Do Nothing talk debut album 'Snake Sideways'

Interview Do Nothing: Shedding Their Skin

After a lengthy process riddled with anxiety and self-doubt, Do Nothing’s long-awaited debut is finally here. ‘Snake Sideways’ is the result of a band letting go and finding a new sense of themselves.

Do Nothing’s debut has been a long time coming. Having first made waves just prior to the pandemic, and soon inducted into DIY’s Class of 2020 off the back of a series of buzz-inducing early singles, they began life within the vanguard of post-punk bands sweeping the UK at the time. The Nottingham quartet always struck a slightly more complex note than many of their contemporaries, though; not overtly political, they favoured the awkward grey areas of life over the one-note sloganism in vogue.

Four years on, ‘Snake Sideways’ has materialised: an altogether more complicated body of work than its intoxicating melodies may first appear, and one that takes in grief, isolation and self-doubt alongside optimism, community and hope. The album manages to square the circle of all of those sentiments, and adds colour to the band’s once black-and-white minimalism, with flashes of acoustic guitar and synthesiser breathing a fresh vitality into their sound.

Key to the record, meanwhile, is the ephemera that surrounds it. Originally entitled ‘All Hail My Dog’, a recurring motif in the album is the value of the mundane – how essential the elements of life we take for granted are, and the subtle beauty contained within them. This is exemplified on ‘Moving Target’; all metronomic piano and steadily unravelling electronics, the track’s video sees singer Chris Bailey wear a GoPro for a month as he goes about his days, eventually reaching an inexplicably moving crescendo.

“The initial idea was for Chris to just film the boring things he does all the time,” guitarist Kasper Sandstrom explains. “But in the end, the video was really lovely. There’s loads of little bits of Chris’ day-to-day that ended up being really poignant.” Across the run-time, interactions like buying cans of beer at an off licence, throwing a ball for a dog, or hugging an old friend become somehow cinematic. “There’s a lot of edited-out footage of me walking into our practice space and just sitting there on the computer,” Chris laughs. “But in the same way as those apps where you film a second every day, when you look back at it you always think, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise that I’m doing lots of nice things’.” And, in many ways, it was this appreciation for the unremarkable that would become the making of the album.

With deadlines for the record looming and expectations deepening, Chris was finding himself in a spiral of self-doubt. “The album itself ended up being a bit of a weird, self-referential freak-out about pressure and album-writing,” he explains. “It was just a lot of freaking out in isolation, annihilating my own social life, and just doing this thing for a long time. So [then it became about] learning to bow down to that stuff and be like, ‘Well, maybe I should just focus on what I have because that’s the stuff that actually makes you happy in your fucking life’. It’s the stuff that you don’t have that drives you round the bend because you wish you had it. It’s more like, ‘OK, what can I actually grab on to while I’m drowning?’”

Do Nothing talk debut album 'Snake Sideways'

“The album itself ended up being a bit of a weird, self-referential freak-out about pressure and album-writing.” - Chris Bailey

When faced with overwhelming pressure to create something worthy of people’s expectations, instinct can be to withdraw – especially when the object of said panic is the one that’s supposed to artistically reflect you the most. “When you have to pour everything into it and you don’t feel like you’re doing it right it’s like, ‘Fucking hell, I should be enjoying this!’” exclaims Kasper. “Yeah, ‘I can’t even get doing this badly right…’” Chris laughs. “Because if the point is to express how tough this situation is, and you can’t even fucking do that, what are you going to do?!”

It’s a compelling narrative; an artist stuck in a predicament of their own making, and one that dovetails naturally with many of Chris’ lyrical protagonists over the years – people “pulling their hair out”. “There’s definitely always been a lot of weird, blame-y, finger-pointing stuff in there,” he nods of his protagonists. “Which is a version of what you do in your own head, just scrambling around trying to figure out what the problem is, blaming it on people, or blaming yourself.” His lyrics have always seemed to conjure up images of people caught in impossible predicaments – between a rock and a hard place, except there’s also a piano falling on their head, and a bear chasing them too.

However, far from a truly impossible predicament, the album did get written - so what’s the real moral of the story? “It became a document of somebody getting into a tough situation, and then getting out of it again,” Chris smiles. “It’s dealing with those things that loads of people deal with - all the anxiety stuff, all the self-flagellation of being overly critical of yourself. Which people get all the time, especially on the Internet, because they have access to everything and it makes them feel terrible. Because they can see all the good stuff that they’re supposed to be.”

Do Nothing talk debut album 'Snake Sideways' Do Nothing talk debut album 'Snake Sideways' Do Nothing talk debut album 'Snake Sideways'

“It’s okay not to do things perfectly immediately, or not to do things perfectly at all.” - Chris Bailey

Both Chris and Kasper are keen for ‘Snake Sideways’ not to be seen as an album defined by writer’s block, or by one specific predicament, but rather about the way we think about predicaments and how we ultimately escape them. “Especially with the end, it doesn’t feel like, ‘OK well, he’s outlined all these problems and the record’s over,’” Kasper says. “The whole record is trying to fix it and not being too fucking morose about the whole thing, because what’s the point,” agrees Chris. “It’s OK not to do things perfectly immediately, or not to do things perfectly at all. Trying really hard, and doing something, is worth it in itself.”

It’s a subtle widening of perspective that’s mirrored elsewhere on the album; compositionally, there’s been a change too. It’s a sonic shift that seems a natural response to the puritanical impulses of post-punk – an easing away from angularity and sparsity, and back towards melody and beauty. “If you start off doing something a bit minimal and you want to go somewhere, then the natural thing is to do a bit more, right?” Chris suggests. “I don’t think it was a pointed effort to get away from the other stuff, I think it’s more that we naturally started going in a different direction and then we just followed it, rather than fighting it.”

On tracks like opener ‘Nerve’, Chris barely relies on his sprechgesang of old, breaking into a surprisingly clear, tuneful voice. However he’s clear that it’s not a binary choice between the two. “I don’t see it as, ‘I don’t do that stuff anymore’, because it’s all still open,” he says. “Ideally I’d like to be able to do both, rather than move away from one and never do it again.” He stops to think. “I’m interested to see what happens. I wonder if it will come full circle, and everybody will go back to yelling again. I don’t know…”

Where often a band’s debut album finds them turning up the volume on their calling cards, leaning into the things that make them, well, them, Do Nothing have instead chosen to muddy the waters, burrowing away into shades of grey. In doing so, they’ve made something wholly more human instead: an album that seems simultaneously unmoored from reality and yet ringing with a complete truth. Out of a tumultuous journey, Do Nothing have emerged with a document of the human experience - looking at it sideways, sure, but coming out on top.

‘Snake Sideways’ is out now via The Orchard.

Tags: Do Nothing, Features, Interviews

As featured in the July 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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