Blood Red Shoes are back and ahead of their Liverpool show, Getintothis’ Will Truby talks them about going on hiatus, struggling with sexism and more.
Now entering their fifteenth year as a band, Blood Red Shoes are one of the lucky few to have survived the festering landfill that was the UK indie rock scene in the 00’s.
Though attributing their success to luck does the twopiece a disservice; they’re one of the hardest working bands in the continent, let alone the country, working the record-release-tour cycle harder than most.
But 2014 saw the band take the next inevitable step along the band timneline; breaking up. After ten years through the mill, guitarist/vocalist Laura-Mary Carter and drummer/vocalist Steven Ansell went their separate ways. At least, for about twelve months, after which they emerged Frankenstein-like from the dead.
The result: Get Tragic, a beautifully eclectic album which sees the band put more faith in their songwriting, and step off the rock pier into the unknown. It’s received massively favourable reviews across the board, and only proves that the band were just opening their second chapter.
The band are well known for their monstrously energetic live shows, working the minimal guitarist/drummer pairing better than most.
As well as putting on some of the more intense headline indie rock shows across the globe, the band have also landed some phenomenal support slots across the years, from Siouxsie to Rage Against The Machine.This time around they’re fresh off the back of supporting the indomitable Pixies across Europe, where they found themselves playing to arenas of people who barely knew them.
Steven Ansell: “We don’t really go to Spain very much or Italy, but Pixies are really huge in those countries, so we were playing basketball arenas. It was mental.
“The coolest bit was going to the giant shows in countries we barely play in at all. And [opening for]the Pixies is the ideal crowd for us. I think almost everybody at any of those shows had no idea who we were.
“We made our first record around 11 years ago, [but]it’s kinda cool to come back into shows and play with that sort of challenge, winning people over for the first time. Once you get into it you’ve got to build some momentum, starting from zero getting in a huge arena with a ton of strangers and saying “right, we’ve got half an hour to win these people over and convert them”. It’s kinda like speed dating in that way.”
The prospect of playing to a huge capacity venue of people who don’t know you seemed incredibly daunting,
“I don’t think we could have done it without playing a lot of festivals. They really help because you’re so far from the audience and you don’t have that kind of intimacy and closeness, [so]you really have to make that effort to reach out and connect.
“You can’t just go in and play hard and fast, which we do anyway, but that in and of itself is often not enough; you’ve got to make gestures to make the crowd to connect and pay attention.
Blood Red Shoes went on an indefinite hiatus after touring their eponymous fourth album. Though it wasn’t disclosed to the public at the time, guitarist/vocalist Laura-Mary Carter and drummer/vocalist Steven Ansell parted with bad blood of sorts.
It’s hard to fathom what must go through your head when the project you’ve been working on and your partner in crime for ten years all of a sudden disappear. For Steven, it was definitely an existential experience.
“You don’t actually know what your role is in the universe when that stops because it’s been defining you. In our case it’s pretty much ten years solidly since we were nineteen and twenty years old, that’s all we’d done. And you stop because you know you have to stop, because we just hit a point where we were not happy at all.
So we stopped and took some time to assess whether we wanted to [break up]or not. And in that time it’s really unsettling because you’re like “well what do I do now, who am I if I’m not this”? It’s not a pleasant experience, but it was a necessary experience. For us we had to remember that we were humans and not just musicians.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the musician’s life is harder to walk away from that then. The pair found themselves working on other projects for a while, with Laura-Mary moving to LA.
“I had been doing co-writes and trying out for a lot of things, I wrote something for Rihanna’s record. It didn’t end up on the record, but she has loads of people writing for her record.
So stuff like that was really interesting. Especially that, as I was asked to write the melody line and lyrics for it, so I had to try and imagine singing like Rihanna which is strange.
I think that actually helped how the record ended up, because I started singing more and differently. And I worked with some new artists on pop songs. I still do a bit of that and collaborate. There’s more opportunity to do that in America.”
Though they’ve always been more than just a rock band, I found myself wondering how easy it was switching to writing for pop.
“Pop songs are really hard; I could easily go in and write something in a Sonic Youth style, but pop songs are really hard to write and are crafted really well. I think good pop music is the hardest thing to do, it’s easier to do something weird.
It was quite interesting to work out lyrics as well, that were for a completely different world, to write lyrics that are universal. I think it’s always interesting to do something outside your comfort zone.”
Steven spent time both producing and writing for other acts. With their last album being self-produced, this seemed like a natural progression.
“I started doing a lot of production for other artists and writing with artists, writing songs just cos you get up and you’ve got an idea for a song and you’ve just gotta get it out. It’s a bit like feeling sick and you’re trying to stop yourself from being sick, because its really uncomfortable, [but]you’ve just gotta get it out.”
Was there any point where the temptation to pack it in and move on to something else ever arose?
“You don’t really know how to stop, so even if you’re not doing the band, you’re doing other music. So even when we weren’t doing Blood Red Shoes, we were both in separate places actually writing quite a lot of music, and working on different things.
I think a lot of us exploring things separately was really useful, because when we came back together to record and write we’d both done things that we wouldn’t have done had we been writing together. So it allowed us to really get out of our comfort zone and discover new things: it kinda re-energised us really.
Laura came back in and she was like “I’ve been doing some of this” and I was like “oh, we never do that, that’s fucking cool”. And that spark came back a bit, and I think having that time apart and not being on tour really enabled that.”
What emerged is Get Tragic, a sexy, swaggering monolith of a record, that also finds the band utilising a much wider sonic profile through synths, drum machines and samples. Though it undoubtably sounds like Blood Red Shoes, the development of their songwriting is unmissable.
While their past sound may have been more easily defined as ‘rock’, this one is a fair bit more eclectic. Was this a move away from the genre, or a deliberate attempt to push its limits?
Steven: “I just think it needs to evolve immediately, because I think a lot of guitar music is really backwards looking and unimaginative and just repeating over and over until it’s used up. People don’t want to evolve it at all, people don’t want to try things, they don’t want to expand it. I don’t see the reason why.
To be honest we live in an era now where genre doesn’t even matter, I don’t see why people who’ve typically been in rock bands should even give a fuck about trying something that isn’t typically rock, because nobody cares. I don’t see why people are so reticent to step outside of the typical things we’ve done with a guitar, it’s baffling to me.”
There’s a couple of guest spots on the album as well, from Ed Harcourt and Clarence Clarity. Aside from Queens Of The Stone Age, I couldn’t really think of a rock band that features other artists.
“Yeah we’ve always been quite open – well not at the beginning, but even on our fourth record we were trying to reach out to other people, get them to guest and collaborate, and try things out and be more open with it. But actually we found it really hard, because people in rock music are fucking idiots.
Everybody’s so focussed on their own thing, and so competitive that they don’t like doing that. If you look at hip hop and RnB everybody’s guesting with each other all the time, and they’re always learning and they’re always growing with each other, and they’re always trying new things. Rock music’s got a totally different mentality, and they don’t. And I don’t understand it.”
There’s definitely been a gradual loss of interest in skinny white boys in bands over the past decade, which both Steven and I agreed was a good thing.
“If I see an advert for a show back home in Brighton when I’m off tour, [and]I see a poster for a band and it’s four white dudes with guitars, there’s no way I’m going. As soon as you see that, you know it’s not going to be interesting just from the picture. And The Clash did it loads better already, so move on.
That’s the problem, it’s a cyclical thing [with]these people. I love rock music, [but]let’s do something fun, let’s take it somewhere. Let’s not let it die because people can’t be bothered to innovate.”
I found myself thinking about rock festival headliners over the past couple of years, and how festivals like Reading and Leeds have been gradually moving away from their rock and metal roots. One only has to take a glance at Iron Maiden and Kiss leading the Download 2020 lineup to see his point.
“It’s a whole other retrospective thing, it’s like selling nostalgia, that’s not interesting. That whole thought process was a lot of what went into our album, like we’re not gonna be the saviours of rock, we can in our way at least try and push the form somewhere and start our own process of reimagining it, trying out new things, testing the boundaries to fuck with within that style, because we should all be doing that.
It needs to be alive. But I also think that the idea of it as its own defined genre is wrong, I don’t think it really is. I think it’s just a flavour within lots of other types of sounds moving forward.
That’s why we love saying we’re a rock band, because it gives people an idea, but it simultaneously means nothing. If you say what music do you play as a rock band, it’s incredibly broad.”
I’d read an interesting interview with the band in which Laura-Mary talked about feeling like she felt like she’d needed to go away and find her voice. Though the line of questioning about being a woman in the music industry is tired and pretty sexist anyway, I wanted to talk about how she feels more confident his time around.
“I think a lot changed in the last year for me, because I had a lot of time to reflect. And I realised that it wasn’t necessarily ok, and that I do have a voice.
Even when I spoke, people just wouldn’t take it seriously. It would have to go through Steve, I’d have to tell him to say it.
We’d started so young, and I think that in the beginning because Steve had toured a lot more than me and was older than me, I think we got stuck in a bit of a routine. It just became normal. But looking back on it, there were some things that happened at the beginning of my career that were really wrong, and it wouldn’t happen now.
I’m gaining in confidence I think. I’ve gone through it all and now I’m on the other side where I’m like this is not gonna happen any more. It does still happen, but [what’s changed is] more how I deal with it.”
I’ve found that men in an audience, especially older men, are much more comfortable going up to the man in the band, talking about guitars or effects, which can be quite male-dominated spaces. It’s not something you notice until you do, and then you notice it all the time.
“Now that we’ve got extra members in the band, and we have a female bassist with us, I notice it even more, because there’s another woman in the band, whereas it used to just be me. I think it was a personal thing for me, [so]it’s highlighted it even more. Before I’d take it really badly, but now I just deal with it better.
Judging by my impression of rock crowds I’ve been in, I wouldn’t be that surprised if this was an issue that was quite inherent to the genre’s scene. Was this an experience that the band have often?
Laura-Mary: “I think some places are different to others, being in different parts of Europe are quite different to the shows we play in the UK. I don’t know about the States, we’ve played there a lot and I feel like it’s a bit more respectful than the UK.
In the pop world it was different because I was working with writers, so it was a different feel. I’d say about 80% of our demographic is that older rock fan, and then the rest younger, it’s weird. It definitely bothers Steve.
It varies though, Germany tends to be younger, and that’s the biggest place that we play. I’ve spoken to a lot of other musicians in rock, like Slaves, who say that’s their audience too. Younger people just aren’t as interested in it.
I feel like older guys buy records more, and are probably more able to afford records and gig tickets. It’s nice though, some shows we have actual families come with their kids. Or people will come up to you saying “you were our first show when I was 14”, which is really nice.
- Blood Red Shoes headline the Arts Club on November 22, with support from Queen Kwong.