Will Fitzpatrick and Paul Abbott are enthusiasts in every sense.
Avid record collectors and DIY stalwarts, Fitzpatrick is no stranger to collaboration, being a part of London post-punk collective, Witching Waves and Unwelcome Guests. Then there’s Abbott, who spearheads various DIY podcasts, including Hark! The 87th Precinct Podcast – the podcast dedicated to crime novelist, Ed McBain.
The current concern lies with Good Grief – the band Fitzpatrick (vocals/guitar) and Abbott (bass/vocals) have been a part of for 10 years. Alongside drummer, Matiss Dale (who has since left the band and replaced by Gareth Dawson), the Liverpool collective welcome in their long-awaited debut long-player, Shake Your Faith.
When speaking to Fitzpatrick and Abbott, you can tell there’s a sweeping synergy between the two. It’s no surprise that the songwriting throughout Shake Your Faith is as seamless as it is.
From the power-punk melodies of High to Low and effortless gusto of New Town, to the epic penultimate track, Hatches, Shake Your Faith is filled with catchy hooks and thought-provoking word play. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of record Liverpool needs.
As Good Grief supported Superchunk on their 2018 UK tour, it’s fitting that the day we speak to Fitzpatrick and Abbott coincides with the release of the Chapel Hill pioneers’ latest album, Wild Lonliness. The pair are excited – Fitzpatrick’s copy of Wild Lonliness secured while Abbott is still awaiting his in the mail. Their knowledge of vinyl is astounding – a good half of the artists and titles the pair rattle off during our conversation flies straight over my head.
Not that it matters, of course. The fact that they share their passion so openly is something largely absent in music these days. Just to sit down and shoot the breeze about music is a beautiful thing.
And that’s what we do. Over beer and coffee at what is now feeling like Sun 13’s second office, the Milo Lounge on Lark Lane.
After all, it sure beats Zoom.
Sun 13: So Shake Your Faith is your first full-length record…
Will Fitzpatrick: “Yeah. We released a bunch of split seven inches and a three track CD within the last 10 years. This is the first time we’ve released a full-length.”
S13: How long were you working on it? Has it been in the can before a lockdown?
WF: “A couple of the songs go back to not long after the band started. When we started the band, we knew we were going to write an album at some point, but then we kept giving our best songs away to seven inches, basically. Then we realised we didn’t have any songs left!”
Paul Abbott: “Yeah, there was a time we played a gig once, and Nathan [Stephens-Griffin] from the band Martha was there. Afterwards, he said, ‘That should have been your album, that set you just played’. Like Will said, probably 80 percent of those songs we played had already been put out on seven inches, so it was a bit like going back to ground zero, wasn’t it?”
WF: “Yeah. Then real life sort of derailed us for a bit. I moved to Edinburgh and then to Manchester for a while, and work and parenthood got in the way of things for a while. So it’s really only been the last three years where we’ve made a committed effort to start writing an album.”
S13: What was the inspiration behind the songs?
PA: “We didn’t have a discussion about it, did we? You wrote the majority of the stuff.”
WF: “Yeah. I was reading a lot of biographies of American poets, twentieth century American poets, mainly the New York school, like Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, people like that. And that kind of fed into it. I was kind of thinking of scenarios in our lives and using that as a jumping off point, like moments in their lives as diptychs, hoping they would sort of relate to each other and present a more relatable scenario to other people. So yeah, a lot of biographies, poets, but then there’s no specific thing. I think mental health was an overriding theme, but we only really noticed that afterwards.”
PA: “Yeah, it’s when we put it all together and were like, ‘Oh, yeah, I see’.”
S13: Songs like High to Low, Statement Brickwork and Hatches all kind of have a twofold political slant, and definitely mental health; you could probably take those both ways. I don’t know whether that was the thought or subconsciously that played out in each of those songs?
WF: “A lot of songwriters that I grew up listening to wrote in a fairly removed way. So it’s clearly about some to the songwriter, but it’s also left open-ended, so it can mean whatever the listener wants it to. And I try to adapt my songwriting to that as well. I don’t think there’s anything that I would say is consciously political, but also I’m happy if people want to interpret things in that way.”
PA: “I think my two on there have got some politics in there. I didn’t realise until I was writing it. Line By Line, that was kind of about the sort of baddies; like our current Prime Minister, you know, people who get where they just imagine, ‘I’m going to be this thing one day no matter what the cost is’. So that’s all about getting somewhere – what happens if you have to come back from that? So that’s kind of political, in a vague sense.
“High to Low… which is about the [Akira] Kurosawa film, High and Low, which is based on Ed McBain book, King’s Ransom. That’s all about duality of stuff. Literally, the folks who live on the hill, the slums. Again, it’s not me being specifically political, I think it’s more about contrast. And contrast happens everywhere, in all sorts of ways.”
WF: “I was listening to a lot of hardcore when we wrote this record. I like the angry didactic approach, but that’s not very me. I like the Bob Mould approach like ‘Revolution starts in the bathroom mirror’. So it’s political in the sense that you have to work inwardly before it’s possible to starting working outwardly.”
S13: Talking about biographies earlier, and I know you’re a big fiction reader, Will. Did any of those authors inspire the record?
WF: “The song, The Pony Remark, the title is from an episode of Seinfeld. But the actual lyrical content came from a David Grossman novel called A Horse Walks Into a Bar, which is quite political, but basically it’s about a stand up comic who gives into this idea that his audience want the truth from him. Like his jokes aren’t true enough, so he decided to just basically tell his life story, which is this horrifically deeply political, tragic story. I mean, more or less [he] has a breakdown on stage telling a story and his audience are just sort of trapped there and it goes down like a led balloon.
“The novel is fascinating, it’s all written in real time, there’s no skips ahead. It’s well worth reading. And it’s more political than the song as well, but that’s kind of fed into my obsession with the idea that the tortured artist is not a healthy perspective to adopt. So yeah, that David Grossman novel was massively influential.
[Turns to Paul] “Your songs are more directly influenced by fiction than mine.”
PA: “Well, like I say with High to Low. Because I’m obsessed with like Ed McBain’s crime fiction, the 87th Precinct. Then there’s the Kurosawa film high, High and Low, which is just astonishing piece of cinema, and I wanted a bit of an excuse to try and crowbar Ed McBain in there. I did it through the prism of Kurosawa adapting one of his books in the ’60s and then the excuse for finding how to make… how do I take a three-and-a-half hour long film and make it into a three-and-a-half minute song? So it was like trying to boil down images. That all stems from my obsession with Ed McBain.”
WF: “The last song on the album, Kissing Through Curtains, it’s about a few things, but the title comes from a line by the poet, Kenneth Koch, where he basically said that reading translated French poetry was like kissing through curtains.”
S13: I noticed it was the only song that was recorded and mixed by Paul at his house?
PA: “We recorded it ourselves, because all the old records we did, I recorded and mixed and did all the work on those ones. Which was great, because it suited our DIY approach. But for this one, for the majority of the album that was like, ‘We can’t carry that weight ourselves, we’ve got to get it done properly in a proper space’.
WF: “But also, we wanted the album to be more of a statement. The seven inches captured a time, snapshots, an ethos. We still are very into the DIY approach. We put on our own shows, we book our own tours. I know that a lot of bands in general do [that] these days. It was nice to be able to record ourselves, but when it came to making an album, it’s more of a statement.”
PA: “And I didn’t want all the stress of having to actually do all the work. But it was nice when Will came in with Kissing Through Curtains because he had a specific idea for the sound. And the thing I like doing is when I have a proper little challenge, like, ‘Oh, how do we make it sound a particular way’. Although I don’t play on that one, it was fun having a little bit of engineering to do.”
WF: “We wanted that one to sound a bit more lo-fi, like the idea would kind of be after the end of the last song on the record, that finishes in a very definitive way, and now it’s like someone’s left a tape playing and it’s this funny little acoustic rough demo at the end.”
S13: It’s definitely the outlier on the album.
PA: “It’s kind of a new groove type thing, isn’t it? Because Hatches has long been our gig closer. We knew right from the start of making this album that it was going to end with Hatches. And it does, but then you get the bonus of Kissing Through Curtains, as well.”
WF: “I was thinking about things like Guided By Voices and even You’re So Great by Blur. Also I love ’80s acoustic album codas like Here Comes a Regular by The Replacements, or Rock ‘n’ Roll Ghost. I liked the idea of having that, but maybe not so grand, maybe like more of a forgotten demo at the end.”
PA: “Like a hauntology feel to it, you come from something as big as Hatches and then it’s a bit like the radio was suddenly tuned into something you weren’t expecting, which I quite like.”
WF: “Yeah. Like when you taped albums off mates years ago, where you taped over something else, so the album finishes and suddenly another song starts.”
S13: Going back to the production side of things, with you being from Liverpool, I guess you’d be long associates with Stephen Cole?
WF: “Yeah. I’ve known him for, must be pushing 20 years. He is absolutely bonkers and thoroughly lovely. I think one of the key things for us in working with him partly was the fact that I was friendly with him, but also the fact that he’s got that wealth of knowledge about recording so many sounds within a.P.A.t.T. he would be able to adapt that to us. We gave him a loose framework for the sort of records we like and how we wanted to sound. It does sound like that, but it also sounds like something he’s made.”
PA: “Yeah. He is bonkers, though. And lovely. He’s brilliant. He buys donuts, too!”
WF: “What I liked about recording with him was that before recording a vocal take, he just says to you, ‘The very best of luck to you’. Which is the sort of encouragement I need.”
S13: I get Shellac bass chug throughout the album. Was that an intentional thing?
WF: “Well, I mean we do like that Bob Weston bass sound.”
PA: “I’ve never tried to do it, like when we play live to get that sound. I have started going a little bit more in that direction. So not consciously, but perhaps a little bit subconsciously to get that growl. We only really just started adding it in now actually. We do like Shellac, though.”
WF: “Thinking in terms of Liverpool producers, Rob Whiteley at WhiteWood Recording Studio, he’s probably got more of a sound along the Albini lines. I don’t know if we actually spoke about bass sound – it was just how it came out and we were happy with it.”
S13: Paul Rafferty did the artwork for the record, right?
WF: “Yeah, we’ve known him for about 20 years as well. We met him when he was in a band called Victor FME years ago. He was in Hot Club de Paris as well. More recently, he had a more songwriter-y solo record as well, Doomshakalaka andunder Ancient Plastix.
“He’s just been a friend for a long time. He’s a good graphic designer. We didn’t really have any specific ideas for artwork, and we’d sort of debated different approaches for a while. Initially, I liked the idea of doing something quite comic-y. I reached out to people like Jaime Hernandez from Love & Rockets, Brian Walsby who did a lot of late ‘80s hardcore stuff, and Brian did come back to us saying he was interested in doing it, but I spoke to a few people and decided that maybe like a literal comic style illustration would not really reflect the themes of the record quite so well.
“So we spoke to Rafferty and he had loads of absolutely mad ideas. Initially, he wanted to build a house, like a doll house in really intricate detail with wood materials then set it on fire and photograph that. That was going to be the sleeve, and I love that, but it was going to be too expensive. It kind of made me think of that Burn to Shine documentary. Brendan Canty’s series where he filmed bands in a house that had been bought by the local fire service for practice. So he’d film bands in it all day, and then at the end of the day they filmed the fire brigade setting the house on fire. So I kind of liked the idea of something along those lines.
“Then at one point, he also wanted to curate an artist to put pen on paper and not stop moving over it for a set period of time. Like free form, more or less, and then at the end of the set period of time that would be the artwork; the only rule would be that they couldn’t move the pen from the paper. And again, we liked the idea but it was quite risky.
“In the end, what he went with is very much within his signature style, I would say. I think a couple of people said it was quite post-punk, but I liked the photocopied styling of it. Some very harsh or kind of frayed edges or softer textures which fed into a lot of our sounds and influences. This technique was heavily influenced by Risograph, and Rafferty was very keen to use this in a way that nodded towards photocopied fanzines and DIY punk culture.”
S13: Dimension Jump is an interesting one for me. There’s a different pace to it…
PA: “It’s the first time we’ve done something at that pace, which then, by necessity, makes it quite a long number. But it was nice because I think… that was something that was good about doing the album. That’s a song for the album, and that was one of the first times we had something where we thought we could do it a bit more dynamic than what we’d be doing on stage necessarily. Although we are going to play it now it exists, but it existed for the album. It was the first time we’ve done something like that, so that was a good challenge, because my bass on that is really simple, but it was all about the dynamic aspect rather than the too many notes aspect of it. It’s one of my favourites on there.”
WF: “One thing we said going in was… I was really tired of buying punk albums where you just pay for like 10 or 11 songs that are all the same pace, like the same rhythms. I wanted very specifically all the songs to sound different to each other. So yeah, it gave us a chance to flesh out the type of songs we were writing, rather than just a collection of old DIY punk songs. That one came together quicker than I thought it would.”
PA: “Yeah, it was fun when we were rehearsing for the album doing that one. Because it was a challenge, because it was different.”
WF: [Laughs] “The emo ballad.”
PA: “When you slow down you have to stop and every note becomes more thinkable.”
S13: They say when you start thinking that’s when the problems start…
WF: “It’s a little bit of shedding all that, but there’s more gaps between the notes on this one to think about as well. My friend Jason said he thought it sounded like Death Cab For Cutie, which… I like early Death Cab, so that was a compliment for me.”
PA: “And I like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band from where they stole the name Death Cab For Cutie. It all links.”
S13: So how did the album title name Shake Your Faith come about?
WF: “It comes from a lyric in the Pony Remark, which is, ‘What will it take to shake your faith that’s always been devout’. And I think we’d had about five or six different album titles, all of which we hated at that point. I think the working title was Swearing for Emphasis.
PA: “I still quite like that one, but it wasn’t right for this.”
WF: “In the end, I suggested Shake Your Faith because I quite like the idea of… it kind of touches on the idea of questioning yourself and the mental health that ties into the record. But also it sounds like a 1950s dance instruction in a song title.”
PA: “’Shake your faith’, like a soul song. Like that Northern Soul and dance step.”
WF: “I was still quite unsure about that for ages. We’d selected it, and then in keeping with the title itself, I started questioning it. Then I mentioned it to Rafferty when we were talking about the sleeve artwork and he said, ‘Well, it sounds like a Replacements album title, and they basically did rock ’n’ roll albums about questioning yourself, so it all fits’. I was a lot happier when he said that.”
PA: “It made sense when you suggested it, because I could immediately figure out how it worked once you suggested it.”
Pan-American Interview: “Memory is the place where inward-facing emotion lives”
S13: My favourite track on the album is New Town…
PA: “Oh great. I like those ones where they are sort of really simple. They just hit. I like being able to just grab hold of the bass and just do something like really emphasis-y. It’s not clever, but it’s big.”
WF: “That’s really nice to hear, because when you’re close to the songs, there are some in my head that feel a bit more slight to me than others. It’s interesting.”
PA: “You are definitely your own worst critic. By a country mile.”
WF: “Yeah, I can only hear the album in its composite parts – I can’t hear it as a whole. Like, if I write a song, I can only ever hear it in terms of which bits are accidentally lifted from other songs. So when we record something, I can only ever hear it in terms of where individual parts are sitting in different places. I can’t hear the whole. I’m really jealous of people who get to hear it.”
PA: “This is why I’m glad I didn’t produce this one, because that’s what happens when you’re producing stuff; you hear every individual part over and over again in isolation until you’ve lost sight of what the complete thing is.”
WF: “It’s been quite interesting to hear which songs people do like. So our new drummer, Gareth, who’s slotted in brilliantly. It’s been interesting to hear him say which songs he likes. I mean, he likes it all, luckily, but it’s interesting to hear him pick out songs that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought were the best ones on it. And New Town as well, I’m really happy that you like that. That’s a bit of a boost.”
PA: “I like New Town and Metal Phase, which open the two sides. I like them, because they sort of mirror each other in the type of song they are – the real kickoff, like the opening and flipping over the disk.”
WF: “New Town is basically about me moving to Scotland and not liking it, initially. I did eventually. I’d basically moved 200 miles away to a city where I didn’t know anyone, and was feeling a lot of guilt about who and what I was leaving behind. Then I arrived and it was freezing and rained non-stop for the first few month, so it let up to a lot of feelings of, ‘Why on earth have I done this?’
“I mean, you know yourself what it’s like when you move to a new town. I was literally living in New Town in Edinburgh, so the title’s not clever. You spend months going, like, ‘Why have I done this?’ And then at some point, you realise, ‘Oh no, actually, I do like it’.”
S13: Metal Phase is another one of those song titles that jumps out at you. Do you want to shed some light on it?
WF: “I mean [pause] that song’s tricky to talk about [pause]. I think what I’d say about that title, it’s kind of a joke about someone being with you through your worst periods. So that’s kind of a joke, like, ‘You saw me through my metal phase’. Also, I’d had that title long before I wrote the lyrics and the song fell into place. But that sounds quite deliberately open-ended. I want that to mean to people whatever they want to get from it.”
S13: Talking about the DIY ethos, and it’s funny how you said that most people do it now. But that’s always been a big ethos for Good Grief. A lot of bands these days are basically forced into putting on their own shows, for better or worse. How important is that the DIY ethos to the band?
PA: “It’s absolutely fundamental, because of all the people, our contemporaries and people we like, are all really rooted in that, in terms of the scene. We knew we’d be stepping into it in some way. I mean, we had a funny time, particularly starting out as well, we straddled punk on one end and indie shows on the other.”
WF: “Very twee indie shows as well.”
PA: “Yeah the proper twee end of stuff, which is fine, you know, we love a lot of twee as much as we love a lot of really hard punk stuff. But we’d often be the outlier, one way or another, like the opposite way. We’d be too indie for punk and too punk for indie.”
WF: “We were always either the hardest or the happiest band on any bill we played on.”
PA: “But all of those scenes are generally DIY scenes. And I think when you’re a band in Liverpool as well, because it’s such a small city. Despite its musical heritage, it’s still totally propped up on the DIY approach and people like what was Maguire’s, now Outpost, going, ‘Do you know what? We won’t just open the pizza place, we’ve got this back room, let’s not just fill it with boxes and stuff. It’s there, make it a venue!'”
WF: “Liverpool has always been characterised by that. I mean, you look at like, the Kazimier crew, I think they started out at MelloMello, most of them. Then they took over the Kazimier, and then they still did it with Invisible Wind Factory and the Kazimier Stockroom as well. Now QUARRY, just a bunch of kids who are just like, ‘We can do this’. It characterises it and I think it just helps people feel more connected to what they’re creating.”
PA: “And also, no one has any money. And that goes for the bands, the venues, the punters, you know. And so if you can reduce the amount of cost to any one of those people in making records, putting on shows, attending shows, then so much the better, because it means that people are getting the opportunity to go to things as well. So I think that’s important.”
WF: “DIY means a lot of things to a lot of people. And there’s probably a lot of people who would say, like, ‘You’re not DIY, you’re not putting out your own records’. But I think DIY is about the community as much as anything else to me. And it feels like we’ve been part of local, national and international DIY communities for a long time now, whether through this band or previous bands. Even the guy who we got to master the record in Canada [Dave Williams of the band Crusades], like, we met through our friends in Martha. He’s basically a guy, he’s a postman for a living, but he mastered Martha’s records, he was perfect for us, he did a really good job on our album. It’s just people, lifers and people who are committed.”
PA: “What’s brilliant about it, and I’ve used this term before talking about DIY podcasting, like, communities of enthusiasm. That’s what you want. Some of it’s in the art side of things, some of it in the music side of things, some of it’s in the organisational side of things, and usually they all happily coexist and crossover, like lovely venn diagrams. That’s what keeps things going.”
WF: “I think there are times when it feels like we’ve made a rod for our own backs. We put on our own shows for such a long time, then sometimes it feels like… it’d be nice if someone else asked us to play a show. But then you’ve got your next show that you’re planning lined up already, so you’re already doing yourself out of that sometimes. You know, would it be nice to play a show locally where I’m not stressed about making money back to pay the touring bands? Yes, it’d be bloody lovely, but at the same time, just the sense of enjoyment that you get out of a show going well when you put it on, that’s really nice.
“We did a show just before Christmas, with Married To The Sea and Puzzle who are friends of ours for a long time. And we did that as a fundraiser for the Merseyside Refugee Support Network. Again, a big part of DIY should be putting back into the local community. That was our first local show since lockdown and our first gig in nearly two years. I just got really emotional during that show, just because it was going well.”
PA: “Yeah, it was lovely. It was well attended, people were super generous with their money as well as donating. I think this is one thing that if you come from the DIY scene, even if you do go and play a bigger show put on by a larger organisation, it doesn’t matter, because as long as you’re carrying your ethos from the DIY scene with you, kindness and enthusiasm and an attitude from that with you, I think that’s what’s really good. Because you can see a grassroots, like our sorts of shows, as long as you take it with you, that’s the important thing. And that’s why it can be very strange when you’re up against people who don’t have that, and you’re sort of like, ‘Oh well, right. No, we’re not all entitled to a dressing room. We’re here for the show, not for you to be pampered’ type thing.”
WF: “It is surreal when we get a dressing room. We’re up on the stage, and it’s just like, ‘Can we just play on the floor?’ But yeah, DIY’s been really good to us. Through putting on shows for touring bands we’ve gotten to go to the States. We’ve met people who want to put out our records in the US as well.”
PA: “We’ve seen and heard a lot of bloody good bands as well.”
WF: “Exactly. We’ve made a lot of friends. I also ended up playing in Unwelcome Guests, who are a band from Buffalo, New York. I played bass for them on a couple of tours, and that’s entirely just through meeting them through the DIY community and just staying in touch. And, to be honest, as much as it’s an excuse to play music with them, it’s an excuse to hang out with my friends from the States. That friendship aspect is hugely important to us, which is another reason why it was really good that we found a drummer who’s slotted into the band really well. I think we were in our second practice before he was Googling different types of tea and we were like, ‘He’ll fit in’.”
S13: Any last words?
“If you like our record, please check out the other bands on the labels Everything Sucks and Happy Happy Birthday To Me, because they’re good friends. Everything Sucks also put out, put out Pardon Us‘ records. A local Jawbreaker-y pop punk trio. Again, friends, community. I would just say please check out their records as well.”
Shake Your Faith is out tomorrow via Everything Sucks / Happy Happy Birthday To Me. Purchase from Bandcamp.
Good Grief play Liverpool’s Outpost this Friday, Purchase tickets here.
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