Made up of Steven Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter, Blood Red Shoes formed in Brighton ten years ago, from the ashes of their respective bands; Cat on Form, who released two albums of hardcore punk music on Southern Records, and Lady Muck. Coming from the DIY scene, they organised a jam one day and within a few weeks had written some songs and organised a gig, such is the chemistry that immediately sparked into life. Hard working and with an unrivalled enthusiasm for music, their loud and energetic music is a mix of punk, post-punk and underground american rock and hardcore, drawing inspirations from the likes of Nirvana, Queen of the Stone Age, Fugazi and Sonic Youth. They've released four albums, toured the world many times over and continue to win new fans with their lively stage shows and down-to-earth personas.
On a rare break, the Horsham raised Stephen is 'relaxing' in Brighton, catching up with friends, and looking forward to their last show of the year, as part of Drill:Brighton.
"Well, we finished about ten days ago, ten days break," he laughs. "I don't really like taking a break, we spend so much time in studios, or on the road, when we're not doing that I don't really know what to do with myself. I know it's good for you, good for your mental health, but it's a very abrupt change of pace, from having something to do every day, being in a different place, then suddenly, 'what am I doing today'. Nothing!
How did you end up in Brighton?
"Same thing as most people, I wanted to be in a band! In Horsham, you say you want to be in a rock'n'roll band and they laugh, and tell you to get a real job. Then you come to Brighton and you say you want to be in a rock'n'roll band and they say: 'Yeah, so do I'. It seemed the obvious place to go; all the record shops, all the bands touring. As soon as I did my A levels I moved here.
"I really like it here. There's something about the town which is transitory, it feels like its always got an influx of new people, but somehow it does pretty much feel the same as it always does. I think if I lived here all the time I would get restless, because it is quite small… But coming back it feels like home. And it's really easy to get around and see my friends. My band mate (Laura-Mary), as soon as she gets home to London she has to spend 40 minutes on a tube just to see friends. I'm very grateful I don't have to do that," he laughs. "She grew up in London. When we started the band I was living here and she was in London, but to get things going she moved down here for a few years. And when the band got going, she moved back to London. We could afford to. She's been there the last four years. She finds Brighton very small…
"My first ever band was started in Horsham and then we moved down here and it was through that I met the Cat on Form guys and I met Laura. She was in a band called Lady Muck. I saw them a few times. They played the same DIY scene as Cat on Form. They played shows in the South of England and that was it. I became friends with their bass player, and then at some point Laura said to me that sometime we should have a jam. And the day Cat on Form broke up, she emailed me to say when are we going to have that jam. And we became Blood Red Shoes almost immediately."
Do you recall that first jam?
"I remember the first jam really well, which is rare because I forget almost everything! She came down from London and I met her at the train station. We had a rehearsal space that was Cat on Form's rehearsal room, and she was really shocked because I was playing guitar in Cat on Form, and I had decided that I wanted to play drums now. 'I'm bored of guitar'. She was expecting that we would play with two guitars, maybe write some songs and jam. I said, 'no, I'm not fucking playing guitar anymore, I'm playing drums'. And she said, 'can you play drums'? I said 'not really, but I'm sure it'll be alright'. She was really surprised," he laughs. "But immediately we started playing we wrote songs. The first single we ever released was a song called 'Victory For The Magpie', and that song we wrote in our first ever jam. Laura came up with that. Magpies come out of nowhere, pick up something shiny, and then disappear – victory for the magpie! It was really bizarre, we didn't know each other as friends, we just knew each other from the music scene. We hadn't hung out. But we started writing songs. We were both surprised, we hadn't experienced that before. We immediately spoke the same language, which is why we just ran with it. We booked a gig two weeks after that rehearsal, and just got on with it. And we're still here ten years later."
You have a strong affinity with punk, is that right?
"We grew up in the DIY scene, which is where we cut our teeth. When we say punk rock, we have its spirit; we're very strong willed, we like to do things our own way, we don't like to wait for anyone else to be excited or wait for anyone's permission. We'll just fucking do it. And I think that punk rock ethos, that sense of you doing everything under your own steam, is something that will stay with us."
This DIY approach seems to be extending to setting up a record label…
"We have started our own label (Jazz Life), to put out our records and other people's records, of other bands we like. The first thing we are releasing is Tigercub's single ('Centrefold'), which comes out next week. We thought we would start off by releasing something from a Brighton band. We're keeping our eyes peeled for other bands, but we don't just want to release records, we're interested in releasing photobooks and spoken word recordings. It's quite a fluid thing, we just want to release anything we like or want to support when we have the time to do it. Now that we've been around long enough we have the resources, we have the connections, to make sure it gets to all the right places, to make a decent job of the label. It was more work than we thought," Steven laughs, "but we don't have to take care of the nuts and bolts, the manufacturing, the distribution…"
So, you're going out seeing other bands?
"Now that we have some time off I've been going out to see as many gigs as I can. I want to see 2:54 last night (at The Hope), I'm going to see Pulled Apart By Horses tonight (Pulled Apart by Horses and Blood Red Shoes released a joint single last year, where they covered a song from each others catalogue), Lower Slaughter tomorrow night at The Albert. You get the picture… Basically, when we finish touring, we're hungry for more music… For me, all I ever wanted to do was music every day and I still pretty much feel like that. It's rare to have a day off from music. I love going to see bands, I love being in studios, never got bored of it, and I miss it when I don't do it. So, I might be knackered from touring, and stay at home for a day, watch Breaking Bad, drink some tea, but then I want to see something. There's nothing more inspiring as a musician than to see someone else absolutely fucking nail it. I walk out the room, and feel 'right, I need to get going'. It keeps the fire burning."
You also recorded the last album yourselves…
"We did everything except mix it. It was a risk, it doubled our work load, because we didn't have somebody else helping with everything, taking care of all the producing and engineering side. But it was enjoyable, I really liked it. I don't think we'll do it like that again – we'll do something different – but it felt like the right time to do that and we're really pleased with the results. I think it's our best record and our best songs. And, we learned a hell of a lot, throwing yourselves into that without anyone else. 'Did this sound right, or sound wrong'? Putting all that responsibility on ourselves, where you have to make those decisions. It was a real steep learning curve. Before we would have a producer, and whatever they said we would tend to agree with, because we felt they could hear it more like the audience would hear it. It's a really good exercise, I think every band should, at some point, self-produce.
"Over the years we've been buying bits and bobs of recording gear that we liked the look of, and things we've liked in the studio, so we had quite a lot of gear already. We moved to Berlin for six months last year, re-located there, and took most of the stuff over and pieced it together in a studio, and bought a few extra bits. We basically built our own mobile recording rig in a big empty concrete space."
What did you make of Berlin?
"Berlin would be a place I would move to if I wasn't living in Brighton. There's a lot of things about it that remind me of Brighton: It's freer, it's very left-leaning, there's more to do than a 9-5 job, and there's a really strong artistic community. And it's very connected, everyone's really connected with everyone else, which reminds me of Brighton. I find Brighton people, compared to other cities in England, really supportive of each other. I don't really know what it's like in other countries, although I hear from other bands in the US that things aren't very supportive there. People in Brighton tend to be pleased about other bands success, whereas in London people can be quite jealous, or suspicious or competitive.
How do your songs appear?
"It has evolved a lot but still our default setting is to get in a room and start with zero and start jamming. That's still the basis for most of the songs that we write. We'll go in with no preconceived ideas, and then if things happen, they happen. And if they don't, then we might take a break and start again. Sometimes, we'll sit down with two guitars and write or go onto the piano or I will write and record a drumbeat and email it to Laura and see if she comes up with something to go over it. Recently, I've been trying to come up with vocal melodies and try and work the other parts around that. We also record a lot of things we jam and go back to see if there was anything good there. And we also fuck around more; we'll take a jam, put it on computer, maybe take the guitar riff and play it backwards and then re-learn it. Just screw things up a bit to see if it inspires you differently to what you would normally have done."
Is it important to write with playing live in mind?
"I’m more brutal about that than Laura. I think Laura is more concerned about that, probably because she has to do it on guitar, about how she'll be able to perform it live, generating lots of layers using just the one guitar. But I'm actually quite bloody-minded about that, I don't really fucking care. It you want to make something great, don't worry about how you'll play it until later. Early on, we wanted to make something that worked live, but now I don't really care. You can do things live that you can't do on a record, and vice versa. It would be boring if I saw a band who sounded exactly like they did on record."
How did you get involved with Drill:Brighton
"Basically, they asked us quite late in the day, and we weren't really sure. But then we decided it would be quite a nice way to end our year, to come back and play a really cool festival in Brighton. So, we said to them 'yeah, we'll play, but we want to play a really small room, play with a couple of bands who are friends of ours'. Small room, Friday night, make it a party! We're playing Bleach which is the smallest room we've played in Brighton for a long time. It'll be an intimate show, and we'll play all our fast songs! When we saw the line up announced we would have been going to it anyway!"
What are you plans for next year, 2015?
"On the face of it you'll probably hear very little from us. We've done a lot of touring, we released an album this year. We're writing more songs, figuring out what we want to do next, how we want to do the next album, even if we want to do another album, because the thing we talk about is about the album format, which is getting out-dated now. You don't necessarily need to release an album to move your band forward. We talk about releasing songs, speeding up the turnaround time. Next year we'll be working on new music.
How do you and Laura manage to keep Blood Red Shoes going? What's your secret!?
People ask us this a lot. I don't think there is a secret. In many ways we are just phenomenally lucky, we haven't killed each other yet. When we go and jam or write a song and it just comes out and works, it feels exactly the same as that first band practice. There's some chemistry, some magic that happens and it's still there. When it really works it doesn't feel like you're writing, it feels like something fell out of the sky and we just caught it. It happens, it's very unconscious, and it almost feels like you're not in charge of it, and that feeling happens all the time when we write. For whatever reason, that chemistry still exists. I don't know what it is, I don't particularly want to understand why, because I know it does, and I trust it. If we fall out on tour, which we do, or we disagree about what songs should go on an album, or whatever we might not see eye to eye on, the fact is when we come to write we have something that we don't get with other people. For as long as that's there we will be able to carry on. You're spitting in the face of it, if you don't! One thing Laura and I are not scared to do is communicate with each other. With a lot of bands there'll be a Noel Gallagher, with four or five other people. It's kind of like their band, someone who writes more songs, takes more money or has more of a say in things. Whereas, this is the most democratic thing you could have; two people with an equal voice. At no point do you feel like you're being pushed around by anybody. That must help.