"What really keeps me going is my kids. I want them to be proud of me." Ben Bruce, guitars, vocals, Asking Alexandria
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ABOUT BEN BRUCE:
About to release the new record 'Like a House on Fire' with his band Asking Alexandria, guitarist and vocalist Ben Bruce joins the podcast to talk about his passion for music and how the new album was created. Hear more about Ben's story on the full episode.
Jeff: Ben, I really want to kind of just talk about where we are in the world right now. As I'm recording a lot of episodes lately, the entire world is dealing with this crazy pandemic, and I just want to start by asking, how are you doing? Are you okay? Is the family okay?
Ben Bruce: I'm actually really good. I'm pretty sure... We never went and got tested for it because I didn't want to waste... Obviously, I'm English. I live in the states now, but my family's all in England, so I've kind of been listening to US recommendations and UK recommendations, and in the UK they're like, "Listen. If you have these symptoms, but you're okay to get on with your day, please don't come to the hospital, and please don't come and waste a test. We're running low." So, I never did any of that, but I spoke to... Well, my mom actually spoke to a doctor on the phone for me in the UK, and they were like, "It definitely sounds like you guys have the coronavirus."
Ben Bruce: Obviously, I never went and got tested, but my kids were running a fever of 102.7, which is absurd. That is so high, and I was like, "We're going to have to go to hospital," but I did everything I could at home. I kept a cool flannel on their head, and I stayed up with them all night for like three nights. We got their temperatures down. They had these horrible coughs, and then it went to... I think I actually... I got it, I think, in February. I went on a cruise. I played on a cruise called ShipRocked, and I came off of ShipRocked, and this was... I mean, obviously people knew about it, but it wasn't crazy at that point.
Ben Bruce: I was like, "Man, I don't feel good at all," and it felt like my lungs, like someone was squeezing the bottoms of both of them. I couldn't breathe in. Every time I breathed in, it would itch, and I'd cough, and that lasted... That stuck with me from mid to late February all the way through to about a week ago, and it got really bad about two weeks ago, and I was laying in bed, and I said to my wife, I was like, "I feel like I have to go to hospital. I can't breathe. I feel like I'm going to die in my sleep," but I was like, stop being a pussy, and I ignored it, and I made it through.
Ben Bruce: Even before all that in December, my wife got really ill, and she was bedridden for days, and I was like, this... But we just kind of put it down to the flu, but we didn't get any of the other flu symptoms like aches and pains and stuff. So, I'm not sure. I'll never know. We never went and got tested, but we were pretty down-beaten for quite a while, me and my wife and my kids, but we've bounced out the other side, and we feel good now. Whether we had it or not, I don't know, but we all feel good now.
Jeff: Well, you sound a lot better than you were just describing, so I'm glad that you're feeling on the mend. It's funny. My wife and I kind of had a similar experience. Right as it was hitting Wuhan in January, February, she worked a tattoo convention down in Philly, and she came back sick, sicker than I've ever seen her in my entire life, and she was sick for about two or three weeks, and then, of course, I got it, and I deal with allergies and stuff like that, but I never get sick-sick. I've never been this sick in my entire life, and I don't know. Maybe we had it. Maybe we just had the worst flu ever, but it was definitely scary.
Ben Bruce: Yeah, it was, and I'm the same. I tour-
Jeff: A lot.
Ben Bruce: ... relentlessly, a lot, so my immune system's pretty good, and it takes a lot to get me, and this thing was brutal. That night when I wanted to go to hospital, I was like, "I really..." I'm like, "Am I going to die? I cannot breathe. This sucks." I was scared. I never get scared. I'm like, "Oh, whatever. It doesn't matter. I'll get over it. It's fine." But I was like, "Oh, my god. I'm really scared." Now that I've got kids too, I'm like, "Oh, my god. I can't die. What will they do without their dad?"
Ben Bruce: So, I was like, "Okay, if I still feel like this in two or three days, I'm going in. I don't care," and I never go to the doctor. I'm the worst. But thankfully, like I said, I started getting better. You know what? I don't want to go to the doctor. It's like, just to be... Because the other thing with this too was they were saying, "Well, if you can get on with your day for the most part, stay home," and I'm like, "Well, I'm already doing that," so I just kind of... We stayed home. My kids were the scary one. When their fevers reached 102.7, I was like, "Man, if it hits 103, we have to go in."
Jeff: Yeah. Again, I'm glad that you're feeling better. The rest of the band, is everybody healthy?
Ben Bruce: Oh, I don't know. I don't even like those guys.
Jeff: Good answer.
Ben Bruce: Yeah. No, they're okay. They're fine. They're okay. They're not as good-looking or cool as me, but they've been dealing with that for a long, long time.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. I'm sure it's tough to get used to, but hopefully they will one of these days.
Ben Bruce: Exactly.
Jeff: Exactly. Speaking of this terrible thing that we're all dealing with, and we're all stuck inside, one of the greatest solaces of that is that at least we all have music, and there's new music for you guys coming up, and we're going to be talking about that really soon, but I want to throw it all the way back because I'm always curious talking to musicians about where that moment happened. It's well known you started playing guitar when you were 12. You were really interested in music at the time, but do you know what made you pick up a guitar that first time? Was it one of your influences, or did you see a shiny guitar and have to pick it up?
Ben Bruce: It's really weird. My mom, she's able to tell the story better because she obviously remembers it much better than I do. Mine are all referred memories, but I guess when I was two or three years old, my favorite movie of all time, and still to this day, I love the movie, was Grease.
Ben Bruce: So, my mom said I used to stand in front of the TV and watch Grease religiously when I was two or three years old, and I memorized all the words at two or three. I'm singing along. Then she said we went and visited my grandparents. I'm still two or three years old, and my granddad had an old wooden tennis racquet, and apparently I just picked it up, and I stood in front of the TV watching Grease, as always, and I just started strumming along to Grease, and my mom was like, "I knew immediately that you were going to pursue music." Then it moved on to drumming on my desk, always, always, and my grandma was a pianist, so I was always bashing on the piano. So, my mom was like, "It was just in you from the get-go."
Ben Bruce: But funny enough, I kept my love for music, and I thoroughly enjoyed music all of my preteen years too, but I got really into sports, and I was like, okay, and I just was playing basketball and football, English football, soccer, swimming, rugby. I did everything. I did gymnastics, and I was like, okay. So, I never picked up a guitar until I was 12, and then I was 12, and I was like, "Man, everyone..." I was skinny. I was super scrawny, so I was playing rugby, and I was getting my ass handed to me. I was just getting beat up, roughed up. I was like, "This sucks."
Ben Bruce: Also, I had obviously started taking an interest in girls around the age of 12, and I was like, "Man, this sucks, being on a field, just spanking loads of other dudes' asses and roughhousing with these dudes." I was like, "What are the chicks doing while we're doing our sports?" They were all doing trampolining or drama, and I was like, "I'm going to go and spend my time doing stuff with them. You guys enjoy the field. Do your thing," and that's when I picked up guitar. I was like, "Oh, man. Chicks love someone who's playing guitar," and I was like, "They're over here on the field thinking they're really cool and feeling each other up, and I am sat with a circle of chicks around me, playing Smoke on the Water terribly," but that was how it started for me.
Ben Bruce: Obviously, it was always there in me, but it was just being a horny, prepubescent preteen that made me actually get a guitar. Also, I remember all my friends wanting to start guitar too, and all of their parents were like, "Okay, but you have to start with an acoustic, and you have to get lessons." My dad was like, "Fuck that. Here's an electric," and I didn't have any lessons [inaudible 00:08:03] and I remember hitting the distortion button on my little practice amp and just hitting the strings and thinking, this sounds awesome, immediately. I don't need lessons, just... I loved it.
Jeff: That's excellent. There's no better reason. There's two things out of that story that there's no better reason to pick up a guitar, chicks and distortion, 100%. If you've got both of those-
Ben Bruce: I got both of those. You know?
Ben Bruce: I feel like it probably works if you're gay too. I feel like you would've been the cool kid on the block too, whether you're gay or straight. A guitar is just way more powerful than cleats or spandex. You know?
Ben Bruce: So, I dropped the sports and picked up guitar.
Jeff: Well, we're all thankful that you did. Another question I wanted to ask from your childhood that I was always curious about is you were born in South London, but you moved to Dubai when you were six, right?
Ben Bruce: I was fix or six, yeah.
Jeff: Five or six, and you lived there until you were 17, and then went back to London. Was there a big difference in the music scene in Dubai as opposed to London?
Ben Bruce: There was a big difference just in everything in Dubai. I moved to Dubai, it was between my fifth and sixth birthday, so I had my sixth birthday in Dubai. When I moved there, this was... I mean, when would this have been? 1993 or something. There was nothing. It was empty. It was dirt, but there was a lot of expats. So, when I grew up in Dubai, I watched the whole thing grow, but there was no... I was blissfully unaware of racism or anything like that. It just was not a thing. My friends were Arabic, Indian, Pakistani, English, American, South African. We were all there together as expats, and so I was like, "Man, life is great. This is cool," and we all started getting into music around the same ages, and there were never any of these cliques or groups. It was like, oh, the grunge kids are here, the emos, the rock kids, the pop kids, the... Everyone was just friends with everyone.
Ben Bruce: So, I listened to all kinds of music, and it got to the point where we went through a phase of being really into metal, specifically. I think it was after I heard Metallica, Through the Never, and I was like, "Whoa, this is insane." So, we started putting on our own local shows, and it would be... We would have a roller rink hall or anywhere that we could rent for an evening, and we would just put on these rock shows, and because there was no segregation or anything like that, everyone would just come. So, we were playing these local shows, and I was, I don't know, 13, 14, literally in front of 1,000, 2,000 people every weekend, and I'm like, "This is easy. This is cool," and that was just normal to me. I didn't know anything else.
Ben Bruce: Then I came back, I moved to England, and I realized racism was a thing. I was like, whoa, especially... I grew up in a Muslim country, and so people would be super racist about Muslims, just be like, "Oh, are they all terrorists over there? Did you have to ride a camel to school?" and I'm like, "Whoa, this is disgusting. Is this normal?" and everyone, "Yeah," and I was just like, "This is insane." It was just as big a shock for me with the music scene too. I started Asking Alexandria up again in England with new people, and I would go to play a show, and it's like, "There are three people here. What is going on?"
Ben Bruce: "Why is this a thing? Where is everyone?" It's like, "No one wants to come listen to your shitty band," and I was like, "Well, everyone loved my band in Dubai. I don't know what is going on." It was a big culture shock and a big just thrown into, I guess, reality of what the rest of the world was like, and I was like, "Well, this is insane." So, it took me... I was kind of like Peter Pan, I guess. I had never really grown up. I moved back to England at 17, and I was like, "Man, the world sucks. This place is scary and difficult and hard, and I miss my bubble of being in Dubai," but it made me grow up real quick.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, and you guys, Ben, put the work in. That was around 2006, 2008, and then you come out with that first record. Stand Up and Scream does really good on the charts. You guys start playing more shows, start touring. Was that the moment that you realized, oh, this could be the career, this could be the thing, or did it take longer than that?
Ben Bruce: I think it took longer than that. For me, that was going to be my career, no matter what. As soon as I decided when I was young, and I picked up that guitar, I was like, "This is what I want to do." So, it didn't really matter to me, but I remember my aspirations back then were... I would look at bands playing in front of 150, 200 kids, and I was like, "Oh, man. I wish I could do that." After the shock of playing in front of three people, I was like, "Okay, 250 is not so bad," and I was like, "I could do that for the rest of my life." Then that came and went, and then it was 500 kids, and then it was 1,000, and then it was 2003, and I was like, "Okay, arenas," and it just... I still, to this day, it's kind of hard for me to believe or accept.
Ben Bruce: I never allow myself to slow down enough to think about it. I'm just like, "Okay, I've just got to keep going. I just need to keep going, keep going, keep going," and hopefully, one day I will have gone far enough to where I can be like, "Oh, I fucking did it. That's nuts." But I have not felt that way yet. I'm still excited and nervous at the same time about the music industry, and it's still a struggle. It's a hard thing. It's a really hard industry. One minute you could be the flavor of the week, and the next minute, no one gives a crap. So, I think we've done a really good job of growing over the years and earning people's respect, so I think, hopefully, we'll stick around at this point, but it's just scary. It's a tough thing. It's a really tough thing.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Well, again, you guys put the work in, and like you said, you've grown over the years, definitely, through your albums, through the musicality, through the way that you guys perform, the way you guys play, and that's another question that I love asking musicians, and I'm very curious about your band. The recording process, first of all, do you guys write it all on the road, or do you set aside time to write and record a record?
Ben Bruce: That's changed over the years too. Since day one, I've always been the primary songwriter. I'm not a very flashy guitarist. My big, big passion on guitar is blues music, and I just find that they find a way to make one note say just as much as a crazy virtuoso musician playing 300 notes in a minute. You know what I mean? I'm like, that one note says so much more to me than crazy stuff. So, I've always been a big fan of songwriters in general, and I live by the less-is-more rule. When we first started writing, it would be like, "Okay, we're going into the studio. We've got three weeks in the studio. We need to write the record," and I would just sit down, and I would come up with guitar riffs, and I'd be like, "James, check out this riff," and then he would write drums to it.
Ben Bruce: We'd all be there, feeding off of each other, but it was still mainly me just plugging away, and everyone would throw ideas at me, and it went that way, and we would go from having nothing to a record in three or four weeks, have it recorded, done, back on the road. Now, over the years, we've been granted more and more time and more leisure time, and time to actually sit down, for me to create, and now it's really cool because this last album in particular, the one that's Like a House on Fire that's coming out in May, I would go to the studio for a few weeks, I would write, and I would write, and I would write, and then I would leave. That wasn't the end of the process. It was like, I can take my time, and then we'd leave and go on tour with Shinedown or Papa Roach, and we'd be playing in front of 10,000 people every night, and I'm like, "Oh, the crowd loves this section. They love this vibe. They love this feel. They do this, this, this."
Ben Bruce: So, I was in a really unique position where I could go back to the studio after these tours and take that live energy of a massive rock show with me to the studio, and I'm like, "Okay, I know that they loved this. I know that this gets a great reaction. I know what people want to hear now," and I was able to sort of go back and forth from the stage to the studio and take everything that I had absorbed and taken in from these live shows around the country, around the world, and put them in our album, and it was such a crazy writing experience for me. I don't think I'd ever want to go back to doing it any other way now. It was just such a cool thing to be able to take that energy, ball it up, and just throw it at the record.
Jeff: That's awesome. That's incredible. Not only musically do you guys bring it every single record and just... You can tell you put a lot into your songwriting, but also lyrically as well, and there was a question that I came across, actually, from another employee here at Death Wish who's a big fan of your band. It has been said that back in the day, in the first couple records, that Danny used to say that lyrics really didn't happen until the studio. It was almost like organically, as you guys, you had those skeletons of those songs, and then the lyrics would come out of that. Is there truth to that?
Ben Bruce: Yeah, even to this day. Stand Up and Scream and Reckless & Relentless, I wrote a lot of the lyrics with Danny, and it was a collaborative effort, and then over the years, I think I would just concentrate so hard on the music, and Danny sort of took the reins completely on lyrics. But still to this day, Danny doesn't write any lyrics until he comes into the studio, and we'll jam the song, and it's like, okay, what does this song... I don't even send him the songs, really, before he comes into the studio because I want him to be able to get... This is how he writes too, to get that initial energy. What does the song give you the first time you hear it? He'll just sit there and go... and we'll blast it in the studio, and he'll go, "Okay, this gets me excited," or, "This makes me feel this way, or maybe I'm sad," and he goes into the vocal booth there and then and just writes lyrics on the spot.
Jeff: Wow. That's awesome. So, was it the same kind of, I don't know, magic soup of all of that when Dennis was in the band as well, or did that change a little bit?
Ben Bruce: That changed a lot. I mean, it's a really tough conversation to get into without me just talking all kinds of shit because he was just so... I don't how to... He was so difficult to work with. He didn't want to listen. English wasn't Dennis's first language, which is fair enough. I mean, the fact that he speaks multiple languages in and of itself is unreal. I feel like more people should learn more languages. It's an amazing tool to have. So, the fact that English was his second language obviously made writing lyrics for him difficult, but he was the kind of person that just didn't want to listen.
Ben Bruce: I feel like I'm quite eloquent. I love writing lyrics. I used to write novels, and I would write lyrics to them like I did back in the day with Danny, and he just didn't want to have any of it. I'm like, "Man, what you're saying isn't English. It doesn't make any sense." So, that led to a lot of tension in the studios between myself and him, and it was a really, really difficult time. So, I ended up actually writing a lot of the lyrics, most of the lyrics for that record, The Black record, because we just didn't see eye-to-eye a lot.
Ben Bruce: I think people are like, "Well, why was that record so heavy? You went back to your roots," and I was like, "Because I was pissed off again." It was a really, really angry, dark time in my life, in our career, and I was pissed off, so I wrote a very pissed-off record. So, that's the thing about Asking, is we don't go into the studio with a plan. We go into the studio, and whatever we're feeling, whatever's influenced us over the years is kind of what comes out. We never go in there and go, "Okay, we want to make a rock record," or, "We want to make a metal record." It just happens, and it's organic. That's why the records change so much over the years, because you don't feel the same... I'm sure you don't feel the same as you did five years ago. You're in a very different head space.
Ben Bruce: Some years are great, and you're happy, and that will show in a lot of music, and some years are really tough and really difficult, and when Danny left, for me, that was a very, very difficult time, and back then too, I was still on a lot of drugs, and I was drinking a lot of alcohol, and it was just a dark time. So, the record came out really dark, and I think a lot of our older fan base, older fans know, understand and appreciate that, but we also used to have a lot of younger fans that don't get it. They're like, "Well, why can't you just keep writing music like that?" I'm like, "Because I'm telling real-life stories," and I think we're a very honest band, and it would be so disingenuine to go in and just write the same album over and over again because I know for a fact there's an audience for it. That's just not the way we write music. So, that was a tough album to write, for sure, very different dynamic.
Jeff: Well, you hit the nail on the head. You guys are an honest band. Throughout your entire career, your heart on your sleeve, your heart on your guitar strings, kind of. You lay it all out there, and it's evident. I wanted to ask two kind of on the lyric side. Coming up with lyrics organically in the room like that, especially after you've got a skeleton of a song really kind of working, does the lyric content ever, I don't know, steer the song in a different direction than you expected? My only reason of asking that is some of your songs, the way the lyrics hit with the music, it's just like magic, and it's awesome, and to have that kind of be the last piece, it seems almost like magic.
Ben Bruce: Yeah. That's a really interesting question, and I think Danny does a really cool job of that, especially on a lot of newer songs, like Antisocialist. It's such an upbeat-sounding song, but then it's sprinkled with minor notes that hit every now and again, and the cool thing about that song is Danny's taken those minor notes that are sprinkled throughout the song, and that dark undertone, and he's elevated it with the lyrics. The lyrics still sound like he's like, "Oh, shit's great," but really, the song's quite an angry song, and I think it is magic. Again, I think that's one of the great things about not writing before you go in. It happens, and whatever happens, it's like, well, we wouldn't have thought of that. It was just organically like... It came out of his mouth, out of his head, onto the page, and it's like, there it is. That's awesome.
Ben Bruce: So, we don't really do rewrites, which really stresses our record label out to no end. They're like, "Well, I don't get it." Danny's got a really cool lyric in that song. He goes, "It's on my forehead, four letters off," so it's like the fuck off across his forehead, and no one at the label got it. It was like, "What the hell is he saying? We need this to be more palatable," and we were like, "No." I think that lyric is awesome, and it just kind of fell out of his mouth. So, it's quite tough when you have a record label that's like, "Oh, we need to make things sound a certain way," and we don't like rewrites. We're like, "No, it happened this way for a reason."
Ben Bruce: Again, it comes back to being organic, being truthful with ourselves. So, this is the song, and if you don't like it, that sucks, but it's not your song. It's our song. So, it's definitely a bit of a battle, and I think over the years we've made such good friends with our record label that at this point they're like, "Okay, whatever. Do what you want to do," and it tends to work out for us because I think people can hear the honesty. They're like, "Okay," and I think that people have come to expect that from us, and every time we release a song, without fail, without fucking fail, initially, the record label gets to go, "See, I told you," because people are like, "What the fuck is this? You guys have changed, blah, blah, blah," and I'm like, "You say this every goddamn time."
Ben Bruce: It's so funny because we released another new song called They Don't Want What We Want, and some kid was blasting me online, going, "You've fucking changed, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah," and I just respond to him, I was like, "Look, man. This song's been out for an hour. I promise you, in two weeks time you're going to love this fucking song. Jesus Christ. Calm down. Give it a second to sink in," and lo and behold, the kid comes back to my page in two weeks time, he's like, "Hey, it's been two weeks. I'm sure you don't remember me, but you very calmly responded to my shit talking, and I just wanted to come back here and say you were absolutely right. I've listened to that song at least 100 times today. This song fucking rules. Thank you," and I'm just like...
Ben Bruce: It's so hard when people just out the gate are like, "What the fuck are you doing?" because like I said, it's every release, and it's like, man, when are you going to get it? We change every record for all the points I've already mentioned. It's just so funny. We'll release something, like From Death to Destiny Came out 2013, and everyone was like, "Oh, what is this country butt-rock crap?" and now we release music, and they're like, "You should go back to your metalcore roots like From Death to Destiny." I'm like, "Hey, asshole, you called it country butt-rock seven years ago." People are very quick to judge, and people want things now, and that includes instant gratification. They want to get it right now. It's like, okay, you open a can of Coke, and you want it to taste like Coke. Fair enough, but if you open a can of Pepsi, you can't get pissed off that it doesn't taste like Coke. It's a different thing.
Ben Bruce: People just need to give things time, I think. There's no need for everything to be so instantaneous. You don't instantly need to be blown away by everything, and it doesn't need to talk to you. Sometimes it's good to sit down and ponder and reflect and go, "What is that saying to me?" Doesn't matter what it is, whether it's a movie or a book or music or a meal you're enjoying. Don't scarf it down, and just enjoy it. Let it sit, live with it, and more often than not, you're going to end up enjoying whatever it is that you're doing, but I think so many people right now, they just want instant, just like, "Oh, yeah. Now. Give me, give me, give me," and it's like, "Whoa, you just need to all slow down."
Jeff: It's the truth. One of the greatest things about music is that it's everlasting, and it needs to be digested, like you said. So many people, what's lost on it is from the musician, the songwriter, you've been living... Let's take Antisocialist. You've been living with that song for a while now. You've probably heard it-
Ben Bruce: Probably close to two years.
Jeff: You've probably heard it upwards of a million times, and it has went through minor changes in your head from the very first notes that you played to what we got on the record. So, you've digested it.
Ben Bruce: Yeah, exactly.
Jeff: Others should take a little bit of time and also digest that piece of music.
Ben Bruce: It's so funny too because you just said it, music lives forever, and that's why it's so important to let it live and breathe and become its own thing. I'll tell you what. When my daughter was born, the doctor was like, "Get in here," and she called all the nurses in, like, "Look how beautiful this baby is," and she was a beautiful baby, which is weird because a lot of babies, especially white babies, look weird when they come out. You know what I mean? It's like, man, she was beautiful. My son came out, and my initial reaction wanted to be, "Put that back. This kid looks weird." But my god, he had just been born, and I loved him, obviously, more than anything, but initially I was like, "Oh, my god. Is his head going to stay that long? This kid's weird. What's going on here?"
Ben Bruce: But now he's two years old, and he's probably the most beautiful boy, obviously I'm biased, that I've ever seen in my life. He's a really good-looking boy. He's stunning, and it's like he's grown into his own skin and himself, and he will continue to, as will both of our kids, continue to grow and flourish and change over the years, and it's like, that's the thing with music. You cannot judge it the second it's popped out into the world. You have to give it time to tell its story and to resonate, and to tell you what it needs to tell you. You know what? Maybe when you hear it, it doesn't speak to you, but I promise you there will be a time in your life, whether it's a week or two years or three years down the line, where that song will speak to you, and you'll need that song, and you'll be like, "Oh, I get it."
Ben Bruce: So, it's always so weird to me when people just right out of the gates are like, "This sucks." "Well, why?" "Because there's no breakdowns in it." "Okay. Well, if you feel the need to listen to a breakdown right now, because you're clearly pissed off, we have loads in our back catalog. Go crazy, man. Go let out some anger, let off some steam, but when you feel this way, revisit this song, and then come back and tell me how shit I am."
Jeff: Yeah. No. More people should understand that, but they'll get around. They'll get around. I wanted to-
Ben Bruce: Oh, they always do.
Ben Bruce: They always do.
Jeff: I wanted to mention, congrats on Antisocialist, by the way-
Ben Bruce: Thank you.
Jeff: ... releasing that, along with the music video. Do you guys have a hand in music video, or is that all from the label, or does that come from the band?
Ben Bruce: I actually write most of our music videos too. I come up with the concepts in my head, and I write down this whole elaborate thing, and I send it to one of our video guys at the label, and normally he goes, "Okay. Let's water this down a little bit because you've only got three minutes," and that's what happened with The Violence. I had this whole elaborate thing, and it turned into an eight-minute-long music video, which in retrospect was a terrible idea, because like you said before, I had listened to The Violence a million times. I had heard it for two years, and I was like, oh. So, when I turned it into a seven, eight-minute epic short film, there were all these gaps in the music, and to me I was like, "These are cool. These are fresh little gaps."
Ben Bruce: I didn't even think about the fact that no one had heard the song before. So, we released it, and I was like, "Check it out," and everyone's like, "Okay. Why has the song stopped? Is this part of the fucking song?" That time, I will give it to people. I was fucking stupid. I was like, "Oh, yeah. They've never heard this song before." The song just gets going, and it's like... and it stops for this two minutes of monologue or something in a music video, and I was like, okay. Retrospect, that was a terrible idea.
Ben Bruce: So, a lot of my ideas have to get watered down. The Into the Fire video was way longer in my head, and they were like, "We can break this down, Ben. It's going to be okay." But I think that's just part of being an artist. I like to create things, and it's hard. There are no limits when you're writing anything other than people that you work with saying, "Hey, let's hold back a little bit," and I'm like, "Okay. I should probably do that." With The Violence, it was one of those things where my label was like, "Fine. Do it your way," and I was like, "I will," and it went over people's heads. It was too long. I should've released the song first and then the long video, but it's art. You live, you learn.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes you got to throw something at the wall. Sometimes it doesn't stick. You know? Yeah.
Ben Bruce: Yeah, exactly, and it's fine.
Jeff: But the Antisocialist video, that looked like a hell of a lot of fun, you guys playing on a rooftop.
Ben Bruce: It was fun.
Jeff: Where was that?
Ben Bruce: It was in LA.
Jeff: Oh, that's awesome.
Ben Bruce: It was in LA. See, there was supposed to be a lot more to that video too. The girl was supposed to be... She was supposed to get on the roof and be so pissed off at everything that happened that she got a bullhorn and started yelling down at people in the street, and everyone would be like, "What the fuck's going on up there?" and then everyone was supposed to come up to the roof. It was supposed to turn into a big rock show on the roof, and my team was like, "Hey, dumb-ass, you want to put people on this roof? When you're on the roof, the ground is very far away." He was like, "I don't know if you want that insurance claim when everyone falls off the roof," and I was like, "Yeah, you're probably right."
Ben Bruce: So, it turned out it was just that we were just on the roof, but there were so many things even in that video, like at the very end I wanted the girl to get back home at the end of the day, and when she opened the front door, I wanted it to be a fully-grown woman, and then she would look in the mirror and see the little girl, so it was kind of like she was an adult the whole time, but never really wanted to grow up, and that was the whole concept. But everyone was like, "That's going to go over everyone's heads," and I was like, "Fine." So, you got to make compromises, but I think the video came out great, and it was so much fun to do. This time I was like, "Let's not act in the music video. We'll perform." So, it was cool watching it and watching the actors and everything do their thing. It was a lot of fun.
Jeff: Yeah. It definitely looked like you guys were having fun, which was awesome. That's obviously coming off the new record, Like a House on Fire, and I wanted to ask too, the cover looks really rad. What is that from?
Ben Bruce: So, the cover is really cool because we found an artist whose stuff I really liked, and I was like, "Hey, look. I don't like when people come to the studio and tell me how to do my job. I don't like it. This is my creative space. I'm creating what I want to create," and I said the same thing to the artist. I was like, "I'm not going to give you any direction. I want you to... Here's the record." I gave him the record. I was like, "Listen to the record and come and hit me with some artwork, and you can explain where you got it from if you need to, or maybe I'll get it. I don't know, but you do whatever comes to your mind. That's why I came to you. I like your style. Let's see."
Ben Bruce: He came back with the tarot card stuff, and I'm not really familiar with tarot cards. Obviously, I know what they are, but I've not done any of the card reading or anything like that. I was like, "This is interesting. It looks really cool. What the fuck is it?" The album's Like a House on Fire, so I was kind of expecting him to come with this big house that's on fire, and there was a little house on fire in there, and I was like, "Okay. So, there's the house on fire. What the fuck's all this other shit?" and he was like, "Okay. Well, I listened to the record over and over and over again, and it just was telling me so many things. It was such like a journey. There was ups and downs and all these different things. I was like, it would've been so unjust to just slam a house on fire on the front and give it to you, and there's so much complexity and depth to the record."
Ben Bruce: I was like, wow, and he was like, "So, basically, I took a bunch of my favorite lyrics from each of these songs, I took the band's British history, I looked up where you guys are from, Yorkshire, London, [inaudible 00:35:04], and I made out of tarot cards the story of the band and the songs within the record," and he was like, "You guys have always sort of created your own path. You've always come up with your own way of doing things, and I really think that's really cool. So, the tarot card thing is kind of supposed to represent obviously everything that's in the album lyrically, and it's supposed to represent the fact that you guys have created your own future," and I was like, "Holy crap. That's awesome." So, he did that all by himself. Really cool.
Jeff: That is awesome. That is awesome. I cannot wait for this record to be released. In fact, you just said on your social media as we were recording just a couple days ago that it is... We live in this scary time where everything's been shutting down, including record facilities and that kind of stuff, but you guys as a band are still going to release it on May 15th of this year, which is-
Ben Bruce: Yeah, yeah. They recommended we didn't. They were like, "You should push the record back," and I was like, "What? You want me to go and tell people right now that everything that they love is being taken away from them, and now on top of that, we're not going to release music?" I was like, "There's no way I can do that." Again, it goes back to the beginning. I was like, "I would've been so happy playing in front of 100 people every day for the rest of my life," and I'm like, "Why don't you want to release the record?"
Ben Bruce: They're like, "Well, because we can't print physical products, so your first week's sales will be down," and I was like, "Okay, but we know for a fact that every single month on Spotify alone we get three million unique listeners going through our... If you'd have told me that when I was a kid, I couldn't have even fathomed it, and that's one site that people consume music through, not to mention all the other digital platforms. So, you're going to tell me that those three million people, plus however many else there are on the other platforms, that's not enough? We have to have more to sell to other people so that you can say, 'Look how many we did first week'?"
Ben Bruce: I was like, "That's bullshit," and I was like, "If someone tried to tell me I would have even three million people in total that ever listened to one of my songs, I'd shit the bed, and I'd cry of happiness. There's no way you can tell me I'm not releasing this record because we need more sales." I was like, "No, I'm sorry. If our sales will be down, who gives a shit? That's not going to do anything." So, we stuck to it, like I said, and we're releasing our album. They were like, "Okay. Well, it's your own grave," and I'm like, "Oh, no. Sorry that only a few million people are going to fucking jam the record." It's very strange, a strange industry.
Jeff: Well, I'm very glad that you guys are sticking to it, and we're going to get new music from you. You also said in that social post, which I thought was a very poignant statement, because going back to Antisocialist, what I love about that song is, like you said, it's angry at its heart, but it's very uplifting. But the idea that at least I grabbed from it, it's like, wake up and follow your dreams. Get the fuck up. Stop wallowing in shit and go follow what you really want to follow, and I feel like when you... You said this in that Instagram post, that this record is 10 years of the band and everything that you guys have ever had poured onto a single record. I think that's really a heavy statement. Did it coalesce like that, or did you kind of start to attack... Did you realize that in the writing process, like, oh, this is going to be that heavy of a thing?
Ben Bruce: I think it just came through naturally again, and I think it's because when Danny came back on the last record, there was a learning curve. It was like, do we still have this? What are we capable of together? So, there was a lot of learning about each other again, whereas this one, we went into it completely comfortable with each other, better friends than we ever have been, in a much better head space. It's the first record that we've ever written sober. None of us do drugs, so none of us are on drugs anymore, so it was like a whole different thing, and I think all of these emotions just came flooding back, even just because we would reminisce. It'd be like, "Oh, remember when, remember when," or, "Man, remember when?"
Ben Bruce: When we were doing From Death to Destiny, it was such a difficult record to do because we were all so fucked up and so depressed. I remember halfway through the recording of From Death to Destiny, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I went, "Fuck these guys," and I booked a flight, and I left. I didn't even tell anyone. So, this time it was like we were all in such a good head space, we were able to sort of revisit those times without being in that head space. It was so interesting to look at it, and there's a song on the record, the title track, House on Fire, and it's all... We address the shit we were going through and how close we were to breaking up or losing it all or throwing it all away.
Ben Bruce: There's songs like the Lorazepam, where Danny's sort of addressing the fact that he's had fame and success and everything that anyone could ever wish for, but somehow still, deep down, he was super depressed, and he didn't know why. I think it was just a natural thing that stemmed from a lot of looking back on memories, whether they were fond memories, and it was nostalgic, or if they were dark memories, but being in this head space, we were able to revisit our entire career. We were like, "Whoa, we've had a crazy career. This is nuts," and it's so cool that we've come back full circle, and the same five guys that wrote that debut album are back in the studio with that same excitement and energy that we'd had back then when we were kids. That was the first time since that record we felt like this in the studio. So, I think it just all came pouring out.
Jeff: That's so exciting. Yet again, cannot wait for this record, and that brings me to the theme of this show. We are all fueled by this finish line. We're all fueled by death. We want to leave this world a little different before we inevitably leave it for good, and you've been doing that in spades with your creativity throughout all of these years, and I just have to ask, what fuels you to keep doing it?
Ben Bruce: I mean, I still love what I do. There was a period of my life where I stopped playing guitar. I never had music playing at home. I hated music because music was the thing that introduced me to drugs, and it led to my first divorce and all this horrible shit that was going on in my life, and I attributed it to music. But now that I'm out of that, I've got a newfound love for music. I'm actually sat in my home studio right now. I've got my guitar next to me. I was writing music before you called, and I think, obviously, other than my passion for music coming back, what really keeps me going is my kids. I want them to be proud of me. I want them to go to school and say, "My dad did this and is doing this."
Ben Bruce: Then the other thing that's just killing me at the moment in a good way, my son, he's two, so he's about the age I was when I started doing the Grease thing, and he is obsessed. He's enamored by music. He just loves all of it. I put music on every morning. The first thing I do, I wake up, I go brush my teeth, I turn music on in the house, and he will sing, and he will dance, and he plays guitar, and he plays drums, and I'm like, this kid loves, loves music. So, it makes me so proud that he's got that from me. He's got that gene from me, and it just makes me so... It just inspires me. I'm like, man, I love this kid so much, and his biggest passion in the whole world, he's only two, is music, and he looks at me, and he just watches me play guitar, and he gets so excited, and he picks up his guitar, and he just wants to play music with me all day long. I'm like, this is amazing.
Ben Bruce: So, I want to keep going, and I want to show him, one, how hard it is, and how much work it takes, but two, not to listen to the people that tell you not to do something, because when I was at school, all my teachers were like, "Stop being ridiculous. You need to get an education, and you need to be a doctor or a pilot or something worthwhile to the world," and I'm just happy to... I agree that you need an education. It's important, but worthwhile to the world? What's more worthwhile? How is being a doctor more worthwhile than being a musician?
Ben Bruce: A doctor is an incredible job, and you help so many people, but so do I in a completely different way. So, I just want my kids to see that. Whatever they want to do, it's not stupid, and they should do it, and I just hope that they watch me every day and go, "Wow, he's doing it. None of my other friends..." When they're at school, they're not going to be able to be like, "Oh, yeah. All my friends' dads do that," because I guarantee they don't. So, I want my kids to go, "Well, my dad followed his dreams, and look."
Jeff: Yes. That is so inspiring. It really is because you did. You went out, you struck out to do it, and you're still doing it to this day, and we're benefiting from it because we get a new record in a couple months. Yeah, we're really excited.
Ben Bruce: Yeah, that you can all shit on for the first six months and then realize it's awesome.
Jeff: Oh, man.
Ben Bruce: This thing sucks.
Jeff: Final question. Outside of the new record, because every time a band, I know, I'm a musician too, any time you come out with new songs, you're like, "Those are my favorite songs," so outside of that record, do you have a favorite song from your catalog that you like to play live? Because you guys look like you have the most fun onstage all the time, so I'm sure this is a hard question, but is there one that when the set rolls around to that song you're like, "Yes, can't wait"?
Ben Bruce: There are two for me that I... Oh, man.
Jeff: It's tough.
Ben Bruce: There's so many. I think there's two that stand out for me maybe a little bit more than others. One of them is Alone in a Room. That's one of our newer songs. It's from our last album, but every time that end bridge kicks in, I'm just like, literally, it could be at a club in front of 2,000 or an arena and there's 50, it doesn't matter. Everyone in that part is bouncing up and down, and the smiles on people's faces, they're not even watching us. They're looking around, and I'm like, "This is awesome. This is why I'm doing this, is all these people are feeling the exact same thing at this moment in time, and that is pure happiness, and I love that.
Ben Bruce: I'm onstage, and I'm smiling. I'm like, "Yeah, look at you guys. This is amazing." So, that is a highlight for me, and then the other one is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, is I love playing Moving On, which is like a slower rock ballad, and I see people crying, and I see people just connecting to this song just as intensely, but in a completely different way, at the other end of the spectrum. I'm like, "This is so cool, that I wrote a song that's making you cry. That's fucking cool because it means I've struck a chord, not just within me, but within you too. I don't even know you, but right now we know exactly what each other's going through," and I love that so much.
Jeff: That's awesome. Yeah. Again, for anybody who's listening who might not have ever been able to catch you guys live, once we're through all of this crazy pandemic across the world and you guys are touring and everything, definitely go check out a show because it is. You guys are having the most fun onstage. All of your fans make it super fun to watch you guys perform because everybody... The first time I ever saw you guys, I was at a giant festival, and I knew the band, but not a lot, to the point where I knew the lyrics, but everybody else knows the lyrics around me and is singing them, so I started to know the lyrics. So, everybody teaches you as you go. It's great.
Ben Bruce: That's the best thing. That's why I loved bringing that energy from live to the studio, because it's like, I've never played Antisocialist live before, but I know how everyone's going to be, and I see it in these shows. We'll play them, and there's people there that are like, "I don't know this band," and gone are the days... When we were young, people used to be like, "Fuck. Who the fuck's this band?" That doesn't happen anymore. Our fan base, for the most part, is quite a lot older, and so people who are like, "Who's this band?" they don't know, by the end of the set, because everyone else is singing and bouncing around, they're like, "Yeah." Did you watch Friends? Do you ever watch Friends?
Ben Bruce: You know the episode where Ross is moving into the apartment, and they're trying to get him to not look through the window, so they all start jumping up and down, and Ross just goes... and he starts jumping with them? That's what it's like, and I zone in on those people that don't know us, and I watch them, like, when's it going to happen? It always, always happens at some point in the set. There will be a pop, and they just start joining in, and I'm like, yes. That's the best feeling.
Jeff: That's awesome. Well, thank you so much for giving us that feeling. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to me. I hope through all of this that you and the family stay safe and healthy, and also caffeinated. I hope you're enjoying your coffee, and I-
Ben Bruce: Always caffeinated.
Jeff: Always caffeinated. I can't thank you enough, can't be more excited for the new record, and I wish you all the best, Ben.
Ben Bruce: Thank you so much, mate. I appreciate it.