A CHAT WITH: BLOOD RED SHOES
aaamusic | On 04, Mar 2014
AAAmusic’s Shane O’Neill speaks to drummer and co-vocalist Steven Ansell of Blood Red Shoes ahead of the release of their upcoming self titled fourth album (review here) and their European tour which kicks off tonight (March 4th) at Camden’s Black Heart, London.
Shane O’Neill: This is the first record you guys have produced on your own. What made you want to go that route and what were you hoping to achieve?
Steven Ansell: We’d been going that way for a while. We’ve been progressively more involved in the production side and with the more technical stuff. Each record we made with Mike [Crossey]… he’s always been really keen to help us learn things. Whenever we showed an interest in how mics work and things like that he’s always been up for explaining. So we’ve gradually been getting more and more involved in it, so you gradually get as sense of the things you like and what you don’t like. When we got to this point we talked about the idea of self producing. Everyone around us was really encouraging about doing it and then what we did was: we went to Berlin. We wanted to go initially to write and while we were there we basically cut what we were half calling demos but we weren’t sure because we just tried to make them sound as good as we possibly could meaning; they were songs that we were writing that meant a lot more than just demos.
We got a couple of songs that we listened to and we were like you know what ‘we’re just really happy with this’ like I really wouldn’t want anyone to fuck with that or even try and re-do it. So we just kind of ran with it and kept going and everyone around us was really encouraging like nobody was there going ‘guys this sounds like a piece of shit’ so we just kind of went with it [laughs].
Shane O’Neill: What made you decide to write in Berlin?
Steven Ansell: Well the initial impulse was we just wanted to get the fuck out of the UK. We have three records that we’d written in the UK and recorded in the UK so for us; we were just screaming for a change. Berlin is a fucking cool city, it’s one of our favourite places to play on tour and we spend a lot of time there so we got a bit of a feel for it. It’s an easy place to go and find like a really big space to make music in and set up. It’s a really free city there’s a lot of space and infrastructure to do something like this quite easily. And yeah, it’s got a really cool atmosphere and it’s got a history of having a lot of cool records being made there and a lot of different kinds of music being made there so we thought we’d try it out. So what we did was we went for a month and we liked it so much that we kept adding months on to it until we were there for like half of last year.
Shane O’Neill: The new record sounds great. It seems like your sound has changed and developed from your earlier records like Box of Secrets and Fire Like This – and in my opinion In time to Voices was probably one of your more mature sounding records. How do you think this album differs or compares from what has gone before it?
Steven Ansell: Well it differs a fuck load from In Time To Voices because that was about us making a really studio album. We really wanted to make it a studio album and really use the potential of the studio and not really worry about what we could do on stage at all and use a lot of layers. We spent a lot of time crafting every little detail of it very carefully and sort of agonizing over the sounds of different parts of guitar layers and vocal harmonies.
On this album there were two main things we really wanted. Firstly we wanted it to sound as spontaneous as possible. Record the songs as we were writing them so you capture that spark of them being really fresh and new, not over rehearsed and not too careful. And the other thing we wanted to do was we wanted to get the most fucked up guitar sound as we could possibly get [laughs]. I think that’s the biggest difference sonically on this record; is the guitar. It’s the first record, I would say, that really nailed the guitar sound that we’ve had in our head since really early on; like a really distorted, really dirty, heavy sound but with what are essentially really poppy songs underneath that.
Shane O’Neill: Are there any songs on the new album that stick out as favourites of yours or that you’re particularly proud of?
Steven Ansell: Your favourites change all the time. I remember my first favourites on the last record and then after a year it completely changes. At the moment on this record my two favourites are kind of polar opposite ends of the record. I really like ‘An Animal’ – I just think it’s like a really sort of straight up, fast, pop song. Really energetic and probably the most straight up rock and roll song we’ve ever written. And then on the other hand I really like ‘Stranger’, which is the most sort of epic, atmospheric song on the record and it kind of reminds me of some of the things we were trying to do on In Time To Voices, but I think we just did it better on this record – I just think it’s a better song and I think the way we captured it is better than what we were trying to do on In Time To Voices. They’re my two favourites and they’re complete opposite ends of what this record is about.
Shane O’Neill: Throughout the writing process of this record do you think you have developed and changed as a band in any way?
Steven Ansell: Yeah, how could you not? I mean certainly working without a producer and having to feel our way in the dark through a lot of things we could hear in our heads and didn’t know how to get, we had to learn a lot of things and learn a lot our selves whereas before we were used to having somebody else help us find things, this time we had to figure it out by trial and error so we learned a lot.
What’s cool about that is when it’s just the two of us and no other influence you’re constantly questioning your boundaries of what you think sounds cool and what doesn’t. You’re kind of evolving your own aesthetics and being like, ‘Is this cool? Is this not cool? What is this sound? Is that too fucking distorted?’… and in that you’re more and more defining your aesthetic and the things that you think are right, and I don’t think we realised how extreme we liked things before and how we like things to sound really rough you know? We really like poppy songs. We’ve always been obsessed by writing songs that have choruses that we want everyone to sing along to and that are really catchy but I think we discovered how much we like to sabotage that on this album, like we really like to make things sound fucked up [laughs].
Shane O’Neill: You’ve worked on a number of projects outside of touring, and in between releasing albums, such as the split EP with Pulled Apart by Horses and realising your Water EP. Are there any moments in your career that stands out as something you’re particularly proud of?
Steven Ansell: We’ve been a band for so long and we feel like we’ve established ourselves a bit, we’re starting to feel more secure with collaborations with other people, doing covers, opening things out a bit and experimenting with not just our own songs. I’ve been really enjoying that. I really like the way the song [‘Wretch’] we did with Eoin from Drenge and Ian Clement [of Wallace Vanborn] came out. I was really pleased with that because we just kind of took a risk you know? It was really spontaneous. We just jammed out this song, got a guy to play some guitar on it then got drunk with Eoin from Drenge, got a mic and just did it you know? It was really fun, seeing how other people would take some your ideas and where they go with it. I’m really proud of that; it’s really cool. You feel that as a musician you’re learning things because people are doing something that you maybe wouldn’t have thought of and it sort of creates other possibilities in your head. That was really fun shit.
We definitely want to do more of that stuff. If we can find the time we want to start hitting up other people and doing more things like that. I think that’s really cool. When you look at rock music, rock bands can be really competitive and kind of bitchy and [aren’t as open to collaboration]. But if you look at like the Hip Hop community or something like that or other types of dance music, people collaborate and kind of ‘guest them’ into their stuff all of the time and you get the sense that there’s more of a community and they’re a bit more self-supporting. With rock bands we’re all just bitchy little arseholes that are all jealous of each other you know? [laughs] There needs to be a bit more sense of a community I think.
Shane O’Neill: The first single off the record – ‘The Perfect Mess’ – was released by QR codes, which was a really interesting and fresh idea. How did that idea come about and what were you hoping to achieve from doing that?
Steven Ansell: The idea for that was… me and Laura sitting around saying ‘look, we’re about to make our fourth record’ and, much like the same way we wanted to get out of the UK and record in Berlin and do something different, we didn’t want to set up the record in the same way.
The standard thing is you have your first single and… I don’t know… Zane Lowe plays it or you give it to the press… this kind of industry standard way of building up singles into a record and we just thought we don’t want to go around that cycle for the fourth time. We wanted to try something that was different. One thing that is still underused by the music industry generally is the Internet and the fact that the Internet is global and not localised in certain countries. So we were just kind of talking and thinking what could we do that’s really cool?
…The other thing that we were talking about is that music consumption is incredibly passive… music is constantly accessible to you through your phone or your laptop; you push one click and you can have whatever you want, which is actually people being spoon-fed. I actually value things a lot more when I put some fucking effort in to getting them. Like, if a girl really likes you and she’s trying too hard it puts you off, you like to chase her a bit, and it’s part of the appeal. So it’s that attitude; let’s completely bypass the media, we don’t need the radio, we don’t need the press, we need something which means the fans get the music first and they’re in charge of it, but they have to fucking do something. They need to get out of their house and find something that’s active.
Then we set up globally to hide all of these things so that everyone was kind of participating together as a group of fans all over the world to get this song and it’s completely out of our hands and completely out of our label’s hands and we started to think of how long it would take until the rest of the world gets to hear this song now that it was totally left up to the public. It was partly experimental and we didn’t know if it would work but we thought, you know, fuck it [laughs]!
It was really fun man, it worked! And we were online that whole day watching things happen and things like getting found in different countries, some of the stuff got torn down and had to be moved and it felt really alive. Whereas when you make a song and it just gets reviewed, again it’s very passive, for us the band as well, but this time it felt really engaging and really exciting, and all of the fans were writing to us on like Facebook and Twitter and we were responding to everything and following it and it felt really alive, really happening and exciting in a way it doesn’t when you just do it the standard way. I mean I’m glad it worked because it was a fucking risk [laughs]!
Shane O’Neill: What are you looking forward to most in the next couple of months? You’re starting touring soon.
Steven Ansell: Fucking… yeah getting on the road, I mean we’re excited for the record coming out and people hearing it and that kind of thing but the thing that we always look forward to is touring. That’s where we’re in our element, you know? That’s our place. We’ve got a really long tour that goes all over the world that starts in the middle of March and I just can’t fucking wait to play these songs especially because with the last record there was a lot of it we couldn’t even play on stage because it was too complex. With this album we can play pretty much all the songs apart from one which has piano on it so we’re going to play fucking loads of new songs in the set and it’s going to be really different from the last tour – I’m just really excited to get those around.
Author: Shane O’Neill
UK tour dates:
London Black Heart (March 4)
Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms (March 17)
Nottingham Bodega (April 22)
Bristol Trinity (April 23)
Birmingham Academy 2 (April 24)
Brighton Concorde 2 (April 25)
Glasgow Oran Mor (April 27)
Manchester Club Academy (April 28)
Norwich Waterfront (April 29)
London Electric Ballroom (April 30)
Leeds Cockpit (May 2)