After a pretty busy start to the year, we've reached the halfway mark! As with every July, I've started to compile the mental list in my head of all the records I've enjoyed in 2012 thus far, speculating as to who will make it into my now-traditional top albums of the year blog in December.
One of the bands that I'm sure will be making an appearance is Blood Red Shoes. I've been a fan of the duo since their debut Box of Secrets, but it was this year with their third record, In Time To Voices, that they really stepped up the sound. With everything cranked up to 11, it's an all-out rock record that should see them earn the respect they've been steadily building towards all these years.
I caught up with the bands drummer and co-vocalist, Steven Ansell via email, to find out how they feel about being one of rock's best kept secrets, what inspires them to continue, and of course, the story behind THAT famous online spat with You Me At Six...
Hi Steven! You’ve just finished up a UK tour – how did that go? Were there any particular towns that stood out?
Yeah, it was good. I mean, it was part of a long tour across Scandinavia, mainland Europe and UK, so I see it as all part of one big tour. The only difference with the UK tour was that it's very up and down...some places we played to 1000 people and some places 100. Although the 100 people shows often turned out to be the most fun. Anyway, the shows I really enjoyed were Brighton, our hometown show, and both the Scottish dates in Aberdeen and Glasgow were both really fucking good. People go nuts up there and I’m glad we made the drives up that far!
How did you decide to have Cast of Cheers support? Did you get up to any funny escapades with them on tour?
Well Laura-Mary (Carter, BRS guitarist and singer) just saw a video of them on YouTube and showed it to me, we both liked it and we looked up some live footage and thought, these will be cool. So we just asked them.
Are there any other up and coming bands you’d wish to recommend for people to check out?
Yup there's a band from Belgium called Wallace Vanborn who we've been touring with, they're fucking great. Also I recently saw Willis Earl Beal and he's totally mindblowing, like nothing I’ve seen before. Also I’d be an idiot not to tell you about a band from Strasbourg called 1984 who have an album coming out later this year which we produced, they've written some really amazing songs for it.
You recently became a trending topic on twitter following massive outcry from You Me At Six fans after they took offence at Steven’s opinions of the band (Steven labelled them 'careerist' in an interview with gigwise, viewable here.) Do you worry about social media making it so much easier for your words to become twisted?
Nope. I mean it's all just transient chatter isn't it? It’s not real. Real is spending 200 days a year on the road playing music face to face with people.
Personally, I think it’s commendable that you spoke your mind, but do you think it’s a problem nowadays that bands are almost encouraged to be ‘media trained’ and keep quiet about their own opinions?
Yeah it seems to me that bands are quite into self-censorship now. The whole thing I was talking about in the interview that blew up for half a second, was that bands are too safe and too conservative. The fact that my comment stood out so much is testament to that fact, everyone else just has their mouth shut about things like that, it's like everyone's worried about their career too much to cause any trouble. Well fuck that. Me and Pat from The Black Keys are doing our best to change that!
You mentioned in a recent interview with Kerrang! that both you and Laura gave up everything to try and make Blood Red Shoes work, moving away from home and your families. What have been the biggest frustrations along the way? Do you feel like you’ve ‘made it’ yet?
I don't think you ever feel like you've made it...I mean unless you're Lars Ulrich probably. We’re constantly frustrated because we always feel like a bit of an underdog band, we work hard at what we do and sometimes it feels like very slow progress, and it can frustrate the shit out of you watching some new hype band come out of nowhere and suddenly play to ten times your audience. But the thing is, if I look back now, those bands from 4 years ago who did that, aren't around. They never last. So we kinda know in our hearts that the slow road is gonna work out, but you do get a bit keen sometimes. And obviously the other stuff that frustrates me is just having to participate in the music industry generally, which is always a tricky thing for rock n roll bands.
In Time To Voices is a definite step up for you sonically, and has received massive acclaim for its ‘big’ sound. Has this been a natural growth or did you intentionally want to make an arena worthy rock record?
Jesus, I wouldn't say it's arena worthy. Well at least I wouldn't say it's arena-sounding! For us this was the natural thing to do, we always wanted our 3rd album to be a bold statement and a leap forwards, and we allowed ourselves the room to grow and didn't pressure ourselves to achieve something like this straight away. We allowed 3 albums to get here. And it feels good to open up all those possibilities to ourselves so we can keep exploring in the future.
Your latest single ‘Lost Kids’ was written in the wake of the student riots – do you often get lyrical themes from the news or is it just a case of certain things inspiring you randomly?
Student riots? The pictures I saw there weren't many students setting fire to cars or smashing shop fronts. I think that song is quite an exception for us because usually we don't write lyrics very consciously; they're based on intuition and feel usually. But this time we wanted to do something which was relating the weird sense of directionless anger that we could feel in the air around that time.
You have always been a band fiercely in control of your own destiny – designing your own artwork and being very controlling over the recording process of your records – are you never tempted to let anybody into your gang to help alleviate the workload?
We do let people into our gang. I mean Mike Crossey has worked with us for 3 albums. We've been working with a photographer called Anton Coene for years now; he's shot album art, tour shots and filmed a lot for us. We have management which we trust and we've been working with since 2006, they're like our first line of defence against the rest of the music industry machinations. but all that being said, we find it very hard to let people do things without us constantly checking up....it's just who we are. We care a lot about this band. It’s our whole life.
All throughout your career you have had problems with your records leaking before the release date. How do you feel about illegal downloading? Do you think there will ever be a proper solution to it?
Well every record leaks, not just ours. With our 2nd album we chose to stream a song a week ourselves from our website for 10 weeks leading up the release, that way at least people got the music in a context we were in control of. Personally I don't give a fuck about ""illegal" downloading, if I was interested in making money I would be a banker, not a musician. It bothered me when the first album leaked because people were getting it all wrong, they had a 15 track thing which had old recordings, and the order was all fucked up.....so it wasn't even the real record in the order we wanted and the songs we wanted. I’m not really looking for a solution because I don't really consider it a problem. I mean complaining about downloading now is like complaining that the sea is wet.
You were both in separate bands previously before coming together to form Blood Red Shoes. What was it about each other that you found more creatively successful or easier to work with than your previous bandmates?
Well I’m not sure what it is that made a difference with this band compared to our old ones...I mean creatively it's not so different but I think we're both very ambitious. In our old bands we were very much in a punk scene and I think having ambitions outside of those confines was seen as a bit dirty...I think Laura and I wanted to be in a band our whole life, and it be an everyday thing. I think that's made a big difference. I also think we just write well together.
You’ve cited US underground 90’s punk and grunge as your biggest influence, which is seeing some big success at the moment with acts such as Pulled Apart By Horses and Cloud Nothings channelling that spirit both musically and personally. Why do you think grunge has become such an attractive genre again?
I’m not sure it has really, I think maybe underneath the surface it has...probably as a reaction to the superficial 80s-inspired bullshit that's going on so much at the moment, and the way that rock music kinda morphed into a weird over dramatic third-generation version of "emo". Grunge to me represents a time where punk values crept back into big rock sounds; people were more concerned with being real, and not all shiny and perfect. I think imperfection is very important in music.
One of your songs was used on the soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World after the film’s director professed himself to be a fan. Are there any other films you would have liked to have supplied music for?
Yeah loads! We’d love to work with a director like David Lynch or Wim Wenders or Wes Anderson on a movie. We’d love to write instrumental music for films, stuff that's very different to what we usually do...though I think you can hear hints of our more cinematic side on In Time To Voices.
You’ve made it onto the main stage at Reading and Leeds this year, one of the biggest stages of your career. Are you nervous about this show? What can we expect from it?
Yeah it's a pretty big deal for us, that. I’m not nervous about it I’m excited about the possibility of playing to way more people and the challenge of trying to win over all the people who don't know who the fuck we are and will just be around by fluke. We have similar slots in some festivals in Germany, Holland and Belgium so this festival season for us is like a big chance to see if we can convince a whole load of people to get into Blood Red Shoes!
Blood Red Shoes will be touring the UK in October, in support of The Gaslight Anthem. In
Time To Voices is out now on V2 Records.