When As Lions came together in 2015, singer Austin Dickinson recalls, "we had a mission statement to each other and to the music. And that was to create the biggest, baddest hard rock we could, and on an almost cinematic scale." Hardly the most modest of goals, but one the London-based five-piece go a long way toward realizing on their debut album, Selfish Age, the follow-up to their EP Aftermath released in October 2016. The effort's 11 dynamic tracks are a study in contrasts, mixing thick, grinding riffs and rhythms with majestically sweeping strings, stately piano tinklings and a hefty dose of atmospheric electronics, all of it shot through with Dickinson's soaring vocals and introspective lyrics. The result is music that runs a gamut of emotions, capable of sounding beautiful and hopeful one second and angry and aggressive the next. Or, as Dickinson puts it, "sonically and in terms of expression, the idea is to have these little peaks and valleys in the songs. That ambition, as far as sound and feel and emotion, is what binds the five of us together as musicians."
Those five musicians--Austin Dickinson, guitarist and keyboardist Conor O'Keefe, guitarist Will Homer, bassist Stefan Whiting and drummer Dave Fee--first revealed that grand ambition in 2015, playing sold-out shows in their native England, where they garnered plenty of positive press and a growing and devoted fan base. That lead to a U.S. record deal and a trip to New Jersey to record several of the new album's tracks with, Dickinson says, "an absolute hero of ours," award-winning producer David Bendeth (Of Mice & Men, Paramore, Bring Me The Horizon). From there, the band headed to Las Vegas to finish up the album with Kane Churko (Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed, In This Moment). "That was an amazing experience," the singer says. "Not only is Kane hyper talented, he's also a young guy--our own age. So we were all on the same wavelength.
"In general, the sessions were just great," Dickinson continues. "Every day was an adventure into exploring the possibilities that lay in front of us. And I think you can hear it in the songs. There was a shit-ton of fun that went into them, and I hope that shines through."
As much as there was an upbeat vibe permeating the recording sessions, when it came to his lyrics, Dickinson found himself drawn to more serious matters. "The writing process for me was about a lot of venting and proverbial leaching," he says. With several songs, he continues, "I was thinking about the idea of where we're at in the world--where I sit and where my generation sits." Take, for instance, the electro-tinged title track, "Selfish Age": "To me it's a song first and foremost about consumerism and this relentless taking and taking, until you realize you've taken so much that you've lost sight of what you originally set out for," Dickinson explains. "There's a very powerful sense in the world right now that something went wrong. We don't know quite when or where it went wrong, but we have no idea how to turn back the clock and fix it. And I think a lot of people placate that feeling by just consuming--plugging the hole, so to speak."
Then there's the opening cut, the epic and evocative "Aftermath," in which Dickinson asks: "What have we created / what have we become?" as guitars churn and crash around him. "It's one of the biggest-sounding songs on the record, and it has some of my favorite riffs in it," Dickinson says of the song that also serves as the title track of and lead single from the band's new EP. "Conceptually it's about trying to navigate your way out of disaster, be it personal, collective, or in the case of the video, a war zone," he continues. "I think it's relatable and applicable to a lot of situations, which is why I wanted to write about it. The song means a ton to us, and we really hope our fans enjoy it as much as we did making it."
Another track, the crushing "Deathless," targets internet culture's obsession with image. "These days there's a lot of competition to get sort of meaningless recognition, or to be seen with a certain group of people," Dickinson says. "It's kind of like the high-school locker room got broken open on a global scale. There's this sort of weird online pecking order. And it's funny how you can manipulate life and its assets to seem much more important and much more amazing online. But in reality you can quite literally be this sort of waste that's just hooked in and enslaved by your own devices."
"Bury My Dead," meanwhile, puts forth a more personal statement. "It's about getting rid of all the cliches and getting out of the safe zones we fall into as writers and musicians," the singer says. "But that's something anyone can relate to. We're all trying to move forward and get to a place where we're happy with ourselves and happy with our lives. And sometimes that means you have to be okay with letting go."
"Letting go" would also be an apt description of what happens when As Lions bring their music to the stage. Says Dickinson, "performing live for me has always been like a weird form of therapy. You're stepping outside of the thing you carry around all day--it's like taking a bag off your back and chucking it down. I want to be able to do that for everyone that's watching us as well. I want the fans to feel like they're on that stage living these songs and having a great time. Because we're having a great time. The way we perform, we just go nuts--absolutely fucking mental!"
As Lions are ready to roar, bringing Selfish Age and their incendiary live show to fans everywhere. As for any modest goals they may have in this regard? "Just complete and utter world domination," Dickinson says with a laugh. "But we don't talk about that."