Blood Red Shoes
are the UK duo poised to take over international soundwaves with the July 24 release of their new album, In Time To Voices
. With a sound that's at once gritty and raw, moody and introspective, the 11 tracks presented on this album speak loudly to a generation coming of age in uncertain times. Perhaps it took a while for the duo to find their voice, as Steven Ansell details to us in this PV Q&A, but now that they've found it, they've made it impossible for others not to hear. Here, Ansell talks throwing out the album-writing rulebook, writing songs brimming with meaning, and how the process of reflection led them to an album they've always wanted to make.
PureVolume: Laura once mentioned that for this album, you “threw out the rulebook” of how you write and record. What was the most challenging rule, or habit, that you let go of in throwing out that “rule book”?
Steven Ansell: I guess that we just spent a little bit more time reflecting on what we did. Before we would just jam out, we would just play and then go ‘oh, maybe we should shorten this a little bit or tweak this a bit’ and that was it — it was really a lot more spontaneous. The hardest job at first was figuring out how to put the song together by recording, and listening [back], and actually trying to make it make sense when you’re not in the moment of creation. Stepping back and looking at it was a really weird shift for us.
PV: It’s great that you’ve been able to work with the same producer since your debut album. Over the years, how has Mike [Crossey]’s production style influenced you as musicians?
SA: It’s hard to tell because we’ve never worked with a different producer, and we’ve only ever produced things ourselves or with Mike. We’ve been a team since really early on. I think for us, more than anything, Mike’s been really good at helping us to get our vocals to translate on a record. He’s really very meticulous about vocals and he’s really helped us learn what works. What works live and what works for a record can really be very different. A lot of the time, to be powerful on a record, you don’t actually have to sing anywhere near as loud, or scream as much as you do live. On a record, it’s more of how [you’re singing] and singing the right way, not necessarily singing as loud as possible which is what we used to try to do. He really helped us understand that.
PV: That comes through a lot in these songs. There’s definitely a sense that your sound has evolved because of it.
SA: Yeah. It’s kind of cool because we learned so much from him that it kind of got to the point where he could set us free and kind of let go of the reigns a bit, and let us fuck around because we could actually work with the equipment in the studio and figure things out. It was quite cool to actually realize that we understood all of the shit that [we once didn’t], and know that we can control [the recording environment], and get a lot more of what we like out of it, which is great.
PV: Aside from being more hands-on with the production aspect, how has your in-studio work and the sound of your music evolved from the work you did on your first album?
SA: Well, with our first album in the studio, we had no idea what the fuck was going. We were just trying not to get lost and get the songs out. I think the whole way we worked was just ‘quick! play it, play it, put this on,’ there was very little reflection and consideration for anything. We didn’t really experiment with anything at all. We just did what we were familiar with and what we knew from playing a lot of live shows. So, the whole way we did the first record was in a rush, and all of the songs are really fast, and there was very little attention to detail [laughs]. Which, actually, there’s something about that I quite like but the way we are now is much more careful and we’re more considerate of each take. We go do the song and then we go ‘hey, is this the right speed? Should we play it different? Should we play it with this tempo, or this tempo?’ We actually reflect on ourselves, and question ourselves, and challenge what we’re doing rather than just going with the first thing.
PV: It’s interesting you say you’ve taken more time to reflect on these pieces, because one of the highlights of this album is its contrast in sound. There’s a great balance between the quiet, introspective songs and the rip-you-apart, raw rock n’ roll songs. Can you talk about that balance?
SA: I don’t know how we found that balance — it was kind of trial and error. We didn’t really know how the song would fit together, we just knew that we wanted to make a record that had really different shit on it. We wanted it to be more of a three-dimensional record and not just cover one aspect of what we do. We always have this kind of nagging side to our band that we want to do something a bit more introspective, and make it a bit more moody and kind of inspired by more of a selection of music. We just never really figured out how to put it together. We just decided with this record that we were just going to fucking make it fit in there, we would just have to figure out how when we do it. So a lot of that was that we just wrote a lot of songs, and a lot of things didn’t make it on because they didn’t fit. Or we just had to keep reconfiguring a song, or recording a song with different sounds, until it sounded right in the context of the whole record. So the balance of it was really trial and error — just taking our time and admitting to ourselves when it wasn’t right.
PV: It's interesting how you break up the lead vocal parts so as to avoid one voice from dominating the other. There are a lot of duos that restrict themselves to specific tasks, and that’s how they function as a band and on each album, but you and Laura seem to stray from that. Did you always embrace this sharing of tasks and functions or was it something you tried to incorporate on just this record?
SA: It’s been very organic the way our vocals have changed. For this record, definitely, we sing more apart than we used to. I think a lot of what we do is on instinct, and I guess as we’ve grown, we’ve just found places where each other’s [voices] fit right. There are songs where Laura’s written a whole chunk of [it], and she sings it, and it’s like, why are you touching it because it sounds pearly white as it is. Then there are other songs where it feels like maybe we can fuck around a bit with each other singing it and add things to each other’s parts. A lot of it’s really instinctive with our vocals — more than the music, actually. For us, that was a real bench-mark thing to try to get a real vocal record down.
PV: These songs sound like they were inspired from different aspects of culture — be it pop culture or everyday dealings with society. Can you talk about that influence?
SA: The thing is that we absorb pretty much everything that we’re paying attention to. I mean, I don’t know very much about sports, but apart from that [laughs]... The fact that we were writing the record at a time when, in England, there was a lot of rioting going on [made an impact]. And there still is [rioting], just maybe not as much. And there’s a kind of weird frustration there, and there’s definitely a lot of people asking a lot of questions, and there’s definitely a sense of some kind of generational shift. The younger people in England were feeling a bit more like this whole set up we’ve got right now isn’t for us. It was like it was made for some people older than us, and it’s not really working out and everyone’s a bit pissed off about it. I think there’s definitely a sense of dissatisfaction. I wouldn’t say we’re a political band but we’re definitely not just a band that’s singing love songs about the microcosm of a relationship between boy and girl. We’re singing about ourselves. We’re also singing a lot about how we see ourselves fitting into a bigger world, or the fact that we don’t really quite understand how we’re supposed to fit into a bigger world.
PV: You guys have a lot going on this summer. For starters, you’re playing the main stage at Reading & Leeds
festival. What are your thoughts as you get ready for that?
SA: Main stage is a big deal for us, because that’s a big fucking stage. It’s very rare that bands like us get [to play] on there. It’s one of those things like when you’re a teenager, and you watch a band up there and you’re like ‘one day. One day we’ll get to be on that stage,’ and this year it’s actually happened for us, which is great.
SA: S: Yeah. You know what’s cool about that? They heard us and they asked us to do [the tour]. And that starts the middle of October.
PV: Once you wrap these upcoming tours, do you have any other plans you can share with us?
SA: Not really. At the end of our US tour we’re staying in the US to record some new stuff, which is why there’s a gap between that [tour] and when we start touring with the Gaslight Anthem. Our intention is to release an EP of new stuff in January — if we get it written, and we get it ready, and get it recorded. We’re going to take a risk and do it with totally different people in Dallas, in September. So if it works out then hopefully that stuff is going to come out in January, so when we finish touring in December then we’ll probably take a break for Christmas, and come back out in January and tour with a new EP.