Insect Guide are that guilty pleasure that are impossible to feel guilty about. To quote the band themselves, they are “unashamedly pop” and rightfully so – there’s very little to be ashamed about when a band draws their influences from such greats as Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, and Slowdive. One can even hear a dash of 60s girl group pop when they listen closely. Adhere this atmospheric sound to a dark, visual aesthetic found in both videos and live performances and any resistance to becoming a fan is futile.
Originally formed in 2006 as an audio/visual project by vocalist Su Sutton and guitarist Stan Howells, Insect Guide quickly gained momentum after the release of their debut 6ft In Love on Dead Penny Records in 2007. The following year saw the duo touring with the likes of Ulrich Schnauss, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and Maps as well as the release of a now sold-out EP containing remixes by Sonic Boom (producer for MGMT, Spacemen 3). Sutton and Howells were soon joined by Chris Cooper (formerly of Pale Saints) on drums and released their second album Dark Days and Nights in October 2010 again to much critical acclaim. With a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” also under their belt, the future continues to look bright, in Insect Guide’s own dark little way.
This Leeds, UK trio take the time to answer questions from Krystal of K2 Entertainment for TDOA.
TDOA: In recent years the term “shoe gaze” has been applied to many bands, some of which do anything but gaze at their shoes. Where does Insect Guide fit into this movement?
Su: We don’t, it’s really bizarre, for the first album we were sort of put into that category by some reviewers and I suppose to a certain extent you can see some influences on record in the guitars and the set back vocals but really because we all like such different types of music it’s something that I couldn’t really relate to at all. Still there are some really good bands past and present from that scene, most obviously to us because of Chris being in the band is The Pale Saints.
Stan: For me I think there are so many interpretations of the term that in some people’s eyes we were at the forefront of the ‘shoegaze’ revival and in others we had nothing to do with it. I like that though, I wouldn’t want us to be pigeon-holed in any particular genre.
TDOA: Insect Guide was initially created to be a music and visual project. Obviously visual aesthetics play an important part. What influences your personal style?
Su: Visually I think the style of the band always changes slightly to reflect the album that we’re gigging at the time. It’s not necessarily on purpose though it really has a lot to do with reflecting the lyrics in the songs and the overall idea that this brings to the album. Dark Days and Nights is very much about corrupted decaying city life, survival and dirt so everything about the visuals from videos to projections for gigs reflects that to take the audience into our world. When it comes to personal style I think our image also accidentally reflects this too, on stage I’ve got the whole vintage underwear thing going on at the moment so that ties in. I think for us it’s never on purpose, we write what we know and experience and then that’s automatically what we want the audience to experience with us.
TDOA: Very bizarre, macabre images are found in your videos as well as the backdrop of your performances. Where do you draw the inspiration for these videos?
Su: I think we do macabre without even thinking about it. I can’t imagine us making a video about nice fluffy things unless there was some sort of twisted element to it! The lyrics and the feel of the songs dictate everything that we do so I suppose I would have to write a fluffy song to get a fluffy video.
Stan: Yeah, there’s nothing fluffy about the ‘Down From Here’ video.
TDOA: On the subject of bizarre images, Insect Guide has covered “Paparazzi” by today’s current Queen of Bizarre, Lady Gaga. Why this song as opposed to something by Jesus & Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine?
Su: I’m a big fan of good dark pop music and things you can adapt and play with. Stan and I basically get some good alcohol in and lots of coffee to keep us awake and we mess around with a few covers in between recording our own songs. It’s fun! We never expected so many people to like our versions of things when we initially put them out there but we’re glad that they do
Stan: Drinking fine wine and creating our own version of ‘Paparazzi’ or ‘Fuck You’ is much more appealing and interesting than doing a MBV or Marychain track!
TDOA: If Lady Gaga’s popularity is any indication, the music industry is slowly shifting towards the idea that a band’s live performance is now their core product as opposed to an album that can be easily downloaded. How has Insect Guide been able to find that balance between recording and performing?
Su: I think that because we’re such an audio visual band both the album videos and the gig itself have equal importance to us. I love the drama and thrill of an Insect Guide gig (in fact of us getting anywhere at all!) right from the travel there to the performance itself and the inevitable slightly spaced out feeling afterwards. That being said recording is something that we do automatically, I’m not sure I remember life before recording sessions I think anybody that does creative stuff likes to make a record of it so it’s more automatic than calculated for us. In terms of the industry I think for them it’s obviously all about the money and they can evidently make more money off a good live show than they can off record sales so I suppose that’s their priority with that. I think for true music fans they’ll still want both. When I love a band I want the full package, I want to own the artwork and the hold the physical copy of the music in my hands, I want to have it displayed in the living room and occasionally load up the record player when people are over for drinks, I can’t imagine wanting life any other way, that’s just the way I’ve been raised. That being said I am sadly aware that I am an anomaly for my generation.
TDOA: Insect Guide did a small U.S. tour in early 2008. Are there any plans to return to the US for a larger tour? What cities would you most like to play for next time around?
Su: We would love to come back to the U.S. and I am already looking into ways of getting us over there again. I love the New York gig scene so I want to go back there again preferably with our friends the Blanche Hudson Weekend (on Squirrel Records, some members of which we went with last time when they were the Manhattan Love Suicides) or The Program. The fascinating thing about the U.S. for me is just the sheer scale of it, there’s so much to see and do and to try and tell you everywhere that I want to gig with Insect Guide would turn into an essay that I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want
Stan: We get lots of great feedback from the West Coast so I want to go over there as long as we get back to NYC too!
TDOA: American crowds are often stereotyped as being more subdued than their British counterparts. What was the response to Insect Guide here in the States?
Su: Haha that’s funny because the American audiences that we played for were very loud and enthusiastic! There’s never been so many people attempting to hi-5 me when I walked off stage, it took some time to adjust to, usually if a hand is raised in this country after a gig it’s because they hate you! In England the audience tend to stand and nod in appreciation and then clap, it’s all very polite most of the time…or standoffish it depends how you see it. I remember one gig where I honestly thought they’d hated us because it was like looking at a room of slow moving brain dead zombies, then they bought loads of merch and I was so shocked!
Stan: Agreed, it was definitely the other way round for us, the US fans were a lot more open and vocal but that doesn’t mean people like you any more or less.
TDOA: Insect Guide formed Dead Penny Records in response to their former label’s differing views on the band’s future. What plans, if any, do you have for adding other bands to the roster in the future?
Su: I’m sure we will I’m always finding people on nights out and at gigs with Stan that I want to release music by but I don’t do things by half measures so when we do it we’ll do it well!
Stan: I’d like Dead Penny Records to eventually not just be about music. It would be great to incorporate other art forms that we love and could help by involving Dead Penny.
TDOA: Su has been playing in bands since she was 16. What type of bias have you received (or witnessed others receive) not just as a female musician but also as one who handles the business side of things?
Su: I’ve never received any real prejudice, I think it’s about how you present yourself. Because of being on stage in bars and clubs when I was underage, I sort of built an “if you don’t like it leave” attitude. In terms of the business side of things I would dare people to treat me any differently to the boys
TDOA: Dark Days & Nights was just released at the end of last year. What should Insect Guide fans expect for 2011?
Su: A new album, lots of gigs, dark pop in whatever form it can take and a good trip into the macabre Insect world.