Shriekback released their 14th studio album in May of this year, Why Anything? Why This? I’m thrilled such a legendary band is still absolutely killing it both in the studio and on stage in 2018. This album in particular has a gritty Tom Waits feeling to it combined with so many elements of what we’ve come to know and adore from Shriekback.
The excitement begins with “Shovelheads”, a fantastically catchy song with a gritty, dirgey edge. The keyboard solo on it blows me away every time. Really this song has all the elements you would expect to hear from Shriekback in 2018– clever lyrics, backup singers on the chorus, and a “big” futuristic sound. “And The Rain” has a lot of great tribal elements and once again, amazing lyrics. Carl Marsh’s baritone vocals give Nick Cave a run for his money on this one, contrasting nicely with the soft backing vocals. There’s a whole atmosphere to this track that makes it feel like more of an experience than a song.
“Catmandu” is a fun song lyrically and vocally, Marsh’s exaggerated voice carrying us through words that put emphasis on the album’s title. The chorus is simple and catchy with a classic vibe.The first mellow song on the record is “Such, Such Are The Joys”. It has an ominous, sneaking feeling to it and some fantastic vocalization from the backup vocals during the chorus, which to me is vaguely reminiscent of the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack.
Nicely continuing the album is the equally mellow track “Wriggle And Drone”. which has a fun tribal vibe to it not unlike previous track “And The Rain”. The mood is melancholy, but you can definitely dance to it. It also has some of my favorite lyrical content on the whole album. A personal highlight for me is “The Painter Paints” which has a ton of layered electronic elements over an extremely catchy chorus. The lyrics make a strong impact.
“Useless Treasure” has my favorite guitar and key lines on Why Anything? Why This? and it probably has the most classic post-punk sound to it on the album while maintaining a deliberate uniqueness. It has a goth rock spookiness to it that contrasts the overall sound nicely. The energy picks back up with “Church of the Louder Light”, which starts off unassuming before crashing into a big sound– it’s very fun and among my favorites.
Electro funk based “Sons of the Dirt” has some of the greatest lyrics on the record. It’s political, cheeky, and genuine. It’s an experimental rock song that absolutely kills it. Finishing out the album is “37”, a dramatic ballad I can’t get enough of. Clever lyrics, catchy melodies, an amazing keyboard solo, it feels ahead of its time.
I had the privilege of interviewing Barry Andrews about his history in forming Shriekback as well as Why Anything? Why This?. Check it out!
Q: How old were you when you started playing music?
Barry: I guess I was about seven, playing piano at my granddad’s house.
Q: What caused you to leave XTC?
Barry: I was really hired to be a keyboard player and at that age I didn’t really realize that’s what I ought to be doing, just get on being a keyboard player. And so I tried to sort of foist a lot of my songs (which I was developing on my own) on the band. I was trying to sort of make the band a platform for my art which wasn’t really in the job description, but of course, at that sort of age… with that amount of adolescent testosterone, you know, you don’t think about those things! After two albums it was obvious that my songs didn’t really fit in the XTC canon. And it lead to two perfectly good song writers. So I realized if I actually want to spread my wings and develop a band around my stuff it would have to be somewhere else, so I made my excuses and left.
Q: How has your lineup changed over the years?
Barry: I had started Shriekback with Dave Allan, who used to be Gang of Four’s bass player. He had left Gang of Four and was looking to start a project and he got in touch with me ’cause we knew each other a little bit from the Leeds scene. And then Carl wrote him a letter to say, “I’m your man, I’m the hip young gunslinger you need on guitar” and it was, as it would be with Carl, an extremely articulate, persuasive letter. So Dave said “Yeah, you’re in”. After a few sort of changes in personnel it distilled down to the three of us for 3 albums. And then we started using Martin Barker as a live drummer and percussionist and stuff in the studio. And then Martin sort of osmosed into being a full band member in the mid 80s with the Oil and Gold record. The current lineup is the Oil and Gold formation of Shriekback, minus Dave.
Q: Why no Dave?
Barry: Bit of a long story, but around ’86 or ’87 we’d been touring America quite a lot and Dave felt that things weren’t progressing commercially as he would have liked and he told us he wanted to leave. So he did and we stayed in touch and he worked on an album we did, Sacred City in the 90s, but after that it became a studio project for quite a long time. And we had different bass players and the bass became very easy to do, so there was quite a lot of that. And then last year we started play live again and we got a guy in called Scott Firth, who also plays bass in Public Image. He’s our live guy. We are working with another guy Tyrell at the moment who’s doing the gigs that Scott can’t make.
Q: How did you meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie?
Barry: I’d left XTC but hadn’t started Shrieback yet. And we had the same publisher– I was still on Virgin publishing, but I think he was on it as well and his people were in town. He was looking to do an album with some London ex-punky type people so he got me, Gram Matlock out of the Pistols, Steven New from the Rich Kids, and slightly incongruously, Crous Cougar from Tangerine Dream. So it wasn’t a totally consistent London punk thing but yeah. We did an album with Iggy called Soldier. And Bowie came down on that and we did some singing with him, along with Simple Minds who happened to be in the next studio.
Q: Has anyone mentioned the similarities between “Nemesis” and “This Corrosion”?
Barry: No! I play that album a lot actually, This Corrosion, and I wouldn’t say I ever thought it sounded similar. But I can see what you’re saying, it’s got that 80s sound, drum machine and sort of a “rawwww” kind of vocal with the female singers over the top, so there is that comparison to be made, I suppose.
Q: How long was your touring hiatus?
Barry: About thirty years (lol) It sort of depends on what you mean. We had an acoustic version of the band, me and Martin. Lou Edmunds guitarist and Mark Rowder on percussion. It was initially put together after Sacred City in the mid 80s as (ha!) a cheap way to get out on the road and tour the record. It turned out to be… not very cheap at all actually, but that was the last time we toured. We ended up doing a lot of European gigs on this world tour circuit. After that we stopped touring, that would have been in ’95. We didn’t play live again until we did a Kickstarter campaign last year and raised some money to put together a band that was actually more like the 80s version, the 8 piece with pretty much all the main players– it was amazing, actually. And we’re going out to the festival in Belgium next month with the full compliment of Shrieks, that should be good.
Q: Can you explain the cover of Why Anything? Why This?
Barry: The troll, haha. I guess it sort of stemmed from the philosophical question, which is quite a deep one, it gives me a feeling of vertigo when I think about it– it’s one of the central questions in metaphysics which is “Why anything? Why does anything exist?” And given that things do exist, why have we got this particular configuration of phenomena that constitute our reality? So I thought, you can’t put everything on a cover, can you? So I wanted to have some example of reality, some example of a thing you could point out, Why anything? Well we, don’t know why, but at any rate, here’s an example of it, of this reality that exists. And I thought a 70s plastic troll would be a good signifier for the whole of human art and culture.
Q: What are your favorite songs to play live?
Barry: I rather like “Fish Below The Ice” actually, and “Black Light Trap”, “Big Night Music”. Admittedly the stuff we play live is only stuff from the past. We haven’t had time or money to rehearse up to the new album. So no doubt stuff from the new album would be even more enjoyable to play! But we don’t know yet.
Q: What were your favorite cities to tour?
Barry: Well I’d just be talking about in a sort of nostalgic probably highly inaccurate way… but you know. Fun places to play were: Amsterdam is always a laugh, Chicago’s always been great, New York, Vancouver and Toronto, always been fun, and Berlin!
Q: What music did you raise your son on?
Barry: Well there was quite a lot of my stuff because when he was little I’d be coming back from the studio everyday and obsessively have to listen to the tracks from the studio. So whether he liked it or not he got plenty of that. As a kid he liked music, but it didn’t seem to be the thing he’d spend his life doing. He seemed more inclined to visual stuff. I thought for certain he was going to be a filmmaker or animator or something. Something happened in his teenage years and suddenly– well, you know, his mom has a massive record collection as well. Yeah, he got to hear all the groovy stuff from the 80s, Talking Heads, Cabaret Voltaire, and then of course all the 70s and Patti Smith and then there was a point in the 90s where Nick Cave came along. And Irish music, we used to play a lot of that, so yeah he had a pretty wide primer in tunes you should know about. These days he always knows loads more stuff than I do so I always ask him if I need to know, for example, that Japanese flamenco band everyone’s talking about, and he’ll always know.
Q: Has your son turned you onto a lot of bands as well?
Barry: Yes! There was some traditional Portugese stuff he was playing that was really fantastic, sounds ad bit like Gypsy stuff but not quite. A band called the um.. Brutal techno kind of thing, oh Run The Jewels of course because he runs around with that lot, I listen to some of that sometimes.
Q: I read that you make furniture?
Barry: I used to! I had a hiatus from the music business back in ’96. I just got sick of being in bands and sick of democracy in bands and just fancied sort of paddling my own canoe for a while and as I fancied getting away from music completely. And still in those days if you wanted to make your own music it still involved going to record companies and getting money and I was sick of all that so I thought I’d retreat into the easily financed self-sufficient world of making objects. So I started that and became completely fascinated with it, stopped music for six years and just made sculpture and furniture and went to university and did a degree in metalwork, worked in a found and opened a shop. Then I fell out of love with it and went back to the music business. But yeah it was interesting to do actually, to do something completely different.
Q: Do you have any other hobbies?
Barry: Nah, I don’t really do hobbies. I got a house a couple of years ago with a big garden, and I’ve never had a big garden before. So I have been really enjoying getting down to the garden center like an old geezer and using my loyalty card to buy lots of not totally necessary plants. That’s about it though, I’m not really one for hobbies.
Q: What’s next for Shriekback?
Barry: We’re just waiting for the future to present itself, really. I’m hoping to do some festivals next year with the big band. The big band is a beast to feed, you know, eight mouths to feed, eight beds to find, eight plane tickets to buy, so it tends to be few and far between gigs because we can’t get fees quite often to afford to do it that way. So we’re looking to maybe do a reduced version of it, but that’s all to be decided.
Order the album here!