Blood Red Shoes – Interview 2018

Brighton indie-punk duo Blood Red Shoes have announced the release of their fifth album, Get Tragic, out 25th January on their own label, Jazz Life. Laura-Mary Carter and Stephen Ansell had been pretty much tied to the hip since when they first formed back in 2004. However, by the end of their touring commitments following the release of 2014’s self-titled album, and an aborted attempt at recording new material, the duo had finally run out of track. They were badly in need of a break, from each other, and from the cycle of touring and recording they had committed themselves to over the last decade. However, with their batteries now recharged, they’ve fully embraced the absurdity of their life (hence the title of the new album), are about to release their most eclectic collection yet, and a raring to go, this time with a band behind them. They’ve also got a date lined up as part of Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar’s closing celebrations, 11th December. Laura-Mary tells all to Jeff Hemmings…

Hi! What are you up to?
I’m in a cafe with my dad, in London. I’m from London originally, I only moved to Brighton when Blood Red Shoes were going, and lived there for about four or five years.

I’m sorry for sounding the way I do. As soon as I got back to England I got a cold.

I’ve spoken to Stephen in the past…
He’s the talker in the band.

How did you two meet?
I was the singer with a band called Lady Muck, and he was a guitarist with Cat on Form, who were based in Brighton.

We had met at a gig, and said we should jam. Then, when we did hook up, I thought he would be on the guitar, but he got on the drums! ‘Oh, okay’. And he started singing. ‘Oh, okay!” I thought I’ll be the singer. We had never really spoken about it, that’s just the way it happened.

It wasn’t the plan to be a band, and it wasn’t the plan to be a two-piece either. It just happened.

So, he could play guitar a bit?
He could play a bit, yeah. I couldn’t really play guitar. I had never owned a guitar. I only got my first guitar when we were signed. I just borrowed his for rehearsals. I had been borrowing from friends over the years to teach myself.

So, after four albums and a decade of recording and touring, you decided to have a bit of a break.
For me personally, I had been doing this since I was 19, throughout my entire 20s. It isn’t like normal life, I guess, though I don’t know what normal life is. But Steve and I had been stuck to the hip together, and it’s difficult to have a normal life. It just got to the point where we needed to stop, and try and do other things, to be able to write. It’s the classic thing, we’re just touring, what can I write about?

What did you end up doing?
I decided to go to California, I went on my own, and shut off everything, and do some other things. I knew some people out there, in LA. I wanted to write some music for other people, and ended up staying there. Steve ended up staying in Brighton. We didn’t talk for a while. I needed to find my own voice. Steve is much more outgoing the me, and so a lot of the time he would be the one talking. People thought his opinions were my opinions. Even now I find it really hard. I’m my own person. I have different opinions, and whatever he says is not always what I believe in. I just wanted to figure it out for myself and not have Steve there!

So, yeah, I went to LA, and I still live there.

Wow! I didn’t know that.
I come back a lot.

What were you doing out there then?
I’ve done some writing, with other people. It’s a lot easier out there to do that. I’m always collaborating with other people. It’s fun to do. You get better at what you do. I just winged it.

What’s good about LA, and what’s not so good?
The good stuff is positivity, even if it is just sometimes fake. But still, it’s nice when people are positive. I find people in the UK, if you ask to do stuff or collaborate, it’s ‘yeah, maybe’. Everyone is very competitive here. Over there, in LA, I find people are more open to try stuff. When I want stuff done there, things happen. We did the ‘God Complex’ song there. We literally wrote and recorded in two days, and then I was like, ‘I’m going to make a video’, and asked one of my friends out there. ‘Do you know anyone?’ ‘I’ll do it’. And within a few days we had done it, made a video, with no money. It was fun. That kind of stuff.

And the bad?
I’m originally Irish. You know the dry sense of humour we have, it doesn’t always translate over there. Sometimes when I come back, ‘oh yes, I can talk normally!’

Did you actually split up for a while?
No, we didn’t. But we knew that for us to continue we had to do this, for our personal lives really.

Blood Red Shoes has been active here and there these last few years. You played at last year’s The Great Escape…
We curated the Jazz Life stage, which is our label, at The Great Escape. That was really fun.

So, tell me about the new album, Get Tragic. What’s new?
We wanted to do something new with this album. We were discovering and thinking about how can we change the sound, what do we want to do? We did a lot of experimenting. Steve came out to LA, and we had this garage where we wrote most of the album in, just experimenting.

You broke your arm, though, didn’t you? You couldn’t play guitar!
Yeah! Once we had decided to make this record, lots of things kept going wrong. I broke my arm. ‘Oh great’. I couldn’t play my guitar for quite a while. But you know what? In a way – my arm is still kind of messed up now – I started to sing way more, and I discovered a voice I didn’t know I had. I’ve been working on singing and that’s more interesting to me than playing guitar, which had been always my thing. I was really loving singing. On this album, I sing quite a lot more, and differently to what I have done.

How did you break your arm?
I fell off a motorbike.

You’re back on the bike?
I have been back on a few times, but not as the driver.

It’s dangerous!
It’s fun though.

Where did you make the album?
We made it in LA. One studio in downtown, in Seymour Studios. The rest we made with Chris Thorne from Blind Lemon, who has a cool studio at the back of his house, called Fire Sound. And we did some bits in Brighton, like singing, that we didn’t get to finish, at Brighton Electric, where we have gone since day one.

Where did the name of the album, Get Tragic, come from?
That name came ages ago. I don’t even know who said it, but we didn’t have any other contenders for the name. I think it’s because we did the classic thing: the band doesn’t talk to each other for a while, one of them goes to America. It became a saying, that we would say all the time. It became an in-joke. It seemed fitting.

Tell me about the track ‘Bangsar’, and what it means…
It’s a place in Malaysia. We had played there, and it was about a night we had where this guy basically cornered Steve for hours. He went missing. ‘Where the hell is Steve?’ He was in the corner, and this guy was telling him his whole life story, doing his head in. Steve had only asked him where the next bar was, or something. That literally is what the song is about.

So, what is different about this album, the way you made it?
Most of our albums, we would just jam in a room. Usually, I would write a guitar line. But, we would do a lot of this, and not jamming. We were manipulating stuff via Pro-Tools, cutting things up, changing the structure. It was a learning process. There was a lot more instruments on the album, which we had to learn. And it was like a full band, a totally different thing. I’m so used to having to write a guitar line and fill the sound, and play in a particular way. With this, I didn’t have to do that. It was like, I had to figure out a bassline that would fit in. It was a long process.

The track ‘Find My Own Remorse’ is particularly different.
Yeah, I love that song. One of my favourite guitar moments is on there. I use a lot of different pedals and play lots of different parts. We just kept the demo of that, it was cool. It changed quite a lot. It was more of an acoustic guitar type thing. And then we got our friend Adam, who is Clarence Clarity, he did some of the electronics on it, and it changed how it went.

How will you do it live in that case?
At the moment we’ve been doing it as two-piece, doing a couple of the new songs stripped down. But to do it properly, we have to get people in. We’ve got Adam, and a bass player called Hannah Thurlow, who was in a band called 2:54. They are going to come and help us in the UK. In the States we have a friend called Kate Clover, who does her own music, who plays bass for us out there. It’s going to be a whole new thing. I didn’t realise how exciting it would be to have a band with you. We’re so used to the sound being guitar and drums on stage. Even though it can sound big out front, on stage you can’t tell. But, when there are other instruments behind you, it really excites me. It’s good to do this now. You can get complacent and bored about stuff, but with new people it’s like a whole new band.

Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar is closing down, and you’ll be doing a special show there on 11th December, I understand.
We played there once before, supporting Hot Snakes, who are my favourite band. They were coming over, and we said we would play. I don’t think it was announced. It was really fun. And, I’ve been to some cool shows there. Whenever The Great Escape was on I would go there. It’s a shame to see it go. It is such a good place. It’s going to be a riot.

We’ve decided we are going to play just singles we’ve released over our entire career, and playing some of the new singles, too. Singles night!

What else has Steve been to recently?
He does a lot of recording of bands in Brighton, and doing some sound. He’s really good at producing, that’s his thing. And he plays the more business-y role in Jazz Life Records. I’m like the difficult songwriter, and creative one. He’s also creative, but he’s also business-y.

We’re putting our album out on our label. We’re taking a bit of a break finding new artists, we’ve got a lot on at the moment. But, we’ll look for some new people to put some stuff out with. It’s still a learning process. We’re just doing singles, we’re not quite ready to do an album for someone else. It’s been really cool, helping other bands out. When we first started we were releasing seven inch singles on independent labels, and that really helped us. That’s the idea behind our label, giving people a helping hand.

We do everything. People don’t realise that. We literally do everything. It’s actually a lot of work. We don’t have any management or anything. We’ve been burnt over the years.

Jeff Hemmings