Exclusive interview

Bring Me the Horizon’s Oli Sykes: ‘Being cheated on makes you think the worst of people’

As Bring Me the Horizon prepare to headline All Points East festival, their frontman opens up to Roisin O’Connor about marriage, divorce, and why he was prepared to take risks on their polarising new album ‘Amo’

Friday 03 May 2019 16:56 BST
Oli Sykes: ‘You can’t leave a marriage just because you’re arguing all the time. But it does stuff to you that you don’t realise at first’
Oli Sykes: ‘You can’t leave a marriage just because you’re arguing all the time. But it does stuff to you that you don’t realise at first’ (Alissa Salls)

I’m glad my ex-wife cheated on me,” says Oli Sykes, folding his legs in a yoga-like pose. “It felt like it needed to happen.”

The Bring Me the Horizon frontman is sat in the lobby of a London hotel that, apart from us, is deserted. Sykes, his hair dyed pastel blue, is dressed in a black designer hoodie emblazoned with the word “Storyteller” as he discusses the breakdown of his relationship with model and tattoo artist Hannah Pixie Snowdon. “When you’re in a marriage,” he continues, “you can’t leave just because you’re arguing all the time. But it does stuff to you that you don’t realise at first. It damages you, and you start thinking the worst of people.”

The 32-year-old insists he isn’t a vindictive person. But there are clearly strong feelings within him still – feelings he explores on his band’s sixth album, Amo. “Don’t swear to God, he never asked you/ It’s not his heart you drove a knife through/ It’s not his world you turned inside out/ Not his tears still rolling down,” he sings on “In the Dark”.

The music itself, though, is the most pop-leaning Bring Me have ever made, because Sykes didn’t want the album to sound as though it was “loaded with venom”.

For a long time, in fact, he resisted putting the details of what happened to his first marriage into his music. He worried, given his enormous fanbase, that it might be unfair to her, and thought “it didn’t matter as long as those close to me knew the truth”.

The split affected his later relationships, including with his new partner, Brazilian model Alissa Salls, whom he married in 2017. “She had this manager who was older than me, and the guy my ex had an affair with had been a bit older,” he says. “I was petrified, which is stupid, but I had a bit of a breakdown where I was like, ‘please don’t do that to me’.”

Still, divorce may have drawn a line between Sykes’s past and what is now a decidedly healthier existence. Having processed the split, he seems to enjoy a more peaceful lifestyle than his younger years, which involved being arrested in 2007 over an altercation with a fan (an assault charge against him was dropped due to lack of evidence), excessive drinking, depression, and a battle with a ketamine addiction that led to a stint in rehab.

Divorce isn’t all that Amo is about. The final track, “I Don’t Know What to Say”, tackles Sykes’s grief over a childhood friend who died of cancer. Amo also means “love” in the mother tongue of his new wife, and hints at the way love can be weaponised.

It’s a polarising album from a band who have been dividing fans and critics since they first emerged on MySpace in 2004. Even fellow artists have taken aim; upon its release, the frontman of another band tweeted that Sykes “sounded like Shakira”. Sykes responded by sending them his favourite Shakira song. Yet he is acutely aware that this album is not for everyone, and addresses this in as explicit terms as possible on the track “Heavy Metal”.

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“I keep picking petals… I’m afraid you don’t love me anymore,” he sings. “Cos a kid on the ’gram in a Black Dahlia tank says ‘it ain’t heavy metal’.” The pre-chorus is followed by a thunderous guitar riff, and the song ends with Sykes in full screamo mode. It’s a gently mocking reproach to fans who claim the band “sold out” by evolving beyond their early sound, but also a self-effacing acknowledgement that they don’t make the same music they used to.

Bring Me the Horizon’s sixth album has seen the shift into different genres, such as electronica, pop and hip-hop

“I wasn’t at all surprised,” Sykes says of the polarised reaction to the album. He still lives in his hometown of Sheffield, so unlike his LA-dwelling peer Alex Turner, he maintains a thick Yorkshire burr. “Every time we’ve done a record it’s been different, so it was quite easy to gage how things would be with Amo.” Still, he compares the terror of doing something that might upset fans to being in “a prison”. Other bands, he believes, have fewer barriers when it comes to experimentation. “We’re not a band like Radiohead where, whatever they do, you’re already geared up to say ‘that’s cool’,” he says. “People accept them as artists, so they can do things without any fear. With rock and metal, I think a lot of people connect with the lyrics because they feel like they don’t fit in. But now, maybe the people who made fun of our early fans at school are also coming to our shows, and they don’t like that.”

For the most part, unless the band are on tour, Sykes avoids social media altogether. Mostly because of the negativity he experiences there, but also the overzealous praise by certain fans. The latter, he feels, is just as damaging to the ego. “You could have the thickest skin but Instagram and Twitter still affect you,” he says. “It makes you envious, even if you’ve got everything you could ever want. People might call you a god, which is ridiculous. And then there’s the complaining. Speaking out is great, but at the same time there’s a ‘Where’s Wally’ attitude – people actively look for something to be wrong.”

He once bought a pair of trainers, only to see an article that claimed the brand was offensive to homeless people because the shoes had tape around them to give them a pre-worn effect. “Why?” he asks, exasperated. “Do we not have bigger problems? Poke fun at them, sure...” He recalls his dad’s reaction upon learning how much they cost: “The next day, he got a pair of his trainers, wrapped tape around them and wrote ‘twat’ on the side.”

This month, Bring Me will headline All Points East festival in London’s Victoria Park. The rest of the day – an eclectic lineup including Run the Jewels, Architects, Idles, Alice Glass and Scarlxrd – was curated by Sykes. He was surprised to be invited, given the more indie and alternative vibe of the band’s fellow headliners, but again, he wanted to do something different.

“If I had it my way, there probably wouldn’t be a guy on the lineup,” he says, when I point out how he’s managed to achieve more diversity than most UK festivals this year. “Most of my favourite artists are women.”

“It astounds me that people want to see a band headline for the fourth time,” he adds, referring to so many festivals’ tendency to recycle headliners, rather than risk someone less mainstream. “Stormzy doing Glastonbury is wicked, because he might not be a legacy act, but his album [Gang Signs and Prayer] was one of the biggest of that year, and he deserves it. He’s going to fight for every second on that stage, and prove every single bastard who said he shouldn’t do it wrong.”

Sykes stays away from political commentary as a general rule. He believes it’s impossible to offer a nuanced opinion. “Everyone twists things, and you never get a straight answer,” he shrugs. As a committed vegan, he prefers to champion animal rights instead. “People ask, ‘How can you not give a s**t about Brexit?’ I want to say, ‘How can you not give a s**t about eating meat? Why is what you believe so important, and not me?’ Fight your fight, sure, but don’t expect everyone to care as much as you do.

“I commend people who stand up for what they believe in, but at the same time… it’s never-ending,” he says. “You can’t win. And for me, life’s too short to worry about it. Brexit will happen or it won’t. I can’t do nowt about it.”

Amo is out now. Bring Me the Horizon headline All Points East festival on 31 May.

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