Interview: Enter Shikari: We’re Sick of Traditional Marshall Metal Guitar Sound (Ultimate-Guitar)

UG exclusive: “We wanted to stay completely clear from [it].”

Enter Shikari: We're Sick of Traditional Marshall Metal Guitar Sound
Enter Shikari singer Rou [rhymes with wow] Reynolds was going through some dark times. Enduring the pain of a general anxiety disorder, depression and a sense of loss, he channeled those paralyzing emotions and used them as the core of the music on the band’s newest “The Spark” album.
“Yeah, art can really benefit from that kind of thing,” Reynolds says about an artist channeling negative feelings and turning them into something positive. “My favorite quote for that is from the poet Yeats who said, ‘Only an aching heart conceives a changeless work of art.’ It’s true if you really want to connect with people. It’s not easy but it’s very beneficial and it’s a beautiful way to do that via music I think. When you’re going through a period of hardship, that always seems to make you sort of desire human connection more and art is the best way to do that.”

“The Spark” exposes Reynolds lyrically and reveals more personal elements of his character than he’s ever written about before. In addition, the approach to the music is different inasmuch as the band – Reynolds, guitarist Rory Clewlow, bassist Chris Batten and drummer Rob Rolfe – has tried to steer clear of the typical guitar tones and textures most post-hardcore bands tend to favor. The band brought out vintage synths and classic guitar pedals in order to achieve a much different sound.

Here, Rou talks about the album, writing songs, guitars, and answers some questions from the readers.

You had said you were trying to write the best songs instead of trying to be the most technical on this album. Did you achieve that?

A lot of it is just taking the pressure off yourself. It’s not really a competitiveness but there’s this compelling drive of wanting to constantly push yourself like you’re saying to be the most technical or the most extreme or the most heavy.

Is it because you want to be heavier than the other bands out there doing similar things?

I think a part of that possible comes from a lack of self-confidence or this feeling that we have to prove ourselves in the most extreme ways and get people’s attention in the most bold, immediate ways. Whereas in the last few years, I think our confidence has risen quite a lot as a band and myself as a songwriter and as a singer as well. I just wanted to focus on the vocal a lot more and the melody and have a simpler structure of the songs and just make everything more lucid.

What is your songwriting process?

I’m quite a solitary songwriter. I’ll come up with a full demo of a track and then take that to the guys and explain what I’m trying to do with it. Then we’ll take it on further and polish it together. A lot of the time it’s just me with a laptop and a guitar or keyboards or just in my head and then getting that down into Logic and then starting to pass it ’round to the guys.

What is the actual recording like?

We did a few weeks together of polishing the demos I’d done. We’d done a lot of that really in Rory’s garage in London. The we got together with the guy I co-produced the record with – David Kosten – and we talked through the songs and the atmosphere of the record as a whole. He really helped to channel what we were trying to do and get our heads in gear. He was really great at experimentation and pushing us. He has an incredible synth collection of vintage modular synths and we found that really inspiring.

David Kosten sounds like he was a really important part of the record.

He told us this was special and we have to follow this vision through and not dilute it with trying to second guess what people will like and dislike. It was all very much about what we were into.

Do you play guitar on record?

Yes. One great thing about David as well is if something sounds great on the demo he’ll say, ‘Well there’s absolutely no point in trying to recreate this in a slightly more polished way.’ He’s all about the vibe and the atmosphere so even if something wasn’t recorded on the best mic in the game, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about how that recording makes you feel and what it evokes. So yeah, a lot of my original guitar parts made it onto the final record but the bulk of it was still very much Rory.

How do you and Rory work out guitar parts on record?

It’s a constant conversation between me and Rory from the start until finish. I was very particular about guitar tones for this record. I think both of us were just so fed up with touring and having to be exposed to what we thought was really banal, recycled, boring metalcore bands. We wanted to stay completely clear from any sort of traditional Marshall metal guitar sounds. We were just so sick of it.

You do tend to hear the same kind of guitar sounds in metal.

So yeah, a lot of the guitar tones on this record were from vintage amps or we just spent a while making with various pedals. We were very lucky to have our engineer who’s done our last two albums and also tours with us, Tim Morris, who has an incredible guitar pedal collection and he had the most obscure pedals. Yeah, that was really important for this record to have the guitars really sounding completely different from stuff we’d done before.

Were you going after any particular kinds of guitar sounds?

Probably the main influence for guitars was Graham Coxon from Blur. A lot of that stuff from the pop era was a big influence.

You talk about being influenced by Graham Coxon but do you have any interest in the guitarists from the 1960s? Jimmy Page? Jimi Hendrix?

Yeah, I think so. Certainly when I started playing, those were the types of things I listened to. Start with chord books whether it was the Beatles all the way to more modern stuff like Oasis. Then getting into more lead stuff with Hendrix. I can’t say it’s something I listen to everyday but that era was formative early on in helping me learn the ropes.

Talking about playing, what is an instrument you can’t play but wish you could?

That’s a good one. Someone asked me yesterday if I could play the bagpipes.

Can you?

I’ve never had the honor of even attempting to play bagpipes but that would be quite a lot of fun. I think I’ve got a good set of lungs and I could play the trumpet. I think I could get some sort of sound out of it.

That was a reader’s question and here are some more: You can save one guitar, one amplifier and on pedal from a fire in order to play a gig. What do you save?

Oh, geez. Wow. It depends what it is. If it’s Shikari then Rory bought a new Telly and I’m not very good with model names and things. But he got a new Telecaster, which is custom sprayed with our album artwork and it just looks gorgeous. I can’t remember the pickups he’s got but he’s really, really happy with it. It’s one of the guitars he used on The Spark and that’s really cool live.

That’s what Rory would save – what would you save?

If it was me on a more personal scale, we’re doing a lot of acoustic and stripped-back sets at the moment. I’ve got a beautiful acoustic, just a simple Ibanez with a quite deep body because I do a lot of the percussive acoustics and that sort of progressive style. That’s a stereo out on the guitar so one side is just the pickup and then it’s got five mics inside the body of the guitar to pick up all the percussive elements. I got that one custom-made so that’s sort of my baby. That’s the one I would rush in to save. Amps and pedals? That’s more of a Rory question.

Do you remember the first guitar you ever got?

Yes, I do. It was a Squier, which I think is everyone’s first guitar. Just a black-and-white sort of Strat-looking Squier. I had some glue and I just stuck on pictures of my favorite guitarists at the time.

Whose pictures did you glue on?

Noel Gallagher was on it and Jimi Hendrix. I was 10 or 11 at the time and I think I’ve still got that somewhere.

If you could take one guitar lesson from any guitarist living or dead, who would that be?

Wow [takes several moments to answer]. I dunno, man. That’s really tough. Tom Morello I suppose was my first guitar hero. Having grown up just learning chord books and Beatles stuff and then discovering more modern music like Rage, that just sort of blew me away. For a while, he was the person I idolized in terms of his tones and his effects. We were very lucky because we got to tour with them in Australia for the Soundwave Festival. We got to work with them every day and I think Rory got to hang out with them. We actually shared a guitar tech for a while.

If you could play one show with any other band, which one would you join?

Damn, umm, I’m not sure. The thought of playing in any other band always terrifies me. I love doing it in the studio but when it comes to live, I always get so nervous. I don’t really get nervous at all with Shikari anymore because it’s just what we’ve done for 10 years. It’s fine but when I hop onstage with another band, god, I’m pissing myself. I’d probably just avoid that, hahaha. That’s not really answering the question but it’s the truth.

That’s cool. Do you remember the first record you ever bought?

I remember getting Definitely Maybe by Oasis on tape actually at a gas station when I was about nine or 10. I used to listen to that in my Walkman.

Now you’ll be out on tour in support of The Spark?

Yeah, we’ve got the rest of October to program our set for our tours in the UK and Europe in November and December. That’s kind of a big deal for us because it’s another arena tour and we’re doing surround sound, which is what we did on the last one. It was such a success even though it was three months of hard work and programming, it was brilliant. We’re going to do that again and we learned a lot before. Then we’re coming back to North America in January and February and just more touring in Australia and I think Japan is on the cards next year and festival season and everything else. So yeah, it’s gonna get quite intense.

You said you don’t really get nervous performing with the band anymore but when you go out on the road and you’re performing new songs for the first time, what does that feel like?

There’s definitely some anxiety there. You always feel, ‘Do I know the lyrics well enough yet? Am I gonna mess something up?’ because we haven’t played those songs at all yet. So yeah, we’ll be a little nervous for that. We’ve played four songs from ‘The Spark’ at album release shows we’ve done in New York and Toronto and those went really well. I was so surprised people already were singing along to the choruses. I think that gave us a bit of a confidence boost.

Thank you so much. Sing all the good notes.

Awesome. Thank you so much, man. Thank you for having me.

“The Spark” was released on September 22 as the band’s fifth studio album. You can check out the “Live Outside” lead single below.

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