Sitting at a blackjack table in the Excalibur casino, we’re killing time before meeting up with the Asking Alexandria guys for a night out in Las Vegas.
Then, from the brightly spangled parade of passers-by, there emerges the lanky, tattooed figure of the band’s founder and lead guitarist, Ben Bruce. We ask how he’s spending the afternoon. “Trying to get drunk, mate,” he grins.
It’s still strange to see Ben without his Toxic Twin, Danny Worsnop, who left in January to focus on his 80s-influenced side-project, We Are Harlot. Danny had initially insisted that he could balance the two bands, but his rambunctious enthusiasm for his new music – not to mention the libertine delights of LA’s Sunset Strip – and a string of high-profile gigs hinted at his imminent departure. So when Ben announced the news, it was delivered with sadness rather than shock.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I must announce, yet I am sure comes as no surprise to you all, that Danny has decided to leave Asking Alexandria to pursue other musical interests,” he said, before adding a statement of defiance. “Asking Alexandria is a family made up of the most dedicated fans around the globe, and nothing and no one can hold us down.”
Now bouncing back with new singer Denis Shaforostov, better know as Denis Stoff, Asking Alexandria have spent the summer winning over new crowds on the US Warped Tour. And we’re here to find out how their next roll of the dice is working out…
Walking into AA’s hotel suite this evening, we find the rest of the band to be hospitable, chipper and disappointingly sober, although beers have begun to flow. Speaking with a humorous and self-effacing charisma that belies much of the resentment he expressed in the wake of Danny’s split, Ben explains that the cracks had been rippling through the band’s foundation for years, with Danny becoming increasingly removed.
“It probably started in 2010 or 2011, when we were recording Reckless & Relentless,” he remembers. “And on [2013’s] From Death To Destiny, he stopped hanging out with the band; he stopped talking to us. He just distanced himself purposely. It was inevitable that this was going to happen.”
Perhaps inevitable, but hard nonetheless for the once-inseparable Yorkshire metallers (including guitarist Cameron Liddell, bassist Sam Bettley and drummer James Cassells), who had moved to the States as a unit, touring relentlessly and eventually striking gold as one of Britain’s most popular metal exports. For Ben, who had played the Richards to Danny’s Jagger since the band’s inception, Danny’s exit stung on a deep, personal level.
“He was my best friend,” Ben says with a flash of sadness. “The guys used to get pissed off with us and refer to our band as ‘The Ben And Danny Show’, because we would just do whatever we wanted, with no regard for what anyone else was doing. To go from that to him not even riding on the same bus as me or not even sitting next to me was a big shock and a big change. I feel like even our fans knew – when they came to see us live, he’d just stand onstage dressed up like Steven Tyler and just sort of go through the motions.”
The final nail would be pounded into the coffin during a bizarre sit-down between Ben and Danny regarding the band’s forthcoming record. “When we were writing this album,” Ben tells us, “[Danny] sat me down and said, ‘Just so you know, I’m going to sing country on this album.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean, you’re going to sing country? Are you insane? We’re a metal band. You can’t be singing country music over a fucking heavy guitar riff.’ I feel like this record could have killed us if Danny were still in the band.”
In fact, it’s no stretch to suggest that in turning in his resignation, Danny had also dealt his former band the one card that they had so desperately needed. “It had been so bad for so long,” Ben explains, “I think we were all just kind of relieved. We were like, ‘Finally, now we can just move on and do what we want to do, rather than be held back by someone that doesn’t want to be here.’”
First single I Won’t Give In showcased Denis’s vocal talents, while the video echoed Ben’s January statement, flashing up mock newspaper articles about family and their new singer. And while their first two shows with the new lineup, scheduled for the UK back in June, were cancelled due to visa issues, the AA machine is now running smoothly.
Sitting comfortably among his new bandmates, Denis is exceedingly polite, quick to chuckle and, true to his Slavic heritage, unflinchingly brusque. He’s brutally candid with his assessment of the last AA outing. “I was a big fan of the band,” he says, “but to be honest, they lost me with their third album. It just wasn’t the music that I’d really liked.”
Born and raised in a grim Ukrainian factory town on the outskirts of Donetsk, Denis fits in easily with the British humour and sensibilities of the others. But he’s approaching his new job with a laser focus. “When I made the decision,” he says, “the guys let me experience what it was like to work with them and to get to know them, and it turned out to be amazing. I had a chance to write this record, bringing as much input as I can. It wasn’t about just performing the old songs, but having the chance to make new music with these guys.”
As soon as they began collaborating with Denis, who got into metal via the “raw energy” of Slipknot’s Iowa, Ben felt they’d made the right decision. “I think the most important thing about Denis was the energy, the youth and the passion that he brought back into the band, because Danny lost that a long time ago, so it was really difficult to write with Danny. But with Denis, it’s like…” He snaps his fingers. “We’ve gone back to what we were always supposed to sound like. I feel like we’d been going off on a tangent for a bit. Especially if we’d have had country vocals…”
Making our way to the eye-popping neon jungle of Fremont Street, the conversation migrates to Asking Alexandria’s forthcoming album. The goal is to bring back the vintage AA sound, pumped up with a dizzying fervour and full-throttle aggression. Denis says, “The guys definitely brought back the raw energy that the band had on Reckless & Relentless and [2009’s] Stand Up And Scream, but it doesn’t mean that this is going to be the same record again. I’m super excited with how it’s turning out.”
If the past six months offer a reliable augury of the future of Asking Alexandria, the odds are vastly in their favour. Recalling the first time he shared a stage with Denis, at Rock For People Festival in the Czech Republic, Ben gushes, “I jizzed! I was like, ‘Yes! We sound good again!’ It was nice hearing the songs sounding the way they were meant to be portrayed again. Ever since that show, it’s been sick. Everybody’s been so excited to see us so energetic and having fun onstage again. I can’t tell you how many people who’ve said, ‘I’ve not seen you look that happy onstage in years.’ Which is nice.”
He slowly beginning to fade, though his name remains in the band’s history. “People don’t really ask me about Danny that much any more, but I do get mistaken for him at times, which sucks,” muses Ben. “I don’t know why. I was at a restaurant a few weeks ago, and some guys said, ‘Are you Danny Worsnop?’ and I was like, ‘Nope. No, I’m not. I’m not fat and ginger. I don’t have a cowboy hat on.”
Pulled up to an outdoor bar beneath the blinding glow of a range of mountainous pink casino signs, a girl excitedly emerges from the crowd and, between heaving breaths, gasps to Ben, “You’re my screensaver!” She asks for a photo with the band and they all instinctively slide their arms around each others’ shoulders and pull tightly around her. They’re not mugging or pouting – they’re all grinning broadly.
The girl disappears, but the smiles and laughter remain. Asking Alexandria have tapped into an electrifying new chemistry and, for the first time in years, they’re excited for the future. One look at their faces, and it’s hard to imagine a bigger group of winners in Las Vegas tonight.
Asking Alexandria tour in October, starting with the Vans Warped Tour UK on October 18, at London’s Alexandra Palace
Raising The Stakes
*Will Asking Alexandria’s next album be a winner? Ben Bruce talks us through some of its songs..
*Ben Bruce: “Cum Guzzler* is a working title, but I want to keep that name because I feel like it’s one of the angriest songs we’ve ever written. It’s so angry, it’s so heavy, it’s really aggressive and it’s quite spiteful. I don’t know if we can call the song Cum Guzzler, but we’re going to shoot for that…”
** Send Me Home
**“This is probably the biggest rock arena anthem we’ve ever written. I think that after listening to it just one time, everyone will know every word. They’ll be singing the chorus at the top of their lungs. It’s probably my favourite song that we’ve ever written.”
** Let It Sleep
*“Cashing In* was the working title, but it’s called Let It Sleep now. It’s another of the heaviest songs we’ve ever written. It reminds me of Morte Et Dabo, which is the closing song on Reckless & Relentless. It’s got that vibe of very angry and very mean and very aggressive. It’s heavy.”
** The Black
*“The Black* kind of introduces the world to a new sound for Asking Alexandria that we haven’t fucked around with much before. It’s similar to I Won’t Give In, but a heavier version. It’s a very heavy song with a completely fresh new feel and dynamic to it.”