While setting up our schedule of August interviews, we found great bands with as many as dozen members and as few as two. The common thread? The ability to create a wall of sound with brilliant melodies. Consisting of Steven Ansell (vocals and drums) and Laura-Mary Carter (vocals and guitar), Blood Red Shoes have triumphed in England and seem poised to bring that success to America with the release of their new album, Fire Like This. Refreshingly fierce, it’s no wonder that they were invited by The Breeders to play All Tomorrows Parties in 2009. Steven took time to talk to us about managing fame, sexism and their disdain for what U2 hath wrought.
TDOA: In other interviews you’ve discussed that the first album was a collection of songs you’d been playing live for a while. We’ve interviewed bands who’ve discussed the concept of spending your whole life writing that first album and then having to create a new album in the space of a year or so. How did you approach writing Fire Like This? It seems like you’re very prolific writers. Is that a fair assessment?
SA: We had a bee in our bonnets about the “difficult second album” and how people often make a follow up that’s really bad. So, we did our best to ensure we avoided the pitfalls that we saw other bands make. I don’t think we’re prolific writers, actually I think other bands seem to write more songs than us. We’re just really fussy and if something isn’t up to it then we chuck it away. We started writing “Fire Like This” over a year before we recorded it. In fact, I seem to remember us coming up with the basic instrumental jams for “It Is Happening Again” whilst on tour in February of 2008, which is actually before the first album was even released. So, although we had slightly less time than the first album it didn’t feel that different to me. It was really just a question of dedication- making sure that we used up a lot of our days off between touring to get writing. The biggest difference with how we wrote this album is that we were much harder on ourselves and each other about the detail and quality of the songs, whereas on the first album we were more easily pleased.
TDOA: Given that there are only two people in the band, your records are remarkably dense. Has there ever been talk about adding members to the group, either live or in the studio?
SA: Well, we’ve added other musicians to both albums actually, albeit very subtly. On the first album there’s a violin part in one song and on the second album two cello parts. But, aside from that it’s never been a concern for us. The idea of us adding other musicians is always brought up by people external to the band. It’s never something we’re interested in. That idea is just a product of holding ourselves up for comparison alongside what a “standard” formation rock band does and there’s really no interest there for me. To us, it’s a case of mining our own way of doing things, improving as we go and pushing ourselves as writers. I’m glad you think the records are dense because we never had any intention of being “minimal”. You can make a direct-sounding record without it being empty or thin sounding.
TDOA: Blood Red Shoes has always had great artwork for each of their releases. Is there a specific person who does all the artwork and can you talk about the process of developing it for your records?
SA: Laura-Mary has done the artwork for every single release. I can’t really talk about it that much, as often it’s a mysterious process to me! I know it always has a connection to the songs on the release. Sometimes a very direct one (e.g. box of secrets has a box on it), but sometimes it’s more abstract. Generally speaking, Laura-Mary definitely prefers to take something straightforward and fuck with it a bit, which I think is a general approach our band has actually. I think the wedding cake sleeve that she did with a bride’s headless corpse dripping blood pretty much embodies the style, in a very blunt way.
TDOA: You’ve been playing large festivals for a while now. How did you feel about making the transition from playing small venues to large festival crowds? Can you talk about what you enjoy about the two environments, small vs. large?
SA: It was strange at first but we’ve definitely grown into it. Now I really enjoy it. At first it felt like you’re a kid dressing up in your parents’ clothes, pretending to have a handle on what goes on. I think now the sheer size and volume of the crowd is something we really respond to. You do have to learn up how to communicate with the audience because there’s a much bigger gap, physically and psychologically. Ao really making that connection is harder and takes a different approach than in the small clubs. Bizarrely, we’ve actually toured with supporting bands who’ve gotten so big that when you see them in a club show they look stupid and it doesn’t work at all. I didn’t know it was even possible to end up like that! So, we’re careful to make sure we hang on to the ability to lay it down in a normal size room and not just turn into some big theatrical stage-craft kind of “act”.
TDOA: The British music press has a reputation for being rather fickle, yet you’ve seemed to have stayed on their good side. Any tips for up and coming bands on how to manage the media?
SA: Well, yeah I think this is partly because we were never a hype band to start with. Those are usually the first bands that the press turn on. So we never had a backlash or anything like that. What we did find is that this time around people are less bothered. The UK media has a serious obsession with “new music”. The newness of a band takes precedence over whether a band is any good and we found it was harder to get coverage for our band with this record, even though everyone agreed it was better than our first album. The reviews were good, so that’s cool, but we were surprised that no-one wanted to interview us or review a show really. Some magazines didn’t even run a review.
I don’t really feel like I’m in a position to offer up advice, but if I have any to give, it’s just that you should never, ever do a photo shoot in a way suggested by ANYONE except yourselves. Unless it’s something you’re really, really, really, really into. Otherwise, they are just presenting you to the world in a way that suits the magazine and not your band.
TDOA: With the October release date in the U.S., we’ll finally get to see you live over here. It would seem as if you’ve “conquered” England, so what are your hopes for the U.S.?
SA: Ha Ha, I don’t think you’ve ever conquered the UK until you get to Radiohead status. It’s pretty fickle and bands get forgotten very easily. It’s always going to be work for a band like us I think. But I’m fine with that. I wouldn’t trust anything if it came too easily. Our hopes for the USA are just that people come to see us play, because that’s our natural environment. That’s where we’re in control and can say our side of the story. Records always have a context that you can’t control 100%, so I feel like the live environment is the best place for people to judge whether we’re worth it or not. My hope is that people come just to at least check us out and decide whether they’re into it or not. Then we can go from there.
TDOA: The bands’ done quite a few videos at this point. Do you like doing them, or do you just consider them a necessary evil?
SA: A necessary evil. End of story. All of that shit is a necessary evil (of course, “necessary” is completely defined by what your aims as a band are…Fugazi didn’t deem it necessary)
TDOA: One of the topics that we frequently address is sexism in the music industry. The press has gone on a bit about how good looking the band is. Have you ever felt that you were being objectified and done anything to fight against that concept?
SA: Constantly. it blows your mind. I mean really, its 2010. There are certain things I accept about being in a rock n roll band: that image DOES matter. You can be as punk rock as you like, but punk rock carries an “image” or concept or broader association with it. Just like any other musical form. Even if the image is an “anti-image” stance, it’s still an image. This is actually why I really like the “faceless DJ” nature of the techno scene, but somehow that luxury is never extended to bands, however hard they try.
So I accept that image is called into it. I also accept that rock n roll music has had a sexual element since Robert Johnson picked up a guitar, but what i don’t accept is sexism. I don’t accept when people review our band and talk about how I play drums, but how Laura-Mary LOOKS. Or how the first twenty comments on every YouTube video say, “she’s hot”. It’s a very difficult thing to fight since it’s very pervasive, but we’ve learnt a lot about how to deal with it. For one thing, if anything like that comes up, we deal with it head on and face-to-face. Laura-Mary will call out an interviewer on it straight up if they come out with something like that. She replies to sexist comments she gets over the internet. We’re much more careful about how our photos/videos are presented to remove any element that would present her as “sexually available” or similar. If we ever made something sexually-orientated (which we’re not opposed to so long as it fits right), then we have to present ourselves equally. In many of our photos we actually, intentionally shoot Laura-Mary in a dominant stance (i.e. above me, in front of me, in one case looking like she’s beaten me up in fact).
To be honest I think the strongest stance Laura-Mary takes against sexism is actually just to stand on a big fucking festival stage and play her heart out. There are very few women “rock” musicians around, certainly visible ones, and I don’t know many boy guitarists who’d have the guts to play to 30,000 Rage Against The Machine fans without even a bass guitar to hide behind. It’s such a stereotypically male thing to be a rock guitar player and Laura-Mary does much more creative things with it than say, Weezer, Oasis or many big guitar bands. People see a petite woman get onstage with a guitar they expect something with finger-picking, like a singer-songwriter or folk stuff, but Laura-Mary just wants to take your head off you know?
TDOA: You’ve got quite a world tour coming up. Have you played Japan for and if so, what are the crowds like compared to other places?
SA: Japan is very cool. It’s a very different culture than anywhere else we’ve played – by far the most respectful and polite audience. When we play Japan the audience goes really crazy during the songs, but are very quiet in between the songs. It takes a bit of getting used to, because it tends to be that people shout and roar in between songs in most other places (unless it’s a bad show). It’s also much more of a celebrity kind of culture – all bands are “famous”. The last show we did in Tokyo was about 800 people I think and in the UK that’s nothing like approaching celebrity status, but in Japan there’d be people waiting outside our hotel, people bringing presents to the show, waiting at the airport or train station. It doesn’t happen anywhere else so it’s like a fun ride for us. You wouldn’t want it every day, obviously. It would send you mental and probably turn you into a douchebag.
TDOA: You can “get rid of” any band on the planet. Who would it be?
SA: U2, obviously! Plus, if they’d never happened then we’d have been spared all the shit band doing that sound, who are STILL getting churned out year on year.
or Amazon: Fire Like This