UK post-punks Squid: “Music is one of the fundaments of life for all of us”

Original photo by Holly Whitaker. Handmade mixed-media by B.

Gimmie recently spoke with Anton Pearson and Louis Borlase, both guitarists and vocalists for UK post-punk band Squid. We’ve been following them since we first heard their debut EP in 2019 on producer Dan Carey’s label, Speedy Wunderground. Today they release their debut LP Bright Green Field, an imaginative original work of twists and turns stacked with art-punk grooves, noise rock vitriol, jazz leanings and experimentation. Playful with an emotional depth, a real triumph.

ANTON PEARSON: We have a day of writing in our new studio today.

Is that for the next album?

LOUIS BORLASE: Maybe. We tried to move in yesterday and their handyman was with a drill and every time we were like, “Can we come in now?” He said, “It’s going to be twenty minutes.” He kept doing that all day to the point of, we had to go home. We had a little jam there last night.

Squid have previously mentioned that with your new record Bright Green Field you could have gone down the path of writing something that’s digestible and easy to listen to but you decided to make a “really fucking weird”: album; what sparked the choice to go that route?

LB: It wasn’t as really explicit as that, to be honest. We made a decision that was unanimous, yet relatively subconscious, decision to just continue writing songs in the vein of what we were currently enjoying, which at the time they happened to be quite texturally heavy pieces of music. That was a thread that continued across the writing process. We were enjoying writing really groove-based stuff as well and stuff that was very rhythmic. We didn’t really get to the point where we actively said, we’re not going to try and write a pop song or a funk tune here, it was just that it was very much a feeding in of how we were all feeling at the time. It’s just how it turned out.

Thinking back to that time, how were you feeling?

LB: With us the other thing is that the songs on the album are kind of coming from different times, maybe that is a point in itself because there are tracks that are older, and tracks that are brand new, tracks that we’ve never played before and tracks that have always been a staple of our live set. We’ve been feeling very different at different times over quite a long duration. There’s a real trajectory of different energies and moods, which I consider to be natural. There’s five of us and there’s songs from over the course of two or three years.

Did you find that the lockdown [due to the pandemic] effected your creativity?

AP: Yeah, absolutely. It was the first time that we hadn’t spent every day together for years. We had a few months completely separate in different parts of the country. It absolutely affected how we went about things. We had to do a lot of sharing stuff online and having conversations in the online sphere instead of in person. We managed to have four weeks together until we started doing our album… it was an interesting and different process to what we’ve had.

Your new record was recorded in an old barn?

AP: Yeah. There’s a small town nearby Bristol where a couple of us are now and where Ollie [Judge – vocals-drums] grew up. It’s a very small market town community and his family are friends with the family that run the pub there. They have a venue that was closed down due to the pandemic, so it was a bit of a sitting duck waiting for someone to come along and use to creatively during lockdown. We got to the point where we were legally allowed to see each other again and as soon as we could we started going there every day and doing long days.

At first it was a bit weird because we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, the music I feel that came out of the first few sessions was this explosion and release of what we’d all been sitting on. The Old Road Tavern and barn in Chippenham deserves a very big shout out.

What’s one of your fondest memories from recording?

AP: That’s where we did the last bit of writing… [Anton’s Zoom connection breaks up]

LB: What Anton was saying is that we were writing in the band and then that led us right up to the point of where we were able to go to London to record with our friend Dan [Carey; Speedy Wunderground] who we had worked with before. We had a three and a half week recording process where we hired out a flat, on the other side of the park next to his house. We would walk to his every day, eat with him and it was a very familial experience because he lives above the studio where he does the majority of his recordings. It was just Dan and his little dog Feta and some of his family were there for a bit of the time as well. For the main part we were just there with him and due to it being a very intense time for all the issues that surrounded Coronavirus, we really had to become a bubble, a family. We all had to be quite explicit with what our values were, make sure we were keeping each other safe and healthy at all times. There was a lot of communication which I think was quite conducive to us making, in our opinion, quite focused album.

What kind of experimentation did you try on this record?

LB: One element of it that’s really nice to talk about is an idea that Arthur [Leadbetter – keys-strings-percussion] had. In light of us not being able to see our friends and family for a long time, he put together this series of questions to ask friends and family members about how they’re feeing and what they’ve been up to, just vague stuff, but allowing them to send back these voice notes in their own words. We compiled them – it was about 30 people – into these recordings and at times you can make out a certain friend saying what they’ve been up to and at times it’s almost his nonsensical human chattering; that became a really nice thread that gives this illusion of citizens talking in the city.

There’s also field recordings that we did because we spent a lot of time alone, as you can imagine. We hadn’t seen many people so we went around making iPhone recordings. Anton had a family of bees living in his wall back at home, he recorded those making this nice kind of tooting, humming noise. I recorded these bells that I hear from across the park in my flat. These recordings pepper the album with experiences that we’ve been having on a very individual level, considering the music was very collective. It’s a nice touch.

That’s really cool. What’s one of your favourite moments on the record?

LB: One of my favourite moments, there’s a track called ‘The Flyover’ which was originally written to be an introduction to the song ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ it features those voices that I was just talking about and it also focuses on brass instrumentation. I think it’s a real reflective breather, it’s quite a transitional moment in the album, just before the song that starts after it [‘Peel St’] which is a bit more sinister, a bit more menacing.

I really love that piece too. I was going to ask you about it. The album can get quite chaotic-sounding at times with lots of crescendos which almost make you hold your breath as it builds and then ‘The Flyover’ gives you a moment to breath. The brass gives it a really warm feeling too.

LB: It is quite ceremonial. Upon listening back to the album a few times, I think we all get surprised about the detail within the album that we weren’t all aware of at the time. It’s only merited on with repeat listening, one of those is this weird coincidental feeling of ceremonious events that you can hear, like these bells ringing and chattering of people—it feels quite alive. That’s only something we’ve noticed recently; I wonder what else we’ll notice.

I think what you listen to the album on makes a difference to what you can hear and pick up too. It sounds different when I’m listening to it on my laptop speakers, on my home stereo, on my car stereo; on my phone through headphones, which kind of allows you to be enveloped in that world you’ve created.

LB: You kind of become a little bit of character, don’t you? Walking along with your headphones you can feel like a character in a film.

Photo: Holly Whitaker.

What have you been listening to lately?

LB to AP: Are you here Anton? Are you back in the room?

AP: I’m here.

LB to AP: You sound a bit like a robot talking underwater.

AP: [Laughs]. Maybe that’s what we listen to.

LB: Yeah, we listen to robots talking under water. We’ve all been listening to quite a lot of different stuff. The only time we really listen to music together and talk about it is when we’re seeing people play live or we’re driving along in the van. We haven’t been driving along in the van lately because there’s no gigs. I’ve been listening to a lot of Suzanne Ciani, who is one of my favourite improvisers. She plays on her special synthesizer, a very archaic synthesizer called the Buchla, which is very modular, lots of wires. The album I bought recently is called A Sonic Womb. It’s a live recording from shows she’s done in Spain. It’s a dialogue, she’s having conversations with herself. It’s very free and very focused on rhythm, which is something very important to us as a band. Not a whole lot of music together really because when we see each other we’re working on our own stuff.

You mention earlier you had a jam last night; what was it sounding like?

LB: It was sounding a little bit clunky because we haven’t worked out where to put everything in the room yet. It was nice to do that. It was sounding very loose, there were rapidly changing time signatures and lots of fuzzy guitars and synths. It was very much not like Squid because the whole five of us weren’t there. Today will be the day that we get a bit more Squid in.

Last question, why is music important to you?

LB: Music is one of the fundaments of life for all of us. We’ve always been exposed to it, when we were younger, growing up in very different musical backgrounds. We have things we agree on and things we disagree on and it becomes very much about conversation and points of view. The fact that we all came and formed this band at this uniformed point in our lives but when we were all thinking different things of what it means to play music is pretty important. For us as a band, Squid is a means of where we can have a collective identity through sound and come together.

What’s something you disagree on?

LB: [Laughs]. We disagree on what should feature in a recording, which I think is a good thing because we get carried away with putting the recording down and we tend to track everything live… on the album everything was recorded in live takes and usually we try to get the earliest take as possible, first, second or third take. When it comes to having those live tracks laid down, we go through a meticulous series of overdubs to add instrumentation and then we approach electronic elements. Sometimes there’s things that one of us had played and feel it’s in the perfect position but sometimes we don’t always agree that it should be there. Nine times out of ten we’ll forget about those parts but sometimes they stay and it turns into a nice disagreement because if it didn’t end up on the recording it’s able to be brought back in the live performance.

What’s something you do agree on?

LB: We do agree on what is the most conducive way of writing, which is letting ideas have the space and that there’s never a magic formula for an idea. It’s very embryonic to become something that is very fine-tuned within the space of a day or two.

Anything else you want to tell me about Bright Green Fields?

AP: [The line is still crackly] From robot [laughs]… we had a lot of fun making it. It’s the most important project of our lives. Obviously though, because I’m a robot, I’ll live forever.

Please check out: SQUID; on bandcamp; on Instagram. Bright Green Fields is out today on Warp Records.