INTERVIEW: James Cassells – Asking Alexandria

In terms of modern British metal bands, it’s difficult to think of too many acts more beloved by their fanbase than ASKING ALEXANDRIA. For a time, the band were one of the hottest properties within their scene, until the sudden departure of frontman Danny Worsnop in January 2015 threatened to derail things. Now though, the band have reunited with Worsnop, and have just released their brand new self-titled fifth studio album. Just two days prior to the release of that album, we spoke with the band’s drummer James Cassells to find out what it’s been like to be a part of ASKING ALEXANDRIA in the last couple of years, how their new record came to be, and what fans can expect from the future of the band.

At the time of talking, we’re a couple of days away from the album actually releasing – is is exciting to finally be able to get this one out into peoples’ hands?

James: Yes, it’s very very close – painfully close actually. It always gets really exciting y’know, this close to an album release, but I think particularly this one. We’re anxious about getting it out, our fans really want it to come out, everyone’s really ready for it y’know?

Obviously, the big talking point of the cycle really has been Danny (Worsnop, vocals) coming back to the band after a year or so and one album away – how did it feel to have him back onboard for this record?

James: You know what, we all get asked that regularly, that’s obviously a very popular question. There’s a whole load of different things that were said, like “Oh it’s great, it’s fucking brilliant”, but that can always seem a bit fake y’know? But realistically, it just felt natural man, it felt like, right. And I was telling someone the other day, last year, the first time we walked into a practice space together, we sat down and were like “If we’re gonna do a tour, let’s see if we can do this”. None of us knew what was going to happen, it could’ve been a fucking disaster, like “Sorry lads this isn’t working”. But you know what? It wasn’t and it just felt natural and it felt right and felt good. And then y’know, it didn’t take long before we were like “We should do another album, we can do this!”, and like, I think we had some pent up stuff in us that we needed to get off our chest. And with the self-titled, there is a lot of that, there’s a lot of storytelling, particularly in Danny’s lyrics about his time away from the band and maybe some of the stories about why stuff went wrong in the first place, but also like what’s going to happen next and where are we going. What is ASKING ALEXANDRIA going to sound like in the coming years? So yeah dude, it just felt great, and it felt like having a good friend back. It’s like a friend moved away, moved countries and then came back and it’s like “Oh shit, how are you doing mate?”

This new self-titled album certainly sounds like a fair departure in places from what this lineup was doing all the way back on From Death To Destiny – how would you personally describe the overall sound of what ASKING ALEXANDRIA have done this time?

James: Well yeah man. The thing was, like, well obviously for starters it’s been many years since then – we released that back in like 2013 or 2014 or something, but it was written in like 2012 so it’d been an album for a very long time. And so obviously, we’ve all changed as just adults, as musicians, and like Ben (Bruce, guitar) became a father, some of us have gotten married, we’ve had big changes in our lives, like stuff’s gone on. So we’ve changed as people, and obviously that’s going to reflect in our songwriting. But you know, like, when we sat down and started writing songs we just had this different vibe and it was like yeah we still wanted it to be ASKING ALEXANDRIA but we wanted it to be something fresh and something new. And so it didn’t really feel like we made a conscious decision to change our sound because it all felt so natural, you know what I mean? It all just came out that way. But yeah, obviously there are some tracks that are very different, and then again, if you look back at all of our albums, there’s usually a track or two that are anomalies within that album, that are venturing off into a little bit of a different vibe. And with this album we really felt like exploring that, like now’s the time to do it – this is the rebirth, as it were, of ASKING ALEXANDRIA. Let’s show the world what we’re capable of, show them that we’re not just another sort-of metalcore band that has a few good songs but is really just a metal band, y’know? Like, we wanna show the world that we’re something a little bit extra, a little bit more. We can still roll with the heavy crowds and the metal festivals but maybe we can reach people on a whole different level.

And it’s not like you’ve completely dumped the metalcore or anything on this record – it’s still got some really heavy moments.

James: Oh yeah, no we never will I don’t think. I mean, me in particular as one of the guys, I still love metal. I listen to it every day and it’s definitely got a place in my heart and always will. [laughs] So we’ll never turn our backs on that, but as a group, as five guys that’ve come together, when we write music together we just like to make it a little bit different now.

There’s one moment in particular that immediately strikes me as ‘different’ on this record. How did you end up with BINGX guesting on the track Empire?

James: Well I think it was Ben – I think Ben and Danny know him, because he’s a rapper from Nashville, like, lovely guy. And, fuck it, I’ll start from the beginning: that song we were writing was never meant to be a rap song or that sort of vibe. So, the way we wrote this album right, I fly back and forth from Arizona because that’s where we’re based at – we’re recording with our friend Matt Good in Arizona and all the dudes live there. So y’know it was easy for them to go in and out of the studio, and then if they’d got some stuff it was like James, come out for a few days a week”, because it’s not fucking far, it’s like a two hour flight. So I was there and we were writing a few tracks and we had this one track that was Empire, only it wasn’t Empire back then, and we weren’t sure where we were going with it really. And then it was coming to the end of my stay and we still didn’t really have an idea, and this wasn’t like the last time I was gonna be there or anything, I was going to come back at a later point, but I was heading home for a little bit. And so Matt just had me write some beats over the sections, just different vibes, different ideas, and just leave them with him. So anyway, I did that, I wrote some different beats and then I buggered off. Next thing I know, a few days later, they’ve had like an arrangement party where they’ve just sat in and moved around this song into a completely different way. And then, you know, it sounds like a hip-hop song, a pop song and we’re like “Is this something we’re comfortable doing?”, so we had a talk on the phone and everyone’s like “Yeah why not? Let’s try it”, and if it didn’t sound right it wouldn’t make the album. And so we did – I went back, we finished up the song, Danny wrote his chorus, which I fucking love, we wrote the bridge and then we sent it to BINGX, and what he came back with I thought was fucking amazing. I think it was a really cool, a really different vibe but for me it still feels like it fits with the album. It doesn’t feel incredibly out of place. And it was nice because since that guy has a much higher-pitched singing voice and rapping voice, it meant that Ben was able to get in there and sing some parts too – I know a lot of our fans like his singing but we were struggling to find a part right for him to sing on, but he fit that so well.

Production-wise, you also worked with Matt Good this time round, rather than Joey Sturgis – how much of a different experience was that?

James: Yeah, yeah, we’ve used Joey in the past, and it wasn’t like we had a bad experience working with him or we don’t speak with him or don’t want to work with him in future or anything, we just wanted a change. Matt was a really good friend of ours, like on a personal level he’s a mate, and he obviously lives in Arizona, he’s right there with the majority of ASKING ALEXANDRIA and it was just a different atmosphere. He’s really laid-back. Like, working with Joey’s great and he’s really laid-back and chill too, but he doesn’t live anywhere near us, he’s at the other end of the country, And when you go out there it’s very much like “Right, we’re going out there and we’re staying for a few months and we’re gonna get an album done”, you know? And that’s just how it is. We didn’t want that, we wanted it to be like “Right, we’re going in for a bit with Matt to chill. Oh we’re not feeling it? Fuck it, let’s just go get dinner or let’s just go home, it doesn’t matter, we live five minutes down the road”. It’s just an easy atmosphere being able to go in and out, and it was. It was like, Ben could have an idea and go in and start hashing it out straight away with Matt, give me a call and be like “Dude, we’ve got some stuff going, wanna come over?” It was just a completely different vibe, and it was really good, and just like making songs again with your best mates, which is why we do it all really. And it was just like having another mate there really – his engineer’s a friend of ours too. Everything was just easy, it felt right, it felt cool and it was a pleasure. And I’m sure from now on we’re gonna be working with Matt again on our new things we have coming. We’re gonna keep working with him, we know he wants to keep working with us. This was a huge album for him in his career as a producer, y’know obviously he’s had his own successes in the music business as a musician, but as a producer this was definitely a big one for him, and I think we’re all proud of what we’ve created.

Was there a particular reason you decided to have the record as self-titled this time around?

James: You know what – we were talking about possible album titles and all this stuff for a long time at one point, and nothing really felt like it worked, nothing felt like it stuck. And then it kind of hit home: why wouldn’t we have this as our self-titled? And I was kind of against the idea at first because I felt like the self-titled album’s usually your masterpiece and all that, and I still feel like we’ve got lots of albums still in us. But you know, some of the guys, we were talking a lot and it was like “Well really it does make sense that this is our self-titled because it’s just showing the fact that this is ASKING ALEXANDRIA, it’s back to the original lineup and this is who we are, this is what we are now and we’re putting it out to the world. In some ways it does really work and that’s what kind-of swayed me and changed my mind. I’m actually very happy that it is a self-titled now, and people can just take it as it is. This is what we’re going for now, this is now the new sound of ASKING ALEXANDRIA – if you like it, get on board. I think you’re gonna like it. I mean, I don’t think that it’s too different from the old, old stuff. Obviously it is a little different but I do feel like even our most loyal hardened ASKING ALEXANDRIA fans that’ve been with us since fucking 2009; I still think they can enjoy this album. And we wrote it particularly having in mind our fans. We weren’t just like “Oh we’re gonna write this album because we think it’s gonna do really well”, or anything like that, we wrote it because we think our fans are gonna really fucking enjoy it. That’s always been on our minds and I think we’ve done a good job of it. And from what I can tell from our interactions with fans on our social media in any sort of way, like reading comments on our YouTube and all that, people dig this. And I’m stoked about that man, I’m happy. We just did a premiere of another single, Alone In A Room, on BBC Radio 1 and yeah, I was reading Daniel P. Carter’s Twitter and the reaction’s been sick – everyone really likes it and that’s fucking badass y’know? Because that’s one of the more lighter but anthemic, slightly more electro vibe to it tracks, a different sort of thing. But people seem fucking stoked, they’re really digging it and it felt great. It feels good that what we’ve been working on for so long is going down well with everyone.

ASKING ALEXANDRIA are heading back out on the road again next month for a whole load of touring co-headlining with BLACK VEIL BRIDES around the world, including some dates here in the UK.

James: Yeah, well, we actually are going to start prepping for that tour pretty much straight away – it’s going to be a few days after New Year’s we’re getting into ‘work mode’. But we start, I think the first date’s on the 10th, and then we go all the way through to March 6th I think. We’re doing North America, then come over to do the UK, then a few shows in Europe and then back to finish up the rest of the US. It’s a big tour, it’s gonna be a great tour. I’m stoked that we’re co-headlining with BLACK VEIL BRIDES, we love those guys. You know, we’ve toured with those guys in the past but never like this; a lot of people have been waiting for it, waiting for us to do this thing where they can see both bands as a headliner, have both bands playing long sets and both having production. So it’s gonna be a great tour man, we’re really excited, and we’re really pulling out all of the stops for it. No shit, it’s gonna be fucking mental. We’re spending a lot of money on making this tour look sick so definitely don’t miss out. Particularly the shows in England are fucking selling out fast, like Manchester’s already gone. Everyone’s going to have been trying to get to there though because that’s like by where all our families are from so everyone will have been after that in particular. And London too actually, I think London’s probably going to sell out before the end of the year. So yeah, people in the UK definitely need to crack on and get their tickets if they’re reading this and haven’t already, because it’s all selling out fucking fast.

Well, thanks very much for giving us some of your time today James.

James: No problem man, it’s a pleasure.

Asking Alexandria is out now via Sumerian Records.