“I saw a comment online the other day from someone who clearly didn’t like our new song,” Asking Alexandria guitarist Ben Bruce tells NME, referring to his band’s recent single, ‘Down To Hell’. “But instead of just saying, ‘I prefer the old stuff – which is fine,’ he went, ‘I miss the good old days of Asking Alexandria before they got fat, fucking ugly and got shitty haircuts’. What the fuck does that have to do with anything?”
Speaking from his home in the Arizona mountains, Bruce isn’t going to let the trolls bring him down. As we speak, the state-wide coronavirus lockdown is being lifted and he’s taking his kids to a “drive-thru” at the local zoo. But he’s also fiercely proud of new album, ‘Like A House On Fire’, which puts sleek, polished choruses and hooks upfront for the band like never before.
“I’m all for criticism, that’s part and parcel of my job,” he continues. “What’s not fine is when people go to such great lengths to try and belittle artists. People are like, ‘You went pop!’ No we didn’t. We’ve made a massive rock record. It’s necessary to keep our genre going.”
Nevertheless, Asking Alexandria are quite a way from where they first started.
Back in 2009, the Yorkshire quintet relocated to America, released their angsty metalcore debut, ‘Stand Up And Scream’, and were snorting and blagging their way to the top, living out every one of their Sunset Strip fantasies.
Alas, the situation was a ticking time-bomb. In 2015, fans watched in horror as the friendship between Bruce and vocalist Danny Worsnop went, very publicly, up in flames. Worsnop quit and the band introduced new frontman, Denis Stoff for 2016 album, ‘The Black’. But in another mad twist of fate, less than two years later the band announced that Denis was out and had been replaced… by Danny.
“He came back and it was like he never left,” remembers Bruce. “But we had to learn each other’s new boundaries and take a look at why the whole thing imploded to begin with. Between the drugs and the alcohol, things got very toxic.”
As they continue to march into yet another new era, Bruce tells NME about Asking Alexandria’s new sound, getting sober and a brighter future.
How would you describe the shift in sound on ‘Like A House On Fire’?
“This is the logical next step from the last album. I don’t know why anyone would be mind blown or like ‘Where did this come from?’ If you’re a fan of our last record [2017‘s self-titled] you should be a fan of this record. We’re still playing big guitar riffs, drums and choruses. It’s really not that far removed.”
Is it true that you sent the new album to Slipknot’s Corey Taylor for his opinion?
“I sent it [to him] as soon as we finished recording and was like, ‘Dude, what do you think?’ He said, ‘I think it’s going to piss people off and I think it’s the best thing you’ve ever fucking written. Whether people realise it or not on a first listen, I promise you they will. Every band who’s been around for years has been through this and it’s your time’.”
Has this album redefined who Asking Alexandria are?
“Definitely as people. This is the first record we’ve done sober – that’s a big deal. We’ll never go back to how we were with drugs and excessive alcohol.”
What made you all want to get sober?
“Right after the last album came out, we decided enough is enough. For me, the big wake-up call was my wife. My daughter was still a baby and my wife said, ‘If you don’t stop this, I can’t stay. I can’t raise our daughter in this environment. She doesn’t deserve to see her dad coked out of his head and drunk all the time.’ From that morning on, I never touched drugs ever again and I stopped drinking liquor. Liquor was a catalyst for me. If I got fucked up on liquor, the drugs came.”
How is Danny finding it all?
“When Danny rejoined the band, he was completely sober. He’d stopped drugs and he’d stopped drinking, then when he came back, he slipped back into it again because we weren’t quite at that space where we had stopped. That just goes to show the importance of doing it together as a band. We all have to be on-board or it doesn’t work. Danny [is now] approaching 100 days sober. I’m proud of him.”
Do you guys ever speak to [ex-frontman] Denis Stoff these days?
“No, we never talk to him. I’ve not come out and said what went down because I don’t want to start any drama. I don’t have any ill wishes towards him at all, but he does know what he did and it was shitty. Maybe he behaved the way he did in our band because it wasn’t the right fit for him. I hope that he’s able to move on from it and do something spectacular, because he was a talented kid.”
Have you dropped songs from ‘The Black’ from your live sets altogether now?
“We have and there’s a big misconception about that. [People think] ‘Oh Danny won’t let them play the songs’. But actually Danny said he would play the songs, it was me who said no. That album was specifically very venomous towards Danny because he hurt me so much. On stage you’ll see me and Danny are grinning at each other, jumping around and hi-fiving, we’re having a good time. How am I going to go onstage and have him sing about how pissed off I was with him?”
It sounds like being in Asking Alexandria is a very different experience now?
“We’ve only got one crew member left from those days, our tour manager, and he says how much more he enjoys being around us now. There were times where we would get drunk, destroy hotel rooms and have the police called over because we’d trashed a hotel lobby. We’d be up all night, drinking from when we got off stage, until 10am the next day and he’s in the back trying to sleep. He said it was sad how many doors we went through instead of opening and how many TV’s we smashed. He referred to it as not a happy group of people.”
And are you all happy now?
“Completely. That’s why it’s such a bummer when you see people getting so spiteful towards you for discovering your happiness. This band has always been about us. Since day one, it’s been about five people telling their stories to the world. That’s not changed. Maybe you relate to a certain part of our story more than another, and that’s fine. That part of the story is still there. It can be re-read, it can be re-listened to, but it can’t be re-lived for us.”
Asking Alexandria’s ‘Like A House On Fire’ is out now.