Interview: S.C.U.M

S.C.U.M have been making waves in the South London art rock music scene since their conception three years ago. Named after Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. Manifesto aka The Society for Cutting Up Men, S.C.U.M have gone from strength to strength, releasing a collection of tracks – titled ‘SIGNALS’ – recorded whilst touring round Europe, as well as singles ‘Visions Arise’, and the recent ‘Amber Hands’. Their debut album ‘Again Into Eyes’ is released in September.

OMB recently caught up with synth player Sam Kilcoyne, whose name you may also recognise as the young mind behind London’s Underage festival.

One Note Forever: How did S.C.U.M form?

Sam Kilcoyne: Tom and Bradley were the initial… they met at school, and Ruaridh and Joe used to be a four piece, synthesizer, bass, drums and vocals, and I saw them when I was in Whitechapel, at their second gig, and asked if I could join, and played guitar, then realised I was terrible at guitar, so I played moog, and, Ruaridh and Joe left, and Mel and Huw, took their places, and that’s kinda how we formed, over like a year and a half period.

OMB: What was it that attracted you to the band, and made you want to join?

SK: I don’t know, it was just, it kinda didn’t make any sense, it didn’t have any structure, didn’t have any end point, it just kept on going, and it was this mad flaming electronic, this kinda, singer that couldn’t stand in one place shouting, these drums, and bass lines that really reminded me of The Fall, and it kind of went together in such a bizarre way, and yeah, it was all so exciting, and interesting, and there wasn’t a lot of bands out at that time, it was almost, it was the new wave boom, and, there wasn’t a lot of people using synthesizers, the way it sounded to me was just completely destructive and disgusting, and I kind of wanted to get in with it and add to it.

OMB: Did you learn synths to be in the band? Or had you previously played?

SK: I think that synthesizers are one of those instruments that I don’t think you really need to be a piano player to work out how to use it. Urm, it’s all about, there’s no master of it, there’s millions of different ways that you can interpret that instrument and completely fuck it up, I don’t think you need to be trained, I think that was the whole thing about the band, that none of us had actually had training in our instruments before, and er, yeah I didn’t learn it to be in it, I just kinda brought one to rehearsal one day and it kinda really fit in.

OMB: S.C.U.M have been together since 2008, but you’re only just putting out your debut album – Again Into Eyes – do you feel that the album format has less relevance in today’s music scene, considering you’ve already achieved so much without having put out an album?

SK: Well to be honest, I don’t think we have really been relevant at all, since having this album. I think the album format is a timeless thing, I kinda think that no matter what happens, if your band has got a really dedicated idea to making an album then it’s always going to be relevant, if we’re reaching the scene or not. Like, we kind of disappeared for a while, because we were getting into this rut of constantly having this goth thing, which I don’t think any of us have really subscribed to. We’re not even from east London, but we were getting latched onto the east London scene, so we kind of disappeared and we went to Europe and we recorded in these bizarre, radio stations and disused places and studios and made ‘SIGNAL’ series, and that was really relevant to us, we really wanted to make it kind of this concept album that was all from where we travelled from. I think, doing the album, it was like, I think it’s very relevant to bands that kind of give off albums that really sum them up, sum them up at that point and stuff, but I think, all we really ever wanted to do was write an album to be honest.

OMB: Do you feel that now you’ve finished that album, that’s a period in your career finished, and you’ve moved on from that?

SK: To actually make a record, you love, that you still listen to… I mean, we recorded it and finished it last year, probably this time last year, if not a bit earlier, we’d finished it, and I think, if we’re still listening to it now, and still love it, I think that’s like the best thing….

OMB: The ‘SIGNALS’ idea, going round to all these different countries, and recording there, how did that come about?

SK: Er, well, it kind of, what we’d actually started off kind of doing, we’d got a gig in Poland, it was our first mini tour, we were only out there for four dates, but it was the first time Mel had come away with us, since joining the band. We went out, and our manager, Shauna, had found this disused radio station that had been turned into a studio, really bizarre place, so snowy, and it was a really kind of bizarre atmosphere around there, and we went in and recorded, ‘cause we were trying to record an album when ‘Visions Arise’ came out, so we just wanted to write everywhere we were, to keep busy and keep working for an album that kind of ultimately would have been a bit shit, but we kind of did, we did this recording in this disused radio station, and it was so bizarre, we’d never worked like it, we just tracked, tracked, tracked, just done it all in that day, about how we felt about the place we were in. It was really secluded on the middle of the motorway, it was really bizarre, middle of Warsaw I think it was, and erm, yeah, it just kinda came back, and said to ourselves, it’s be amazing, ‘cause, like, we were always going to Berlin, playing shows, Paris, really bizarre places, and we really wanted to track where we’d been, um and create ‘SIGNALS’, so when we were away from London, when we were away from England, we could send ‘SIGNALS’ back, and create a whole package of where we’d been, basically like create postcards, and how the places we’d been in had inspired us. So we just kind thought to create a series, because we weren’t anywhere near finishing an album, we weren’t trying at that point. So we just wanted to do something for us, like make our own mixtape of where we’d been, for people who were fans of the band, and liked to come and see us live, music they could actually listen to that wasn’t ‘Visions Arise’.

OMB: You guys play in churches and use visuals – have aesthetics and atmosphere always been an important focus of the band?

SK: Well yeah, I think it’s like, how you, kinda… because the music you play, you want to present it in the best way you can, and I think it had such a filmic environment, and soundtracks and films had such a massive influence on the album we’ve written, a lot of Italian films, and a lot of Czech films like ‘Valerie and her Week of Wonders’ it’s got this really kind of beautiful cryptic thing about it, and playing at a church, this unbelievably beautiful church, amazing vicar, let us play there, and it was just like, for us like The Pistols, you know, when they played and like, then they went away and did all these bizarre things. How you present your music and how you kind of…. yeah, when you have the special chance to actually choose where you play, instead of playing the usual circuit, you actually have the opportunity to play in places like churches, or morgues, all these beautiful… like I did a club in a crypt, not because I’m a goth, but because they’re incredible places to present music, and that was really important for the band, was how we’d presented what we’d made, it was such an incredible atmosphere.

OMB: Definitely something different! Tell me how the song writing process works?

SK: Well, I think for us, it was kinda how SIGNALS worked, which was like inspired by the places we were in, I think like, the album we’ve made, it was really, well, it was like the places we were staying it. We recorded the album in a place called Odiham, near Farnham, and it was just this beautiful countryside, we stayed in this house, that was miles away from anywhere, and I think, for us, our surroundings really inspire how we make music, we all got together in this huge circular room, it’s like an old farm building, really strange building, and this beautiful, beautiful circular room that went up like fifteen, twenty feet, it was really beautiful, and it overlooked the countryside, so we just opened the doors at night, and just, played all night, and kind of made, complete noise, and we just would track what we had down, and go back into it and make something out of what we’d been doing, I don’t know what we’d actually make. But yeah, we’d record and track, and just lay down all these sorts of sounds, and sporadic pieces of music, and basically piece them together into actual songs.

OMB: You worked with some big name producers like Jim Sclavunos and also Ken Thomas, did they really influence how you approached recording, or was it more just, you went in with your ideas and then…

SK: Jim Sclavunos didn’t actually produce us, he did a lot of pre production, and he really showed us the way to kind of, basically, cut the shit in your songs, like, if they go on for five minutes, you could have them end in two minutes thirty, with the same power of five minutes. He was like a really massive influence on the way we structured and did sound really, and how we brought things in, and how like, you don’t have to play the whole way through. Yes, he was really a massive influence on our sound, before going in to write the album. Ken Thomas, and his son Jolyon Thomas were two absolutely fantastic people to work with, they were really laid back about everything, but kind of, suggested ideas and made them into massive ideas. Jim Sclavunos was really the beginning of working the album we’ve done; he really showed us the ins and outs of how to make a powerful, powerful record, obviously having been in Grinderman…

OMB: You personally, obviously started the Underage franchise – the festival and club nights – do you find that gets sidelined due to more band commitments, or are you still really involved in that?

SK: It was sidelined for this year, yeah…

OMB: It was only a couple of weeks ago wasn’t it?

SK: Yeah it was, it was fantastic, I went to it, as my first overage underage! For me, it’s still is the most brilliant musical event in the country, no matter what people say, it’s fantastic, I absolutely love it. Watching the kids having a day of just unadulterated fucking fun, far away from booze and like, I’m not saying those things are bad, I’m just saying, it’s amazing to see people having fun and enjoying music and the rest, in such a brilliant way, you know without the need to, be an adult or anything

OMB: Yeah, definitely, did you guys play, or have you played?

SK: We played once yeah we have played, no, we haven’t played. I can’t remember! We did play, yeah we did play 3, 2 years ago I think, that was funny, yeah it’s weird.

OMB: You guys don’t really list any direct musical influences on the band, what did you grow up listening to?

SK: Oh, erm, I grew up kinda listening to, like in secondary school it was kind of like, whatever was around really, it started with like Dizzee Rascal, and then, I don’t really know to be honest. I mean, we don’t cite any influences, but, that was ages ago, so I think, for the album, there’s a lot of influence in  that, I think, Brian Eno, Grinderman, Ennio Morricone and stuff like that, really inspired the whole album that we made. Don’t believe what you read on Wikipedia, ‘cause that’s a load of shit…

OMB: What current bands are you listening to? The people you go on tour with, do you keep up with that, or label mates or anything?

SK: We love Yuck, we played with them, they’re fantastic, Beach House, Grinderman obviously, we’re into bands like Advert, that’s kind of the bare basics of it, yeah.

OMB: You’re going on tour with Wolf Gang, in October? The NME radar tour?

SK: Yeah, I’ve never heard of them…

OMB: Do you think being part of the NME tour will bring you out into a more mainstream audience?

SK: Yeah, I think, yeah, I guess, I think it’s great, I’m really happy to be doing the NME tour, I can’t wait to be playing around England and getting introduced to a crowd that might not necessarily ever have heard of us. Being, perhaps perceived as quite niche, you know, so to get out to a bigger, younger audience like that on a massive scale in the UK, is kind of massive for us. Yeah, we’re really really excited about it, I can’t bloody wait!

OMB: What else is in the future?

SK: In the future… well we’ve got our album coming out, we’re going to release our final SIGNALS, which was recorded about a year and a half ago, and er, yeah pretty much the NME tour is kinda in the near future, the biggest thing we’re doing.

S.C.U.M play Oxford’s O2 Academy 2 as part of the NME Radar tour on the 14th of October.