Interview Anything But… with Shame’s Charlie Steen

In which we talk to some of our faves about anything but music (see what we did there?)…

So as well as working on a rather exciting new album you’ve spent lockdown doing a lot of art, we see! Where did your painterly tendencies come from?
I went to Camberwell for a year of painting foundation and I came out of it with about three paintings… I felt like a bit of an imposter - and I’m an imposter in the music world too but that’s kind of easier because people like bad singing, which is fortunate - but it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing, and [over lockdown] I had the time and the space.

Did you get on with the art school kids?
I don’t think they got on with me! I think the problem was people would take it very seriously, but we were 18 and it was just fun. But I liked that there was no hierarchy of the teenage years there - it’s all the outsiders and loners. And all the people that took it too seriously were always the guys. Who can look more like Jean Michel Basquiat…?

So, the full cliche!
Yeah. In a hilarious way. The first day at Camberwell, we had to do a thing where we went into the garden and had half an hour to make a piece of art, so me and my mate basically just found these sticks and hit them against a metal cabinet.

And that’s how Shame began…
That’s how we found our drummer… No, but there was this silence and then the tutor did that slow clap and then suddenly everyone started clapping, and that was the lightbulb moment where I realised the whole thing was hilarious. But it’s something I’ve continued and I love doing. I’ll find myself having conversations with the canvases that are quite similar to conversations I’ll have with my bandmates, which is quite alarming. Frustration, working something out, it’s a constant dialogue where sometimes it’s a good friend and sometimes it’s an arsehole.

“I like pretty stuff! I like colour and flowers!”

Your paintings are all quite pretty and gentle - a curveball, perhaps?
Yeah, but it’s weird because the technique is the complete opposite. I use a lot of wood because it’s way easier and cheaper than getting a canvas, and I’d put on ‘Sabotage’ by Beastie Boys and try to cover the entire thing before the song finishes. I used to have a thing when I was younger about realistic art, I just think that’s why they created the camera? But now I have such an appreciation for it. I like pretty stuff! I like colour and flowers!

That’s not very punk, Charlie.
It’s because I was staying in Somerset during lockdown. There were a lot of fields, and I was working and helping the family I was staying with, doing a lot of gardening. I built a natural pond and that was the sort of environment I was in.

Are you a fully-fledged country boy, now?
I learnt a lot of stuff. I learnt how to make loads of different cements and shovel loads of bricks. It’s a lot harder than being in a band… I liked the gardening and planting stuff, anything to do with using the soil; it felt like it was a part of you. I haven’t got back to it since I got back to London though, I’d like to grow some herbs.

“You pour a pint of lager and crack a raw egg into it, and that’s called a Bombay Oyster.”

We’re told you have a secret egg recipe - are the herbs anything to do with that?
So my grandad, his dad was a butcher in Spitalfields and liked a drink, and he’d wake up in the morning after a heavy night and not much sleep, and for breakfast he’d pour himself a pint of lager and crack a raw egg into it. It’s called a Bombay Oyster. He’d down it and tense his muscles and then get on with it and go to work. Your body’s so used to the alcohol that the protein doesn’t directly hit it but it’s enough to carry you through.

That sounds revolting.
I haven’t tried it yet and my dad says, ‘do not do it’. It’s not for our generation. Luckily, they created aspirin. I never used to eat eggs that much but I love the look of a fried egg - it’s the most perfect visual food when done right. So over lockdown I discovered this love and passion for eggs and I’d spend hours - well, not hours, they take ten minutes - making the perfect fried egg. You want the lowest heat possible, loads of butter, no sizzle when you crack the egg in - that’s where people get it wrong. Albert Roux opened the first Michelin star restaurant in London and when chefs would come with these incredible CVs, he’d just ask them to make him an egg because his theory was you can tell everything about a chef by the way they cook an egg.

Are you saying that you could scam your way into a Michelin-starred kitchen?
I worked in a one as a runner and a kitchen porter actually. It was such an intense job. The devil’s in the detail unfortunately… but God is in the vague. I’m gonna write that down. Don’t put that in or the band are gonna moan at me for being a wanker…

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