Interview with Enter Shikari lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Rou Reynolds
By Jameson Ketchum
U.K. rockers, Enter Shikari, recently traversed North America on their 22nd tour Stateside. At first glance, lead vocalist Rou Reynolds may not seem like a crusader for justice. His Hawaiian shirt, flip-flops, and amazing Vine videos present a laid back goofball. But spending any time conversing with Reynolds or tuning into the lyrics of Enter Shikari proves they are an act who have much more to say than what much of the current scene is offering. Enter Shikari are crucial to music, not only in their originality, but also in their relentless pursuit of change.
“It’s a bit disconcerting, the amount of power that you realize you have…”
After researching Enter Shikari and watching old interviews, it seems you don’t want to be referred to as “a political band”?
I think our views have changed over the years. I’m at the point where I literally just don’t care. People can call us whatever. We’ve gone through every possible genre when it comes to the press.
Since you do have a large audience and platform to speak your mind, do you feel an obligation to speak on important topics? When you see a band perhaps wasting their platform, does that bother you?
I think there’s room in art for everything, for escapism, music for relaxation, and music for everything. Music has such a wide spectrum of possibilities to it. You can create and harness any emotion you please with a couple of instruments, a couple of chords, a minute of your time, and you can be completely transformed. I certainly am not going to be that kind of coercive person who says everyone should use music to promote activism or some sort of cause. I do think music should be honest. You should be saying things that are not just copying your favorite band; it should be from your heart. I’m not saying you should be displaying everything like some personal journal, but if you want it to keep integrity, then it has to be truthful. That’s the only thing I would stipulate.
How do you maintain that? You’re saying a lot of important things, but how do you stay true to that?
I think, in a way, it becomes fairly easy to do the minimum things. If you research these things, it doesn’t really take any effort then to make sure you live by the rules you’re chatting about, because you’ve immersed yourself in whatever world and you know the reasons why you shouldn’t do those things. It’s on your mind, so it becomes easy. The tough things are, say, environmentalism, because from that knee-jerk reaction, you could say, “How can you talk about environmentalism when you’re flying around the world and on a bus?”
Is this a veggie bus?
Ah, that’s the thing. We’ve done a good five of our tours out here on a veggie bus. As far as we know, there aren’t any big ones, so when you get to a certain stage, you have to transfer back. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still be putting pressure on the industry to progress into more sustainable forms of transport. That’s one of the great things about music too, that it fuels people’s activism. The only way to avoid anyone shouting “hypocrite” to you is to go live in the woods and live off the land and don’t have any carbon footprint [laughs].
What’s your current topic you’re revved up about?
I’ve been trying to play catch-up with the American political scene, as it seems there is a lot of energy around that. I’m just kind of buried in philosophy at the moment. […] The thing with America is that they completely affect us and many places in the world.
That’s what most Americans don’t comprehend…
I find it harder to keep up with, because a lot of the political lingo is different than the U.K. There has been so much going on in the U.K. that I’ve gotten behind with the presidential race. I just watched the Hilary/Bernie debate. It’s very exciting, because for about 20 years or so, the defining view by so many people about politics was that they’re all the same. It’s that classic “South Park” turd sandwich vs. giant douche. The political spectrum has been incredibly narrow, where there hasn’t really been a massive chasm between them, politically. But now, if you carried on saying that, that’s just ignorant—both in the U.K. and, now, in the U.S. We have Jeremy Corbyn and you have Bernie Sanders. They’re offering something completely different than the neoliberal bullshit we’ve had for the last 20 years. It’s very interesting.
Was it always this way for you? Would you have this same drive if the music wasn’t behind it?
If I was to be 100 percent honest, the band has certainly infused me to delve into all sorts of subjects I would probably just not be bothered about. The main reason is fear of being wrong. When you’re on a pedestal, people are looking at you with these expectations of you, so there’s the fear of saying something stupid or getting a question about politics and not knowing anything about it. There’s that social anxiety, which drives a lot of it. That’s like the kindling, but once you get interested in it, it becomes almost an obsession.
Do you like that pressure?
It’s a surreal situation. In my life outside the band, I don’t really talk about social issues with my friends. I go to the odd protest or get involved in some things. I include that in the band anyway, because I’ll talk about it on social media and people will ask what I think. It’s a bit disconcerting the amount of power that you realize you have, and people look up to you and really listen to what you say. When we tour all over the world and we speak to people, they’ll be saying, “You influenced me to do this or that,” and some are real palpable changes to their lives, influencing what university course they picked or what job they’re getting, etc. It’s quite scary; it’s a lot of pressure. It’s also exciting. It’s a weird plethora of emotions.
You guys have toured the world multiple times. How do you keep it fresh or fun?
This is our 22nd trip Stateside. There was a period of a year or two where the thought of touring the U.S. almost sent me into a depression. It was at the height of almost having this soul-withering feeling of playing Warped Tour. There were maybe five bands that I respected, and everything else was just drivel to me and extremely homogenized: soulless, banal music. That really sort of got me down. The fact that we have our core fan base that we love to bits, that’s why we’re here, but we haven’t built on that here. In Europe, we’re a lot bigger as a band, even in Australia and Japan.
Are you the smallest here?
Of the places we’ve toured, this is the smallest.
It is a bummer to watch your videos online and see how big and epic your show is, then come see the show in a small venue like this.
It’s a different game. For a while, I just wasn’t approaching things right. This tour, I’m looking forward to it. As a band, we’ve never been as confident and happy with the music we’re playing. It’s just fun coming back and again seeing the same passionate faces and hopefully some new ones.
Does that make fan interaction different?
In that respect, we’re really lucky. I’m sure so many bands say this, so I’m trying to avoid the cliché, but we genuinely believe that the people that get into our music are really passionate and enthused about it. It must have some element of truth to it. Because we don’t really fit into metalcore or pop punk or alternative rock or dancing, electronic, etc. I think our music takes a little more effort from the audience. Then, you don’t get half-assed people into it; it’s dedication. You have to sit with an album to properly immerse yourself in it. Usually, wherever we go, the energy is really good.
You would certainly connect more enthusiastically if you saw a kid at the mall wearing an Enter Shikari shirt rather than some generic band…
With the music being so diverse and the lyrical content we have, you can tell quite a lot about a fan of our music. That’s why we’re very adamant to keep a really close relationship to the people that like our music. We hang out at merch and talk to people face to face. It’s a perfect basis for friendship. What do you talk about when you first meet someone? You talk about music. I love our music, because why else would I be doing it? [Laughs] So, already I have a really strong connection with these people.
Is “Redshift” a good indication of the style fans can expect in the future?
Not really. We had it written for a while, but we had recorded it after the album, because we didn’t feel like it fit. That’s one direction we’ve gone in, but it doesn’t say anything about the future. I’m sure now we’ll take a left turn somewhere else. We’re starting to demo loosely.
Any timeline laid out just yet?
We’re planning a trip to Australia in the fall. We won’t be starting until probably the end of the year.
What do you feel are your greatest weaknesses as a band and as a singer?
Weaknesses are probably a lot to do with mindset. Because of the energy in the live shows, we’re not the tightest band. But do I really define that as a weakness? I’m comfortable with it, but I understand it’s a weakness.
As a singer, I definitely have a lot of anxiety, but it usually comes out in my personal life more than with the band. Occasionally, it’ll seep into the band’s music, and I’ll have a show where the anxiety takes over, and I won’t be a frontman whatsoever; I’ll just be in the back on my keys, and no one is saying anything between songs. It really frustrates me, and I start beating myself up in my head and I spiral downward [laughs]. So, that’s definitely a weakness, but I’m starting to deal with it a lot better.
There has to be a lot more. We don’t plan as much as we probably should. We try to live in the moment and be day to day, so we’re not the most organized band in the world. There’ll be a technical fault on stage or we’ll forget something somewhere. It kind of reflects who we are as people really. We’re quite relaxed and down to earth, so you have to take the rough with the smooth.
What about your podcast that you’ve done sporadically? Is that something you want to dive into more?
I’d love to do it more, but it is hard finding time, especially because it’s not me chatting shit like a YouTuber. I try and give some information worth talking about, rather than “Today, I made a cake with my mom!”
You talk a lot about mediation. Is that something you practice daily?
I wish it was. Like anything, really, it requires effort and it’s hard to keep up. I think I know the good it does, so even if I don’t do it every day, I don’t go long periods without doing it. I basically had the same stereotypical views that everyone has. Is that just going, “Hummm,” and being a weird hippie dude? I was lucky enough to stumble over [author and neuroscientist] Sam Harris, and there are a couple people who mentioned it as a scientific tool, so that started to change the cogs of my perception. I delved right into it and learned as much as I could. It’s a total minefield. Everywhere you step is like bullshit basically. There’s bullshit mediation and then scientific meditation. It’s hard to sift through the New Age wishy-washy crap. “Headspace” is a great app; “10% Happier” is another good one. I just found it helped me a lot with focus, with anxiety. I started it maybe two and a half years ago, but last summer, I had quite a lot of issues with anxiety and insomnia, and I found that really helped me to get through it. It’s like a grounding thing.