Ben Bruce is having a difficult day. He is calling us from Hawaii during some rare downtime, but this morning he woke up to an emotional text message from his mum back home. “It said: ‘You need to fly back to England soon because you didn’t see your sister once in 2015 and she misses you. You haven’t seen your grandmother in two years, and she’s got Alzheimer’s, and we don’t even know how long she’ll remember you for,’” he tells us, letting out a sigh. “I miss my family – that’s been a huge sacrifice.”
The frontman pauses for breath, before adding: “I’m also going through a divorce right now. But I’ve just pushed it all onto the back burner so I can take this band to wherever they can be. If I was happy all the time, I’d have nothing to write and sing about. Asking Alexandria is my biggest passion…”
It’s clear that Ben’s laser focus on his band has taken a huge toll on his personal life. But Asking Alexandria has always been his dream; his responsibility. In eight lightning-quick years, they’ve far surpassed all reasonable expectations, initially dominating the metal scene of their adopted home in the US before returning home to the UK as conquering heroes, confirming themselves as one of the biggest British metal bands of the 21st century. Through it all, Ben has steered his ship with unerring confidence, surviving critical apathy, a tsunami of haters and, of course, the departure of his lead singer, Danny Worsnop, last year. Whatever obstacles the 27-year-old faces now are the latest in a long line, and are making him ever more determined to push on with his passions. But then, manning the frontlines of a successful band is a career that Ben seems to have been destined for right from the start…
Born into a musical family – his great uncle Harry Mortimer (OBE) was a famous brass band conductor – the guitarist grew up in an environment where musical expression was a part of everyday life.
“My grandmother was always playing the piano, and I’d sit there with her and try and play along from as young as I can remember,” he recalls. “And my dad played blues harp. It wasn’t even like it was pushed on me, it was just always there. And very quickly I set my sights on getting a guitar. All of my friends were learning on an acoustic guitar, but I said, ‘Fuck that! I want to learn on an electric!’ and was the first one of my friends to get one. I don’t remember putting it down after that. I used to be an avid sportsman before: football, lacrosse, basketball, swimming, I did everything. As soon as I got the guitar, that all went out the window.”
As is so often the case with budding young artists, Ben’s family provided an influential soundtrack to his formative years.
“My dad was really into blues,” explains Ben. “So I listened to Eric Clapton and BB King and Muddy Waters a lot. But then my parents got divorced when I was 12, and my stepdad came into the picture. He was much more into hard rock and metal, so I had blues on one side and metal on the other. I ended up going with my stepdad to see Deep Purple at my first ever concert, and that just ignited a love for more and more heavy sounds. It was Maiden, then Metallica, then more modern stuff like Slipknot, Soulfly and Machine Head.”
Around that time, however, Ben’s family moved to Dubai, and the lack of a scene out there meant that his newfound love for heavy music remained a passive affair. Until, that is, the arrival of the Dubai Desert Rock Festival inspired the plucky young metalhead to take to the stage himself.
“There wasn’t much of a scene when I was really young,” he tells us, “but when Dubai Desert Rock started, bringing over bands like Korn and Killswitch Engage, there became more of a local scene. I started putting gigs on myself, in local basements or car parks, and it just went from there. I played my first gig when I was about 13, and I remember thinking, ‘This is definitely what I want to do.’”
Forming an early version of Asking Alexandria soon after, Ben soon found himself a prominent figure in Dubai’s flowering metal scene, before relocating with his band back to the UK in early 2008. It was there that he encountered his first of many hurdles.
“Everyone quit the band!” he laughs. “But I never considered leaving it there. Not a chance. I found Danny [Worsnop, ex-vocals], James [Cassells, drums], Cam [Liddell, guitar] and Sam [Bettley, bass] and took them along for the ride. But [it was still] my band. I like things to go the way I think it should go. I don’t kick up a fuss, but I make sure that it leans my way and steers in my direction.”
As it turned out, he’d steer the band to dizzying success. With their lineup solidified, the quintet embarked on one of the most staggering upward curves British metal has ever witnessed. They went to America, cracked it, came home to tackle the UK and gained a reputation as one of metal’s most uncontrollable bands, with Ben and his partner-in-crime Danny swaggering across the rock landscape, taking everything that came at them in their stride. The more they were questioned and derided, the bigger they became; the more their reputations for excess and bad behaviour grew, the more the cult of Asking Alexandria swelled.
And so, when the wheels came off once again, as they did in such spectacular fashion last year, you couldn’t help but fear for Asking Alexandria’s future. A bored and increasingly distant Danny, who had sleepwalked his way through AA’s From Death To Destiny tour in 2013, quit the band on January 22, 2015, choosing to focus his efforts on rock’n’roll side project, We Are Harlot.
￼￼Danny made us out to be the bad guys
“I was angry at how he treated us for the last three years,” says Ben today. “Angry at how he always played the victim and made us out to be the bad guys, but we stood by him, no matter how much shit he gave us. And then one day, after all the shit we’d had to go through, he just says, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m out.’ But now? There’s no animosity, there’s no hatred. How could there possibly be? We’re doing what we always wanted to do.”
Indeed, just over a year after the events of Danny’s departure, the indefatigable Ben Bruce is preparing to unleash the third phase of his band in earnest. With new frontman Denis Stoff firmly installed after over 80 shows with the group – including stints on Warped and Knotfest – and with a new album, The Black, reuniting Asking with the sleek, modern metal that made them huge, Ben is as full of confidence as ever. He also ridicules the idea that the career he has sacrificed so much for hangs in the balance with this next chapter.
“I wouldn’t say it’s make or break, no!” he scoffs. “We didn’t go into the studio with that mindset. We went through a lot of bullshit last year, and our fans have been incredibly loyal and patient, so we just went in and tried to make the best album that we could make. We spent a long time getting it right, and I truly believe, 100%, that this is our best album.”
Something that seemed so crucial to the Asking Alexandria of years gone by was a sense that they felt like a gang – a true band of brothers. Now, with the fractures within the group finally healing, Ben believes that feeling is back.
“The difference now is night and day,” he says. “When we started, we were a bunch of lads going out and living our dreams and having the best time of our lives. That started to diminish over the years, that camaraderie. But that family feeling is definitely back. Denis is still living in the Ukraine, but he stayed with me for a while, because we actually want to be as close as possible. I’m excited to go out on another adventure with the boys.”
It’s an adventure that will doubtless send the band travelling around the world once again, as Ben puts all his efforts back into the only thing he has ever truly wanted to do. He’ll carry on making those big personal sacrifices every single week – every single day – to make Asking Alexandria everything they can be.
“You can’t rely on anyone,” he says, single-mindedly. “This is my dream, and I’m not about to wait for someone to achieve it for me. I formed this band when I was 13 years old, so it’s well established that this is my band, my baby. Everyone gets a say, but this is still my responsibility.”
When Ben Bruce speaks about his band, his “baby”, you can hear the same drive, the same level of relentless dedication that fuelled similarly ambitious metal gods like Steve Harris or Rob Halford in their early days. When Bruce speaks about the future of Asking Alexandria, you listen. More importantly, you believe.
“Yeah, I could have jacked this all in,” he says, when asked if he ever wishes he’d done things differently. “I could spend more time with my family, get a stable relationship, everything would be hunky dory. But that isn’t my passion; sometimes I stand onstage and I cry, because I just can’t believe I’ve created this thing. When I was a kid I used to dream about just being able to pay my bills from playing music, but for everything I do, I just want more. Ultimately the goal is…” he pauses for a moment, before adding, “You know, Lemmy has just died, David Bowie has just died… These people changed the lives of so many strangers. I just hope that when I die, I leave something worth remembering.”
So, after six months together, just how well do the new main duo of Asking Alexandria know each other? We asked Ben how much he knows about Denis, and Denis how much he knows about Ben…
Denis On Ben
Denis: “Ben always likes his mixed drinks… so I’ll say Jack and Coke, vodka and Sprite or gin and Sprite.”
Ben’s answer: “With me it changes, but I’m going to say Jack Daniel’s and Coke.”
MOST USED SWEAR WORD
Denis: “He probably, I estimate, says ‘fuck’ about a thousand times a day.”
Ben’s answer: “‘Fuck’ or ‘cunt’.”
Denis: “Some 80s thing… I don’t know… I mean, right now, he’s really obsessed with One Direction.”
Ben’s answer: “Honestly at the moment it’s One Direction… I can’t believe this is going to come out in Metal Hammer!”
Denis: “I don’t even know…”
Ben’s answer: “My biggest fear is needles. I fucking hate injections, they scare the shit out of me.”
Denis: “Same as mine, I think. Just the reaction from the fans to the change, any day in the last few months.”
Ben’s answer: “Four days ago. When I was getting a blowjob.”
Ben On Denis
Ben: “He likes beer, but he always has a shot of Jack before he goes onstage.”
Denis’s answer: “My favourite drink would be beer or Champagne.”
MOST USED SWEAR WORD
Ben: “’Fuck.’ But he says a lot of Russian that I don’t understand. So I don’t know if he’s swearing or telling me he loves me.”
Denis’s answer: “I probably say ‘fuck’ as many times as Ben, I think.”
Ben: “He just listens to one album… the One Direction album that I play all the time. Don’t put that though, put Slipknot.”
Denis’s answer: “I can’t name just one. But Slipknot, 30 Seconds To Mars and Nine Inch Nails would all be at the top of my list.”
Denis’s answer: “I really hate heights.”
Ben: “His would be about four days ago too, giving me that blowjob.”
Denis’s answer: “Every day of the last few months has been a really happy memory… Warped Tour UK was really special. Any of the big festivals we’ve played. The reactions we’ve had have been one big, happy memory. What did he say mine would be? …What a dick!”
The Black is out on March 6 via Sumerian