Enter Shikari continue to push their art forwards and remain a beacon of inspiration on their seventh studio record, A Kiss For The Whole World.
Ever since the Hertfordshire group’s inception in the early 2000s, the four-piece have made a big impact and crafted a longstanding career in the music industry. It’s all thanks to their thrilling sound and wild live shows. Sonically, Enter Shikari traverse elements of alt-rock, electronica, and socially-aware lyricism. Whether it’s songs related to social injustices, climate change, politics or identity, frontperson Rou Reynolds, bassist Chris Batten, guitarist Rory Clewlow, and drummer Rob Rolfe have never backed away from writing music about what they deem important. When their acclaimed debut album, Take to the Skies, was released in 2007 the musical landscape was completely different to what it is now. It was far less common for bands or acts to use their platform to stand up for what they believe in. Yet they continued to make music that not only inspires and empowers people but also gives the listener hope. Over the course of nearly two decades, Enter Shikari have released six studio albums (four of them charting in the top ten UK album charts), toured the world, and sold-out London’s iconic Alexandra Palace. That’s only a few examples of what the band has been able to achieve over the years.
Back in 2021, Enter Shikari were in a tight spot, although they had released their highest-charting album Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible the previous year, the ongoing pandemic and lack of being able to connect with fans in a live setting meant that Rou & co were running on fumes and suffering from a dreaded case of writer’s block. It wasn’t until they performed at the Download Festival Pilot that the spark started to reignite. This led the band to start writing again and the end result is their new studio LP, A Kiss For The Whole World. A record that pulses with a renewed sense of energy and focus. The album manages to capture the essence of what has made Enter Shikari so unique whilst also offering fans something new. There are moments of lush orchestration, snarling vocals, heavy riffs, and infectious electronica. It’s well worth the wait and only a matter of time before the record releases on April 21st.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Cameron Poole, Rou Reynolds sat down to discuss A Kiss For The Whole World, how he hopes to continue to develop Enter Shikari’s live presence, and what he admires about his bandmates.
Rou! Enter Shikari’s seventh studio album, A Kiss For The Whole world is out very soon. As the record materialised following a state of creative block during the pandemic and whilst not being able to perform live, do you think that penning this record has made you learn new things about yourself as a songwriter/producer? Some people may think that when you’re seven albums deep you know everything about your craft but I don’t know if that’s a fair view as ‘every day is a school day’, if you will…
Yes, for sure.This was the first album that we did DIY to the point that it was literally just the four of us and our engineer George. On the previous album I had produced, I had so much help. I had assistants, producers, all sorts of engineers and mixers, whereas this album was really just the four of us and our engineer in this old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, down near Chichester. So in that respect, we managed to capture that wonderful sort of naivety that we probably haven’t felt since we were recording our own EPs in our bassist’s mum and dad’s garage when we were sixteen. It was very much a lot of experimentation. Every time you go into a studio with or without a producer, there’s always going to be certain ways the studio works – the studio uses this mic on an instrument, the drums are set up in a certain area – so you’re immediately sort of ushered into techniques, ways of working, and scheduling.
Whereas on the making of this new album, we had a complete sort of authority, I suppose. That was just something that was really wonderful to experience, even to the point that the house, the little farmhouse we were using, was completely off-grid. It had no central heating or anything so we had to chop wood to put in a little wood burner to keep us warm and it was all solar-powered. So we couldn’t record guitar and boil a kettle at the same time. It was just this really different experience. I’ve been reading a lot of Thoreau, especially his book Into The Woods where he went off and lived outside in Massachusetts in the woods by a pond for a few years. We were just really inspired by that whole thing, which was strange, coming out of a pandemic to go off and live a solitary experience. It was very different from any of the other albums we’ve done.
It’s interesting you all picked a location like that as you could have chosen any high-tech studio you wanted. I would imagine that there had to be a tight schedule in place if it was a farmhouse running on solar power?
We didn’t go as far as making rotas or anything like that but I think we know each other so well now that we sort of know when we have to chip in and things like ‘oh, this person should make dinner tonight because they haven’t put the time in the kitchen’ or ‘this person should drop the wood’, it’s so weird, It just sort of happens naturally. It is funny because a lot of criticisms of different periods where sort of some kind of socialism, communism or some description has been tried or even in technocracy, one of the things that usually prevents much progress is the bureaucracy and everything has to be scheduled and everything has to go through layers and layers to get a yes. But it was weird, I mean there are only five of us, so it’s very different from a functioning society but we just sort of managed to function really naturally at this point.
We all just kind of get stuck in and it just happens easily. You just have to be aware of others, you have to be empathic and I suppose one of the main things is you have to be excited as well. We were all so excited to be there, we all wanted to do everything at every occasion. So it just all just kind of fell into place. If you weren’t recording then you were probably either preparing a meal or chopping wood. There was always something to do. A lot of the things we did are quite meditative or relaxing anyway, we had a couple of dogs with us. So going for walks or runs was all part of the daily routine as well. So it just all kind of fitted into place really without much effort.
When I was in school I used to borrow my older brother’s iPod Classic and my first introduction to Enter Shikari was via his iPod as he had Take to the Skies and Common Dreads on it. In my humble opinion, I feel that A Kiss For The Whole World pushes the band forwards but it also subtly includes a few sonic elements and lyrical throwbacks linked back to the few albums. I could be completely wrong but I’m curious to know what you think?
I think the sort of palette that we have, in terms of our instrumentation of the timbres that we’re able to achieve, It’s growing and that’s an unconscious and conscious thing. I’ve always been lucky to have had so many different musical influences from a young age. I do feel comfortable in lots of different styles of music but I’m also very fidgety and always wanting to be learning more. So it’s something that’s always blossoming. I think a lot about creating and sustaining the kind of Enter Shikari universe. I’m trying to think of the right sort of analogy, would Star Wars be so successful if every film was like new characters, new planets, and new storylines? I don’t think it would be potentially. You feel indebted into people’s stories and you want to know how people sort of change and how people’s personal stories meander and personal growth, how it all kind of comes out really.
For me, it’s really important to keep having those little nods back. There are some very specific and obvious lyric callbacks to previous songs on previous albums. I think musically as well, it’s important to kind of keep almost like a sense of the geography of where you’ve come from and what you’ve done and make sure that isn’t lost. As interesting as it probably would be to make an album that was completely different and had no resurgence of anything, not even a bit of residual inspiration from previous material, It would just be strange and you kind of lose a sense of your bearings, I think. As human beings we like a story, we like to know where we are, we like to progress with the characters, with the kind of various adversities that people have to overcome and everything. Yeah, so it’s always been something that I think we do think about.
My personal favourite on the new record is probably the title track or goldfish. An honourable mention goes to the Feed Your Soul track as well, it slaps, I only wish it was longer. Simply, what unreleased tracks are you particularly excited for fans to hear/to play live?
So far, we’ve played (pls) set me on fire and It Hurts on the little first leg of the tour we did the other week. I don’t remember songs going down so well so quickly before. I’ve got a terrible memory, so maybe that’s something to do with it [laughs]. It just felt electric, as songs they’re very upbeat, and they’re kind of easy to get into perhaps on some level. It was so much fun playing those. I’m just feeling massively grateful to be able to play the songs so quickly because when Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible released, we didn’t get to play any of that until a year and a half after it was released which is such a foreign, strange position to be in. It was so frustrating as well because I don’t think you truly know a song until you play it live. It doesn’t reach its final form until you hear it live and you see the world that it is supposed to live in. So the fact that this time we get to play new music fairly quickly after we release it, I’m just like ‘thank fuck’. It’s much so much nicer to do it like that and to live and breathe the songs straight away. I think I’m excited about playing it all.
I think for me, Jailbreak would be my choice. I remember when I was making it, I was just constantly imagining it live. It has such a kind of upbeat, thrilling sort of nature, and I can’t wait to play that live. But as you said, Feed Your Soul and those kinds of electronic moments and its parental song Leap into the Lightning, I think that’s going to be so interesting to hear that live and hear how the sort of lightning laser sounds work and see how much of the venue’s ceiling is going to pave in after we bring in our extra subs and stuff. I’m just super excited about it all.
Enter Shikari has continued to stand the test of time for numerous reasons. One particular reason that comes to mind is – the band’s musical discography and your lyricism has always been extremely progressive and you’ve never been afraid to speak up on important topics such as politics, global warming, capitalism and other societal issues. If you look back on the last few years/ decade alone, it feels like there has been some change. People are calling out politicians, and standing up for causes in person and online. We’ve also seen the rise of important figures like Greta Thunberg. Do you feel like Enter Shikari has played a positive role in impacting the music scene and inspired others so far?
Well, it certainly doesn’t feel so lonely anymore. Go back ten years or go back fifteen years, we were completely berated for having lyrics that were kind of socially conscious or were political commentary in some way. We felt apart from the scenes that we were always inspired by, so within hardcore punk, there’s a lot of political commentary but because we weren’t just a hardcore punk band because we had all these pop sensibilities and other things going on, I think people for whatever reason, didn’t feel that it was our place. Back then it was completely normal, constant and relentless to hear the phrase ‘stick to the music’. You just don’t hear that phrase anymore. People of all stars of music and even in mainstream pop, are speaking out about a myriad of issues. So the whole landscape has changed tremendously. I can’t say that we have ownership of any of that broader change. But I think over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many different fans of our band that have been influenced in all sorts of ways. I think it’s a very normal thing for artists to be told face to face by a fan that their music has saved their life or inspired them to do this and that It’s an incredible thing to sort of realise how powerful your art is.
I think with us as well, it’s had a very real influence on people’s life choices. I’ve met people towards the end of last year when we brought out our biography by Luke Morton, which was a great experience. We got to do lots of book signings and meet loads of people. In the space of five minutes, I remember at this one book signing, I met an NHS doctor and then a few more people. I was speaking to someone who was studying Geoengineering and ways that we can combat climate change in the future. After that, it was someone who worked in another aspect of green energy, and then someone who went into charity work, and all of them said – I take it with a pinch of salt – but they all said that we were the main influence in terms of opening up their worlds and making them sort of go down their career paths. Now, I’m sure they had lots of other influences as well but the real tangible impact you have on people’s lives can be quite incredible and affecting. That kind of stuff is almost hard to describe, it makes me feel in a way quite scared that we have so much power over some people [laughs] but it makes me feel so connected with people and so proud of the broad audience that we’ve built up and the impact that we’ve had.
I wanted to bring that first factor up anyway because as an outsider looking in over the years, I feel Enter Shikari has played a positive part. The band has always spoken up about the causes you believe in and remained authentic and genuine. It’s lovely!
For me it’s sort of a cyclical energy thing, there are a lot of people within activism, especially in the sort of youthful surge of activism whether it’s Extinction Rebellion or people involved in all sorts of groups, there will always be a few people who will contact us and thank us for this song or this song that has kind of motivated them and kept them energised in terms of fighting. Being an activist is fucking hard work, emotionally and physically. Us connecting with these people and hearing their stories of how the music motivates them, motivates us directly. For instance, a track on the previous album, Crossing the Rubicon is all about the youthful surge in activism. Yeah, so it’s kind of a cyclical thing, we motivate people, people motivate us, and it keeps going. It’s great.
The other factor is that your live shows are so exhilarating and fun. How do you hope to continue to develop the band’s live presence when they’re already at such a high standard?
Good question, it’s something we think about a lot, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Even at the moment, I’m hoping you can’t hear it but you might be able to hear the drums going off in the background because I’m at our rehearsal space; we’re constantly deliberating over the setlist. At the moment we’re planning our Slam Dunk headline show and the production for that. We always want to give people something that will make people walk about feeling like they’ve had one of the best nights of their lives, if possible. We are always aiming very high and trying to push the boundaries, whether it’s doing the quadrophonic surround sound a few years ago, or doing interesting things in terms of lighting and how in sync it is with the music and having little interludes and ways the sets flow. There are also things like the quick-fire round where we basically emulate a DJ set and try to fit four songs into the space of eight minutes.
There’s always stuff that we’re trying to do and it’s good because it keeps it interesting for us, it keeps it fresh and a little bit dangerous. You never want to get so comfortable with a setlist or live show where you’re going out there as an actor rather than a musician. One of my biggest fears and hatreds is having to go out and feel like you’re just going through the motions. That’s why, for instance, we stopped playing Sorry You’re Not A Winner, we played it at every show we had ever done and we just don’t feel the song anymore, we were just going out, going through the motions and we didn’t feel authentic. It wasn’t what we want to do. All of that type of stuff is really important to us, that passionate drive that just keeps us wanting to keep moving forward and keep experimenting.
Simply, what do you admire the most about your bandmates Rob, Rory and Chris?
We’ve got to a stage now where what we bring to the band is that we all fit together and have such specific strengths; we work so well together. Chris is probably the most cautious of us all but then that may be because he does a lot of the live set programming so he brings what is often a much-needed caution, a sense of responsibility and “are we taking on too much?”. He’s very level-headed and is an incredibly easy person to speak to. He’s charming, has a calming demeanour and is really kind. Then Rob is exactly what you would expect from a drummer in an old-school rock and roll sort of way. He’s the backbone of the band. He’s certainly the most extroverted of us all and he’s always just been a hilarious ball of ridiculousness but he has a real sense of empathy as well. Sometimes I can walk into a room with Rob and feel like twice the person I am because he’s there omitting this confidence-building energy. Over the last few years, Rob has gone on such a journey in terms of his drive as he was always an artist over a drummer, he wasn’t your drummer’s drummer, so to speak. He didn’t put much effort into becoming a better player and learning his rudiments, doing everything by the book but over the last few years he’s become incredibly dedicated to his instrument and to rhythm in general which has been fascinating and inspiring.
Rory is like Mr. Fix-it of the band. He is the most mechanically minded and he can come up with really interesting solutions to all sorts of problems whether it’s a physical problem where something to do with our show is broken or something else behind the scenes. He’s got an incredibly empathetic, calming demeanour as well. Very funny and dedicated. Chris and Rory both have families and kids so over the last few years they’ve had to do this sort of negotiation of their time, between their families and the band and they’re both so dedicated; they put so much work and effort in. As I speak Rory is somewhere downstairs programming the lighting for the next leg of the tour because we’re pretty much doing a completely different set, just to make our lives easy [laughs]. It’s all still very much a big DIY behemoth, really. But we do just work closer and better than ever, I’m very grateful to have them by my side in this beast that is Enter Shikari.
Finally, at this point in time, what are you grateful for in life and what excites you about the future?
I’m grateful for so much. I’m grateful for my loving family and I’ve just gushed about my band members so that’s enough, I’m still in the same band I was in when I was fifteen or sixteen and not many people can say that so I’m very grateful for that. Also, my partner. I don’t think I have ever been in such a strong, healthy relationship before so it’s been so nice and gives such mental energy when you don’t have to worry about the main connection in your life, effectively. To write this last album was a big thing because as you mentioned in the beginning, I went through a period of not being able to write and I know it happened to a few creatives during lockdown although I think it was a smaller percentage; I think most people were incredibly productive but it was a really scary time.
It was scary for everyone but on top of all the fears we all had, I didn’t have my one route of catharsis for feeling a sense of purpose and being able to lose myself and write music so not having that was really quite grim. At the moment I’m massively grateful that the trigger, the urge and the ability to create, really came back after we started playing shows again. To have written an album was so full of not just excitement but relief, it was like ‘Thank god I’ve got this creative muscle back’. Now, we get to release music again and we get to play it for people, I’m just full of anticipation and excitement.
A Kiss For The Whole World is out April 21st. Follow Enter Shikari @entershikari
Interview by Cameron Poole
Photography by Jamie Waters