MUSIC

Shame's Charlie Steen on Drunk Tank Pink, COVID lockdown and why Australia's Eddy Current Suppression Ring are their biggest influence

SECOND COMING: Shame frontman Charlie Steen, centre, says the London post-punk band's sophomore album Drunk Tank Pink was influenced by the stresses of touring. Picture: Sam Gregg
SECOND COMING: Shame frontman Charlie Steen, centre, says the London post-punk band's sophomore album Drunk Tank Pink was influenced by the stresses of touring. Picture: Sam Gregg

WINTER in the UK can be incredibly bleak even in the most celebratory of times.

Right now, as the country is ravaged by a highly-contagious mutant strain of COVID-19 that led to a record 68,000 new infections in a single day last week, the mood is especially melancholy.

"It's all pretty mad," Shame frontman Charlie Steen says over Zoom from London. "I've been fortunate enough to avoid being in London for every lockdown.

"Now I'm here and it's shit. Who wants to be in a city of 10 million people when everyone is stuck inside?"

Smack bang in the middle of this bleakest of winters, Shame are releasing their anticipated second album Drunk Tank Pink. It comes three years after the release of their acclaimed debut Songs Of Praise, which announced the south Londoners as one of the UK's most exciting new bands to emerge from the post-punk revival led by acts like Idles and Fontaines D.C.

"When we were playing this music it was really f-king lame," Steen says. "Now it seems slightly less lame."

Songs Of Praise articulated Steen's adolescent rage and humour through tracks like One Rizla when he sang, "Well I'm not much to look at/ And I ain't much to hear/ But if you think I love you/ You've got the wrong idea."

On Drunk Tank Pink Steen explores isolation and the mundanity of life and asks on the opening song Alphabet, "Are you waiting to feel good?"

It's perfectly suited to COVID. That sense of isolation was no happy accident.

After returning from a hectic global touring schedule for Songs Of Praise, which brought Shame to Australia for Laneway Festival in 2018, Steen retreated to his flat in a former nursing home in the south London suburb of Peckham.

Steen's bedroom was formerly the laundry and after removing the washing machines and piping, he painted the walls entirely pink and dubbed the room "the womb" and set about writing the lyrics for Drunk Tank Pink.

The album's gestation resulted in a considerable progression in sound and lyrical themes for Shame. Rather than throttle their listener with frantic guitar, Shame have introduced grooves and hypnotic beats on Nigel Hitter and brooding tension on Human, For A Minute.

"It wasn't some summit where we decided on what we were gonna do on the next album, it progressed quite naturally," Steen says.

"A bit of confidence, as well, came into play. Everyone's been doing this for a long period of time."

Steen admits the hectic touring schedule for Songs Of Praise almost broke certain members of the band. Out of pure financial necessity to make "money to pay rent" Shame drove themselves into the ground.

The pandemic has ensured the schedule for Drunk Tank Pink will be completely different.

"We have to keep on pushing, every band does, in order to make a living," he says.

"Back in the day you had limousines, now we have transit vans. It creates an unequivocal stress, that isn't needed. That sounds egoistical to say and sounds like we're not grateful, [which isn't right] because we are.

"More than anything this record and the documentation of the period coming back from touring is just about learning to enjoy my own company."

Shame's music often draws comparisons with British post-punk band Gang Of Four, and there's even elements of US new-wave giants Talking Heads.

LOCAL NOISE: Shame cite Melbourne garage band Eddy Current Suppression Ring as one of their biggest influences.

LOCAL NOISE: Shame cite Melbourne garage band Eddy Current Suppression Ring as one of their biggest influences.

But Steen says one of their biggest influences is underrated Australian garage band Eddy Current Suppression Ring and their 2008 album Primary Colours.

"We got shown them when we were 17 and at that time they were like this secret," he says. "They were this untouchable thing. It was like have you heard this record? Nobody knew it.

"We got shown it and everything about Primary Colours really did influence how we played."

With the live music industry effectively shutdown in the UK for the foreseeable future, there is obvious concern how rock bands like Shame, who thrive on performance, can survive. Steen remains optimistic that meaningful music will find a way.

"The interesting thing is the vast majority of people who are doing music at the moment are people who are skint and have no financial ambition of stability because there is none in the music industry at the moment," he says.

"It's gonna be interesting to see what comes out of that."

Shame's album Drunk Tank Pink is out on Friday.

This story Shame full of post-punk spirit during our bleak times first appeared on Newcastle Herald.