Yet another fine new band to emerge from the pits of lockdown, Liverpool’s Shockchords are Anna Houghton and Ben Russell (Pale Rider).
Inspired by Delia Derbyshire’s “Shock Chords”, Houghton and Russell release Ss/Hh – their debut double A-side single that stitches together a range of sounds and influences, resulting in a pervasive dark collage of psychedelic noise.
It starts with Shifting Sands, a song that cloaks the listener in a cinematic haze, forming the imagery of some lonely soul walking down icy windswept streets. Dovetailing nicely, Happy Hour follows and is a dismantled interpretation of ambient-inspired trip hop.
Ss/Hh is distinctively noirish but not in an Ellroyian way. No, Shockchords take us back to those terrains first explored by the master himself, Dashiell Hammett.
Granted there are a slew of young impressionists trying to imitate the fallen curmudgeon, Mark E. Smith (and failing miserably), but Russell isn’t one of them. There’s a slickness to his delivery. A stream of consciousness even, softened by Houghton’s abstract harmonies and crumpled soundscapes.
On the back of the release of Ss/Hh, Houghton and Russell were kind enough to answer our 13 questions.
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1. Firstly, how did the Shockchords project come about?
Ben Russell: “We bumped into each other in April after being introduced nearly five years earlier at Liverpool Psych Fest (RIP), a fitting meeting place maybe, and the idea of collaborating came up… it felt kind of inevitable as we’d been on each other’s musical periphery for a long while but our circles hadn’t quite met until that point.”
2. Your debut single was just been released. How’s the reception been so far?
Anna Houghton: “The reception has been really interesting, as we approached the single with the aim of blending noise and experimental sounds with the typical mellifluous song structure. So it has been wonderful to see how people have interacted with that, which has a lot to do with the audience that SPINE provides.”
3. It’s yet another fine release from Liverpool label, SPINE. How did the collaboration with them eventuate?
AH: “When QUARRY (House of SPINE) reopened in early July, I got chatting to Jezebel [Halewood-Legas – SPINE / LONESAW / Polexia) the bar,]and after we’d drunkenly exchanged rings and later, snake bangles, conversation turned to Sound Art, which we both happen to be studying. We’d previously had our tracks mastered by Jack [Wait], also part of the team, so all our interests fell into place, making it a really enjoyable collaboration.”
4. It’s quite different from Ben’s main project, Pale Rider. Does your songwriting approach differ when you are collaborating with other artists?
BR: “The words for PALE RIDER usually come as a reaction to the others playing in the room, so I’m operating separately from the instrumentation side of things there… a response to the chaos… whereas my lyrics for Shockchords so far have formed through hazy late-night scrawls, then voice-notes uttered over half-formed compositions. For Happy Hour we pieced our two parts together after writing/recording them separately, and up to now we still haven’t been in a room together musically.
“We meet often to go over new ideas we’ve had, demos we’ve made and then go home half-cut and inspired, and add to each other’s works on our own in our own time and headspace. I’ve found this new way of working parallel to someone dead refreshing and fruitful, and luckily there hasn’t had to be much compromise so far as we tend to agree a lot on where ideas should go.”
5. Onto the songs, can you tell us about Shifting Shands?
BR: “We talked about the old seven inch single format where early bands would have one original number alongside one cover on the b-side, and wanted to revive that. It just so happened that Shifting Sands worked better, we felt, as an introduction. We also wanted to deconstruct the original WCPAEB version to the point where it just about qualifies as a cover, where although we haven’t tampered with the words or changed the notes, it is its own piece that’s fairly unrecognisable.”
6. What about Happy Hour?
BR: “Happy Hour revolves around a line taken from a Pablo Neruda poem, and was originally intended to be released as a one-off collaboration under both of our names. It was only as we began to dig further that we decided to make Shockchords its own project, as it felt like there was a lot more combined mining to be done.”
7. We ask a lot of artists this, what’s your take on social media?
AH: “I have a very love/hate relationship with social media, I remind myself frequently that it is so incredible to have self-publishing at your fingertips, but this can also result in sharing half-baked ideas purely to keep up with the frantic nature of a scrolling feed. I think it can put pressure on artists to create at a speed that just isn’t feasible.”
8. Some fun questions now – do you have any hobbies outside of music?
AH: “Outside of music, but still within the sonic realm, I am currently a PhD researcher studying the use of Sound and Space in Contemporary Art, the ephemeral, disruptive, and affective qualities of Sound as artistic medium. Stepping fully outside of music, I am an illustrator and printmaker primarily working in screen-print occupied by fruits, flowers, renaissance forms and judicious animals.”
9. Favourite boxset over the last 18 months?
BR: “Favourite new series has been The Midnight Gospel.”
AH: “One of our first influences for the whole tone of the project was the dark and delicious tapestry of True Detective season 1, so I was thrilled when Mare Of Easttown mirrored some of those themes in the typical whodunit formula.”
10. What was the last book you read?
BR: “Ghosts of my Life by Mark Fisher, which turned out to be quite instrumental in the formation of these ideas from my end.
AH: “Sonic Agency by Brandon LaBelle.”
11. It’s getting to that time of year. Favourite record of 2021?
BR: “Spellling – The Turning Wheel. EP would absolutely go to Gadzooks! Favourite new musician, regardless of location (though I’m glad he’s now local!)
AH: “The four track EP Change by Big Thief, though I’m still not over Adrianne Lenker’s 2020 Songs and Instrumentals.”
12. What’s next for Shockchords?
BR: “Working out how to present this thing live, and thinking more about the AV side to things that we began with the mostly DIY video for Ss (as well as including Amy Cadwallader’s great visuals). In terms of songs we seem to be moving towards the realm of sound-art and the avant-garde that Ss / Hh touched on. We aim to be gig-ready by next spring.”
13. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Any last words?
BR: “‘Sudden fulfilment envelops itself.’”
Ss / Hh is out now via SPINE Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.
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