Blood Red Shoes

Blood Red Shoes may be England’s best looking band. The photogenic duo is guitarist Laura-Mary Carter, possessor of a dark, evocative beauty and blonde drummer Steven Ansell, a young man with a classic just-got-out-of- bed-at-four-in-the-afternoon rock and roll aura. Their appearance hasn’t hurt their meteoric rise to the top of Britain’s alt. rock scene, but they’re more than a couple of pretty faces. With her punk art sensibilities, Carter’s fretboard assault takes rock riffage to exhilarating heights, while Ansell’s powerful minimalism on a small drum kit propels the music with the mania of a truck driver headed for a cliff with a payload of nitroglycerine.

“Our music is motivated by strong emotions,” Ansell explains, relaxing after a grueling weekend festival gig. “A lot of the bands in England right now are into ‘80’s pop and happy songs. We are definitely not doing that. I’m not interested in writing love songs at a time when everything is falling apart and all fucked up, be it in your mind or outside in the rest of the world. It’s more interesting and inspiring to sing about broken relationships, depression and anger, but there aren’t that many bands right now that have a healthy ‘Fuck you!’ attitude about them. We have love feelings too, we just don’t want to sing about them.”

Carter and Ansell hail from Brighton, a seaside resort famous for the Royal Pavilion, once the vacation home of King George IV. Brighton’s also the center of a small, but thriving rock scene. “All the musicians know each other, so we tend to be supportive more than competitive. We buy each other’s records and go to each other’s gigs. It’s not exactly a co-operative, but it’s so small, you can hang out and get to know what everyone’s doing. People are often playing in more than one band at a time. I don’t know if the bands have any musical ground in common, cause it’s hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it.”

Ansell and Carter knew each other from previous outfits. They started playing together in 2004 and were immediately writing songs. “We were jamming and improvising and slowly the songs got kicked into shape. We come up with the music together. Mary sings lead on the songs she wrote the lyrics for, and I sing lead when I write the lyrics, although we collaborate on the words quite a bit as well. We want to make sure the lyrics are as good as they can be and do a lot of editing. She fixes my words more than I fix hers.

“When we started, Laura-Mary was so shy she’d make me turn out all the lights in the rehearsal space before she’d sing. Now, after 600 shows, she’s quite fierce. She’s changed a lot. She was only 19 when we started, so we’ve been growing up together, both as people and as a band.”

Blood Red Shoes went from rehearsing and writing to playing gigs in less than a week. They played relentlessly and quickly built up a respectable buzz. Early songs were recorded on a 16-track machine in their rehearsal space and put out as singles on indie labels. Their angular, dance punk was filling clubs and getting them invites to major festivals. They soon caught the attention of a major label. “We made Box of Secrets, our first album, with producer Mike Crossey (Arctic Monkeys, Razorlight). He’s a good engineer and lets us get our hands dirty in the studio. We can explain the sound we want and he’ll be able to get it. Some producers are full of ideas, but don’t know how to get the sounds out of the mixing board. He does.

“In the process of recording, our label was acquired by another label and they wanted to fire Mike because they wanted us to give them some hits. We refused. We dumped (the label) and paid for the record ourselves. We put it out with V2, which is part of a cooperative music group in England where small indie labels have combined forces to get enough distribution to make a dent in the world.”

The band’s new album, Fire Like This, came out in England last March and shows amazing artistic growth. The dance beats were gone with Carter’s guitar turning out grinding, industrial textures that complimented the band’s gripping tales of moral and societal decay. “We cut the basic tracks live to analog tape,” Ansell explains. “We didn’t want to be tempted to go in and fix things with Pro Tools. We added a bit of Fender Rhodes and cello here and there, but you can’t really hear it in the mix unless you listen closely. We wanted the music to be emotionally engaging and sound raw, without any overdubbing we couldn’t duplicate on stage.”

Fire Like This is more about texture than individual notes. Ansell’s drumming is close to the bone, accenting the beats with commanding cymbal splashes that blend into the thick overtones of Carter’s guitar. The duo’s tortured vocals add an extra level of drama to songs about breakups, mortality and impending doom, but it’s Carter’s unique sonic attack that makes the tracks so compelling. She just may be the first female guitar hero. “Laura-Mary never took any proper guitar lessons,” Ansell says proudly. “She just made up her own chords. That’s why we have such an unusual sound.”

– J. Poet