Oli Sykes is living his dreams as he combines being a globe-trotting rock star with running his own businesses. But the road to success has not been simple. Chris Burn reports.
Oli Sykes has got the world at his feet – he is the lead singer of a world-famous rock band, his clothing company has worked on projects for some of popular culture’s biggest names in Game of Thrones, Sonic The Hedgehog and Jurassic Park and he has just opened a new venue in his home city of Sheffield that will combine his love of live music, vegan food, tattoos and much more besides.
But while the 31-year-old frontman of Bring Me The Horizon admits he would never have been able to dream of the level of success he has had in both music and business, it has not been an easy journey despite being able to draw on seemingly-boundless levels of creativity in different fields.
In 2014, Sykes revealed he had been to rehab after becoming addicted to the drug Ketamine – a situation that inspired his band’s breakthrough album Sempiternal.
“My band wanted to kill me, my parents wanted to kill me and my brother wanted to kill me; everyone wanted to kill me, but they didn’t,” he said at the time. “They stood by me, they supported me through all of that and we wrote Sempiternal because of it.”
While in rehab, Sykes was prescribed with a different form of medication to help treat his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – an important moment in helping him to understand his past behaviour and to receive treatment to help him control the condition.
He says while the diagnosis has helped change his life for the better, ADHD is part of who he is.
“About six to seven years ago, I went on medication,” he says. “I had a massive problem with drugs. Realising why I was doing it was quite liberating.
“Now I can be mindful of everything else. I’m more guarded about myself and what I do. It was really important to tackle it but at the same time, you find a lot of people with ADHD are really good at something or really creative.”
Sykes, who grew up in Stocksbridge to the north of Sheffield, says he struggled at school and eventually dropped out of college around the age of 16 after growing frustrated with the Graphic Design and Media course he was doing.
“When I was growing up, I was just annoying and couldn’t pay attention at school unless I liked the subject, if it was art or English,” he says. “But otherwise, the teachers just hated me. They thought I was being obnoxious or not listening. For anyone with ADHD or autism or Asperger’s that hasn’t been diagnosed, that can be a problem.”
Sykes had first been diagnosed with childhood ADHD when he was six, which he says did assist him despite his difficulties with education during his younger years. “I was fine growing up in the grand scheme of things. It is better if you have the diagnosis – you get that bit of tolerance. For me, that was quite freeing.”
With Bring Me The Horizon were still in their early days and doing small gigs around Sheffield, after leaving college Oli decided to build on another creative passion of design and told his parents he wanted to start a clothing company. It turned out to be a wise decision. His parents lent him £500 and Drop Dead Clothing was born in his bedroom. He set up a PayPal account, website and began promoting the venture on social media site MySpace, as well as coming up with designs and tracking down printing companies.
With t-shirts piling up in his bedroom, he launched the company and was thrilled at its eventual reception.
“I don’t know why it did so well,” he says. “I got 20 orders on the first day and I just cried. My mum couldn’t believe it.”
The operation moved from Oli’s bedroom to the basement of the family house as sales continued to climb.
“It got to the point where I was taking down to the Post Office and had to walk the 30 minutes down there three to four times a day,” says Sykes. “The Post Office hated me, the staff would spin round and walk out on their breaks when they saw me coming in!
“Then the band started picking up and I was going on tour and my family took over to help. The bigger the band got, the more attention there was for anything the band were doing.”
Sykes was not the only local success story starting to make it big at the time – Stocksbridge High School which he attended also counted two members of Arctic Monkeys, Alex Turner and Matt Helders, among its pupils and the pair were in the year above him at school.
With sales turnover for his clothing firm reaching £380,000 by the second year of operation and orders for his designs coming in from across the world, Oli’s brother Tom and his cousin Hannah became company employees and the firm moved to Step Business Centre in Deepcar before soon moving to larger premises in Sheffield.
Sykes then purchased Samuel Osborn House, a listed former industrial building in Sheffield’s trendy Kelham Island district, as the new base for the business.
The success of the company saw it approached by some of the biggest franchises in popular culture to create clothing for their fans. Sykes says it would be difficult for his teenage self to comprehend the success he has enjoyed in the fields of music and business.
“I would have never have dreamt it. We are about to release a collaboration with Jurassic Park and have already done things with Game of Thrones and Sonic The Hedgehog – these are some of my favourite things. If you had told me when I was younger, I would be about to work with Jurassic Park and Sonic, I just wouldn’t have believed you.”
Sykes, who is married to Brazilian model Alissa Salls, says he has never charted a path to success but has instead just been doing things he has enjoyed.
“To be honest, I have always just liked creating things,” he says. “Making music and making clothes is just a lot of fun. People ask me, particularly in America where they are more focused on ‘having a plan’, what was your business plan? But I have just made things that I like and people have responded.”
That has also included writing a graphic novel with Drop Dead Clothing artist Ben Ashton-Bell. And during a party for the clothing company at their premises in Sheffield, the idea for his latest venture came to pass.
Known as Church in homage to the building’s architect William John Hale, who was responsible for some of Sheffield’s best-known churches in the Victorian era, the venue is based on the ‘barcade’ concept seen in Brazil; arcade bars that combine a series of different concepts.
The idea grew and grew, with the newly-opened 220 capacity venue aiming to be a ‘Temple of Fun’ including a vegan cafe, a bar and space for live music, retro gaming and a tattoo parlour.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post a few hours before a launch party at Church last week, Sykes says the project has taken on its own momentum. “We got this building four to five years ago and it is just a massive building. We always had a lot of space and had been thinking what else could you do with it? It honestly started off as a little less serious than what it has become. We had no idea what we were doing but we thought it would be a good idea. When you look into it, there are barriers like getting planning permission and dealing with health and safety.
“But we will play it by ear and see what works and what doesn’t work.”
Sykes has previously spoken of how his band’s name, Bring Me The Horizon, was inspired by a line at the end of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. He said the idea of seeing what the world has to offer has been an inspiration for the band since they began back in the mid-2000s. As his latest venture gets going, it seems there are still plenty of new horizons for Sykes left to conquer.
Concept designed to reflect building’s history
Church has been carefully designed to reflect the heritage of the listed building it is based in, says Sykes.
The original building, first known as Rutland Works, was designed by architect William John Hale for Samuel Osborn, one of the most successful businessmen of the Victorian era.
“Our building has incredible heritage and I wanted to develop a barcade concept that truly celebrated and developed that legacy,” says Sykes.
“We wanted something that fitted with William John Hale’s original and stunning design but provided something to wow 21st century customers. Our strapline is ‘Temple of Fun’ – we provide a whole experience.”