Drunk Tank Pink: An insight into the making of shame’s explosive new LP

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Drunk Tank Pink: An insight into the making of shame’s explosive new LP

Words by Dillon South

We chat with guitarist Eddie Green about the UK band's thrilling new album.

Following the hype that surrounded their debut Songs Of Praise, South London’s shame have returned in full force with their sophomore album, Drunk Tank Pink.

Across eleven tracks, it’s a heavy concoction of drowning instrumentals and punk ballads that sees the band experiment with a canvas of wailing guitars, striking synth lines and ultra-tight grooves, while frontman Charlie Steen’s songs of isolation, abandonment and struggle help to make for an enthralling listen.

Chatting with lead guitarist Eddie Green, we talk about the band’s new album, the state of post-punk in 2021, navigating COVID-19 as a musician and why Australia is one of the greatest places to tour.

‘This album was something we started writing about two years ago now,” Green says of the band’s  efforts in the studio. “It came to the end of a pretty hectic campaign  after the first record, and we found ourselves with a newfound freedom of time that we hadn’t had for quite a while before, so we got together after taking a bit of a break at the Scottish borders and started writing.

“Over the course of the following year, we just got as many ideas together as we possibly could, then had a selection of songs we thought could be good enough to be on the record and went to Paris to a studio called LaFrette at the start of last year. We spent three and a half weeks there recording it with an incredible producer named James Ford, and it’s been ready to go for a year now. And then obviously, 2020 threw us a bit of a curve ball.”

Regardless of this curve ball, shame’s trajectory has been steadily rising for quite some time now. After their hectic touring schedule and musical output of the past few years, they urgently needed to take a break and isolate far before the rest of the world had to. 

“From 2017 to the start of 2020 we pretty much didn’t stop. In 2018, we did 180 shows, 50 festivals and like 110 flights – it was fucking ridiculous!” Green says. “I think we did that at a good point of our lives – we were like 20-21 years old, and we didn’t have anything tying us down, nothing to come back to. We were just excited as fuck to be in that situation, going to these far-gone places to play to people… Sometimes not a lot of people, but it was amazing though.”

Following their relentless touring ethic, it goes without saying that the band were in dire need of some time to unwind and to regroup before embarking on their next project. Despite its status within the global cultural hegemony, Green explains that living in London can prove to be creatively stifling at times, and that the band wouldn’t have been able to create the album that is Drunk Tank Pink had they stayed to record there. 

“For us, it was the only way we were going to do it. We were born and raised in London, we live in London – it gets fairly hectic. We barely have any friends that aren’t in other bands, so I think it’s quite important if you want to get stuff done to go and be a bit more isolated by yourself, and that’s when you can really knuckle down and get to it.

“As much as we love being here, it can be a bit of a suffocating environment when you’re trying to be creative. London life can be a lot. It’s often not very inspiring, so I think for us, it was what we needed to do to get the best out of this record.”

It goes without saying that Drunk Tank Pink is everything that a great follow-up album ought to be. It’s brimming with forward thinking arrangements and intricate details that are squeezed into each song, with the band drawing from garage punk, jarring techno and quirky art-rock without ever bordering on pastiche. Each idea laid forth is well-executed and invigorating, bringing an exciting new dynamic sound to shame’s steadily growing discography.

“We were definitely acutely aware of the danger that would come with making a carbon copy of our debut album, and that’s something we possibly could have done,” Green acknowledges, attributing the change in sonics to the band’s newfound writing methods. “I think for us, it was a byproduct of such extensive touring: we were playing those songs every night for however many years, and we were quite keen to divulge from the sound we had established ourselves.

“Part and parcel of that was experimenting with new methods of instrumentation, allowing ourselves to foray into things that we hadn’t previously dived into. The way we actually wrote it was basically just through making bedroom recordings of everything, which gave us the opportunity to be more thoughtful about the whole process. You can kind of pick up on things as they are happening and you can reflect on ideas as you come up with them, as opposed to a rehearsal room jamming for nine hours, you know? You get a bit sick of that after a while.”

Speaking of shame’s influences for Drunk Tank Pink, Eddie touches upon critical comparisons of the album to Talking Heads, but also notes that he dug deep into the world of techno and Krautrock throughout his own creative process.

‘Things got a bit Talking Heads-y for a while, which was very swiftly picked up by people who listened to the first few singles on the record,” he notes. “For me, that’s not something that I’ve ever personally been influenced by, but Sean was a huge contributor to this album instrumentally, and that was something he was really into at the time.

“I went through a very long, drawn-out Krautrock phase, which is not something I would recommend to anyone who wants to be creative. There was eight months where I was literally just listening to Krautrock and techno, which is fucked. If there’s one piece of advice I could give to young Australians trying to start a guitar based band, it would be DO NOT under any circumstances go through a Krautrock and Techno phase – you will not get out of it for a while. It’s like a drug addiction. It’s fucking brutal! I was trying to come up with ideas of my own, but what you end up doing is fixating on one riff that’s never quite as good as something you’ve heard before.”

Perhaps hinting at his penchant for techno, Green also discusses the band’s use of new instrumentation across Drunk Tank Pink, making note of their ever-expanding arsenal of gear that’s helped them experiment and evolve as a unit over the years.

“I’ve gotten more into the synthy side of things,” he says. “We bought a Korg Monologue, which is really fun. With regards to the band, it’s an all-encompassing tool that you can use to do pretty much anything electronic with, although it took a while to get grips with it.

“Shaun (fellow shame guitarist) got more into direct instrumentation, while I was experimenting with noise and different ways to use the equipment I had at my disposal… toying with different ways of using pedals. There are some songs on this record where I’m basically not even playing guitar –  I’m just making sounds with it as opposed to actually playing it, which was a lot of fun!”

However, things turn bleak when talk turns to COVID-19 – as it always does – with Green discussing the impact of the virus in Great Britain and how it’s personally impacted shame’s finances, with the band recently having to call off their Socially Distant tour due to the nation’s increasing restrictions. 

“If we’d known it was going to last this long, it would have been a lot more of an intense, internal struggle I think. If someone said to me this time last year “You’re not going to do a proper show for another year” I would’ve probably felt quite different,” he muses. “I think it was the constant sort of ill-founded and uninformed optimism that stopped it from being a really shit thing altogether.

“There’s no secret that COVID is also financially crushing. 90% of bands like us make pretty much all their money from performing live – that’s just the way it is. The music industry isn’t geared towards rewarding artists for their record sales. The only actual viable income you have is from playing live, and that has obviously been taken away for almost a year now.

“A lot of us are in a fairly desperate position,” Green says candidly. “We’ve lost a lot financially, but we were also lucky enough to have an established fanbase before COVID hit. We don’t make money unless we’re performing – that’s just a fact of life. The people I do really sympathise with are the artists who were beginning to grow in 2020. That was meant to be their year, and there were so many bands for whom that was supposed to be their year who haven’t really developed an established fanbase.

“As difficult as it has been for us – we are kind of perpetually unemployed, so to speak – it will come back to us. However, for a lot of people, this pandemic could be permanently detrimental because they didn’t have the opportunities to do all of these things. As much as it does suck for us, I think that it could always be worse, as it has been worse for a lot of people.’

Given their knack for writing distorted, angular songs in the vein of ‘Alphabet’ and ‘Born in Luton’, shame has been labelled by many as a huge player in the revival of post-punk in recent years. However, Green does express some dismay at the term – not so much in regards to his own band, but more-so towards his nation’s attitude towards the genre.

“In the UK, post-punk revival is almost like a fucking meme,” he says. “It’s a thing that’s been done, whereas if you speak to someone in America, it seems like what you’re doing is far more cutting edge than it actually is.

“A lot of bands that we know have a bit of a problem with being labelled as post-punk. Personally, I don’t really take issue with it, but I think that question depends on where you are in the world. You can go to certain parts of the world and you’re seen as doing something really fucking out there and kind of cutting edge, whereas in London, it’s like ‘cool, another post punk band’.”

That being said, Green does have a lot of praise for Australia’s post-punk scene, singling out one particularly iconic act in the process.

“In my opinion, the best post-punk band of all time is Eddy Current Suppression Ring. They’re one of shame’s biggest influences collectively. They’re a band who are really are a musician’s band, loads of guitar bands appreciate their work. Australia needs more credit for their post punk scene!”

Not only does one of shame’s biggest influences hail from Australia, but Green mentions it’s also one of their favourite places to tour – particularly when compared to their own come-up in the UK.

“Touring Australia was the best, it was fucking incredible,” he says. “I don’t know how much you know about what it’s like to tour in the UK, but it sucks. To put it lightly, if you’re an up-and-coming band, the sort of treatment you get as an artist is pretty whack. You have to get to a certain level of success before you get to anything more than four cans of Stella and a bag of crisps.

“We went to Australia just after the first album was released and we got picked up from the airport in a nice mini-van and met our tour manager, this guy called Al O’Neill, who I have to give a shout-out to. He’s a fucking great guy. He manages The Chats, who are really good friends of ours, but Al O’Neill, he’s a fucking legend.

“He picked us up and we pulled up at the hotel and it was like a fucking massive five star hotel with like a fountain out the front, and he was like ‘get out of the van cunts, this is the fuckin’ hotel’. We were just like ‘you’re joking’,  and he said ‘the fuck you mean, this is the fuckin’ hotel, get in cunts!’  We thought he was joking because the hotel was that nice, but that’s how you get treated as a European band in Australia. We had an amazing time!”

Drunk Tank Pink is out now via Dead Oceans.