Private planes and growing pains: Bring Me The Horizon interview
There’s a small plane on the tarmac of Bristol airport. Outside it, a pilot awaits his passengers, next to a very small piece of carpet. This is no Ryanair cattle wagon. This is a private jet. A private jet! The reality of that is sinking in for the five members of Bring Me The Horizon, who arrive fresh from their debut performance at Glastonbury. It’s the night after the morning of the EU referendum result, but there’s nothing like a slot at the world’s biggest festival, followed by a taste of absurd luxury, to distract you from the country’s inevitable slide into chaos. The band stand on the carpet, where they take photos, posing like rappers and flashing Westside gang signs. They’re doing what almost anyone would do, considering the circumstances – they’re owning it.
“We’re ballin’, guys!” shouts Matt Nicholls, the drummer and broadest Yorkshireman of the lot. He swigs a can of cider. “What’s for tea?” Tea means dinner. And dinner, tonight, is sandwiches, which isn’t very glam. “Sandwiches? I bet Justin Bieber’s jet isn’t like this,” says Oli Sykes, the frontman. He’s wearing grey shorts and a top from his clothing label Drop Dead. There are tattoos on his shins, neck and face. And one arm is entirely black with ink. There’s something impossibly brooding about him, like an emo Heathcliff.
Oli sits alone, quietly flicking through his phone. Keyboardist and producer Jordan Fish is also flying solo, but is bouncing around the cabin. He’s had two Valium and a few mini bottles of prosecco to help with his fear of flying. “There are two main reasons a plane goes down,” he tells me, with widening eyes. “Technical failure or pilot suicide. The first thing I asked the pilot was: ‘How are you feeling? Any dark thoughts?’” Lee Malia, lead guitarist, is sitting quietly near the front. Matt Kean, bassist, is spooking people out by drifting up and down the plane, taking photos of the sleeping tour crew. The jet’s flying to Montreal, and has been laid on by the organisers of Amnesia Rockfest, Canada’s biggest rock festival. In less than 24 hours, the band will be headlining one of the stages. It’s a journey that shows how far this metal outfit from Sheffield have come. Earlier tonight, they played to peace-loving musos at Glastonbury – something they said they’d never do. Tomorrow they’re entertaining the Coors-swilling hellfire heathens of North America. They’re bridging genres – joining the gap between furious metalcore and dark, electronic-edged pop. It’s a genuine ‘we made it’ moment. But something’s not right. Oli’s barely touched his sandwiches, and it’s not because he’s wishing this was Bieber’s plane.
There’s no real secret to Bring Me The Horizon’s success. Since forming in 2004 (minus Jordan, he came later), they’ve simply been committed to what they do, and determined enough to survive years of vilification by the metal community, who viewed them as preening indie kids and, latterly, pop sellouts. But who cares? Especially now they’ve got millions of new fans. Oli alone has 1.4m Twitter followers. In October, they’re playing two dates at the 20,000 capacity O2 Arena (another thing they said they’d never do). Even the headbangers have to admit: these guys have toughed it out.
“The band was hated. HATED,” says Jordan. It’s the next day, and we’re having lunch at a lakeside hotel in Quebec, a short boat trip from the festival site. It’s a place straight out of Twin Peaks – all log cabins and eerie natural beauty. “The band’s been through shows where they’ve been bottled, or people have been running on stage trying to kick the f**k out of them.” At Reading Festival in 2008, they were pelted with bottles, bananas and camera phones, and their stint supporting Machine Head on a 2011 UK tour is similarly infamous for bottling. “That was the tour before I joined,” says Jordan. “That was the tour before rehab as well.”
Jordan is 30. He’s clean-shaven, extremely fit and intelligent. Oli – a year his junior – calls him a genius, while Jordan calls Oli a workaholic. It was out of their relationship that last year’s gangbusting album ‘That’s The Spirit’ emerged, with its huge riffs, electronic flourishes and adolescent sensitivity to the ills of the world. ‘Throne’ is an anthem for anyone who’s ever been bullied, while ‘Happy Song’ gives the finger to the mindfulness revolution. Yet these aren’t morbid dirges; they’re exhilarating earworms. “Pop’s not a dirty word to us,” Jordan says. “We needed to write that album to get to where we are.”
When he mentions rehab, he’s talking about Oli’s experiences, not his own. It’s just that Oli’s treatment for ketamine addiction was a big thing for the whole band to go through. When Oli sits down with me, it’s not long before he launches into the story, speaking with the self-assurance of someone who’s been over this many times before. “I didn’t understand why I was on drugs,” he says. “I thought it was just like cigarettes: you’re addicted to them but you stop and it’s hard but you get over it. I didn’t really respect the fact that there was a lot more to it than that. “You’re trying so hard to be the person the people who worship you see. [But] you don’t look like that Photoshopped version of yourself, and you don’t act like that confident guy on stage. One side of you’s trying to keep that up, while the other side is trying to prove you’re a good person. And all the time you’re actually being a bad person in many ways. As melodramatic as it sounds, you just get to the point where you’re sick of hearing your own name. You’re sick of seeing yourself. That’s where the drugs start becoming a problem.”
I ask him about being diagnosed with ADHD – and whether that was a watershed moment in his recovery. “I knew I had ADHD; I just didn’t realise it was a factor in why I’d become addicted to drugs,” he explains. Now, Oli only takes what’s prescribed by his doctor. “[The medicine] just helps,” he says, a little sadly. “My mind’s always full of ideas, but just all racing about. It puts them all into one place. I still take it today. I wish I didn’t have to.” How happy and secure is he feeling right now? “I feel very sorted. I’ve been going through summat quite big recently. I’m surprised with the way I’ve handled it. My friends were worried about me going down a bad path.” I agree, he doesn’t look like a man in crisis. “A lot of that is because I accept I’m a mess… Sometimes people think it’s only happy emotions that make a life worth living, but sometimes, when you’re that sad and you feel that much, it’s a lot more intense; it’s more of an experience than just being happy.” It’s a philosophy that’s attracted criticism in the past. “Some people are like, ‘How f**king dare you say that? I’ve suffered from depression for years and it’s not romantic.’ I’m like, ‘F**k you, I can say what I want.’
“Everyone has a right to say whatever they want, no matter the repercussions,” he goes on. Even racist stuff, I ask? “Everyone has a right to be racist if they want.” My eyebrows raise. “I’m not talking about when people say actual blatant racist stuff,” he says, backtracking a bit. “But when someone has an opinion and people jump on them… The amount of people you see saying, ‘If you want to leave the EU you’re a racist c**t.’ Is that true?” Oli’s not in the Leave camp. He just specialises in seeing the other side of things – the good side to any bad situation; the joy to be found in sorrow. But, then again, every man has his limits.
In July 2015, Oli married Hannah Snowdon, a tattooist from Sheffield. They danced on the beach at their Tuscan reception, and Oli sang a version of Craig David’s ‘Re-Rewind’. However, in May this year, a picture appeared on Hannah’s Instagram. It’s not clear who posted it but the caption read: “Ladies & gentlemen the man I cheated on my husband with”. The account has since been deleted. At the time, Oli tweeted, “Well at least I know what the next album’s going to be about”. The subject of marriage isn’t an easy one to broach. “To be honest, that whole part of my life is not really…” he trails off. “I don’t know how to say it. Basically, I’m not married any more. I am still, technically, on paper. You know how messy divorces can get.” He’s incredibly stoic, even through this. “At the end of the day, it’s just life,” he considers. “You can let it ruin you or you can see it as a lesson. I feel like I took a knife but dodged a bullet.”
By 10pm that evening it’s showtime again, and Bring Me The Horizon are ready. “Bands go one of two ways,” Jordan told me earlier. “They either drink, get fat, then coast it out until it goes away. Or they keep trying to better themselves.” None of them are drunk. Or fat. In fact, they’ve ditched their usual drinks rider in order to pay for a gym-bunny mate of theirs to come on tour and keep them in shape. Jordan – whose wife is due to have their first child in a few weeks – is by the side of the stage, can of Red Bull in hand, screaming at the top of his voice. A couple of Canadian bros fist-bump him out of respect for his manic energy. Looking out, the festival is a sweaty, beery dustbowl.
It’s only on the other side of the lake to our hotel but it feels like an ocean away. This is real. This is heavy. Never mind the personal trainer and the private jet and the pop songs. When it comes to it, Bring Me The Horizon are still metal. The crowd are practically fighting each other with glee as Oli swaggers to the front of the stage, savouring the delirium of utter, nihilistic misery. “The world’s in the s**t and your children are F**KED!” he screams. He’s right, probably. Our children are f**ked. But, as Oli says, “At the end of the day, it’s just life.”