"An open therapy session": How BRING ME THE HORIZON finally fired up their 'NeX' chapter | Revolver

"An open therapy session": How BRING ME THE HORIZON finally fired up their 'NeX' chapter

Oli Sykes on splitting with Jordan Fish, connecting with fans and creating a stage for honesty
bring me the horizon 2024 PROMO 2 fire, Bring Me the Horizon
courtesy of Bring Me the Horizon

Oli Sykes is ready to exhale. When Revolver reaches Bring Me the Horizon's founding frontman at his adopted home in São Paulo, Brazil, he's enjoying a moment of supreme bliss following the stressful process of completing the band's wildly adventurous, much-anticipated, and long-delayed POST HUMAN: NeX GEn.

Originally scheduled to drop as an EP last September, the record has since ballooned into a feverishly-inspired, genre-obliterating 16-song statement. BMTH diehards were likewise shook into a frenzy when the group surprised-released the project onto streaming services last week with less than a day's notice. Quoting the record's "YOUtopia," a wide-swinging pop-and-post-hardcore anthem, Sykes and his fans surely both feel like they've just "stepped out of a coma."

"It's a massive, massive weight off me," Sykes concedes, adding of the pressure of expectation surrounding NeX GEn, "Obviously a lot of people were excited for it, or [were] angry about us not releasing it [on time], or whatever."

Revolver last spoke with Sykes in the spring of 2022 — during the making of at least part of NeX GEn — and a lot has changed for the U.K.-bred outfit since then. Most notably, longtime producer-keyboardist Jordan Fish — Sykes' songwriting partner in crime since being brought aboard during the making of 2013's Sempiternal — exited the band late last year. Losing his closest collaborator clearly stung. When BMTH emerged without Fish in January with the darkly tangy "Kool-Aid," he expressed in an Instagram post that it had been a particularly "ruff ride" for the group of late. Sykes has also been working through his recovery from a relapse into ketamine addiction a few years ago — a trio of songs on the album allude to his growth in rehab and therapy.

Despite the challenges, Sykes explains that he and the rest of the group — co-founders Lee Malia (guitar), Matt Kean (bass) and Matt Nichols (drums) — are working closer than they have in years. NeX GEn also widened the band's circle with a host of collaborators including post-hardcore heroes like Glassjaw's Daryl Palumbo and Underoath's Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie, new friends like rapper Lil Uzi Vert and pop outsider AUROROA, and on the record's "n/A," the band's biggest guest spot yet: an entire venue of English fans singing out a verse.

In the wake of POST HUMAN's aggressively metalcore-charged first chapter, 2020's SURVIVAL HORROR, Bring Me the Horizon likewise expanded the palette to deliver their most stylistically kaleidoscopic release yet. It's a place where hypnagogically sludging nu-grooves ("liMOusIne") collide with drum-and-bass twitchiness ("[ost] p.u.s.s.-e"), retro-futuristic emo-metal (the Underoath-assisted "a bulleT w/ my namE On") and more. Sykes says the eclecticism was a bit of gamble but was worth the risk on a personal level. "You've also got to accept that not every song is going to be someone's favorite, and you can't please everyone."

Speaking with Revolver, Sykes further weighs in on his NeX GEn era, fan interaction, and art as an "open therapy session."

bring me the horizon 2023 GETTY live, Javier Bragado/WireImage
photograph by Javier Bragado/WireImage

The album was originally supposed to come out in September. Why was it delayed?
OLI SYKES
The main reason it was delayed is because of personal reasons within the band, and it was directly connected to Jordan leaving. Things weren't good last year, as a unit, and the writing suffered because of that. It slowed down to a halt.

Prior to that, we set the date of September as a bit like, "OK, we're probably going to get it, but if we don't get it, it's not the end of the world." We were like, "Kanye does this all the time. If we have to say it's not happening, it's not happening." But it was more just for us ourselves to have a goalpost. It felt achievable at the time.

"Kool-Aid" was the first song to come out after Jordan left. What was it like to make a song without him after so many years together?
We approached the song very differently, [though it was also] a lot more old-school and a lot more the way we used to approach music. Jordan was a whiz on the computer and a whiz at producing. We found ourselves mainly hunched over computers most of the time when writing albums. We even got to the point where we were hardly even putting any real guitar in anymore when we were [in the writing phase]. We were [demoing] on synths and doing everything within Pro Tools and MIDI. "Kool-Aid" was the first time in a while where we jammed the song [as a band], [and where] we wrote the riffs on guitars, which sounds crazy. That was new again.

And it was also the first time the rest of the band got a proper look into writing, [which] was a real eye-opener for me. Me and Jordan were like a force. We turned into the "Oli and Jordan Show" without really realizing it. Ever since I got out of rehab, just before Sempiternal, I really had to throw myself into something, and I guess that was music. I became addicted to writing, and learning how to sing and produce. And Jordan was my partner in that kind of pursuit. We wrote all the time.

I didn't realize how much we pushed the other guys out. I'm not saying they didn't [ever] write, [but] "Kool-Aid" opened it up so much more…

Have you heard from Jordan since the album came out?
No, not directly. I'm not going to bullshit and say, "Oh, it was amicable and we all ended on good terms and stuff." End of day, it's like any breakup… but there's no juicy story or anything. There's no headline there. At the same time, there'll be some wounds on both sides that are going to take a bit longer to heal before [getting back] on communicating terms again. But it's not something that I've ruled out.

We all think Jordan's amazing, and we're stoked on the work he's done since being in the band, and we're excited to see what he does in the future.

On the idea of healing, you've described NeX GEn as a self-help book of sorts. How so?
I guess it is in there, but it's not as easy as just listening to the lyrics and reading them. There's a lot of secrets and Easter eggs and things that you might have to dig a lot deeper to find in that respect. But the narrative and the world we've built revolves around this idea of these four insights that are heavily inspired by a book called The Four Agreements [by Don Miguel Ruiz], which is a book I read maybe a year or two ago. It's very similar to Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. It's basically a help book on four rules to live your life by. And it had such a profound effect on me when I read it. It made me feel so much better clearer about things.

It's strange… don't know if I should say this, but it's almost like when you take mushrooms and you have this really life-affirming [experience where] you can see everything that's going on in your life it for what it is. And by the end of the trip you're like, "OK, I know what I'm going to do."

I read [The Four Agreements] quite a lot and really wanted our album to have that on some level. I know that's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, if I started preaching about self-love and being careful with your words… but a lot of [lyrics] are reflecting on more positive things. The self-help-book part of it is buried in there. It's just not there at face value.

Since you alluded to addiction earlier in the conversation, what can you say about a song like NeX GEn's "n/A," which is quite a bit more direct in its theme...
"n/A" is a song we've had for quite a while — before "LosT," actually [which also references Sykes' battles with addiction]. Every song on the record is trying to serve three purposes: What it means to me on a personal level, what it means on a societal level, and what it means in direct connection to the narrative of the record. That song, on a personal level, is kind of obvious. It's about my struggles with drugs and going to rehab, and it's meant to serve as an open therapy session, or as a conduit to be more direct and open with things that I struggle with, in a similar fashion to "LosT." The songs "n/A," "LosT" and "sTraNgeRs" are all directly connected to my time in rehab, my time in therapy, and my time in narcotics and that ominous world.

I'm trying to create a stage where I can be honest. It might sound weird, but on past albums — like That's the Spirit and Sempiternal — I could never really find a way to talk about this earnestly. I had to use humor and a bit of role-playing to get that side of myself out.

Not to be too melodramatic… but ["n/A"] connects this idea that I'm in this rehab center, trying to figure out what's going on in my life and how to overcome [what] is wrong with me. And then in a society sense, "sTraNgeRs" is about my experience of rehab, and of how everyone's looking for a way to be better, and a way to be safe [and] happy. Maybe people have to leave their country due to external circumstances. Sometimes we're quite cold to people that are fleeing their country and coming to our country, the same way that we can be cold to a drug addict or someone going through something that we dismiss as, "Well, that's your fault. That's not my problem." It's the idea of trying to open up our hearts to all these circumstances, and maybe think about [everything] with a bit more empathy than judgment.

Somewhat on judgment and society, plus a little bit of the humor, there's that crowd-chanted line in "n/A" of "Hello Oli, you fucking knobhead," that was actually recorded at one of your shows this year. What was it like to get the fans involved in one of your songs?
The idea of our live show is to try and make it as much of an immersive, exciting, bombastic, over-the-top experience as possible. And I'm always trying to think of little ways where we can break the fourth wall. It should feel like the Spider-Man ride at Universal Studios, that kind of childlike excitement you get when you're queuing up and you're watching all the ways they tie the narratives into a ride. That was the idea for our show: try and make it as much like a simulator, video game or theme park ride as possible.

We write and record and have a [portable] studio [with us] pretty much every tour. We're always jumping out of the recording session and getting onstage, and [we were like,] "How cool would it be if we could involve the crowd in what we're doing backstage? This is either going to be embarrassingly bad or it's going to be really cool."

Luckily it turned out to be really cool. I don't think kids really thought we were going to use it on our album. I imagine they're super psyched that it's on there.

Getting back to "Kool-Aid," there's a line in there about being "domesticated like a cat in a cage," which is an allusion you'd similarly brought up on amo's "wonderful life": "Domesticated, still, a little feral." What draws you towards that idea of being kept in a gilded cage, or something to that effect?
"Kool-Aid" is a song about society and how we're mindlessly marching into our fate, even though we can all feel this horrible, impending doom. To take something like technology addiction, for instance — if someone's addicted to crack, usually we say something like, "You shouldn't do that. It's bad for you," but because we're all addicted to technology, we don't say anything.

For the most part nowadays, we're just [accepting] the easy overstimulation [of social media] — [the] button that gives us that false, empty-calorie happiness — rather than take the long, hard road of actual fulfillment. This idea of being a cat in a cage, it's like we're just allowing ourselves to be domesticated — to be defanged, to give up our rights to privacy — just because we can have this quick treat.

We're in a coma, and we're just walking through life.

There are, however, some real-life connections that have been actualized on this record. What was it like to make "a bulleT w/ my namE On" with Spencer and Aaron from Underoath?
It was a full circle moment, just the same way as it was by getting to do a song with Daryl [Palumbo] from Glassjaw ["AmEN!"]. Glassjaw was the band that made me want to be a singer, 100 percent. I used to love Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit — that was my first exposure to rock music and I was obsessed — but that [level of stardom] always seemed so unattainable and big that it didn't even cross my mind.

I couldn't sing. I never even thought about it until I saw Glassjaw. Their "Siberian Kiss" video is just them playing live. Seeing the singer rolling around on the floor, or jumping [and] screaming, [I thought,] "Maybe I could do that!"

To answer your question with Underoath, they were a band that I felt truly pushed what emo and metalcore could be. I quite clearly remember hearing Define the Great Line and Lost in the Sound of Separation and thinking we'll never have an album that good. I looked up at them as the benchmark. To be in a position years later where we can work with these artists is really weird.

I'll be honest, I wish I could appreciate it more. Like, when we put out ["AmEN!"] last year, my mom said, "You do remember how much you loved that band, don't you? When they canceled the first time, you didn't come out of your room for three days. [Glassjaw pulled out of a U.K. tour in 2002 because Palumbo needed to undergo intestinal surgery.] You were inconsolable! You wrote him a song called 'Get Well Soon.' Now you've got him on a song. Is that not mental to you?" And I'm like, "It is… yeah."

It's really cool, and it felt really important [to collaborate with those artists] because this album's such a homage to that. We're liberally taking influences from that world and wearing their inspirations quite clearly on our sleeves. And it felt important to bring in artists like AURORA and Lil Uzi, who I think are the next generation of pop stars.

How did AURORA enter your sphere?
She's an artist my wife and I have been a fan of for years now. I can't remember how I'd got the inkling that she liked our band.

We were looking for someone with a really dreamy, husky and earthy kind of voice for "liMOusIne," something that would bring an extra dimension to the song. I thought to myself, "This feels like it would be too heavy and too far out for her to even consider," but I sent it over Instagram and was like, "Is there any world where you'd do this?" She'd read the message the next day, but then 10 days passed with no answer and I was like, "OK… she doesn't want to do it, and she just doesn't know how to say it."

We actually approached another super sick artist [to do the feature]. I'm obviously not going to say their name, because that would make it awkward, but we basically sealed the deal with them. The label was sorting it out with them when AURORA messaged me back and said, "I've just listened to this. I love this so much, 1,000 times yes. I'm down." I hope we haven't burnt the bridge with the artist that was asked after, but I'm super stoked AURORA did it. Big fan. I love her voice.

Delays like that may have meant it took a little longer for NeX GEn to get here, but how are you feeling about the album now that it's out?
I don't think it's very sexy to talk about how much you love your own records… but I love this record so much. I'm so proud of it. I feel like every album we've ever done prior to this has been one or two songs where I'm like, "Did we need that?" Or, "Could we have done that better?" Whereas with this album, I feel like everything we set out to achieve as a band, we did.

…Whether everyone [else] gets it or loves it is another story.

This interview has been edited and condensed for flow and clarity.