Last summer, they floored Generation Warped with a dynamic stage show that captivated both mean, ugly dudes and hard-rockin’ girls. With a furious new album and a coveted spot on this year’s Rockstar Taste Of Chaos tour, BRING ME THE HORIZON have the potential to be the next British outfit to conquer America-if they can hold it together.
Story: Andrew Kelham
Photos: Ralf Strathmann
It’s nearly 2 in the afternoon when Bring Me The Horizon’s tour bus pulls into the loading bay of Jillian’s, an arcade/bowling alley/pool hall in the heart of downtrodden downtown Las Vegas. The club is in a neighborhood where the gambling is more desperate than decadent and pawnshops litter the areas surrounding the casinos. It might be business as usual for BMTH, but for Vegas scenesters, tonight’s show is somewhat bittersweet. The band are playing in an area temporarily cleared of pool tables and Time Crisis arcade games; tomorrow night, a local band showcase is scheduled for the bowling alley upstairs. The day after that, there will be no more shows at Jillian’s and the city will lose its largest all-ages venue.
Back on the bus, most of the band and crew are at various stages of waking up and various degrees of dress. No one seems unduly perturbed by the impending death of the all-ages venue, because today is frontman Oliver “Oli” Sykes’ 22nd birthday. As he stands in his underwear midway down the bus checking e-mails on a laptop resting on an empty bunk, a passing crewmember makes a comment about putting mescaline in his drink tonight. Sykes and assorted band and crew begin to laugh, making it crystal clear what the order of the day will be. “This is the best coincidental show my birthday has ever fallen on,” Sykes admits. “On my 19th birthday, we played a show at a nightclub outside Manchester [,England]. I was drunk when I turned up for soundcheck. There were 40 people there to watch us and they did not turn the PA on when we played. It was insane.”
Drummer Matt Nicholls, lying in the bunk above Sykes, chimes in with another tale on the same theme. “We thought it would be funny to swap everything on our rider for booze one day,” he recalls. “We all got smashed before the show, and Oli ended up with his dick out onstage, as someone pulled his pants down.”
Management had cleared today’s schedule of everything but the show so that Sykes and the band-Nicholls, bassist Matt Kean and guitarists Lee Malia and Curtis Ward-could celebrate in the same manner if they so wished. In a similar spirit, the tour manager set bus call for 5 a.m. to allow everyone ample time to lose both money and mind in a city with unlimited provision for both. However, an (in)convenient overlap of schedules means AP has been forced into the band’s life on this afternoon that had previously been reserved for gambling, sightseeing and beverage consumption.
Fortunately, no one in the band seem phased. As the clock ticks past the agreed interview time, a few members of the band and crew lie in their bunks talking about the day ahead while calibrating their gambling fund with bank balance checks online. Ward does not partake in the check; he already knows his situation. “I have 400 quid [slang for British pounds] to my name,” he admits dejectedly as he gets dressed. As a result, his spending power will be curtailed tonight, and for the rest of this tour. When he returns to the U.K., his car will be sitting in the driveway in front of his home, awaiting repairs he cannot afford. Rock ’n’ roll it is not-the reality of life in a modern touring band it most certainly is. “Kids come up to us thinking we are big rock stars, but we are not,” Ward continues. “I have never seen a penny from our record sales. We live off our merch sales and will probably continue to for a long time.”
Bring Me The Horizon are in a strange position. Their profile and profit are at times inversely proportional: What elevates the band also deprives them of any financial recompense from it. While the internet built a platform for the band in the U.S. long before they ever stepped foot in the country, it’s also allowed fans and curious listeners alike to drink the milk without buying the cow. Despite ever increasing coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, the band’s newest record Suicide Season has only shifted 15,000 copies in the U.K. and 20,000 copies in the U.S. The band’s U.K. label Visible Noise has guided them to the covers of magazines and major slots on international package tours, but because of the deal the band signed when they were 17 years old, they most likely will rely on money from secondary sources like merchandising, rather than their primary creative outlet, for the rest of their career.
“There are two different copyrights on record,” explains Julie Weir, the A&R director for BMTH’s British label Visible Noise, in a separate interview. “There is a recording copyright and there is the publishing copyright, and they are split by two different contracts. Visible Noise owns Bring Me The Horizon’s recording copyright and our publishing company owns the publishing copyright. We own the copyright for both masters.”
Like many young bands, Bring Me The Horizon signed away their publishing copyright when they signed their record deal. As a result, the band do not own their blistering second album Suicide Season. They wrote it and recorded it and now promote it and perform songs from it nightly; but legally, the album and songs are the copyrighted property of the label. How much money did it take for the band to sign away the cornerstone of their creative enterprise? A mere 2,000 British pounds. [approximately $3,066.85.-recession accountancy ed.]
“When they first started off, they were kids, so of course they did not know anything about the business side of music,” remembers Jamie Farrell, the man responsible for the release of This Is What The Edge Of Your Seat Was Made For, the band’s debut EP on his label Thirty Days Of Night, which was then licensed to pioneering metal label Earache in America. “I read through their contract before they signed to Visible Noise,” he says in a separate interview, “and I did not really have a clue, to be honest. But the merchandise rights bit jumped out at me, and I told them not to give that away as it would be how they would make their money touring. My band, the Nothing, took them out on tour in the really early days. They were making $500 to $600 a night on merch-which was totally ridiculous for a tiny band without a CD.”
“We were so young,” remarks Ward, en route to Starbucks for a caffeinated late breakfast. He begins a robust defense before diplomacy reins him back. “We were one of the only bands doing it, so we had no one to talk to. But we would not be here without Visible Noise, so I would not change anything as we are in a good place now.” As if to illustrate that point, a handful of fans waiting outside the venue spot Ward walking off and immediately surround him. He is freed from their clutches a few minutes later once new online-profile pictures are secured.
Despite some contractual gaffes, the band are doing pretty well. Bring Me The Horizon have surprised everyone with the strength, depth and caustic muscle of Suicide Season, an album that slipped through the spaces between all the various prefix-cores to stand up as a great modern metal record. They’ve inked a deal with the company that manages Iron Maiden. Prior to their main support slot on this year’s Rockstar Taste Of Chaos, the band’s last headlining run of American clubs was largely soldout. History buffs, take note: BMTH are the first British band to grace the cover of AP since Radiohead (AP 158, September 2001).
But Ward has other things on his mind that prohibit him from completely basking in the band’s accomplishments. The guitarist has been deaf in one ear and partially blind in one eye since birth (his mother noticed it when he was 5 years old). Making matters worse, his functioning ear has developed a ringing tinnitus that would drive dolphins and dogs insane. Yesterday, the band visited a firearms range in Texas and after a few goes on a shotgun, Ward was barely able to hear anything. The pitch and volume of the piercing noise that keeps him awake at night is increasing rapidly because Ward does not wear earplugs onstage (or when firing relatively large weapons), something he blames on his current financial situation.
“I want some proper molded earplugs, but I cannot afford them,” he admits, pausing to reflect. “That just sums up our band. I am going to go deaf, which means I won’t be able to do this band anymore, but being in this band means I can’t afford to stop myself going deaf.”
How is Ward dealing with this situation?
“I just smoke a lot of weed,” he says, laughing. “That way I just pass out in bed at night so I don’t have to hear the screeching.”
To finish reading this story about Bring Me The Horizon pick up a copy of AP 248