Oh Minnows is the latest musical endeavour of ex-Semifinalists man Chris Steele-Nicholson who, since the brilliant Semifinalists decided to call it a day in 2009, has been investing his time and energy into this, his solo project. In that same year, he released the Might EP and since then, has had his sights set firmly on the creation of a full length album. For Shadows – a collection of lush, sumptuous, enticingly warm songs – was recorded during the darkening months of 2009, and the springtime of 2010 in various locations across America. To celebrate the release of For Shadows, The Line of Best Fit caught up with Chris to find out a bit more about his new project, and the ideas driving it.
Why did you decide to name the project Oh Minnows?
I like the way minnows have arranged things. I admire examples of a collective working to achieve a common goal. They survive by sharing some kind of collective awareness. I think people are much the same and are most efficient when they operate in an egalitarian manner. This way everyone wins because you get your needs met and get the satisfaction of giving to others. I think the concept of individualism is sad in that it ultimately isolates people to various degrees. I think we owe each other everything. In the collaborative arts the key is to be sensitive to others around you and in this way you can find some kind of togetherness.
Do you find that this project allows you to do things that you perhaps couldn’t with Semifinalists, or haven’t been able to express in your other projects?
I don’t think there was an expression that was off limits before, but I can say that I had been finding different environments to record in. Sometimes with a band you try to set up camp somewhere, but For Shadows was recorded and mixed in a bunch of very different rooms in Chicago, San Francisco, and North Carolina. I like how these different environments came together.
There is word that you were working on a film project at the same time as making the album – do you feel that that had a significant influence on For Shadows?
Yeah, I think so. I’m not necessarily sure how though. I was working on it with a friend who built this set in his garage. But it was in the city and people would hang out in the ally by the garage and do things that required that they yell at each other, so we ended up making a silent film more or less.
What were the biggest influences in the writing of For Shadows?
I’m not sure, but I can say I was reading the newspaper pretty regularly… this was weird cause I felt at once closer to and more removed from the world.
Also, at the time I was listening to, Nina Simone, Etta James, Delia Derbyshire, Georges Delerue, Cilla Black, Joe Meek, Marianne Faithfull, The Crystals, The Ronettes, Scott Walker, Dusty Springfield, Tommy James & The Shondells, Moisey Vaynberg, Francoise Hardy, Phil Spector, and The Platters.
The whole song is really striking, but the lyrics on ‘You’ll Never Know Us’ feel particularly poignant. Is there a story behind the song?
Not a story really, but I can say there are some things that are personal to me. I feel what someone decides to share or reveal to the public is intrinsically a very private thing. Public life is about auditioning or revealing your interior life and all the things that you subtly practice at home, just like being alone or with people you are close to is where your public life is revealed and analyzed.
Have you had the opportunity to play many of the tracks live yet?
I haven’t played many of the songs live, but I feel connected to the concept of it. I feel that the arts are a chance to hide in some way. I feel that people in the arts are shy because they are trying to reach others indirectly by putting something between themselves and the world. Obviously there is a desire to be engaged, but in particular terms.
For Shadows is released via Young and Lost Club on 25 July 2011.