"If you’re comfortable in what you’re doing, you’re not expanding on anything"
It's been quite the year for Loathe.
From releasing their brutal, boundless and brilliantly intoxicating sophomore album 'I Let It In And It Took Everything' last February, the band have since captured the hearts, minds and souls of thousands. Though 2020 may have derailed many a plan and the band perhaps haven't been able to share it in the way they may have envisioned, the circumstance instead allowed the album to be consumed in a totally unique way with people finding themselves falling deeper and deeper into the crevices that they had built throughout the 451-day process of putting the record together.
Now that universe has expanded even further with the release of 'The Things They Believe', a gorgeously ethereal accompaniment to the record which explores the more delicate ambience of those songs, which also serves as a statement of intent from a band that continues to be unlike anyone else.
We jumped on the phone with guitarist Erik Bickerstaffe and vocalist Kadeem France to dissect the last 12 months, the growth of the record and what it means as we move forwards into the next chapter...
How did it feel when this thing that you had worked on for so long suddenly belonged to everybody instead of just you?
Erik: “Amazing. We had wanted that feeling for so long, and for us to finally be working on an album that allowed that. ‘I Let It In And It Took Everything’ kind of felt like a rebirth for us in a lot of ways, in terms of us realising the things that we wanted to push forwards with for the future of our band. It was amazing and affirming to then see people react to it in such a way because it was quite the drastic change from our first album [‘The Cold Sun’]. I wouldn’t say it was overwhelming but I would say that we were extremely pleased that people could hear what Loathe actually is rather than what they had perceived it to be in the past.”
As you look back on the process of putting it together, what are the moments that you can pinpoint where that initial vision started to come together?
Kadeem: “From the beginning and when it fully hit me was when we were in Japan and we were figuring out the artwork. That was the first time that we put it all together on audio files, like in order of what the tracklisting would be.”
Erik: “When we got to Japan, there was a typhoon that was supposed to wipe Japan out. It didn’t, thankfully. It was crazy though. We asked our tour manager if it was bad and he said, ‘I would pray’. Our photographer let us all stay in his apartment and we were just waiting for this typhoon to pass and finish. So I was sat putting the flow of the album together, and at that moment I was just like, ‘Fuck sake, it’s done. Just listen to it and let me know what you think’. But as we played it, I remember looking up and Kadeem was there with his head in his hands.”
Kadeem: “I was so emotional. It proper hit me. To me, each song felt like a timestamp within the process of making the album, and for each song that I was listening to I was vividly visually being in that moment recording it. Just to be on the other side of that and have the opportunity to listen back to it was such an amazing feeling. It rebooted us. You can get lost within yourself when you’re writing an album, especially when you’ve been sitting on some of that music for so long. But I think that moment reaffirmed everything that I felt towards the album and I just couldn’t wait for the world to hear it.”
When you’ve pivoted to make something so much more personal than what you’ve done before, it’s even easier to lose yourself in making those feelings as detailed as possible…
Erik: “I feel like that’s the biggest difference between ‘The Cold Sun’ and ‘I Let It In…’. The first record was just us going, ‘Let’s do a story and make it a concept record’. We made it to be this grandiose and almost anime-like piece. This time around, I think it was Kadeem who was the catalyst for making this record such a reflection of us as people and not so much all stories. Things can be written in a way that can be perceived as a story of existing in a specific timeline, and in that can exist a greater meaning.
“I feel like one of those moments, in particular, was ‘New Faces In The Dark’. We were writing that song and got to this one particular point after spending three days on it, out of the total four weeks that we spent in the cottage making the record. Three days straight of working on the exact same section and not getting anywhere.”
Kadeem: “The main thing at the time was being in that cottage and seeing the same people every day and seeing the same things outside. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. There was no outside influence at all. But what it came down to was going to a different location, so we went from the cottage into Cardiff. Being in a city and being around people, we instantly got what we needed.”
Erik: “I think it hit both of us at the same time when we knew exactly what we needed to do. At that moment we didn’t want to be in Cardiff anymore, we just wanted to be back in that cottage making it right.”
Kadeem: “I think that’s a very important thing when it comes to creating though. What we’ve learned from ‘I Let It In…’ is that your environment plays a very big part of what you want to create. We take influence from the things we see in the day today.”
What was it like then when you were able to take this monster that you have created out on the road and see the effect it has had on people firsthand?
Erik: “We’ve never had a tour like that before. Those shows were the ones that we would usually be supporting or be first on for. But also I think that we almost took too much on as well. It was perhaps naivety. Back in the day, we would be one of those bands who would have one four-hour rehearsal before jumping on a four-week tour. So the first time we played ‘Two Way Mirror’, ‘Broken Vision Rhythm’ and ‘I Let It In...’ together was at soundcheck on that first night in Huddersfield. Absolutely stupid. From then on, and with the actual response that we got that night, it was just a case of, ‘What exactly have we got in store for the rest of this tour?’”
Kadeem: “Then when the album actually got released, it was crazy. Each show kept on getting better and selling out. The pinnacle of it was the London show, the last show of the tour. I made a point not to look at the crowd and not to watch God Complex or anything before. I remember going out onto the stage just as we were about to start, looking out at the room and just being amazed. Proper goosebumps. It’s incredible to be so far away from home and have so many people make it feel like it’s home.”
Everything changed almost immediately after that tour was finished. We could talk all day about what 2020 could have looked like, but what makes it so interesting is how people then had to consume and fall into the album on a very personal level. How has it been watching people discover things about it in this way?
Erik: “It’s one of the reasons that we do this. It’s one of the reasons why we like music that has lots of layers and things you can pick apart from it. One of the biggest influences for us, especially for me, was The 1975 and just how many things are going on in their songs that may not strictly be at the forefront. There’s a reason behind everything. There can just be something like a bleep but it will add to the dynamics and the rhythm in a way that you wouldn’t perceive it if it wasn’t there. That’s what we do when we listen to music. The way that people are doing that with our music now is what me and Kadeem would always be doing back in the day. It’s weird but it’s amazing at the same time. Seeing people dissecting every single second is so good. We read every single comment and every single post. I feel like a lot of bands don’t do that these days, but we see everything.”
Kadeem: “I think that music for us as a band is a very therapeutic thing, both listening to it and making it. To think now that within the times we have had last year and into this year, in terms of lockdowns, to know that our album has been somebody’s therapy is something I can’t quite comprehend. Then obviously with ‘The Things They Believe’ now being an extension of that, it’s even more of an open book.”
Was the plan always to have ‘The Things They Believe’ as an accompaniment, or is it something that you worked out along the way?
Erik: “It’s always been a part of the plan. That aspect of our music, we’ve seen a lot of people be like, ‘This is out of nowhere. Where is this coming from?’ Even from our first release, there have been songs solely dedicated to the atmosphere. Though before it’s always been little sprinkles throughout, and now this is it coming together as a whole thing.”
So in the process of making this extension, how did it differ from putting the record together? What were your feelings like whilst figuring out what these ambient textures should look and feel like?
Erik: "It was definitely a different process. There’s not necessarily a beat and a rhythm that you have to keep to and understand. The way that we feel about any of our songs has always been, ‘What sort of mood do we want to put across?’ What’s the thing that we are trying to make people feel? That didn’t change between the two. The seed was the same, but the execution and the growth of the plant was different.”
Kadeem: “It’s the same formula but with a different cut.”
Erik: “Just like when we first started and we had never made a metal album, we listened to loads of metal albums so we could pick and choose the bits which we liked to create our own thing. So we listen to and love ambient music and soundtracks, so we did the same thing. We already knew what formula we would take, just because we understand it and we can feel everything, but it got to a point where there was a crossroads. The question then was, ‘How do we make this a Loathe record and not another run of the mill ambient record?’ That once again comes down the flow. I think we have a very unique sense of how to put our songs together and that was a big element of making sure that the right image was put across to the listener in the right way. As well, in the same way, you can spend seven hours crafting a guitar tone, we spent seven hours crafting what some people think is just the sound of the wind. That’s what we love and that’s why we do it. To reach the point that we always intended to get to when we first planted the seed.”
In a lot of ways, Loathe has always been more of an atmosphere than just music. It’s been that way right from the start. Everything exists within this same void that you have created from scratch and serves as the base for whatever comes next…
Erik: “Because we are so much than riffs, even though that will always be a part of our DNA and we’re not abandoning that in any way, you could see this record serving as an introduction of sorts to this completely new world of music that people are missing out on. If you like Loathe, then you must like our influences too. This is just one of those influences. I know for a fact that this isn’t going to be the last record from us where people are like, ‘What the fuck?’ I’m okay with that. I like a bit of uneasy water. One of the things that I realised during the lockdown is that we create best when we are uncomfortable. If you’re comfortable in what you’re doing, you’re not expanding on anything. The uncomfortable element for us in this regard came from no vocals and no drums. Yet we were able to get it to a point where it was still the one.”
Within the process of making ‘The Things They Believe’ and watching this universe grow, is there anything that this aftermath period has taught you that you weren’t expecting?
Kadeem: “The first thing that comes to mind for me is how people interpreted songs for themselves and the meaning that they find in them can really take me back. Like ‘Two-Way Mirror’ for example, the lyrics I wrote were about my relationship with my father and people have seen it as a song about getting over depression. It’s so weird because the two sides of it are so different but they were able to find their meaning in that way.”
Erik: “I think something that has surprised me is the way that people see the band. I think when you also see people disappointed by something you’ve made, it’s not surprising but it reminds you that you’re not invincible. We’re not going to please everyone and that’s the reality of releasing music today.”
Though doesn’t that also inspire to you create an even bigger chasm between adoration and confusion with what you do next?
Erik: “Definitely. I think that there are a lot of cult classic films that we recognise as being that now that were initially received terribly. That’s because it’s not the standard, and something we have never wanted to be is the standard. There’s the standard, there’s being the other thing and then there’s us. We’re the Loathe standard. We do this because we love it and if you love with along with us then that’s amazing.”
The idea of Loathe being something bigger than all of you and bigger than your music is such an exciting thing. When it becomes more than just a band. How do you feel as though that has adapted over this cycle? How has your own relationship with the band as something bigger adapted as well?
Erik: “We’ve said this quite a lot to each other, but this band is much more than just us now.”
Kadeem: “Loathe has always been something important to us and something we wanted to be huge, but now as we have gone into adulthood it has transitioned from being five guys in a band to actually being our lives. It’s really all or nothing. From everything that has happened this year to us having our own room and space, everything is set up to be a career. It’s set up for us to live it to the fullest. It’s a transition we have only just got into from how well everything has been received. It’s given us even more of a kick up the arse to do it.”
Erik: “It highlights that we have this moral obligation to continue doing what we do best. From what we read and what people reach out to us with, we seem to mean an awful lot to people. That’s something we will never take for granted or forget.”
Kadeem: “It’s bigger than you and bigger than any problems that you have. You owe it to the people.”
Erik: “To think that our music will continue to live long after we are gone is enough to inspire us to always do exactly what we want. We will always create the music we want to do and always go forwards and make decisions in the ways we want to do. It represents us but it also represents a lot more for a lot of people. If that authenticity gets lost at any point, that’s an extreme disservice to a lot of people that believe in us. It’s just even more of an affirmation that we should be doing things in the way that we want to. It’s a privilege to be in that position.”