"..it's about self indulging in your darkest moods and exploring every direction they can possibly take you.."
S.C.U.M’s debut album, Again Into Eyes is a triumphant arrival. This is a debut which has filtering through the collective unconscious long before its completion, and it already it feels burned into the cortex. Again Into Eyes reels from carnival-esque toughness to a second side that comes close to despair before mainlined redemption in the form of ‘Whitechapel’, a utopian, future-disco monolith, washed in otherworldly Mellotron and Choirs, it’s perhaps the biggest surprise on the record.
Then again, it has been the band’s capacity for reflexive cartwheels – an instinctive disregard and perhaps a faint disgust with what’s expected of them – that has defined their strange and captivating evolution.
When Thomas Cohen (vocal) and Bradley Baker (machines) met in 2008 and called themselves the Society for Cutting Up Men, they demonstrated a deft, offhanded affinity for self-annihilation. This act of effacement found expression with the addition of Melissa Rigby (drums), Huw Webb (bass) and Samuel Kilcoyne (Moog), who whipped their undisciplined, amp-blowing sound into a bass-driven electronic No Wave, engulfed live by acid-test smoke and lights. That, however, was less an incarnation of the group than an isotope, destined to decay and reform itself.
As the front room of their Shoreditch rehearsal space (where Situationist scrawls, lyrics and song ideas were once painted white on black walls) became a gallery, the pub next door was glossed into the 21st Century and luxury destinations for the tasteless sprung-up opposite, the band moved-out to Surrey Quays. As the musical landscape around them seemed to atomize, becoming increasingly light on heroic bands and heavy on Teflon memes, the five-piece consolidated. They learned how to play their instruments, got snapped-up as the first signing of a newly re-independent Mute and set about writing their debut album. ‘If you were to listen to our releases up to this point, they form a complete document of how we’ve developed,’ Bradley Baker reflects.
He’s not wrong. Predating the release single ‘Amber Hands’, the first from Again Into Eyes, was their debut on Loog: the instantly sold-out ‘Visions Arise’, a memory of a more detuned and spectral phase produced by Tom Furse. Also in the back-catalogue: the unique Signal series. ‘The beautiful thing about how that came about was that it was completely by accident,’ says Kilcoyne (brain behind the revolutionary Underage Festival before joining the band). ‘It just happened when we were away,’ adds Webb, ‘We booked some gigs in Poland and we had a day off so we went into a studio and we made this noise. Tom played drums, everything switched round.’
Springing out of the Petri dish that was ‘Warsaw’, the band continued their journey around Europe, adding the dreamscape ‘Berlin’, the piano-led ‘Paris’, and the soon-to-come ‘Athens’ Signal. The tracks show in increments the creative engine of the band finding a maturity and confidence. Drawn out on tour by the intense affection for the band in overlooked pockets of the continent, S.C.U.M were inspired to act as conduits for their surrounds, transplanting them almost unconsciously onto MP3. It’s a path that lies well outside that taken by most groups, just as their purpose and their aesthetic are diametrically opposed to those of schoolboy schlock-rock bands with nothing to say.
Once back in the UK, the band hit pre-production boot camp with legendary drummer and producer Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Teenage Jesus, Sonic Youth, Grinderman). Kilcoyne is readily appreciative of how formative the experience was: ‘We learned both from listening to other records and from being in a studio. Working with Jim, he really went “There’s no need for you to have that extra bar” and “Maybe if you just shut up for that bit and then came in here…” That blew our fucking minds, like ‘Oh, that’s how music works!’
Then followed the writing and recording of the debut album. In ‘the middle of nowhere’, as they put it, they paired-up with producers Ken and Jolyon Thomas (whose credits individually and together include Sigur Ros, M83, David Bowie, Psychic TV). The five’s listening habits in psychedelia, space-rock, avant-garde and ambient soundtracks collide to form a pop trip that neatly balances the innovative with what is rapturously danceable.
With the record set for release in September 2011, the band have been busy honing their skills live, asked on European and UK tours by The Kills and cutting a precocious figure on bills alongside top-draw label mates like Liars, Erasure and The Residents. On stage, the band have never stopped short of devastating audiences. Relying less than before on overwhelming visuals and more upon the weight of their sound, wrapped around frontman Thomas Cohen. With a style suggestive of a Nietzchian Madonna, Cohen is a tall, sardonic-faced art-house shaman contorting himself, finger-fucking the space around him or – at their church shows – blessing crowds with Holy Water.
While his lyrics trade in stacked abstracts and deal with transcendence, escapism and a submission to forces beyond his control, Cohen remains decidedly tied to reality in person, even in the midst of a grueling tour schedule: ‘Touring with The Kills has been really amazing and also takes away from the mysticism of being a band and playing venues like the Roundhouse. There’s so many stories about that place and so many gigs that we’ve seen there, since it’s been reopened, that have been seminal, but then you get there and you get as much space as you would in a pub. I think it’s definitely good at normalizing that experience. However, naivety is what’s created the songs and I think that’s what makes them good. It’s probably quite obvious that I didn’t have a concept of any sort of melody, I saw myself as having a part to play but I didn’t see that in any musical sense at all.’
However modern their sound might be, they are in this manner a very traditional band. Each member makes their own contribution; their trajectory shaped democratically by the different skills of each individual. Rigby in particular, dragged from the clutches of drum school, has helped reign in the chaos generated by Baker and Kilcoyne’s sound-beds and synth lines. The urge for experimentation though is still very much alive – the band count contemporary artists Matthew Stone, Tim Noble and Sue Webster as frequent collaborators – only this time they want it understood properly. With a record that feels like a ten track modern classic, they are set to expand massively upon their base of cult fans this year.
Hello, how are you?
Hello, really well thank you! We are just enjoying a few days off after playing a couple of shows in Portugal. We are also getting ready for two shows in Russia in a fortnights time.
What are you currently listening to?
I’m currently having a slight break from extensive listening. We are going to demo new ideas in the near future and I always like to go into these situations with a clarity to develop my own and my bands ideas.
What, if anything, is S.C.U.M an acronym for?
S.C.U.M is an acronym for the Society for Cutting Up Men. We never really spent too much time looking into names, and it was something that I just thought of early in the project, and then delved into it at a later date. The history is pretty interesting and I thoroughly advise looking into it.
When did you guys begin writing for this project? Did you know what kind of sound you were going for?
In terms of 'Again Into Eyes', we went into the studio with around 60% of the record written in one way or another. All of these ideas were then developed further and updated in terms of sound and structure. The remaining tracks were more spontaneous and came to surface through experimental sessions from the band, using a range of techniques. The sounds created in this process were then implemented into the other tracks to create a lush landscape around the structure of the songs.
Is there a theme on your debut full length?
The theme behind the record was to create a vast landscape of sound. The idea of this was to conjure a visual representation of the music and personal imagery of the listener. I think this was captured well through the experimental soundscapes and sometimes vague lyrical content.
Do you have a favorite track on said album and why?
Track 7 is my personal favorite. The song came from my initial riff, which Huw then put in key, and then we developed the idea on piano until we had a simple structure with which we could further with different instruments. After the double bass and drums were recorded, we set about manipulating sounds to fit around the song. This was a personal highlight of mine during the time spent in the studio.
Got any side projects/collabs coming up?
Not personally but my bandmates enjoy collaborating with other musical artists. As a band we have been spending time remixing bands other tracks such as Spector, Cloud Control, and Big Pink
You can only keep/listen to one album for the rest of your life ..Which album would it be?
'Another Green World'. I always divide this track into two sides in terms of pop and ambient. One thing that interests me about Brian Eno is his interpretation of pop music. I really like his vocals on these tracks, I find the way he uses his voice fascinating. His Ambient music is one of my favorite forms of music. I adore the timelessness of them and the way they can remove you from your surroundings, physically and mentally.
Are you living your dream?
My dreams have been a bit weird recently, so I hope not.
Thanx Chris & Bradley!
S.C.U.M. just released the latest single off of their stunning debut 'Again Into Eyes' called 'Faith Unfolds', go get that and every other single/album they've put out because this band deserves your full attention NOW..