Enter Shikari on The Mindsweep, politics and Russell Brand

With Enter Shikari set to release their eagerly anticipated fourth album The MIndsweep on January 19, TeamRock sat down with vocalist Rou Reynolds for a discussion about music, love, life’s big questions and er, Russell Brand’s credentials to lead a global revolution…

**The Mindsweep is a hugely diverse album, covering a broad variety of topics, from meditations upon race and class, to songs about the environment and activism. At its core, though, it’s essentially an album of love songs, isn’t it? **“Yeah, absolutely. It wasn’t really a conscious thing, but there’s certainly a lot more positivity upon this album, and love is a central theme. But I think if you really boil down everything we’ve ever done it’s all about loving one another, loving the planet, loving our biosphere. We’re just hippies at the end of the day!”

**Are you generally a ‘glass half-full’ type of guy? **“I think so. Not in a deluded way, but I think I’m one of the more positive people among my friends and family. And I always like knowing where we’re at with technology, which I think can reinforce the positive side of things: with human ingenuity and the possibilities of imagination you kinda think ‘We’ve actually got a chance here’ when you look to the future. Whereas if you stay somewhat in the present, where capitalism is limiting so much progress, then it’s very easy to get bogged down in negativity and get very depressed about it all.”

**That sense of hopefulness and optimism runs through The MIndsweep, which isn’t afraid of tackling big questions. Does it annoy you when commentators say that there are no bands addressing issues anymore, or do you shy away from the notion of Shikari being labelled as a ‘Political’ band? **“The ‘P’ word is often an issue for people, isn’t it? We’re political with a small ‘p’ I guess: we hated that tag at first, but now we’re just like…’Meh’. I prefer the term ‘socially conscious’, because just by default then you have to label everything else as ‘socially unconscious’, which I quite like, because it’s quite cheeky. But I think I’m definitely going to make more of an effort now to do things outside of the band as well, in regards to speaking up and activism. We’ve never been a band who’ve sought to get media attention out of going on a march, or whatever, our activism has always been quite under the radar, but I think I’d like to start doing podcasts and stuff just to kinda push outside of our niche in the music world, because obviously we’re not being noticed when people keep saying ‘Where’s all the political bands?’

**Is that frustrating? It’s not like you’re a cult, underground band at this point… **“Well, I guess usually those kind of headlines come from broadsheets, and any publication that’s not rooted in music might look at a band like us and just dismiss us as ‘angsty, teenage’ rage. There’s a kind of snobbery towards aggressive, ‘alternative’ scene bands where people still haven’t quite got what it’s about: it’s like, ‘Hello, remember punk?’ There are still plenty of bands trying to make relevant points.”

**Your new single The Anaesthetist is a song opposing government plans for the NHS, which is obviously a serious and emotive topic, but you lighten the gravity of what’s obviously an important subject that you’re very passionate about by throwing in lyrics like ‘You fucking spanner!’: do you see it as important to keep that entertainment factor, even in songs addressing serious concerns? **“Yeah, definitely. I always try to keep such discussions at a level you might use having a conversation about it with your mate down the pub. Regardless of the seriousness of the debate, you’d still be throwing in the odd joke: the political and intellectual level of the debate might dwindle in a pub conversation, but you’d still be discussing the issues. So, yeah, I think that’s important, because it’s real and it’s honest: we’re not trying to be something we’re not. Possibly that confuses people a little, but I’m sure even ‘serious’ bands like Rage Against The Machine have a sense of humour.”

**Another new song, ‘There’s A Price on Your Head’, deals with the class system, referencing George Orwell. What’s the broader message of that song? **“Well, the music in that song is very all over the place, very math-y, very ‘What’s going on? This is mayhem!’ and that’s kinda trying to convey the ridiculousness of the class system, and the ridiculous idea that as soon as you’re born you’re immediately labelled as a certain class. You have no choice in that, as much as a lottery as birth is. I was reading a book recently called The Spirit Level, and it points out how more egalitarian societies do better on every level, whether that’s social mobility, health, education, or the number of people in prisons, whatever. That we still cling on to the idea of class here is so ridiculous and archaic, so with that song we’re basically ridiculing that idea.”

**I guess if you look at someone like Russell Brand, he’s been demonised in recent weeks for speaking up on political and social issues, with the subtext being ‘What can a rich Hollywood actor have to say of any value?’… I imagine you’ve had an element of that yourself, with Shikari being seen as nice middle-class kids from Hertfordshire… **“Yeah, we get that a lot. With Russell Brand people seem to want to go for that most emotional, knee-jerk, instinctive reaction, like ‘Oh, you’re a hypocrite, you’ve got money, what do you know?’ It’s a convenient, and cowardly, way to avoid addressing the issues he brings up. And, on a smaller level, that happens with us too. I mean, St Albans is perceived as quite affluent, but like any other town, there’s streets you wouldn’t want to walk alone at night, and for a supposedly well-off town, it has food banks. That’s where we’re at now, even the very middle-class towns are divided, and those inequalities are getting wider.” “I’m actually half way through Russell Brand’s book at the moment, and I’m finding it difficult with all his spiritual waffle, but I get the basic, simple, John Lennon ‘love and peace’ message at its core. People are always saying to him ‘Well, what’s your solutions?’ but if he’s promoting positivity and loving and caring for one another that’s a step in the right direction, even if he doesn’t have the complete blueprint for a new version of capitalism. I think, in general, what he’s doing is great: he’s making people think, and that’s a good thing.”

**We’re in a general election year now: have you made your mind up as to who’ll get your vote? **“I haven’t really caught up properly with current party politics I must admit: last year we were so focussed on making the album that I kinda got out of touch with the latest music, and the latest politics, and everything else. But party politics haven’t interested me in the last few years, because I think I’ve already reached that bitter, middle-aged stage where you see no change regardless of which party is in power. And from talking to people around the world, that’s not just a sentiment felt in the UK. I’m much more interested now in ground-up change, and the idea of keeping pressure on the politicians, even if no-one is expecting much from them.”

**When you travel around the world, and meet kids in Russia or Eastern Europe, or wherever, do they come up and try to talk to you about the same kind of issues? **“Yeah. I mean, we’re at the stage now where the band really is about debating issues: on the first album we had songs like No Sssweat, about sweatshop labour, and Mothership and Johnny Sniper had environmental themes, but it was still music for music’s sake. But now the message really is just as important as the art. And when we do go to these places and you see the way in which our music has emboldened people it’s amazing. People are so genuine and so thankful that we’ve touched their lives in some way. It’s brilliant, it’s an absolute honour.”

**Speaking of the first album, why is there a snippet of Sorry You’re Not A Winner at the end of The Mindsweep’s closing track, The Appeal & The Mindsweep II? **“Well, we were just layering up sounds and weird noises over the one riff that runs through the end of the song, and I just sang that line and I was like ‘Oh my God, it works!’ At the time, we’d actually been having a massive conversation about the idea that we’ve finally the point where we’re going to drop Sorry You’re Not A Winner from our live set, so perhaps, subconsciously, this is like a final salute to that song. I mean, I don’t want us to be that dick band who won’t play their hits, but we’ve played it at every show for 11 years, so I think it might be time to retire it.”

The album’s penultimate track, Dear Future Historians… might be the closest thing you’ve written to a straightforward love song, albeit that it’s got lyrics like ‘When I dive into your iris, my brain erupts into biochemical mayhem…’ “Haha. Yeah, I guess it’s our first love song in a traditional sense, but I didn’t just want to regurgitate basic chart music clichés. I looked into the biological basis of love, and how the feeling of love is so overwhelming because the neuro-chemistry behind it literally takes you over like an addiction, and I found that really interesting. The music was written while I was on tour, missing my girlfriend and loved ones, so I wanted the lyrics to continue that theme. And the verses are like my little, shy message to people in the future, kinda saying ‘I can’t imagine your world, it must be incredible, but I really hope the idea of love is still central to your lives.’”

**At this point, with a year of live dates stretching ahead of you, how daunting is it to think that you’re going to be away from your loved ones again for months at a time? **“It’s a horrible dichotomy: I can’t pretend that I’m not excited about being on tour again, because last year was so much about the album, but at the same time I’m completely torn up inside at the fact that I’m not going to see people so much. I feel particularly sorry for Rory [Clewlow, ES guitarist] because now he has a kid, so it’s going to be doubly hard for him. I mean, just personally, over the past few months me and my girlfriend thought that maybe we might not be able to do it. With this band, we’ve sacrificed so many relationships and friendships, and so, for me, that’s why this band has to be about more than just four friends playing music together, it has to have some genuine meaning to it, because otherwise the sacrifices might not be worth it. It is going to be tough, because I’m quite a sentimental and shy person anyway, and I like being home with my girlfriend and family. But hey, no-one wants to hear me whinging!”

**So when you look at that schedule, what are you looking forward to most about the year ahead? **“Just playing shows again. I mean, when you’re 18 months into touring any album it can start to get a bit like you’re going through the motions, so the idea of having this new injection of energy and these new songs and seeing the looks on people’s faces when they hear the new tracks is exciting. That visceral energy of being onstage and just living in the moment is still everything to us. We’re raring to go.”

**Can I ask what the final words, spoken in Latin, on the new album are? **“Yeah, it translates as ‘With the name changed, the story is told of you’. When you boil things down on a human level, our needs and hopes and fears are all the same, so at a basic level you could change the name in any story and make it relevant to you. So it relates to what we’ve always been about: unity.”

**With the album a week from release, this must be an exciting time to be in Enter Shikari. I noticed today that the four songs you’ve released so far from The Mindsweep are all in the iTunes Rock chart Top 10… **“Yeah, it’s brilliant how everything has been received. It’s crazy, we were joking about it, because it’s like back in the old days when there’d be, like, six Beatles songs in the Top 10. Comparing ourselves to The Beatles, how ridiculous is that? Haha!”

The Mindsweep will be released on January 19. The band will play Kingston’s Rose Theatre on January 18 and begin a UK tour in February. For dates and tickets, click here.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.