Call me rash and foolish if you will, but I'll come out and say there won't be a better album than Shrag's 'Canines' this year. The album was released this week, and if you haven't got it yet, then what are you messing about at? You can buy it from here.
Bob, Helen and Steph took time out from getting tanned and famous to answer a few questions.
You must be deeply pleased with the new album. How long have you been working on those songs?
Bob: Extremely pleased. The fun part was writing them. The process began last year around January. We’d have regular weekly writing sessions and within a few months we had 14 demos. The hard part was learning to play them. Even harder was recording them. Having a producer for the first time made us aware how sloppy we are in the studio. But it all came good in the end. I think!
Helen: Yeah, we're pleased with Canines, it became what we hoped it would be in the end...we wrote it in a relatively short, condensed period of time for us, between February and August of 2011, and (I personally at least) can see the way that has shaped the record - in a good way I think! It feels more coherent and immediate maybe than our two other records, and I think in part that is a result of the way it was written and recorded.
Steph: From start to finish, the album took about a year and a half. The first bit, when you're working it out, is the most enjoyable which makes sense else you might not continue.
Is there a common theme running through the album?
Helen: I don't know about a common theme exactly, because there is a fair bit of divergence between much of the subject matter of the songs. Saying that there is also I think a dialogue between some of them; some songs like 'Chasing Consummations' and 'Flinching at Forever', for example, are an attempt at interrogating a similar issue or situation from a different perspective or stance, getting round the other side of it and looking at it from there in an endeavour to make sense of it that way.
And what is that issue/are the issues? That six-month period, whilst we were writing ‘Canines’, was particularly unstable and strange for me, and I was, partly ‘cos of my own fault, facing making some decisions and changes that I didn't particularly want to have to make - in my personal life, in my 'career', and the rest of it.
And then it also felt like given the political changes seeping out of London, the trajectory we were and are still on, being uncertain and facing instability in your personal life was becoming an increasingly frightening, paralysing thing. Something is being taken away from people and it's those whose personal foundations are less established or more in flux who feel that loss the most. And so I guess I was interested in the way these structures interact, and indent each other - the bigger structures, the way we organise ourselves politically.
And then internal structures: ways of thinking, what you believe in and value, and then, importantly for ‘Canines’ I think, physical structures, of the city, of the body, the way it is possible to use the body to deal with or articulate emotional, psychological states or belief systems.
I don't know if this makes any sense. It does to me.
You've been around for quite a while now. Did you ever think by this point you'd be pop stars? Do you want to be pop stars?
Bob: Without Top of the Pops there’s nowhere to go is there? The Graham Norton Show doesn’t have the same cachet. I gave up wanting to be a pop star way too late in life, but it did happen. No one wants to see Shrag over their Crispy Pancakes do they! Maybe they do. I want loads of people to hear this album. Whatever their diet is.
Helen: What I'd like is to be able to get to a point where we could do this full time. When we do work out a way to devote a continuous period of time to the band, writing… I always wonder what we might be capable of if we had the time and the money to really give ourselves over to it for a while. I sometimes suspect it might be a lot. But that so rarely happens, and certainly not to a band like Shrag, and I don't think we've ever been under any delusions that it would!
Having said that, I would very much like to be a popstar yes, of course... love all that shit.
Who writes the words and who writes the music?
Bob: I generally work on the music in demo form before anyone joins in. When I’m happy there is a song in the making I’ll get Helen and Steph on the Batphone and we’ll add words and voices together. Helen writes all of the words.
Steph: Every album has been done slightly differently but basically, Bob will have a track, Helen will write the words, I will add some counter melodies, some harmonies, some keys, Andy will work out his drum parts… everyone adds their bit.
Do you feel any affinity with any other London (or elsewhere) bands? If so, who?
Bob: There are bands I really like but affinity is hard to come by. It’s probably hard not to mention Comet Gain at this point, however.
Helen: There's many bands that I love and who we have played with and feel connected to, to some extent, but that tends to be a measure of a shared outlook or ethos or friendship. I always just think we're a bit strange and so our music doesn't always fit right in with a bunch of other bands, we don't have bands that we always play with etc. I like that too, though, we've been able to do so many different things over the years which, looked at as a whole, don't really offer up any coherent narrative of where we 'belong' or fit in or are headed.
There are so many good people in London at the moment, and good people in bands and running labels and nights and promoting. We feel lucky to know them and be a little part of that, but I wouldn't want to pick out one or two with whom we discern an affinity more than others, they might disagree.
Steph: Chips for the Poor.
The album has received ace reviews. Do you think this will lead you being offered more money/fame/free booze?
Bob: It’s all relative, but yes I’d like a bit more of all of those please. Who do I see to make this happen?
Helen: All three of those things would be very welcome, and we were promised them in bucketloads by Jerv and Sean, so they will undoubtedly be coming our way soon.
The songs on the new album sound - to me - like they could be sung by a full-on chart act like Girls Aloud, or whoever is in the charts these days. Are you influenced as much by chart acts as you are more underground stuff?
Bob: I’ve always pitched our music somewhere between Throbbing Gristle and Girls Aloud.
Helen: I don't even know who's in the charts these days! Does anyone? But yeah, we always wanted ‘Canines’ to be a pop record, the poppier the better. I like Girls Aloud. I really like melody, I like things you can sing along to, I like changes in songs. We also like noise, noisy pop, happy with that.
What's coming up for the band over the summer, and beyond?
Helen: Planning all that now - late as usual. Despite strenuous efforts and intentions this time, we're still pretty disorganised...we have a few shows. But, ‘cos the album ended up coming out in July, it's obviously really not a good time to tour, so we're going to do a proper tour with the next single which should be out in September/October. So we're getting ready for that, making videos and rehearsing…
Bob: Gigs? Autumn tour? We are never really sure one month to the next! Watch this space. There is a certain all dayer in Nottingham I’m quite looking forward to.
Steph: I expect we'll all get really tanned and famous