enter shikari

We talked to Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari about the band’s latest release The Spark

You guys have been around for a while but this is our first time chatting, so please excuse some of the super basic questions we’re about to ask but…

How’d you get started in music?
We have been in some form of a band since we were about 11. Well, me and Chris – the bassist. We started writing music together about then and then formed a three-piece with Rob, our drummer, when we were about 13-14. Then, Enter Shikari actually started when Rory, the last remaining member, our guitarist, joined in 2003. We’ve all known each other since primary school and been playing music for a long time.

That is a long time. How do you guys not hate each other yet? I work with my sister and I hate her sometimes.
I don’t know… We’re all sort of laid back people and we all know where we stand. It makes it easier having one person as the songwriter and there aren’t any arguments about direction or anything.

So you all just play your roles.
Yeah, haha. I avoid any sort of conflict… I’m just like “Nah.” If something’s going wrong, we’ll be the ones talking about it very timidly, but our management are very fiery and intense and we’re like “No, no.”

I guess they do kind of have to be like the parents of the situation like “Go hug your brother!” even though you don’t really want to. How’d you come up with the name “Enter Shikari”?
The word “shikari” I first found through my uncle, it was the name of his boat. It basically translates from loads of different languages as “hunter.” I just loved that word, it’s a really phonetically pleasing word. It kept popping up in different parts of my life, so I wrote a play when I was like 11.

Damn, you were super creative as a kid. At 11, I was proud to be coloring inside the lines haha.
(laughs) I’m sure it was part of a school project or something. So yeah, Shikari was one of the characters in the play, and at one point, it said “Enter: Shikari.” I was like, “I kinda like that. It’s got a nice ring to it.” It kind of stuck.

What was the first instrument you learned to play?

Was that in school?
I did it outside of school, but like I think I started learning when I was about eight. My nan used to live with my family and I would always hang out in her room watching big band music and jazz, so I always loved the trumpet. When my mum and dad were like “What instrument do you want to learn?”

No lie, at 8, I had just learned the Rugrats theme song.
(laughs) Oh hell yeah! Everyone HAS to know that! That’s law.

But that was it, that’s where my musical talent ended.
What more do you really need?!

Congratulations on your new album The Spark! It’s finally out! How do you feel?
It feels great! It’s very different for us, it was a leap. There was a lot of work, obviously, put into it. It’s going down really well. It’s a bit divisive. I think which each album, we’ve gained a lot of people, but we’ve also lost a lot of people. We’re relentlessly progressive, though. People still think, perhaps not anymore, but people always think we’re gonna write an album like our first one again. It’s just not gonna happen.

enter shikari
photo: Laura Ersoy / EUPH.

People change and that’s expected. It’s your fifth album, so it’s not your first rodeo… Do you feel like you’ve mastered the process from concept to completion to promo? Or do you find it’s different with every release?
Ooh, I don’t know about that. There’s always stuff to learn. In some respect, this was probably one of the smoothest albums to make, and with some respect it was one of the hardest. There was nothing mediocre about the process of this album. Sometimes it all sort of works out and it’s okay, and we’re happy to have it out. This one, the music and direction was there by late 2015 and it was starting to be formulated then, and had a clear idea of what I wanted it to sound like, but the lyrics on the other hand… They just took so long.

Obviously, the last few years so much has gone on in the world, and loads of shit went down in my life as well. It was getting my bearings between all of that, so it took a while.

I’ve heard of some artists doing this, and I’m not sure if a lot of people do this or it’s some songwriter secret, but do you use placeholder lyrics while writing a song? Like “blah blah blah…” then go into what you have down?
Yeah, I guess so!

For months? Or do you try to work it out right then and there?
It’s different for each song, there isn’t a set process or routine in songwriting. Usually the music will come first and I’ll sit with that and try to immerse myself in it. It’ll be the music that dictates the atmosphere of the lyrics. If lyrics don’t come immediately, then I’ll have a melody of mine and I’ll record it straight away into my phone.

Tell us about The Spark. Is there a common thread between the songs?
Each song is different in it’s own entity, but I think the main thing of the whole album is a new, fresh outlook or beginning and connection. A lot of the album is about adversity and periods of adversity and the spark– something that could be very small and insignificant can form something very significant. It’s almost like the crack of light at the end of the tunnel.

It sounds like your music is really resonating with your fans, and they’re drawing their own conclusions. What is it that you’d want, or rather hope, your listeners take from this album?
Once it’s made, it’s kind of like a gift and it becomes– whoever is listening to it– theirs. They immerse themselves into it and put their own meanings behind some things. I don’t have a problem with cutting the umbilical cord and saying “hey, this is yours now,” unless it’s taken out of context and see other meanings that I didn’t intend or believe in.

Hopefully someone along the way would’ve been like “hey, heads up…”
I enjoy that. A lot of the time it can be a year later and you’re playing and something happened and you’re like “oh… that could also mean that.”

Tell me about “Take My Country Back.” It’s definitely a powerful one, especially considering the political climates both in the US and UK. Shit’s been going down.
It’s basically a reaction to the rise of this very strange form of nationalism. If ten years ago you would’ve said nationalism is going to become a powerful, dangerous force again, you would’ve been like “Nah, it’s dead.” It’s just been a cute form of patriotism and hasn’t been a problem, and now here we are and it’s become a real danger all throughout Europe, the UK and America. It’s a big global thing, this mindset, of retreating into your own little cell and becoming quite cowardly.

It’s normally like a macho right-wing kind of philosophy to think about, but if you think about it, it’s a very cowardly way of the world. You’re labelling a foreigner and only thinking of your walls, and what’s within those walls. It’s a weird time. “Take My Country Back” was a phrase that was used so much over in the UK and it’s just our anger at that. It also touches on ecochambers, basically, how everyone’s views will be emboldened because they’re shown only things they agree with. That’s the one bad thing about the internet: it’s constantly reinforcing thing you’ll like, or your views and that’s dangerous because people become extra fervent and zealous in their beliefs.

Steering away from all the political talk now… Do you have a favorite track?
One of the most exhilarating to play live was “Undercover Agents.” I just enjoyed it so much, it’s definitely my favorite at the moment.

Mine is “Live Outside”– I feel like a lot of people can relate to this; being so overwhelmed with everything going on and just wanting to take a step away from their lives. I want my brain to be on a beach somewhere.
That’s really nailed it. When you have negative thoughts, whatever they may be, and it’s going round and around and you wish you could crawl out of your own skull and scatter off into bliss. There’s a lot of different influences to the song, but it’s really about escapism. Especially the onslaught of the last few years, it’s just more and more.

I love “The Spark” and “The Embers” interludes at the beginning and end of the album. Apart from the interludes, how’d you decide how to order the album?
I think we have it extra difficult because our music’s very varied. There’s a lot of different atmospheres on the record and I guess it’s trying to introduce the different sounds in a manner that feels like it flows. A lot of the time, there’s a lot of serendipity there. For instance, the penultimate track “An Ode to Lost Jigsaw Pieces,” that goes through a few different keys and the key that it ends in, just so happens to be the key in “The Spark” and “The Embers” so we couldn’t believe it. So that worked perfect and it fades into “The Embers” very nicely. A lot of the time it’s just trying out different orders.

Are you sick of the album yet? Having to listen to the rhythm of it over and over?
As soon as we finished it, we mastered it about four different times, and I co-produced it as well so I was extra kind of sick of it. But then I didn’t listen to it for like two months so now it feels really exciting.

You have a collab on the extended cut with Big Narstie – How’d that come about?
We basically have a load of mutual friends, found myself at the odd house party with him a few years ago.

I mean, how else would you meet Big Narstie?
Yeah, exactly. Walk into the front room into a plume of smoke and I said, “Oh, so he’s here then.” I had “Supercharge” written for a while and I was speaking to one of our mutual friends saying I thought there was a verse we should get someone on, and he suggested Narstie, and I said hell yeah. He was great, he just came in and absolutely nailed it. He’s one of the proper MC’s that’ll just do it in one take and BAM. Which is even more crazy considering he was with us for about an hour, and he smoked like four HUGE spliffs and wrote his verse in about twenty minutes and completely nailed it. And that was it. He’s brilliant.

If you had the power to tour with or collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
You’ve got to go for someone dead, but if I’m being given the scope of choosing people who are dead, then I’m gonna go for that.  How many do I get?

However many you want. If you’re picking more than one, are they all on the same tour/collab? Or is it separate?
I was gonna say The Beatles and then also Igor Stravinsky. I think he’s like one of the first punks. He’s an early 20th century Russian composer and his music is WILD. There’s a particular track, “The Rite of Spring,” it’s a ballet and when it was being performing in Paris people rioted and walked out. It was weird and intense. He’s a pretty big influence. May as well just  throw us all into the same pot.

Who is the most influential person in your life?
Oh wow. That’s very difficult just to narrow it down to one person.

I mean, your grandma started it all.
That would make sense because there’s a song on the record about my Nan. As we already said, she introduced me to the idea of creating music myself. She was good at instilling confidence. She instilled the importance of kindness in me, as well. She was a hardcore Catholic, which was weird looking back at it now, but she only had the positive things about being religious about her. She managed to avoid all the negative things.

What artists (new or old) have you been super into lately?

Gonna have to get my Spotify out. Oh god. Mr. Jukes, the singer from Bombay Bicycle Club. It’s incredible, it’s very funky.

With a name like Mr. Jukes, I’d hope so.
He plays the bass. I went to see him the other night in London. A lot of liquid drum and bass, and the latest High Contrast album… What else has come out recently. I love the new Arcade Fire album. Just the fact that it sounds like ABBA is incredible. There’s an amazing piano duet, The Grand Brothers, but it’s really cool how they make the pianos sound it’s really textural.

What was your last Google search?
Oh god. That’s dangerous. Okay… (pulls up Safari, “What the heck happened to my body after Reiki?”) Have you ever done or heard about Reiki? It’s like a healing hands thing. I had an ex-girlfriend whose mother was very new age-y and into crystals and all that. I was playing football and badly hurt my knee and she came in and was like “Oh, I’ll sort that out.” So I was just standing there knelt down by my knee, never actually touching anything.

Did it work?
No, I don’t think it did. Of course, being British, I was like “oh great, thanks very much! This is great, good as new!”

If you had to live off one food, what would it be? I’ll go ahead and say guac, for me.

Hmm, that’s tough. I’m quite weird though. When it comes to food, I’m very happy with simple things. So some good, freshly baked bread with balsamic and olive oil. Ughhh, love that. I could definitely. I also found, that when you’re eating a meal, and you’re really full, you can always go for more bread… which is horrible.

Stream Enter Shikari’s fifth studio album The Spark below.