Some of you may have been acquainted with the Brighton duo through their song ‘It’s Getting Boring by the Sea’ – which was featured on the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack – that incidentally is about their annoyance with the island that they originated from. But their decade-long career has spawned four albums – with their latest eponymous record released in 2013 – and a fanbase that’s strewn in many parts of the world. In that extensive span of time, Laura and Steven have developed a secure identity as a band, as JUICE discovered when we spoke to the close-knit band members ahead of their closing performance at Tiger Translate.
The last album was self-titled because the band wholly made it, but we read that there was a lot of self-imposed pressure. You guys have always had a united front, so was it surprising to have a few moments of disagreements?
Steven It wasn’t really surprising. Well, when we’ve been making records, we went to other people or producers and sometimes you’d argue with the producer. This time, we didn’t have one, so we only had each other to kind of figure out everything. Yeah, you can have to kind of work through it yourself, you just kind of have to let it go because there is no one. It wasn’t really that different.
Laura The third one (In Time To Voices) was much harder. I don’t know, we had a real idea of how we wanted to sound and it wasn’t going how we wanted it to be. So, it was quite stressful when you have like a clear image in your mind, it was really frustrating.
Why did you guys decide that it was time to make a defining Blood Red Shoes album at that time? Was it because the band had accumulated 10 years of experience?
L I think it’s because the third one being difficult, we obviously had like a real idea of how [the fourth album] should sound like, so we wanted to make a record that’s just us making it and the mistakes we make would be entirely our own fault.
S It felt almost automatic for us after the third record that that’s what we were gonna do.
L Yeah, to make like a live album that would be fun to play live because there were a lot of songs [before] that were difficult to play, which was stupid. We wanted to make an album that represented who we are and I think it was a mixture of our first album and everything we played along the way. That’s why the fourth one was the defining record and why we named it after us.
You guys talked about writing songs that had pop sensibilities, was it a challenge to implement that sort of writing in the band’s raw, urgent sound?
S No, that’s what we’ve always done.
L Yeah, but it’s hard to write pop songs in general, I think. It’s underrated how hard writing a good pop song is. It’s easy to put loads of noise and make it sound heavy or that kind of sound. I find crafting the song in the beginning is the hardest bit. Mixing the two can be hard for some people.
S Yeah, that’s always what we’ve done and all our songs are really catchy and really pop, but just not make it too easy. You know, it’s pop but it also sounds really aggressive. It’s pop but it sounds really distorted. So, that’s kind of what we’ve been trying to do until now anyway.
Being a band that tours relentlessly, do guys take cue from the fans’ responsiveness to a song and keep that in mind when writing new material? Or do you find that it hinders the natural creative process?
S I think we do, but not consciously. I mean, I don’t think it’s possible to play live as much as we do and [not] have people respond in different ways to different songs – on some level you take that in. We don’t go, “We shouldn’t do this song because the crowd won’t like it.” But as a human being, you absorb that stuff, so it’s in us, we must have a certain idea of what works, even if it’s like kind of in your unconscious mind. It’s in there because we play live so much; you’re constantly reacting to people and people from different countries react differently. We definitely had songs where we went, “I think people in France would really like this one.” Stuff like that. It’s a weird idea.
L Yeah, I think we definitely change our set because of that, which affects what songs we play in places.
S Yeah, when we are writing, we don’t sit there and think about the audience until it’s the track listing of the album. ‘Cos you’re thinking about what you want people to think in what order; up until that point, you just write songs. We’re never thinking about how someone’s going to hear them until the end. But, it must affect you. You can’t be in isolation with your audience.
You guys have always rejected the idea of expanding your two-person dynamic but lately it seems that you guys are open to collaborations such as working with Eoin of Drenge. What led to that change of mindset?
S Yeah, that’s true. That’s exactly true.
L I think it’s more like we’ve been in a band for a really long time now and I think people always expected us to get other people in and that’s a question that we always get asked in every interview, “Have you ever thought of getting other members?” And after a while, it’s annoying because, well, no, you know? This is how our sound is created, which is from [the two of us]. But I think now we’ve made four albums, we don’t have anything to prove and it’s just fun to work with other people and do other things now.
S Yeah, I think it’s just a point where we feel like we’ve done a lot that we wanted to do with the two of us; you feel more open to wanna collaborate and experiment with things when you get used to it. It’s like when you grow up; you go through lots of phases when you are younger and when you finally get comfortable with your own identity, that’s when you can do what you want. Suddenly, you reach this point where you feel quite free, and as a band, we feel we’ve grown up to that point now where we can try out what we want with who we want and it’s still Blood Red Shoes after constantly [reinforcing] this idea that it’s only the two of us who make this certain type of guitar music. You feel pretty free to do what you want.
Seeing that the QR code promo thing was successful, why do you think that the band has translated well internationally?
S We constantly ask that question ourselves as well.
L The only thing that I can think of is because of the lyrics, I do think that some of it is quite universal.
S But then people don’t understand the lyrics. In certain amount of countries, people don’t really know enough English to understand.
L Yeah, it’s true.
Maybe it relates to the band’s personality?
L Maybe. Maybe it has something to do with it.
S Maybe it’s the way we sing, not the things we sing because if people can’t translate it, maybe it’s the way we sing it, people can tell that we mean it?
L And also, we’ve made a conscious effort to not just play in the UK.
Why is that?
Both Because it’d be boring (laughs).
S I don’t understand anybody in life who doesn’t feel like they wanna travel and see things, you know? It’s the same for a band. Just ‘cos we’re from a tiny, stupid little island, it doesn’t mean I wanna stay on it the whole time. I wanna see the world, I wanna play music all over the world. That seems obvious.
L I think some bands can’t play all over the world. We started off just playing in Europe, doing it ourselves and it went from there. We went to Japan a lot but we haven’t gone back in ages because there’s just isn’t a demand to play there for us. But for some reason for us, we get to play everywhere.
S Somehow we get asked to play in loads more countries than most of our friends’ bands in England and we don’t know why (laughs). Yeah, it’s funny because there are some bands in England who are huge and then they go to France – which is so close – and nobody knows them. And yet, there are some bands who just work better in other countries… Maybe we sing in an English accent and not in an American accent…
L …Who knows, basically.
How do you guys decide which one of you takes the lead vocally in a song? Does it depend on the narrative of a particular track or simply depends on who wrote the song?
S Instinct, really. It’s partly who wrote it, it’s partly who sounds best. We just kind of try it out. I don’t think we ever disagreed on that. It’s just quite a natural process for us. We’ve been writing music so long, we just know.
L I think we see it as an instrument, so it’s whether it fits the music or not. We work out parts of the music like an instrument, like you know, we kind of layer up our vocals when we sing together for things to change, whereas like we wouldn’t do that with a bass or the guitar, which makes things interesting.
S Yeah. My favourite thing about our band is that there are two different voices. I feel like when we’ve written the words together and I think we get two different perspectives of the same songs, it’s about the same kind of idea but you’re listening to sort of different versions of the story. I really like that one’s male and one’s female; it’s kind of like you’re telling the truth better because you’re giving two sides of a song, you know, and I really like that. And a lot of my favourite bands have two different singers in it, not just one. Again, that’s not something that we’d constantly do, but it’s part of our identities as two different people, so it has to happen; it would have a different impact. And we can sing in different ways because my voice is a boy’s voice, there are things that [Lauren] can do that I can’t do.
We’ve read that Lauren has recently discovered that she sings better in a lower register, is that true?
S … or really high.
L Yeah, I’m not very good in the middle and a lot of our first album, everything is [sung] in the middle and I’ve figured out over the years that I actually sing better either lower or much higher. It’s just the middle bit that’s really hard (laughs).
S And I figured I can’t really sing anymore because I drink too much (laughs).
The setting up of the band’s record label Jazz Life: Was it first conceived as a way of releasing the album or was it to promote bands that you guys endorse?
L It’s both, really. We wanted to have our own label in our name, our own imprint to put our record out. But at the same time, we are music fans.
S Yeah, we were never like we need to start a label just for ourselves, which was never a consideration. We just started a label and started building our own little world with it, so it was both. But I guess the best way to start a label was to put our own record because we knew everyone would buy that and everyone would hear of the label and we can take the momentum and put out other bands that we discover. So, it’s worked really well actually, hasn’t it? It’s been really nice. It’s really nice to invest your time in promoting other bands you really enjoy other than your own. Like, it’s really enjoyable to stop thinking about yourself for a moment and try to think about trying to help other bands in the world.
You guys made a comment—about five years ago—that bands aren’t making music that provokes people and are lacking in attitude. Currently looking at the music that’s released now, do you guys still have the same opinion?
S Yeah… actually, no. I think music has gotten a little bit better. I mean, certainly we’re based in England and we tend to get a particular slant in what happens in England, but I think that there are a lot of bands here in England that are provocative and would actually stand up and say things. And actually in pop music, there are more pop stars coming out and saying things, certainly saying things about sexism and things like that. Five years ago, everyone kept their mouths shut and everyone was scared to have an opinion and was worried to have a bad impression on the internet. But now I feel like people speak out a lot more, a hell of a lot more.
L Yeah, but I think there is still a long way to go.
S Oh, yeah. It’s definitely gotten better. More bands are willing to stand up and actually speak their minds, like Enter Shikari – who I don’t particularly like – who are really an overtly political band, considering that most of their audience are quite young teenagers. It’s quite brave to do that. Or even Slaves, a lot of their music or even their band name is about how everyone is a slave to their jobs. They’re actually a provocative band if you listen or when they are just being silly, which is a lot but… (laughs).
Blood Red Shoes were one of the international acts who performed at Tiger Translate on Saturday 13 June ’15.