August 5, 2020 Interview – James Cassells of Asking Alexandria Discusses Like A House On Fire
If you enjoy all things heavy, then you already know the name Asking Alexandria. Achieving unprecedented success, these Brits have been waging an uphill war since their 2009 debut with Stand Up and Scream. This was followed by 2011’s Reckless & Relentless and 2013’s From Death to Destiny, before, as we all know, Vocalist Danny Worsnop departed the fold. That’s all yesterday’s news, as he promptly returned and the band issued proof of their rebirth with the brilliant 2017 eponymous, Asking Alexandria.
Sitting pretty on the Active Rock charts and riding high off their ‘reunion’ LP, the quintet went into the studio to record what would become 2020’s Like a House on Fire, an epic 15-track collection. The band’s drummer, James Cassells, recently sat down to talk about the writing and recording of the album, pesky naysayers, being psychic, and much, much more.
Cryptic Rock – Let’s just jump right into the new record, Like A House On Fire, which arrived May 15th. Did you ever think that when the record was released the world would literally be like a house on fire? (Laughs)
James Cassells – Honestly, it’s kind of ridiculous how many songs are fitting for what’s going on in the world right now. It’s insane! I don’t know, maybe we had some premonitions—We were going to create the soundtrack for 2020. I kind of feel like we did! (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Are you starting to think that maybe you should play lotto? (Laughs) Maybe you guys are psychic.
James Cassells – Yeah, our numbers are coming up, boys! (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Okay, to be more serious, throughout the past 12 years Asking Alexandria has been steadily evolving and growing much more diverse—in a similar way to bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Atreyu who have vastly expanded their sound over the years. Do you consider the self-titled and Like A House On Fire to be bridging into the next phase of the band, musically speaking?
James Cassells – Honestly, when the self-titled came out, that was the next phase of our sound. Obviously we all know what happened and that Danny’s returned. We had the gap where we went our separate ways, came back, and we found that we were coming back because this is right. What we were doing was destructive and it wasn’t going to survive. So we were like how do we keep our sound but evolve to this new place? That’s what we’ve been doing. I feel we kind of hit the nail on the head when we started, and we’re now just refining it.
At the end of the day, Asking Alexandria, we’ve stuck to pretty much a formula: we want people to sing along to our choruses, we want people to move to our music—whether or not that is moshing, jumping, headbanging. We want the music to move a crowd, we want it to be memorable. We want people to leave our shows and to listen to our music and be like, “Wow, that was cool! I loved that!”
That hasn’t always been the case—even back to 2009 when we were scene kids and we were playing Metalcore music. That was music we liked back then, but the plan of what we wanted to achieve is right now. We were teenagers and now we’re in our 30s, and we still want the same thing—we’re just going about it in a slightly different way.
Cryptic Rock – It’s a great album. However, the reaction of the fans online appears to be very, very mixed. Without devolving our conversation into focusing on the negative, there appears to be a contingent of people who are very passionately incensed that the band is evolving.
James Cassells – Someone was asking me this earlier, and we addressed it in the little cartoon that we did. Did you see that cartoon? You should watch it, it’s funny. Basically, there’s enough material to make a whole TV program about that, but because of quarantine we can’t do that. So, we did a cartoon, and we talk and we address that a little bit.
We’re just a band. We’ve been dealing with that since day one, since Stand Up and Scream. We were in a Metal band and people were like, “You’re not a fucking Metal band! You guys are fucking pussies; you’ve got lame haircuts and you wear girls’ jeans. Fuck you, you’re not Metal!” (Laughs) And then we do Reckless & Relentless and we have “Someone, Somewhere,” which we try to take to radio—“You’re not allowed on the fucking radio, you’re a Screamo band. Fuck you!” Then From Death to Destiny: “Oh, you guys are selling out! You’re doing Rock songs!”
This has been going on for our entire career. Basically, people don’t like it when you change, and you evolve and you succeed. I don’t know why, but people get pissy about it. The state of affairs, in terms of social media and just what people are like nowadays, is appalling. What people say to each other online, and what people do to one another online is just horrific. We just kind of laugh it off. At the end of the day we’ve been living it, breathing it, doing it for the best part of our lives. Our entire adult lives have been spent making and performing music, and I think we do a pretty good job of it.
As a band we’re happier than we ever have been, and we’re stoked on our music. First and foremost, we enjoy the music that we make and that hasn’t always been the case. I think a lot of people get offended if it’s more palatable: they see that as you selling out. It’s like, hey dude, if I was selling out I wouldn’t be playing Rock music, in general. (Laughs) I would be going and doing something completely different. There’s plenty of other genres that make a lot more money than we do! (Laughs)
If every band just did the same thing over and over again, if every person in the world was the same, it would be fucking boring, wouldn’t it? If we wrote six albums of the same stuff, no one would listen to us! They’d only need one album. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Okay, to get back to the album, there’s a strong sense of self-love, self-belief and self-determination throughout. What has the band’s mindset been like when writing, recording, and even now?
James Cassells – We’ve kind of had a little bit of a cocky streak. If you go back and listen to, read the lyrics of “Closure”—a song off our second album Reckless & Relentless—it’s cocky. It’s talking about how we’re going to mix it up, we’re going to change music. We’ve always had the belief that we’re going to: we’ve wanted to and we’ve aspired to. To do that, we want to bring Rock music back to the forefront; that’s literally what we want to do. We’ve kind of been harping on about this since two-thousand-fucking-eleven.
We do have a lot of belief in ourselves; I have faith in our songs. I think our songwriting has got way better, and we’re enjoying doing it as a band, as well. Obviously we’ve done albums and we’ve made songs that have been through hard times or difficult moments in our lives, but right now we’re kind of enjoying it.
Cryptic Rock – When the band went into the studio, was your personal approach to recording drums any different this time around?
James Cassells – Yeah. We actually recorded drums in a much bigger drum studio; we went to a local studio but it has a really nice, big drum room. We really tried to capture a big sound, we really wanted that. I don’t know how to explain it, but we really tried to do that. (Laughs) We had loads of different snares, mic placements all over the shop—just trying to capture that big, raw energy. I think we managed to capture it. “One Turns to None,” that’s a big, anthemic Rock song, and it needed a really big, massive drum sound. We spent a lot of time, and I think we managed to pull it off on a few of those.
Cryptic Rock – You definitely did, and it’s funny that you mention “One Turns to None,” because I wanted to ask more specifically about a few of the tracks. If there’s any interesting anecdotes or anything you’d like to share about them, that’d be great. The first track is “Down to Hell.”
James Cassells – “Down to Hell” is one of my favorites off the album, and I know it’s Danny’s favorite, too. Honestly, a lot of the guys love it, because it’s just got a raw Rock, sleazy energy. That’s something we’ve been trying to hone for a minute, and just trying to capture that dirty, rough and ready vibe.
But yeah, that was one of the last songs that we wrote on the album. Obviously this album has 15 songs on it, right? Again, we weren’t planning on doing 15, but we were like, fuck it, out with the rule book. We’re not able to tour this album, so why not give the fans an extra four or five songs?
That was probably the second to last song that we wrote for the album. I did two sessions recording drums, and that was the second. It’s kind of funny, the most aggressive part of the album, I think, is the heavy bridge and that’s Danny’s favorite part. (Laughs) Kind of funny. He doesn’t go as aggressive as he used to with his voice and whatnot, but it’s a fun ode to an older, more Metalcore part of us. I’ve got almost a Meshuggah-esque drum part. It’s just really super low: we had an octave-pedal guitar—the guitars are a whole octave lower than they would be for the rest of the song.
You know, little things like that that we used to do back in the day, we’ve put them in there. A lot of people don’t realize that, because at the end of the day they just don’t have an ear for it, and they don’t necessarily listen hard enough, perhaps. There’s a lot of things in there that are throwbacks to really heavy things that we used to do, and it’s just funny that it’s Danny’s favorite part.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, to cycle back to my segue from earlier, the next song is “One Turns to None.”
James Cassells – Again, this was in our second recording. If we released all the songs that we could release or have written, every album would be 20 songs long. (Laughs) So that was one that was done later. I usually have Tama, my drum company, send me a bunch of different snare drums when we’re recording, just so I can try out different sounds for different choruses, verses, whatever; to make it sound different. They sent me a bell brass, which is an incredibly expensive, heavy snare drum. I think it’s a two and a half thousand dollar drum. It sounds really big and it’s super fucking loud, and that’s what we got that tone from. I remember sitting there like, “Yep, this is it! It’s going to make it!”
It was cool when I was recording that. Ben’s got that little solo at the end, and when we were writing it we just had rough drums; sometimes if we’re writing and we don’t have a kit set up, we’ll just put in rough sequence drums. When I go in and track for real I embellish on stuff and add extra bits and whatnot. I remember I was going off over that, and our producer, Matt Good, he started pulling the reins a bit. (Laughs) He was like, “Dude, you need to come back a bit. Don’t go so hard right now, let the solo be in the limelight.” (Laughs) I was like alright, I’ll tone it down a little bit. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Okay, last song is “Here’s to Starting Over.”
James Cassells – That song was the first song; the first demo of Like A House On Fire before we knew the title, before we knew anything else. It sounded completely fucking different. (Laughs) I can’t even stress how much of a different song it was. Songs evolve and change: they’ve got many faces, elements can come in and out. The creation of a song is, sometimes it’s [snaps fingers] and it’s done; it’s like it falls out and this is it. Certain times you give it a week and then it’s like, no, we should change this. Oh, we could move this. It can go on this crazy journey, and that was one of those songs.
It was actually a lot more electronic when we first did it, but it became something else. It became more of a personal thing, which is nice because it gave me a chance to do more, drum-wise, and do more complicated things. My drum parts are actually really hard, which is nice—it’s cool to get a chance to show off. I like to do things that they’re difficult, but people don’t think that they’re difficult until they try to do it. If that makes sense. It’s nice doing that. It’s like, “Oh, it’s too easy!” Well, try it! “Oh shit, it’s hard!” (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) When the apocalypse ends do you have a track that you’re most excited to play live?
James Cassells – There are so many. I really, really can’t wait to play “House on Fire.” I feel like that song has got—that chorus. People are going to be screaming that, singing along and enjoying themselves. I think “I Don’t Need You” is going to be a seriously heartfelt song live; it’s going to be a tearjerker, there’s definitely going to be some teary-eyed fans in the crowd. I remember when we first put “Moving On” in the set, and there’d be girls crying—it’s definitely got that vibe.
We’ve always written music for live. We’ve always gone out there with the mentality of how is this going to go off in a live setting, how can we make it better for that? I really feel like the longer we go, the more music we write together, we really get better at that. I can’t wait just to perform Like a House on Fire in that setting, giving people that up-close, that fucking face-to-face energy.
If you’re on the fence about this album, you’re going to like it after. If you love this album, it’s going to be your favorite album after you see this. I promise you it is going to pop off live; it’s going to become something more. I remember the first time when we released “The Violence,” and like we were talking about earlier, people were like, “What the fuck is this?” We go out and we tour on it, and low and behold, it’s got 20 million fucking streams on Spotify and it’s a huge song.
People hate to see it! Nowadays just listening isn’t enough for people, unfortunately: they need to see it, they need to touch it; they need to be able to grab it and smell it. They want everything! They want more, they always want more, and you’re going to get it live—you’re going to get it all!
Cryptic Rock – With this album you really captured that live feel.
James Cassells – We spent a year or so prior to making this album, we were supporting bands like Shinedown, Papa Roach, Godsmack; these bands that were playing huge venues. Ourselves, as the band, as years have gone by we’re now playing these bigger venues. You know, we’re not playing these little 500-800 person clubs where it’s sweaty, and it’s nitty-gritty and everyone’s climbing over everyone. We’re playing big theaters, and you need to make songs that are big for them to come across in that atmosphere.
People don’t understand that you can have really complex music, and you try and bring that into a massive room, and it kind of gets lost in translation. You need to have elements that can be enjoyed by people everywhere in the building. Again, like I was saying, we’re getting better at making live music, and Like a House on Fire really is that: it’s music that is going to go over really well wherever we’re playing. We could be doing an intimate, acoustic rendition of these songs for 100 people, or we could be playing them to 8,000 in a sold-out arena. These songs are still going to be enjoyed, and they’re going to hit home for everyone.
Cryptic Rock – To sort of shift gears and lighten the mood a bit, what is the funniest reaction that you’ve witnessed to one of your songs?
James Cassells – I’m trying to think of a funny story now. There’s been quite a few of the toddlers and babies that hear our songs and then just spazz out a bit—grab stuff, smash shit around. It’s pandemonium! (Laughs) They’re always really fun. I think just seeing the raw emotion, it might not be the most quote-unquote funniest thing, but it’s probably the most powerful. When you see someone in just pure emotion, just seeing that they get it, it’s a powerful thing.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, last question. Cryptic Rock last spoke to you in 2014, and you said you loved Horror movies. Is that still true and have you watched anything new that you loved over the past few years?
James Cassells – Yeah, I absolutely love Horror movies. My whole right leg sleeve is all my favorite Horror characters. I’m trying to think of a recent Horror film that I thought was good, and it’s difficult. Modern day Horror films get a lot of stick for being terrible. I’m trying to think of a great one that I’ve watched—what have I been watching? I should just go and look on my TV and see which ones I downloaded. (Laughs) What modern Horror movies have come out recently?
Cryptic Rock – Many have been delayed due to COVID-19. A Quiet Place II is set for release in April of 2021 now.
James Cassells – I did watch the first one. I thought it was good. I thought he did a great job—John Krasinski. I think he did a great job, but I think it was more of a Thriller than a Horror film; it wasn’t a full-on Horror movie in my opinion, but I did really enjoy it.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. One of the recent films that gets mentioned often, and I don’t necessarily consider this Horror either, is Midsommar (2019).
James Cassells – Oh no! Fuck no! I watched that the other day. Oh, I’ll tell you what, though: a film I did enjoy was that director’s other movie, Hereditary (2018). That was sick! I think that was a good Horror film. Me and my wife went to go see Hereditary when it came out, and she was like, “Never take me to a movie like that ever again.” (Laughs) She thought it was very disturbing, but I get it, it was pretty fucked up. I loved it, it’s definitely up there.
Midsommar. I watched that by myself the other night. I couldn’t sleep and she was sleeping, so I said, okay, I’ll put this on. It’s really fucking long and it’s so weird. It’s so trippy. It’s not a Horror film, it’s not scary; it’s just weird. It’s unsettling, which I think a lot of movies are trying to go for right now. They’re making shit weird and sexual all the time. I feel like I used to really enjoy Horror films that were like, okay, the first part of it is you’re going to see some tits. There’s going to be drinking—it’s like Scream (1996), pretty much—and then everything goes tits up and it’s a straight Slasher film.
Those are the Horror films that I grew up enjoying—Slasher films. I feel like nowadays, it’s just turned emotional, weird, perverted, and I feel like a lot of sources are going down that alley. (Laughs)