We just have to make sure that…. so often in our history we just don’t learn from it. We were always very quick to fall back into some sort of normality again and not learn from the mistakes. That obviously cannot happen.
ANTIHERO: It’s definitely going to be an interesting year, I think. And after this pandemic is all over, that’s where it’s going to get even more interesting.
I’d like to chat a little about the new album (‘Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible’). It’s brilliant, and it feels almost like a retrospective of the entire Enter Shikari career, while still taking it in a completely new direction. There’s a lot of surprises, especially ‘Elegy For Extinction’, which I just cannot stop repeating. You’ve gone into some new directions, especially with the orchestral interludes. Do you feel a lot of freedom under the ‘Enter Shikari’ banner or do you think that sometimes pulls you back?
Rou Reynolds: Compared to how a lot of bands and their audiences interact and the expectations that they have of each other, I think we’re very lucky for some reason. I think throughout our whole career we’ve been given an extra slack leash that we were able to just run around on. I’m not entirely sure why that is. I think perhaps it was important that our second album was so different from our first and I think that then just sent out the sort of statement that we’re not going to be one of these bands that comes out of the alternative scene and releases the same album over and over again, I think it was clear straight away. So I think people haven’t been able to pin us down as much as they perhaps felt entitled to with other bands, so in a way we were quite lucky there. But yeah, I don’t really know why that is the case, but I am very grateful for it because for me music is just exploration, so if I did feel hemmed in by audience’s expectations, it would not be half as enjoyable for me, and I think then that would come through in the music, that it wouldn’t be as honest and it would lose some of its original integrity because it wouldn’t be as explorative.
ANTIHERO: I kind of see that with bands like… just throwing a name out like Green Day for example. They’ve come out with a lot of more poppy stuff recently. Not that there’s anything wrong with pop, I love pop, but it’s just not very good pop. It’s very by-the-numbers I feel, but with you guys there’s definitely nothing by the numbers about this album. Are you proud of it?
Rou Reynolds: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’re quite comfortable being niche. It probably took me a while to fully accept that we can only achieve a certain amount of the lazy definition of success, we can only achieve a certain amount of a certain amount of notoriety. Not ‘famous’, that’s just a bit too reductive, but our music will always be too far from the middle of the road to be able to be accepted or understood or whatever by a majority.
I think now that I’ve understood that, I’m thankful again because it means it means I can have this broad palette to work with and not have to worry about that, and somehow we still have this real, passionate and still growing fan base, even though we’re really not the easiest band to get into, we do not make it easy for our audience, each album has really quite a different sound, you know, constantly going down all sorts of rabbit holes. It’s interesting, but yeah, I feel very lucky, really very grateful that we were able to produce an album like this and I’m very proud of the amount of time and effort we put into it.
ANTIHERO: It’s a very rewarding album to listen to, it does blindside you on quite a number of levels and when those things come out of left field, it hits you in the gut. And I think that’s the measure of something that is going to stand the test of time. So kudos to you, it’s a fantastic album.
Rou Reynolds: Thank you so much.
ANTIHERO: If money was literally no object, what would you love to do with Shikari? Like with the orchestral stuff – is that the kind of thing kind of thing you’d like to do a bit more of?
Rou Reynolds: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean trumpet was the first instrument I learned and I still find myself having like daydreams, like thinking back to when I used to play in the school orchestra and I used to love it and I really miss that… that.. quite surreal experience of being something so small within something so grand and so loud. So if we were able to play live with an orchestra, I would. The guy who helped me orchestrate ‘Elegy For Extinction’, George Benson, says he’s adamant that it has to happen. I’m sure he would conduct. We’ve got to do it at some point, but it obviously is a very expensive thing to do, so I’m not sure how, but one day.
ANTIHERO: Definitely have to work it out somehow, that’s something I would instantly buy a ticket for it’s an incredible prospect! With the, with the upcoming tour that you’ve just announced, is it going to be an extension of the ‘Stop The Clocks’ tour or are you looking to do something completely different?
Rou Reynolds: This production will be completely different. We didn’t take on many festivals this year. It was going to be the first year that we weren’t going to do any UK festivals, which now doesn’t seem at all interesting because they probably aren’t going to be any at all in the UK! Our original plan was to basically put a massive portion of this summer aside in order to be able to make the show. One thing we don’t do in a studio and when we’re writing and recording is think about how to do it live at all, which is good for the creative process, keeps everything flowing, but it’s not good for the months before a tour when we have to work out how the hell we’re going to translate this beast to the live arena.
We’ll be working on that whole all throughout this year basically, and hopefully we’ll have something completely new and completely wild to unveil by the end of this year.
ANTIHERO: Brilliant. I’m looking forward to it. Going back to something you were talking about before when you were talking about the recognition that you’ve gained, I read an interview where you were talking about when you were 15 and went to the Reading Festival and saw Hundred Reasons and you were talking about how that is what you wanted to actually achieve, standing in that field, watching Hundred Reasons and with everyone just really digging it. I presume you feel you’ve definitely achieved that, but do those goalposts change? What would 15 year old Rou think of you now?
Rou Reynolds: (laughs) We did seven years in a row of Reading and Leeds and then we had five years off, which felt very peculiar after being pretty much the house band, so last year we thought we’d make up for it by doing five sets. So I guess, yeah, we’ve long surpassed that, that original childhood dream of watching Hundred Reasons and they supported us on a UK tour.
ANTIHERO: That’s gotta be mad!
Rou Reynolds: Yeah, that was just massively surreal. They were one of my favourite bands growing up. They schooled us in harmony and melody, I think. I think the goalposts always change, I think that’s human nature. You achieve something and your normality very quickly rises to what you’ve achieved and now you look on to the next thing is, it’s that sort of treadmill style of human nature. Saying that I do feel just completely content with the ability to write and release music. Like that’s really all I want, and we’ve got it, it’s more that I don’t want to lose that. If we can set our sights on some bigger and better things, that stuff’s great, but I feel that that’s a secondary aim compared to simply just being able to still connect with people by releasing music
ANTIHERO: Of course, because keeping doing this is obviously important, not just for you, but also for all those people out there who absolutely dig an Enter Shikari record, and I guess it’d be just be weird for you to just start working at Tesco tomorrow, so I guess you’re in quite a nice position.
What have you been listening to recently? What has been inspiring you lately?
Rou Reynolds: Oh, God…. well I still feel I’m a bit in the kind of exhausted phase because we finished the album in January. So, at the moment, I’m just quite enjoying other stuff. Last year was just so absorbed by making this album, literally everything else got put to the side and everything that gets neglected from your social life, from your family life, you know, any other hobbies or interests you have, just get put aside.
The last band I saw before lockdown was Bombay Bicycle Club, who I absolutely love. That was brilliant. That was at Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace). I really liked that new Caribou album, but mostly I find myself listening to a lot of Northern soul. That’s like one of the first types of music I remember cause my dad DJ’d all that kind of thing. But that’s my sort of go to, especially if I’m just in the house and like…. I’m trying to think of the best way to put this, like sometimes you have difficult times when you do want to listen to more downbeat music and feel understood, and then other times you want to be wrenched out of your loneliness or whatever difficulty it is. Motown and Northern soul are the best for that, so I’ve been listening to, um, a lot, uh, you know, everything from Edwin Starr to Gloria Jones, to Spinners, all sorts of stuff really.
ANTIHERO: One of the weirdest things that happened to me in the past few year was that I saw Martha Reeves and the Vandellas at BeatHerder.
Rou Reynolds: Oh, hell yeah! Where’s that?
ANTIHERO: BeatHerder is up North, it’s a rave in the trees, basically.
Rou Reynolds: Oh wow.
ANTIHERO: Yeah, it’s just one of those places where I don’t think anyone is sober at all, but Martha Reeves was there.
Rou Reynolds: Wow, that must have been absolutely incredible.
ANTIHERO: It was. She’s lost her voice a little now, as you can imagine (she’s 78), but it was incredible.
We, unfortunately, have to wrap it up here I think. I’ll see you, but you probably won’t see me in November in Nottingham for the last night of the UK tour. Although I’m massive and bearded and stand out quite a lot at a Shikari show.
Rou Reynolds: (laughs) I’ll look out for you then!
ANTIHERO: Thank you so much for this mate, I massively appreciate it, and it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to you.
Rou Reynolds: Thanks for having me! Awesome, take care, Bye bye.
Enter Shikari release their new album, ‘Nothing Is Real & Everything Is Possible’ on April 17th and begin a European and UK tour on October 1st.
Interview by Matt Tustin