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Inside The Mind Of Oliver Sykes

Ben Patashnik
Ben Patashnik 28 September 2010 at 17.40

Okay, internet, we get it - some of you love Oli Sykes and some of you think he’s the Antichrist of music. There’s no denying, however, that he’s one of the most fascinating people in metal today - is he a leader, poser, fraud, figurehead, genius, charlatan, hero, villain or all of the above? Here in an extensive interview he talks about his childhood, his fears and the catharsis of screaming.

Now the record is unveiled, is the finished product what you always wanted it to be or did it change?
“We had a few time delays with it, and that was a lot down to my voice and not having enough time the first time round in Sweden to finish it. We’ve added so much different stuff so there are more elements, more layers, and it took longer than I anticipated. It’s still pretty straight-up metal but there’s a lot of clean parts, some electronica and we brought a choir and orchestra in so it took longer. We didn’t have time with my voice and it was a lot of pressure so we had to do some more in LA just before Warped. It took a bit longer but we got to do some extra stuff and have extra people on the CD, and if we’d finished in Sweden we wouldn’t have got to do that. Everything worked out for the best.”

How did you feel when you realised more had to be done on it and you had to go to LA?
“We were trying to do it England when we were meant to have a bit of time off but I was trying to get my vocals so we could record. My voice either wasn’t coming through or the studio wasn’t up to the standard of what we did in Sweden. It got really stressful and it was a lot of hard work.”

How long did that stress last?

“Up to the final bit I recorded. We had to just do it. We had three days and I had to do six songs in three days, from 10 in the morning to 1 at night, screaming constantly. I was throwing up from screaming so much, it was crazy. Before that, when I was in England I got really negative about everything and I couldn’t even listen to the CD. It got to the end of my tether and I wanted to give up almost, but when it was finished and I could listen to it with a fresh mind it was a good feeling, because I realised we’d made something pretty special.”

How close to giving up were you? Did you discuss it with the rest of the band?
“I don’t think it was something I thought I’d ever do, but I guess my company Drop Dead, there’s always something going on with that even though it’s nowhere near as important to me as the band is, and at the same time I hate talking about my clothing company but I guess it’s relevant. The summer range was coming and I just wanted to fucking… nip one in the bud. I got through it but it was just a lot of pressure.”

Why do you hate talking about Drop Dead?
“Rock Sound is a music magazine and I like to keep it separate. I don’t want to promote it. I’m just weird about it. There’s a lot of people that [have something similar] and they would want to talk about it and promote it, but I don’t.”

The kids at BMTH shows look like you, they dress like you and they look at you and the band as a constant in their lives… can you shut that out?
“[Long pause] It’s odd. When we wrote ‘Suicide Season’, we weren’t writing lyrics to try and help people or get anyone through anything but the amount of people who have come up to me since and said a particular song has helped them through something or kept them alive. It’s weird to hear that, because it’s all from my personal experience.”

Does your music help you get through things?

“I think it does. Maybe not when we’re recording but playing live, definitely. I’m not an angry person, but all the things I scream about, if I didn’t get to scream about them every day as a release, I don’t know where all that anger would go or what sort of person I’d be. Even on Warped, all the partying we do, there’s never a point in my day when I’m happier than when I’m onstage.”

It’s all kicking off for you guys again… are you prepared for another onslaught of attention?
“I hadn’t thought about it until you just said it. It’s been really quiet for us, so we have to take it as it comes. We’re going to have to work a lot harder as people start listening to the album and start dissecting the lyrics, and I don’t think I’ll be prepared to tell anyone. At the end of the day I wrote that stuff on the record because that’s where I want it to be. I don’t want to personally talk about it to another person.”

Will people find that hard to take? You’re putting something out there and they’re going to want an explanation.
“They’ll say I’ve said something so they have the right to an explanation, but I don’t agree with that. I wrote it down to vent it there and to scream about it, and I don’t owe anyone an explanation. That’s not something I have to give. The lyrics can be read and interpreted in whatever way people want, but I’ll always know what they mean and I don’t want other people to know in great detail.”

Being the size band you are, there’ll be people who think they have the right to tell you and your band what you think you should do…
“That is definitely an issue and it’s definitely something we battle with. We care about every aspect of our band and it can get to a point where a band gets big and they lose control when people take stuff away from them, like merchandise. We don’t want to give our rights away. We get offered these stupid contracts for a lot of money, and our management is amazing, but there are points when we struggle because there’s some stuff that benefits us financially but we don’t want to do that, like band supports - when a band can pull a certain amount of people we might not want to tour with them even though it makes financial sense because we don’t like them and we want to put a tour package together that we like. We’ve always been like that. I’m not saying we don’t care about money because we need to live but we want to make a good representation of us. There are more and more people saying we should do certain things but we’ve always kept control and will always continue to do that.”

I guess it’d be weirder if you didn’t have to fight…

“It would be weird, but it would be easier. That’s how you lose touch with your fans; that’s when bands go off the rails. They let everyone take over and before you know it you don’t know what you’re doing.

To talk specifically about the record – you mentioned bands like Orange Goblin or Pink Floyd, and will people be able to hear those influences on the record?
“I don’t know if they’ll be able to hear it directly but you can feel influences from different genres of music. We brought in a lot of our own tastes and put it all together. It’s still us, so if we put a part in that sounded like Pink Floyd it would be quite weird, but you can feel it.”

Are you educating your fanbase when dropping these names? They might not be into Pink Floyd, for example, but their dads might be…
“Yeah! I hope so. For the most part, for kids who don’t know these bands, they’re going to hate it and it’s going to weird them out and it won’t make sense to them. When you hear a new style of music you don’t get it, and for a lot of people it might be too different. It’s going to seep into them, though, and that’s how ‘Suicide Season’ was. I know a lot of people didn’t like our band before, and a lot of people didn’t get it at first, but it was for the greater good because it was a much better CD than our effort before, and I feel the same way about this. I don’t know if it’s educating them, but it’ll open kids up to better music.”

Is there a certain amount of pride in being able to do that?

“I’m not an elitist – I don’t care about who likes what band. I love the fact heavy metal has got more mainstream and the music we do has got more mainstream, and I’d be proud to get younger kids into music like that. I don’t think of myself as an expert, I just like what I like. I like bands like Pink Floyd and Cream but I couldn’t even tell you all the members of Pink Floyd, for instance. I’m not saying people should like something, but I’ll tell people our influences. And if they like our CD they should definitely go and listen to those bands.”

So when you do the instrumental and electronica stuff is that on purpose something they might not expect?
“We do it because that’s what we want to hear. We write to write. We want to be proud of what we do, and I will listen to that record loads. I’m not ashamed to say that because we’ve written an album I want to hear. Some bands are too focused on writing music that will make a good single, we’re just doing what we love and we want to push ourselves further.”

Winding back and moving away from the record - did you grow up in a musical household?
“I don’t think so, if I did then I wasn’t paying much attention. The only thing I can remember my dad listening to was Snap! and that.”

What was your family life like?

“It was good. I used to live in Australia… I was born in Ashford, in Kent, but I don’t remember any of that. Then we moved to Adelaide and Perth over the course of five years, and I vaguely remember that being all good. When we moved back over to England I was about 8 and we’ve lived in Sheffield ever since. I think we moved to Australia in the first place because my parents wanted to do something different. I think they missed their family, and it’s a beautiful place but there’s not much culture and we didn’t have that many friends and family over there, so we came home.”

Did you notice the difference in your own life when you moved back to the UK?
“Definitely. When I was in Australia you didn’t go and play out on the streets because it was more vast. In England you finish school and go and meet up with your mates, but it wasn’t like that over there. I adjusted, though. I did like being a kid, I guess most times when you’re a kid at that age it’s a big deal because you lose all your friends, but it wasn’t too hard for me. It was the little things I noticed, like on Halloween there were no trick-or-treaters because it was so spread out. Stuff like that back home was a lot more exciting.”

What was your school like?
“It was fairly regular. High school I didn’t enjoy, I had a hard time and I was one of those kids who got bullied. I was one of those alternative kids and it was the same old story, I guess. I always got into trouble because teachers always said I was really clever but didn’t apply myself. But I wasn’t interested in any of it – I liked English and Art – but maths and science didn’t interest me whatsoever.”

Did there come a point when you realised there was more to life than school?
“It got to the point with me where I fucking hated it but just gritted my teeth, got my head down and got on with it. I wasn’t being a bad kid, but tried to blend in by Year 9. At that age it was the nu-metal phase, like Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit, and in all honesty that’s how I got introduced to rock music. It wasn’t through any Iron Maiden vinyl or anything! As stupid and clichéd as it sounds, all that teen angst stuff, when you’re angry yourself, it is a release and you relate to the lyrics, however cheesy they are.”

Did you have mates to hang out with?
“There were people like me, and we all joined up as a little group separate from everyone else. We were always trying to make bands, but no one could play, but we just went mental in the garage or whatever. I went to my first show when I was 14 – Linkin Park, Adema and Puddle Of Mudd at Manchester Apollo – and it was mental. I loved it. It was insane. It was such a big first show – I didn’t know what a mosh-pit was or what crowdsurfing was, and it was really scary. But it was awesome.”

And now you’re playing arena shows that 14-year-olds will be coming to, maybe for their first show… can you think back to what it was like for you?

“Definitely. I probably do that more than anyone, either in my band or in most other bands. Funeral For a Friend asked if I wanted to go and sing with them [at Sonisphere], and when I was about 15 I went to see them. The singer collapsed, and they came offstage and said they couldn’t continue because he was sick. For some reason I put my hand up and said, ‘I’ll sing!’ This was Leeds Cockpit back in 2004, and I got up onstage with them and it was the best day of my life. I told my mum after and I was crying. It wasn’t until years later, when Bring Me The Horizon was starting, that we played a festival in Wales, and they were playing – I was talking to them, and the guitarist said he really liked our EP and I told him that the crazy blond kid who sang with them in Leeds was me. It’s just weird, isn’t it, how shit works out? How the crazy little fanboy who was going insane is now in a band who they’ve asked to sing with? And we shared a stage with The Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die on Warped, and they’re probably the two bands who’ve influenced our band more than anyone in the world. It’s very important to hold onto this, if you stop thinking that sort of stuff is cool then that’s the end. High school wasn’t that good of a time for me, but now all my dreams have come true. My life could have gone on being so shitty, but it didn’t.”

What did you go back to when you were unhappy?
“I went to college after school because I didn’t know what else to do. A couple of months in I realised I couldn’t stay in education, I couldn’t handle it. It was just learning from books and I really wanted to do something for myself and that was when I started the band and Drop Dead. I was always drawing and scribbling, and even before I dropped out I wanted to just get a job. But my mum said, ‘Why don’t you try doing something for yourself? I don’t mind lending you a bit of money, and I’d rather see you doing what you want to do instead of what everyone else does.’ I was trying to think of more regular ideas that might make a business work, something mundane, and there were no underground clothing labels back then in England. I wanted to just try something.”

When did that go from being a project to a business?

“It was like a blur. As soon as it started it did well in my eyes. And then when the band were touring it was good but I thought I had to get a job, and at some point it just jumped up for some reason. When it started spreading out with other bands I couldn’t control it, so I handed it over to my mum. She never asked and I never asked her to, but she took hold of it while we were touring. Every day I used to go back to the post office with 30 packages and it got to the point where I couldn’t fit it into a bag.”

And you were still living at home?
“Yeah. I wanted to make a bit of money and focus on the band, and my mum had faith in me. I guess other kids didn’t have that level of support, and that’s one of the reasons I drifted away from my high school friends. It’s not like we fell out, it just happened because we were living different lives. I lost a lot of friends when the band took off because I was leaving home. I hadn’t travelled much, other than going on holiday and Australia.”

Back then did you still like having your time away from the touring life?
“As soon as I got home I wanted to go back on tour, but we weren’t touring as much as we were then. Now I still love touring, I love it every day, but we don’t get much time at home. Coming home and seeing your family and girlfriend and dog is great, and you’re never there long enough for it to get boring.”

Did you spend much time on your own when you were young?
“When I was a kid, yeah. And that’s probably one of the reasons I can’t be alone now – I just hate it. I have to be with someone. I get bored and would always rather share everything. Touring, there’s always someone to hang out with. Everything a band offers is what I love about being in a band. It does my head in when people complain about touring, I really don’t understand it.”

So, say you’d have been able to meet Chester at that Linkin Park show – what would you have said?

“I have no idea. I’ve always been pretty shy, so I think I’d have been too starstruck.”

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