“Hey, I’m good, how are you?” asks Architects drummer Dan Searle when he picks up the phone to NME. It’s hard to gauge how true that statement really is. On one hand, Architects have just released their eighth studio record, ‘Holy Hell‘. The early feedback is great. No surprise there, because it is – it’s boundlessly creative, daring, and at times, distressingly raw. It’s the third truly great record the Brighton band have released on the bounce now, following 2014’s ‘Lost Forever // Lost Together’ and 2016’s ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’. Yet on the other, said record is a document of the existential horror all of the band have lived through, in the wake of the passing of guitarist and principal songwriter Tom Searle in the August of 2016, after a three-year fight with skin cancer. Grief isn’t a contest. It should never be questioned. We all feel it in different ways. But as Tom’s twin, it’s hard to imagine how it could have impacted anyone quite like it has the man we talk to today.
The last time this writer spoke to Dan, it was at a wake, held on Brighton seafront one blazing hot day, to remember Tom’s passing. On that day Dan was darkly hilarious, as if he was trying to keep himself afloat by drolly spewing every (and there were many) funny anecdote he could remember about his brother. During the eulogy he spoke about Tom, it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry. In the end, both seemed appropriate. Today, listening to him speak about Tom and how his tragic death shaped Architects new album, it’s hard not to veer towards the latter. Here’s what he had to say.
Dan, in the run up to this record, you’ve talked about how ‘Holy Hell’ is largely a record about pain. But you’ve talked about how pain can have positivity to it too. I was surprised to hear that. Can you explain a bit further?
“Well it was something I got from Tom himself. He’d picked it up from other people who had cancer. During the time he had cancer, I can’t say he lived a happier life, but he certainly found more gratitude. He was able to work on parts of himself that didn’t serve him, and I can say as his brother that it did make him a better person. And so that was something instilled in me during that last year and a half with Tom. When I did lose him I was left with my own challenges. I didn’t believe he would die until the day before he died. It was an enormous shock to me. And then, about two months later, the grief hit me very, very hard…”
How did that manifest itself, if you don’t mind us asking?
“I was drinking a lot. Smoking a lot of weed. Just trying to medicate myself really. It was just far too much to handle. I was very, very anxious. It was just total trauma. And then came a point where I realised I had to find another way to deal with it. And so I started thinking about the way Tom dealt with his cancer. Replaying times we’d been together, almost like movie scenes in my mind. And I tried to take teachings from him. Looking at obstacles in my life in the way that he would have. I wouldn’t say I’m good, but I’m a lot better.”
Did you have any help trying to think about things in that way? Or was it your own intuition?
“Well I’ve had grief counselling, and I’ve had therapy after that, but it was thinking about Tom thinking in that way, really. And I have a wife who thinks about things in this way. And I think that helped get me through that really heavy, all consuming grief I felt at that time. I mean, I can speak fairly eloquently about it now, but… Tom really did change the way that I feel about difficulties in my life now though. I think I’ll always feel differently, because of how he approached his.”
It’s hard to quantify I know, but how much do you think making ‘Holy Hell’ helped in finding a way beyond what happened to Tom? And how much didn’t it?
“I would say it helped a lot. It was such a difficult process. I was utterly immersed in it. It was another thing to medicate myself with really, just sitting at my laptop working on it. But at the same time, there were moments when we were working on the lyrics and on the vocals that brought so many emotions up. There were moments where it brought me to tears, which seems a strange thing to say about listening to your own music. There’s a feeling of melancholy present within the record because that’s what I needed. Listening to it now, it’s almost like a tool I needed to bring out the sadness in me. There’s a lot of value in sitting with a feeling. Sometimes it’s just hard to get those feelings out. Making an album to do that was a gift really. Not everyone has something like that.”
I was wondering that, because a lot of things Tom wrote are on the album, it might be difficult to finish it. Like doing so might mean saying goodbye in some way…
“One hundred percent. I still feel this about the album coming out, like some sort of separation anxiety, letting go of this thing that’s been like a crutch to me for so long. I didn’t want to let go of it. The idea of letting go of it is scary to me. And as well as that, I was so desperate to get it right, for Tom as much as anyone. To make an album that does him justice. The thing is, once Tom got ill, the band just stopped. I mean when he was visibly ill, which was really just after ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’ was released, when we went to Luxembourg to play and Tom was taken to hospital and they thought he was going to go into a coma. Prior to that, he was able to do everything that everyone else was, so he contributed hugely to this record. Being left with those contributions and trying to make sure we did them justice was so important to us.”
I can’t imagine what that must be like, revisiting the notes of someone who isn’t here anymore…
“It was so strange. There were lots of bits that we had to try to make into songs. And then putting lyrics to them that Tom had never heard. Such a strange way to make a record.”
I know you write the lyrics and not Sam [Carter, vocals] but I can’t quite remember hearing a vocal performance that’s as sincere and as raw as his is on the record…
“It was an extremely long process getting them down. I’ve said it many times before but Sam is a great vocalist, and I think he sang these words – words about extremely emotive, powerful things – in a way unlike anything he’s sang before. We worked on the vocals a lot together, really thinking about how he was going to capture the emotions of what we were trying to put across, but I think in the end he did a lot of that just by singing them in such an honest way.”
At times the vocals sound completely untreated…
“There’s a balance isn’t there. On one hand you feel obligated to make a perfect, polished record. On the other, we’re a metal band, which is a music that is predominantly used to convey anger and sadness, which we weren’t in short supply of making the record. I think we just wanted to capture something real and to do justice to the emotions we were feeling at the time. We were looking for some vulnerability…”
There’re more strings on this record than there have been on an Architects record previously…
“I think that’s because I’ve been more involved in the song writing than I have been previously. I’m not a guitarist, so I looked to another instrument. We worked with a guy called Will Harvey. He had some ideas and we had some ideas and I think in the end we created something that enhanced the heaviness of what we were trying to make. They’re such an emotional instrument. They were just right for many of these songs.”
One of the things I like most about Architects, especially on the last three records, is how you now deploy grace as a device to be heavy as much as you do distorted guitars. Do you agree?
“I just think at some point we made a decision not to follow the rules we had made for ourselves. Rules that came out of what we thought a metal band had to be. Ultimately, it’s just about expression. Sometimes things have to be fragile.”