Interview with vocalist Sam Carter | By Nicholas Senior | Photo by Zoe Dillman
Architects’ eighth record, Holy Hell, released Nov. 9 via Epitaph Records, is one of the greatest musical statements of the past few years. It shines a light on the darkness of grief and some of life’s biggest questions. Most would crumble under the weight of losing their chief songwriter, friend, and twin, as they could have after the tragic passing of guitarist Tom Searle in 2016, yet with such a powerful musical expression, fans should be talking about the British band’s future as much as, if not more, than their past.
Indeed, the last few years have led Architects to become a massive band who can fill stadiums, but all that is quite bittersweet, vocalist Sam Carter notes.
“I suppose that’s factually accurate,” he laughs. “It’s a weird vibe. It’s very strange, but we worked so hard for so many years—and Tom was obviously there for everything, even building the platforms where we’d sleep in the van. We essentially did all this hard work, and there’s almost these two stages of the band: there’s the time before Tom and the time after Tom. The time after Tom has just been like this whirlwind, because it seems like everything we do now is successful, and that’s not me being big-headed. We put these shows on that sell out, and people go out of their way to say that they love it. We’re so not used to it, and it’s extremely humbling. It’s not something we take for granted [or] feel like we deserve.”
“It’s crazy,” Carter continues, “to have worked for so long and so hard and to, essentially, not change anything we’re doing. We’re still writing with the same end goal and putting in as much effort as we could, but now, people know who we are and really like the band. It’s amazing to be where we are; it really is incredible, but it kind of is—no, it really is bittersweet, because I wish Tom were here to essentially see what all his hard work has created. We’ve always been living the dream, very fortunate to be in a real touring band. To now be on the level that we are, we’re essentially living the dream that Tom has created, this bonfire that’s been going for, like, 10 years.”
He pauses, “It’s almost like the last thing Tom did was throw this massive match on the fire that was [2016’s] All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us and the whole story. We’re very happy with where we are and loving every day. Things are great within the camp. We’ve been through some really traumatic shit, and to come out of the other side and be where we’re at now, we feel grateful.”
Another amazing win for Architects is that they found one of Searle’s best friends to carry on his legacy, Sylosis’ Josh Middleton. While the two are known for drastically different styles, Middleton’s playing on Holy Hell sounds like he channeled Searle, like his spirit lives on in the songs.
“He’s amazing,” Carter says. “The cool thing is that they were always such good friends. Josh has always been around Architects. He’s really kept the spirit of Tom alive in such a cool way. He has not wanted any praise; he’s just gotten on with it. He’s very happy to be on tour and playing music, and he’s a genius guitarist. To have him jamming with us is amazing. Also, through him touring All Our Gods… with us, it really helped him get into gear with where we wanted to go musically. He smashed it. One thing that I really hope is that his effort doesn’t go under the radar, how hard he worked with this crazy story of us carrying on. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”
In many ways Middleton was the band’s lifeboat: while everyone focused on the shipwrecked people brought to shore, he deserves credit for helping them get there.
A bit lost in the shuffle—but hopefully not lost forever, together—is Carter’s vocal performance on Holy Hell, his best and most evocative to date.
“It was the hardest vocal performance to track but also the longest we ever spent doing it,” he explains. “[Drummer and Tom Searle’s twin] Dan [Searle] and I recorded all the vocals in Brighton, so we could basically go down to our lockup and take as long as we wanted. If there was anything we weren’t sure of or felt like it needed a harmony, we just got really carried away with it.”
Regarding the pain they’ve suffered—and are still suffering—around Searle’s passing, Carter notes that pain is all about perspective.
“Pain is such a mental thing, like something in your brain tells you it hurts,” he says. “Circumstantially, you can try to find the positive in things or you can sit there and mope. I think that’s the most important thing you can do: to take those hardships and grow. Otherwise, what’s the point in going through it? Everything is a lesson if you want it to be.”
Despite tackling harrowing and emotional subject matter, both now and in the past, Architects’ lyrics have always strived to find solutions rather than complain about the problem. That approach was vital here as well. So, is Carter a positive person by nature, or is he just working out how to think differently?
“I think, when you look around the world, there are so many reasons to give up, so many reasons to not care, but you have to, because someone has to,” he replies. “Otherwise, if I thought about everything going wrong in the world, I wouldn’t sleep, you know? I think the thing with all of us [in the band] is that we’re really empathetic; we really want to help. I think the best thing to do is to state what’s happening but then not just moan about it and not do anything about it, but to give an example of how to deal with it and how to kind of get through it. That’s the thing: you can moan, moan, moan your way through life, but what does it actually get you? You have to try to take lessons from it, start thinking, ‘I hate that this happens, so I talk about this or do this.’”
“That’s the thing with [my work with] Sea Shepherd [Conservation Society],” he explains. “I was so disgusted by everything that we’re seeing with the whaling in Japan. It bummed me out so much that I couldn’t sleep, because I was thinking about it all the time. My reaction was to then talk about it every single time I could and raise awareness, because that’s what I could do. It was a coping mechanism for the absurd stuff I was seeing.”
Digging deeper, there’s a distinct attitude that informs Architects’ focus on building something rather than tearing things down for destruction’s sake.
“I always like to think we’re the answer, not the question,” Carter says. “We’re not shoving shit down people’s throats, but if people ask us stuff, we’re more than happy to talk about it.”
Holy Hell isn’t about atoning or beating yourself up for the past but improving for the future. How did that play out for Carter and Dan Searle?
“In regard to the record, Dan wanted to make this piece on the stages of grief, going through the worst of it to having come through it on the other side,” Carter expounds. “When we got down to writing it, we realized that’s not how grief works—that’s not how life works. It has its ups and downs, like comparing ‘Doomsday’ to ‘The Seventh Circle’ and ‘Hereafter.’ There’s all these really different moments that we didn’t anticipate.”
“We weren’t really told how to deal with grief or what comes with it,” he adds. “It was us just trying to figure out what to do. The light in it is just being grateful and keeping our friend alive through music and through parts he’d written. We felt like we had this duty to do that for him. The album is essentially us learning, and it’s important to discuss it and to have it out there for people who are going through a similar thing. We feel like we have this responsibility to talk about grief and loss, and basically, we just want to connect with people like we’ve done before, like with our previous records. This is just through a different connection.”
In contrast to Architects being the band with the answer, Holy Hell is all about being OK just asking the questions.
“It’s uncomfortable to ask these questions,” Carter concurs. “I think All Our Gods… was more of a world-issue record, whereas it just felt wrong to go do that now, being completely honest. For the last two years, I completely checked out of politics—I completely checked out of everything, because we were all going through this crazy transitional moment in our lives, where it was tough getting through every day, playing these songs on tour. It’s amazing to have this cathartic group to go let off some steam every night, essentially grieving onstage every day without knowing how to grieve properly and having all these people staring at us. If we went and did a political record, it would have felt like the elephant in the room, like, ‘How are we not talking about this?’”
As a band with answers, does Carter feel like Architects got any answers to their own questions over the past few years, other than appreciating how much family and friends mean?
“The main answer,” he ponders, “gets to the questions I always ask myself, which are ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ I think, really, actually, none of that matters. What matters is where you go from that and what you take and learn from that. I think the main thing that has happened to me over the years, I had to ask myself a lot of uncomfortable questions, like ‘Am I really happy with myself and what’s happened?’ and ‘Am I really over it?’ The answer is no, and I thought for a while that I was on the way to feeling better about it. When the album actually finished, and I actually had time to sit with the record and everything we’ve been through, it was heartbreaking. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us was me singing Tom’s lyrics about his journey with cancer, and the record after is me singing Dan’s lyrics about losing his brother and our best friend.”
“I didn’t take that into account,” he elaborates, “and somehow, I just managed to want to be the support for Tom when he was writing and be his voice, and then, I wanted to be the voice for Dan and help him with his writing. When it all stopped and there wasn’t that focus and it was time to actually sit, it was like, ‘Holy shit! I need help.’ I think the big thing is there’s so much awareness about mental health now, but I think it’s such an important conversation. I think it’s important for people to know that just because you’re in a band doesn’t mean you’re exempt from feeling these emotions. Everyone goes through this stuff and has these problems. I don’t want it to sound like a sob story, but it was about realizing I need to go get help.”
So, where will he go from here? Carter recently hit another milestone, turning 30, which has him reflecting on how he expected to live a comfortable life: family, house, settled. Instead, thanks to some sage advice from his fallen friend, he’s more excited about the future than he ever expected.
“‘Oh, I’m an adult now,’” he chuckles. “That’s what I felt like when I hit 30 recently. When you’re younger, you think you’re going to be married, have a couple of kids, own a house. That’s what you think 30 is going to be like as a teenager. Now, I’m in a band touring the world, going through some crazy shit, but it’s the coolest fucking thing to make it to that age. One thing I always think about on birthdays in general is the thing Tom spoke about on his last birthday: ‘Why do people moan about being older, about birthdays? Why aren’t people celebrating another year of being alive?’ That stuck with me so much. I think most people, when they hit their 30th birthday, are like, ‘Fuck, I’m old. I’m done.’ I’m like, ‘Let’s fucking go!’ You move the mark and realize you’ll figure things out as you go.”
“Maybe by 40, I’ll know,” he laughs.
Let’s fucking go, indeed. With its powerful, spiritual, and visceral statement of intent, Holy Hell shows that, for Architects, Heaven is a place on Earth.