If you missed part-one of our interview with Blood Red Shoes, you join us for the second installment of our chat with the band.
This time talking to just Steve Ansell from the band, he starts the interview off fittingly by dismissing his own press release. Steve - as this interview proves - is not someone to mince his words. With a potty-mouth Mary Whitehouse would have had gaffer-taped shut, he is refreshingly unrestrained in his answers.
Rather than simply toeing the record label line and pushing the band’s latest album In Time To Voices, here he talks in-depth about the place of politics in music, class rivalry, how the music industry is doomed, why You Me At Six fans want him to die of AIDS and getting ripped by Pulled Apart By Horses for stripping naked.
In the press release for In Time To Voices it says that the record was largely influenced by touring and talks about you getting into fights with bouncers on tour…
That’s just because they just try and find something attention grabbing.
So, was it influenced in any way by your experiences on tour?
One song is specifically about a night in New York on tour - the song ‘Je Me Perds’…other than that, not really. I guess we spend so much time on tour it’s inevitable that things we’ve thought or talked about or experienced on tour might get written about, but not directly. There's nothing where we’ve sat and said ‘we need to write about this’
Did you write when you were on tour?
We wrote bits of jams and bits of riffs but we never finished it. Like, the main riff of ‘Cold’, the drum pattern, the verse-guitar parts…We never write any lyrics cause you’re always playing in a venue with all your guys plugging in mics and setting shit up and the venue staff are getting it ready - you don’t really feel like trying out vocals when there’s a room full of people staring at you. It’s really uncomfortable. We need privacy to do that because it just feels really weird. So, we don’t write much on tour, we just write little bits of ideas and we finish them when we’re back.
'Je Me Perds' jumps right-out at you on the album. Were you trying to out-riff Pulled Apart By Horses?
We went through loads of different track-listings and we decided to put the clumsiest, most stark difference between the quietest and most 'in your face' songs together. It makes more sense on vinyl than CD, because ‘Night Life’ closes side A and side B starts with the renewed energy of ‘Je Me Perd’ – I wanted that contrast. We’re not trying to out-riff anyone.
Funnily enough I spent half of last night on the phone to James Brown calling me 'wasted' from Sunderland talking about why I was topless on a radio session.
Why were you topless on a radio session?
Because it was fucking hot. Drumming makes you really hot, so I took my shirt off. They film Radio 1 sessions now, so you look stupid. Everyone was like, ‘you’re on the radio, why have you got your shirt off’. It’s like, ‘I wasn’t doing it to look cool, was I?’
It’s not some new direction to go in – getting naked?...
No, I’m not Pete Doherty.
Talking about that Radio 1 session, you covered Desire’s ‘Under Your Spell’. Why did you choose to cover it?
Because the radio say that you have to do a cover that isn’t a normal song, you can’t just cover a normal song, they like it if you do something out of a TV show. PABH did the Gladiators Theme Tune when they did it. Last time we did a song from Twin Peaks as we were trying to find something really different for us that we wouldn’t normally do…we ended up having all the keyboard pads and exposed vocals.
Was it the Twin Peaks Theme?
No, we did a song called ‘Into The Night’. It’s in the second series and it also shows up in the film, Fire Walk With Me.
On the album you touch on political themes with ‘Lost Kids’ being about last year’s riots.
It is and it isn’t. It’s not as directly political as maybe people think it is. That’s probably the only song where the lyrics are very consciously written, everything else is usually quite unconscious until it seems right. It was the one I had a really clear idea in my head of because I wrote most of the verse to that song.
It was weird as when the riots happened me and Laura were fighting like hell…I wanted to tie together this backdrop of us looking around and seeing this idea of all these people ripping the shit out of London and us two where we were fighting.
It was like there was this weird destructive energy in the air and I like the idea of trying to put them together and this idea that there’s this lost generation of kids. The fact that me and Laura feel the same, not in the same way as those kids, we don’t really know what the fuck we’re doing and you make it up as you go along.
At this point of being in a band for nearly eight years now, you feel like you really should have shit figured out and we really don’t. You feel like you’re winging it all the time and you feel like a lost kid. I was trying to put all these ideas together and be intelligent about it and not be bluntly political about it.
How do you feel about politics in music? If you’re too obvious about it, it can seem self-righteous...
I’ve done that in the past in my old bands. I think it’s a tricky relationship because you’ve got to sing what feels right at the time. I don’t think you should worry too much about how it comes across. I’m a big believer in making decisions when it comes to art very unconsciously. I think the more I play music the more I realise that my instincts always work out better than anything you try and consciously control.
The only conscious thing about that song [‘Lost Kids’] was that I knew I felt like I wanted to write lyrics in a certain way, but you can’t just do stream of consciousness when you want to do something that articulate. You have to control it and carefully piece it together... so that was different.
I don’t have a thing where I hate political music or that I automatically like it. I actually really like the Plan B song [‘Ill Manors’]; no-one’s talking about anything now, music is so abstracted from the reality of modern life. We’ve always been a band that’s really confused as to why there isn’t more aggressive, frustrated, antagonistic music in the world because if you look around, there seems to be a lot of reasons to make music like that but most music, or most of the really successful music, is living in fucking cuckoo land.
Chillwave in the middle of a huge recession with huge unemployment and huge homelessness. What’s the music representing? There’s a huge gulf between reality and what music’s representing. We come from a background of punk rock, which has always been a fairly direct representation.
Do you think it’s because the music industry is signing bands that are very much from the same background as they are?
Upper middle class? They are signing a lot of upper-middle class people, I would say, who are dabbling at playing in a band for a few years, probably won’t get that big but it won’t really matter because they haven’t given their whole heart to it. They’ll just come back and go, ‘oh, I’ll get a job at my Daddy’s newspaper anyway’. I didn’t realise how pervasive that was until just recently and the more I became aware of it, the more I saw it. Then, I suddenly started to look around and all these bands are not just average middle class in the middle, but rich.
It’s like when the Horrors started out they lived and practiced in a house in Shoreditch owned by one of their Mum’s. That makes so much difference compared to if you’ve got to pay rent and keep down a nine to five.
You can be rich and make great music, obviously. The thing that troubles me and what I think is going on is there’s a lack of complete commitment to what they do - it’s like a little hobby, a little dabble. I think great music is made by people who give themselves up in their entirety to their art form and believe in it and throw everything out to do it. If your parents have bought you everything, you don’t value it the same way. I think because of that, the richer bands can’t make good music. I don’t really like The Horrors, but least they try and do something interesting.
I like The Horrors, but that’s where I struggle...
You can’t dislike them because they've had the privilege. It’s not their fault.
True, but it does make the playing field very uneven.
It’s true, but that’s a reflection of real life. I just have a little distrust because I can see - and I’ve met those bands - and I’ve seen them around. For them it’s like, ‘touring’s a pain in the arse. Can you fly me home from here?’
Again going back to being more about a level of commitment?
That’s the thing for me. I want people to give everything - we’ve given-up everything. We were homeless for a year where we quit our jobs and once we ran out of money to pay our rent and we got in a van with some sleeping bags and played anywhere we could and slept where ever. We were like, ‘there is no back-up plan. We don’t have rich parents that are going to take care of us. This has to work’. We give everything and every waking hour thinking about our band and doing something for our band and I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s suppose to fucking be.
I’m reading Our Band Could Be Your Life [Michael Azerrad] at the moment and bands like Black Flag, Butthole Surfers, Minutemen just chucked themselves in a van and lived on the road. I’m not sure you get that anymore.
No, you definitely don’t. We’ve seen it as we’re on the road constantly. The weird thing is that all these kids from public schools in bands... I’m sure all their mates are A&R guys – they’re just signing their mates. It’s really weird. Like, I say it doesn’t preclude you from making great music if you come from a privileged background, but so far the evidence is that these people are not giving their soul to it in the same way people have done in the past.
Do you think it’s because bands don’t need to build up a fanbase by playing live as much as they did in the past thanks to the internet?
I actually think you do. I think you can do it online and sometimes that works, but a lot of the time it doesn’t last as long.
Like the way bands get signed now, like Kindness who only played one gig at a warehouse party, but in return has received a ridiculous amount of coverage.
That’s coverage that doesn’t actually mean anyone’s giving a fuck - that’s just media exposure. You don’t know whether people are going to actually relate to that music or take it to heart.
I still think, and this is a really traditionalist view, but I still believe there is no substitute for touring. You can make yourself look really cool, you can make a great sounding record and you can do a lot of things online but you can see if a band’s for real or not when you watch them play - you can’t fake that. You can fake it in Pro Tools by fixing every tuning mistake, every timing mistake, you can make it basically sound how you want on a laptop, you can present your image however the hell you on want on the internet, but you put two people on-stage and see how they play together and you can tell and I think the public can tell if a band is bullshit or not.
Do you think it really comes down to authenticity for you?
Yeah, I’m totally traditionalist like that. I think rock n roll is authenticity…I’m really aware that there is a flaw in that, but there’s something to it. You can tell when someone really fucking believes in what they’re doing.
Major labels would have you believe that the public are stupid and will buy what they’re advertising or what the radio tells them to buy, but it’s bullshit! People aren’t that stupid, people can tell. The public have more power than ever to make the decision by hearing things and not listening to the radio or not listening to anything, because you can dictate what you listen to by going on the internet or you can go see a band and decide for yourself and that’s cool.
Speaking of the net, you obviously got in a bit of a row on Twitter recently [Steve was quoted as saying “You Me At Six are terrible” leading to the band trending on Twitter]
Me and my big mouth [laughs]. Yeah, I had three hours of being a Twitter villain and that was really fun. The only thing that really bothered me about that was that people thought it was something to do with the build-up to our album; no-one interviews me unless we’ve got an album, so the only time I shout my mouth off in public is when we’ve got an album. I’ve been shouting my mouth off about bands since fucking forever and that time I picked a bad target because they have a lot of fans haven’t they?
Yeah, their main fan-base is teenage girls - the most mobilised
You know what? Those guys are really brutal on Twitter they were like, ‘I hope you die of AIDS, you scumbags’.
The time when this happened I was in the studio and we were producing a band called 1984, as we’ve learned so much about recording that we actually started to help produce a record by our friend’s band. Laura called me and was like, ‘what have you fucking done?’. I just laughed, like ‘is this serious?’ Then I saw our name was in there and every so often while I was in the studio I’d stop and go, ‘shall we have a look what people have said?’ I didn’t take very seriously. Being told that ‘I hope that you die of AIDS’ - I thought that was pretty good. Come on, do you like a band that much that you think that someone who doesn’t like them should die of AIDS?
Do you still stand-by everything you said?
In that specific interview?
As in the Gigwise interview?
Gigwise changed it to me saying, ‘You Me At Six are terrible’, which I did not say if you watch the interview. I made a coherent point…
To be fair, in one of the articles you wrote for Drowned In Sound earlier this year ( Hard Times for Guitar Music? by Steven from Blood Red Shoes ) you actually mentioned both those bands and no-one noticed.
No-one went fucking crazy about that, did they? Whatever, man. I say what I think. The fact that it caused so much fuss for those three hours proves exactly my point that bands don’t say what they think anymore. People are too worried about upsetting someone, too worried about being out of line. There’s a deep-seated conformity in a lot of guitar music at the moment and it’s really strange. Like you can’t imagine Vampire Weekend causing some ruckus can you? They’re a load of nice guys that should’ve been accountants, really. That is my problem with music - it’s so safe there’s absolutely no danger, there are no fights.
I think bands are more aware of marketing themselves and knowing not to be offensive, so that they don’t alienate their audience.
People really want to be liked. I want people to really like our music, but you’re going to piss some people off. Isn’t that a good thing? Even if it’s a bit stupid, like this whole thing that got put on Twitter, it’s just a silly little drama but it’s more interesting than bands all sitting around going, ‘everything’s alright, we’re alright’. Well, yeah you’re alright as you’re a load of fucking rich kids who got a record deal really easily and you’ve had a nice soft ride and made your nice soft music and you don’t ruffle any feathers – it’s boring if nothing else.
There is a lot of music at the moment that’s quite sanitized and doesn’t really say anything. Do you think they’ll be a backlash? Like, something’s got to give?
Like a punk rock explosion? I’ve been feeling like that for the last six years and I haven’t seen anyone actually really do it.
How would you want the music industry to be in an ideal world?
I am, generally speaking, an anti-capitalist, so it’s just a microcosmic version of what’s going on in the world at large. The industry exploits its labour force and the labour force in this case is musicians and it also exploits the people that like music and want to pay for it. I’m not entirely sure how really any problems are going to be solved living within a capitalist economic structure - you can have better or worse ways of working.
Major labels are fucked - they have been for ages - because they’re idiots. Within capitalism they’re not even good at being capitalist as they’ve got a terrible business model and they fuck over the people that create for them so badly and they run so inefficiently and sign so many wrong bands that don’t make them any money. It’s like if McDonalds kept making the kind of burger that no-one wanted but insisted on keeping on making new ones that no-one wants. No-one’s gonna buy a Joe Lean, get over it. Yet, somehow it’s survived...just about...but it’s dying as they’ve made bad business decisions.
You wrote another article for Drowned In Sound, Blood Red Shoes: From DIY to 'Professional'. How have you managed to get what you want out of the relationship with your label now you’re ‘professional’?
It’s pretty easy for us to be honest. We have a licensing deal not a record deal, so without being too boring about it, we pay directly to record, we pay the studio, we pay the producer, we pay the mastering guy, we pay the designer who lays out the artwork, everything’s finished and then we deliver it to the label and the label pays for the promotional costs and physically putting it in the shop. That’s it, so it’s a really clean cut, really easy relationship.
Are you involved from beginning to end in as many of the steps as you can be?
Absolutely everything…we pay for everything, so even if they wanted to have a say they couldn’t as they’re not paying for any of the creative part, even the artwork, nothing. We pay for it with the money we’ve earned through touring and then deliver it to them and then we do a profit share at the end; it’s quite a simple relationship.
It’s better than getting an advance of a major where from the start you owe them money and then they have a say; even if your contract says you have creative control you don’t if they’re paying the fucking bill, because they cannot pay that bill whenever they want so where’s your freedom now because you don’t have a studio to record in?
If you were in a new band now how would you approach it?
If I was in a new band now I would just get on the road and play and get good and use the internet to your advantage and would probably consider not have a record label at all or finding some distribution. The hard thing is the gap between your music and whether the public can find out about it. It’s the distribution and the media which is inbetween you and your potential audience and getting through that gap so people can make a decision on if they love you or not, because not many bands get to that level of exposure where people can fucking decide. The internet’s good, but it’s so full of stuff it’s difficult to navigate – it’s like being in a sweet shop that’s got every sweet, where do you start?
The internet has opened a lot of doors for new music, but I feel it doesn’t make you appreciate music as much as it leads to an ADHD way of listening where it’s quantity over quality...
It’s very short term; it’s content overload. I think unfortunately people need filters…probably music journalism when it was really in a high-point in the seventies where it was criticism and it was like art appreciation about rock n roll and those people actually had a vague responsibility to the public to go, ‘this is quality music, it’s worth you listening to’ and they were the filter. It actually served some purpose as people can’t listen to everything… The public, me included, you included, nobody can listen to everything. Like you can never read every book - something has to be inbetween the overwhelming amount of music out there and the people on the other end to at least filter down what they might be interested in.
What I like about writing for DiS is that there’s more in-depth and considered content rather than other sites where the focus is on having lots of new, and not necessarily quality, content for the sole purpose of getting more hits.
You can tell. I haven’t read that many of our album reviews, I read the first five we got and then I got bored after that, but the Drowned In Sound one you can immediately tell by the way it was written, and I’m not just saying this as it’s a good review, that the person’s listened to the record several times and thought about it and thought about it in the context of our band and the history of our records. I’ve read other reviews which sound like they didn’t even listen to the whole fucking record that sounds like they probably listened to the first couple of songs, skipped to hear some of the others, and then just threw it together.
When I interviewed School Of Seven Bells they weirdly thanked me for listening to all of their record as I was asking them about the track order and it’s like, ‘I’m interviewing you, I’m going to listen to the record’.
You’d be amazed how few people do that, especially in England. The worst journalists I have met without fail are all in England. I’ve gone and done interviews in Japan where people are using their second language to interview me and it’s still more intelligent than half the shit I’ve done... I think something’s happened since Vice magazine where it’s become really ‘in’ to be cutting and really sarcastic and ironic and sort of abstract on purpose, referencing pointless shit to sound clever - it’s not about music.
It’s the culture of the internet as a whole it doesn’t encourage people to be nice about things it actually makes people more snidey and makes people want to outdo each other.
It’s machismo. Unfortunately, sometimes I find it really funny. If someone does it really well, it is really funny to watch someone get really nailed on a view. On a flip-side of that, what journalism should be there to really do is to recommend things, a way of sharing, there should be that filter and the journalist should have some kind of responsibility to the public to say, ‘this is worth paying attention to’. Not to do it to be the coolest dude in Dalston just because he can slag something off in the cleverest way. What’s the worth in that? Nothing.
Is there anyone’s career as a band you admire?
Loads of people. Biffy Clyro, PJ Harvey are like our band’s favourite artists …Radiohead are the only band that can play that big where they don’t suck. Who else is there that’s that massive? Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the Foo Fighters aren’t that great. Muse - there was something about their early stuff that I liked.
Queens Of The Stone Age are one of those bands where they’ve got less commercial, but everyone’s heard of them. The most recent album they made, Era Vulgaris, is probably my favourite and it’s pretty weird, it’s not got any hits on it. They’re not fucking around, they’re not scared to take any risks and make people come to them on their terms.
They’ve been really successful and they’ve achieved that thing that I really crave, which is to get through to a wider-audience and fuck with them a bit.
Read Part One of the interview here.