Saturday, May 21, 2011

Shield Your Eyes are "Keen as Mustard": The EIS Interview

Shield Your Eyes are one of the most raw and explosive bands we've come across in a long time. Their sound is dirty and chaotic yet increasingly accessible. Based in London, the trio have released three phenomenal records (including last year's Theme From Kindness) of blues tinged post-punk, and are showing no signs of slowing down. We recently caught up with guitarist/vocalist Stef Ketteringham to ask him a few questions about one of our favorite bands across the pond...

EIS: How long have you guys been playing together? Was there a clear vision of what you wanted to accomplish with the band from the get go?

SK: Yeah well at the time of forming I was saying things like I wanted the band to sound like a motocross bike on full chat, but also I was hoping to write nice soul songs too. We got together and started writing about 5 years ago, we did some gigs here and there for a year or so, and then we got stuck right in and toured a lot. I wanted to create a band which would operate on the principles of the English and Irish progressive blues rock bands from the late 60s and early 70s, as in to not consider writing to be a difficult task, so write a lot, tour a lot, and release a good album every year.

EIS: When did you first start playing guitar? I’ve noticed you have a unique way of playing, is that something you’ve always done or did you adopt that style for the sound of the band?

SK: For all our stuff I use my own tunings and I usually don’t have 6 strings on. Most of the numbers have been somewhat structured around the guitar parts, but always in a way so as to not stifle the drums, cos Henri’s a rad drummer and totally sprays, and is entirely integral to the band. The main thing was realizing Henri’s drumming style suited my playing perfectly and then we ran with it. The band is basically Henri and I, with the help and influence of various friends on bass over the years. I started playing guitar when I was 14 or 15 and taught myself a kind of lead-guitar thing. It’s not a case of adopting a style for any reason, it’s more for just the pure enjoyment of playing and writing new stuff.

EIS: I’ve described your music as “the aural equivalent of chewing on a mouthful of glass… in a good way,” a thought that’s rough and vivid, but damn right enjoyable. How do you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard the band?

SK: Well I suppose in normal sentences. The main thing is to discourage people from thinking we are a technically-minded band, or a math band. The majority of our songs, certainly all our more recent ones, we have given them very traditional structures, to allow us to feel able to embellish on them live, and improvise. If you’re doing a lot of gigs it can start to feel a bit absurd if you’re just trying to play the numbers the same every night. For the last two or three years we've always had a lot of numbers we can use for improvisation with lots of live variation, and with our more recent material we've gone especially in that direction.

EIS: There is certainly a bluesy undertone buried deep beneath the carnage and agitated mayhem, is that a direction you want to further explore?

SK: That is basically the whole context of the band, there being a blues rock influence. Not in the 12 bar sense but yes in the feeling and principle of it being a primal and immediate thing and not intellectualized.

EIS: Theme From Kindness is a brilliant album due in equal parts to your aggressive musical complexity and the unbelievably raw production method. What made you decide to record the album in the living room? What was the set up? How many mics, etc?

SK: I think we had 12 mics. The way we went about it has its faults but we got an album recorded when we had no money to go about it in the normal way. I didn't feel like hanging onto the material until we had more money, cos I was feeling like the album was written, and it’s best to finish it rather than let it become a thing you're dragging around in the back of your mind. The crux of the sound is that we placed the guitar amp 2 feet away from the drums and fired the sound directly into the kit, and mic’d it up as if it was one instrument. To put it in context we were getting it done how we could at the time, and it was a nice process to do everything between just the three of us. I don’t think it sounds too bad, but since then we’ve recorded our next album, Volume 4, and I think that sounds much better.

EIS: Have you caught any grief from fans over the ultra lo-fi production? Was the label at all concerned or were they supportive of the decision?

SK: There were very few positive reviews of the album but I think these days people can think you very strange for wearing your flaws up front, but we liked the idea of giving as honest an account of our writing sound as we could. It’s not a bad album and has some of our best numbers on it, but I can see how the production might alienate some peoples ears. Anyway, with Volume 4 we went about it a totally different way, recording in a large hotel with a producer. The label never expressed any worry about Theme From Kindness though I think they’ll prefer the new one, along with most people.

EIS: What’s the relationship like between the band and Function Records?

SK: Alright I think, and they’re a good label. They’re really good lads and release a lot of stuff. It’s also nice to be on the same label as Nitkowski.

EIS: What was the writing sessions like for Theme From Kindness? Do you all write together?

SK: In the case of nearly all our stuff I write the guitar parts and a first structure before showing it to the lads, perhaps the singing and lyrics too, then they put what they want to to it, and I pretty much always like it. Theme From Kindness took a few more sessions to write because Nick had just joined the band and we were jamming a lot. When we were writing Volume 4 we took barely any time to get each number ship-shape, and we wrote a lot of extra numbers which will be left over recordings. But yeah once the music is written I write the vocals quickly with whatever lyrics I’m thinking of at the time, I suppose letting the feel of the music evoke the lyrics.

EIS: For those of us in the States who haven’t been so lucky as to catch Shield Your Eyes live, how does the experience compare to hearing the album at home? I can only imagine it being pretty crazy…

SK: Well, it depends on the audience. For our part, we set up in our usual way and play as best we can. Then I suppose our music has a certain get-up-and-go about it. I suppose we move about but not in the way of a lot of bands over here who like to overdo the show thing when playing, jumping around and that, and they nearly always look like total twats. I can’t be sure which American bands they’re copying but personally I lose interest very quickly when bands don’t look like they’re trying to actually make it sound good. You know like when a band starts going crazy right from the very first note they hit, as if they already knew it would have this effect on them, you know these would-be techy, would-be confrontational types, that act is very tired now. It’s somewhat deluded and usually comes across as much more like a sales project than anything else.

EIS: What are the odds the band will ever play some US shows? Maybe SXSW or CMJ next year?

SK: Yeah well hopefully we can arrange a few dates sometime. Yeah it would be nice to come over but I dunno about SXSW and I don’t know what CMJ is. I’ve always had a lot more ambition to tour in Europe than anywhere else. I suppose for a huge amount of bands over here their main influence comes from American bands of the last 20 years, whereas aside from the soul stuff the majority of my record collection was recorded in London. There’s a possibility of recording our 5th album in the States and I think that would be a good opportunity to play a few gigs too, I think that would be really cool. I suppose we’d hire tons of gear for that. Anyway yeah, we’d be keen as mustard.

EIS: Do you have any dates coming up for the summer? Do you enjoy touring for lengthy periods at a time?

SK: Yeah I really do, and to do so is as much the point of the band as anything else. I think you learn a lot on tour, and it really adds something to your ability to play if you're doing long sets every night. A lot of bands can fall into some kind of touring routine where they tread water and roll the set out the same every night, often with less and less inspiration as the tour goes on, which is a trap it’s easy to fall into, which is why I think it’s important we have a lot of sections which aren't set in stone, so as to push ourselves and find new ways to play and variate our numbers, and be able to try different ideas and tangents each night. I think it provokes you to be on form and not just go through the motions of demonstrating what you wrote some time before. I didn’t want it to be that the creative process is over long before we play our songs live. But yeah, we’re doing a few gigs in the summer around England, and then will be playing a few tours around Europe in the autumn and winter.

EIS: Top three favorite tour memories?

SK: At the moment a recent memory of a nice night camping by Loch Lomond on a Scottish tour with That Fucking Tank. We played particularly well on a couple of the nights on that tour, in Edinburgh and Saltaire, those are nice memories. We did a rad gig in London a few nights ago too. Overall our last European tour was an amazing.

EIS: Do you have a favorite track to play live? Is there a definitive audience favorite?

SK: At the moment it’s a number called "Tryna Lean a Ladder Up Against the Wind" cos it’s new and rad. Also a new number called "Larkspur".

EIS: What are your main musical influences?

SK: Taste and early Rory Gallagher, Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Groundhogs, Eric Bell era Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Back Door, T2.

EIS: If you could go out on the road with any 3 active bands, who would you pick?

SK: Lords (the English one), Falenizza Horsepower, and Betunizer, rad Spanish lads.

EIS: You recently put all three of your fantastic albums on sale, is that still going and where can fans get the records?

SK: Yeah we fancied getting the boxes we had left out of Henri's room and into people's homes. We’re sending them out worldwide and have tried to keep the price as low as possible bearing in mind the international postage costs. You can go to to have a look.

shield your eyes by shield your eyes

1 comment:

Elaine Day said...

Very interesting interview, enjoyed it greatly.

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