Shed Seven – Fraser Smith

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Interview by Kris Griffiths

Shed Seven are back after a busy couple of years which has seen some major changes behind the scenes. The departed long-term guitarist Paul Banks has been replaced by the band’s original guitarist, Joe Johnson, and a new deal has been signed with Artful records (home to The Clint Boon Experience and The Fall) after the band left Polydor. They have embarked on their biggest ever nationwide tour to herald the release of the new album TRUTH BE TOLD and the first single CRY FOR HELP. I spoke to keyboardist, Fraser Smith, before their gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London.

How has the tour been going?

It’s been brilliant. We’ve been playing a lot of strange places. A lot of places off the beaten track, like Aldershot, that have never really had big bands passing through, which has made it even better.

What’s been your favourite gig so far?

For some reason, Stoke really stuck out as being a top gig. They’ve all been really good but a couple have been that little bit better. We played in Glasgow a few days ago, and the Glasgow gigs are always brilliant.

Would you say that TRUTH BE TOLD is Shed Seven’s strongest album to date?

Yeah I would. The band are getting a little bit older now so things are going to change.

It was mainly Paul Banks and Rick Witter that did all the song-writing before but now that Paul has left, how has the song-writing process differed for the new material?

It was quite an unusual situation with Paul leaving and the original guitarist coming back, but of course Joe and Rick wrote the material for the first album. For the new stuff its been me and Joe mainly writing the music and Rick writing the lyrics. We started writing the new material in January 2000 and had pretty much everything written and recorded by the end of the year.

What I noticed about the album was its relatively short length, clocking in at forty minutes, and an interesting use of harmonies on a couple of the tracks.

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of having seventeen long tracks on one album, and its funny you should mention harmonies because I’ve always been a big fan of them myself. Me and Rick ended up working out a lot of them together and I actually did a lot of the backing vocals on the album. It all seemed to fit in with the newer sound.

What is your favourite track off the album and do you have any idea of what the follow-up singles are going to be?

Well it’s funny that, because it changes every time I hear it. At the moment my favourite track is probably LAUGHTER LINES but if you ask me again next week it’ll probably be something else. There’s talk at the moment of IF THE MUSIC DON’T MOVE YER being the next single and we might even be re-recording it for that reason. There’s also talk of STEP INSIDE YOUR LOVE, which was originally intended as an album track, but now everyone’s been saying that it’s got to be a single.

Rick has said that you are better now than you were before. In what ways are you better now?

The main thing I think that has changed is that we all get on a lot better now. There’s a real new spirit in the band, which when you’ve been together for as long as we have, is inevitably going to wane a little bit. There’s a new firmness. Moving record labels has given us a new burst of energy.

I’ve heard that you’re all over the moon about leaving Polydor as you now have total freedom to get back that Indie ethic. In what ways were you restricted before?

By the end of it all, they were telling us to change the names of some of our songs. The final straw was when they wanted us to re-release GOING FOR GOLD. Then they offered us a deal, which was a very small amount of money to make another album and we decided not to take it. So it was kind of a mutual agreement – it wasn’t being dropped and it wasn’t us just leaving – which is a nice way of putting it.

Over the years Shed Seven has received a lot of slating from the musical press, NME in particular. Hasn’t it ever got you down reading such abuse?

It hasn’t really. They’ve never been on our side, but they’ve never really made much difference. Its got to the point now where they can write something shit about us and it doesn’t seem to affect people coming to our gigs or buying our albums. Obviously its bad when someone says, “this is a load of crap” or “I don’t like their hair”, but at the end of the day we still sell out everywhere we play and sell thousands of records. It would be nice if they were on our side, but having said that, they have seemed to calm down in the last couple of years.

In a lot of the LET IT RIDE reviews I’ve read, whenever SHE LEFT ME ON FRIDAY was mentioned, Blur or Black Grape were always mentioned too.

(Laughs) It was just one of those things. It came out sounding a bit like that because we like those bands, like the Happy Mondays, and some of it was bound to come through. But the kids loved it and that’s what counts really.

What question do you get tired of being asked all the time?

Well I know for a fact that Rick gets pissed off with being asked where the name ‘Shed Seven’ comes from. He’s been on the promotional treadmill for six weeks now so don’t ask him that or you won’t see him again.

So why are you called ‘Shed Seven’ then? It’s all very ambiguous.

(Laughs) Yeah, it’s very ambiguous, and it’s probably more ambiguous now than it was four or five years ago. There’s lots of different versions, but the way of answering is to not actually say which one is the real one.

One answer I’ve heard is that one of the band-members lost their virginity in a shed at the age of seven.

(Much laughter) I think that’s probably the best one.