“We were listening to a lot of murder podcasts, and that’s definitely come out on this record..." - hmv.com talks to Blood Red Shoes
After almost calling it a day after the release of their fourth, self-titled LP in 2014, Brighton duo Blood Red Shoes took a long break and retruned after five years with arguably their best album yet in 2019's Get Tragic.
The years since have been some of their most productive yet, churniing out several singles and last year's six track EP Ø, as well as a follow-up album to Get Tragic that has, like almost everything else in the last couple of years, been in cold storage due to the various lockdowns.
This week though they're ready to unleash their sixth full-length offering Ghosts on Tape. Produced by Tom Dalgetty (Royal Blood, Pixies), their new album lands in stores this Friday (January 14) and ahead of its release we spoke to Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell about how the album was the quickest they've ever made, getting stranded by travel bans, and why they've found a kindred spirit in producer Tom Dalgetty...
Your last album came off the back of a hiatus, but you’ve been busy since – do you feel like the break did you good?
Steven: “I think now in hindsight, seeing what that was, it was probably necessary for us to have a break. I don’t think we properly broke up, but it felt like we were breaking up the band. And there was a lot of external shit going on, which is boring to talk about, but fundamentally at the core of it, we weren’t sure if we wanted to be in a band any more, or if we wanted to do the kind of music we were doing, or any of that. We just had that sort of existential crisis.
“But in the end, what was really good about it is that we came back together, and it was a bit like renewing your wedding vows or something. We came back together, but very decisively, so we weren’t just ‘carrying on’. It was like: ‘No, we want to do this, we want to change it and make it loads better, try new things, and we’re triple sure this is who we are and what we’re doing. It really helped to take that break, let things fall apart and put it back together, so since then we’ve been more productive than we’ve ever been. And probably a lot happier than we’ve been with what we make.”
There was the EP you put out last year as well – was there any reason those songs were released separately?
Steven: “We didn’t think about it them much, but it was completely arse-about-face, we’d made the record and then put it on pause because of lockdown and everything going bonkers, because we were thinking we can’t release the record until we can tour it, then in the meantime we got really bored and restless so we just started writing.
“We’ve got our own label and we can record ourselves, so there was no reason to put it out, so we thought we should just make what we’re making and just fire it out. And then follow that with a record that was made before it!”
You must have been sitting on it for a while then. When did you actually started and finish work on the album?
Steven: “Beginning of 2020. We finished the record, came out of the studio and straight into lockdown. We’d literally finished it three days before, maybe?
Laura: “Yeah, two years ago, basically. We wrote it all in LA, came to the UK to record it…”
Steven: “…and then everything went mental.”
Laura: “My house is in America, and the travel ban came in while we were still in the studio. I was like ‘But I need to go back!’ And everybody was saying it’ll only be a few weeks, it’ll be fine. In the end I couldn’t get back home for my clothes or my stuff for a year.”
Steven: “You were trapped here with the tiniest suitcase I’ve ever seen.”
Laura: “I know! And I normally come with too many clothes all the time, so this time I was like: ‘Right, I’m not even gonna take a suitcase’ I just took a walk-on rucksack, and then I got stuck here. I managed to get back eventually, but yeah, really annoying. I had to get someone to move all my stuff out. It was stressful."
Was there any particular song that started the ball rolling / set the direction for the new album?
Steven: “We started out just generally writing, but the one that really clicked and made us feel like we knew what record we were making was ‘Morbid Fascination’. That’s when the path became clear.
Laura: “Yeah. Because it’s still ‘us’ with the sort of poppyness to it and the guitars and stuff, but it also had a bit more of a Depeche Mode kind of vibe. We were listening to a lot of 80s stuff.”
Steven: “Laura very recently learned to drive, neither of us could drive until quite recently. But we’ve spent a lot of time in her car listening to Tears for Fears. I feel like that’s really affected this record.”
How does the writing usually work between the two of you? Has it changed over time?
Laura: “It’s been mixed up over the years, yeah. We used to just literally jam together and it would be whatever came out, but now it’s more like one of us will have more input on one song, and the other might have more input on another, if that makes sense. We work on every song together, but sometimes it might be more like it’s my song, and sometimes it’s more Steven’s.
Steven: “Quite often one of us will catch a vibe, and then we just sort of instinctively follow whoever has the strongest feeling of it. Sometimes it’s really even, sometimes it’s more one person jumping forward on a song than the other. When we started it didn’t really work like that, but by now we’ve been in a band together for so long we just trust each other. If Laura’s really excited about something and can see clearly what it needs to be, I just do what the fuck I’m told, to put it simply.”
Laura: We sort of stick to our instruments, it might start with a beat or with a guitar, and we’ll structure it from there, but usually whoever’s singing on a track has written most of it.
You mentioned bands like Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode, were they reference points for what you wanted to do on this record? There seems be more in the way of electronic textures on your last couple of albums…
Laura: “To be honest I’m not really much of an electronic music person. Some of my guitar parts sound like they could also be synth parts, but Steven’s more into all that. I tend to think about things in terms of the song, but we both like that textural element and we often come to a sort of middle ground, if Steven goes to far down that road I’ll push back and be like ‘No.’ So we end of with something that’s definitely rock, but with electronic parts and elements.
Steven: I think bands like Depeche Mode were a kind of touch point, because they use electronic styles and sounds, but with the soul of a rock band. They’re not really synth-pop, they have the attitude, the aggression and the heaviness of rock bands, but they do it using electronic tools. So I think those were references because we wanted to try out different things and different sounds.”
You had a few guests and collaborators on Get Tragic, is it just the two of you this time?
Steven: “It’s just us on this one, yeah. Because the other thing about this record was that we wrote it way faster than normal.”
Laura: “We wrote it in two weeks.”
Steven: “We did not write it in two weeks! Did we? F*** me…”
Laura: “It was all in one month, but it wasn’t like we were working every day, so it was probably about two weeks, maybe three.”
Steven: "I do know that we booked in the producer and the recording with zero songs, and then wrote right up until the day we went into the studio."
You worked with Tom Dalgetty this time, what was he able to bring to the table as a producer?
Steven: “Tom is great. We often have a kind of love-hate relationship with producers, because we have a very clear idea of what we want and how it should be done, and we can kind of butt heads. We’re not always not the most open band to other people’s influence, but Tom is f***ing perfect for us.
Laura: “For one thing he’s really easy going, so when Steve’s being way too involved, which some producers don’t really like, he was really good with that.”
Steven: “He’s good at dealing with my bulls**t, basically.”
Laura: “Also we have similar musical references and similar tastes. He was into the things we were into, we had the same sort of vision and he was just able to listen to the demos and hear what it could be.”
Steven: “He really paid attention and saw the potential in the early seeds of an idea and what it could turn into, where another producer might have just tried to re-create it.”
Laura: “He was open to what we wanted, but he’s into really weighty, great-sounding rock records. And he doesn’t use an engineer, he does it all himself, so it was a really tight-knit unit between the three of us.”
Steven: “He’s a complete rock head. He just loves all rock music, all of it, and it’s almost like he doesn’t understand why rock music isn’t the biggest thing in the world, to everybody. He really just absolutely loves it, and that’s just a really good energy to have around, you know? I mean, the guy is a really busy rock producer, but you just know that on his day off from producing rock records he’s probably just putting on another rock record and listening to it really loud.”
Have any lyrical themes emerged on the new album?
Laura: “We were listening to a lot of murder podcasts, and that’s definitely come out on this record I think. Also because we were writing in the States and a lot of these crimes were based there, it all just sort of seeped onto the album somehow. I mean the lyrics always mean something to us, personally, but all that stuff definitely had an influence.”
So you didn’t record it out there too, then?
Laura: “No, we recorded it in Eastbourne.”
Steven: “There’s something very, very Blood Red Shoes about that. That we wrote it all in glamourous Los Angeles, and then went to sleepy, grey Eastbourne to record it.”
Have you been able to road test much new material live yet?
Steven: “We haven’t played any of it live. And we’ve literally just cancelled the entire album tour because we can’t do it.”
Gutted. Sorry to hear that…
Steven: “We moved the album release to now because we thought that by now we’d be able to tour it, but we’ve literally just had to pull the whole thing. UK, Europe, Russia, all of it. So at the moment we’re still just reeling from that to be honest and working out how we’re going to reschedule. It’s been a very strange time.”
Ghosts on Tape is available in hmv stores now- you can also find it here in our online store.