Shame: “We don’t look at the finish line; we’re just looking at the next step.”
Shame are probably the most important band in Britain right now.
The South London five-piece released their first album this year and it is astounding. Songs of Praise is a debut record that captures a sense of instantaneous necessity no British band has been able to achieve since a little old act that might be familiar to people round these parts called Arctic Monkeys.
The group have the visceral intensity of Nirvana and the wry self-awareness of, well, Nirvana. Add to that the call and response virtuosity of Gang of Four and an ear for an irreverent hook akin to Pixies and you have the makings of a very exciting prospect. The group of school friends started the band and honed their craft in the midst of an enviable list of similarly exhilarating acts such as Fat White Family and have paid homage with ten tracks of startling freshness.
Dust on Trial is as sinister a start as you could have whilst One Rizla sees the band wrestling with their pop credentials; bringing an uplifting essence to the line “If you think I love you, you’ve got the wrong idea”. Elsewhere, The Lick is a dingy diatribe to the vacuity of the music industry that is carried along with a bass line that mesmerises like a languidly swinging noose and closing track Angie is as cathartic as it is redeeming. Its Stone Roses-esque sense of whimsical dreaminess can’t help but, and I hate this phrase, leave you wanting more.
Since releasing the album in January they have been gifting venues, including the Leadmill, with their unpredictably energetic shows; a few of which have descended into a state of laddish chaos that they have been quick to disapprove of.
After answering machine messages were left and signal was lost numerous times, Exposed eventually caught up with oft-shirtless-on-stage singer Charlie Steen outside our Kelham Island office in a sweltering Sheffield
CS: I’m so sorry about the mess around. We were sound checking so I couldn’t feel my phone going and the rest of the time I was losing connection on this piece of shit.
It’s fine. You inspired me to go and sit outside. I thought I had rubbish connection so figured I would get a better one by sitting in the sun.
Nice man. I’m glad I could get you some vitamin D.
Appreciated. So what are you doing?
We played in London last night so none of us have really slept. We’re all from South London and there were 1,500 people last night. In a big way you lose things like dignity and friendships and family when you go off on tour so last night we got to see a lot of our old mates, which was very nice.
Was it a bit of a reunion?
Of course, man! It was really fucking nice seeing everyone. I miss London. It’s my favourite city.
How was the gig?
It was great. It was fucking rammed. Over-capacity. We played with Black Midi, who we really love, and Peeping Drexels, who we toured Germany with, were supporting them. It’s been a lot of fun to have das Deutschland influence. I am originally German. My name was Stein and then changed to Steen.
Interesting. Why did you have to change it?
Because of the Nazis.
Those guys ruined everything!
It was in the 1900s that my family first moved. I don’t really know the details. I know that Stein means stone and that they were farmers on the borders of Frankfurt.
My friend has moved to Frankfurt and I was thinking of going. Is it nice?
When I was there it was really cold and quite dark. Sorry, I’m not in the most optimistic mood today; I’m very tired. Thank you for taking the time to call me and I’m sorry about how difficult that situation just was.
There are two ways to send a message: make them laugh or make them cry.
Don’t worry and it’s my pleasure, I’m quite a fan I must say. I’ve not seen you live though. I had a pass to review the show at the Leadmill and I was too ill to go. How was it?
Sheffield was good. This whole tour’s been a completely different experience. The entirety of the UK tour has sold out and half of Europe has sold out so it’s been really surreal. But it’s been a lot of fun. I think that was our first ever headline show in Sheffield, so it was great to come back.
What did you make of the city itself?
It’s an amazing city that we’re still yet to explore properly, but the pints are cheap and the food is greasy – two essential things any great city must have.
Too right. Sorry to backtrack to the whole changing your name thing, but one question I’ve penned is: “Do you feel a sense of obligation to the element of chaos because you share such a similar name to actor and general mad head Charlie Sheen?”
No. That’s just something PE teachers, distant relatives and football coaches would say to me when I was ten and it wore off pretty quick. I haven’t heard it in a long time and, no, I don’t feel any unspoken connection with Mr Sheen.
I was ashamed of that question.
Don’t be ashamed. Relax and enjoy the outdoors. I’ve never been asked that before so triple points.
Really? I thought that was a cheap and easy one. So what do you normally get asked? In fact, I’ll rephrase that, what’s your least favourite question to be asked?
“Are you angry?” Since the launch of the album we’ve sort of campaigned to deteriorate any preconceptions of us being a laddish band. When we wrote the album we were teenage boys so we can’t disagree with the affiliation, but we don’t want to be a band that plays one emotion.
I was going to say, there’s so much depth to the album.
Thank you and I hope that comes through. I think maybe it’s from our live gigs because its quite energetic so it could be perceived as confrontational, but we always saw it as something that’s entertainment and the underlying element is humour at all of our shows. Of course, some anger and some aggression and some sadness and happiness is in there as well. Hopefully there’s a range.
There’s a quote from Stephen Hawking I came across: “Life would be utterly tragic if it weren’t funny.”
Exactly. There are two ways to send a message: make them laugh or make them cry.
Yeah. Like I said, and I don’t want to kiss your arse, but I really do like the album. My friend, Callum, who as it happens lives in London turned me on to it and I haven’t felt that way about a British guitar band in a long time. It was a relief.
Thank you very much. That means a lot.
Do you think there’s a chance that there might be something bubbling under the surface and that current issues could instigate a new range of bands that start giving more of a shit?
It’s really hard to speak on a wider scale of perception because we’re so involved in this band. It’s our life. We’re touring a lot so I guess maybe sometimes we’re too close to the painting to step back and see the whole picture. But I think in terms specifically about music then, yeah, there are some incredible bands at the moment.
I’m only 20-years-old and have only been going to gigs for a few years, so I can’t speak on a large scale or have the knowledge on whether this moment is important or not. We feel pretty lucky to know the bands we know and have the music that’s being written for the right reasons. The thing is, nobody has any money, so any band that is in a position of starting out in the past several years has that awareness of the lack of financial stability. I think that’s creating something quite interesting, separating the sheep from the shepherds.
Do you think it takes out the real engagement and commitment from the audience?
Well, the lack of. Due to the means that have brought about the lack of money, IE Spotify and social media.
I don’t know. It was bound to happen at some point and I think where the music industry is, even in a year or two, with the rate that technology has moved, we could be in a completely different position.
They’re still writing fucking laws for Spotify and music because it is that new. There are so many things that need to be addressed. I don’t know whether I’m optimistic or pessimistic; I guess you just have to be realistic and understand that there’s nothing you can predict. I think we’re just enjoying the moment. We have quite old-school methods in terms of how much we play and even the type of music we write. So I don’t know.
We don’t look at the finish line; we’re just looking at the next step.
On the subject of how things have changed, you were one of the last bands featured on the cover of NME. What do you think the closure of the printed edition means for up-and-coming bands like yourselves that they have championed in the past?
To be honest, I can’t predict what the closure means but it’s definitely sad to see it. I think something else will be birthed from this and I’m curious to see what that will be. It will almost definitely be something online or perhaps we will revert back to the beginning and everything will revolve around word of mouth. I’ll ponder that.
You seem like a pondering sort of guy.
Well, yeah, I have just been walking in circles for 15 minutes in the High Street.
Get yourself sat in a park.
I would but we’re sound checking now. We’re seeing two of our mates later who go to Oxford Brooks, which is the shit uni in Oxford. It’s funny because they can blag going to Oxford.
I used to blag going to Leicester when I went to De Montfort, even though Leicester isn’t that good of a uni.
Name the city not the uni.
Exactly. So, looking to the future and the past, you guys go way back and I get the impression you’re really tight. Do you think that will hold you in good stead?
I think it’s the strongest and the weakest factor of this band. Our relationship went past friendship a long time ago and now it’s at the state where we know everything about each other, we experience everything together and we don’t argue. Well, we argue like brothers. We never stay mad at someone for too long and we know each other very well. We know when someone needs space and we know everyone’s mannerisms. It means there’s not much time to be in a relationship or have a girlfriend because I pretty much already have four. We have all the arguments and make-ups.
Do you think it will provide you with longevity? Being so tight as mates and actually being really good?
I don’t know, man. We don’t have a goal or a target. We’ve always had this dream to sell out Brixton Academy, but apart from that we don’t really have a point we want to get to and I guess if we did have that then what’s there left to accomplish after you reach that stage? We don’t look at the finish line; we’re just looking at the next step.
After wrapping up the conversation with Charlie apologising again for signal problems and saying that he was going to throw his phone against a brick wall, he told us about their “hectic” festival schedule, which includes a slot at local favourite Y Not Festival (tickets still available). The group will also be playing a headline show at The Leadmill on 18th November.