On Sunday the 19th of august, you can see them at 6.20 pm on the Synth Scene on W-fest, the post-punk band from London: Shriekback. Active since 1981, they brought us 14 albums and a bunch of singles, compilations and internet-releases. We took allready a chance to shoot all our questions to Carl Marsh.
Where do you guys get the strength and inspiration to keep on producing, despite lots of changes in the occupation of the band?
Someone’s got to do it! We don’t seem to have run out of ideas, and when you make a good record it doesn’t use up your energy, it gives you back more ‘strength and inspiration’ to make the next one – it’s a self fuelling process… maybe we’ve discovered perpetual motion. Shriekback is a very creative environment, there’s always a ‘what if…?’ and a curiousity to look round the next corner to see what’s there.
Shriekback arised from 2 artists of two accordingly big established bands – XTC and Gang of Four. How did that started?
Dave got a little burned out with Gang Of Four, quit and did an interview in NME where he said he was looking for people to do something new with. Go4 had released To Hell With Poverty, which was produced by the then up-and-coming Nick Launay – who now works with artists like Nick Cave and, curiously, Barry’s son Finn’s band The Veils – who’d helped out on my band Out On Blue Six’s first single, Party Mood. That gave me the confidence to send Dave the single and a bullshit letter basically asking for the job. Which I got, amazingly. Barry was already on board by then, which pretty much made it my dream team as Go4 and XTC were two of my absolute favourite bands at the time. Then there was a messy period of experimentation – trial and a lot of error – before the line-up settled to the core three; then Martyn came in a year or so later. I don’t think Dave originally envisioned it as a long-term project at all, but hey, here we are, thirty-something years later.
Tench was your debut in 1982. Why Anything? Why This? Is your latest. Can you describe which evolution you made as a band and how the changes in music business affected that?
Ah, man, that is a long, strange trip. Tench was us getting to know each other, then Care was us realizing we might have something out of the ordinary. They were both made in KPM in Denmark Street in London – that was essentially a demo studio for artists signed to EMI Music Publishing, where people like Simple Minds and Adam Ant worked out ideas – but we did a deal that enabled us to make our finished records there, which meant we had a lot more time to try things out. We’ve always used the studio as part of the writing process – rather than writing songs and then recording them – so that was perfect for us, as our indie label, Y Records, certainly wouldn’t have been able to fund us noodling around in expensive studios. Jam Science was again started with Y, but when they folded we moved to Arista and did most of the album in Island Records’ studio. Then things got bigger for Oil & Gold, which was mostly done in the deluxe setting of Lillie Yard Studios in Fulham, owned by film composer Stanley Myers and his apprentice, Hans Zimmer. So we were basically doing our ‘make it up in the studio’ thing but in a really expensive studio… it cost A LOT and was pretty, er, stressful. Still, we made a good record. I left after that, so I can’t really tell you about the years between then and Life In The Loading Bay, which was when I first cautiously stepped back in, but Barry and Martyn took the whole trip from making Go Bang! as a ‘commercial’ album to running a small, self-sufficient acoustic outfit for Naked Apes & Pond Life and beyond. For Why Anything? Why This? we’ve entirely embraced technology and the internet – we meet to try out ideas and get things started, then we work in our own studios developing material and exchanging files, only using big studios for things like live drums. No record company required. It seems to have worked out very well, if I say so myself.
Dave Allen was one of the co-founders of Shriekback and stopped after 7 years. That must have been a heavy blow. Are you still in contact with him?
I’d already left when Dave quit after Big Night Music, so I wasn’t involved in that. But, yes, of course it’s a big deal when a founder member leaves, especially one who’s such a force of nature as Dave. But I guess by that time Shriekback had become more than any individual member. Yes, we’re still in contact – we initially wanted him to be involved in the live shows last year, but, as he lives in the US and has family and work commitments over there, it just wasn’t logistically possible. I see him when he’s over here, it’s all good. You never know… I have an expression: ‘no-one ever really leaves Shriekback, except feet-first in a box’.
Shriekback was in 1984 on the Seaside-festival here in Belgium in De Panne. Do you feel any nostalgia to such festivals, like lots of your generation-bands have ? Seaside was for lots of bands and fans the place to be at that moment.
I think that was one of the last ones I did before I left, right? I remember it being a lot of fun playing those big shows, although I have to say it’s a bit of a blur – quite a party. You’d run into the same bands doing that circuit, so there’d be a traveling community with their own trailers backstage, like us and New Order and Echo & The Bunnymen, if I remember right. Alneighbours knocking on each others’ doors asking to borrow a cup of sugar… or something, ha ha.
Your new album Why Anything? Why This? reminds us at earlier songs from Oil And Gold (1985). We are noticing that you used less loops and electronics. Was it a conscious choice to sound more like then? Or a coincidence in the creative process ?
For Why Anything? Why This? we committed to make it fully collaborative ‘band’ album, which meant that Martyn wasn’t off playing live with other bands – which he’d been doing for some years – and I quit my day job. That meant, for example, that if a track required more drums and percussion, Martyn was around to do it, rather than Barry using loops made from Martyn’s ideas, or other loops and electronics. And I was around to put more into it than just lyrics and vocals – on Without Real String Or Fish, for instance, even though I contributed four lead vocals, I was often singing over tracks that Barry had put together more or less on his own; also, I didn’t put much into the tracks Barry sang, whereas on the new album everyone has been fully involved in creating and developing the whole thing. That’s why this album’s credits say ‘written, performed and produced by Shriekback’ and we’ve split all the writing credits equally for all the songs. Feels good.
The guitarwork seemed to get more central again. Could it be the influence of PIL-bass player Scott Firth?
No, although Scott contributed mightily to Wriggle & Drone and Sons Of The Dirt. As I just said, it was partly just because I was more available to play more than previously – on Beyond Metropolis on WRSOF, for instance, I had some killer guitar parts – you’ll have to take my word for that, of course – that didn’t make the record because I wasn’t able to get them done by the deadline. I didn’t want that to happen again. Plus Barry’s been playing a lot of guitar on this album, which is great. This record has been a very open collaboration, so people have been pushing themselves – I think Martyn has some guitar or keyboard parts that have made the final cut, I’ve done the odd bit of keyboard and we’ve all been very hands-on with the production and overall sound of the album.
You produced your latest album NOT ON LABEL, as an own release. Did that gave you more (artistic) freedom ? Did you need this ?
As in your earlier question, this is partly to do with how technology and the music business have changed. The technology means we can produce records entirely independently, without the need, mostly, for expensive studios and, therefore, without the need for a record company to pay for the expensive studios. We’ve generally found that without ‘artistic freedom’ there is no Shriekback. Historically, we haven’t been very good at being ‘produced’ or even ‘managed’. That’s not to say we don’t make mistakes, but at least they’re our mistakes.
Shriekback plays in august on the third edition of Wave-fest. What can we – as loyal fans – expect ? Are we going to hear hits like My Spine Is The Bassline, Lined Up, Nemesis… or are you focusing on songs of the latest album?
We’re up against the logistics on this one. We’d love to play a lot of the new stuff, but in real life we’ve got two days to rehearse an 8-piece band with two new members since we last played, which was months ago. So, yes, you’ll hear Spine, Nemesis, Lined Up and a good cross-section of the catalogue. Shovelheads from the new album is already in the set; if we can, we’ll get And The Rain in, but I can’t promise that. If we can get some momentum going on the live thing, that might change, but it’s been a struggle so far, to be honest.
Luc Van Acker is one of the artists we dare to call a Belgian Pride. He worked with Jo Lemaire, Red Zebra, Arbeid Adelt!, Poluphonic Size, Revolting Cocks, Nine Inch Nails en Ministry. And yes, he was also with Schriekback on Seaside in ’84, at the time of your album Jam Science. How was the co-operation with our musical centipede?
Yeah, we love Luc! He’s been in the studio and at shows with us a few times, but not recently. I’m sure something will spark up again sooner or later.
Can / may we expect a guest-appearence of Luc Van Acker on W-fest?
Given the tight logistics, it’s highly unlikely… but you never know with Luc!
Are there any artist you want to see yourself on W-fest ?
I wouldn’t mind seeing DF and Front Line Assembly, but we won’t be there for those. On the day I dare say I’ll be checking out Marc Almond… and I’d like to see what the Lords Of Acid are all about.
Last but not least: Ice cream ? Fries ? Or beer ?
I’d like to say it’s beer because it’s a very hot day here in London… but actually, it’s always beer. Sad but true.
Interview by Luminous Dash