Built on a foundation as solid as the fabled stone walls of North Yorkshire, British rockers Asking Alexandria have weathered a decade and a half of shifting tastes and evolving trends, now boasting seven studio albums and a sizable global following. Faced with the challenge of taking their non-stop tour train off the tracks, the post-hardcore quintet recently took some time to regroup and rediscover common ground.
Uniting with the band’s original line-up — rhythm guitarist Cameron Liddell, drummer James Cassells, vocalist Danny Worsnop, and bassist Sam Bettley — enthusiastic lead guitarist Ben Bruce’s creativity flourished in the fortress of solitude they founded in the temperate hills of Tennessee. “We decided as a band ‘Why don’t we all go somewhere and isolate together?’ We went to a studio in Franklin, about 45 minutes from Nashville in the middle of nowhere, and we all lived together in this massive home studio away from everyone,” Bruce reports. “We just reconnected as a band, as people, as friends. We reminisced about all the bands we got listening to that made us fall in love with rock and metal. We looked at how bands used to record albums and we thought ‘Let’s do that! Let’s create an album completely on our own terms and in our own way with no expectations. We don’t know when the world is opening up again, let’s just do it!’ And we did.”
A thoughtful yet free spirited response to Asking Alexandria’s 2020 release, Like a House on Fire, the new LP marks the band’s first recording to be launched outside of their run with longtime label Sumerian Records. It’s all too appropriate that See What’s On The Inside comes through Better Noise Music as it represents a much-desired slapping of the “reset” button for the career musicians. “Spending time with my wife and kids was the most enjoyable thing in the world for me and it made me realize what’s important,” he confides. “It made me start reminiscing about why I started playing guitar and why I wanted to be in a band in the first place when I was a kid. It made me think somewhere along the way we kind of got lost because it’s always ‘Go! Go! Go!’ I became almost like a cog in a machine. We’re used to life in the fast lane and it’s hard to find moments of reflection and clarity. So, this time we utilized this time to take a step back and think about what we’ve been through, where we want to go and who we actually are. Instead of who people think we are, or who people think we should be.”
According to Bruce, the pandemic provided an unexpected opportunity for the group to reevaluate their method and motivations for continuing their work as hardcore headliners. “We just had a different outlook over the past 18 months,” says Bruce. “Because touring has disappeared, I saw a lot of other bands try to put on streamed online shows and I just had no interest in doing that. For me the thing about playing live is the connection with the fans in front of you. We just decided that since we hadn’t had any time off, ever, since we were children, we’d take some time to enjoy being ourselves.”
Showboating their natural talent for melodic volatility on tracks like “Alone Again,” “Faded Out” and “Never Gonna Learn,” Asking Alexandria rested the balance of the album’s sound on the shoulders of producer Matt Good. The lead vocalist/guitarist of From First to Last and The Colour of Violence, Good applied his grindcore sensibilities into See What’s On The Inside’s straight-ahead lines and circular reckonings. “We were quite adamant that we weren’t going to let the news and what was going on with the global pandemic affect what we were writing. We didn’t want to date this record by allowing what was currently happening to infiltrate the songwriting process,” Bruce recalls. “That made it so refreshing and so enjoyable for us. You can hear that in this record; you can hear the energy and the passion and I think it’s because there were no deadlines, there were no expectations. There was no one telling us ‘You have to hand it in by this day because you have to go out on this tour!’ We solely went into the studio for the pure enjoyment of it and the intention of reconnecting as a group and writing an album with no hands in the pot, so to speak.”
The new album represents a fresh start sprung from cathartic “peal session” that saw Asking Alexandria strip away any whiff of artifice or augmentation from the core of their being. Prompted to examine why they originally joined forces, Bruce and company have rediscovered their enthusiasm for rock, metal and kicking out the jam together. They may not be sullen teenagers copping cigarettes outside of a forbidden venue anymore, but they sure as hell remember those down and dirty punk rock days — even if they don’t miss the angst that defined them all that much.
“A lot of these songs address that, and it’s something we’ve learned over the years. If you listen to the song called ‘Find Myself’ it starts off very sombre. The first words you hear from Danny’s mouth are ‘How do I kill myself?’ That’s dark, that’s deep, but the next line follows-up with ‘Or, at least the part of me that’s been created to please.’ So, it’s not about killing yourself and doom and gloom. It’s like, okay, I’ve been told I am this person for so long – and people have expected me to be this person for so long. that it’s not necessarily all of who I am. How do I find comfort and some happiness within myself without relying on what it is other people expect from me? Whilst the album might initially sound quite dark I think there’s an underlying sense of positivity and light at the end of the tunnel.”
From being a cog in the machine to harnessing the power of a runaway locomotive, Asking Alexandria has gained enough wisdom and experience to answer many of life’s mysteries. By Bruce’s estimations it’s just a matter of finding the grace to sing your torch song and hold it high regardless of who’s listening. “There’s an underlying sense of hope in this record. We address a lot of things about being confused and insecure within yourself. We live in an era where everyone’s super judgemental and I think social anxiety and mental problems are something that just gets more and more abundant as time goes on. This record is very reflective of trying to figure out who you actually are as a person and how you want to carry yourself through the world.”
By Glenn Alderson
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