Introductions aren’t necessary for legends such as these, but here we are anyway: Shriekback are an English rock band who originally formed in 1981, putting out their first EP ‘Tench’ in 1982, and ‘Care’, their first full-length, was released the next year. Most popular was 1985’s ‘Oil And Gold’ which featured the UK-singles charting track ‘Nemesis’. That was merely the start of an illustrious career that has carried on into today. The current line-up consists of the top-notch musicians Barry Andrews, Carl Marsh, and Martyn Barker. You can find their most recent creation, ‘Why Anything? Why This?’ out now (self-released).
B = Barry Andrews
C = Carl Marsh
M = Martyn Barker
Shriekback has had an interesting journey with many ebbs and flows, how did the three of you get together for this most recent release?
B: There had been a steady reabsorption of personnel over the last 3 albums – ‘Life in the Loading Bay‘ had the first 2 Carl tunes since the 80’s, then ‘Without Real String Or Fish‘ had 4 Carl tunes and quite a lot of Martyn’s real live drums. And now this album has a 50/50 me/Carl split and Mart is ubiquitous. Fucking ubiquitous he is.
C: What he said. Just to be clear, in case Mart’s lawyer’s reading this, the ’50/50′ thing refers to the lead vocal soapbox ranting share – songwriting is a three-way split. This has been a real band thing. Yeah, fucking ubiquitous.
M: Someone`s got to glue it all together!
‘Why anything? Why this?‘; What’s the inspiration and overall feeling behind your 14th album?
B: I sometimes read philosophical books in a spirit of thought experiment and mental novelty and came across this – slightly nausea-inducing – question. ‘Why is there anything?‘ And, given that things exist, why are there rhinos and volcanoes and tabloid newspapers etc?
It’s the mother of rhetorical questions and leaves me a bit wobbly.
In a similar vein as your album title, what’s your favorite track of someone else’s that does some philosophical questioning?
B: Leonard Cohen‘s ‘Anthem‘ – ‘there’s a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in‘ and The Handsome Family‘s ‘there’s only so much wine you can drink in one life, but it will never save you from the bottom of the glass‘
Both kinda profound, I reckon.
C: Was it The Mekons who said “No matter how I struggle and strive / I’ll never get out of this world alive”? Could’ve been Hank Williams. Both reliable insight resources. De La Soul‘s ‘3 Feet High And Rising‘. The Velvet Underground. But mostly Peter Cook & Dudley Moore‘s ‘Derek And Clive‘.
M: ‘Fragile‘ Sting, Radiohead‘s ‘Weird Fishes‘.
‘And The Rain’ features Carl’s first time playing the slide guitar. How did that come about? Is it a sound you think Shriekback might delve into more in the future?
C: Ha. I just thought the track needed that sound. I could’ve gone through my phone book for groovy slide players – and I know a few – but I thought ‘lazy fucker, do it yourself’. Took a frickin’ week to learn how to do it, but I really like the odd balance of precision and randomness it requires. There’s a bit on ‘Louder Light‘, too, so I guess it’s officially A Thing. I don’t think Ry Cooder will be losing any sleep for quite a while, though.
M: I originally composed a half demo for this idea with the Bo Diddly drums and atmosphere`s with reversed gtrs.
On that note, what else did you use for gear in recording ‘Why Anything? Why This?‘? Will your selection of equipment be changing on your upcoming gigs?
C: Apart from the big-arse live drums, almost everything was done in our home set-ups, which are essentially Logic-based. Can’t speak for the others, but mine is pretty basic – a £150 RØDE mic, a £100 Tapco interface, no mic pres or hardware compressors, just tiny Yamaha desktop speakers, some decent Sennheiser headphones. Seems to work. My trusty Casio PG-380 guitar, my ‘bullion’ 1960 reissue Les Paul, Baja Telecaster. Zoom G5n fx pedal. Sorted.
I should point out that we aren’t sponsored by any of the above-named manufacturers. They know where to get me to change that.
M: Hang Drum, psaltry, Bodrahn, Reco-Reco, Vintage marching Bass Drum, Roland V Drums, Gretsch Drums.
What’s the song crafting process like for Shriekback? Lyrics or melody first? Has it changed over the past 37 years?
B: 37 years? Interesting choice of random number. For me, it hasn’t changed all that much – writing songs is a question of collecting krill, then going out of focus and – as the novelist Russel Hoban once said – ‘making friends with your head‘. It’s bloody hard except when it’s really easy. Funny old game.
C: Yeah… some random words you thought of two seconds ago suddenly fit that guitar riff that’s been hanging around for years (decades, in the case of Catmandu). Bang/go figure.
Using 5 words what first comes to mind when you think of these tracks off ‘Why This?’
B: ‘Shovelheads‘? Cliquey, name dropping, shouty. First use of the term ‘Mercy Weights’ in a pop song.
‘And The Rain‘?
B: Stringent, febrile, atavistic
C: Gothic, Southern, swampy, apocalyptic, cunty-Trumpy
M: Deep, Hot, Wet, Breathless, Delicious
B: Bestial but very silly
C: Louche, hazy, zoological, yes, I’ll have another, thanks.
M: Funny, playful
‘Wriggle And Drone‘?
B: Bar’s closing, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.
C: Camden, Soho, Deptford, New Cross.
B: Numbers are the romping plinth of Satan
Nursery rhyme for a listless, jaded yet strangely intense working man’s club band.
C: Genius, or ‘apart from that, how was your day?’
Propelling back to 1985, why do you think ‘Oil And Gold‘ struck a chord with so many people?
C: Can you ‘propel back’? Doesn’t ‘propelling’ intrinsically involve moving forward? Anyway… O&G had some great tunes – which represented both the live and studio sides of the band – and was recorded right posh, so it sounds great. But we just make the records – to find why it ‘struck a chord’, you’d have to ask the struckees, right?
M: They are all fantastic songs
Are there any artists who’ve caught your interest lately? Do we have any vinyl junkies in the band as well?
C: The Orielles might be my new favourite band. Sleaford Mods, Weaves… new things every day. And old things – blasting Wendy & Lisa‘s ‘Eroica‘ atm. Fantastic.
Vinyl’s great, but it’s kind of a hobby thing, right? My kids are all over it. Setting up a new amp for the turntable this weekend, actually. ‘Without Real String Or Fish‘ will be the test record. But day-to-day I’ve gone far too digital to go back now…
Most of us haven’t had the honor to see your band live in-person. How would you describe yourselves as performers?
B: Strongly moulded, panoptic
C: Talented, gorgeous, balletic, remonstrative, deluded, desperate.
M: Emotional, Energetic, Open, Crazy!
Do you happen to have anything amusing on your rider? No glitter covered rainbow headbands or the like? Also, is there a place you have yet to visit on tour but would like to? Favorite country to perform?
B: Only the standard (3) My Little Pony costumes. Washable, obvs.
C: Jesus, don’t let Mart answer this…
I wanna go Iceland. Japan. A return to America is way overdue. Put the ticket in my sweaty hand and I’ll be there, really.
What do you see on the horizons for Shriekback?
B: Hysterical continuity
C: A laser-guided drive to perfection with highly regrettable collateral damage.
M: Beautiful moments that stick in your mind, hands and feet forever.
Photo credits: Howard Davidson (1st one), Nick Wright (2nd one)