The Biggest Tour
By Dan Macintosh
Asking Alexandria’s appearance as a top headliner at California Metalfest, scheduled for Nov. 24 at the NOS Event Center in San Bernardino, will be a little bit like a festival within a festival. You see, the group is also topping the bill for the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour (along with As I Lay Dying, Suicide Silence, Memphis May Fire and Attila), that means the act will have already traveled through parts of Canada and the West Coast with the other Monster Energy Outbreak Tour artists before it reaches the Inland Empire and joins a veritable “cast of thousands” of other hard rock acts. Yet, in contrast to some of the sonic company it oftentimes keeps, Asking Alexandria doesn’t just churn out the same old rehashed heavy metal riffs we’ve come to expect from this predictable genre. Case in point is a song like “Closure,” from 2011’s Reckless & Relentless, which stealthily mixes electronic musical elements into a solid metal foundation, and creates something wholly unique, yet still strangely familiar.
“I think music is something you can’t limit,” lead guitarist and band founder Ben Bruce explains, “whether it’s metal or blues or jazz or electronic music. It had gotten to the point where metal, in particular, was getting stale to me. But you’ve got to overstep some boundaries and make some leaps, like when the Scorpions or Metallica did shows with a full orchestra. That was awesome! It was inspiring. It was thinking outside the box. And I think adding electronic elements to music—to metal music in particular—is another step in the right direction toward creating a sort of new sound in metal again.”
Without question, headlining the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour is a big step in Asking Alexandria’s ascending career trajectory, as well as a chance to spend more time with some buddies in the metal scene. “It’s our biggest headlining tour in the States to date,” marvels Bruce. “It’s a really strong lineup. We’re friends with a lot of the bands on the bill. As I Lay Dying, we just spent the summer on Mayhem touring with them. Memphis May Fire we’ve been friends with forever. [The guys from] Suicide Silence are also good friends.”
This British act from York, North Yorkshire will release its third album in early 2013, and Bruce is now finding that commercial success also comes with added social responsibility.
“We’ve established quite a large fan base around the world now, and whether they’re young fans or older fans we’ve realized that we almost have a duty to them now,” explains Bruce. “They do look up to us and we inspire a lot of people, which is awesome, but it’s also a great responsibility and I think we neglected that fact in the early stages of our career. Now with bands being more easily approached by their fans with things such as Twitter and Facebook and stuff, I personally—along with the rest of the guys—have really started to notice the amount of kids that really do struggle with depression or being told that they can’t follow their dreams—or they shouldn’t follow their dreams—and it really opened up our eyes a lot.”
When Bruce talks about encouraging Asking Alexandria fans to follow their dreams, he doesn’t have to think too far back to recall that pivotal moment when he was inspired to follow his own musical dreams. It only takes one memorable concert experience to cause a young person to catch the rock ’n‘ roll bug, and Bruce still fondly recalls his first rock concert like it was yesterday.
“It was a Deep Purple concert I went to with my step dad,” Bruce reminisces. “I was in Dubai and I was young, and there must have been, I don’t know, 15,000-20,000 people there. I just remember being absolutely blown away. There were people there singing word for word; people playing air guitar and air drums. And I just remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is incredible.’”
On the surface, Dubai doesn’t sound like a very rock ’n‘ roll place to grow up. It is, after all, an emirate within the United Arab Emirates and is a metropolis built upon the oil industry. When Starship sang that awful hit song, “We Built This City,” the band certainly didn’t have Dubai in mind. Most significantly, this is a culture saturated with the Islamic religion and traditional Arab and Bedouin culture. However, Bruce never at all felt like he was growing up in some kind of anti- rock ’n‘ roll region.
“I lived in Dubai for a long time,” Bruce relates, “and a lot of it is ex-pats. Most of the population there is made of English and Americans and Australians and South Africans, so it’s a very Western civilization over there, anyways. So it isn’t very different, if I’m being completely honest, from America or England.
Bruce was also young enough—only six—when he moved to Dubai, so cultural adjustments were probably more natural and easier than had he been acclimated to them much older. Ultimately, the move was simply a family decision. “The UK was struggling with the recession, and my dad just got offered a better lifestyle for him to raise his family in, in Dubai, with a more stable job,” Bruce says of the reasoning behind relocating there when he was young. “It was just the right thing to do at the time, I think.”
This musician believes growing up in a place like Dubai, where so many different cultures are represented, actually caused him to become a more culturally tolerant person. “I think it’s helped me to grow up to be a better and more understanding person,” he says. “I try my best to not discriminate against anyone. I think I owe a lot of that to growing up in Dubai. I’m not religious in any way, shape or form, but I have no quarrels or arguments with people that are. I mean; to each their own.
“If you show the locals respect,” Bruce continues, “then they’ll respect you back. They have Ramadan where they have to fast. They don’t eat during the day. They have one feast at nighttime. So they don’t like everyone else eating out in public during Ramadan. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat. Of course you can! But be respectful. Don’t walk outside in front of a mosque with a hotdog and laugh at the people that aren’t eating. It’s as simple as that.”
No Better Time for Music
One of the big reasons metal music has sometimes thrived during these admittedly difficult economic times, according to Bruce, is because it’s generally a genre that offers creative distractions, if you will, which temporarily take the mind off of trying circumstances.
“Even though everyone’s been affected greatly by everything that’s happened with the economy and such around the world,” Bruce begins, “it’s funny because music and movies and just things that people grip onto to escape from reality for a while, have still played such a major role in that it hasn’t really affected those sort of industries as much, as maybe it has adversely affected other businesses. We’ve been really fortunate in that it’s allowed us to travel the world and meet great people.”
Chances are good Asking Alexandria would be writing and playing just about the same sort of songs, however, even if times were better. This is because the band likes to stick with universal emotional themes. “One of the things that doesn’t spring to mind is the country’s economy,” say Bruce, when asked about the band’s mindset when it comes to writing its songs. “Instead, it’s the same age-old problems people always seem to experience growing up, basically.”
The Buck Starts Here
Make no mistake about it, though, Bruce is the best man to consult with about Asking Alexandria songs because the buck always begins with him whenever it’s time to write new songs. “Generally, it starts off with me,” says Bruce. “I’m the primary songwriter in the band. I’ll sit down on my own, on my laptop and I’ll have a riff idea in my head or maybe even a drumbeat. A lot of times I’ll start with drums, and I’ll just loop a drum beat that I’ve made on my computer and play different riffs over it and different chords and guitar licks and stuff. A song usually progresses like that. And I’ll start to add some strings and synths and bring it all together. And then I’ll take the song to James Cassells, our drummer, and sit down with him and say, ‘Well, what do you think of this?’ and we’ll go through it structurally and maybe he’ll have ideas to change bits here and there and once I’m happy with how the song’s written, I’ll take it to vocalist Danny Worsnop and he’ll make suggestions on song structure and sit down and do the lyrics and vocals and stuff. “
Cassells may not be anyone’s idea of a music professor, but he is nevertheless essential to the creation of Asking Alexandria songs. “He’s a phenomenal drummer,” says Bruce, “but he’s not really that musically inclined; he doesn’t know what the hell I’m doing on guitar. He just has great ideas, and has a way of bringing things out of me that I sometimes have trouble finding. He just hears things differently than most people.”
California Metalfest is a huge, all-day festival, which proves once again—in case anybody’s still questioning it—metal’s enduring popularity. While the struggling American economy has stunted the growth, and even forced cancellation of some popular touring festivals, metal at times appears to be impervious to economic woes. Much like the heavy steel its named after, metal is simply time-tested and eternally tough.
“I think, honestly, that metal is one of the most honest genres out there at the moment, in terms of mainstream appeal,” Bruce says. “You can listen to pop songs, and they can be good songs, real catchy and make you feel good and you may want to sing along for a while. But they don’t really bear much substance a lot of the time. When you look at the genre of rock or metal, it really resonates with people. There are a lot of pissed-off, angry people out there that are struggling and this metal provides them with a raw energy and an aggression and an outlet. You can go to a rock concert, and honestly let your hair down and anything goes. You just go for a good time. You can just thrash around, jump around. Everyone’s there for the same reason and there’s just a really cool energy that a lot of the other genres don’t get. Whether it’s heavy metal, where’s there’s circle pits and mosh pits, or even if it’s, like, a classic rock band, everyone’s wailing lyrics at the top of their lungs and the whole aura of a show like that is just incredible.”
Whenever Asking Alexandria comes to town, it’s closer to an eclectic feast, rather than merely another metal fest, which is why this is one group that always stands apart from the pack.