Dazed sat down with Seán Coyle-Smith, Charlie Forbes and Charlie Steen to chat about everything from fake band names to friendship
When Shame erupted onto the scene back in the late 2010s, clad in ill-fitting suit trousers and grungy shirts, there were few other new British bands that carried the hype or excitement which surrounded them. Considering they weren’t long out of their teenage years with the release of their debut Songs of Praise, it’s some burden and responsibility to carry when every other music publication hails you as “the next…”, or “the new…”. Being a buzzy, in-demand new band, it’s no surprise Shame played shitloads of shows (over 300 in two years) and partied until they physically couldn’t anymore, subsequently cancelling the rest of their tour (enter the rock and roll star mythos stories that all the music journo-vultures love).
“Drunk Tank Pink was the aftermath of a whole lot of fucking touring,” frontman Charlie Steen tells Dazed over Zoom. The sophomore album is an arduous task at the best of times, let alone after an exhaustive tour, and one that requires the pressures of meaningless expectations to be shut out. Drunk Tank Pink is, as you would expect, an insular and introspective album, reflective in the aftermath of a burn-out.
The band’s third record, Food For Worms (out 24 February), is decidedly less claustrophobic both sonically and thematically, partly due to legendary producer Flood orchestrating it. The record is also one that marked the band embracing what put them on the map in the first place – performing. “This album is definitely a little less overthought than the last album,” guitarist Seán Coyle-Smith explains. From the leading single “Fingers of Steel”, this becomes evident, with Shame moving away from the elaborate and layered instrumentals heard on Drunk Tank Pink to a more straightforward, melodic rocker. “After the second album, I think we overindulged ourselves slightly,” Coyle-Smith admits. “Sometimes as a musician, you shouldn't be allowed to do as many overdubs as you want.”
“On the second album, we felt a lot more pressure. And then on this one, it was that horrible year of 2021, we were writing all the time and not really finishing any songs,” Steen explains. Given this, the band’s management gave them a kick up the arse of epic proportions. Having booked the band gigs under the pseudonym Almost Seamus in London and Brighton, Shame spent a fortnight at Otterhead Studios – a residential writing and recording retreat in rural Warwickshire – to write a live set worth of new material to be played at said shows. “We thought we’ve got a show coming up, we have to do it, and then the songs just came quite naturally,” says Steen, “as you get into that mode, that’s when the excitement comes, because it’s a good feeling to finish a song and be able to play it live as well.”
Down below, Dazed spoke to Shame to find out about their inspirations for Food For Worms.
Charlie Steen: “I watched the Beatles documentary and I thought that was fucking great. When they play the songs, that’s what’s so funny about it: they don’t sound that good. Get Back isn’t my favourite Beatles album, but it’s still got amazing songs on it. It was more about how they’re constantly having to follow the dynamic of the band together and you realise how fucking similar every band is, in terms of personalities that lie within them.”
Seán Coyle-Smith: “The indecision was funny to see as well, because that’s something we’ve struggled with in the past and seeing a band like the Beatles have to have exactly the same thing where they can’t decide on anything and this constant toing and froing is quite funny.”
RETREATING TO OTTERHEAD
Charlie Steen: “When we were at Otterhead started writing Food For Worms, the massive thing was we’d gone away with no TV. It put you to work more and also was more social, we’d all have food together and shit like that in the evenings. People were reading, I was reading a book I got recommended by someone very close to us. It’s a cowboy book called The Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and it’s more about friendship and I was so invested. It’s a spaghetti western kind of story about these people who have to go and take these cattle across America.
“We’re more confident in our ability to have space, we’re not trying to fill every gap with something” – Charlie Forbes
Charlie Steen: “Flood and James Ford were polar opposites. They were both hands-on, James in more of a physical way, Flood in more of a mental way. Both of them knew the studios really well – James knew La Frette really well and Flood’s been working at Battery studios for fucking decades. James can play every instrument and chime in on that but he’s very much on a deadline, and we were also building up the songs. With Flood, we were doing it live and it’d be like, ‘let’s do two hours of ‘Yankees’, now half an hour of ‘All The People’ then 20 minutes of ‘Adderall’. It was like organised chaos. With Drunk Tank Pink, we analysed the writing, and then went in to record it and then with Food For Worms, we didn’t analyse until we got to the recording of it.”
Charlie Forbes: “There’s definitely quite a few different vibes going on, but the album sounds more refined in terms of we’re more confident in our ability to have space, we’re not trying to fill every gap with something.”
Seán Coyle-Smith: “The way we recorded the album lent itself to that as well. The way we’d jumped from song to song gave you less time to fill that space. There wasn’t a shitload of overdubbing on this album. We would record altogether and think it sounded relatively full. We’d end up leaving it and then maybe do one or two guitar overdubs, no percussion or anything like that.”
Charlie Steen: “With writing for the live show, it took away a load of pressure. It was a domino effect once we kind of cracked it. We played under Almost Seamus at the Windmill, did a show in Brighton and then a show at the Moth Club as well. It was pretty low pressure, the first show at The Windmill all the songs sounded shit. Then we did the second gig two days later, and they sounded about 100 times better, and they still weren’t finished. It goes to show that you can practice and practice, but until you play it live, it’s not in your blood. Writing an album is quite a vague thing, is it gonna take a few months? Is it gonna take a few years? Is it gonna take a decade? What’s it gonna sound like? If you have a gig, it’s pretty simple and straightforward.”
Charlie Forbes: “I was thinking that the other day, we would have to come up with another equally stupid name, but I like the idea of writing for shows. Because we are a live band and we’re always going to need to try out new material live in a smaller space before we take it to the big space because it’s getting to the point now where the shows are a bit too high stakes to be playing six brand new ideas live on stage now. But I’d definitely be down to do it again.”
Charlie Steen: “The main theme of the album is friendship, and we played a show in Athens with Iggy Pop a long time ago. There was a guy there and we were having a conversation, he talking to me about a song that I don’t even fucking remember. Whoever wrote it was writing it about their friends and he was. It’s strange that you see a lot of films about friendship. Even recently, I’ve been thinking about films based around friendship, like The Banshees of Inisherin and Withnail and I. It’s not as common in music, even though it’s so important.
Charlie Forbes: “Platonic rock!”
Food For Worms is out on 24 February via Dead Oceans.