British rockers Enter Shikari have risen from playing the darkest dives and the bottom of festival bills to headlining arenas in the UK. Here in the States. though, the band hasn’t quite managed to get a foothold on anything like that level of success yet. That’s not particularly unusual; there have been plenty of occasions in the past when bands from either side of the Atlantic are mega-stars in one country but a struggling, low-capacity-theater band in the other.
But why does that happen? Willie Nelson once said that there’s absolutely no difference between people in Fort Worth,Texas, and Tokyo, Japan — they all laugh and cry at the same things. But explaining the musical disconnect can be tough. It’s most likely a combination of things, including radio play, attention from the press, and possibly a few cultural differences. Shikari frontman Rou Reynolds thinks that he’s got it sussed.
“Lyrically, our music is very global, but the delivery is very British,” he says. “It’s often hard for people to grapple with that. Because we’re not your average metal-core band, we don’t really fit in the Warped Tour scene. We’re not your average indie band, so we don’t really fit there. American press and media and music fans often don’t know where to put us, and it gets off-putting. In America, you’re spoiled. There are so many great bands. Why should I spend the extra hour that it takes listening to this music that isn’t easy listening — it’s not easy to get into?”
Enter Shikari has been in existence for fourteen years, eighteen if you include its earlier foray into band life with a project called Hybryd. With each of Enter Shikari's four studio albums, the band has seen the sound noticeably evolve. “Post-hardcore” or “metal-core” start to describe the glorious noise that is produced, but the terms leave gaps. EDM and hip-hop elements are integral to the sound. On this current tour, Enter Shikari will be performing the debut album Take to the Skies in its entirety, an ongoing musical trend at present. It’s particularly weird for these guys, though, a band that doesn’t like to look backwards.
“The first album was quite raw,” Reynolds says. “It was fairly rushed, only recorded in two weeks. You can really hear every instrument. The guitar, the electronics — everything is in its own little space, and things haven’t congealed together yet. I’ve listened to the album for the first time in about ten years. There’s probably stuff I’d change now, but it has its place in our history, and it defines that era for us. I look back on it with warmth and happy nostalgia.”
At the end of the day, Enter Shikari is a fascinating, innovative rock band that you either “get” or you don’t. And you really need to have the inclination, the desire, to want to get it. But the effort is worthwhile. Like an onion, each layer peeled away reveals something new. Each ingredient is vital, and the fact that the same members that started the band remain in its ranks is important.
“I don’t know what splits bands up,” Reynolds says. “I think we’re all quite easygoing. I think it helps having a main songwriter. With us, it’s myself. So we don’t really have too many arguments in terms of creative style. Other than that, it definitely helps that we were friends before we formed Hybryd. It was like, ‘We don’t care whether me make it or not.’ We’re just playing music for a hobby.”
The most recent album, 2015’s The Mindsweep, has the vibe of a futuristic concept record about it, with song titles like “The Last Garrison” and “Dear Future Historians…” suggesting something apocalyptic, a blossoming theme in this new world. Reynolds says that his influences when writing aren’t quite that easy to nail down.
“Humans are sponges,” he says. “We absorb everything that we hear: every conversation, every book, everything we watch on TV. In a way, it’s almost like a dictatorship. I don’t have a choice what I’m inspired by. Obviously, I can listen to certain things again and again, and they’ll have more of a chance to seep in. It’s not, I sit down and think, ‘Okay, I want to write a song that sounds a bit like this band and incorporates this author’s outlook and tells this kind of story.’ I just sit down, and it happens a bit more organically.”
Still, he admits that he’s been listening to a lot of different styles of music as of late, taking in classical and neo-classical, funk and soul, Brit pop, post punk, new wave, and grime (a style of hip-hop that’s particularly huge in the U.K. right now). It’s all informed the new material, though, again, this forthcoming Denver show will see the band performing more material from the first album.
“I’m much more looking forward to this tour, because it’s only four weeks,” Reynolds says. “Usually, it’s seven or eight weeks and that is a bit of a slog, especially because we play smaller venues out there, so it’s often — some of them don’t have showers and things like that. I’m really looking forward to this one. It feels like we haven’t played for a while. Some of these songs from Take to the Skies we’ve never played live before. In terms of the audience, it’s a lot smaller but the passion from American audiences is huge, and that’s why we keep coming back.”
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There will be more recent material jumbled in with the tunes from Take to the Skies, so there should be something for hardcore fans of the band, the casual listener and the enthusiastic newbie.
“It’s gonna be exciting,” Reynolds says. “I think it’s going to be quite emotional, as well. We’re a band that literally never looks backwards, and I think to give us just a few months to stop for breath and look behind us to see the path we’ve taken so far — I think it’s gonna be quite an interesting few months.”
Enter Shikari plays with Being As An Ocean and Anterrior at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, at the Summit Music Hall; 1902 Blake Street; 303-487-0111.