Bring Me the Horizon's lead guitarist gets in the spirit
When we first interviewed Epiphone signature artist Lee Malia two years ago, his band Bring Me the Horizon was about to embark on their first sold out tour of the United States behind Sempiternal, their debut album for major label RCA. Sempiternal went on to reach the Billboard Top 10 and was named one of the essential albums of 2013 by numerous magazines including Best Album by Alternative Press.
Bring Me the Horizon's new album, That's the Spirit, has put the band on top of the charts again and one can't help but sense there is now unstoppable momentum behind the Sheffield based quintet. Lee Malia spoke to us on the road from their current US tour during a brief moment of peace and quiet before soundcheck at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Mr. Malia is still ever the gentleman and thoughtful interviewee but there's no hiding his excitement as each show brings another sold out crowd, more opportunity, and more intensity. Guitarist UK Magazine recently nominated his Ltd. Ed. Les Paul Custom as their Guitar of the Year and as the world catches on, we expect to see a lot more nominations for Bring Me the Horizon and Lee Malia.
It's great to speak with you again, Lee. How is the tour going?
Really well. It's been amazing so far. I'm sure it will carry on. Most of the venues have been around 2,000 people--some a little bigger, some a little smaller. All pretty good venues though.
When we first spoke, the band was on its first sold out tour of the U.S. And that momentum kept building around the world. What were your thoughts when you went into the studio to make That's the Spirit?
I think we just put a lot of focus into making big songs if you know what I mean. It didn't matter to us what style they were in. We put a lot of thought into making huge choruses and making sure there was no filler or dead weight. If anything wasn't extremely catchy, we'd just get rid of it. So I think all the work we put into polishing stuff up to make it as catchy and as good as possible.
How did that translate to your guitar parts?
On this new album, I'm playing a lot more weird stuff--like I use a lot more different effects and a lot more sound-scapey sort of sounds. Sometimes you probably can't even tell it's a guitar. But when it's all mixed together, it's like one huge sound. I did a lot more experimenting with my tones.
How's your Les Paul Custom?
It's great. I used it to record the album and it's holding up well on tour. It's all I use now. I have a bunch of my Epiphones I've been using. This was the first album I recorded with it.
With two keyboards on stage, is it ever difficult to make things blend without clashing? Keyboards can sometimes be just as heavy as guitar.
Yeah. On certain songs it's still there--the big riff. But on a lot of songs we've worked it out to make the guitar work with the synth--it doesn't have to be a big riff at the forefront going on all the time. We worked out what's best for the songs rather than say--oh it's got to be a guitar part. Whatever suited the songs to make it sound huge.
For the album, did you layer your guitar parts in the studio?
Certain bits have a lot of layers. There are things like E-bows and weird reverse stuff. But they aren't really the focal points. We made the parts that I play live the big focal points. There are things that sound cool when you're in the studio that are layered. We have another guitar player who plays with us so it's quite easy to replicate all the sounds on stage.
This was the first record that you've produced yourselves as a band. How did that process work?
To be honest, it was way easer and way more chilled back then using a producer because I think we all have such strong opinions on stuff so when you put in a producer into all that, it gets a bit weird.
With the guitars, I'm really picky with my sound and everything like that, so I got left to do the guitar sound with the engineer. We just sat for a day basically and tried loads of amps and ended up with the exact same rig that I use live in the studio--we just ended up using that. It was really simple by the end. For the guitar tones and stuff, I did them and meanwhile Jordan or Oliver would spend a lot of time on the vocals.
Did that worry your record label?
To be fair, they've been really cool. They kind of just let us do what we want which is kind of crazy because they're such a huge label. But like I think it's because we didn’t even tell them we had started writing. We wrote a bunch of little things and then they came 'round to where we were writing to listen and they were impressed and thought: let's just leave them to get on with it. I think they just trusted us. To be fair, the demos sounded pretty awesome as well--we did them at Oliver's house--so I think they trusted that we knew what we were onto. Which is cool.
Does that kind of confidence come easily to the group?
Well it helps that Jordan has a studio so he knew how to work a desk and everything. So having someone with all that knowledge just makes it so much easier because he knows how it all works. And then if you can make stuff sound good raw, it's much easier to make it sound good through a mic, if you know what I mean. So I think we just trusted ourselves. If it didn't sound good, we would be the first people to say it sounds @##@--we are our worst critics--so we know that no one else is going to be a worse critic than us.
How are you using the Les Paul on stage as you negotiate the different textures and sounds of the new album? Have you found a method to cutting through?
Yeah--definitely. Like, all my clean sounds are on the middle selector so it's a bit of the humbucker and a bit of the P-90. It sort of fattens it all up and gives it a lot more of a twangin' sound. That's why I wanted the P-90, because I love a single coil sound but I didn't want a weaker output. So I thought a P-90 is pretty good. That's the main reason. And when you turn up the humbucker in that position, it's great for all the gainy-stuff. And it cleans up really well if you bring down the volume a bit on the guitar. You can get a lot drier tones--it's just... good (laughs)!
Are you touring with any additional instruments--horns or strings?
No, not at the moment but we're doing a gig later in the year where we will have a full string section and stuff. I can't say yet but look for it later in the year in London. Sorry about that. We shot a new video recently and that will be out at the end of the year. At the moment it's just about getting out and touring the cd because no one has heard it live yet so we're just trying to go out and play it as much as possible.
Bring Me the Horizon have been together for a decade. Has the success of That's the Spirit energized everyone?
Like you said, it's been 10 years but it feels like a new start because we're able to bring a different sound. It doesn't feel like we're recycling old stuff. Live, it's still fresh to be playing these new songs and everyone's going crazy for them so it's just exciting at the moment. Stuff is going pretty well in a way that we've never experienced before even though we've been doing it for so long. We're getting quite a bit of radio play and more people are interested in wanting to hear us--it's a whole fresh start.