by Kyle Guzman and Matt Benton
Enter Shikari have traveled across the pond to the United States on the heels of their latest record, A Kiss For The Whole World, for three very special album release shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. On May 8, 2023, guitarist Rory Clewlow and drummer Rob Rolfe sat down with Music Scene Media Magazine to discuss the creative process behind A Kiss For The Whole World and the past, present, and future of Enter Shikari.
MSM: Can you talk about the creative and recording processes behind “A Kiss for The Whole World”, and what themes or messages you were trying to convey through the record?
Rory: The creative process, well, basically started off the the same way we always start really. Our singer, Rou, is like our main songwriter. He goes in and spends a bit of time just by himself coming up with some initial ideas. After a while, we get together at his house to go through the ideas and sift through them to figure out which ones we connect with; the ones we want to try to develop. Then after we've done that for a couple of months, we eventually whittle it down to about 15 songs that are, you know, 90 percent "there".
Rob: I'd say it's more like 20 songs or something. And then the difficult bit is when we go in and start recording the album properly, and then we're like, "right, which, of these 20 songs do we want to whittle down to 12 solid album tracks?". It's a difficult, difficult task.
Rory: And this time, instead of going to a studio to record, we hired an Airbnb just out in the countryside. It was completely off grid, solar powered, and there were no neighbors around.
Rob: Just fields.
Rory: Literally in the middle of a farm field.
Rob: This place was actually our second choice, and we were thinking, "all right, this space should be good enough to set the drums up in". It turned out that there was this big barn next to the main house that ended up being the perfect spot for the live drum room. So it was us four and a friend of ours named George Perks (You Me at Six, Doves, Mogwai), who we brought along to do the engineering.
We figured this is our seventh album and so we wanted to take everything that we've learned and accumulated in the past - knowledge about the recording process and the physical equipment itself. Everything that you need to be able to record an album, essentially, we've slowly but surely built up over the years. And the experience we've had has given us the confidence to know that we can go in by ourselves without needing a big fancy studio and still get a great sounding album. Which we did. But as the songwriting goes, like Rory said, it always starts with Rou. Though we hadn't actually written anything for about a year and a half during the pandemic. Rou said he wasn't really in the head space for writing. It was something to do with not being able to have that connection with the audience cause we weren't playing live shows. So it was when we played our first show out of lockdown headlining Download Pilot Festival that kind of really reignited our creative juices. And then we had a couple of, what was it, three times we went away to little places, just sort of writing camps. Just us four in a house somewhere in the country slowly but surely piecing together the album.
Rory: They were sort of writing retreats, and were great cause it was kind of like a half holiday with our friends and each other. There was lots of fun, jamming stuff we'd made up and sometimes we'd just made these ridiculous songs that are obviously never going to be part of anything. It was just fun.
Rob: Just fun being creative together again for the first time in a year and a half.
MSM: How do you choose which songs are released as standalone singles and which become part of an album?
Rory: It's never easy. With this album, the one sort of criteria we set ourselves with is that every song has to be a banger. That was kind of what we had in our heads the whole time. Like, "is this a banger? No?". Then it's out. "Is this a banger? Yes!", then it's in kinda thing. So with this album especially, a lot of the songs we thought could just be singles. We just, we couldn't make up our minds. So we went to our team, the people around us, and sort of got advice - "what do you guys think?" And just trying to take advice from the outside because once you've been listening to it, you've been so involved in the process for like two years-
Rob: It's kind of hard to separate yourself from the material. If it was up to us, every single song on the album could have been a single. So it's good to get some help from an outside perspective. There's also always songs that are sort of held back for future releases, like in between albums. But when it comes to putting an album together, a lot of it is just kind of what is cohesive, what shows our breadth as a band, what songs work together, and what songs are finished on time. That alone can be surprising.
MSM: From Take to the Skies to A Flash Flood of Colour to The Spark, there has always been growth accompanied with a bit of change in Enter Shikari’s trajectory. But, the albums all still sound like “Enter Shikari” albums. What would you say is that secret ingredient that makes Enter Shikari what it is?
Rob: I think from our very beginnings it is clear, when you listen to, say, the guys that we took inspiration from - we were exposed to a lot of different areas musically. We were very lucky with where we were all born and raised in St. Albans, just on the outskirts of London. Growing up, it was really easy for us to go into London to watch gigs of any touring band that comes to the UK from, the States or other areas of Europe. Every UK tour is going have a London date, so we were quite privileged to be able to have that on our doorstep. Though our hometown had a really good thriving local music scene that was so eclectic. It had sort of punk rock, ska, metal - everything sort of under the alternative umbrella. I think that played a big part in it. Then when we got old enough to start getting into sort of dance music, to go out to nightclubs, we'd go into London and we got the best of the UK's nightclub scene on our doorstep. So then we'd be getting into trance music, and then drum and bass came along, so House and Dubstep and all of that. It all just meshed together and we never feared, as a band, about taking inspiration from anywhere that we wanted. I think that kind of got us off to a good start, really, because it kind of meant we could go anywhere from there. And with each album we really sort of have taken from all of that.
I think that slowly but surely we've kind of honed our craft and our sound a lot better. Perhaps at the very beginning with Take to the Skies, some parts of it might have been crudely put together, but all the ideas were there. We've just slowly kind of morphed, and obviously as we change and grow as people and as songwriters our influences change. We're very lucky to be in a position where we can put a five minute classical piece in the middle of one of our albums and no one bats an eyelid. I suppose the fact that we've been the same lineup for our entire career has also helped us sort of keep that core Enter Shikari sound. We just love experimenting and sort of stretching our musical tentacles as far as they'll go.
Rory: Yeah, I think we've just been sort of fearless about what we've made since day one, really. So it's the fact if you don't have any fear when you're making music initially, then the result is going to be an honest representation of what you wanted to make. So we've kind of always kept that as well. What I'm trying to say is, we've always been honest with ourselves about what we like, and we never tried to make anything that we might not like due to any outside forces. Do you know what I mean? We've always kinda just tried to be honest - if it feels good to us, then that's it and we'll do it.
MSM: How does it feel to have an album reach #1 on the U.K. charts?
Rob: Amazing. It was a really tense week. When the week started, we knew that The 1975 and Taylor Swift were going to be in there, and at first we thought that was going to give us some trouble. When we got the positions back, there was a group called Everything but the Girl at the top. We were like, "who the fuck are these people?" We'd never heard of them, a couple from the Nineties apparently. It was so close, neck and neck between us and them. One day we'd be ahead and then the next day they'd be ahead. So, their label kept on pulling things out the bag to try, you know, boost a few extra hundred sales here and there. And then we'd pull a few things out the bag, like signings and stuff. It was really quite tense. On the one hand, you just want to think that it's okay if we get number two. It doesn't matter, we're still a great band. Then on the other hand, you've got everyone going, "oh, you're going to get a number one". Then you do get that number one, ah, sat upright. I just felt like people were putting all of this excited pressure on us to reach the number one. And when we did get it, it was a fucking massive relief.
Rory: Yeah, that was a massive win for us.
Rob: It felt amazing for alternative music to be topping the charts. Sort of forward thinking music with progressive lyrics on an independent label reaching the number one spot. Beating the pop giants felt good. It felt really good for us on a personal level, but also for our sort of part of the music industry.
MSM: How has Ambush Reality been able to allow Enter Shikari to have more freedom in creative decisions and business decisions?
Rob: It's been excellent to be able to have complete control over everything we do. Being able to have the final say in everything has been and remains really good for us. We did actually flirt with a major record label both in the UK and in the States early on in our career. We kind of found some difficulties with sort of being able to do what we wanted when we wanted-
Rory: Lots of bureaucracy.
Rob: A lot of bureaucracy in it. Yeah that's exactly what it is. The big machine just being stuck in its way and being nothing but a big machine, and then you kind of think, "oh, it is great. We're on this big machine that's going to take us to the top and do wonderful things for us". But then you end up just being a tiny little fish in their giant pond, and the big machine didn't quite work out the way you thought it would.
Rory: Yeah, that's what we've found. You are a little fish in a big pond and you kind of just get a bit lost. So this worked out better for us.
Rob: So we're the biggest fish and the only fish in our own pond, which is nice.
MSM: Which song off the new record is your favorite?
Rory: It sort of changes all the time really. Well, at the moment I think probably, "Please Set Me on Fire".
Rob: For me, it's either A Kiss for The Whole World or Jailbreak.
MSM: You all do a great job of creating set lists that combine all eras of Enter Shikari. With so much material to pull from, which deep cuts you would have the most fun bringing back into your live set?
Rob: I've always enjoyed playing "The Feast". That's a fun one off The Zone EP that we released after Take to the Skies. It really is difficult choosing a set list with the more albums we release. We kind of feel like we have to choose at least two songs from each album and then maybe some of our in between standalone singles.
Rory: Yeah, it's hard. I'd probably go with "Step Up" from Common Dreads. I always used to love playing that song. It's hard even to remember what album some songs are from now. As if six albums blur into one. Sorry, seven. There you go. Seven albums.
MSM: If you could collaborate with any artist you wanted on a song or album, who would be your top choice?
Rory: I'd go with The Prodigy, I think.
Rob: Funny enough, that's the one that was in my head too. The Prodigy have always been a band that we really look up to musically, stylistically and creatively. We were lucky enough to do a European tour with them quite a few years ago. We did recent collaborations with Cody Frost on "Bull" and Wargasm "The Void Stares Back". They're both younger than us. You find with the younger artists that they've got so much energy. We are in our mid thirties now, and while we still find the creative experiences just as exhilarating as ever, that kind of young "fuck it, I don't give a shit" energy can often be really sort of inspiring and engaging. So those two recent collaborations were really fun.
MSM: What’s next for Enter Shikari?
Rory: Well, as soon as we return to the UK we're going into rehearsals for Slam Dunk Festival. We're headlining, and we are going all out with production. It'll be the biggest production we've probably ever done, so we're all really excited about how that's going to go. After that we've got some European Festivals, which are always fun because you just fly or drive into a random festival and most of the time you don't really know what you're going to get.
Rob: Then we've got our biggest ever UK headlining tour next year which culminates at Wembley Arena, a venue that we've never played before. That was the place I saw my first proper gig, The Offspring, when I was 15 or 16 I think. So, yeah, onwards and upwards. There's more in the pipeline that hasn't been confirmed or announced yet, but we're planning to have a busy, busy schedule in the next year.
*This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
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