"There's Worse Names Than Ours": An Interview With Shrag
, November 23rd, 2010 07:43
Stuart Huggett talks to Shrag about dog shows, indiepop and changing line-ups - as well as their debut album Life! Death! Prizes!
Shrag formed in Brighton in 2004, at a time when the city was undergoing its last (to date) major burst of DIY musical activity. The band recorded five 7"s for indiepop stalwarts Where It's At Is Where You Are, combining dissonant post-punk shouting with jangly guitar melodies. All five are collected on their self-titled 2009 album, while their first album proper - Life! Death! Prizes! - was released in October, following which the group made a flying visit to New York's CMJ Music Marathon.
Although two-fifths of the band – Helen King (vocals, keyboards) and Bob Brown (guitar, vocals) – have upped sticks to London, the remainder are still based on the Sussex coast. The Quietus met up with Stephanie Goodman (keyboards, vocals), Russell Warrior (bass) and Andy Pyne (drums) in Brighton's Heart And Hand – a traditional pub with a killer vinyl jukebox, which also appears, very briefly, in the video to the group's most recent single ‘Rabbit Kids'. Over the course of a very entertaining hour, the Shrag contingent joked, bickered and generally defined the term ‘self-deprecating'.
Did you all meet in Brighton?
Russell Warrior: I was flatmates with Helen for a while.
Stephanie Goodman: Bob used to live in [Brighton landmark] Sussex Heights. He had an amazing penthouse flat at the top.
RW: With his own peregrine falcons.
SG: Everybody was hanging out and ‘cos he had the nicest flat in town, he'd have these parties. That's where the name comes from – it was Sussex Heights Roving Artists Group and then we decided to change it to Sussex Heights Recording Artists Group.
RW: That classic case of the band not really thinking they'd do more than a couple of gigs. We formed for a laugh with a stupid name and then a few years later you get stuck trying to explain it to your mum at dinner parties.
SG: "Shag? You're called Shag? Shrek?"
Google ‘Shrag' and nothing else comes up.
SG: There's worse names than ours. I saw some of them in New York.
RW: I think the Googling thing is quite important. I was trying to find something out about a band called Women - that didn't go well.
Were you already working on Life! Death! Prizes! when the singles album came out?
SG: Not really. There was always a plan to do five singles and then release them as a CD album. Then we wanted to do something afterwards.
Andy Pyne: When the singles album came out [previous drummer] Leigh Anne [Walter] was still in the band, but she was injured. I stood in and played at the album launch, then she came back in the band, then dropped out again. Some of the songs on Life! Death! Prizes! had been recorded with her. When I rejoined we completely re-recorded everything.
The BBC seem to be on your side now.
AP: Marc Riley's been really good to us.
RW: And Gideon Coe, so we've got the evening sewn up! Stuart Maconie put us forward for a Single Of The Week. We didn't win in the end– I didn't even vote for us.
AP: We lost by one vote!
SG: Yeah, now we're all voting whether Russell should be in the band. I think he might lose by one vote.
How did your tours with The Cribs come about?
SG: I met them in Brighton through friends, before they were big. Gary [Jarman] heard our stuff on MySpace and said, "Would you like to support us at a few shows?" It's been really fun. We got to play the Astoria before it closed.
RW: Glasgow Barrowlands.
SG: That was amazing. There was somebody with a torch lighting our way up to the stage. We were like, "Oooh!"
AP: Spinal Tap style, show us where we're going.
SG: Yeah, I can't use my precious pop star eyes! I must use your torch! It was brilliant.
You were included on the Rough Trade Indiepop 09 album last year.
RW: I've not got one.
SG: Yeah I haven't got one either. I've not even got our own record yet though.
RW: We did a Rough Trade Shop show, and someone who works behind the counter was very excited, saying, "This is a brilliant year, there's been so many good bands", and I didn't know any of them. So I think I feel a little adopted by the indiepop scene in London.
SG: I was really thrilled to be on it - I didn't give a shit about anyone else! I remember seeing a tracklisting at the time, but as I say I haven't got a copy.
RW: Allo Darlin' was on it, something like Veronica Falls was probably on it.
SG: We could guess them; make up our own tracklistings...
RW: Ozzy Osbourne had a new one on it.
AP: Sometimes I'm vaguely bemused as to why certain promoters think we should be on a certain bill with certain bands.
RW: We've all sort of wondered why. I don't think were a particularly indiepop band or that we fit in. We're noisier and stupider than most of the other bands.
AP: And older.
RW: No, don't say that, we're not that much older.
SG: Everyone in indiepop's fuckin' old.
AP: We're much older than the audience.
Are you going back to New York soon?
RW: We played a show at The Cake Shop. This is why we should have a manager or someone to help us ‘cos this guy said, "I run the indiepop fest in New York, do you wanna play?" and we said, "Yeah, brilliant", and then I didn't speak to him again. So the plan is to find out whoever that person was.
SG: I know that guy, I know who he is.
SG: I can't remember his name.
RW: There you go.
SG: I can find him, I've got a trail.
How many indiepop fests in New York can there be?
RW: Imagine if there was two rival ones going on at the same time, one was the corporate one and one was the real one.
Just like West Side Story.
RW: Exactly - a face-off on Ludlow Street.
AP: We need to recharge our batteries first, come up with some new stuff.
SG: Knuckle down, write some new songs, record an album, get the tour sorted, go on the road and wait for the sunshine.
RW: Get the European festival offers flooding in, do all those. Summer fetes.
SG: Any church festival.
AP: I once did a gig with a samba band in Yorkshire and we played some sort of school fete. We were set up next to the ferret racing stall, and the ferret racing had a bigger audience.
SG Well to be fair I know which one I'd be at!
RW: Playing a dog show, that would be good, there's one out in Patcham - Simon Cowell goes to that.
SG: Yeah, nail two things in one. Have a fuckin' good time at the dog show and get discovered...