Asking Alexandria Are Finally Ready To Leave Their Past Behind

Guitarist Ben Bruce talks us through the ideas and inspiration behind each track on Asking Alexandria’s stadium-seeking sixth LP, Like A House On Fire

Asking Alexandria Are Finally Ready To Leave Their Past Behind
Sam Law

“There’s nothing worse,” reckons Asking Alexandria guitarist and bandleader Ben Bruce, “than watching someone getting older and clinging onto their youth.”

It's a philosophy writ large across his band’s upcoming sixth LP Like A House On Fire; the title of which is not only a reference to the renewed relationships between the founding members, but also to their willingness to let the past burn in favour of a brighter future.

“As you get older and have kids,” Ben nods, “family becomes such an important thing. It’s about seeing that rock'n'roll is able to carry on being passed down from generation to generation. We went on tour with Shinedown and Papa Roach recently, and it gave me a different perspective and a different approach to songwriting.

“It made me reflect on the more hardcore shows in clubs we would play as a younger band where there would be a line of ambulances waiting outside. The fanbase back then was slightly younger than us, but predominantly of a similar age – young and angry, just like we were. That’s not the sort of band that we want to be [any more]."

Violence, he realised, was a truly devastating force: fuel for self-destructive behaviour, and simply counter-intuitive for musicians attempting to build a future.

“As we’ve grown, we’ve come into these bigger events and cross-generational crowds. We don’t want to be the cause of harm to anyone, or to have fans leaving the shows with busted noses. You don’t want those five-year-olds with their parents thinking of shows as scary and violent – the type of places they don’t want to go back to for a while. You want them thinking it was amazing. That’s how you get more rock fans in the world.”

In making that stadium-swaying music while maintaining the character that makes Asking great, he acknowledges, there has to be a finely-balanced trade-off.

“Maybe some ‘danger’ is taken out,” he muses, “but we can replace that with light, hope and bigger, more important life lessons... We’ve seen a huge spike in suicides and depression around the world. It’s apparent to me that people feel so hopeless. With all our experience of alcohol and drug addiction, friends and crew members dying, we’re in a unique position of being able to say that, yes, life can suck, but look where you can get to from those dark places.”

Indeed, releasing the album in the middle of the current COVID-19 pandemic – the darkest of places for so many bands and music fans – presents both problems and further perspective.

“The distributors wanted to delay release,” Ben explains. “Manufacture of physical copies is at minimal capacity. Stores are closed. They knew that that would have a huge impact on our first-week sales, and would impact how we charted on Billboard. Those numbers do mean a lot in this industry. People don’t care why, they just see that they’re down, and that means that they can offer you less money for tours and festivals. It’s a whole stupid game.”

He grins.

“Then I realised that didn’t matter to me! I flashed back to being a kid, desperate to be signed. My mum and I spending weeks and months printing off CDs and sending them out to anyone we could imagine. I just wanted to share my music with people and hoped they might feel the same way I did. Nowadays, on Spotify alone, Asking Alexandria has 2.6 million individual monthly listeners. If someone had told me that when I was a kid, I’d have shit my pants and cried.

“It didn’t sit right with me that that wouldn’t be a big enough audience for us now. The love for this music and the reason I do this hasn’t changed. Our fans are out there. They’re already going through a really shit time and I didn’t want to take this away from them too. This music might help someone, it might get them through.”

With that in mind, we asked Ben to further unpack Like A House On Fire’s deeper message, one track at a time…

1. House On Fire

“The album was actually titled Like A House On Fire before this was ever written. We went back to write it because there was something missing. It starts the record off on the right foot: very hopeful but honestly reflective. A lot of the message of this record is about self-love and pushing through the shit to find the light at the end of the tunnel, not being suckered into being someone else by peer pressure. It acknowledges that anything that’s not gone to plan has been of our own doing, through our own lack of confidence or self-respect. You have to make mistakes to learn. That’s what that chorus ‘Watch it fall away from me like a house on fire’ references: watching something fall and learn from it. Then you realise, ‘And all I am turned to all I can be.’ There’s also that intentional duality between the destructive imagery of the house on fire contrasting with the fact that [the band is now] getting on like a house on fire! It’s an acknowledgement that sometimes you need to step away from toxic people and situations to get to where you want to be.”

2. They Don't Want What We Want (And They Don't Care)

“This song starts with a sound like a ticking clock, which represents our learning over time: these things building up to the point where they’re ready to explode. But music should be open to interpretation. Right now, the song reminds me of starting sixth form college and the head of the school sitting us down and saying that she hoped we’d outgrown the ‘childish dreams’ of being a rock star or a sports star. I remember feeling so defeated, so angry and upset. But there was a realisation that she just wanted us to leave with great grades to become doctors and lawyers because that looked good for the school. She didn’t have my best interests at heart. There were other teachers who did! The lesson is that people will always set barriers up, segregate you from like-minds and pit people against each other. It’s a reminder not to let people dictate who you are, where you should be or what you should be doing. Only you can decide that for yourself!”

3. Down To Hell

“Down To Hell is just a really fun one. There are a lot of different levels to that song. On one level, it’s Danny [Worsnop, vocalist] acknowledging his erratic tendencies and his willingness to lean into the crazy. But there’s another level where people who’ve been involved in our careers have tried to push us in directions that we didn’t necessarily want. There are numerous instances, some of the most infamous things like Danny’s drunk episode in Seattle, which was the result of people pushing us in that way. When Danny rejoined the band we made the joint decision that it would be a cold day in hell before we allowed anyone else to push us to be something we don’t want to be. It all ties into that theme of self-belief and self-determination.”

4. Antisocialist

“Honestly, sometimes it’s okay for a song to just be what it is. Antisocialist really just is about raising two middle fingers to the world. As you get older, you realise the extreme pressures that we’re all put under. It happens in school when you’re forced to get good grades to progress; it happens at home with your parents telling you to grow up. You get a job to get money to get a house and so on. It’s constant. I feel like a lot of people – more often than we’d like to admit – wake up and just want to say, ‘Fuck you!’ They don’t want to go to work for that boss who doesn’t care. They don’t want to go to school to be told to be a scientist when they want to be an artist. Sometimes it’s just that built-up pressure where stubbing your toe feels like the final straw. One of the lyrics that seems to have gone over people’s heads is, ‘It’s on my forehead: four letters – off!’ Wouldn’t it be nice to write it on your forehead and step out into the world to let everyone know how you feel?”

5. I Don't Need You

“I Don’t Need You is honestly one of my favourite songs that we’ve ever written. I’ve heard each one of these songs hundreds of times over the last couple of years and this one still gives me chills. I adore it. Asking Alexandria has always been prone to ballad-y songs, but [as opposed to the standard romantic content] the cool thing about this one is that self-belief and the understanding that it’s okay when things don’t work out. It’s an honest look into relationships. The fact is that 99.9 per cent of relationships don’t work until you find that one.

“We’d left the second verse open, thinking it’d be cool to get a guest vocal on to deliver the counter perspective from the other side, but we couldn’t figure out who. My wife watches Love Island and somehow managed to get me suckered into it, and this voice on different songs kept cropping up in the background. It was unreal. I Shazam-ed it and it turned out to be [YouTube star] Grace Grundy. I knew she would be perfect for the song. I left a comment on one of her pieces and we got talking. It turns out that she’s a fan of Asking Alexandria. She told us that when we were filming Brixton And Beyond, her boyfriend was supposed to take her but ended up taking another woman instead. She missed that show and used that [motivation] to really start singing. There was this deeper connection that brought us together. She flew out to the States and recorded with us. I think it was a nice opportunity to give closure on that chapter for her, too.”

6. All Due Respect

“I feel like All Due Respect is one of the darkest songs on the record. It almost didn’t make the cut because of that darkness, but we kept it on there because the message is a strong one. It’s about that thing that we all go through in life where you have people who appear to be in your corner but who, as soon as you get a little success, will attempt to hold you back or talk shit behind your back. It addresses those people by acknowledging that we know this is going on while also saying that it’s not going to slow us down. Here we are achieving our dreams, and there you are, bitter, not the person we thought. It’s that sense of spitefulness that makes it so dark, but it’s ended up one of my favourite tracks on the album!”

7. Take Some Time

“This is another song like Antisocialist, where there isn’t really any deep hidden meaning. In this day and age, everyone is so self-absorbed and sucked into social media; no-one is just living in the moment. Take Some Time is literally about having sex with someone, but being so present in that moment that nothing else in the world is interfering with it. Nothing else matters outside those four walls and out from under those sheets. Musically, we made it sound a little bit sleazy even though the message isn’t sleazy at all. It started with that riff and we went from there.”

8. One Turns To None

“One Turns To None is just a huge-sounding rock song. We were thinking about the greatness that Metallica achieved with The Black Album – and Avenged Sevenfold with Hail To The King – by simplifying the sound. We dialled everything back so that each element had its space to sound bigger and grander. It’s a very heavy song. It hits hard, and shows that heavy doesn’t need to mean screams and breakdowns. Thematically, it’s another self-belief song. It views life like a sport where everyone is pitted against you, and you can only win if you give 100 per cent. It looks back to those early days of the band where it was us against the world.”

9. It's Not Me (It's You)

“This one is about being brave enough to get out of those toxic relationships and situations in our lives. It’s for people who feel like they’ve been there for too long to move on. It’s about understanding that that’s okay, and it’s okay to walk away acknowledging that the problem isn’t necessarily with you. It starts out very [tense and] regimented but by the end it has this real feeling of liberation. The chorus is so bouncy and energetic, we wanted it to make people feel free.”

10. Here's To Starting Over

“When Danny re-joined the band for the self-titled album, there was a lot of re-learning each other. It had only been a few years, but we’d all grown so much in that time. We’d all been through a lot – it was almost about trying to learn where we went wrong before. A lot of that had to do with the drugs and that lifestyle, but a lot of it also had to do with us being corralled into that corner that other people wanted us to be in, while they were manipulating things behind the scenes that we weren’t aware of. This is really about saying that we’re back – the original five members – and we’re rediscovering that mindset we had as kids with no rules, no expectations, no-one else’s money involved. We were just kids doing it for ourselves and the love of music. One of my favourite lines on this album is here: ‘I’d rather fail as me than succeed as someone else’

11. What's Gonna Be

“This is a song with a lot of nostalgia in it. It goes all the way back to the beginning of Asking Alexandria and sees Danny remembering that moment we told our parents we were leaving home and moving to America. Mine and Danny’s parents ended up buying us an RV, which we lived in in a Walmart parking lot. It looks back over all those challenges – the lost friends and addictions – and how they shaped the band we are now. In a sense, it jars with the message of the rest of the record where we want to be the masters of our own destiny, but it’s about looking at it on a higher level where this is all ride that you have to embrace. Yes, we’ve come back together, and we’ve decided we won’t let other people dictate to us any more, but it’s all part of our journey! We didn’t all wake up one day thinking we needed to reconcile – it happened naturally.”

12. Give You Up

“Give You Up is a really cool song, and I think it stands out a little differently on this record. It sounds as if it was cut from a different cloth. That was purposeful because all of this self-belief and leaving toxicity behind had been leading up to this moment. It’s about pricking your ears and making you listen all that much harder to make you understand that this all leads to where you want it to. I suffered with addiction, lost friends, went through a divorce, but it led me to my wife and kids and where I am now. You should never give up because you can end up with things in your life that you’re so thankful for.”

13. In My Blood

“The cool thing about In My Blood is that the story starts looking back at who we were and the problems we had. We didn’t grow up thinking, ‘I want to be fucked up, I want to be a drug addict.’ That’s no-one’s goal. When it happens and you’re able to reflect on it, you realise that you lost yourself. The lyrics acknowledge that you were lost and that you weren’t who you really are at your core. As it progresses, it recognises that we’ve taken steps to become who we know we are deep-down. It’s there in that lyric: ‘I am defiant – it’s in my blood!’

14. The Violence

“The Violence was initially supposed to be a stand-alone single, but we realised that its message really fit with the themes of this body of work. We wanted fans to be part of this journey. The song deals with how there are these forces at play that segregate people into these different groups based on your sex, your race, your sexual orientation, how much money you make or where you’re from in the world. It’s upsetting, and it makes you angry. No-one is born with hate in their heart. It’s planted in you like a seed, and it grows as you get older, just spewing out the more you’re fed these ideas at school or through the news. The song says that those things that are used to divide us don’t really matter, and that we need to stop those barriers being put up. We should all be in this together.”

15. Lorezepam

“Lorazepam is named after an anti-anxiety medication. We’ve spent the album telling this grand story and preaching self-belief – telling people that the light is at the end of the tunnel, you just need to wade through the bullshit to get there – but this is the song that acknowledges that even after you’ve achieved that, life isn’t always going to be great. For all intents and purposes, our lives look great from the outside. We’ve got great jobs. We care about people who care about us. We’re doing fine financially. But we still wake up some mornings feeling like shit: you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see. That’s just part of the journey, and this is a reminder to not lose hope. It ends with the message that sometimes you need to push people away, because sometimes you’ve got to put yourself first, ensuring you’re healthy and happy for everything else to fall into place. I thought that was the perfect message with which to sign-off.”

A House On Fire is out May 15 via Sumerian. Pre-order and pre-save it now.

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?