Blood Red Shoes Discuss Ambitious Third Album, U.S. Tour – Exclusive Interview
On their first two albums, the U.K. duo Blood Red Shoes kept it simple, bashing out punky rock tunes that justified a rather literal boot-to-arse interpretation of their name. With their latest, 'In Time to Voices,' released earlier this year, they still kick plenty of butt -- only this time, guitarist Laura-Mary Carter and drummer Steven Ansell unleash their angst with more delicacy and pop sheen.
While Carter and Ansell often sound primed for the arena circuit -- check out the heavy-duty moodiness of 'Cold' -- tracks like 'Two Dead Minutes' benefit from an almost xx-like minimalism.
Formed in 2004, Blood Red Shoes have played to festival crowds throughout Europe, but despite their winning combination of hooks and looks -- they're every bit as photogenic as their counterparts in the similarly equipped Kills -- they've yet to break through in America. Chatting with Diffuser.fm on the eve of a U.S. tour, Ansell discussed the making of their ambitious new record. He also weighed in on the prevalence of two-piece rock bands, the mystery of lyrics and the genius of Fleetwood Mac.
You're in Brighton. Everything I know about that city is based on the Who's 'Quadrophenia,' which I'm a huge fan of. It's probably not like that any more, though, with mods and rockers fighting in the streets ...
No, there’s no fighting, but every so often, they’ll be a bank holiday weekend, where those people will come down on their scooters. Those people still remember it pretty well. They don’t fight, but they like the culture of it, the music, and they’ll come down and hang out. It’s become the friendly version of people who appreciate the film and the style.
You're gearing up for some U.S. dates. How many times have you toured here?
We came over once almost two years ago.
Is breaking through in America still a major goal?
It sounds impressive to your parents when you say you’re going to the States, but for us, it’s more like we want to play everywhere. I feel like we’ve only just gotten started. There are a lot of countries where we’ve played a hell of a lot of tours, and there are certain countries we haven’t been to. We mad a conscious decision on this album that we want to dedicate some time to countries where we haven’t been, and America is pretty high on the list.
They’re important to us partly because we want to go and get through to all the people that probably haven’t heard us and don’t know who the f--- we are. I think the best way to spread your music is by touring, not by getting a record label to promote you or convince people in the media. It’s always good to get out and play, go to people’s towns, play music in their face, and then they can decide whether they’re into it or not.
It certainly helps when you're touring behind a strong album. Going into 'In Time to Voices,' did you have that do-or-die mentality bands sometimes get before making their third albums? These are opportunities to make big artistic statements. I'm thinking of the Clash and 'London Calling' -- records like that.
I don’t think we were under the illusion this was going to be a grand statement or some big thing. This wasn’t going to be ‘OK Computer,’ where everyone goes, “Holy f---!” We never consider ourselves that kind of band. We still consider ourselves a couple little kids that somehow still get away with being a band. That being said, with this record, we did have a really concerted effort, where we were like, “We really need to stretch ourselves. We need to do some stuff different than we did before. We need to show people, before maybe it’s too late, that we’re not just a one-trick pony. We’re not a band that just does really fast punk rock songs that we superglue melodies onto. We’re actually capable of writing other kinds of stuff."
Both you and Laura-Mary have talked about the influence of Fleetwood Mac on this album. A lot of people have been talking them up recently. Did you see that new tribute album -- the one with Best Coast and a bunch of other indie bands?
I heard about it, actually. The first thing I thought was, “Why the f--- didn’t they ask us?” [Laughs] And the Kills got to do ‘Dreams.’ We know the guys in the Kills pretty well. We were like, “No s---! They got to do that.” We were really jealous.
That's the song you would have picked?
I don’t know. I would have loved to but we would have been scared, because it’s so fucking good. How the hell do you even begin to cover a song like that? I think I would have liked to do ‘The Chain,’ actually. The Blood Red Shoes version could have been something cool.
You'd have needed to get some bass on there. It's got that awesome bass part.
Yeah, we could have got a friend to jam with us. Or reconfigured it for guitar, which would have been why it’s an interesting Blood Red Shoes version.
That leads to my next question. If you want, say, bass on a track, you need to bring someone else in, since you're a two-piece. Over the last decade, the duo has become far more prevalent in rock music than it's been in years. Why do you think that is?
I’m interested, too. I only really know the reason we’re a duo, and it was a complete accident. We never wanted to be a duo. For ages, we were on the lookout. We started a band, we wrote some songs and we started playing live on the basis we’d eventually find people at the shows to play extra guitar, to play bass guitar and to make a full standard-format rock band. And we never got to the point where we found the right people. It got so far we felt like we’d developed a chemistry and intuition to work together in a certain way. We didn’t want to bring anyone else into it. So we just carried on.
There are certain things that are a lot easier when it’s two people. I was in a band before that was four people, and making decisions is a lot harder. You’re also competing for space when you have more melodic instruments. There’s something about a two-piece—especially the lineup we have. I’ve got the drums, Laura has the guitar and neither of us is competing at any point for space in the music. There aren’t two guitars trying to figure out how to get around each other. You have freedom as an instrumentalist, and that’s healthy.
Are the two of you still able to surprise each other?
Yeah, definitely -- more so on this record than anything we’ve done before. We spent more time, and we experimented more and allowed ourselves the freedom to do a lot of things that we ended up writing and getting rid of. We tried lots of stuff we normally wouldn’t try, and some of it was like, ‘We’re not gonna do that.’ We broke down some of the parameters of what we would and wouldn’t be and tested our limits and went, “Is this cool? Is this lame, or is this OK?”
If you’d have told me we were gonna put a couple of songs that are primarily acoustic on this record two years ago, I would have said, “F--- off.” But we took a couple of songs, and Laura said, “I’m going to play this on the acoustic guitar instead and see what it sounds like,” and we went, “F---, it sounds better. I never saw that coming.”
You've said that you both contribute lyrics to the songs. Who, if either of you, do they end up being about? Or are they fictional?
It’s definitely not fictional. This was never a decision we made. It’s the only thing that seems very natural to us. We don’t sing in character or sing ballads – and I don’t mean that in the sense of a slow song, but you know, the story of a person that isn’t yourself. We never write in that way. It tends to be about ourselves, or just us looking around at the world. A lot of the time, we’re not entirely sure what it’s about, but we have a sense of when the lyrics fit the song and they feel right. They’re a bit of a mystery, and you have to trust your instincts of what feels right in the song. Often, I find I don’t really know what my lyrics are about until a year after I’ve written them, and I’ve got some distance, and I can see what the f--- I was writing about.
I read that 'Lost Kids' is about both the 2011 London riots and a period where you and Laura weren't getting along.
Lyrically, that’s one of the clearest songs on the record. It was a very conscious idea to write it like that. It was the only time on the record we’d written any lyrics like that.
In keeping with the political themes, 'Silence and the Drones' seems like it could be about a soldier returning from war.
That’s interesting. Lot of different people have really different interpretations about that song. Weirdly, they all kind of make sense, even though they’re really different. Laura wrote all the words for that song. She wrote them in a really short space of time. Sometimes, lyrics are really hard, and you have to keep piecing them together until the fall into place. That song, we wrote all the music, and we threw up the mics, and she started improvising. It pretty much just came out like that. I was like, “Wow, I really like your lyrics,” and she was like, “I don’t know where they came from.” It just kind of happened ... Someone else told me they think it’s referring to a story of abuse, like a child that’s been abused. There are a few things, but the feelings are the same, even though the story is different. Which is kind of the job of music, isn’t it? To talk about feelings you can’t put in words properly.
Do you guys ask each other what specific lyrics are about, or would you almost rather not know?
We used to ask more. We used to say, “What’s this bit about?” We do that less now. As our band goes on, we operate more and more unconsciously and more unthinkingly and more instinctively. We don’t talk about a lot. We just feel our way through. Because we’ve been playing music for nearly eight years now , we’ve spent so much time together. We’re so tuned into each other. You just know stuff after a while. I don’t feel the need to ask. I'll challenge her if I feel the words are wrong. I’ll say, “I’m not sure these are right for the song,” and she’ll do the same to me, but we tend to both agree when they’re right and they seem appropriate for the song, even if we don’t tend to explain clearly to each other what they’re about.
Actually, trying to keep it not too cerebral to me is quite important. I think it can become scientific if you’re really analytical about it and you think too much. You can really over-think music. It should come from the gut, and you should trust your feelings, because they’re usually right.
Whatever you first put down on paper, you should go with, right?
A lot of times, you go through five revisions of what you do, and then you go back to the first thing you did anyway.
Anything you're really looking forward to doing on this U.S. tour?
We just want to play, really. We’re going to some places we didn’t on the last tour, which is really cool. We have a couple of special-occasion shows. The D.C. show is eight years to the day of the first-ever show we did in England, where we played three songs. And the show in San Francisco is actually on my birthday. We have two birthdays on this tour, which is pretty cool. But really, we’re just looking forward to playing and getting around and meeting people and playing some rock ‘n’ roll music for them and seeing what they make of it.
Watch Blood Red Shoes' Video for 'In Time to Voices'