In 1897, when American author Mark Twain famously wrote that “Truth is stranger than fiction”, he could have been peering over a hundred years into the future, at the dramatic and unpredictable journey of Asking Alexandria.
When singer and co-founder Danny Worsnop quit Asking in 2015, not long after unveiling his new 80s-influenced classic rock project, We Are Harlot, the British metalcore firebrands managed one of the most difficult tricks in the rock’n’roll handbook – they replaced a frontman. Not just any ol’ frontman, mind you, but one whose zero-fucks swagger and unapologetic enthusiasm for sex, drugs and the rockstar lifestyle had cast him as one of metal’s most entertaining 21st-century bad boys. Undaunted, the band (founder/guitarist Ben Bruce, guitarist Cameron Liddell, bassist Sam Bettley and drummer James Cassells) hooked up with Ukrainian singer Denis Stoff and released a massively successful follow-up – 2016’s The Black – which entered the British Top 20 in March and peaked at Number 9 on the Billboard 200. A sprawling world tour followed and it seemed that, once again, Asking Alexandria were poised to make a run at the likes of Avenged Sevenfold and Slipknot before them. Then shit got weird. Like, really weird. On October 21, 2016, Ben took to Facebook live to drop a stunning pair of announcements. First, he disclosed that Denis had abruptly broken off all communication with the band, which raised a thorny problem, as their Ten Years In The Black tour was scheduled to kick off just four days away. Jaws hit the floor, however, when Ben delivered his second reveal: against the longest of odds and all reasonable possibility, Danny Worsnop was back in the band. Needless to say, the Internet lost its shit.
Today, we find the lads in Baltimore, deep into a cross-country run of US shows. To describe their spirits as “upbeat” would be an historic understatement and yet one can’t easily dismiss the bad blood that flowed so generously over the previous 18 months. In the days before our interview, Ben had publicly insisted that things were very much mended between him and Danny, and today he confides that even at the height of their feuding, he and his Toxic Twin and best friend of 10 years had actually never lost touch.
“We texted quite often, just to touch base, really,” he muses. “I guess so that neither of us disappeared out of each other’s lives completely. We tried to meet up with each other a few times but stuff always got in the way.”
He might still harbour the image of a 21st- century rock star after years of blazing it up with his partner in crime, but in person Ben is highly polite, thoroughly engaging and possessed of a dry British wit. We find Danny a bit farther down the spectrum – absurdly charismatic, wantonly brash and often punctuating his proclamations with a deep, booming laugh. Reflecting on their split, however, the singer ebbs into more introspective territory.
“When Ben texted me and told me about his daughter Fae being born, that’s when it hit me like, ‘Shit, we’ve been completely out of the loop. I didn’t even know you were having a baby and now you’ve just had one?!’” Ultimately, both agree that they could have handled the whole ordeal a bit more gracefully. “It hurt when Danny left,” Ben says, “I think both parties could have handled it better. At the time we were saying things that I think we thought we meant, because we were both angry or hurt or upset. But looking back on it now, it seems so pointless.”
With the dust now settled and the reunion well-underway, what does the future now hold for AA? More pointedly, how can they clear the Herculean challenges now rising before them? There is, for example, the band’s sputtering loss in momentum over the past year. While The Black notched some of AA’s biggest commercial and critical returns, the band will begin the new year by supporting Parkway Drive at Brixton – a room they once headlined in 2013. Ben admits the situation is less than ideal.
“When we got offered the Parkway tour,” he says, “I was in two minds about even accepting it. I was like, ‘OK, well this sucks because all of the UK dates are rooms that we sell out on our own, and now we’re supporting them’. But what made me say, ‘Fuck it, we’ll do the tour, suck up our pride and open up for them,’ is because Parkway Drive are a monumentally huge band across Europe. The fact that we have to open up for them on five UK shows kind of sucks but it’s worth it because we get to go across mainland Europe with them and hopefully be welcomed into a whole new fanbase.”
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One thing’s for sure – with Danny back, Ben sees AA’s chances for world domination as vastly improved. “One hundred percent,” he says. “It’s the same writing team that earned our success to begin with and even over the past year and a half that we haven’t been writing together, we’ve each grown as songwriters and musicians, so we’ve both got new stuff to bring to the table that can only benefit the songs and the writing for AA.”
This shines a blinding light on the elephant in the room: side-projects. Danny is not only maintaining his commitment to We Are Harlot but he is releasing a country album in early 2017 called The Long Road Home. “Obviously my primary concern and focus is The Long Road Home,” Danny says. “I’m having a great time out here with Asking and then we’ve got the Europe tour and then after that it’s gonna be Harlot time.” Meanwhile, Ben’s got his punk project, Kill It With Fire, with whom he hopes to release an album in 2017.
With so many distractions, can the band generate the sustained onslaught needed to surpass their previous heights? Ben argues that making space for other projects might well be the very key to success. “We’re writing new music, we’re going to tour together and AA’s back with the original members and that’s how it’s going to stay. We’re just going to be a little bit smarter about it this time, so everyone’s other projects don’t suffer and Asking doesn’t suffer.”
On the subject of new material, the lads share that they’re about to begin the writing process, although they decline to estimate when a new album might hit the shelves. “I couldn’t even begin to speculate [when a new album might be ready],” Danny says. “There’s no way of knowing until we get in that room, pick up our guitars and start creating. Whatever it is, it’s going to be special.”
Sonically, early indicators point AA towards new and uncharted territory. Might their evolution push them into brand new pastures?
“There’s a demo I’ve recently written that has some really, really heavy sections in it, but they’re not obviously heavy,” Danny explains. “They’re not going down the metalcore/riffy/breakdowny route.” Pressed to describe the sound, Danny says, “It’s almost got a little bit of Rob Zombie in it, but then it’s got some cool, funky little guitar stuff. It’s gonna be different from anything we’ve done before and from anything anyone is currently doing.”
Beyond the new material, Danny insists that the key to joining the company of giants like Slipknot lies in touring smarter – fewer shows in bigger rooms with over-the-top, eyebrow-singing production. “I wanna have pyro! I wanna have ramps,” he roars. “I wanna have one of those fucking things that throws me up out of the stage at the beginning of the show!” Danny also confides that he plans to pull the reins back on some of his more libertine proclivities, saying, “I’m not going to pound a bunch of drugs in myself, I know that much, ha ha ha!”
Both guys radiate a real sense that what they have begun to create will take the metal world by storm. Without a trace of jest or puffery, Ben insists, “We want to write the biggest songs that anyone’s ever heard Asking Alexandria or any band in our genre write. We want to write huge, huge anthems and songs that people are going to love and a record that people are going to love from start to finish.”
With his best friend back in the fold, new songs flowing and a tight new camaraderie rejuvenating the band, Ben sees both an opportunity and an obligation to resuscitate heavy metal. “Basically, we want to breathe some fresh air into the rock community,” he grins. “I feel like things are getting a bit stale and a bit boring and we really want to push the envelope. We want to introduce the world to something that’s new and exciting again, especially since it seems that so many bands in our genre seem to be playing it safe at the moment.” How will he do that, we ask? Again, he doesn’t flinch. “By writing the best goddamned fucking songs to come out of this scene in at least a decade. Fact.” After all they’ve created, survived and accomplished, who’s to tell him he can’t?
ASKING ALEXANDRIA HIT THE UK WITH PARKWAY DRIVE IN APRIL