Interview: Asking Alexandria
They don't play by the rules, and their nasty reputation takes them everywhere. Meet Asking Alexandria, including guitarists Ben Bruce, left, and Cameron Liddell.
“We had never played a show together or anything,” Bruce says. “We just said, ‘Fuck it, let’s do this,’ and we recorded three songs with Joey. We put them on our MySpace page, and right away people were blown away that there was this professional-sounding band up there. Suddenly, we started getting 2,000 plays a day out of nowhere.”
Impressed by the band’s sound and the rapid growth of its fan base, six labels contacted Asking Alexandria. Ultimately, the group signed with Sumerian, which put it right back in the studio with Sturgis for another few weeks. The result was Stand Up and Scream, an album that features pulverizing rhythms, infectious refrains and lots of mosh-worthy breakdowns.
In addition to producing the songs, Sturgis helped Asking Alexandria program the abundant techno passages that bridged the breakdowns and lightened the tone of the album. Before Stand Up and Scream was released, the young Englishmen hit the road in a Winnebago and performed anywhere they could book a show.
“We played Chuck E. Cheese’s and gymnasiums,” Bruce says, wincing at the memory. “We lived in Walmart parking lots for a few months. We had to wait for the store to open before we could shit, piss or brush our teeth. Sometimes, we’d wake up with police banging on the door telling us to leave, so we’d drive around and come back later or find a new Walmart.”
While Asking Alexandria’s earliest shows were sparsely attended, they gave the band the opportunity to fine-tune its performance and add some visual flair. The onstage antics included Bruce flipping his guitar completely over his head and around his body while still wearing the strap — a trick he learned from Slipknot’s Jim Root — and a spread-legged, bent-knee dance that got the band pegged with the label “crabcore,” a tag that has also been applied to Attack Attack!
“We were trying to find a place, figuring out who we were, and we briefly had this stupid image, which I fucking hate,” Bruce says. “I think we’ve totally moved on since then.”
Bruce wrote parts for Reckless and Relentless while Asking Alexandria were on the road for Stand Up and Scream, but the bulk of the material was composed over six weeks in a New Jersey practice room in early 2010. The sessions were productive, but they were also stressful, a situation that the band remedied by drinking on the job.
“Two days in, we sat down and looked around the room, and there was literally over 100 empty beer bottles, five bottles of wine and liquor bottles everywhere,” Bruce says. “We were like, ‘Wow, we need to take this seriously and slow down.’ So we sobered up and started writing the next day, and there was nothing — no juice, no inspiration to write anything. So we had to get pissed again and wreck our livers in order to write this album. I think alcohol makes us more honest and more confident so we’re not afraid to try stuff. And I think that’s why it worked so well for us.”
In June, Asking Alexandria returned to Sturgis’ studio in Indiana. As with Stand Up and Scream, Cassells tracked the drums to Bruce’s scratch tracks, then Bruce recorded all the guitar rhythms and leads as well as the bass before Worsnop laid down the vocals. “It’s just something we do for convenience,” Bruce explains. “I had a studio in Dubai, so I’m really used to recording, and it’s just quicker if I do it all myself.”
On Stand Up and Scream, all the guitars were recorded in drop D. For the new album, Bruce lowered the tuning to drop C for extra rumble and played custom Ibanez guitars with Dunlop heavy-gauge strings. He plugged into a Peavey 6505 Plus head and used the amp’s natural distortion (Bruce and Liddell use the same guitar and amp setup on tour, but Liddell uses an MXR distortion pedal).
Bruce hopes to emulate some of the studio effects on Reckless and Relentless with Line 6 pedals. The only hitch in the recording process came in August when Worsnop blew out his voice screaming. After he recovered, Asking Alexandria toured for another two months, and in November, Worsnop went back to Indiana to record the vocals.
His vocal trauma wasn’t the band’s only mishap. In late February 2011, moments after stepping off a plane in Australia for a six-date tour, Bruce had an experience that could have derailed Asking Alexandria. “A sniffing dog came and sat in front of me, and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s my friend now,’ so I was stroking the dog, and these agents at the airport said, ‘Don’t touch the dog’ and whisked me off.”
In a private room, away from his bandmates, Bruce was subjected to an intense police interrogation that stopped just short of a full body search. “They said, ‘Do you do drugs?’ and I was like, ‘No,’ and they said, ‘We’re not stupid. Do you do drugs?’ I kept saying no, and then they searched my stuff and found traces of cocaine all over my laptop. I thought i was going to jail for life.
"They said, ‘Show me your arms. Do you do heroin?’ I showed them my arms. I have scarring in the worst places because of how my tattoos healed, so they thought I was an addict.”
Unable to find drugs in Bruce’s bags, the police eventually let him go after taunting and threatening him for hours. “I was relieved, of course,” Bruce says. “But there was a part of me that wished I had a couple joints or something. It would have made for great press.
Photos: Paul Harries
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