Dave Henderson gets intensive care from Shriekback
Sitting in Barry Andrews' flat in downtown Kentish Town Carl Marsh and Dave Allen relax and try to get a word in as Barry, in his laidback veteranmanner, compares Shriekback in its rising stature to throwing pots and books that he's read.
Barry Andrews uses long words but he's sincere, he believes in Shriekback as do his two cohorts. The room is airy and almost a million miles away from the group's new LP Care. There's a kind of urgency there, a plethora of ideas busting to get out and because of their diversity constantly struggling. It's hardly surprising really, after all, they all come from very strong and varied musical backgrounds. With pasts of varying stature Shriekback's first LP was an expressive and spikey start. Months in the studio - due to the high quality publishing deal the trio had secured - gave them the freedom to work as they wanted and throw ideas around.
"There was always a deadline looming in the future but nobody really knew when," forwards Carl.
Dave continues: "It took quite a while to get it onto vinyl because we didn't have any real commitment to getting anything done. In the end it was really just a summing up of that period."
Loose and rough as Tench was, it still didn't give anything away. The ideas were there, interest created, but no real statement of intent hit you in the middle ear. With 'My Spine is the Bassline' winning new friends for them, had they purposely attempted to take a more commercial tack with their music?
Dave: "It wasn't at all intentional. It just appeared to be going in a funkier direction and we just followed it that way. With the new album we just continued with that attitude and followed where it led. We don't sit down and write songs, we built them in the studio and we just travelled along the paths they took us."
Barry: "When we did Tench, there was a thing about not doing things that were commercial, but we always wanted it to communicate so that people could play it and get into it. We say that we didn't have to live with making music that was rubbish just so that we could live off it, we realised we could actually put out brilliant music and live off that."
But if Tench was inaccessible - it wasn't, but it was a lot less, say, mainstream (pun) than their later work - has their recent work been a conscious effort to get across to a wider audience?
Dave: "People haven't adapted to us. We know what we want to do and they're getting that from us. They haven't just clicked to Shriekback, we've set the ball rolling by getting our house in order, by accepting the fact that you don't have to sell yourself short to sell records and make money. There's no sort of secret message or hidden thing there. What we want is for people to play the album and for them to get the honesty and the communication from us. It doesn't have to be an album of potential hits and in the same way we didn't sit down and say 'Let's do "Lined Up" as a commercial single so that people will buy the album and hear all the weird shit', it just wasn't all that."
The honesty shines through in Shriekback, their unorthodox techniques allow them to come up with things that, if premeditated, would lack the power that they have. Their instruments are extensions of their bodies, claims Barry in a nother reeling cascade of anecdotes, and you can see this in their music. It's personal, tribal even. The inner sleeve bears witness with a collection of aids and accomplices written like's their gang, their team.
Carl: "That's just like an acknowledgement of how it works."
And the music too has the spirit of an organised outfit, which is dispersed through numerous people's attitudes and characters. And the tribe was in full flow on Riverside last year when with anarchic precision Shriekback performed a couple of songs.
Carl: "If we'd thought about what we were going to do on Riverside we would have made arbitrary conditions about what we could or couldn't do instead of just doing it. You have to make rules around the things that matter, not the little things."
But this trendy-right-place-at-the-right-time thing doesn't quite fit into Shriek-think.
Barry: "Maybe you'll get it right and the things that you choose to recycle are trendy that week, but that's much less important than the actual degree of conviction and commitment that you actually put into getting things over."
Carl: "It's like we've found when we've been playing live. What you play doesn't matter it's the way you do it, so the songs that we do are structured to express that."
The whole area of being hip is like a recurring virus. In whatever mode you place yourself, the onus will shift within a matter of weeks or even hours. In some cases it can take years to transcend the petty bracketing.
Dave: "I get the feeling at the moment that anything is honest and coming from a real love is definitely not hip. Some people, like Sun Ra and the jazz greats, are allowed to be really close to the earth and won't hear anything said against them. At the moment everything has to be really trivial and it has to come from hearing the right twelve inch this week and trying to copy it. It's like with Sun Ra if you've served your time and done 40 albums then you get your Golden Honesty Award."
With a mere one and a half albums under their belt Shriekback have got quite a hefty trek in front of them. As with all outfits of their structure they will inevitably go in and out of fashion at the drop of a hat. The thing that matters about Shriekback is that they are open to influence. Their music is a hybrid of their moods and experiences and for that it will always be fresh and intriguing.
As Dave confided later, they'd "love to release lots and lots of material but we would feel that we were swamping the market".
I'd love to see that happen as Shriekback are like a magazine rather than a group, a constant ongoing entertainment. A collection of people - fluctuating in numbers - who may not be hip but are always approachable.