Stealing Sheep are a band like no other.
We are aware that that is a hell of a thing to say, so let me qualify that. A Stealing Sheep gig is more than just a band on stage playing songs, it can involve ideas, it can involve dances, it can involve a spectacular lightshow, it may involve up to 40 drummers and dancers in a suffragette tribute. It may, in short, involve anything. Their approach to music is one that incorporates art as a necessity, creating something that astounds the senses.
Stealing Sheep are one of the best bands currently operating in the world today, the mere fact that they exist makes that world a better place.
What marks Stealing Sheep out from the pack is the way they naturally, even instinctively, look to do things differently. Not content with the idea of turning up to play a set of songs in their day clothes, they have instead mastered the art of performance.
We can think of no other band capable of putting on a show like Stealing Sheep do and it is simultaneously impressive and inspiring. Every aspect of every detail seems considered and, wherever possible, an alternative, better way of doing things emerges.
The same attitude informs their music, where once again the level of thought and attention to detail raises the Sheep above the masses and makes them stand out and shine.
After a forced hiatus due to the lockdowns we have had to live through, Stealing Sheep are in the first wave of bands who are looking to get out there again and show their art to the world once again, with a gig at this weekend’s FestEvol event held at Liverpool’s Invisible Wind Factory.
Sun 13 were luck enough to have a chat with the Sheep’s bass player Emily Lansley. Read on to find out more about the Sheep brain, conceptual work and the circle of technology.
How have you, as a creative person, as a musician and artist, how have you been coping with lockdown?
“A lot has happened to us since lockdown. We were in America when it first struck, we were on a tour, so we had gigs booked and we were going to go to South By South West and then that was cancelled and it was quite traumatic.
It was fine though, we pulled back from that, we couldn’t work for the last 18 months, we’ve been furloughed. We probably had a well deserved break after 10 years, it was our 10th year last year, so we had a bit of a break and I think we will reconnect with our like individual creativity. I think we’ve all just been doing different kinds of things, but also working together. Obviously we’re getting ready for Saturday and we’ve done other projects, we did a project for LightNight, where we did songs where we got all the public to write the lyrics for this piece of music then we’d written for that.
We did another project for the people who run the Stockroom at the Kaz Gardens, we did a performance there that was a one off thing. Alongside that we’ve been doing a research and development piece for the Arts Council, where we’ve worked with people to hopefully create than the content for our next album, so the artwork, shows and various things, the set build, the costumes and everything.
We work with all of them on this Infinite Visions thing, its called Infinite Visions this project. So we’ve been doing more artistic, conceptual projects in the background. And now we’re rehearsing for Saturday, which is getting back to normal, getting our set back together and all that kind of thing. So I think we’ve been pretty productive really, even though we’ve not been able to work as such.”
Is that how you divide your work, do you see a difference between the artistic side, the collaborative side and what you might call the more normal side of things?
“No I don’t think so, I think it should stick to each other, we need each thing to compliment or support or influence the other things, so I feel like when we do more of an artistic project, like LightNight, which is very specific thing, we learn a lot doing things like that and it supports our music, so it all feeds into each other I think. And even doing art work, it all influences it in some way. Even if you’re inspired by something at the time, through the lyrics or through the visuals we choose.”
So you see all that as being part of this the one whole thing that is Stealing Sheep?
“Yeah I do, yeah it all links.”
It seems to me that Stealing Sheep come at things in a different way than an ordinary band.
“Yeah I think that we’re all very creative individuals separately as well as together, we’re all into thinking about things differently. We want to put on the kind of performance that we want to see ourselves, that’s kind of what our aim is.”
It seems like there is this inbuilt desire for Stealing Sheep to do things differently. Is this something that is just within you all or is it something you have actually sat down and discussed?
“I don’t think it’s been discussed, we’re at the mercy of, we call it ‘middle head’, which is just like the Sheep brain which is where we think of something but it always ends up being a bit weird. We all think differently, we all have different ways of doing things but that creates an interest. And we might think ‘I wouldn’t have done it like that’, but there’s a lot to learn being with people who don’t always see things the way you do. It’s quite nice, I think that’s a good thing.
Has the enforced solo creativity led to any solo projects or does everything go into the Stealing Sheep melting pot?
“Well I think we all do our own. Lucy does a lot of jazz drumming like The Jubilee Stompers and just doing different kinds of things. Becs is always just like super creative and there’s like you know working a lot at the moment with like rhythm sports, she’s just got lots of ideas and she’s also had a baby, so she’s kind of like in that world but also Becs is doing lots of the visuals and stuff. Just having a baby is kind of changing the way we’re working quite a bit. It’s also been really nice. And I’m at the farm today, Rice Lane City Farm, doing paintings of animals. I have painted the sheep [laughs].
I’ve been doing something with the Toboggan series with Stephen Cole, from a.P.A.t.T. but it will still be very much influenced by everything I learned through being with the band. Everything influences everything I think.”
When it comes to writing your basslines, when do they tend to appear in a song they’re like a song within a song.
“I think a lot of that is because I’m not trained, I am a self-taught musician really. Probably I just look for some kind of melody. It depends really, we all write bits separately so somebody might already have a bassline, so sometimes I’ll just do what I’m told and sometimes it will be more like ‘this is what I’ve written’. But you can be creative when you play and the bass changes quite a lot from how you might put it into Logic or something like that, so you need to go with what feels right when you’re actually playing.”
When you’re sat at home what music would you listen to?
“I’ve got so much music that I listen to at the moment. I’m really enjoying Salami Rose Joe Louis, it’s an unusual jazzy kind of thing. I’ve been really liking Domenique Dumont, not so lyrical really, it’s quite atmospheric and I quite like that. I’ve really been enjoying listening to Kaytranada, I love how like groovy that is, with really brilliant bass lines and drums. There’s just so much music isn’t there?
Peggy Gou we’ve been enjoying for a party is and like really liked it I’ve been listening to Japanese ambient music. Sometimes I like things that are lyrical I like things that are quite ambient, I think I need a bit of peace.”
The first time I saw you live was the Big Wows at Edge Hill, the day after International Women’s Day and it just seemed to be the perfect sort of coming together of things because there seems to be kind of a sense of empowerment about you. Is that something that’s deliberate or again is it just instinctive?
“I think it’s something that we’ve had find the courage within each other over the years. More recently we’ve had quite a lot of support from other women and we work with fans. We did a suffragette female marching band and we try to encourage more women and marginalised genders to work for the music industry and tech and the arts side of it, that has become really, really important to us. We’ve been encouraged, so we feel like it’s our duty to do the same and try to empower other women to do what they want to do. I just hope that we can do that.
I think it’s become a bit more of a mission for us to have that attitude and that vibe either in whatever we’re doing.”
Do you see the results of that, can you see it taking root?
“I do feel like there are more women getting involved in music and I do see more names playing festivals and things like that, so I do think it’s happening and I think it’s something that will just hopefully continue to increase gradually and I hope it does.
I think that supporting people can only be a positive thing, I don’t think it could hinder it. I definitely think we’ve had younger female fans more recently. which has been great for us to see. I know the audiences vary, you know men and women, we want to include everyone, we want to be inclusive.”
Your music has changed a lot over the years, have we arrived now at the Stealing Sheep sound or is there still a distance to go?
“I was watching a film last night, The Sparks Brothers, and I think it’s really interesting, they’ve always just kind of done their thing and it’s always been quite different and I don’t think that just ends at one point, ever. I think will always be artists, even when we’re in our eighties. I’m not going to suddenly go ‘Right, that was a good time’ and put down my bass or my paint brushes. That’s kind of our hobby as well. I don’t think we’ll just stand still.”
How would you describe your relationship with technology?
“I think our relationship with technology is always developing. When we started we were like super analogue people. I think Becs is the most technologically minded person in the band, she’s always pushing for us to try things in that way which is really, really good for us.
And even the project we’re doing at the moment, the Infinite Visions project, we’re looking at VR, so these things are quite advanced and we’re into the progression of what we’re doing. Or even the videos we made with Emily Garner, they were like testing ways of using technology to express ourselves. But there’s also part of us that will maybe one day just go ‘fuck all that, let’s just go back to playing. It all goes full circle I reckon [laughs].”
What’s next for Stealing Sheep?
“At the moment we’re figuring out our plans, we’re writing new music. We’re working on all these different projects and I think they’ll probably come together to be our next endeavour or whatever that will be. But I don’t think we’re sure at the moment, Covid has made everything slightly unclear, but we’re definitely staying together and we’re definitely doing another album. Hopefully we will get back out there again on the road or at the festivals.
We’ve got something exciting coming up in November, but I can’t say anything about it at the moment.”
What can we expect from your FestEvol show?
“You can expect some old and new mixed together, and some harmonies and some movement and some nice sparkling lights. We’re really looking forward to it, playing live. We’re looking forward to seeing people and trying to create a bit of a party with everyone on stage with us.”
Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday or to restart live music in our beleaguered country. To all of those who have the chance to catch Stealing Sheep live, you are urged to do so. You will no be disappointed.