From Sir Paul McCartney to Joan Jett, rock and roll has certainly seen its fair share of vegan heroes. And from the current crop, you’d be hard pressed to argue that Oliver Sykes, better known as Oli and the frontman of Sheffield band Bring Me The Horizon, isn’t the biggest vegan rockstar on the planet this minute.
Firstly there is BMTH’s seemingly unstoppable rise from scrappy upstarts helming the late ’00s British metalcore scene to global rock crossover behemoths. Latest album Amo went number one in the UK, while the band’s last four albums have all gone top 20 stateside — and that’s all alongside recent collaborations with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Sigrid.
Then there’s Sykes’ heavily-tattooed rockstar persona, both on stage and beamed through his Instagram account to his 2.6 million followers — a confident mix of otherworldly heartthrob and raging prophet for the disenfranchised.
Which takes us nicely on to the vegan part. For while it might be a surprise to find other rockstar’s own plant-based persuasions, Sykes has been relatively outspoken about the subject. To his legion of fans it’s an undoubted part of the attraction — this bold, daring character who can seem so aggressive on record and stage, showing a caring side that showcases an incredible respect for animals and the planet.
A friend of Form, we were lucky enough to chat to Oli about his journey to veganism, and where this deep respect comes from.
What were your main reasons for going vegan? Do you ever find it difficult?
I started off as a vegetarian when I was 16. It was when I went to one of my first hardcore punk shows at a pub. There was a girl with a PETA stand handing out flyers, and as soon as I looked at one it just clicked. I had never really thought about the fact of what I was doing, — as someone who perceived themselves to be an animal lover — was eating animals. I decided to go vegetarian on the spot.
I didn’t find being vegetarian to be difficult, but as I progressed into veganism, at the time it wasn’t the easiest, just because we tour a lot with my band, and places, particularly in Europe at the time didn’t have many options. I definitely used to eat my fair share of french fries.
But it got easier, and is getting easier all the time. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, and that’s what I used to tell myself when I’d only eaten chips for the last four days.
You were vegetarian for 15 years before becoming vegan — what was behind this gradual transition?
It was a mixture of realising the dairy industry isn’t good at all either, and also reading this book, called ‘Skinny Bitch‘, which is a terrible name, but a great book. It explained in layman’s terms how gross it all is. I’ll never forget one line where the author said, “why don’t you suck on a gorilla’s tit? It’s the same”.
There’s no reason we drink cow’s milk except for the fact that it’s the cheapest-to-farm animal. But we are the only species that drink milk after being infants, and without a doubt the only species that drinks another animals. When you start to think about it you realise how weird and wrong it all is.
I also wanted to do it for my health. As a vegetarian it’s very easy to eat nothing but cheese sandwiches every day, and I wanted to remove that temptation for myself. Because to be honest I really loved cheese.
Metal has a long history of vegetarianism and veganism within it — why do you think there’s a connection there?
I’m not sure, but it is funny. I was talking to a pop artist who we collaborated with recently and when she found out I was vegan she said “it’s always the ‘scariest’ metal heads that are the kindest to the environment”. I feel part of why veganism has really taken off in the metal community is that it is, like metal, an extreme ideology. And like metal, it admits that the world is an inherently fucked up place and that we need to work on ourselves, and not shy away from the truth.
I think the metal scene owes a lot to Napalm Death and Carcass, who took the topic to a very political place. But obviously punk and the hardcore scene kind of looked at the whole of society and showed us what was corrupt about it, and meat eating was exposed through that.
Two of your bandmates are also vegan — does it help to have other people living the vegan lifestyle alongside you? And how do you manage to stay healthy while touring?
It does, and to be honest even the meat-eaters in our band are happy to eat vegan most of the time. We’ve started having meat as an option you have to request if you want it for our band and crew, where it used to be you would have to request the vegan option at lunch or dinner. Health is important to me, so we do take a lot of effort to make sure we are eating right on tour. The George Foreman grill is a lifesaver to be honest. And I do consume an ungodly amount of Form protein shakes.
Your clothing label Drop Dead does some great work on the environmental front — where did this come from?
Drop Dead has been a vegan brand since day one just because of my lifestyle, but we are always looking for ways we can be less damaging to the planet. Our motto is ‘slow fashion’. We make everything with care and love and we never mass produce crap just to make money. We feel like every garment needs a reason to exist.
We have just dropped a collection really focusing on the eco-friendly aspect of creating clothes, and while we can’t say we are carbon-free or anything like that yet, pushing forward with everything in that field is one of our core values.