Interview with Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari
Interview by Shannon Shumaker
Enter Shikari have been touring relentlessly since the release of their newest album, The Mindsweep in 2015, and aren't showing signs of slowing down any time soon. Having just wrapped up the massive European leg of tour at the end of March, the band will be hitting the road for a second run of North American tour dates throughout April and May alongside Hands Like Houses and The White Noise.
If you've ever had the chance to catch Enter Shikari live, even as just a casual viewer passing by on The Vans Warped Tour, there's no arguing that their performances are not to be missed. As frontman Rou Reynolds puts it, an Enter Shikari show is an onslaught on all of the senses. From their chaotic on-stage (and many times off-stage and in the crowd) antics, to their perfectly synchronized sound and spectacular production and light shows, Enter Shikari absolutely know how to put on a show that is well worth the money.
With their North American tour beginning this week, we sat down to talk with Rou Reynolds about Enter Shikari's thirteen years as a band, their intense live performances, and getting to play smaller club shows once again, only a few short months after playing to a crowd of 10,000 at Alexandria's Palace in London. If this upcoming tour will be anything, it'll be wild.
The Prelude Press: You’re making your way back to the states for the second North American leg of The Mindsweep Tour. What about these upcoming shows are you most excited about?
Rou Reynolds: Because of the nature of the European tour that we’ve just done - in the UK it was basically an arena tour, which is the biggest headliner we’ve ever done in huge, huge rooms - it’s the classic thing of wanting what you can’t have. I found myself, towards the end of the tour, really yearning to play smaller, intimate, gritty, dirty, sweaty venues again, to really get that communal vibe, that real energy where you feed off of each other. I’m really looking forward to getting back into that headspace, really.
And that’s sort of what you guys started out with were those tiny club shows versus those huge arena tours.
Yeah, absolutely. Just worked it up, word of mouth style, which is often the best way to sort of create real passion and real community around the music, which is really important for us.
Does the energy differ between these huge arena shows versus the smaller club shows?
Well, I’d like to think from an audience perspective, the energy will be the same, but just the sheer scale can sometimes give it a slightly different vibe if you like. But we don’t approach different venue sizes in any different way in terms of coming and playing the show. We always try and still make it as intimate as possible. For us, it just means there’s further to go to get to the audience, we’re still gonna do it. So hopefully it’s not too different, but obviously in the smaller venues, the concentration is on the connection and the energy in the room, whereas these big production tours are very much more of a spectacle. It’s an onslaught on all of the senses. We had these screens and were doing it in quadraphonic surround sound and everything, so it was quite something. I’m kind of really looking forward to getting back to something a bit purer.
Like you said, you had this big production on your most recent tour, and I know the last time you were in the states you had a bit of a light show - are you planning on doing that again with this tour?
We’ve got a small lighting package. We’ve got a boy with us - he’s wicked, he sort of knows the music inside out, so that’s one thing that I sort of look up to more than anything. It’s not so much the arsenal of lights, but it’s more like the syncopation, how the lights reflect and add to the music, the rhythm. That’s really important to us.
When you guys were starting off way back in 2003, did you ever think that you’d be doing these big production shows or touring overseas multiple times a year? Was that ever even a thought?
No, absolutely not. We haven’t shied away from ambition, but I think there’s that sort of British humility to the point of over-humbleness, where you almost take the piss out of people who are really big. So I think you’re weary of getting to that size. You want to keep the sort of honesty and integrity of just being a small band with a dedicated fanbase. So it wasn’t on our mind whatsoever, it was just a hobby, really. We were just playing music because it was what we love to do.
Do you think your live shows have evolved over the years?
Yeah, definitely. I think with each album, with each tour, you learn something, you build confidence. We were really reckless back then, when we were first starting out. There was basically a year - maybe the third or fourth year as a band - where we kind of felt we weren’t getting anywhere. We were starting to build a fanbase, but press wasn’t interested, labels weren’t interested, and we’d be playing all sorts of venues with all sorts of bands. So I think now, I value the energy and passion, but I’m also really excited by a great production, by making a show and by sort of pushing the boundaries of what an alternative rock show is.
What is one thing that you’ve learned or that you’ve taken with you?
I would have loved to tell myself ten years ago, I’m not really sure what I’d say, but something just to sort of build confidence. Often with our music, it’s so diverse, but I’ll have to listen to so much of a genre… Say like, Motown or something, I’ll have to become a complete museo when it comes to Motown, and know its history, and then I’ll be comfortable to sort of incorporate that inspiration into the music. Perhaps the melodies and the harmonies will seep their way into the music that we make. I think just, there was a real lack of confidence starting out. I would just say that you can do what you want. There are no sort of rules - feel free and feel confident, and as long as you are enjoying the music, that’s all that matters.
I think that one thing that we did right was that anxiety can sort of help. We used to practice literally every day after school - this is going back quite a few years when we were seventeen, eighteen - just because we were so under-confident to play shows. So it’s a kind of yin and a yang, really.
Well that sort of takes me to my next question, because you released The Mindsweep, and then the Hospitalized version later last year. Obviously it has a very different sound than the album originally had, so what inspired the Drum & Bass version?
Remixes have always been a really big part of what we do. We try to get remixes done to all of our singles and our big tracks. Because The Mindsweep is such a very diverse album with all sorts of sounds on each track, it felt like it would be a good one to have a proper remix album attributed to it, so we got in touch with Hospital Records. They’ve kind of been one of our biggest influences when it comes to the drum & bass side of things, for the last ten years, really. Because they have such a diverse range of artists on their roster, as well. They’ve got classically trained, really beautifully harmonious drum & bass artists as well as the dance floor orientated, more technical, groove related drum & bass, and it felt like they could do a really good job with the album. It was a really exciting thing to do. These are artists that I’ve listened to for years, so hearing their take on each song was amazing, really surreal.
Do you think you’ll be incorporating any of those versions into any upcoming shows?
Yeah, we do the Reso remix of “Anesthetist” live and also a little section of Danny Byrd’s remix of “There’s A Price On Your Head.” We found those as two of the most energetic remixes, and they translate really well to the live arena.
When you guys are working on new music or thinking about your live shows, do you have to sit down and think, “Okay, this song is going to sound like this,” or “This song is going to be about this”? What’s that process like?
To be honest, a lot of it is just in the moment and the song will kind of develop organically. I know that’s such a cliche thing to say. But you kind of just let the music dictate the emotional nature of the song, and therefore the lyrics.
Lyrically, your songs are very honest, whether they’re political or more poetic. What kind of mind space do you need to be in when you’re writing?
I write lyrics on the road, at home, you know some of it just gets put to the side and just becomes poetry, I suppose, outside of Shikari. A lot of the time, it’s just waiting for the right bit of music to be formulated to accompany the lyrics. It’s not about forcing something or sitting down purposefully, it’s more about taking an idea and sort of running with it and seeing what happens.
"The great thing about music is that we’re all sort of vulnerable to it."
On the U.S. tour that you guys are about to embark on, you’re going to be here during a really interesting time because it’s the primary voting for the presidential election. Though you guys aren’t from here, do you think the buzz around it will effect your performances or what you’ll be feeling while you’re out on tour?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s going to be a really exciting time to be in America. There’s so much emotion and people are galvanized, people are really invested in this. And it’s going to be really interesting to hear the kinds of conversations we get in at the shows and soak up the atmosphere. It’s a really interesting time, and in some ways you can look at it with people like Trump and Ted Cruz as an extremely frightening time. The fact that some people can still hold some of the views that they do in this day and age is quite bewildering, really. Especially with us being over in Britain, you can kind of watch from the sidelines if you like, you can kind of take the whole thing in with some perspective, which I think is probably harder to do when you’re right in the middle of it. It’s also a really promising time. People like Bernie Sanders are actually offering a genuine, real alternative. It’s really interesting - I’m looking forward to it.
Whether it’s someone’s first time or tenth time seeing you live, how would you like to affect them with your performances or what would you like them to walk away thinking or feeling after one of your shows?
I think the main aim really is just to trigger an emotion. I don’t care what it is. There are so many instances in modern life where you’re just soaked up in front of a screen, on a computer and you’re sort of detached, I suppose, and to be in a sweaty venue, bouncing off of other human beings, perhaps getting into conversations with people, meeting people, having music sort of change your perspective on things… The great thing about music is that we’re all sort of vulnerable to it. It can change our emotions, how we’re feeling, our outlooks, just within a few seconds, a few chords. It’s such a powerful tool. So yeah, it’s just an honor, really, to be able to wield that tool.
Earlier this year, you guys dropped the video for “Redshift” - have you been working on any other new music, or can people expect to hear anything new while you’re on tour?
No, not really. We’ve got one tune in the bag, that we’ll bring out at some point this year, but other than that we’re just concentrating on touring until the end of this year when we’ll start demoing again.
It was great talking, do you have anything else to add?
No, thanks for having me!