Bring Me The Horizon Have Conquered Rock, Now They Want To Take On Pop
"It's an undeniable fact that rock music is not part of the mainstream palette at the moment."
Some bands come through in their scene with hopes to be just like their idols: the next Green Day, the next Metallica, the next Nirvana. Given the way they’ve carried themselves the past few years, it’s clear Bring Me the Horizon have a slightly different vision — they want to be the next Madonna.
No, they’re not doing nude photoshoots or making out with Britney Spears. Think more the stylistic progression: Much like Madge, BMTH have spent the last decade reinventing, recalibrating, and redefining themselves.
It’s taken them from MySpace heroes to metalcore hopefuls to arena fillers — and not many have made that leap from profile song to number-one album and lived to tell the tale.
In January, the band released their sixth studio album, amo (pronounced “ah-moh,” Portugese for “I love”). This April, they will undertake their biggest Australian tour to date alongside fellow countrymen You Me At Six and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, we spoke to Jordan Fish — BMTH’s keyboardist, as well as one of their chief songwriters — about the challenges facing the band, the keys to their current success, and the decline of rock music in the mainstream.
Describe the feeling of having amo out in the world after working on it for so long, and being in that purgatory between finishing recording and the eventual release.
It’s unreal to have it out there. We always knew putting out singles before the album came out was going to be a hard choice — not only is the album quite different in certain parts, it’s also quite varied. No matter what song we picked, we knew it wasn’t going to be reflective of the album as a whole. It doesn’t give you any context.
“I feel like we kind of backed ourselves into a corner with That’s the Spirit.”
The first two singles, ‘MANTRA’ and ‘wonderful life,’ were the harder and rockier numbers – people could have easily heard them and just assumed we haven’t changed our style up at all. Then, putting out ‘medicine’ and ‘mother tongue,’ which are two of the poppier songs we’ve written, people definitely would have been like “…hang on, where is this going?”
I think having those songs together, along with everything else, really helps the songs to make sense. We didn’t just neatly split it up into half rock and half pop — it’s a real variety across the whole thing. I feel like amo is a record that’s old school in the sense that you need to hear the whole thing to have a proper understanding of it. I’m glad people have been able to experience that now.
Was it always the plan with this record to throw everything at the wall and seeing what stuck? Did you feel like you had nothing to lose?
Not at all. Quite the opposite — we’ve got a lot to lose. [laughs] We’re a successful band, and we sold a lot of units on the last album [2016’s That’s the Spirit]. It’s easy for us to say there’s nothing to lose, but there’s definitely a risk to what we did with this album.
I feel like we kind of backed ourselves into a corner with That’s the Spirit. [pauses] Well, maybe not so much backed into a corner, but we’d gotten into this kind of arena-rock type territory. Anthemic, I’d call it.
When you get to that territory, it’s easy to reason that you should just ramp it up — bigger choruses, bigger production, bigger everything. I was definitely under the impression that it wouldn’t be a good idea for us artistically. I didn’t think it was a good career move, either. This logic that if you just do what worked before but bigger, it will be more successful… that doesn’t really apply anymore, I don’t think. A lot of bands do it, and no-one is excited to just hear the same old shit again. We felt like we couldn’t just do the same thing again — it wouldn’t be us if we did that.
We made a point of experimenting, exploring different styles and combining our separate ideas to make something that could work together. We wanted something that felt fresh and that felt exciting to us. We still wanted songs that could be played on the radio, and we wanted to write pop songs, but we also wanted to make songs that we knew would be weirder and might put off older fans. We had a lot we wanted to achieve.
As the keyboardist, people will attribute the more electronic direction on certain tracks to your influence. How much is that the case – and, indeed, are there any central figures when it comes to the songwriting in the band?
As the singer, Oli [Sykes] tends to be the one who has a vision for where he wants to take the album as a whole. He’s the one who’s got to convey a message, after all. We all have a say, though. I can understand people who don’t like it, or people who want to criticise it, might use me as a scapegoat — “Oh, he just loves synths, he does.”
I honestly don’t even consider myself an electronic musician. I don’t care about those things particularly — I play piano and keyboards in the band, yeah, but at the end of the day I’m a producer.
I like the heavier stuff, but if a song doesn’t have as much guitar or as much drums, that doesn’t bother me. For me, the album comes out how it comes out — you have to go with whatever’s making you excited and what’s making you feel something. That was guiding the whole process for us.
In a lot of ways, amo can be viewed as a commentary on the band itself. Look at a song like ‘heavy metal’: “Some kid on the ‘gram/Said he used to be a fan/But this shit ain’t heavy metal.’ You mentioned that there was a fanbase to lose, but by the same token there are some very intentionally provocative moments on the record.
I guess so, but at the same time that song is very tongue-in-cheek. The album is quite emotional and quite deep in a lot of places, so it seemed like a good point in the album to break from that. The riff was really fun, and it all just fell into place. Truth be told, the “kid on the ‘gram” line isn’t even really about how we thought people would perceive this album — it’s how we’ve felt for a long time now.
‘nihilist blues’ features Grimes, while ‘wonderful life’ features Dani Filth. You probably couldn’t have picked two more disparate vocalists to appear on the album — how did their parts come about?
The parts were already written — Dani’s part was originally sung by Oli, but it had this weird vibe to it. It was almost like “party goth”… like when Marilyn Manson or whoever does a part that’s heavy, kind of industrial, but it’s also got this tongue-in-cheek swing to it. We thought it would be great to get a metal singer involved, and that’s where Dani came in.
As for Grimes, we knew we wanted the second verse of ‘nihilist’ to be a female vocalist but obviously didn’t know who would be available. We wrote a list of people we thought would be appropriate and that would fit the song, and Grimes was right up the top of that list. We approached her, and she loved the song. She was keen to be a part of it. It wasn’t written with her in mind, but we all thought she’d be perfect for it — even though we didn’t think she’d probably ever want to do it.
Rahzel features on the album too, on the aforementioned ‘heavy metal.’
Yeah, that’s right. With the rhythmic element of the loop we were writing the song with, it already sounded a bit like beatboxing. We thought we might as well try it with an actual beatboxer, and obviously the most famous one immediately came to mind. [laughs]
“We wanted to make songs that we knew would be weirder and might put off older fans. We had a lot we wanted to achieve.”
We were pretty blown away that all three of our top choices all said yes immediately for being a part of the album. We definitely wanted the guest selection to reflect on how bonkers the album itself is – the idea of someone picking up the album, seeing the tracklist and the features, and them having no idea what to make of it or what it would sound like.
You wouldn’t think these names together would work in any way — but, in the context of the songs, they do. That’s definitely representative of what we wanted to do musically.
‘MANTRA’ was chosen as the lead single for the record. Whose idea was the Speak & Spell saying the titular word in the song’s chorus?
I think it was Oli’s idea to have a woman say it. He wanted a corporate sounding kind of thing. I took that idea and pushed it to be more of a computerised voice. It’s kind of like an EDM drop, that bit, so we wanted to make the riff feel kind of dubstep in a way. I’d never really heard that done with a rock band before.
Essentially, what you’re hearing is me doing a woman’s voice mixed with a computerised text-to-speech voice I just found randomly on Safari. It’s cool live — people just shout it in time with the sample. [laughs]
When writing amo, was there any track that you felt really sparked the creativity within the fold of the band and gave you a sense that there was a lot you could achieve with this record?
Because the album is so varied, there wasn’t really a song where it was clear that was going to be the direction of the entire album in that sense. amo is so all over the place, that could have never really worked. For us, it was more about the jigsaw pieces coming together. ‘MANTRA’ was a big stepping stone, I feel, because it was the first to really bridge the gap between the band’s earlier stuff and the stuff we were trying to do in the now.
At the same time, I feel like the pieces of the album only really came together toward the end. It’s funny — the song that opens the album [‘i apologise if you feel something’] was literally written while we were doing the final mixes. That track is probably one of my favourite things on the album — the way it opens everything up and then leads into ‘MANTRA,’ really setting the mood that way.
It was all about the ongoing process and the various breakthroughs we would have at any given time.
The Guardian compared amo to Linkin Park, Wall of Sound referenced Justin Bieber and Crookes made the comparison to Ed Sheeran for ‘in the dark’ — which, when you put it against ‘Shape of You,’ makes more sense than you’d think. Rather than speculate, however, one would assume it’d be better to get it straight from the horse’s mouth: What were some of the key musical influences in the writing of amo?
If people think it sounds like Linkin Park, they’re fucking drunk. It sounds nothing like them! Our last album, sure, but this album has absolutely zero. I think we sound closer to Ed Sheeran than Linkin Park, but all of that stuff is just mental. [laughs]
As for what we were actually listening to, it was all different sorts of stuff. ‘in the dark,’ for instance, was the result of listening to a lot of late-night, moody R&B, and wanting to do something like that. It was kind of influenced by Justin Timberlake, while the post-chorus was kind of in the style of an Arctic Monkeys riff. The chorus of ‘MANTRA’ felt like a Jane’s Addiction riff, with a bit of a 90s vibe. The vocals have more of a Britpop vibe, though. The middle section was more like Bonobo, and a lot of glitchy electronic music.
For us, it was really hard to pinpoint one thing we were listening to. Part of the challenge and part of the fun was combining the influences that shouldn’t go together in a way that feels right for the song. We wanted it to be a real mixed bag of everything that we love.
Last year, you made some comments in an interview with Music Week regarding the state of contemporary rock music, saying that the reason there were no hit singles in rock anymore was down to bad songwriting. They were picked up by a lot of platforms, and some artists including Shinedown responded to them.
There’s a lot of discussion around the current state of rock music, with everyone from Adam Levine to Corey Taylor weighing in. Do you feel like Bring Me the Horizon are contributing in a positive light to contemporary mainstream rock – particularly by ignoring a lot of the conventions of it?
That’s definitely something we were thinking about. That’s the thing at the moment — you really have to look at what’s considered to be rock music on Spotify, and there’s very little in there that I would consider to be rock music anyway. There are songs on our albums that are rock songs, but on this album there’s about four — and even those have different, weird quirks to them.
We were just trying to play a bit with what can be done as a rock band — not necessarily to get on the radio, though. We feel like we’re infiltrating sometimes, in a way — we know there are people that will hear ‘MANTRA’ and ‘wonderful life’ and like that, then they’ll hear the rest of the album and they’ll be exposed to music they normally wouldn’t listen to. They might even like it! [laughs]
“A lot of rock bands haven’t been willing to experiment or implement ideas of pop music in what they do.”
We get asked about rock music all the time in the press. Honestly, I don’t care about how bad it’s doing or how well it’s doing. I don’t feel like I’m some sort of fucking employee of the rock scene. I care about our band. None of us necessarily go around looking for fights about this sort of thing, y’know?
With that said, it’s an undeniable fact that rock music is not part of the mainstream palette at the moment. The reason for that is that a lot of rock bands haven’t been willing to experiment or implement ideas of pop music in what they do. They’re not interested in trying to find a middle ground, or even trying to see if it will work.
For us, we don’t see it as a bad thing to be doing. Why not? Why not see if you can make something that someone who normally listens to Post Malone or Ed Sheeran will hear and say “Oh, I like this.” Like I said before, they might hear some of our heavier stuff and like it too. If that keeps happening with more and more bands, rock music can be in charge again. People will get used to hearing those sounds again.
For me, it’s about trying to find something new in the spaces in-between. It’s a fun thing, and I also think it’s a beneficial thing. It brings people in — people will hear our album who wouldn’t ever listen to rock music otherwise, and perhaps they’ll want to know who else is out there. Maybe they’ll fancy something a bit heavier. They might end up an Architects fan, even. That’s not a bad thing at all — I think it’s a really good thing.
We’re not doing what we’re doing for anyone else’s benefit, but if what we’re doing does have that impact then I can’t see how that could be a negative thing.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster who never thought he’d ever be a Bring Me the Horizon fan, let alone interview anyone from the band. Don’t worry, teenage self — he still listens to non-poser hardcore, too. He tweets at @DJYwrites.
Bring Me The Horizon will be touring Australia this April — for all dates and details, head here.
Photo Credit: Janine Morcos/Supplied