Shame was born from a culmination of feelings we can all relate to: boredom, restlessness, a disconnection from peers. They since found an ersatz family in the South London grot ‘n’ roll scene, and they’re of the same DIY tradition as many of their musical relatives, of the likes of Fat Whites, Meatraffle and Dead Pretties. They paint posters, make zines (called Shame on You), throw gig nights at the Brixton Windmill with music that, in vocalist Charlie Steen’s words, “slaps puberty around the face and touches your ears in spots you’ve never been able to wash.”
Now playing perennially sold-out shows Europe-wide, they ended 2016 with a debut music video directed by Micachu (of Micachu & the Shapes, and Under the Skin and Jackie OSTs). Most recently, they have released a a lo-fi music video about Theresa May – a mixture of indictment, sexiness and melancholia.
Kinza: How did the band start, and was there an intention behind it?
Charlie Steen: We’ve all known each other for too long.
Charlie Forbes: It was more like, we finished AS-levels, and at that point you’ve just got this stupidly long break with fuck all else to do. We gave it a go, and found a great place to get started – the Queen’s Head in Brixton, which doesn’t really exist anymore. We had a good summer, I’d say.
Josh: When we began, it was purely for our entertainment. Then as it started going well –
Charlie Steen: It didn’t start well. It started the opposite. We didn’t have any instruments or amps or stuff like that. Charlie’s drum kit was like, 90% Gaffer tape. And I didn’t have a mic for two months.
Eddie: So he had to shout in the corner to amplify his voice a bit.
Kinza: Between then and now, have you developed a slight political undertone?
Eddie: I don’t think we go into it with the intention of making explicitly political music but it naturally happens, when there’s so much shit going on.
Charlie Steen: I mean, at its most immediate impact, we also watched the end of an era at the place we were practicing, the Queen’s Head. You can probably go there now and buy a meal.
Eddie: They sell food! Food is so bourgeois, man!
Charlie Steen: I still wouldn’t trust anything that’s come out of that kitchen, even now.
Eddie: Capitalist paprika.
Kinza: I saw you perform at your single launch last year. It was entertaining!
Eddie: Got to give the people what they want, and if that’s a cover of Rock Lobster, then it’s a cover of Rock Lobster.
Kinza: Do you think carefully about the performance aspect?
Charlie Steen: We just want to put on the best show.
Josh: But it’s for ourselves as well. I have more fun performing live than anything else, and it’s hard not to get tied into its intensity on stage. Jumping around, we have fun with it. It’s not all angry, “Aaah, fuck you”.
Kinza: Right. A lot of disruptive musical movements are aggressive and hostile. I think you match that level of energy, but within your particular scene, it seems more about fun, inclusivity, enjoying weirdness, feeling good.
Josh: I definitely agree with that. Everyone around us is positive and supportive, and although we’re all angry with the situation that we’re in, we’re not coming at it in an aggressive manner.
Eddie: Movements go by that have been primarily fuelled by violence, hatred and a general adversarial nature –
Charlie Steen: But we’re a gentle group of people.
Kinza: You seem gentle.
Charlie Forbes: Josh collects stamps! He collects coins and stamps.
Josh: On stage, there’s a lot of energy and it needs to be shown that it’s not all violent energy.
Charlie Steen: We did try the abusive fuck-you approach.
Eddie: “We’re Shame, go fuck yourselves!”
Charlie Steen: It didn’t really work in our favour.
Kinza: On that note, you recently released a music video about narcissism for Gold Hole directed by Micachu [Mica Levi].
Charlie Steen: It was actually her wife who came up with the concept for it. We thought it was hilarious; it was kind of Fall-esque, like there’s a person who can’t play an instrument telling everyone what to do. It was all improvised as you can probably tell. Throughout the year we’re doing more videos. Like our latest one for a song about Theresa May, which I wrote about two and a half years ago.
Kinza: Is it still relevant?
Charlie Steen: Well the chorus goes, “Oh Theresa May, won’t you let me stay?”
Josh: He wrote it when she was Foreign Secretary. It was about immigration, and then Brexit happened and then she became PM, and we thought, fuck! We have to release this, now or never.
Kinza: About your gig night at the Windmill, Chimney Shitters. I was reading some passages you wrote for Facebook event descriptions – they’re very poetic, by the way! Both hideously and beautifully written. Can you talk about the night? What’s the name about?
Charlie Steen: It’s a slight can of worms you’ve opened here.
Eddie: Our guitarist Sean, who isn’t here, once claimed that he got stuck on his roof for so long that he really had to go for a shit, and that he then subsequently shat down the chimney.
Charlie Forbes: He’s now confirmed that it’s not true, two years later. He used to tell a lot of ridiculous lies. He once said that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie came around to his school and gave everyone £20.
Josh: I’m pretty sure he was ten when he said that.
Charlie Steen: We started Chimney Shitters to get a scene going, a collection of people around us, so we weren’t so isolated. We brought bands together like Goat Girl, FISH, Happy Meal Ltd, and Dead Pretties for some of their first ever gigs. I think a lot of people in this scene are at a similar stage in their lives: we’re all around the same age and we’re all kind of realising that we’re never ever going to make money.
Kinza: I get that. In the face of adversity, are there any fond memories to share?
Charlie Steen: We once did a Bring Your Own Song night, which had everyone you could imagine in the little scene at the moment, and we went to the Windmill and invited all our mates and spent all the money on getting drinks and played a load of covers. We ended it off with Every Rose has its Thorn by Poison, which went on for twenty minutes. There was bass, two guitars, two vocals, a trumpet, two drummers on one drum kit. And a harmonica.
Kinza: Very democratic.
Josh: Everyone’s welcome.
Eddie: That pretty much is it, to be honest.
For more on Shame, head to their Facebook page.