December 1, 2017 Interview – Ben Bruce of Asking Alexandria
There is plenty of truth in the fact that we are our own worst enemies. We can lie to ourselves all we want about the reality of a situation, but the truth really lies within personal clarity. How do we want to live our lives? How do we want to be remembered? These are just a few of the many questions England’s Asking Alexandria have been asking themselves after years of reckless and destructive behavior on the road. Sure, there has been success, plenty of it, all beginning back in 2009 with their debut album Stand Up and Scream and continuing through one top-selling album after another followed by arenas of screaming fans.
Now older, wiser, the band of friends find balance with life and Rock-n-Roll, and because of it, are back with vengeance! Returning with their self-titled album on December 15th, Asking Alexandria proudly standby who they are today as they prepare to dominate once more. Recently, Lead Guitarist Ben Bruce sat down to have an open rap session about the trials and tribulations of the band, finding happiness, doing things on their own terms, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Asking Alexandria has been going strong for over a decade now, making an impact with heavy touring and four highly-charted albums. First, tell us, what has this unpredictable ride been like for the band?
Ben Bruce – It’s been exactly that: it’s been completely unpredictable. We’ve been at the highest of highs: at the top of the world playing for 110,000 people, huge chart success, fancy cars, big houses. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we’ve been through the lowest of the lows. We’ve been through divorces, friends and family dying, the loss of Danny for a few years. There was drugs and alcohol. Being that we were thrown in at the deep end at such a young age, we were swept away into this Rock-n-Roll lifestyle.
For a while, we lived the lives we thought we were supposed to live being young Rock stars. It definitely has been tough but I don’t think any of us would change a second of it, because it’s where we are now.
CrypticRock.com – When you mention all that, it seems apropos that 2011’s Reckless & Relentless title was what it was. Would you say it describes the band at that time?
Ben Bruce – Yeah, that whole album, not just the title. If you listen to the songs, even the lyrics and the music, it speaks volumes of the lifestyle we were living at the time – all the debauchery and basically, yes, it was about sex, drugs, and Rock-n-Roll at its rawest form. That’s what that record was all about, really. It’s just what we knew to be normal at the time. We were so young and everybody was kind of egging us on.
You have people on the sidelines going, “This is hilarious.” You know when you got that drunk friend at a party that’s so drunk, and you’re like, “Watch this, he’s drunk, he’ll do anything? It was kind of like that with our lives and everyone on the sidelines were egging us on and pushing us to see how far we could go. It led to overdoses, friends’ deaths, and divorces, it wasn’t a good time. Thankfully, we’ve all grown up, and we’ve learned from it. It definitely took hitting rock bottom for us to wake up and realize, “Hang on a minute, this isn’t how I want to live my life.”
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and everyone goes through struggles, no one is immune to them. You live and learn. Like any band, Asking Alexandria has sustained those trials and tribulations. As mentioned, you began this at a very young age, so you essentially grew up in the band. At this point, what are some of the more important lessons you have learned?
Ben Bruce – It’s hard to pinpoint just one. I think the biggest is that it’s okay to be you and to be yourself, and not let other people dictate who you are, who you should be. When we started touring on an international level and releasing albums, the five us were between the ages of 17 and 19. We were told what to do, how to act, who to be, what to do to stay relevant; we were like puppets and we had a puppeteer pulling our strings. I think, over the years, that’s not the case.
We were taught over time, if you don’t tour relentlessly, people will forget you. Over the years, we’ve learned, “No, you’re wrong. This is our career, this is our band, this is our lives!” I think the biggest lesson we’ve learned is to stand up for ourselves. We know when we’ve reached our limit, we know when we don’t want to tour anymore, we know when we need to record an album. Now, we’re not too scared to say, “No, leave us alone, we’ll come to you when we’re ready to do something.”
CrypticRock.com – That is good and it comes from experience which leads to maturity. The band is set to return with your fifth studio album the 15th of December. The first album since Danny returned to the fold, what was the writing and recording process like this time around?
Ben Bruce – It was insane, and I think it goes back to what we touched upon already in this interview. That couple years apart, when Danny left, he had left when he hit rock bottom. We’d recorded some of From Death to Destiny, and he’d hit his rock bottom halfway through that record. We toured on it relentlessly, and he dug himself deeper and deeper into his own grave. So he left, and he was gone for two years. That led to him learning a lot about himself, and us learning a lot about ourselves. When he was returning, it was almost like a whole new group. We knew each other’s boundaries, and we all had that time apart, so we’d grown and matured. When we started writing this record, we were fresh, wide-eyed. It was like when we recorded Stand Up and Scream, our debut album, when we were 17 and 19.
We were in the studio, we’d been a part for a while, we were all in better headspaces in our personal lives, so it was just fun! It was just five friends in the studio having fun again, which is why you start a band. It is why anyone wants to start a band, because it’s fun. Somewhere along the way, when you get caught up in it all, it turns into a nightmare and that’s what happened to us. It was nice and refreshing to get back into the studio smiling and laughing with no limitations, no restrictions, writing what we wanted to write when we wanted to write it. It was not being told by anyone you have a month, then you’re done, and we have to have the record out. We were like, “We’re going to take as long as we want, we’re gonna write whatever the hell we want!” It was just a lot of fun.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, that is great to hear. James Cassells sat down with CrypticRock back in 2014 for an interview. Even back then, he had mentioned, you guys fight, you have your disagreements, but deep down, you have been together for everything. You are really more family than anything. With that in mind, Danny had departed for about two years, as said. Was that a bit odd continuing on without him since you had started this whole thing together?
Ben Bruce – It was weird, and it was an adjusting period. There was no way we’re going to roll over and die. We worked so hard to get Asking Alexandria where it was. We’ve sold millions of records and we’ve toured the world together. We’ve accomplished some stuff that most musicians only dream of accomplishing, so it was never an option to stop and end it. Yes, while it was strange to continue without Danny, it was necessary. I’m glad we did, because it allowed us to learn a lot about ourselves, the four of us, as Asking Alexandria, as a machine.
A lot of bands, if they lose their frontman, they’re done for. People will sort of turn a blind eye and say, “That band’s done.” We did lose our frontman, our vocalist, but we did it. We carried on: we had a very successful record release, we toured around the world, we did huge headlining tours, and we did the biggest festivals around the world. It was very eye-opening for us that Asking Alexandria had become sort of its own monster, its own machine, and it wasn’t just any one individual member carrying the band, it was the band carrying itself.
It was really an eye-opening experience. It definitely made us all appreciate what we have more. While everyone appreciates fans and knows without the fans there won’t be anything, but this really opened our eyes. It felt like, “Wow, our fans took us under their wing.” It was like they knew we’re broken and we needed help healing. They helped us heal… it was a really crazy experience. I think going into this record cycle, we’re all much more aware of how much we mean to the fans, and therefore, how much they mean to us.
CrypticRock.com – Well, that is something really special, and most bands do not have the luxury of such support. This new album seemed to have a great deal of emotion. You can hear everything from pain to hope and perhaps even some regret. Did the album act as a therapeutic release for the band?
Ben Bruce – I think it definitely did, especially as far as lyrically. When Danny rejoined the band and we started this record, we knew it was special. We knew we were having a good time, but in the back of our minds, it was always, hopefully this is going to last. We thought, “What’s Danny really feeling about being back?” I know the four of us were stoked that he was back, but is Danny that stoked he’s back? As soon as he started laying down lyrics and he started laying down his vocals, that was the answer for us… it was like, “Yes,” that he’s so happy to be back! You can hear it in the lyrics on the whole album.
The very first words on the album are, “I’ve been away for a little while.” His lyrics are so open and so honest, it’s almost like he’s not only talking to the listener, but to us as well. That’s what I felt when I was watching him record… like he was talking to me, and telling me, like saying, “Sorry,” in some songs and addressing himself in other songs and what he’s been through. It’s not just the lyrics, it’s the delivery. Like you said, you can feel the hope when he’s hopeful, and you can feel the desperation when he’s lost, angry, or sad. I think it’s just a crazy whirlwind of emotions.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly shows through on the recording. Obviously, you guys have progressed through the years musically, the guitar work is very tight, everything sounds really nice as a unit. What was it like? Did you guys feel like everything was clicking?
Ben Bruce – Like I said, it felt like it did when we did Stand Up and Scream when we recorded it in 2008. That’s how it felt again. Back then, when we recorded that album, there were no expectations, there was no one telling us what to do, there was no album to compare it to, so we didn’t know where it was going. It was just five dudes having fun playing what they wanted. After that, everything was like a calculated move. Even if you don’t mean it to be, of course, it’s going to be, because you’re going to compare it to previous releases. You’re gonna go, “We had this success with this record, so we have to top it with this one.” For this one, musically, again, it felt so natural and exciting, just like with Stand Up and Scream.
We played whatever we wanted to play, and I feel like there are huge riffs in there. Like the opening riff of “Rise Up” or even the main riff of “Into the Fire” or “When the Lights Come On,” there are huge guitars in there, and they’re packed full of energy. The way they are played and riffs themselves, are so energetic. When I listen to the riff in “Rise Up,” I feel the energy, it makes me smile, and it makes me want to headbang! I think it’s one of those rare cases, where you can feel the energy when we were in the room recording comes through the music as well as the vocals.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you can feel it. Another thing you excelled at was your live shows. Obviously, you toured relentlessly throughout the years. Now, it is touring on your terms, when you want to, and that is a good thing. That said, you’re heading out in 2018 with Black Veil Brides to tour the new record. At this stage, how do you approach the stressful lifestyle of life on the road?
Ben Bruce – There’s a number of different things now. One of the things that made this band go crazy in the day and aided us in drinking, drugs, and generally making us miserable and sad people was we were over-toured. We were thrown in a bus for eight weeks and we’d finish that tour. Then, they’d say, “Okay, go get some rest, because tomorrow, we jump on a plane to fly across the world,” and we’re going to Asia and Australia for another month. We’d finish that tour, come home, and they’d be like, “Pack your bags, we’re going to Europe.” Now, we know that’s not good, that’s not good for us.
Do we need to tour? Do people want us to tour? Yes, but we have a limit as people. We try to respect each other and ourselves. When we’re planning a tour now, it’s like, “Okay, the longest we’ll do is six weeks.” We try to keep it below six weeks, but we know that after six weeks, we’re burnt out, and that’s when things start to go south. We’ll tour, and we’ll take time off to rest and recuperate, spend time with our families, our wives, kids, and stuff like that. Then, we’ll go back out for six weeks.
For me personally, every three or four weeks, it works out, so I can actually fly my wife and kids out, and they can spend a week out on the road with me, and we’ll get our own means of transport, hotel rooms and stuff. I can still see my wife and kids when I’m out, which helps me a lot.
There’s just small things like that we take into consideration. When we were planning our touring schedule for next summer, they had us out for eight weeks over in Europe, and we just called them and said, “Look, man, we gotta lose two weeks, trim the fat. I understand going to Europe is expensive, and if we don’t play all these off shows, we might come back making less money… but, at least we’ll come home sane.” It’s just being aware and our team learning they can’t just throw us out on the road 360 days a year anymore. I just think that makes for a healthier band, a healthier lifestyle, and it keeps all happy and sane.
CrypticRock.com – Right, it is all about balance, and finding that balance is important. It seems like you guys have done that. Now, through all that touring, like you said, you were in your late teens. You were going with what people said you should be doing. You were on such festivals such as the Mayhem festival as headliners. In those times when you were with older bands, did anyone ever take you under their wing and steer you in the right direction?
Ben Bruce – That was actually a huge turning point for us in our personal lives and our careers, tours like Mayhem. When we were coming up, bands in our “scene,” as a lot of bands are pigeon-holed, they don’t do tours like that. They do a world tour, and then, they do the clubs, and that’s their career. We decided we didn’t want to do that in the very early stage. We went out of our comfort zones all the time back in the day.
We would tour with straight-edge Hardcore bands, then we’d go out with Pop Punk and Emo bands. That didn’t change our career, so when we started going with older bands, we toured with Slipknot, Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch, Slayer, and Guns N’ Roses, we actually found out that these guys have already been through all the shit we were currently going through.
When we were touring with bands from our “scene,” it was almost like everyone was in competition… who could get the most drunk, who could get the most fucked up. When we went with these older bands, they’d already been through that, they saw us in them.
Bands like Slipknot, in particular, Avenged Sevenfold, another band in particular, Bullet For My Valentine, even Trivium, all took us under their wing. They were like, “Look, we’ve been there. You guys have so much potential. We’ve seen guys in arenas and we don’t want to see you ruin it living that Rock-n-Roll lifestyle.” Bands, like I said, Slipknot and Avenged Sevenfold, in particular, really did help us and guide us and tell us, “It’s okay to not be what people think is Rock-n-Roll. You don’t have to do drugs and be fucked up all the time for people to like you and respect you.” The fact that they’d already been through that and they’d come out the other side, they took the time to tell us that really spoke volumes to us, and we listened, and we took it on board.
I think we all started to try and turn our lives around. For some of us, it was a little too far gone, like Danny. I think it was just around the time Danny hit rock bottom. It still resonates to this day. We’re still good friends with those bands, and, now, Danny’s sober, Sam, our bassist, is sober, I drink wine with dinner. None of us are doing drugs anymore. I think it’s because of tours we had in the past, and continue to do so, with Slipknot and Avenged Sevenfold, just being understanding and giving advice.
You grow up looking up to other bands, and thinking, “I wanna be just like them,” Then, when you become friends with them, you find out that they’re not these crazy animalistic Rock stars that you think they are. You can kind of sit back and breathe a sigh of relief, and go, “Oh, it’s okay to be somewhat normal.”
CrypticRock.com – That is very interesting. It has been been a crazy ride for Asking Alexandria, but definitely stories to tell and something you would not change for the world.
Ben Bruce – Nope, definitely not.
CrypticRock.com – My last question is regarding movies. Beyond music, CrypticRock.com also covers movies, particular in Horror and Sci-Fi genres. If you are a fan of those genres, do you have any favorites?
Ben Bruce – I am! I am actually just a big movie guy in general. I love movies, all kinds of movies. There’s a lot of Horror movies I love. I love The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, the Friday the 13th movies, the A Nightmare on Elm Streets, and Halloweens, I love all of them.
I think, for some reason, although it’s not particularly jump out, shock Horror, I love The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002). I love that trilogy and I think that it’s, to me, the most petrifying, the most terrifying movies, because, like I said, they are not shock and gore, but they’re incredibly real. I mean, you look at that movie, and think, “Wow, that guy was real. This is happening probably right now all across the world, and I’m watching this sadistic fucking weirdo.” To me, that’s absolutely petrifying. I think, definitely, the Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal trilogy are probably some of my favorite Horror movies.
CrypticRock.com – Great choices. It is always the stuff that seems more realistic that is more frightening when you think about it.
Ben Bruce – Yeah, it’s cool to see someone get their face peeled off, and you’re like, “Oh man, that’s crazy,” but I’m not going to stay up at night like, “Oh shit, I hope somebody’s not going to come and peel my face off just for the shock of it.” When you actually watch those movies, you’re like, “Oh man, this is definitely very real.” That’s what’s scary.