The GG chats with Enter Shikari about their punk, electronic and orchestral sixth album, collaborating with the City of Prague orchestra, and the cataclysmal effects of Covid-19.
As Enter Shikari sat down to write and record their sixth studio album, they could not have predicted just how resonant the themes of the album would be. Released on 17 April, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible is a sonic blend of Shikari’s past discography. Their usual punk-driven dubstep is woven through an eclectic mix of orchestral interludes and references to rave culture. Rou Reynolds' seditious lyrics ring true of the current global economic system, as well as the anxieties of living in a postmodern world of moral relativism. The album could not have come at a more prominent time.
A year ago, it wouldn’t have appeared possible that the world as we know it could shut down, yet here we are. And the music industry was not exempt - after the cancellation of their album release tour, I spoke to frontman of Enter Shikari, Rou Reynolds about the impact of postponing a tour and their upcoming album Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: “It totally sucks, but there’s no choice. It is absolutely the right thing to do. It’s annoying, but we’ve just got to wait a bit longer.”
That "bit longer" translates to November of this year. Having just announced their UK and European tour, Reynolds explained how “it feels a bit weird announcing a tour at a time like this. But I think what it does is gives people something to look forward to. We were so gutted about the cancellation of the release shows. Hopefully, come November, we will be in a much better state of affairs and these shows will be able to go ahead.”
And hopefully all goes to plan, as the album is one of Shikari’s most definitive yet. An homage to Shikari’s past while simultaneously a dedication to their future, Reynolds explains how his recent book Dear Future Historians, a documentation of the lyrical history of Shikari, inspired the album’s sound:
“For the first time I had to go back and confront our releases in order to write these essays about the songs and the meanings behind them. It forced me to understand what we’ve achieved and where we’ve come from, comprising all these atmospheres and soundscapes that we’ve created over the years. We wanted to make an album that had a little nod towards all of that. It’s the first album that feels quite definitive and all-encompassing.”
Coincidently, the album shares its title with Peter Pomerantsev’s 2014 chronicle of the unstable political and social climate in Russia. Reynolds unpacks the album’s title as “the best way of describing the current situation. "Nothing is True" is a statement about the difficulty to decide the truth. It’s created a world of distrust. Our discourse has become so embittered and so uncharitable, especially online. We’re so emotionally involved in our ideologies that we can’t have a calm conversation with someone who even has a slight discrepancy with what we feel.”
Reynolds further explains how the second half of the title, Everything is Possible, is a reference to today’s political climate. “In the last five years, we’ve had shock after shock, and in society, our sense of normality is just gone! We have event after event that’s shifting our sense of normality. The pandemic is just the latest thing. If Trump can be president, if the world can come to a halt because of a pandemic, everything is now possible.”
The censorship of productive and logical discourse that Reynolds highlights is visible in the album’s artwork. A collaboration between the band and their photographer Tom Pullen, a bust of Hippocrates is censored by bright, garish colours against a dark backdrop. Reynolds explained how “it’s supposed to represent all the ancient wisdom that we’re currently ignoring in favour of this fast-paced, short sighted, profit motive, hyper-capitalism we’re in at the moment. Obviously the censor over the busts mouth is our censorship of philosophy, logic and rationality that we’re placing second to the profit motive.”
Enter Shikari have always been a band to explore the bigger picture, critiquing neo-liberal ideals in the contemporary world. However, the thematic approach for this album is more focussed upon possibility. “Our last album was an exploration of human vulnerability and this one is an exploration of human possibility,” Reynolds explained. “Both the optimistic and pessimistic views of possibility… We try to reflect it on the music as well. We ask ourselves, what is possible for us? The album is a reach outward of what the confines of Enter Shikari has been before now.”
This ethos extended to Reynolds himself, testing his own confines by producing the album by himself: “I feel like I’ve learnt so much over the years and the producers we’ve worked with in the past have been awesome but I feel like with this album, it needed such a degree of time and sweat and toil that I just wasn’t really comfortable bringing someone else in anymore.”
Their sweat and toil has certainly paid off, pulling forth an album of such grand scope and intricate detail. Reynolds disclosed that “there were certainly more hours that went into this album than any other. I think just being able to hold the reigns at all points enabled a level of detail we haven’t had before. On the drum production, to using four orchestras, and the mixing that goes into everything like that. It needed us to all completely drop everything and be absorbed by this album. It took over my life for a year, really.”
The outcome of Reynolds seizing these reigns is an innovative blend of the various musical genres that have encompassed Shikari’s career. This is most apparent in the longest track on the album, an orchestral piece, Elegy for Extinction. Shikari’s own concoction of Holst’s The Planets and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons takes the listener on a journey through the blissful beginnings of our planet to humanity's inevitable destruction. Reynolds explained why he has finally included the classical within Shikari’s punk-pop universe:
“I’ve written a few sorts of classical things in the past outside of Shikari. It’s always been a big part of my life. Trumpet was the first instrument I learned as a kid and I loved playing in orchestras, but I think I built up enough confidence to really write a whole piece for orchestra. Even though there’s 70 musicians on this and there’s very little guitar and drums, and my voice isn’t in it at all, it still felt like a Shikari track.”
Recording in Prague with the City of Prague Orchestra and one of Reynolds' favourite composers, George Fenton, was “a really surreal experience” for Reynolds. “It was pretty stressful. We did all the bulk of the orchestra in one day. It was even half a day. The second violinists absolutely hate me, that’s for sure! It took a while to get some things right, but they were amazing musicians and such a great orchestra.”
However, these grand, impassioned notes had very humble beginnings; “a lot of it was done just in my bedroom at home. I’m still quite proud to be a bedroom producer. Some of the best ideas come out of there and it suited the album because this is the first one where we looked back a bit.” Visible in his writing process, “I can’t create unless I’m truly in what people call the flow state. I’m so excited by what’s happening that I have to do it right now! If I don’t get that feeling then the music or the lyrics will get left.” He clarified, “I find that within the world of art, you’re given time that you’re not really given as a human in other jobs. I’m given time to reflect, time to discover new perspectives about things. I think people would realise if my heart wasn’t in something I’d written.”
Looking forward, Shikari have purposely decided not to book any festivals this year and are instead using the summer to rehearse for their tour. “It’s a real big deal for us because we never concentrate on that. When we’re in the studio, we always leave it till we’re finished. We started two weeks ago playing the new stuff for the first time. There was such a vibe and we know so much of it is going to go down well.”
Perhaps in a time of such negativity, we should be looking for the positive possibilities. There is no good without the bad, and as Reynolds says, “we have to make sure that we put aside time to think about the positive things, the things we are grateful for because it doesn’t come naturally to us. We have to enforce time for our minds to do that.” With a UK and European Tour set for November, the band and fans alike have much to look forward to.
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible was released on April 17 while Enter Shikari are set to play Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on November 18.