“It’s actually 10 years ago that we made ‘Box of Secrets’” ponders Steven Ansell of Blood Red Shoes. “It didn’t come out until 2008, but it’s 10 years ago that we actually recorded it, which is insane.”
Fast forward to the present day and the Brighton duo - Steven, and his bandmate Laura-Mary Carter - have just finished writing their fifth album (everyone rejoice!). Take a look back at their debut album ‘Box of Secrets,’ though, and it still stands out as the record that really kick-started things.
When Universal bought independent label V2 Records back in 2007, they only chose to keep a few bands on the label’s roster, which just so happened to include Blood Red Shoes. This turn of events came with a catch; the release of their debut album had to be postponed by several months. During this time, the album - which had already been sent out to press companies for the January release - was leaked.
“Me and Laura disagreed on this actually,” remembers Steven. ”I didn’t care as much as Laura did. “It got leaked, but then the next tour we did - even though the album hadn’t come out officially - we were playing to double the number of people almost immediately.”
‘Box of Secrets’ had worked its magic, and sent the band from titchy stages, to looming rooms triple the size. While that was undeniably a great thing, the leak took away a certain amount of control, they conceded, and was missing one vital part. “Laura was annoyed because of the artwork, she’d spent ages slaving over this record sleeve that she was really proud of, and everyone just got it without the artwork” explains Steven.
“We were just like little brats that were taking the piss out of everything - including ourselves”
After the release, there was a fair deal of speculation over the record’s name. Is there actually a box of secrets? It turns out that there is - but, it’s not quite what you’d expect.
“We used to have this joke phrase ‘box of secrets’ where every time we’d fuck up on stage, we’d put it in the ‘box of secrets,’” Steven laughs, “and no one would know”. Backstage at a festival in Paris, surrounded by 50 million different types of cheese, Laura and Steven picked it as their debut’s title. “And then Laura painted the box,” Steven adds. ”She always used to paint a lot on tour, and then there were no more options, it was always that.”
When it came to recording the album, the decision had been made to re-record some of their previous singles. “I don’t think we changed anything,” ponders Steven, ”except for the fact we could play our instruments a whole lot better! Being put on tour as heavily as we had been was a bit like military boot camp for a rock and roll band.”
“When we first recorded the singles, we thought they sounded cool, but then after touring, we listened and we were like ‘wow we’re fucking terrible,’” he laughs. With the help of producer Mike Crossey, Blood Red Shoes set out to make their much-loved early singles sound “way heavier and way better” he reveals.
“Mike, unlike most producers, was like, play it faster! He wasn’t trying to make us more sensible and safe,” Steven adds fondly.
“We started to get some weird perverse pleasure out of the fact that we were pissing off punk…”
When asked how he feels about the album now, Steven laughs before stating that he’s “still proud of the record. I’m proud of the songs, I just can’t stand my voice,” he adds. Ironically it was the vocals that Blood Red Shoes particularly focused on when recording the album. With an aim of making things poppier, they really took their time layering up the vocals, wanting to truly bring out the lyrics and melodies that they’d written. Let’s face it, they did a pretty good job of that, too.
Overall, there isn’t anything that the band would do differently with the album, reckons Steven, and who can blame them when it pushed them towards a fair deal of success. One moment he’s given a re-think, though, is ‘This Is Not For You’, his favourite track from the album. He’d play it loads slower, given another chance, apparently. “On the record it’s so fast,” Steven admits. ”it kinda hides some of the emotional sides of the song.”
What becomes increasingly clear speaking with Steven is that Blood Red Shoes have never been a band to take themselves too seriously. “We were just like little brats that were taking the piss out of everything including ourselves,” he says, ”this is becoming clear to me now”.
“There still is a lot of humour in our band, we like to confuse things,” Steven grins. ”It makes it interesting. You’ve gotta mix it up so that it creates interest. A human being isn’t just one thing. Humans are conflicted, complex and strange, and don’t make sense; I think you need to incorporate those elements in what you make with your art, or you’re doing it a disservice”
From ‘You Bring Me Down’ - a joke that stuck after the drummer from The Gossip told Laura that Steven brings her down age-wise (despite the fact he’s actually the older one of the pair) - backstage at a gig, to ‘Forgive Nothing’; a purposefully tongue-in-cheek name for an angry track, multiple titles are formed from private jokes between Steven and Laura-Mary, introducing humour to off-set the - occasionally - very serious lyrical content.
Every time we’d fuck up on stage, we’d put it in the ‘box of secrets,’ and no one would know.”
‘Box of Secrets’ arrived amid the indie scene of the mid-2000’s, and the album frequently reflects this context. ‘It’s Getting Boring By The Sea’ isn’t about growing sick of living in Brighton, it turns out. It’s actually, explains Steven, about Blood Red Shoes’ love/hate relationship with the punk scene that saw host to their beginnings. “Laura wrote all the lyrics; we liked the idea of writing a song that people could sing and dance to,” he says. ”In the punk scene, turns out you’re not allowed to do that,” he claims, “because everyone will hate you.”
Their new musical direction was rejected, not only by the punk scene, but also by a few friends from other bands that they’d had for years. “And then we started to get some weird perverse pleasure out of the fact that we were pissing off punk,” Steven challenges. ”It’s an analogy of the punk scene being really restrictive and basically boring and really unsexy.”
“Some songs don’t feel like you wrote them,” remembers Steven, swiftly changing topic. ”Some feel like they fell out of the sky”. He’s speaking specifically about ‘I Wish I Was Someone Better’, which came to fruition after something went wrong in gig rehearsal. The pair passed the time by messing around with their instruments and the song just appeared.
‘Box of Secrets’ exists as a first outing, and a diary of the band’s beginnings. It’s a treasure-trove filled with Steven’s and Laura’s strong friendship.
“Almost immediately you heard both of our voices,” observes Steven of the album’s opening track, ‘Doesn’t Matter Much’. “That was important.”
That infamous contrast between Steven and Laura-Mary’s vocals remains a staple of Blood Red Shoes’ musical career almost a decade on - and ‘Box of Secrets’ marks the moment where things kicked off with a bang.
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