Interview: We Speak to shame About Recording Album Two, Acid Dad and Not Overthinking

South London’s shame are back and moving forwards at speed with two new singles in the world and new album ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ on its way in January.

It wasn’t, however, meant to be this way or at least not now. Rewind to March and shame were on our cover, anticipating the announcement of a tour this winter and new music to follow imminently. Covid-19 and lockdown, of course, got in the way. With things now back in full swing, we bring you our chat and feature from the magazine plus a few details about what you can expect from album number two…

Issue Twenty-Five Cover

It’s a strange time to speak to shame. After confirming and celebrating their album being finished on social media, the band began making their plans for it’s release and how they were going to take it to the world. The effects of Covid-19 reach far, wide and into the future. We were all set to watch Charlie Steen lead their charge with album number two sometime this summer and possibly play some shows sooner than that, but those plans are now on hold. A circumstance shared with many of their contemporaries right now. 

The delay however has not curbed our excitement for the return of the South London five piece, and keen to know more about what’s in the can, we rearranged our pub meet to a lockdown friendly call where I found him in good spirits at his parents place. Communal showers caused his mum to “prang out a bit” and call him home. With a belly full of pasta and life on pause, Charlie Steen walked us through the process of album two, addressed learning to live with yourself during this strange time and explained how the band have progressed from the teenagers making music above a Brixton pub.

Hey Charlie, How are you and the band doing? 

Everyones sort of in this mass confusion which is completely understandable. I for one, really didn’t expect this level of pandemic. When we were recording the album in January in Paris, Sean was like reading out stuff from BBC News from China and you kind of just think it’s a bit of a dream or a movie. 

We’ve been looking at it as a band because of course, we are all self employed. We were looking at doing a tour and that all had to get cancelled and you know, the other festivals. You know, in all the Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt ‘end of the world’ films, they never mention Glastonbury being cancelled. They never talk about the festivals in those films.

How has it affected you personally and as a band so far? 

We recorded the album in January and that was mastered a couple of weeks ago. We had a tour planned and we were going to go to a lot of cities that we hadn’t been to yet but then that got cancelled. Then all these other festivals we were supposed to be doing all got rescheduled or pulled. We were planning to release music over the summer and then the album in September with a big tour in the UK, a big tour in America and then a big tour in Europe. All of that has been cancelled. We have a lot of group calls with our label and management and you just have to think about how all of these people are going to recover from that. You’ve got to think of the distribution, the venues…you know it’s so tragic to see these intimate venues that are already not standing on the strongest legs having to go through these blows. To do a tour is relying on so many different factors and all of those factors all come down to people. You’ve got the promoters, the sound men or women, so to have it all crumble is a strange feeling. It’s just a massive delay but I will say we are all very grateful and understanding that we are in a more fortunate position than a lot of other artists that we know. 

I think that touring as a whole and for this type of music is such an integral part because you want to be able to communicate and express yourself in front of your fans. You want to be able to go around and play to people. It’s such a large part of it and you know, the writing and the recording is all done so that you can show it to people. And when that’s lost, it’s a sad time. 

On the other side of it and being self employed, it’s about being able to pay the rent. Festivals are how a lot of people get by and touring and stuff. I mean, all I wanna do right now is go out and tour. I think when this finishes, everyone is going to come out with their massive tours. I can go away for another two years now (laughs).

Yeah, we’re all realising again how much we love it and how lucky we are. In times like this with isolation and social distancing, you kind of get back to the basics. You know, you have to keep yourself occupied. I read an amazing book called ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, it’s part science fiction, part non-fiction, it’s about this american soldier who goes into World War Two and gets captured by the nazis and the first camp they go to is a British camp of people who were captured at the beginning of the war. The British back then were told that if you’re captured that every morning you do half an hour of exercise, you speak to yourself for half an hour, you try if you can to do half an hour of reading, you polish your boots you know, you sort of do all of these things that keep you (going), it’s done with the idea that your physical state reflects your mental state. It’s a bit of an old British (notion) but I do think there’s a truth to that. And now I’m trying to, like I’m reading, I’m painting, I’m drawing. Staring at your phone for too long especially with the news that’s going on at the moment, it’s important to keep yourself informed but if it’s going to damage your mental state then it’s not worth the risk. 

shame spread in Issue Twenty-Five

Do you feel there are some potential positives in the current restrictions in terms of getting to know yourself and learning to adapt to and love your own company…

It’s interesting what you say about getting to know yourself, like with this second album it was after two years of touring and lyrically this one became a lot more internal because we came back from all this touring and then I moved straight out into my flat and I was on my own with my own thoughts. I then spent a lot of time going out and getting as fucked as possible and then I sort of had to, after all the hangovers and you find yourself at 4 o’clock in the morning with the chef at your mates restaurant, and you’re like “how desperate for distractions am I?”. Getting comfortable with yourself is a massive struggle and the importance of it is quite understated. There are so many distractions that you can create for yourself like going to the pub or going on Instagram. 

We’ve been sent some new music which is very exciting but obviously at this stage there’s a limit to what we can and cannot say due to the rescheduling. However, we know your album is ready and mastered so can you talk us through how it all started to come together. What’s the story of the process behind album 2…

I think to go back to the root of it, it started in Scotland. After we did those two years of touring, we came back and moved into the flat. Me and Sean went to Cuba for a month and everyone went on their holidays. We said we were going to take a couple of months off and then it came to March (2019) and we sort of said to our management that we’d like to go somewhere remote and somewhere where we won’t end up down the pub and there weren’t that many distractions to sort of write and see what happens.

There’s a guy called Kyle (AKA Makeness) and he’s Scottish and his dad has this house in the middle of nowhere, sort of half an hour from Edinburgh. We loaded up the gear and drove for like ten and a half hours and we were gonna be clear headed in the mountains with nothing around. We roll up the hill and there’s this techno blasting out of the windows, it’s eleven o’clock and there’s this full blown party going on and it sort of ended up being one of the heaviest weeks of my life. Kyle’s dad is called “Acid dad” and his partner is called Gale. She’s an amazing cook, so she’d cook us some food and Acid Dad would sort of party around. So yeah, we wrote some songs and then came back to London. I’d say from August onwards we kind of got into a zone and started churning out these songs. There are some songs on the record that can really relate to ‘Songs of Praise’ and then there are the more experimental ones and then there’s a dancier side. So there’s all sorts of components and all of those ones were written in block periods and then James Ford, the producer was interested and we did a demo with him at konk studios which I think is owned by The Kinks or something. We really got on with him and the song we did didn’t have a chorus and it took us so long (to write a chorus). We wrote that song in March last year and we didn’t get the chorus until January. We really got on with him and he’s a really busy man. 

Originally we were going to go in and do (the album) in March this year because of his schedule and how busy it was. Then we flew to Chicago for a New Years show at a venue which is like the Windmill of Chicago. We went there and it was just a massive piss up for a few days as we had friends there like Twin Peaks. So it was very heavy. It was New Years Eve and we had a call from our management saying James has had a cancellation and do we want to go in to record the second album in four days in Paris. So we were like “fuck” so we had to play every song off the new record that night as rehearsal. 

So we flew into London and then straight to Paris to go to La Frette Studios which is like this massive mansion on the outskirts of Paris. It’s run by this sexy french guy who walks around in his slippers with his massive dog and camera. Then James turned up and it was like 15-16 hour days and non stop working. It was just a fucking incredible experience, we were there for twenty days and we got twelve tracks done and we are putting eleven on the record. The last record was ten days in the middle of touring, whereas with this one we were well rested and we were really able to get into the headspace.

As a band, you’ll always be somewhat self deprecating but I think it’s clear on these songs you sound more accomplished as musicians. The word that stands out for me would be progression and you’ve been brave to play with new ideas and sounds. Was it important to you as a band that it was more progression than change?

Thank you. I think it was natural. I mean there were elements that we didn’t want to lose like our humour because that is a massive part of our personalities and the self deprecation and the satire and stuff. But naturally it was going to happen, we wrote the first album when we were sixteen to nineteen years old and toured it for two years. We wrote this second when we were twenty, twenty-one and we’ve played a lot more, a bit older, a few more experiences and we’ve listened to a lot more records so there’s more influence. I’m happy that was able to come across.

With this record, and at the beginning it caused some arguments about what kind of songs we wanted to write and when you start writing after a large period of time, that can cause kind of a friction. You’re unclear of where you want to go even though you know what you want to achieve. After all these petty arguments we just had to go back to how we wrote the first one where if someone would come in with an idea and we liked it we just went with it. Not overthinking who we are trying to appeal to and what we are trying to achieve other than just writing a song that we are really happy with. There has always been a difference in which the band writes and which styles they’ll bring into the room which has helped to propel (the songs) forward and everyone has been able to leave a trace of their personality in a song by bringing in a different influence. I think there is a lot of confidence with those songs. We are all really happy with them. They are different but it’s the only natural thing to happen, there has to be a form of adaptation. 

shame spread in Issue Twenty-Five

Do you feel that you’ve now found or harnessed what the shame sound is or your ideal version of the band?

If we could successfully achieve our sound that would probably be the finishing record of the band (laughs). There’s no further place to strive to if we feel we’ve accomplished it. I mean with the first record I know it was only two years ago but how young we sound and you know the truth behind that is that it was a record written above a pub in Brixton. Where this one has all the context of touring and being twenty-one and my own internal experiences. I think we are always trying to work it out and that’s part of the fun.

The world you came into as a young new band saw you as one of the first bands, at least in a while, to talk politically and confront the day to day as well as themselves. Now you find yourself returning to a scene or landscape of multiple bands doing that too and an increase in the popularity of guitar music. How do you feel about that?

When we first came through there were a lot of amazing bands around like Childhood and Fat White Family, but it seems like there’s a lot higher interest in guitar music at the moment and that’s exciting. When we released our debut album in 2018 to now, a lot of bands have grown and the demographic has spread and I think it’s amazing and I’m just excited to get it out. 

Delving more personally to you, lyrically are there any particular places, people or instances that have influenced the words on album two?

I think, to be honest the whole thing has a thread which is an identity crisis. Sort of picking apart different elements as to which make you feel whole or human and analysing them. Definitely digging a lot deeper and more personal situations. I felt like that’s what I wanted to do. I mean lyrically, everything we wanted to do with this record was discussed like everything else and it’s pretty intimidating even if it is four of your best mates, to open yourself up and sort of have everyone reading it. But it’s what I wanted to do and that’s a massive challenge in itself. 

Anything to leave us with Charlie?

Going back to the whole Corona thing. Charlie’s mum is a nurse with a lung condition working in the corona ward and isn’t being given the right treatment and she’s made to work without the right masks and stuff. So I think (we need) everyone supporting those people and being aware of who the true heroes of this situation are and those who are risking their lives to help everyone in this time of cuts and everything.

This interview was originally published in Issue Twenty-Five of So Young. It’s sold out in print but you can read it in full online here.

Issue Twenty-Eight of So Young is out now. It’s sold out in print but you can read the digital edition below.