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INTERVIEW: Brix Smith Start
Marc Burrows , October 15th, 2018 14:38

Brix Smith Start opens up about the passing of Mark E Smith and the upcoming second album from her band the Extricated

Brix and the Extricated will release their second album, Breaking State, on October 26, via singer Brix Smith Start's own newly founded label, Grit and Glamour. The album follows on from last year's debut effort Part 2, and is both more muscular-sounding and more emotionally and musically rich than its predecessor. Crucially, unlike their debut, it contains no songs by four of the members' previous band, The Fall.

That the Extricated recorded a well-received debut album, let alone a second record is, when you think about it, pretty remarkable. The odds were stacked against them. The band formed by previous Fall members Brix, Steve and Paul Hanley and Steve Trafford (plus guitarist Jason Brown, who was never in The Fall) has occasionally been dismissed as a “tribute band” (“how can we be a tribute to ourselves?” says Brix, indignant) or a nostalgia act (“I don't think so!”). It’s a ghost they put to rest quickly by outgrowing their initial selling-point of playing the great songs Mark E Smith had long-ago abandoned, releasing Part 2 in 2017. The record saw them reclaim a handful of Brix-penned Fall classics ('LA', 'Hotel Bloedel', 'Feeling Numb'), but it was the new material that really impressed, proving that fifteen-years since she last picked up a guitar, Brix Smith Start still had something to say. On Breaking State, the band’s second record in as many years (old habits apparently die hard) they shed their past entirely with an album that melds crunchy guitar pop to moments of string-laden, naked emotion.

“It was always the plan” says Brix, on getting out from under the shadow of her former band. “We have a pedigree and a history so it seemed only fitting to start from the beginning and take back some songs we'd written that had been kicked to the kerb over the years, because they were our songs. But we soon realised we were all great writers, we started writing and the songs kept coming out. People didn't know what to make of us, so we wanted to sonically take them on a journey from where we began to where we're going. That was Part 2. We're never going to record Fall songs again, ever.”

While musically Breaking States plays happily with dischord and attitude, not least in the unmistakable sound of Steve Hanley's bass playing, it’s also an extremely tender and often uncomfortably honest experience, not surprising given the death of Mark E Smith earlier this year, something which can't help but impact an album featuring both his ex-wife and the bass player who stood by him on stage for nearly 20 years. “The shock of him leaving the planet left a big, empty hole for me” says Brix of the man that brought her to Britain after meeting her on tour in the US as a 21-year-old in 1983, “I struggled. For three months I don't think I went out.”

Only one song on the record is explicitly about Smith, the penultimate 'Heavy Crown', but his presence, and the need to move on from it, and from tragedy in general hangs over the whole album. A perfect example is 'Vanity', a downbeat post-punk confessional and the linchpin of the album, written after a trip to India to make a documentary about transcendental meditation with Donavon. “The imagery of the Ganges, and the bodies burning and the transition between life and death, and the physical to non-physical. Obviously, that's partly to do with Mark, because that's been a big thing this year for me, but also a transition from one thing to another.”

Transition, rather than loss, is at the heart of the album. “The song and the album, and me, and the band, the whole thing, is about transformation,” says Brix. “It's about blossoming as who you are. In [opening song] 'Alaska' you're small and vulnerable, you're absolutely hobbled by your fears, you're in a terrible, frightening place, all the way to [closing track] 'Unrecognisable' where you burst out. Each song tells the story, and by the end you've transformed. I wanted to take it from black and white to full-blown Disney technicolour, with the strings and the sounds. Being in a relationship where you're taken for granted, you're broken, mistreated, that’s the state of mind going into the song, and then the chorus ‘never give up, never shut up’ is the pep talk to get through it. It's a really emotional song for me. I've tried to do with this album what I've done with my career, coming out of the ashes of the Fall, coming out of the ashes of a breakdown, having denied myself music for fifteen years after I left. This is standing up and claiming who and what I am as a musician.”

Breaking State is out on October 26. The band will tour in support of the album through October and November. For the full list of dates, click here