From Mindfulness to Donald Trump – An Interview with Rou Reynolds from Enter Shikari
Imagine you are on a beautiful remote island for a nice, relaxing vacation and while you’re lying in the warm sunlight, drifting in and out of sleep, sipping on some cool coconut water, someone suddenly pours ice cold water over your half naked body. That’s pretty much how it feels to listen to Enter Shikari’s music in this mindless soup of irrelevant mainstream garbage – while it hurts at first, you will soon enjoy the rush of adrenaline. Or to quote the band itself: “You stop, think, begin to revive.” When other bands try to circumnavigate the huge iceberg of having an opinion – and to actually stand by it – Enter Shikari just hit the ice full force and break it to pieces. On their recent album The Mindsweep they vent about a variety of topics: climate change, the privatisation of the NHS, religious small-mindedness, social division, the British class system, and capitalism, but instead of losing their popularity, their album was praised by critics and celebrated by fans. The band proves again and again that music can, no, should have a social value. That it should engage and not numb the mind. That it is refreshing to push boundaries.
Since the release of The Mindsweep, Enter Shikari has played a massive amount of 148 shows worldwide and still plays each show with an energy that is hard to match. The band is currently touring North America – right in the middle of a heated election battle between Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Reason enough for us to catch up with the band. Lyricist and singer Rou Reynolds shares his thoughts on speaking up as an artist, endorsing politicians, keeping up the energy during the tour, meditation, and what Enter Shikari fans can expect for the rest of the year.
Melissa: You are currently touring the states for the 22nd time! How has America treated you so far?
Rou Reynolds: Christ that is a lot isn’t it! And just shows that word of mouth can still get you fairly far these days, even amongst the tumult of strident internet garbage. This tour’s been fantastic. The shows have been wild, the weather’s been lovely. Can’t complain.
Melissa: You’ve been touring relentlessly for over a decade now which must be quite taxing. What do you do to stay healthy? With your aggressive vocals how do you keep your voice in shape? Do you have any funky warm up techniques or remedies for a sore throat?
RR: Other than trying to eat healthily, (sticking as best to a plant based diet as possible) I have a few tools in my arsenal that keep me sane. Mindfulness meditation and yoga certainly help keep one’s mental health in check whilst away. Reading a book, i.e. doing ‘normal’ stuff that takes you out of the bubble of mayhem that is being in a touring band.
Vocally I really don’t do much though if I’m honest, I don’t really warm up for instance. I abstain from drinking alcohol excessively though ‘cos that does the ol’ vocal cords no good, just a snifter every now and then is all. If I have a problem with my voice I just do vocal rest – that’s the only thing that actually works you see – shutting the hell up for 12 hours or so.
Melissa: You are an avid supporter of “mindfulness meditation” and even made a podcast about it with a short exercise for beginners (I actually tried it out of curiosity and for research, and got rid of a week long headache after only ten fucking minutes of this! Thanks, mate!). Does it help you during touring cycles and maybe even affect your songwriting somehow?
RR: Ha! Glad it was of some assistance, thanks for checking it out! Mindfulness has so many benefits, it still shocks me why it isn’t on our school’s curriculum. It helps deal with stress, anxiety, depression, it can help with focus, anger management, emotional problems, loss, self esteem, the list goes on. And it’s all backed by vast scientific research too. It helps me on tour as it can be a bit of a roller coaster. Playing in front of thousands of people one minute, alone in a hotel room missing home the next. It helps balance and calm the mind I suppose. I use it on and off tour as a workout for the brain really, like going to the gym for your mind. I doubt it affects my song writing. I certainly don’t need increased focus for that, I often wake with an idea and surface from an intense writing session at 5pm realising I haven’t even eaten. But I suppose song writing in a way is a form of meditation anyway. You are very much in the moment, and focused on one thing.
Melissa: It’s no big secret that you’re intently following the US elections. I feel that for us Europeans, US elections are often such a nervewrecking spectacle because we can’t understand why some candidates with their archaic world views (like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz) are still in the run for presidency. Sometimes, it’s almost like watching a car crash in slow motion. Has touring the US given you a new perspective on this matter e.g. by talking to the locals and/or really experiencing America yourself?
RR: Well at first we meet and mingle with people at our shows, that doesn’t bring any new angles really, just solidarity, enthusiasm and people thanking us for emboldening their activism etc. But it’s when you begin travelling between the shows that you begin to see the vast swathes and towns and buttfuck nowhereswhere people truly live in this narrow-minded, undereducated world where Trump appears to have some hold. Unfortunately his playground style of politics, his bullying, his incredibly limited use of language, his unswerving devotion to ego, it entertains these people. I think experiencing these insular and culturally impoverished areas at least helps you understand how Trump has got so much momentum.
Melissa: Some people have organised a “Bernie Sanders for President Block Party” aka “Berniechella” in Coachella because they wanted to fuse music with politics and provide a space for concert-goers to get involved. Would you play at such an event or would it make you uncomfortable to endorse a politician so blatantly?
RR: I’ve no problem with using my voice to promote good ideas. In our archaic political system ideas come in the form of a human face, that’s fine. If this human turns out not to implement the ideas or at worst U-turns for no good reason, then similarly I’ll use my voice to denounce too. Some artists appear afraid to speak up whatsoever, refusing to have a voice on big matters, perhaps they think they’ll lose popularity? But that’s the nature of capitalism, it’s saturated by the ego (Trump, you could say exemplifies capitalism). Capitalism forces us to think in that dog eat dog manner, to constantly put ourselves first and to withhold unconventional or radical thinking in favour of conformity, as that’s safer and it keeps one’s nest un-rustled.
Melissa: You are known for your socially conscious lyrics. I’d say you play a big part in educating your fans (especially the younger ones) in topics such as politics, climate change, capitalism, etc. and thus enabling them to participate in a social-political discussion. Is this your main goal or just a side effect of screaming out your own frustrations?
RR: I don’t think education is our goal so to speak, probably more liberation if anything! As youngsters we grow up in a world full of divisive ideas and institutions, be it based on sex, class, creed or race. I see us as playing a small part in a wider attempt to combat these nonrealistic, antiquated and dangerous ideas. I see music as this great tool, that has been used to bring humanity together, indiscriminately, for millennia. Be it with flutes made out of bone, dancing around fires in the early dawn of our species; or in music festivals in the modern age. We are honoured to continue to use this powerful tool that reminds us that we are one.
Melissa: As far as I know,you have written all the Enter Shikari lyrics. Have there ever been attempts to involve the whole band in the writing process?
RR: I’ll often ask for their opinion on things but no. Because the songs (or the initial ideas) are mine, I think you have to keep a consistent stream of creativity from one base to keep the end product honest and undiluted.
Melissa: Some years ago, you launched your own clothing company “Step Up” which sells ethical clothing, meaning their manufacturing doesn’t exploit anyone, harms the environment and they also promote positive messages of social value. I actually bought a shirt there some time ago and was surprised how stylish and cheap the items are. So why don’t you use the same procedures for the Enter Shikari band merch?
RR: Step Up is a not-for-profit organisation. With the collapse of music sales Shikari’s main source of income (and that which enables us to continue touring) is merchandise sales. So unfortunately, it’s main aim is not completely identical to Step Up’s. That being said, Shikari obviously don’t use materials manufactured in a exploitative manner and use organic/carbon neutral where possible.
Melissa: Are there any plans to add new items to the store or even expand “Step Up”?
RR: Yes, this summer we’ve got a new release, at last! stepuphq.com
Melissa: I was one of the lucky bastards who attended your show in Cologne last month. The crowd was absolutely mad and you scored raving reviews for that show. Your energy on stage is truly incomparable. I’ve been to lots of rock concerts, but an Enter Shikari show is always a special treat. Honestly, what’s your secret?
RR: Thank you, that’s very kind. Energy is synonymous with a lot of our music. Our music is all about progress, both musically, defying genres, pushing music forward and lyrically, about social progress, about sustainability, it’s all movement, momentum. It wouldn’t feel honest playing the tracks live without delivering them with energy. It’s not a case of “how do we do it?”, it’s more a case of “how could we not?”.
Melissa: After your US tour, you’re playing a few summer festivals. Can we expect another tour announcement for autumn or are you gonna start writing the next Shikari record after the festivals?
RR: Yeh we have a few more tours after the festivals – Australia and Japan – and then it’ll be back into studio hibernation for the beginnings of the next chapter.
Melissa: Can you give us some details about the one off single you’re planning to release this year?
RR: Not really! Have a few things in mind (including a track we recorded alongside Redshift) but nothing is sorted yet.
Melissa: A while ago, you mentioned that you want to release another Phenakistoscope-like documentary about The Mindsweep. Is that still going to happen?
RR: Hopefully yeh. The idea this time is to include the full album cycle. So it’ll be a lot of footage to go through, the embryonic stages of writing, the recording, the touring… a big job!
Melissa: That’s it! Thanks for taking the time. Enjoy the rest of the tour!
RR: Thank you. Thanks for having me mate!
Check Enter Shikari’s official website for any news and tour updates. You can find Rou Reynolds on Twitter under @RouReynolds!