London’s current post-punk scene is quickly becoming the stuff of underground legend, with the rainy city serving up act after act of Nirvana-meets-Joy-Division axe-slingers. Think Idles, Fontaines D.C. and Sinead O Brien, all names making guitar rock with feelings stand tall again in the modern era.
Alt-rockers Shame have certainly made their name in the same scene, with their debut record Songs of Praise turning heads around the world and winning the coveted praise of the music press. However, with the release of their brand spanking new sophomore effort Drunk Tank Pink, the thinking-man rockers have gone out of their way to expand their sonic pallet – because krautrock-inspired beats can only take you so far.
“There was a lot more of a blank canvas with the first record, nobody has any preconceptions of you at all, but this time around we were keen to be a bit more ambitious in terms of instrumentation, song arrangements and stuff like that,” says guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith, speaking from London about the record.
“We wanted to actually come up with something that might surprise people…The first album was straight-forward post-punk, so for us it was more interesting to stray away from it in some way.”
Speaking at the tail-end of 2020, things are as gloomy in the UK as the music Shame made their name with when Coyle-Smith dials in.
“Today we just found out London’s going back into lockdown…you can’t really meet up with people or anything…we’ll get through it though,” he laments.
While it’s certainly not Coyle-Smith’s hint of optimism that sets Shame’s new record apart, there’s a definite shift in sound, with Drunk Tank Pink offering listeners both a more melodic and ambient affair. We may not be able to physically have new adventures, but that hasn’t precluded the band from moving in a fresh direction in one of the areas of life that they can actually control.
“You’re never going to be as bright-eyed as you are when you’re 18 going out on tour for the first time. It gets more and more normal.”
“I was so used to what I was doing night in, night out for three years, so I was really hungry to try and expand my sound and think about what other methods of using a guitar can exist – going into more avant-garde effects, how to make a guitar not sound like a guitar,” he explains.
“At one stage we just left my guitar faced up against the amp for half-an-hour…I don’t think we used any of it, but that’s what was great, we could do whatever we wanted, it was a great experience.”
While their first album Songs of Praise definitely stands solid in its own right, it couldn’t have come at a sweeter time for the band, landing just as fans of underground music began re-applying the eyeliner. Coyle-Smith is aware of this, noting that “it’s so easy to feel a part of something when there’s a broader scene around you, but it certainly shouldn’t dictate every progression that you make.”
With the songs inspired by waking fever dreams experienced by frontman Charlie Steen off the back of years of touring, there’s a definite growth in thematic maturity on Drunk Tank Pink, with Coyle-Smith noting that after three years on the road, they’re not the green upstarts they once were. As David T. Wolf once said: “Idealism is what precedes experience; cynicism is what follows.” Funnily enough, Coyle-Smith asserts a mirroring sentiment.
“It’s difficult not to come across as jaded after so long on tour. You’re never going to be as bright-eyed as you are when you’re 18 going out on tour for the first time. It gets more and more normal.
“We wanted to touch on the disparity between tour and home life, and the difficulties of getting to grips with both because they’re so different in nature.
“That can come across fairly cynical, but it’s hard to understand complaining about it if you’ve never experienced it.”