Demons have played a big part in the Asking Alexandria story. For most of their career, the five-piece have had to battle through negativity, line-up changes and even substance abuse. So much so, their sixth outing 'Like A House On Fire' is "the first album we've ever written sober," according to founder, vocalist and guitarist Ben Bruce, but the band making their way through this muddied 2020 are a stronger union than ever.
Vocalist Danny Worsnop's return in 2017, after a departure in 2015, and the ensuing self-titled fifth album was a relative return to form. It held the same energy that's kept Asking Alexandria propelling forward, but this time things have a more focused serenity.
But truthfully, no one knew how long things would last once Danny had rejoined. "Everything was uncertain," Ben starts. "It was really exciting [and] a lot of fun. We'd rekindled our friendship and our relationship, [but it was] a big learning curve, we'd changed a lot as people. When Danny rejoined the band, I was still a little bit broken and lost, still using drugs and drinking very heavily. Danny wasn't doing any of that anymore, so I was relearning a new Danny, and he was being reintroduced to a lifestyle that he had walked away from."
Through all this learning the band found their way to the point of 'Like A House On Fire' during the touring cycle for the self-titled album. Ben says: "We would look at each other every night and just be grinning, you know, just having the best time."
"Not too far in I'd stopped taking drugs," he continues, "and I stopped drinking as much because my daughter was born. I've since had a son. I was over [drugs and drinking], and I was finally happy within my own life, and so I stopped. I started to just fall back in love with music again."
It was on this tour that the cogs began turning, and a feeling that they were "having fun and want to do this forever," swiftly took over. "This isn't a job anymore, you know? We both snapped out of that dark period we were in, and remembered why we did this - that's when we realised we wanted to continue doing it."
Deciding which Asking Alexandria 2020 was going to get involved a delve into the past. "It was the same as back in 2007, when we were writing [debut album] 'Stand Up And Scream'," Ben explains. "We had no preconceived ideas, we had no bar, we had nothing that we were trying to achieve or accomplish, other than we were all just stoked to be back in the studio and creating music together."
Remembering those early years, where Ben and Danny, along with guitarist Cameron Liddell and bassist Sam Bettley "were angry," he says. "Lost confused teenagers struggling to find our identity."
"We had moved away from England to America on our own, without our parents or friends, we were anxious, and that's what 'Stand Up And Scream' sounds like," Ben recalls. "It's a very all over the place album, there are all kinds of styles thrown in because we didn't know who we were. And then 'Reckless & Relentless' came out and it just sounds like a drug binge - which it was, it's a very dark and twisted album."
No longer a dark and twisted fantasy, Asking Alexandria have weathered through the storm, and now 'Like A House On Fire' is what they've always tried to be - themselves. "With this one, we were just writing as ourselves, we're comfortable, and we're confident," Ben says. "And we're very different people. I'm 31, I've got my third kid on the way, and I'm remarried. [The band] are clean and that's what it looks like; it's just five friends that are still friends over a decade later that still love making music together, and we never went into this to make music for anyone other than ourselves."
Deep within the heart of Asking Alexandria lies a heart of resilience. That 'fuck you' attitude which gave birth to rock music in the first place. Ben's first encounter with that raw, surging feeling to go against the grain, the same hope that's keeping Asking Alexandria batting away any negativity that inevitably comes when you're in such an easily targeted band, came at school.
"The new headteacher came in, and she opened the whole assembly with 'It's the start of your GCSE's, by this point in your lives you all will have grown up and put aside those dreams of becoming a rock star or a famous football player' and I remember being like, 'whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa - how bleak! Are we all just supposed to fall in line now that we've reached, whatever fuckin age we were you know, 15/16?!'
"I remember thinking, 'No, fuck this, I don't want to do that!' And, you know, and it pushed me even harder to just keep playing my guitar and pursue my dream of becoming a musician, and that is what music's about, it is about rebelling, and just being you."
Which arises the main point of contention for Asking Alexandria. Over the years, and even on the singles they've been dropping for 'Like A House On Fire', the shouts of negativity dispel any attempt at actually enjoying something, an all too common occurrence in metal and alternative genres.
"That's what's so weird about rock fans now, they're so quick to judge someone for being themselves, especially a band," Ben chuckles with an air of disbelief. "So quick to judge and make up some excuse in their head as to why the band are doing what they're doing instead of just going, 'Oh, this is the music that they're writing because they enjoy it'. It's just such a weird, bizarre thing from a genre of music that was born out of rebellion, and the love for rock and roll, loud guitars and big drums, and singing at the top of your lungs. [From that] has come this snooty, strange, kind of incestuous fan base. It is a very small percentage, but it's just such a shame."
Everyone wants something different from Asking Alexandria, but ultimately they're "a rock band that's gone through a lot of different life changes and experiences," Ben shrugs at all the opinions.
"We've just always written to our strengths and to what we've been going through so I never would have ever called us a metal band or a metalcore band or heavy metal band or a pop band - we're just a rock band, we always have been."
"That's what people are hearing now, you know?" he continues. "Still the same five people writing the same songs writing in the same way, just writing in a different time of our lives and it's still enjoyable for us. But people get caught up in the past, and the funny thing is, it's never been any different."
Recalling a show during a tour for their debut, where they "had the entire audience turn its back on us and sit on the ground while we were playing," it was easier to digest back then, according to Ben. "We were so young and drunk, and just so high on life."
But with age and sobriety, the wound becomes raw once more. "I think the older we get, the harder it is to swallow," he says of the heat his band often gets. "Now we're clean and sober, and we've worked hard to be where we are, there's [just as much] shit-talking as ever. I think it hurts a little bit more than it used to, or we're noticing it a little bit more."
Which is why Asking Alexandria are roaring, the symbolism of their sixth album pluming wide. 'Like A House On Fire' is what the world at large can feel like, let alone being in a project you've injected passion into for the last decade or so, a straight-up rock band who wanted to live that dream, and have managed to, no matter how many demons jump on the wagon.
"I stand by the fact that Asking Alexandria has always just been a rock band," Ben ends firmly. "We've always loved rock music we've always loved rock and roll. And that's not changed."
Taken from the June issue of Upset. Asking Alexandria's album 'Like A House On Fire' is out now.
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