Twelve months ago, OLI SYKES de­clared the world needed a break from his band. He was true to his word, too. But now, armed with a view on life trans­formed by mat­ters past and present, BRING ME THE HORI­ZON’S front­man has his eyes firmly fixed on the road a

Kerrang! (UK) - - Welcome - Words: Paul bran­ni­gan Pho­tos: perou live photo: getty


Mounted on one wall of Bring Me The Hori­zon’s record­ing stu­dio is a white­board, upon which the progress of what will be­come the Sh­effield band’s sixth al­bum is be­ing charted. Promi­nently dis­played is the ‘Jor­dan Fish Stress-o-me­ter’, a crude­ly­drawn bar chart mis­chie­vously de­signed to record just how anx­ious BMTH’S key­board player/ pro­gram­mer is feel­ing about their mo­men­tum on any given day.

“He’s cur­rently reg­is­ter­ing as ‘Un­sure’,” ex­plains Oli Sykes, “which is the first grad­u­a­tion be­yond the base­line ‘OKAY’. When things start to get bad, he’ll move to ‘De­mons In­bound’. Be­yond that is ‘Good God!’, which is ba­si­cally boil­ing point. And right at the top here, we have ‘Full­blown Melt­down’. Hope­fully that’s some way off yet.”

For his part, Hori­zon’s 31-year-old front­man is a pic­ture of be­atific calm this af­ter­noon as he walks Ker­rang! around the ca­pa­cious in­te­rior of the vast con­verted ware­house which houses the re­tail and dis­tri­bu­tion head­quar­ters of his cloth­ing com­pany, Drop Dead, BMTH’S record­ing fa­cil­ity, a photo stu­dio, sev­eral com­pany of­fices and – cur­rently a work-in­progress, with con­struc­tion be­ing over­seen by his fa­ther Ian – a Brazilianthemed bar. Oli bought the build­ing four years ago, and it’s now the work­place of 20 friends and fam­ily mem­bers, a tightly-bonded mi­cro-com­mu­nity in an in­creas­ingly sought-after sec­tion of the Steel City for­merly bet­ter known for host­ing a busy red light district.

Glow­ing from a re­cent seven-day trip to Costa Rica, where he saw first-hand the pos­i­tive im­pact Drop Dead’s col­lab­o­ra­tive ini­tia­tive to raise money for school uni­forms in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries (in tan­dem with Akin Cloth­ing) is hav­ing, the singer is re­laxed and at­ten­tive, with a smile and a warm greet­ing for all he en­coun­ters on his walk­a­bout.

Drop Dead staff and fam­ily mem­bers alike have got­ten used to see­ing Oli’s face around the fa­cil­ity more fre­quently over the past 12 months. Ahead of the band’s huge UK arena tour in Oc­to­ber/novem­ber 2016, their front­man de­clared that “the world needs a break from Bring Me The Hori­zon for a year or so”, and he’s been true to his word: since they closed out their tour­ing sched­ule for That’s The Spirit on April 8, 2017 in Las Ve­gas, the band mem­bers have kept a low pro­file, rel­ish­ing their re­turn to ‘nor­mal life’, or at least what passes as nor­mal­ity for young men who’ve ded­i­cated their en­tire adult lives to Bring Me The Hori­zon.

This af­ter­noon, Jor­dan Fish, gui­tarist Lee Malia, bassist Matt Kean and drum­mer Matt Ni­cholls are at Drop Dead also, the unit re­assem­bling to play their man­age­ment team snip­pets of their new ma­te­rial for the first time. The chilled at­mos­phere in the build­ing sug­gests that this play­back pre­miere went rather well. “We’re start­ing to see the road ahead,” says Oli with a smile.

The singer’s last pro­fes­sional en­gage­ment was on Oc­to­ber 27, a day he swears he will never for­get. On that evening, Oli was one of many guests to join the sur­viv­ing mem­bers of Linkin Park on­stage at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl in Los An­ge­les to pay trib­ute to the life and mu­sic of the late Chester Ben­ning­ton. It was, says Oli, an emo­tional night, “nerve-wrack­ing, but amaz­ing.” See­ing Linkin Park on Ker­rang! TV as a 13-year-old was Oli’s in­tro­duc­tion to heavy mu­sic, the band’s Septem­ber 15, 2001 gig at Manch­ester Apollo the teenager’s firstever gig. “That show was the night I be­came ad­dicted to mu­sic,” he told Chester in 2014, when the two singers were brought to­gether for a joint Ker­rang! in­ter­view ahead of that sum­mer’s Down­load Fes­ti­val.

“When I met him that day I just gushed to him,” Oli re­calls. “I told him I was a mas­sive fan, and he was very cool: I think he was stoked to think he’d made that im­pact on some­one’s life. We played be­fore Linkin Park at Down­load that year and they gave us a shout-out on­stage, which was amaz­ing. So the con­nec­tion was there.”

In the wake of Chester’s tragic pass­ing on July 20 last year, ru­mours be­gan to cir­cu­late on­line that Oli was go­ing to fill in for his hero on Linkin Park’s One More Light North Amer­i­can tour. There was no truth in the story, yet it gained suf­fi­cient trac­tion that even close friends were tex­ting Oli to make plans to meet up at shows.

“Jor­dan ac­tu­ally said to me, ‘I bet if they do a show, they’ll ask you,’” Oli re­calls. “And lit­er­ally two weeks later one of the guys texted me and asked if I’d be in­ter­ested.

“The whole night was a blur,” he ad­mits. “It was an amaz­ing thing to be part of. The pres­sure felt way big­ger than do­ing a Hori­zon gig, be­cause ob­vi­ously it was an emo­tional night and an im­por­tant show, so it was scary. I can’t sing as high as Chester, so the band and I had talked about drop­ping Crawl­ing down [in pitch], but when I got there they’d for­got­ten, which made me more ner­vous! But it was cool, and it was im­por­tant to me to pay my re­spects.”

When Oli speaks of the evening, his hu­mil­ity is ev­i­dent, and it’s quite charm­ing to see his in­ner teenage fan­boy resur­face. Put it to the singer that he him­self now oc­cu­pies a sim­i­lar iconic sta­tus for a new gen­er­a­tion of rock fans, though, and he vis­i­bly squirms in his seat and blushes, clearly not en­tirely com­fort­able with the no­tion.

“Um, I guess so,” he says qui­etly. “But when peo­ple say that, I kinda just skip over it. It’s too weird to think like that, es­pe­cially when I meet peo­ple who might like our mu­sic. I don’t want them to think I see my­self as some­thing dif­fer­ent from them.

“It al­ways catches me off guard. Like, when I’m at a restau­rant and some­one will be serv­ing me all night and then at the end they’ll be like, ‘Can I get a photo?’ and I had no idea they knew who I was. It hap­pened to me last night, ac­tu­ally. I could just feel my face go­ing bright red. It’s not that it em­bar­rasses me neg­a­tively, but you just for­get. And then peo­ple are look­ing over, like, ‘Who the fuck is that guy?’ Some­times you want to die in­side, be­cause you can see that some peo­ple are


like, ‘Who does he think he is?’ It’s fine, but it’s not some­thing I live for.”

By his own ad­mis­sion, Oli never planned to be a rock­star, never imag­ined this as his destiny. Grow­ing up out­side Sh­effield in the small vil­lage of Stocks­bridge, “about a half hour’s drive from here”, the young Oli Sykes ob­sessed over car­toons, comics and video games – “Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles, Ghost­busters, Sonic The Hedge­hog.” School was en­dured, not en­joyed, with only art and English hold­ing the rest­less young­ster’s at­ten­tion; it was only much later in adult life that Oli was di­ag­nosed with ADHD (At­ten­tion Deficit Hyper­ac­tiv­ity Dis­or­der). When he first dis­cov­ered mu­sic that res­onated, aged 13, he con­sid­ered the bands he watched on Ker­rang! TV to be like “movie stars”, their life­styles “to­tally un­ob­tain­able”. That all changed, how­ever, when he picked up a copy of a 2001 Roadrunner Records VHS com­pi­la­tion, Drilling The Vein IV, where along­side promo clips from Slipknot, Nick­el­back, Ma­chine Head and Type O Neg­a­tive, he watched the video for Glass­jaw’s Siberian Kiss.

“It’s a live video, of a small club show, and Daryl Palumbo was just go­ing crazy, rolling around on the stage and jump­ing into the crowd,” Oli re­calls. “It just struck me at that point, like, ‘That’s his job! That guy’s job is go­ing men­tal!’ As a kid I had so much en­ergy that I needed to do some­thing with, and that was what first made me think, ‘I can do this, any­one can do this.’”

It was at an all-ages rock club at Sh­effield’s Cor­po­ra­tion where Oli met lo­cal teenagers who would help fa­cil­i­tate this vi­sion. He met Maltby-born drum­mer Matt Ni­cholls first – “We both dressed the same, our pants were way too far down our ar­ses, so we in­stantly bonded” – and through his new friend, he sub­se­quently met gui­tarists Lee Malia and Cur­tis Ward, who, like Matt, were study­ing at Sh­effield Mu­sic Academy. With the ad­di­tion of bassist Matt Kean, Bring Me The Hori­zon were born.

“I don’t know if it was just in our heads, but there al­ways seemed to be a buzz around the band, even be­fore we started play­ing,” says Oli. “Even at our first gig, a pub show in Rother­ham, it seemed like there was gen­uine ex­cite­ment. Ob­vi­ously we were pretty sham­bolic, though Lee and Cur­tis could re­ally play, but it never seemed like we had to chase an au­di­ence. We had no goals, we just wanted to make mu­sic that kids could mosh to, but the hype around us grew pretty quickly. We got signed [to re­spected in­de­pen­dent la­bel Vis­i­ble Noise], made Count Your Bless­ings, toured Amer­ica, won the Ker­rang! Best Bri­tish New­comer Award [in 2006] and played Down­load with­out ever hav­ing a strat­egy. And then we thought, ‘Oh, maybe we could ac­tu­ally do this.’”

From early on, BMTH di­vided opin­ion, and their pretty, del­i­cate-look­ing but fear­less singer be­came a light­ning rod for the band’s most vo­cal and vit­ri­olic crit­ics. “I never saw my­self as like a snot-nosed, ob­nox­ious kid,” he ad­mits to­day, “but when we started do­ing mag­a­zine stuff, that’s how I started get­ting per­ceived.” As the band’s pop­u­lar­ity be­gan to grow – 2008’s Sui­cide Sea­son breach­ing the UK Top 50; its fol­low-up There Is a Hell, Be­lieve Me, I’ve Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let’s Keep It a Se­cret be­com­ing a Top 20 hit in both the UK and U.S. – the gos­sip and ru­mours around the singer be­gan to spi­ral out of con­trol. By his own ad­mis­sion, the sen­si­tive singer “didn’t know how to play the game”, and, in­creas­ingly frus­trated by his in­abil­ity to con­trol the nar­ra­tive around him and his band, be­gan self-med­i­cat­ing, “try­ing to find hap­pi­ness in all the wrong things”.

“The big­gest thing for me was that peo­ple were say­ing things about me that weren’t true,” he re­flects now. “But I was get­ting so mad about it be­cause I wasn’t proud of who I was, in dif­fer­ent ways. Most peo­ple didn’t know I was do­ing drugs, they didn’t know about things I’d done that I was re­ally ashamed of, but I was kick­ing against them so bad be­cause they were af­firm­ing my be­lief that I was a bad per­son.”

At­tempts by band­mates, friends and fam­ily to curb Oli’s grow­ing de­pen­dency on ke­tamine and co­caine were an­grily re­buffed. The singer will ad­mit now that he didn’t care at the time whether he lived or died, so de­ter­mined was he to dis­as­so­ci­ate from his re­al­ity. The is­sue got so bad that a heart­bro­ken and des­per­ate Ian Sykes made him­self avail­able to drive Oli around Sh­effield to pick up drugs from his dealer, con­vinced that only by do­ing so could he safe­guard his son against killing him­self or some­one else in a road ac­ci­dent while un­der the in­flu­ence. Nei­ther he, nor Oli’s lov­ing mother Carol, could watch over their adult son 24 hours a day, how­ever, and they weren’t present in 2012 when Oli over­dosed.

Speak­ing to­day, Oli will ad­mit that he has no mem­ory of the cir­cum­stances that led him to wake up in hos­pi­tal with both the po­lice and his par­ents by his bed­side.

“A lot of that time I’ve men­tally blocked out,” he says. “I can’t re­mem­ber who called the am­bu­lance, or where I even was, I just re­mem­ber be­ing told what had hap­pened. There’s a year or two of my life that’s pretty much just black: I’ve had peo­ple de­scribe to me things I did and I can’t be­lieve it. But at the time, it wasn’t even about get­ting high, it was about not feel­ing any­thing at all. When I over­dosed, I thought, ‘I need help, I don’t want to die.’ I thought that I did, and I very nearly did, but that was my mo­ment of clar­ity.”

It’s a tes­ta­ment to Oli Sykes’ strength of char­ac­ter, and in­deed to the un­con­di­tional love of his fam­ily and friends, that he’s still among us. He’ll con­fess that, at points, he’d lost sight of ev­ery­thing that was im­por­tant to him, had stopped ap­pre­ci­at­ing ev­ery­thing his band had achieved, had stopped get­ting a buzz from writ­ing and per­form­ing mu­sic. He had be­come un­able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween Oli Sykes ‘the rock­star’,


and Ian and Carol’s son, Oliver Scott Sykes, and was tor­tur­ing him­self try­ing to live up to the cocky, mouthy, con­fronta­tional per­sona the me­dia had been com­plicit in con­fer­ring upon him. “If you’re not care­ful, you start be­com­ing the per­son that peo­ple think you are and get­ting so messed up be­cause you can never live up to that im­age,” he ac­knowl­edges.

“It was im­por­tant to me after com­ing out of re­hab and get­ting drugs out my life to fig­ure out why I was that per­son in the first place, what hap­pened down the line to get me to a place where I couldn’t stop us­ing drugs. Be­cause I wasn’t al­ways like that. Is it fear? Is it in­se­cu­rity? You start to lose your iden­tity, be­cause you’re not who you are. It’s all about be­ing con­fi­dent in your­self and be­ing sure and happy and be­ing proud of who you are.”

Ask Oli if he’s happy with him­self right now, and he an­swers “Yes” in a heart­beat, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that it’s partly his med­i­ca­tion that is keep­ing him on an even keel. He men­tions the “lib­er­a­tion” he felt in be­ing di­ag­nosed with ADHD, while re­fus­ing to lean on the con­di­tion as an ex­cuse for past in­dis­cre­tions or be­hav­iour. “Peo­ple were wor­ried sick about me 24/7, and it’s not about me be­ing sorry or thank­ful now, it’s about im­prov­ing ev­ery day,” he states. But he‘s clearly in a much bet­ter place. He re­mar­ried last sum­mer in Ve­gas, to Brazil­ian model Alissa Salls, and the pair have set­tled in Dore, a small South York­shire vil­lage where no-one is overly both­ered at all about the pres­ence of a rock­star in their midst – which, in turn, is free­ing up said rock­star to con­cen­trate on the new mu­sic he and his best friends are mak­ing at Drop Dead HQ.

Ac­cord­ing to a pie chart on the stu­dio wall, Bring Me The Hori­zon have only 1.1 per cent of the fol­low-up to That’s The Spirit com­pleted at present, but Oli says the band might be “be­ing a lit­tle hard on our­selves”. They have 30 song ideas in the mix, “in var­i­ous stages of non-com­ple­tion”, and Oli in­tends spend­ing the next few weeks work­ing at home on lyrics and melodies. Ob­vi­ously it’s far too early to get a sense of how BMTH al­bum num­ber six might sound, but the singer says: “I don’t think any Bring Me The Hori­zon fan is go­ing to be sur­prised at this next al­bum sound­ing dif­fer­ent to the last one.”

“I kind of know where I want to go, but it’s also fall­ing into place as we write the thing,” he says. “We want it to be dif­fer­ent and we want to push for­ward. We like the idea of break­ing into the main­stream. We’re not ashamed of that, we don’t see it as selling out. We see it as a great chal­lenge, to make mu­sic that can be adored by more peo­ple but still re­tain who we are. That is the goal.”

Ask Oli which bands are in­spir­ing him right now, and there’s a long, long pause, bro­ken only by the ob­ser­va­tion that “mu­sic is in a weird place right now”. Even­tu­ally, while mak­ing it clear BMTH aren’t ab­sorb­ing any mu­si­cal in­flu­ences from the duo, he nom­i­nates twenty one pi­lots as a band he thinks are go­ing about things in an in­spir­ing man­ner, not­ing that the group are “pop­u­lar and ac­ces­si­ble, but with­out com­pro­mis­ing their in­tegrity or who they are. That’s a real chal­lenge now.” Equally, though, it’s hard not to think of his teenage he­roes Linkin Park when Oli talks of his hopes that BMTH be­come “that band to bring peo­ple into this way of life, into the rock scene, where peo­ple say, ‘I don’t like rock mu­sic, but I like your band.’”

“As hor­ri­ble as it was what I went through, and put other peo­ple through, we’re in such a bet­ter po­si­tion for it be­cause this made us all re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate what we have,” he says. “When you’re in a band for 10 years, it’s re­ally easy to stop ap­pre­ci­at­ing it, and it took that hor­ri­ble, dark near-death ex­pe­ri­ence to re­ally turn this around, be­cause at a point, it seemed like the band was go­ing to end. It’s all about the fu­ture now.”

Men­tion that this next al­bum, which he hopes will be re­leased be­fore the end of 2018, could be the one that truly trans­forms Oli Sykes into a rock icon, and the singer shrugs off the idea with a blush. What’s more im­por­tant, he says, is the no­tion of mov­ing for­ward, of re­fus­ing to rest on lau­rels from the past. “So many bands that were big­ger than us in the past are now gone,” he cau­tions, “be­cause of a men­tal­ity where you think we’re un­touch­able.” He’ll even ad­mit to a touch of guilt that per­haps Hori­zon aren’t fur­ther ad­vanced in their ca­reer, that he feels that per­haps his own tribu­la­tions have held the band back in the past. This changes now, is the un­am­bigu­ous mes­sage.

“You can’t buy this kind of buzz,” he says. “With all the shit you’ve been through, you can write a song about it and every­one can sing it back to you and there’s no kind of ther­apy that can com­pete, in terms of get­ting rid of your de­mons.”

It’s a theme Oli will re­turn to as he drives Ker­rang! back to Sh­effield train sta­tion in his beau­ti­ful black Tesla su­per­car. He talks, in a down-to-earth fash­ion, of re­main­ing true to a vi­sion, of hav­ing the nerve to hold firm to be­liefs, of the im­por­tance of know­ing one­self above all, with­out ever sound­ing like he’s re­sort­ing to ther­apy-speak. Un­fail­ingly po­lite and hum­ble as he re­veals him­self to be in con­ver­sa­tion, there’s a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion in his words when he speaks of a fu­ture yet un­writ­ten. As he pulls away from the sta­tion kerb, he looks left and right for on­com­ing traf­fic, but be­yond Sh­effield’s rush hour, on the jour­ney ahead, Oli Sykes is no longer look­ing in the rear-view mir­ror.


Oli Sykes, shot ex­clu­sively for Ker­rang!, Lon­don, Fe­bru­ary 2018

Oli joins Mike Shin­oda and Linkin Park on­stage in LA, Oc­to­ber 2018

The orig­i­nal mem­ber of Drop Dead FC’S Ul­tras

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