Blood Red Shoes are a band who can truly say they are masters of their own destiny. With a career spanning 17 years and five albums, the Brighton based two-piece are now hardened veterans of the music industry. –
And they've largely done it on their own terms. Having established their own label, Jazz Life, in 2014, the band have been recording, releasing and publishing their sweat-soaked, shoegaze-infused rock 'n' roll for close to a decade.
Now they're back with a surprise release, the awkwardly named Ø – an EP of six swaggering songs marrying their raw, guitar-driven intensity with a lyrically dark and sinister underbelly.
We caught up with singer and guitarist Laura-Mary Carter shortly after the surprise release to discuss the new EP, Carter and drummer/vocalist Steven Ansell's ability to sound huge as a two piece, and to talk about the 10 records that changed her life and informed her own musical journey.
How would you describe what you are doing on this new EP compared to your past releases?
“We tend to not think too much about what our records are going to sound like. We never seem to go in with this grand plan; we just let things come naturally. I think the last album [Get Tragic] we made was more of a departure for us as we tried to incorporate a lot more sounds and textures.
“For this EP, it's back to a more raw two-piece sound again but I feel like it is different in the sense that it is a side of us that many people don't know. To us, though, it is really normal because we have always jamming that darker side of music. We realised that we never really released anything that shows that side of us.”
On the surface the lyrics to these songs appear quite romantic, but there's a dark underbelly to them. Is that something you like to explore?
“Yeah, definitely. It's got that edge to it because we've definitely been around some narcissists over the last few years! Some of the lyrics are a bit... We never tend to write like that usually. It's more confrontational than usual.“
This is a surprise release. What was the motivation for that?
“We didn't intend to make an EP, we just had some time on our hands due to Covid and wanted to make music together. We couldn't be bothered to just wait around and tease it out, which seems to be the norm these days – Teasing out little snippets and a song here and there. We just wanted to put it out.
“I've started doing a podcast with a friend of mine who is also a musician. I was really enjoying the fact that we could tape an interview during the day, then I would edit it that night and it would be out in the world the next day. There was something really liberating about doing the work, creating it, and then the next day being able to release it. That was part of it too, it was just a really good feeling.“
What are the challenges of running your own label?
“The positives are that we can choose what we are going to do. We don't have to wait around for anybody or convince anyone that releasing or doing something is a good idea – we can just do it. The difficulties lie in making everything work for your own record.
“It is easier when you are doing it on behalf of someone else, but when it is your own thing it can get a bit overwhelming, and it can be difficult to be businesslike when your own music is involved. I can always do that with other bands, but not so much with us. Sometimes you do just wish someone would help! We've always been used to doing everything ourselves anyway, so running a label just comes as a natural part of that."
You mentioned before that this EP is a return to the raw two piece feeling, yet it still sounds huge. Can you talk about achieving the big sound that you have as a two piece band, both on the creative side and the technical side?
“We actually recorded it in a room above a pub, and there was nothing fancy about it whatsoever! I think the actual amp I used was the smallest little Fender Champ that I have.
“With regards to the technical side, it's hard to explain. We literally just tweak stuff until it sounds cool. I can't really explain it. Producing is more Steve's thing and he is really good at it, so that helps. We just wanted to make it sound really nasty. There's one song that I played bass on, which is the first time I've just played bass without there being any guitar. That was just because I had the bass there and wrote the part on it and it sounded good as it was.
“The drums are very distorted. We'd been listening to a lot of industrial music and took influence from that. We experimented with levels of distortion and overdrive on the guitar also, just distorting it through the desk, through the amp, through every source and just seeing how [far] overboard we could take it.“
You're finally going back on the road in January. You've built a reputation as a hard touring live band, how has the last year and a bit been with not being able to play live, and what are you most looking forward to about getting back out on the road again?
“It's been hard not playing, but it is funny how well you adjust to it. It's interesting seeing how musicians and creative people have dealt with the pandemic and the lack of being able to tour and perform live.
“I feel like musicians are quite well equipped to deal with these uncertain times more than most, and that's probably due to the fact that we have always had quite unstable lives and careers anyway. We never know when our next pay cheque is coming, we never know when our next show is going to happen, we don't have a normal routine... Weirdly, as a result of that, we've managed to adapt and deal with it maybe a little bit better than someone who has a nine-to-five. Everyone is different though.
“For us, we just wanted to be as creative as we could during this time and luckily we can record ourselves, so we were able to do that. There's times where I get really... Almost scared when I think about playing live again. It feels so alien now to think about being in a room with loads of people.
“The last few days though we've seen the footage of Download Festival and it's been quite reassuring, so I am looking forward to it again. We booked the tour for January so it's far enough away that I'm really feeling like it will genuinely happen. By the time we do get onstage, we are going to have a lot of pent up energy!
How do you keep things fresh after 17 years as a band? Is it easier as a two-piece?
“I think it is easier in some ways, but that's more on the logistical side. For quite a long time I've been living in Los Angeles, but we've been able to make that work because there's just the two of us. If we had more members then that would probably be a lot harder. Having the ability to move around and get inspiration while feeling more free in that sense is helpful.
“It comes with its challenges too, obviously – because it's just one other person, it almost feels like a marriage in a way, with the band being together so long. We go though phases. I'm not going to lie and say it's always great and we're always doing stuff, but I think we have just learned how each other works throughout the years, and we know when one person isn't feeling creative or an idea isn't going to work. We only come together when we know it is going to work.
“We're a band that has been around for a fairly long time now, but we've never been a really massive band. We've always been quite consistent with what we do and been able to keep a certain level, but we've never had loads of press or anything. That gives us the drive and the hunger to keep going. We're also both total music nerds, so I think whether we were in this band together or not, we'd both be constantly creating because that's who we are.
“It's about having that drive to keep going, to become better musicians and to challenge ourselves to do something different. Also, the confidence of being in a band for so long is part of it, too. I don't really know what the key is, but it's like anything rewarding. It's hard sometimes but ultimately worth it. We've been through a lot together and still feel like we have more to give – and the moment we feel like it is no longer fun, and we no longer have that connection, is probably the moment the band ends. But so far, we're alright.“
1. Hole – Live Through This (1994)
“The first time I heard this record, it really did change everything for me. It made me want to pick up guitar, and it gave me that moment of clarity where I was like, 'This is what I want to do with my life.' It is quite a teenage rage album, but there's just something so cool about it.
“Courtney Love being in her babydoll dresses and screaming and being aggressive was exactly what I needed to see and hear when I was a teenager, and it made me think I could do that too. I still listen to it all the time. I love it so much and it has a real vibe.“
2. Babes in Toyland – To Mother (1991)
“I heard this around the same time as Live Through This, and it was the moment I got really interested in playing guitar. I didn't actually own my first guitar until we got signed, I would always just borrow them! But I remember really liking the way that Kat Bjelland played the guitar, and the way she'd dig in with her playing and created unique sounds. This was the beginning of that for me.“
3. Hot Snakes – Automatic Midnight (2000)
“I heard this when I'd already been playing guitar for a while and had already started Blood Red Shoes. It totally shaped how I play. John Reis is probably the biggest influence on my guitar playing. There's other great bands he's been in such as Drive Like Jehu, but I just really love Hot Snakes. I love the chord progressions and I feel like they're not like anyone else.“
4. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)
“I still listen to this all the time. I've been writing music with James Iha recently and it is pretty crazy, I never thought that would happen in my life! I feel like this is the best Smashing Pumpkins album. From start to finish it is a masterpiece. There are people who don't like Billy Corgan's voice but I don't even think about his voice when I'm listening to that album. It just has a feel that I love. It was a really big soundtrack to growing up.“
5. Elliott Smith – From a Basement On The Hill (2004)
“This is the album that came out after he died [in 2003]. I think it was put together by some family members or his girlfriend. I love all of his records, but I was a bit late getting on the Elliot Smith train. I didn't know much about him or his music until about five years ago. When I first heard him I couldn't believe I didn't listen to him earlier. Maybe when I was younger I wouldn't have really understood it. There's something really great about this record, though.
“Elliot Smith opened up a whole new world for me with regards to what is possible with lyricism. Whenever I'm feeling stuck creatively, I'll try to get into his mindset. I've watched some interviews with him where he talks about how he tapped into lyric writing and it is really difficult and I find that inspiring. He was such an amazing artist.”
6. Pixies – Surfer Rosa (1988)
“As a band, Pixies are one of our biggest influences. We got to play a European tour with them just before Covid happened, so that was our last big tour. It was really amazing, and I just think there's so many hits on this record. When i first started art school, this was the record I was always listening to. I really liked the contrast between the female voice and the male voice, and that's partly why Steve and I both sing in Blood Red Shoes, because we like the Pixies so much.“
7. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
“Nirvana are the reason I even found bands like Hole and Babes in Toyland and Smashing Pumpkins and Pixies. It's because I was reading all about Nirvana and the bands that were connected to them. They're the reason I wanted to start a band. I chose Nevermind because, even though I probably like In Utero better, Nevermind was the one that I heard first, even before Bleach, so it's the one that changed things the most for me.“
8. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)
“I always say that this is my favourite record. I don't know what it is about it, but it just has this feeling and whenever I hear it, it brings back memories of growing up. It makes me happy and sad and nostalgic. I don't know what it changed in my life exactly but it's such an important record.“
9. Guns N' Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)
“I just think this is one of the best Rock records ever. It's just such a great record and I used to be in some bands before Blood Red Shoes when I was younger, and we'd play Guns N' Roses covers and just tried as hard as we could to be like them. It was a massive influence on me.
“It's weird because a lot of fans of Nirvana didn't like Guns N' Roses but I like both for different reasons. Any time Welcome to the Jungle comes on, I'm going to be on the dancefloor!“
10. PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000)
“Rid Of Me would be the obvious choice, but i'm going to say the record of hers that changed things for me would be Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. I think that's because I just really love the vibe of it. I really love her songwriting and I listen to this a lot for inspiration. I've been working on my own solo record which will come out at some point, and this is the record that has really inspired me to do that.“
- Blood Red Shoes' new EP, Ø, is out now.