Rock Sound presents The Album Story, a new digital cover series delving deep into the process behind making a record, from lyric writing to sound development, choosing the artwork, collaboration and more.
Enter Shikari frontman Rou Reynolds guides us through ‘A Kiss For The Whole World’, their seventh studio album. Get your copy now and help the band secure their first ever UK No.1
Read ‘Enter Shikari, ‘A Kiss For The Whole World | The Album Story’ below:
TEXT ONLY VERSION BELOW:
It’s the hope that keeps you going. Hope for unity in a divisive world. Hope in the face of adversity. For Rou Reynolds, it was the very concept that inspired ‘A Kiss For The Whole World’, the seventh studio album from Enter Shikari. Faced with the fallout of a worldwide pandemic and a period of personal creative stagnation, Rou sought to find joy in the darkness and write a call for community, reconnecting with his own bandmates in the process. He joins us to discuss the difficult beginnings of the album, expanding his musical horizons and finding his voice once again.
The huge critical and commercial success of ‘Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible’ should have set Enter Shikari up for their next era perfectly, building on the momentum gained from that record’s sky-high choruses and instant fan favourites. But then, of course, the world changed in an instant and Reynolds found himself in a very different headspace.
“It was this really strange period where I basically didn’t write anything during lockdown. Whatever ideas we had for a next album, where we were gonna take it next after ‘Nothing Is True…’, they just all got put on hold because I stopped being able to write. Obviously I’ve been through writers block before – a week here, a month there – but this was a year and a half. So whatever initial ideas we had went out the window and it ended up being an album that was written off the back of that period.”
So, when the fog finally faded and creative inspiration struck once again, Reynolds was overwhelmed by his sense of relief. Gratitude seeped into every note as he and the band channelled that energy into a series of “short, sharp, focused tracks.”
“The first idea for the record was that it was going to be this high energy thing. That just came out naturally. We started joking that it was just gonna be an album of bangers.”
But what ended up emerging was something bigger than any of them expected. Sure, there’s plenty of bangers in the tracklist but they are embedded within a more cohesive and expansive record, full of codas and clever callbacks that link the pieces together perfectly. “At the time it just felt like an explosion of ideas. Having not written for a year and a half, there were all these experiences, a cocktail of emotions inside of me just waiting to be written about. So, I think when I was writing, I was treating each song as its own entity and wasn’t really thinking about the big picture because at that point I was just happy to be able to write again. Later on in the process, when I put the producer’s hat on, then it was how do we create an album? A body of work that does flow and does take you on a journey and feels congruent and organised in a way that it wasn’t when it was written.”
As that journey begins with the opening title track, we also get our first taste of the varied instrumentation, Shikari pushing ever further following the use of a full string orchestra on their previous LP.
“It feels like the palette I can write with just broadens on every album. When you come back to working with certain instruments, or certain musicians, it becomes easy, you gain confidence.”
“That’s what brings me such joy as a songwriter – having the breadth to pick from…Life is varied and that’s how our music is. I’m trying to replicate life to a certain extent.”
“Trumpet was the first instrument I learned as a kid and I still have such warm memories of playing in the orchestras at school. I suppose that was the first time that I played in a communal sense. I was a small part of a big sound and I was so drawn to that. I think that’s probably what made me want to be in bands. I loved that idea of people coming together to make something much bigger than you could make by yourself.”
This spirit of collaboration could be seen in the standalone singles ‘The Void Stare Back’ with WARGASM and ‘Bull’ with Cody Frost. But after so much time apart, the album sessions were focused largely around Rou, Rory, Chris and Rob learning how to work together again.
“We wanted to reconnect with each other after that period of not doing anything and ceasing to exist.”
The solution? Taking up in a farmhouse on the south coast for six weeks. Using only solar power and with no central heating, it was so run down that the owner had forgotten it was still listed on airbnb. And yet, this lack of luxury was just what Shikari were looking for.
“It was exactly what we wanted. Middle of nowhere, no distractions…Just the four of us and our engineer George. By that point most of the songs were written so it was just a case of building our own temporary studio.”
“It’s probably the most DIY record we’ve ever done.”
One of the many talents Rou Reynolds possesses is the ability to take a more complex turn of phrase and transform it into a singalong, festival-ready chorus. For example, ‘Leap Into The Lightning’ sees him implore the listener, over a catchy melody, to ‘Sail your ships into Bermuda and bring your water to the boil’.
“I’ve got a tattoo of a Nietzsche quote where he said ‘build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius’. And Vesuvius is actually a bit too big a word to fit in so I changed it to Etna in this song. I just wanted to build on that metaphor. It’s such a lovely, empowering, invigorating thing. I often feel like I need that kind of boost…It’s almost written as a self-help song to myself to install confidence and self-assurance.”
“I suppose a lot of our music is the adamant avoidance of cliché. We’re constantly trying to make something that’s interesting, that’s offering a new perspective. And its the same with lyrics.”
“It comes from a true or maybe naive belief that people are intelligent and people can understand concepts that are bigger than just ‘I love her on the dance floor’. I’m just not interested in singing the same kind of things over and over again.”
The single ‘Please Set Me On Fire’ certainly continues this theme and taps into Reynold’s tendency to compose more positive music when going through tough times, combatting the negative thoughts with optimistic writing.
“It’s about the desperation of wanting to connect with people again. Wanting to play the shows. Wanting to feel that sense of purpose, that sense of cyclical energy. And also wanting to be able to write again. Wanting to feel the thrill of creativity.”
“Writing to me is not just a vocation. It’s the way I organise my own thoughts. It’s the way I organise my ideas about the world, about myself. It’s the way I communicate with people.”
The phrase ‘please set me on fire’ later returns in the track ‘Dead Wood’, channeling a similar feeling but this time centred on relationships and worrying if you will ever find that feeling of love again when one comes to an end.
As Rou puts it, “set my soul alight, please. I wanna feel things again.”
French artist Polygon has previously worked with the group on the music videos for ‘Stop The Clocks’ and ‘The Dreamer’s Hotel’ and was therefore a natural choice to produce designs for the artwork.
“By this point he’s just a good friend. He has a super creative mind. We get on so well and just find it really easy to discuss ideas with him.”
The image itself calls to mind the forest previously seen on ‘A Flash Flood Of Colour’. In fact, the vinyl back cover even features the original triangle lighting rig from that era, now broken and sticking out of the soil.
But at the centre of the cover is the Fire Lily flower, native to South Africa, which typically begins to grow out of the destruction caused by forest fires.
“Even when the landscape looks utterly destroyed and even when you feel like your chances of doing anything have disappeared, there is always a reason for hope. Nature, life, positivity always finds a way.”
“It’s such a great metaphor for hope and feeling that you can always be active and always have something to strive for.”
“The song ‘A Kiss For The Whole World’ is all about joy and all about how important it is as an invigorator, as an energiser, a motivator. I thought it would be really interesting to write a track about joy that basically replicates, or tries to replicate, an ‘Ode To Joy’ by Beethoven. That was the first song I ever learned to play on the trumpet.”
That famous melody actually appears in the brass harmonies. But as Rou notes, “joy now feels very fleeting, very fragile”.
Joy has become harder to hold onto, particularly in times of adversity. But what will always make a listener stop in their track is big, sweeping emotions. The kind of sentiment that will stay with you long after the album has completed its running time.
“Joy became a central theme of the album and the importance of holding onto it and the importance of using it to unify us and to make us feel stronger and empower us.”
Having overcome the writing struggles that were the precursor to the record, how does Rou see the band propelling forward beyond ‘A Kiss For The Whole World’?
“In terms of music, there are songs that are being written and some collaborations that we are working on but they are all very, very early stages at the moment. All the focus is just on the live show and replicate those songs and bring them to life.”
The spirit of togetherness that stretches across the album has opened up the frontman to new pathways and partnerships, building community through music.
“It’s been a really rewarding journey going from the socially anxious, solitary songwriter to not being afraid.”