Blood Red Shoes know you don’t need a whole string section to denote ‘emotional’, or a whole horn section to do ‘rousing’. They know rock music doesn’t need to be smothered in effects or laced with devious studio tricks to make an impact. There is another way, a way to make music that really resonates. It involves boiling songs down to their essence – just raw guitar riffs and drum hits presented crisp and unadorned.
Blood Red Shoes are Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell. They are a rock band from Brighton, UK. They know there is a power and intensity in simplicity. And they have a new album. It’s called Fire Like This.
Fire Like This is both a progression and a paring down, a record that sees Blood Red Shoes – vocalist/guitarist Laura-Mary Carter and vocalist/drummer Steven Ansell – getting back to their DIY/punk roots. “We started the band in 2005, and a lot of stuff started to happen,” recalls Laura-Mary. “The band started taking off, and we got a bit carried away. So much stuff gets thrown at you, and you just do it, you don’t have time to think about it. But we’ve learnt that isn’t always what you want. We don’t want people telling us what to wear. We don’t want to do that crap video. We’re in control again. And I can tell you, right now is the most happy I’ve been about anything to do with this band.”
And Fire Like This sounds like a band invigorated. Like its predecessor, 2008’s bright, propulsive Box Of Secrets, it was recorded with producer Mike Crossey, this time using the facilities of his new Liverpool studio The Motor Museum. This time, though, things would be different. Recording to analogue tape with the bare minimum of guitar or vocal overdubs, Blood Red Shoes’ second album slices away a lot of the gloss in favour of a gutsy, raw sound. “The idea was to make a record like Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ – a rock record with real heart, no macho crap,” says Steven. “We really got on with Mike around the first record, and he really understood what we wanted to do with this one, to strip things right back to the roots.”
But nor is this a case of a band that deliberates for an age on their debut and then dashes out a second album written in mere weeks. The bulk of ‘Fire Like This’ was road-tested and honed on long tours throughout 2008 and 2009, tours plotted with an ambition and persistence that would shame many of Blood Red Shoes’ British peers. It’s also won them an international fanbase that’s the envy of their peers. “We’ve spoken to a lot of other British bands who are like, how come you’re playing such big venues overseas?” says Laura-Mary. “Well, it’s because we’ve put the work in. We tour a country, and then we come back and tour again.”
One constant companion on these long, continent-crossing tours was Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s eerie ‘90s TV serial drama. “Lynch is one of those directors lots of musicians love, and I think that’s because they’re quite musical,” says Steven. “They rely on a feel – there’s not a lot of narrative, but there’s sub-conscious ideas here, and nothing’s explicit.”
Lynch’s series would also supply Blood Red Shoes with inspiration of a more concrete sort. “When this kind of fire starts, it is very hard to put out,” the Log Lady tells Laura Palmer in the 1992 film Fire Walk With Me – a phrase that would stick with Steven. “I thought that was a cool phrase,” he says. “Fire is an energy – people talk about having a fire in their bellies. But fire is also very destructive – it says a lot about how we are, we do fight a lot, but we’re also very intense about what we want to do creatively.”
Intensity is the word. Fire Like This is simply exceptional rock music, steeped in a knowledge of your alt-rock staples – Nirvana, Babes In Toyland, Drive Like Jehu – but with its own fingerprint. ‘Don’t Ask’ and ‘Count Me Out’ harness scything guitars and loud-quiet dynamics like they never went out of fashion. But there’s more ambitious fare here, too. Take dramatic seven-minute closer ‘Colours Fade’, originally released as a free download from their website– or the tender, fraught ‘When We Wake’, a sombre mediation on mortality that nonetheless burns with hot emotional force. “In the end is this all we can ask for?” breathes Laura-Mary, as Steven’s drums patter with a quiet intensity.
This is not your typical rock fare, but Blood Red Shoes thrive on such paradox. This, remember, is a band just as comfortable supporting Rage Against The Machine in front of 30,000 Parisians as they are rocking up at a benefit gig for Shelter or Love Music Hate Racism just because, you know, it matters.
“It’s a difficult tightrope,” says Steven. “You know, we’ve come from a punk rock, underground scene – everyone has pretty strict ethical rules, about selling out and that. We want to make music that matters, that’s credible, and artistic. But we’re also really ambitious. We definitely want to be a big band.”
And is it still possible to do both?
Steven shares a glance with Laura-Mary. They smile. They think so. “It’s hard, of course,” says Steven. “But we’ve learnt so much in the last few years. I know we’ll be alright if we’re completely ourselves.”