In Conversation With Blood Red Shoes: “We can’t assume that people still care”

Blood Red Shoes’ fifth record has been a long time coming. The Brighton duo used to be relatively prolific with their output until a self-imposed hiatus put a halt to proceedings a few years ago. Now they’re back with Get Tragic, the critically acclaimed fifth offering from Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell. It’s yet again a leap in a different direction for the duo, incorporating new musical and thematic elements whilst also opting for a different production style. Sébastien Gamez sat down with drummer Steven to chat about their progression as a band, the hiatus, the current tour and Blood Red Shoes’ new direction.

Hey Steven, how are you doing? Just arrived here from Berlin if I recall correctly?
Yeah, it’s been a long drive, but we’re here and ready to play in Holland.

So how’s the tour been so far?
Yeah it’s been amazing so far!

Has there been a good response to the new album?
Yeah. It’s been really good, and I think we needed it to be good because it was so difficult to make. We’ve been away for so long. We deliberately came back and did smaller shows first because we needed to step things back up, we can’t assume that people still care. In a way we kind of needed to start like a new band. The shows have been really cool and people have been really supportive of the new album, and it’s been exactly what we needed.

It’s been around 5 or 6 years since the self-titled record, right?
It was 2014 indeed, which was also the year we finished touring. For us it felt like such a long time, which is crazy because we’ve never left it that long. It’s really strange for us.

Then why did you go for that “break”, or “unofficial hiatus”?
Ultimately, it was a lot of different things. Our [personal] problems just sort of snowballed. Firstly, I think we were just exhausted. We hadn’t really stopped since about 2006 or 2007 and we didn’t take any breaks or time off from each other. We didn’t take any breaks from the cycle of writing, releasing and touring. It got to a point where we both got into our 30’s and we had a bit of an identity crisis as a band. When we started the band we didn’t really have any expectations, we didn’t say, “we’re going to keep this project going for life”. We just made some music and it got to this moment where we decided to keep going with it. Then we got to a point where we thought, “do we want to this for the rest of our lives? Do we want to still be a band?” We weren’t really friends at this point; we were actually really fighting a lot. We just decided we needed to stop, as we didn’t want to force ourselves into bringing this record out on a specific schedule. We wanted it to be fully ready, and that required us to take some time off from each other. We just needed some time be ourselves and not just be Blood Red Shoes. To be a human being and have your own personal life and experiences. We also made a series of bad decisions which we had to move away from and rethink; some management changes, a court case coming at us from a label claiming the rights on our new album [Get Tragic], Laura being involved in a motorbike accident which broke her arm, all of which slowed down the writing process. There was a lot of chaos and the break was necessary for us to come back to our fullest potential with this latest record.

So is Get Tragic also a self-released, self-produced record?
I’m always worried about saying that, because it’s not exactly true. With the last record we were under contract to PIAS, and what they did was set up [our label] Jazz Life as a subsidiary. So in a sense it used the machinery, tools and staff of a label, but for Get Tragic we didn’t do that at all. We literally set it up ourselves. This project is very much self-released, as we don’t have office staff working on the aspects that come with releasing an album. We’ve got promotional teams in various countries, but that’s about it. No office – we do it.

All of your records present a new façade or aspect of Blood Red Shoes over the years. This particular album, I felt, focussed on slick production, different arrangements and new instruments. How did the writing process for an album of this magnitude pan out?
It’s been really up and down actually. The fourth album [self-titled] was actually really easy. We went to Berlin and rented a place where we just jammed out until it was finished. It was really comfortable and easy. We were determined to reinvent and change what we do, which was hard. Sometimes you change something for the sake of changing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. It’s a bit like going to a shop and trying on different clothes just because it’s not what you normally wear. You’ll always end up looking good. Sometimes you look like an idiot, though, and so it took a lot of time for us to figure out what fitted and what felt truthful and honest. Not just “let’s put some electronics on a rock song.” It was difficult, definitely up and down. One good thing about us taking that break and not doing lots of band related stuff for a while was that we both experienced different things for the first time. Whereas before we were side by side maybe 250 days a year, maybe more. Laura went to California and went on the road with a motorbike while I stayed in the UK and listened to lots of dance music and went clubbing. Therefore we both came back with lots of different musical ideas and things we’ve experienced. For the first time ever we both had real musical differences in what we wanted to do. In the end that became quite healthy for the band because we had new directions to pull it towards. It was a much longer process, but I’m really glad it was.

One thing I want to mention was the OOR review for Get Tragic, which was quite negative and blunt. You also responded to it in a tweet. This begs the question, how much do critics and their reviews influence the way in which you do things. And how much attention do you pay to these opinions?
So many of my Dutch friends saw that review and sent it to us. I didn’t even read it fully myself, but the first line was automatically translated and it said something about us “hiring a pop academy who wrote the songs and not being very good at it.” I just thought that was hilarious to read; OOR totally missed the point. Honestly, I’ve only read two reviews of our Get Tragic, Laura reads way more than I do. I used to read a lot, but it tended to piss me off, so I made a rule to just stop reading them. Sometimes, however, you do get tempted when you see them. Here’s the thing, though; you know when you go on YouTube and, say, you put on a video of something? There’ll be 99 people saying “this is awesome”, but there will also be that one person saying, “this is really shit, this sucks.” That’s the one that will stick with you, so just don’t give yourself the chance. Don’t look, because that one will always get to you. That’s why I just don’t read reviews, as there’ll always be something that really pisses me off and I’ll start becoming conscious about it. You’re telling me someone who’s written a review has put as much time and consideration into writing and listening to what we’ve made as what we’ve put into making it? Reviews are only really useful to make people know you’ve go a record out and to make them discover new stuff they potentially haven’t listened to, but that’s about it.

(c) Jade Hill
(c) Jade Hill

If you could pick one band to tour with, any band, any genre, which band would it be, and why?
Right now? Nine Inch Nails, no doubt. I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan and I would just love to be able to get not only the band’s music, but their entire show and performance every night touring with them. Every time you see them it’s an experience, isn’t it? So having the possibility to experience that many shows would be amazing. All of your senses are taken over by their light show, the staging and everything they do. Hopefully Trent Reznor reads this and asks us to support them!

Is there a particular track on the new album which really stood out to you personally, or to both of you [Laura & Steven]? And is it down to the writing process, its meaning, or is it just sonically or musically interesting?
Probably Elijah, the last cut on the project, was quite interesting to write. It started during a soundcheck in Brussels right at the end of the last tour we did [in 2014], and it started as a jam. We completely changed most elements, but the main riff and beat is still there. I remember Laura creating this huge guitar sound. Usually we write pretty fast songs, but we instinctively did this one way slower and I remember the moment where we looked at each other thinking, “this is fucking cool.” That’s the oldest song on the record. We actually didn’t do anything with it for like a year, but when the main riff started we both thought it had great potential.

A lot of songs and lyrics on this album, for example Anxiety, Eye To Eye or even Vertigo, convey this idea that you guys are not quite on the same line. It gives a sense of the band being in a tough emotional place. Is this an overarching theme on the album?
I don’t think we consciously tried to convey a specific thing, We just wanted to be really honest. We went through a lot more to make this record; problems with each other, problems outside of that in our personal lives, and then we also had people who were creating lots of problems for the band and making life difficult. It was the first time since we started that we’d ran out of money. We spend most of it on lawyers trying to fight court cases so that we could even continue making records, and we just straight up ran out of cash when we just wanted to be really honest on the record. So when I’m singing lyrics, “I feel the future slip away from me” on Anxiety, that was exactly what I felt like. But it’s not like there’s one specific overarching theme or narrative to the record, it was just a combination of songs where it was us being really honest. I knew everyone was going to think Eye To Eye was us singing about each other. We deliberately put it first on the tracklist, but it isn’t just about each other. It’s kind of about each other, but also about other people too.

So to end on a fan-submitted question: What is the most memorable moment in the history of Blood Red Shoes?
That’s really impossible to answer. I can’t pick favourites for anything, not even for food. I do remember a really early moment in the band’s lifetime where we first played Reading Festival in the UK, which was like a teen dream for us both. We used to joke around when attending festivals that one day it would be us standing there. The first time we stood there was just after It’s Getting Boring By The Sea came out and we played a stage that at the time felt like the biggest thing ever. The tent only held about 2,000 people at the time, but for us that was still huge. I remember starting the set with It’s Getting Boring By The Sea and everybody knew it, and we’d never experience that. It was 2,000 people just screaming and jumping up and down to it. That was a moment where I thought to myself, “fucking hell, we’re in a real band now.” We felt like the people on stage who we looked up to when we were teenagers. That moment I remember really well. Get Tragic is out now.