Features Reading & Leeds 2012: Blood Red Shoes: ‘Our Band Has Never Been An Overnight Success’

DIY catches up with Steven Ansell, one half of Blood Red Shoes, ahead of their appearance at Reading & Leeds.

DIY catches up with Steven Ansell, one half of rock ‘n roll punk merchants Blood Red Shoes ahead of this weekend's Reading & Leeds festivals, to chat about playing the main stage, touring the world and cabin fever.

You'll be playing Reading and Leeds Festival for a fifth time later this month. How amazing is it to be returning to such familiar ground but this time on the main stage?

Yeah it's a cool feeling. I mean, it's our fourth time at Reading and fifth time at Leeds, and it's nice to feel that each time we come back we've moved up a little. Our band has never been an overnight success thing, it's always been a steady journey, but luckily every year so far has been going the right direction and the main stage slot for us is a real achievement.

Of the songs from the new album you'll be performing, which ones should we be looking forward to most live?

I'm not sure really, we don't have too much time on stage, but we like to play songs from all three albums so there will probably only be three or four from 'In Time To Voices'. The best one live will probably be 'Je Me Perds' because it usually makes the crowd go insane!

How has the approach to writing 'In Time To Voices' differed to your debut? How much of a role did Mike Crossey (producer) have during recording?

We spent a lot more time writing this album and took it a lot slower compared to our previous albums. We reflected on the songs more, analysed them to pieces and experimented with different approaches to each song until we were happy. We've never been that relentlessly self-critical or painstakingly thorough before, it was very different to how we wrote the previous two albums. We'd done so much preparation work on these songs that when it came to the studio with Mike Crossey there wasn't a great deal left to be done. We didn't change any of the songs and we didn't really change any of the sounds either, we just strove to get great takes of everything, and just improve on the sounds we'd got on our self-recorded demos.

Each new album has seen a progression on the Blood Red Shoes' sound. Is this a natural result of hard graft and touring, or a conscious effort to push yourselves musically?

I think it's both really. We try not to force anything too much or be too conscious about what we’re doing. Although we definitely wanted this record to be a big leap for us, it also had to feel right. Some bands try so hard to make a different record each time that they forget the most important thing is the feel, and that the songs are good. Originality comes gradually over time and searching to ‘progress’ loads on an album without doing it right is very hollow I think. You can make a record that sounds like nothing else, but it also really has to be good and heartfelt, otherwise it’s just hollow. So we put ourselves in different situations and experimented with writing songs and playing in different ways to see what results it got and we threw out a lot of stuff because we just didn't think it had the right feel. It was different, but not right.

Over the next five months you’re playing 46 dates across ten countries - does cabin fever ever play a role in your touring experience being a band of just two people? How easy is it to keep excited about playing live?

Yeah actually we're playing even more than that, they're just not all announced yet! Of course cabin fever kicks in; every touring band gets it whether there are two or ten of you. We call it tour psychosis. You just have to lose your shit at some point else you wouldn't be a human, then you come out the other side of it and you're back to earth again. Personally, I find it pretty easy to be excited about playing live, even if I feel bored on the journey or am not too bothered by the soundcheck, once I actually get onstage for the show it all falls into place and I get really hyped up. The times when that doesn't happen are usually just something mundane like I'm a bit ill or Laura and I are at odds a bit and we can't get the vibe flowing.

A quarter of your live dates are in Northern America. What’s the reception been like over in the US, and where are you most looking forward to playing?

We've only had one tour of the USA so far but those guys have been kind to us! Especially on the West Coast, we found there are a bunch of Blood Red Shoes fans that’ve been waiting a while for us to get over there, and the next tour we're doing I got told the New York show is almost sold out, so it seems like the East Coast is catching up too. I'm looking forward to playing San Francisco the most because last time it was our best crowd, plus this time it actually lands on my birthday so it's going to be a blowout night!



Playing with the Gaslight Anthem as part of their upcoming UK tour must be exciting? Who have you enjoyed playing live with the most? Who else would you like to tour with?

Yeah those guys are totally on our wavelength and exactly the kind of band we want to be playing with. They're actually making very 'pop' style music but they're doing it with a punk attitude and a real work ethic to get on the road and smash it. That's exactly where we're coming from and it's great to see bands like that getting so much success. It's inspiring for us because sometimes it seems like we've taken the hard road you know? I'm hoping their audience will dig our stuff, so we'll see. The bands I've enjoyed touring with the most are the ones who have purposefully chosen ourselves to support us, rather than the other way around. I loved touring with Pulled Apart By Horses, with Rolo Tomassi, and with Wallace Vanborn - they're a Belgian rock band everyone should check out.

The list of bands I'd love to tour with is endless, but Queens of the Stone Age are probably at the top because we're such fans of their records. Plus there also aren't many real rock bands out there that aren't just a load of over-produced clever-haircut clichés, and those guys are flying the flag for doing something creative with a rock sound instead of retreating into obvious moves.

Looking back at this third album which has received strong reviews across the board, is there anything that you’d change/tweak about it?

Yeah, of course. I mean, immediately after we've made every record we've sat around discussing what we don't like about it. I think it's totally normal for bands to do that. To be honest I worry about any band who don't see flaws in their work because you're either deluded or totally stuck as to what to do next. There are things about the way we wrote the songs that I'd change, lyrics I'd change, the way we recorded it for example. We're a very critical band, but as a musician you also have to accept that this is part of a continuing body of work. We will have more records coming out where we'll try to improve on the weaknesses we see. I mean we spent a lot longer recording this record than ever before because we kept tweaking things and at one point we just had to let go, and say, let's put this fucking thing out! Else you just get all Kevin Shields on it and never release anything!

How have fans reacted to new material live?

So far really well. I know some fans didn't like the record as much as our previous ones, which is a risk we knew we were taking when we recorded some much darker, weirder songs instead of doing a high-speed rock thing again. But live people seem to get it more because it's in the context of the other songs from all the albums, and actually, for the first time the UK audience seemed to be the first audience to really connect with the new songs. In the past we found that places like Holland, Japan and Germany ‘got it’ faster than the UK.

What's in store for the next album? How do you avoid making the same album twice?

We have no idea yet. We're always writing songs and we already have some earmarked for the next album, but you never know until you get down and make it. We have three songs for an EP we'd like to release first though, and we have a real vision for what those should be like. It will be a bit of an experiment just to make an EP and see what we learn. We really want to find a way to make rock music exciting, like keeping the rock ‘n roll core but pushing the ideas and the sounds to something new. Rock music is sonically very stale right now and could do with a hard push into the future.

In terms of making the same record again, some bands don't really, and that's not always a bad thing. The media are obsessed with new, but new doesn’t necessarily mean good. AC/DC didn't really change the formula for ages and those records are fucking amazing. On the other hand, we wouldn't be happy to repeat ourselves to that degree so we just have to be honest with ourselves when we feel like we're treading water or going over old ground, and admit whether it feels good or not. If we don't feel right, then we just don't do it - and if it does feel right, then that's OK.

Blood Red Shoes will perform at Reading & Leeds Festival from 24th - 26th August. The band's new album 'In Time To Voices' is out now.


Get your copy of the latest issue

More like this

Live at Leeds 2016

Live at Leeds 2016

Rat Boy, Estrons, Blood Red Shoes and INHEAVEN are among this year’s highlights.