30 years on from your debut album, Change Giver, you’ve finally reached the very top of the UK album charts with your new album, A Matter of Time. Does this make the album title all the more fitting, or was the title choice a deliberate way of manifesting the No.1 into existence?
I think there’s a little bit of both of what you just said there. We didn’t approach this album any differently to anything else we’ve ever done, we just sat down and decided to write a set of songs and see where it might go. You never know what will connect and at what time things might connect if it ever does… I mean, yes, we’ve had a number one album and it’s amazing, but it’s not like we’ve just snatched and grabbed it. We’ve put an awful lot of work in over the past few years to get to this point.
We’ve put a lot of groundwork in with the gigs, spreading the word… We had an album out six/seven years ago which was the first new material in 16 years. Looking back now, that was a little bit like we were testing the waters to see if we could still be relevant and still cut the rug with everybody else. So, approaching this album, which we did in 2022, it was almost like we had no shackles. We were just free to do what we wanted and I think that almost comes across in the music. It sounds quite joyous.
The entire writing process of this album literally took us about nine months, which is unheard for us. It usually takes a lot longer and there were no real stumbling blocks at all from my memory. We started writing it in March 2022 and finished it at Christmas 2022 and through that time period I think me and Paul went through a huge purple patch where there weren’t really any difficulties or any problems. There weren’t any ideas that were shelved because they weren’t working. Everything just seemed to work, which is quite weird. I mean, usually, you do get instances where your creative juices dry up a little bit and then you panic and you’re thinking ‘are they gonna come back?’ But as I say, it was almost like the stars had aligned for us at this point.
Maybe that’s what’s been happening over the last 30 years. Me and Paul met when we were 11, in first year at school, and we bonded over a love of music. Then when we got to about 13 years old, we thought ‘Why don’t we try giving this music malarkey a go?’ So we had a discussion; who’s gonna sing? Who’s gonna play guitar? And I said that I’d been singing in the mirror with the hairbrush since I was eight, so I’m gonna be the singer. That meant Paul had to then source some type of crap guitar and learn how to play the thing. So fair play to him because he did that really well. We’re all self-taught, we’ve just spent years honing it. So it’s an added pleasure to be able to say we have had a number one because not everyone can say that. But we’ve put an awful lot of hard work and a lot of years into it.
You said in a recent interview that the influences of your youth, such as U2 and Simple Minds, shine through more on A Matter of Time than on previous releases. Who were some of the other key influences from these early days?
So again, going back to me and Paul as 11 year olds… We actually discussed this just before we started the writing process for A Matter of Time. We sat down and discussed how we met and how we bonded over a love of music and we reminisced a lot about those times. We were remembering being in my family kitchen when we were 12 listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’ and pretending we were in the band doing air guitar and air drums and reminiscing about being in his bedroom listening to Simple Minds and U2. Paul was massively into Simple Minds and I was more of a U2 fan. I remember delivering free newspapers when I was 15 years old listening to U2 on the Walkman and pretending I was Bono sticking newspapers through people’s letter boxes. Duran Duran were also a big influence at that time.
So yes, we purposely wanted to think of those kinds of acts whilst writing these songs, whereas with previous recordings we would have gone down the route of The Stone Roses and The Smiths a little bit more. Again, I think that shines through, but there’s also little nods to our (Shed Seven) past, certainly lyrically, on this album. I mention “Chasing Rainbows’' (‘Let It Ride’ - 1998) in “Let’s Go Dancing”: “They always said we should chase the rainbows”, which is a nice little nod to what’s probably our most famous song. And there are other lyrical couplets in there that are kind of relevant to past Shed Seven work. So I think in a weird way, this is a little bit of a love letter to our younger selves really.
A Matter of Time is your first album featuring guest vocalists such as Rowetta, Laura McClure and, perhaps most notably, Pete Doherty. What was your reaction to finding out Pete Doherty was a fan, and how was the recording process of “Throwaways”, the song on which he features?
It was a bit of a surprise really. We’d never really bumped into or crossed paths with The Libertines in the past, so I was unaware that they’d even heard of us. So to see him singing our songs at the side of the stage while we were performing was a bit of a buzz. After we’d finished our set, I thought I’d go over and introduce myself, and I said, “I didn’t realize that you knew about us, Peter.” And he went “Oh yes, when I was young and living at home I’d learn Shed Seven songs on my acoustic guitar in my bedroom and sing along”, which was amazing to hear. So because we’d already had Rowetta guesting on “In Ecstasy’' at this point, I just thought what’s the harm in inviting somebody else? So I just kind of absentmindedly said to Peter backstage, “We’ve got this song we’ve written and you would sound amazing on it. What do you think?” And he actually said yes before even hearing it, which I thought was a nice touch. But I do think that particular song, certainly lyrically, is a bit of an outsider’s anthem; it’s for people who aren’t included; it’s for the uncool kids. And I do think, to an extent, we were a little bit like that in the 90s. We were the band on the slight verges of Britpop. We were never Premier League Britpop. We were always Championship side Britpop; we always felt like we were gate crashing parties and I think looking at The Libertines’ career, they perhaps went through a little bit of that as well. They’ve been through a lot of their own s*** over the years. So it’s kind of a relevant song for people to join us on really, and I think our voices go really well together.
Pete recorded his parts in Paris, because he lives in northern France… He didn’t actually come and do it with us as the song was already completed, so it was going to come out regardless of whether or not Peter was on it. We sent him the copy that we had and I just said to him “Listen to the second verse. Recreate what I did or try something different and then stick some harmonies on there. Do what you want and then we’ll edit it together.” It was such a joy. Literally a couple of weeks later he comes back and we’re hearing him singing my verse and my lyrics but in his own inimitable way. It was just a right buzz and it sounded amazing. So hopefully at some point in the future we’ll get to sing together live.
If it comes out as a single I’ve already got an idea of what we would do for a video. Obviously the content of the song is about being on the outside, so, if he’s up for it, I’ll get a couple of big anoraks with big hoods and we’ll go to some moorlands somewhere in horrible weather and just traipse up these hills with our hoods up and sing it to each other (laughs).
You’ve said on multiple occasions how lucky you feel to still be in a position to be doing what you’re doing today. Has this realization perhaps led to the more joyful sound of A Matter of Time?
No, I don’t think so. I think we just felt like we got a whole new lease of life with ‘A Matter of Time’. After Covid happened… If you’re told you can’t go anywhere, it just makes you want to go somewhere all the more. Obviously that’s the same for everyone in any walk of life and this certainly isn’t a covid album in any way whatsoever, apart from a few of the lyrics maybe being jotted down in covid times.
I’m always jotting words and phrases down and seeing where they might connect and I’ve noticed on this album there’s an awful lot of travel related lyrics and there’s an awful lot of mention of birds on this album. The opening track, “Let’s Go”, is full of places that we should go to. So that’s maybe a bit of an overspill from when we were told we weren’t allowed to do any of this. But no, I think when I said that I feel lucky we’re still here, I mean more in the sense that the music industry is so fickle and anything at any time could change the course of where you’re going.
I believe we’re very, very good at what we do and we deserve a place here, but that’s not enough, and even when getting your foot in the door at the beginning of your career; one wrong move and it’s over. So I feel lucky and blessed that we still get the opportunity to do these things and that people out there enjoy hearing what we’ve done, but I do on the other side of things think we deserve our place within this.
The band reformed in 2007 because you missed playing live together. What re-sparked the desire to start writing, recording and releasing new albums again?
It was a total accident. So we were almost getting a little bit stuck in a nostalgic act rut. We reformed in 2007, as you say, because we missed playing live. We’d spent four years not doing anything but we were still mates. We still lived in York and still bumped into each other and went out drinking and all of that, and I think it got to the point, at the beginning of 2007, after three years, where we just thought why don’t we book a few gigs in at the end of the year and go and have a bit of fun? Because at the end of the day, you pick up an instrument and learn it because you want to show off to people and we missed that side of being in a band.
So we put on a run of shows at the end of 2007 solely to go out and have a good time, but we didn’t realize that there was a need for it… We had to upgrade venues that we’d booked in and add extra gigs because of the ticket demand, which was a bit of a surprise to us. It was only at that point that we actually realized that what we’d done in the 90s actually meant something to people, because in the 90s we were so caught up in everything that there was no time to stop and think about what we were doing. It was a full steam ahead scenario. So that was a satisfying thing in 2007; to see loads of people coming out and wanting to sing songs that were 12 years old even then.
So I guess from 2007 until about 2014/15 we just found ourselves reforming every year or every other year and doing a big tour. People would come and we’d sell out the gigs and everyone would go home happy after singing “Getting Better” and “Going for Gold” and “On Standby” and “Bully Boy” and “Disco Down” and so on. And barring a bit of an accident that might have continued. But I just remember one rehearsal we were doing…
So we’re in the rehearsal room relearning old songs and Paul just started playing this guitar riff and I asked him, “What is that?” and he said “I don’t know, I’m just mucking about.” It became a song called “Nothing to Live Down” off the last album. But when I heard his riff and him saying to me, “I don’t know what it is. I’m just making it up”, I’m immediately on my hands and knees with a notepad and I’m jotting down lyrics for this idea that he’s coming up with and it felt like we were about 18 again. It was mental. So we kind of wrote that one song and thought where did that come from? And how did that just happen? But because we liked the thrill of that so much we thought why don’t we just carry on doing this? So we actually amassed probably 10-12 songs and did really cheap recordings of them so we didn’t forget them and then started playing them to our friends and family, and they’re all going “This is too good for you to just do it for a laugh. You’ve got to release this.” And even then, we were still thinking really?
That’s what became the instant Pleasures album in 2017. So it was a bit of an accident really. But I think doing that and getting that “first new material in 16 years” thing off our backs freed us up massively with this album and I think that’s why this album sounds so joyous, because we have no constraints or worries. We just did what we wanted to do and I think you can really hear that in this new set of songs.
What would you call that? A musical relapse?
Exactly that. It’s something that we’d kind of parked. There was no intention. But then now I’m actually so pleased that happened because if that hadn’t happened we might still be going out every now and again and doing tours and playing “Disco Down” and “Getting Better”, which is great, but there’s only so much of that you can do before you start looking a bit daft and tired and old. Whereas now… I’m 51 and I feel like I am literally 28. I feel like I’ve got a whole new lease of life.
Having already released the ‘high-pressure’ comeback album, Instant Pleasures (2017), does this new era of Shed Seven now feel like a sort of rebirth, away from all the pressures and distractions of being a young band in the 90s?
Yeah, it does. We’ve been here a long, long time and we finally feel like we’re kind of getting our due a little bit. It’s not just the fact we’ve gone to number one because that’s kind of… not irrelevant, but you never know what’s going to connect and when it might connect. We’re just thankful I guess that this one has, but we deserve it because the songs on it are amazing. I’m not a big-headed person, but I honestly think that this album is going to stick around for a while. I think it might go down as a little bit of a classic album in the years to come because it’s of a time but it’s also so fresh that I don’t think it’ll ever date. So that’s an exciting prospect for us.
We’re about to go and do a run of three ‘playing album in full’ shows, which we’ve never done before for any of our albums, so this is a new thing for us. So we’re going to go out and play, in full, this brand new album that people have only had a couple of weeks to sit on. We’ve had two rehearsals this week to prepare for three shows (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). Six or seven of these songs we’ve never actually played in a room together as a band apart from recording it, which obviously is a different kind of process. We’re playing “Throwaways” for the first time ever together as well as “Let’s Go Dancing” and “Ring the Changes”...
I’ve been standing there in a rehearsal scenario looking at four other men’s faces and I’m almost getting little shivers down my spine playing these brand new songs. It almost feels like we’re about to go out and play a greatest hits set when we’re actually going out to play our brand new album. It’s weird. I think the love we’re getting online from most of our fans and even some new people that are connecting with us… The way they’re talking about these new songs, it’s like they’ve been around for years. I might be completely wrong, but I’ve just got this sense that when we go and play this brand new album to people… I’ve just got a feeling they’re gonna be singing every word back at me and that’s very unusual for a set of new songs. Something weird has happened in the world of Shed Seven and I absolutely love it. Long may it continue!
You recently mentioned playing into your 80s and beyond like The Rolling Stones… Still going strong after 30 years, what can we expect from Shed Seven in the next 30?
Well, who knows? I mean it’s all health permitting for a start. This has been my life from a very early age and this is the only real thing I know how to do. So if we’re still going for another 30 years, I’m sure we’re going to have our fair share of ups and downs, but who knows? If the next five albums go in at number 10, maybe in 2054 we’ll have another brand new number one album.