“I think, for whatever reason, we’re a band that’s translated well internationally.” Steven Ansell is reflecting on a New Year’s trip to Australia and New Zealand that placed a couple more pins on a formidable touring map that’s seen the Brighton duo visit territories as obscure, in general touring terms, as Indonesia, Brazil and Hong Kong. “It took us a little bit longer to get to where we are now in the UK.” Blood Red Shoes certainly took the old-fashioned route to a place in the consciousness of the British alternative music scene; the inevitable ‘new band’ buzz had been and gone before debut record Box of Secrets had even been released, and instead they’ve forced people to pay attention, primarily by way of a relentless schedule of shows that dates back to their formation in 2004.
That schedule is set to wind down for a while soon, after they crown nearly a year on the road in support of their third LP, In Time to Voices, with their biggest UK headline show to date at Shepherd’s Bush Empire later next week. It’ll also serve as a release party for forthcoming EP Water, a parting shot of sorts before the band enter what will be, by their own standards at least, an extended break to write and record album number four. “It’s the most spontaneous thing we’ve ever done. It was really informal; the songs came out of jams when we had a little bit of time off the road. We’d wanted to work with (producer) John Congleton for a while, and we managed to get down to his studio in Dallas after we finished our U.S. tour in October to get it recorded. The whole process was really fast.” Was this a response, on the band’s part, to the far more pain-staking, calculated recording process for …Voices? “I think so. It was actually really liberating to do something much looser and less considered; we spent so much time agonising over the last record. We were doing two or three takes of everything, and the funny thing is that the sound of this EP was actually closer to what we were trying to achieve on some parts of the last album; the heavy distortion on the guitars on the EP is what we were aiming for on ‘Cold’ on the record.”
With the end of their current touring cycle fast approaching, there’s the chance for the band to reflect on how In Time to Voices was received; having previously described their criminally-underrated second effort, Fire Like This, as an attempt to capture the immediacy of their live sound, the intention with …Voices was to produce a more finessed, controlled record to serve as a statement of what the band were capable of in the studio, without any primary emphasis on live performance. Indeed, half of the record is yet to be aired on tour, mainly due to the technical restrictions of performing as a two-piece. “There was definitely a very mixed reaction,” Ansell says. “I think it confused a lot of people to hear something from us that took a bit of time to get used to.” It’s a response he seems comfortable with, pointing to Kid A as an touchstone for polarising opinion; “people heard that and couldn’t believe there was so little guitar. I definitely think it’s our most successful record so far.”
Both Ansell and guitarist-vocalist Laura-Mary Carter have spoken about the strain that producing a record so deliberate and careful in its execution as …Voices had on their relationship during writing and recording, which makes you wonder if they’d consider making another album in such meticulous fashion. “It was a real learning process. I think sometimes you’ve just got to let go, and not think about it so much. The next record is probably going to be somewhere in between …Voices and Water in that respect.”
Having been almost permanently on tour since their inception – with writing and recording previously serving as little more than mere distractions from the band’s live bread and butter – Ansell admits that 2013 is set to represent uncharted territory. “It’s going to be scary to be off the road for a while. We’re not really used to it. We’re going to go over to America again, purely because it took us so long to get over there and the EP’s been getting some really good reviews there, so it seems stupid not to, but aside from that we won’t be playing many shows.”
That relentless desire to get in the van and out on the road stems from Blood Red Shoes’ DIY roots, and from the work ethic that the punk scene in their native Brighton instilled in them. The duo met at a string of punk shows and both previously formed part of more abrasive outfits, but despite the fact that so much of the band’s lyrical content is derived from angst and frustration, Ansell insists that they aren’t an overtly political band. Quizzed on the meaning behind …Voices single ‘Lost Kids’, a song penned during and clearly influenced by the 2011 summer riots, he claims “that song is as much about how much Laura and I were fighting at the time as it is anything else that was going on. I think the main progression on the last record was less to do with the lyrical content and more about how we sounded and used our voices. We were both a lot more comfortable with our vocals this time around, a lot closer to how we want to sound. I feel like, on the first record, we sound like a couple of kids a lot of the time.”
The DIY ethic has always extended to all aspects of the band, particularly in terms of promotional material – having felt misrepresented by some of the photo shoots and videos that accompanied Box of Secrets, they made a point, during the promotion of Fire Like This, to present themselves in a manner that held truer to their heavy, grungy influences. Does this misrepresentation still rankle with the band? “We don’t think about it as much now. You go through stages of it; sometimes we get really obsessive about it and other times you just want to shut your eyes and pretend it’s not there; it’s one of those things you’ve got to get on with, really.” Water sees them relinquishing one aspect of creative control for the first time; it’s the first Blood Red Shoes release on which the artwork wasn’t exclusively designed by Laura-Mary. “Laura came up with the design, but it was a friend of ours, who’s done some posters for us in the past, that actually put it together. As much as we’ve always liked having control of that, the practical reality is that you can’t really draw and paint backstage, where it’s dark, or in a bumpy van.”
With Water meeting with some of the band’s most positive reviews to date, it seems almost perverse that they’re about to disappear from the landscape for a while. Not that they don’t have concrete plans for what’s coming next; “we’re actually looking for a place in Berlin at the minute, somewhere we can move our gear over to. All three records so far have been written in Brighton, so we’re definitely eager to write the next one elsewhere, with some different perspectives.”
Ansell has spoken previously of wanting to “trick the mainstream into paying attention to us”. Water is the band’s most vital work to date, the musical equivalent of a shot of pure adrenaline; if it proves to be a reliable precursor to the sound of record number four, one of the most underrated bands in Britain might finally find that they’ve forced their way into the popular consciousness.
Water EP will be released on 21 January by V2, and the duo will play Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 22 January.