Steve Ansell discusses BRS’ debut album, how it all began, and life with indie’s strongest female role model
“Considering how many bloody blokes there are in music at the moment, an image of a strong woman is a very cool and rare thing, and that’s despite the seemingly unstoppable rise of Beth Ditto.”
Speaking with Steve Ansell, drummer, vocalist and one half of grunge inspired, punk sensation Blood Red Shoes, it is clear that when discussing his musical other half, guitarist and vocalist Laura-Mary Carter, and that now infamous nude photo shoot, he isn’t making any excuses. “Nudity and sex has been shifting products for years. We just decided that we wanted a piece.”
“Nudity and sex has been shifting products for years. We just decided that we wanted a piece.”
“We made a conscious decision about halfway through 2006 that we wanted to stop worrying about what was punk-rock cool and just sell a f**king million records,” he adds, with an air of honesty born out of experience. “So now we do anything for attention, including taking our clothes off in photos. And besides, who wouldn’t want to see us two naked? We’re the prettiest band around at the moment.”
It was photographer Dark Daze who originally suggested the idea of photographing the pair in the nude, and at first the duo were naturally wary of how their fans might perceive them. “We were a bit uncomfortable at first,” explains Steve, “but we ended up really liking the results. Though they’ve been over-used now. And yes,” he laughs, “Laura was standing on a box to adjust her height. It frames her in the dominant which I think that’s a good thing.”
In a profession where female role models are thin on the ground, perhaps rather ironically considering how their presence has inspired so much music, the arrival of Laura-Mary Carter has provided women, not satisfied by the polar opposites provided by the aforementioned Beth Ditto and CSS’ Lovefoxxx, with a realistic role model who, casting nude photo shoots aside, has remained down to earth.
Indeed, both Steve and Laura have refused to let their success go to their heads. Regular attendees at their gigs will be aware that BRS often invite their fans onto the stage to take up a tambourine or cow bell, and they can be frequently found chatting to their fans long after their set has finished, and overtired promoters and bar-staff are showing signs of fatigue and a longing for home.
“We like meeting people who are into our band, and any other band” admits Steve. “I think with Myspace the divide is breaking down because people are getting increasingly used to having direct communication with bands they love, which is great. It’s far more inspiring and exciting for me to see someone blow my mind with music and think, ‘wow! I could do this, that person is not really that different from me’.”
Enjoying the interaction with their fans, rather than craving their attention, BRS consistently show themselves to be the sort of musicians who identify performance as an opportunity to reach their fans, rather than a chance to boost their egos and any feelings of self-importance, unlike some of their contemporaries.
“I really don’t want to come off like a rock star or some amazing otherworldly being,” says Steve. “We are just two people making music and the whole “fan” and “band” divide is boring and old now.”
“We’ve grown up in what gets called a “punk” or “underground” scene where that divide doesn’t exist. The divide largely exists in a mainstream world where the cult of celebrity has infused the music world. I think it helped selling records for a time, I also think a lot of artists, even ones I really love, fell into the trappings of it, or actually craved for those trappings. I just think it sucks.”
“My general philosophy on life,” continues Steve, “is that people aren’t so different, and that there’s no such thing as genius. I don’t like it when people hold up anyone really high, as if they’re really special and do things they couldn’t do. For me that takes the humanity out of it, and it denies the possibility of the fan being able to do a similar thing themselves.”
Steve and Laura’s past successes with bands such as Cat On Form and Lady Muck are well know to fans of BRS; so to is The Go Team’s attempt to prize Laura away. But as Steve explains, from the very formation of BRS, the greatest boy-girl duo since Richard and Karen Carpenter, they knew they were on to something special.
“She looked like she was into good music and so I went over and talked to her. It all went from there”.
“We met in a donut shop,” says Steve, recounting their somewhat un-auspicious beginnings. “I was in London playing with my old band and I went for a snack and I met Laura in there. She looked like she was into good music and so I went over and talked to her. It all went from there”.
Within a short space of time Steve and Laura had started to meet up regularly, and were thrashing out their first tunes together, and searching for that all important band name.
“We just use to turn up at our practice studio, plug in, crank up everything loud, and improvise. As soon as something clicked, a riff, a melody or anything really, as soon as something happened we would just look at each other and grin and say, ‘that works’ then that’s it. We usually start there and let the songs write themselves as much as possible.”
“The way we write our songs is pretty spontaneous,” he continues. “We don’t have any particular sense of what we should be writing about. There’s no “concept” or over-arching theme. We just write about whatever’s on our minds. Although there is a tendency in a lot of our lyrics of being dissatisfied, or wanting something better than what is offered”.
“To be honest our writing process is pretty un-remarkable,” admits Steve, with and air of good humour. “I always think of it as a bit like getting in a car and hitting the accelerator but not steering too much. We don’t really have any conscious inspiration, and our only real motivation is that we love doing it so we keep doing it more. That feeling when you get the basic song down and everything clicks, you can’t beat that, it’s really exhilarating.”
“There’s definitely a sense of restlessness in our lyrics, and I think our music too; but it’s not conscious,” concludes Steve. “I think our music is largely a reflection of our personalities, and our situation at the time of writing the lyrics.”
“We tend to write about real things like being fed up with a job, feeling sad about a disintegrating friendship, about stuck up hip kids, about not being able to concentrate on anything, about going out and sleeping around too much. We don’t really write about characters or abstract ideas,” which more than explains BRS’ affable persona, and the way their lyrics have a way of directly reaching their audience.
“We just wanted to make it a really great record which represents our live energy, but also has some other details in there to prove that we’re not just a huge racket,” says Steve of the album.
“All I can really say is that ‘Box of Secrets’ will make you want to dance, and some songs will have violin and possibly even piano. We have no shame about being ambitious and wanting to sell a lot of records, that’s the plan.” Once again, Steve’s honesty and years of experience shine through. “We are pulling out all the stops. I want a f**king gold disc, minimum!”
“We want to be an international band” concludes Steve, “not like Razorlight or someone who’s massive in the UK and the rest of the world doesn’t give a s**t. That’s not interesting to us; we want to travel with our music.”