For the forthcoming release of their brand new album, we would like to have a throwback on an interview with shame by CHAOS Music Magazine NL, at the end of their 2018 world tour.
Text: Susanne van Hooft
Pictures: Bente van der Zalm
We catch up with Charlie Steen and Sean Coyle-Smith, respectively singer and guitar player of shame, before their show in Paradiso, Amsterdam. Sitting in the dressing room, they are very friendly and patient. They can’t however disguise that they are also exhausted of many months of touring during the past year. We talk with them about 2018, which has been spectacular for the five-piece band.
How are you doing?
Charlie: Good, very good. We’re back in Europe for a tour again.
Sean: The final tour before five months off. We’ve done this year of touring across the whole world, apart from South America and Africa.
The year started with the release of your album ‘Songs of Praise’ in January.
C: January 12th; it feels like a decade. What happened in one year, it was wicked.
S: The big thing with the album happened back home. We missed most of it, because we went straight to Australia, and from Australia to America for another month of touring. We had this UK headline tour booked and while we had been away it had all sold out. So mad coming back and seeing what happened!
It’s only been a few years since you’ve been playing in small pubs and small venues. What influence has this sudden success on the band?
C: We started this band when we were 16 or 17 years old. We started in a pub called The Queens Head. We had this old school mentality that we would play as many shows as we could, whoever asked. We’ve probably done 15 tours in the UK by now. So, after the album came out, we stepped up a level. We now have lights, a sound man, a tour manager, a guitar tech, and stuff like that. We experience a kind of luxury, like being able to sleep in a bed, and playing bigger stages. We just did the biggest headline show in London fortwo and a half thousand people, which was sold out. shameThat was overwhelming. The first song we ever wrote was One Rizla, which we played during our first ever gig in The Queens Head to four people. To be able now to play that song to a lot more people, singing it back, is surreal.
With rooms you’re playing in being larger, the distance between you and the audience influences the intimacy. Your contact with the audience during a shame show seems essential. What have you learned about that in the past few years?
C: We’re very close to our booking agency. They did it in a quite tactful, smart way. With the festivals we did this year we prioritized doing mainstage over headlining smaller stages so to understand how to perform at that level. I’m not saying we were playing for 20.000 people. We still have a gradual learning curve. You have to learn whenever you can and you have to have self believe in your band because nobody else does (laughs). I guess I learn from watching other people, and watch how they interact. In terms of playing for a huge audience and keeping intimacy, the best person I’ve ever seen doing it is Nick Cave. I think, if you go to a gig and you make eye contact with the band, no matter whether it is a small room or a big room, that is the whole point. There is supposed to be a connection, a celebration and at the end of the day it is just entertainment. The aim of a concert is to create an intimacy and enjoyment. We don’t tolerate any sort of aggression or anything like that.
S: My attitude with it is that you have to take the ego out of it and understand it is not about you. If someone has paid money for a ticket to come and see you, then it is about them. It is for them.
This European tour is the last one for five months. Is it a break, or are you going to make more music?
S: Both. It has been nearly a year since the album came out. We’ve done the album cycle. People have seen us so much in the past two years. And, being as busy as we’ve been this year, doing about 150 shows, it has been hard to find the time to write. If you get back and you have three days before you go away again, the last thing you want to do is spending time with the four people you have just been on tour with.
We also just need this time off to process what we’ve done in the past year. For example, when we were on tour in Asia, we did Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong in three days, in three shows. That was a very big culture shock. That would probably inspire a lot of what the next album is going to be. Once you have time off, you have time to think back and appreciate all those times and moments.
What is most important for you as a musician? The creating part, the part where you bring your music out to the audience, or when you record your music?
S: I always knew that this was what I wanted to do, just as soon as I learned to play the guitar. There is nothing quite like it when we are in a room together and things just happen. One minute you have nothing, and two minutes later you have this song. Where does it come from? It is an amazing feeling to be able to do this as a job. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. So I think in a sense the most important part is when you write a song. When we first started there was never a knowing that one day people were actually going to listen to this song. It was always a very internally, personal thing that we do together. Showing it to the world comes after.
C: We always have an attitude, as soon as a song starts to form itself, we put it into a set and just see how people respond to it. I suppose with music, the end goal is to put it out on an album and performing it.
How do you write your songs?
C: They all come up with ideas, and I do the lyrics. Either I have lyrics that I have written before, in a notebook or I join the song. It completely depends on the situation. We don’t have a sort of formula.
S: Usually it is very collaborative. Someone, usually me, or Josh or Eddy will have an idea for a guitar riff or a baseline and then we take in and everyone just pitches in basically. Time is a bit frustrating.
C: We have been around for three years and we have an album with ten songs so… (laughs), we’re quite slow.
S: For every song you write there are hundreds that don’t make it.
Does that lay a pressure on you?
S: Not in a bad sense. I personally like it as a good pressure, because that it what it is to write a song. You have to go through really frustrating times, really angry times where nothing’s working. But it all is worth it, after months of trying, frustration, standing in a room and not talking to each other.
What song on the album was the most frustrating one?
S: Oh, I say probably One Rizla.
C: Yeah, One Rizla
S: We were trying to record every song we thought that would go on the album to see if anything needed polishing. I remember standing in the room with Josh, our base player. I wanted to do one thing, and he wanted to do it one other way. Nothing was working whatsoever. We’ve been there for two hours and we were about to have a fight. Josh went into the vocal booth. I stayed in my control room and I started playing this riff and I thought: that’s quite nice. Then Josh came out with a smile on his face. He said: I’ve got a baseline, and I said: oh I’ve got a guitar riff. We played it and they both just worked. We were filling in each other and that was a moment of pure relief. It is just to show you that it is sometimes very difficult and you have to swallow the frustration. And have trust in everyone else that it will work when it needs to work. I’m excited for the pressure though, for our new album. It is a challenge. Just as with touring there are ups and downs.