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Enter Shikari: ‘joy is a motivating force and something to hold on to’

As Enter Shikari gear up to release 'A Kiss For The Whole World', the underground icons talk how they battled 'creative depression'

By Emma Wilkes

Enter Shikari (Picture: Jamie Waters)

At first, Rou Reynolds thought he couldn’t write any music because he was overwhelmed. It was still the early days of the first lockdown, a time as terrifying as it was unprecedented. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were dying from Covid-19 every day, and nobody knew when they’d be allowed to leave the house for more than a government-approved daily walk. A nervous system in overdrive is hardly conductive for inspiration, and besides, how on earth could he create like normal when nothing was normal?

Even as things started getting incrementally better, it persisted. Every time Reynolds sat down to write, he had no clue where to begin.  “It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” he remembers. “I’ve written music since I was nine years old, fairly consistently, but for the first time in my life, I had no urge to create, and that was a very foreign, very disconcerting feeling.” Reynolds’ confidence began to ebb. This was not normal, ephemeral writer’s block – he goes as far to term it a “creative depression”. It lasted a year and a half.

Meanwhile, Enter Shikari were plunged into their most abnormal album campaign yet. Their sixth album, Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible, landed just weeks into lockdown and the band had to celebrate not by playing release shows, but by having a party on Zoom. “At one point, I called our manager and said, ‘Should I be doing something? We just released an album, I feel so strange sitting at home not doing anything,” recalls drummer Rob Rolfe. “There’s only so many social media posts you can do [about a new album]. It’s so hard to gauge a reaction to an album until you play it live – that’s when you know whether the audience have really taken it into their hearts.”

None of the songs from that album got a live airing in front of an audience till they were over a year old, when Shikari performed a joyous yet poignant headline set at a scaled-down version of Download Festival that acted as a government test event. It was then that it dawned on Reynolds why he hadn’t been able to write. “I didn’t have that sense of purpose and human connection, that is the fuel to me as a songwriter and to Enter Shikari,” he says. Growing up as an “extremely introverted” person, that shared language music offered him was everything. “I’d make a tune and bring it to someone, and their reaction when listening to it was a bit of communication I really treasured. That’s the case for a lot of people that make music – it’s a way to communicate with the world, especially in a world where we’re encouraged to just make small talk or gossip.”

Reynolds’ ability to write didn’t come flooding back overnight – he had a long, gradual process of building up his confidence again before Enter Shikari could start piecing together their seventh album, A Kiss For The Whole World. The band – completed by guitarist Rory Clewlow and bassist Chris Batten – regrouped in an AirBnB in Norfolk with the aim of rediscovering how to be creative together: “We actually did something that we haven’t done together for a very long time – we just jammed together and saw what came out,” explains Rolfe. “Rou brought out a few fun exercises, like writing a 30-second song, to get our creative juices flowing again.” They carried that process on in a house in Norfolk owned by Batten’s aunt, where they developed more fully-formed ideas that they brought to record in a remote farmhouse in Chichester.

“There weren’t any other houses around for miles,” Rolfe continues. “We could make as much noise as we wanted. “The only power in the house was from solar panels, the only heating was from one log burner in the middle of one room, so we had to go out and chop logs from the garden and cook for each other. It had been so long since we got stuck into anything. The creativity was overwhelming and I think in the whole album, you can hear the outburst of pent up creative energy that we had been unable to express for two years.”

A Kiss For The Whole World is the sound of a band with a new flame lit underneath them, its every note glowing with the energy of euphoria at being able to return to what they’ve always loved. It’s also fueled, perhaps mostly importantly, by a sense of relief. “Relief is an incredibly understated, powerful emotion, and that drove a lot of the writing,” Reynolds considers. “[Songwriting] was genuinely something I’d be missing in my life from this point onwards. The immense gratitude eased itself into the music.”

While A Kiss For The Whole World might seem more personal, then, at its core, the fierce politicism that has defined much of Enter Shikari’s songwriting is never far away. “What I find is when I write music that’s overtly personal, is that it ends up being political,” Reynolds asserts. Indeed, the album does have its more abjectly political moments, particularly the frenetic dance-rock of ‘Bloodshot’, which decries social media’s tendency to breed tribalism, and grinding electronica track ‘goldfish’, which throws a spotlight on governments exerting control as a means of disempowerment. Yet, even when the lyrics don’t loudly announce that they’re political, Reynolds still has his eye on the outside world.

In that sense, then, can joy in itself be political? “Joy [nowadays] is much more fragile,” Reynolds says. “It’s hard to hold onto, it’s very fleeting, because we feel joy for a moment, but then at every turn, we’re very quickly reminded just how bad things are. The direction we’re going in is quite frightening for multiple reasons. I do think that joy is something to be held onto – it’s a motivating force. It’s a unifying force. It’s an energising force. All those things make us feel empowered, and people who feel they have no power often don’t feel joy. They go side by side. These are activating emotions.”