Charlie Steen is hungover. This time around it’s because he and his bandmates have been gifted a few days off in the middle of recording; having been cooped up in the residential studios of rural La Frette for the first half of the month, naturally they hopped on a train for a Parisian piss-up to celebrate. But really, since the release of debut ‘Songs of Praise’ back at the start of 2018, giddy nights and groggy mornings in various corners of the world have become de rigueur for Shame. Australia, Brazil, Japan, Iceland, Thailand… hearing about the singer’s recent travels is a bit like listening to a truncated UN roll call; having started as 20-year-old urchins, prone to frequenting some of south London’s muckier corners, two years later, the quintet are seasoned global explorers.
It’s perhaps no surprise then, that when it came time to go home for a bit, the adjustment was a stark one. “A lot of the album is about how, after those two years of touring, I had to get used to waking up in my flat, going to Sainsbury’s, eating some pasta, falling asleep and that just being the day,” Charlie begins. “I still wanted to go out and get fucked every night and make every moment a party because it was a spare moment. I had a form of stability again and I didn’t know what to do with it.
“Lyrically, [it’s made the new album] more about identity; a lot of my friends are all in similar positions where you’re at an age where people are a bit anxious and there are tidal waves of emotions as to where you wanna go in life or what you wanna do,” he continues. “It’s interesting that you can meet all these people around the world, but everyone’s still having these common thoughts. It doesn’t matter what someone’s doing or who they are, it [boils down to] each unique individual’s purpose.”
"After you've drive 10,000 miles in six weeks across America, you're really at the core of your inner being."
The practicalities of endless touring had started to worm their way into the singer’s psyche, too. “I became a lot more introverted because you don’t ever have any fucking privacy,” he snorts. “The only time you’re on your own is when you go to the toilet, so you do a lot of thinking. After you’ve driven 10,000 miles in six weeks across America, you’re really at the core of your inner being, internally.” If that all sounds a bit existential, then you probably wouldn’t be far off. Today, Charlie flits between deep-and-meaningful musings and extolling the boozy virtues of living life to the full (the band’s current studio set-up is essentially an “Addam’s Family-style mansion” filled with music equipment, cheese and a lot of wine – safe to say, the singer is happy). His life has become a strange party filled equally with both, and it’s this duality that looks set to come to the table on their as-yet-untitled, James Ford-produced forthcoming second LP.
If you’ve caught Shame at one of their many festival jaunts over the past year, you’ll likely have been witness to some of their new wares. Mostly still operating under working titles (“they’ve all got names like ‘Baggy Bagsworth’ and ‘Nigel Hitter’ – actually, those two tracks are pretty good!”), their live versions are ones that suggest the cathartic, direct satisfaction of Shame is still intact, but this time their lyricist is digging a little deeper. Though he states that there are “definite curveballs” including – !! – a couple of tracks with piano on them, they’re still a live band, first and foremost. “I don’t think anyone in the band wanted to go into the studio without having played all of the songs at least once live; it’s how we’ve always done it and it’s the only way we know how to do it,” he states. “We still wanted to keep the ‘Songs of Praise’ essence, but we wrote that when we were 16 to 19 and we’ve written this between 20 and 22. I don’t know how many brain cells you gain or lose in those years, but maybe it’ll become apparent when we release it…”
What Shame may have lost in beer-soaked memory, however, they seem to have gained in something resembling maturity. Though the band have always been smarter, more diligent lads than their chaotic outside might suggest, it’s clear, having gone further than they ever might have imagined, they’re not taking their wild ride for granted. “The latter half of last year when we were writing, we practiced five or six days a week, seven or eight hours a day. We really got into a zone and were strict with ourselves,” he explains. “Our job is sitting in a room with your mates getting to play music. To be able to do an album, let alone a second album, is a massive gift.”
As featured in the February 2020 issue of DIY, out now.