Six Pack: UK Bands conquering the US
Because Zeppelin, Sabbath, Priest and Maiden aren't the only British rock bands on US radio
When Young Guns wrote Bones, the standout song and title track of their second album, they knew it was good but they didn’t know quite how many doors it would open for them. At first, things happened slowly. In the UK, the song was released in February 2012, a day ahead of the album it spearheaded. Though it was critically well received, it didn’t skyrocket up the charts. In September, Young Guns re-released the album in the US and the same thing happened to Bones: no instant explosion but, instead, a steady buzz. By May the following year, all that would change.
The song was picked up by the organisers of Wrestlemania XXIX and suddenly it was everywhere. Having spent 39 weeks in the charts, it suddenly raced to the top and by May it was Number 1 on the both the Active Rock and the Mainstream Rock charts in America. Young Guns became the first British band to achieve that in a decade.
“From that moment on, it was ridiculous,” said the band’s singer Gus Woods. “We were getting up at 6am every morning to go to TV stations and play. Then we would go to radio stations and play acoustic sets, do interviews, then soundcheck, do a signing, play a show, then sell our own merch. We were doing 16 hour days – it was pretty intense.”
Signed to Wind Up in America, whose success has been built on big-hitting US rock-metal bands like Creed, Alter Bridge, Evanescence and others, the band are about to release their third record. The fact that I Want Out, the album’s first single, went straight to Number 1 on the iTunes rock chart – overtaking Slipknot as it went – suggests the run is set to continue.
BRING ME THE HORIZON
There haven’t been many metal bands since the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal to truly break America and, while Bring Me The Horizon are certainly not trading on a par with Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, there are grounds to suggest they are a leading part of a new wavelet of British metal bands in America.
Last summer, as the band released their fourth album Sempiternal, they were featured on the cover of Alternative Press, the most influential US alternative rock magazine. They are the only British act to earn a standalone cover on the magazine since, erm, themselves in 2010. It’s a sign of how the US views the band: in America, they are leading the charge of mainstream British rock.
It’s something that has played out in both chart placings – Sempiternal went to No11 on the US Billboard 200 – and in the tours the band play. The road time that accompanied Sempiternal – The American Dream tour – saw them selling out venues like the 2,500 capacity New York Best Buy Theatre with ease. Primed to be the next UK band to go big in the US.
The way Asking Alexandria tell it – and it’s always worth taking anything the band say with a heft pinch of salt – their success in America was a self-fulfilling prophecy. After forming in 2006, but only properly getting started in 2008, the band decided they were getting nowhere in their adopted hometown of York. As their story goes, they upped sticks to Hollywood and simply told everyone they met that they were massive in the UK and that they were in America to break the place.
In an age of the internet and easily verifiable facts, is seems a little far-fetched that anyone believed them but, within a year, they had a deal with the US label Sumerian and an album out, while nobody back in Britain had the first clue who they were. So their plan seems to have worked.
By March 2010, they were sufficiently well known Stateside to announce their first headline tour there and, by 2011, their bad behaviour, general debauchery and almost total lack of regard for sobriety had brought them to the attention of Charlie Sheen – then in the midst of his public breakdown. He offered them an opening slot on his ‘My Violent Torpedo Of Truth’ tour, an opportunity they felt forced to reject.
“We had to turn that down,” said guitarist Ben Bruce. “We probably would have died.”
“There would have been so much cocaine,” added singer Danny Worsnop.
But success has continued to follow them in the US, and they are arguably more well known there than in Britain.
There is an irony that, on Twin Atlantic’s debut album Vivarium, they wrote a song about America called You’re Turning Into John Wayne and decided to give the place a good slagging while they were doing so. ‘Your culture spreads and then it pollutes’ wrote frontman Sam McTrusty on the song, shortly before the Glasgow band were signed to the Hollywood-based Red Bull Records and flown to LA to record it. Oops.
Despite that, they have become hotly tipped in the US and, as far back as 2011, were making great strides. On tour with fellow Red Bull act Awolnation, they were doing the rounds of label meet and greets and were being talked up by executives as the next Biffy Clyro. When the name Biffy Clyro was met with blank stares, the same executives continued undaunted: “Trust me, they’re going to be huge,” they said.
The band did their best to shrug it off, but there’s no denying the reaction their music caused. Despite being the support act in 2011, the crowds were wowed by the arena-sized songwriting and broad emotionality of the band’s music. Not yet a big name, Stateside, they are nonetheless poised to become one.
BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE
Though metal purists might well consider the honed, commercial music that Bullet For My Valentine make to be anathema, they are undeniably successful worldwide – and particularly in America. The band are Britain’s second biggest metal act in terms of current sales and tour earnings, coming in behind Iron Maiden. Which, no matter how you cut it, is impressive. It’s not the sort of achievement you can make without doing business in America – and they have sold over a million records in the States.
They’ve hardly been coy about wanting to woo the US: debut album The Poison was littered with hooks inspired by and designed to appeal to an American audience, while follow-up Scream Aim Fire sold well over a quarter of its two million sales in the US, going to No 4 on the Billboard 200 chart. Its follow-up, Fever, did one better – going to No 3 – and it is against Bullet that all new British rock bands are now judged in America.
SLAVES TO GRAVITY
OK, this one is not a band who made it in America. In fact, they didn’t even really make it in the UK. Instead, they are a band who should have made it in the US as their brand of slinky, updated grunge could almost have been designed to fill arenas Stateside.
Unfortunately, the breaks were always in short supply for Slaves To Gravity and a succession of drum-personnel incidents, album delays and plain old bad luck scuppered them. In shouldn’t have been this way.
When, in 2010, they supported Alter Bridge in the UK they seemed to have both found an audience and an environment within which to shine: big arena rock that was littered with heart and soul. It always sounded like it should have been more at home in America than it was in, say, Wolverhampton or Derby.
Had they had more money and the time, spending a couple of years in a van around the United States might have turned them into stars. As it is, theirs is a tale of what might have been.