Curious And Unconventional, Shadow Smile Discuss Their Alternative Approach To Making Music, Their Upcoming Live Shows And Why They Strive To Maintain Their Independence

Shadow Smile: Crafting a Unique Musical Journey and Immersive Live Experience...

Interview By Victoria Llewelyn

 

Unintentional rock/metal band Shadow Smile are not something you come across every day. Appearing to have the ability to turn their hands to anything in terms of producing music, they are enigmatic, introspective, gifted and imaginative. Their debut album ‘Signed In Blood’ goes beyond the concept of the concept album and their work ethic is relentless; they strive to embrace the unusual – from immersive stage shows with audience participation to diversity in genre and being the first (to their knowledge) band to livestream a performance in the UK during the early weeks of the lockdown period in 2020. Thinking outside the box is their forte and they are now about to embark on their first UK headline tour. Singer and artist Conor Byron McGovern takes us through the mechanisms of this intriguing bunch of musicians from Sheffield.

 

MGM: Shadow Smile are a relatively new band, having formed initially in 2019 with no particular plan in mind other than to ‘have a go’ at producing a song. From there the band seemed to take on a life of its own and you’re now preparing for your first headline tour. How would you describe Shadow Smile’s music to people who haven’t heard of the band before?

CBM: It’s true, we formed initially in late 2019, but we only intended to record one song. We never intended to become a band as such, but we recorded the song and put it out, and people seemed to like it, so we did more!    Sound-wise, I would say we’re right on the knife’s edge between hard rock and metal. We’re too heavy for a lot of the rock crowd and too light for a lot of the metal crowd; some see us as being really heavy if they’re into their classic rock, glam and so on, but if they’re into modern metal, we’re nowhere near as heavy as a lot of that crowd.

 When we decided to go forward as a band we did seven singles, self-released, through the lockdowns when they were happening, because we couldn’t do anything else, we thought we might as well put some singles together. As we came out of that era, we then crowdfunded our first album, which came out in September and has done really well. So now we’re touring; we haven’t really stopped since we started.

MGM: The music that has now become your debut album, released in September 2023, you’ve based on the concept of the ‘seven deadly sins’. Unlike most concept albums though, instead of just expressing the concept in the song lyrics you’ve constructed each song musically according to the style and character you imagine it’s theme to be, adding an interesting extra dimension to each track.

CBM: We based it around the seven deadly sins and also the 14th century poem Dante’s Inferno. We tried to imagine a musical journey from the gates of Hell on Earth, through Hell, and back to Earth. Stylistically, we went through each of the seven deadly sins and tried to match, thematically, the music to each, which was a challenge in some ways, but in other ways, it gave us a really good starting point. For example, we imagined that ‘Lust’ had to be a strip club anthem, really slow and groove based both musically and lyrically. It doesn’t always go according to plan – when we got to ‘Envy’ as a sin, we wrote three or four different songs, none of which could stick because we were trying to go down a certain path with it and we weren’t getting what we wanted. Eventually ‘Envy’ ended up as a ballad instead of the hard rock song it was meant to be. Having these ideas can be both a blessing and a curse!

 Our idea for the album was about how the ‘sins’ could be interpreted in the modern world as opposed to a biblical setting. When we did the ‘Gluttony’ track we tried to imagine – what’s the real-world implication of gluttony in this day and age? We thought, big pharmaceutical companies getting people fat and then selling them drugs to make them thinner. The gluttony that humanity has with resources – we drain everything we can find, whether it be food, whether it be technology, or whether it be oil or whatever. The song eventually came out sounding like a 1970s glam track with the swing beat going on, and we ended up with a saxophone solo at the end. These things weren’t intended. We never went in thinking, right, we need a saxophone solo on that. It seemed to fit naturally, and the song morphed on its own. That’s how it happens with us.

 We apply this to the live show and the videos too – when we do ‘Lust’ we have dancers come out and we try to make it as immersive as we can. We’re trying to be forward thinking because people don’t necessarily buy albums now, so we thought, how can we hook them to be invested in a full album as opposed to just 30 seconds on TikTok or whatever? We tried to give as many different angles as possible to really engage people and we tried to be quite tech savvy with it as well.

MGM: This is a very intelligent and uncommon way to create music – an ‘accidental’ band that was never meant to be, songs that have taken on a life of their own, translation of strong themes into visual and live performances. You work with no business plan, manager or guidance other than your own creativity, and go to great lengths to carve out your own, very non-conformist path in today’s music industry. How have you made it work?

CBM: Chemistry, obsession and perfectionism! We try to do a song for fun, but none of us can leave it at fun. We have to make sure something’s as good as it can be, then once we’ve completed that we have to move on to the next thing. When we started this band, I’d already given up on the idea of being in a band. I’ve been in bands all my teenage years and I’d decided, ok, that’s done, what am I going to do next? I think it’s a bit of an addiction in a way, you have a need to create if you’re creative. We also got a very good producer who showed us a lot of workflow tips and ideas on how to improve how we work and write together as a band. We don’t stop. If I’m not creating music, I spend a lot of my time designing merch and running our merch store. Before you know it, you’re running a business that you never intended to run, and it’s taking up all your time, and you’re doing interviews with people, and it’s successful!

 We keep working at it and keep building brick by brick. We wanted to push boundaries, wanted to make music that just came to us as opposed to being part of a ‘scene’. The first single we put out was immediately lumped in with the ‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’ movement, and we made our intention clear that we didn’t want to be part of that. It really annoyed me because it’s not us! I’ve calmed down about it all now, and I didn’t mean I don’t like what they do in NWOCR, because a lot of that crowd do like our music also. We’ve just done Rockmantic festival and we’re doing Steel Paws Festival in October that draws a lot of that crowd and we are really looking forward to seeing them.

MGM: How do you translate all these ideas into your live show? What can we expect to experience when you go on tour and what influences you?

CBM: A lot of my influences are theatrical bands. I love Ghost, and I’m going to see Adam Ant soon, October. I also love bands like Nirvana and Guns N Roses, where the music’s very genuine and emotional. We try and balance both. Most bands seem to be either one or the other; they’ll either have a very theatrical show or they’ll be completely raw and they’ll play their instruments and both are really great, but as with everything we do, we seem to land on that knife edge – are we this or that? Somehow it works and makes us more unique.

 We’ve done gigs around, but we’ve not really toured before, and we’ve done it all ourselves. We’ve hired the venues, apart from two festivals in amongst there, Steel Paws and Shadow Fest, where another promoter’s been involved. We’ve tried to keep that independent mentality we had on our album into the live shows as well, so that we have complete control on what goes on. It’s a test and we’ll see how it goes.

 Once again, the shows take on a life of their own. We have a plan and a set list, but our aim is to put on a spectacle at every show. We have a multi-sensory experience through the music, visuals, dancers and more. We really like the idea of it being an experience rather than a show so that it’s memorable for everyone in attendance. We genuinely feel that whether it’s five people or five thousand people, they’ve paid their money, and they deserve a show. If there’s fewer people, we’ll go further to incorporate them into the show and make it even more special for them. We’ve done ‘baptisms’ on stage into the ‘Shadow Smile Cult’ before or we’ll get people up onstage to sing a song with us. There are endless possibilities, but you’ll need to come to a show to find out!

MGM: As a band you’re remarkably, and fiercely independent. You’re protective of your work and don’t feel the need for outside influences. Why is it so important to you to maintain this?

CBM: Independence and freedom to do what we want to do mean everything to us. We’ve had a couple of managers in the past, and I won’t name any names, and I won’t have a go at anyone, because they had the best intentions, but they wanted to steer us down different paths. They’ll have had another few bands on their rosters and what they’re doing is working for them, but I don’t believe it worked for us. I’m very keen that we have our own path. I suppose it’s a business strategy, but we don’t really think of it like that. There’s no room for compromise because the margins are so narrow on everything we do. In music, as I’m sure you know, there’s very little room for error. We have Eve, who helps with the business management side of things, she does all our accountancy, and she makes sure the numbers add up. Anything creative, we have to keep it internal. We have a meeting once a month where we go over all the figures and all the strategic plans over the next month, we run like a board of directors, essentially, and it works for us. If the right person came along with the right ideas and the right agent came along and said, do you want to do this tour? We’re always open to a conversation. The same with management, the same with record labels. It’s just that those conversations we’ve had haven’t been fruitful as yet, we’ve always felt at the end of them, okay, great, but we’re better off doing what we’re doing for now. A manager will approach us – they’ve already got a slightly bigger band on their roster, so you know that the bigger opportunities are going to go to that band that they’re managing already and you’re going to get the cast offs from it. So even though they have the best intentions, and they want to elevate you, them having a slightly bigger band means that there’s always a little bit of edge there. We’re a difficult band to manage since we do overthink things as well, to the point that we spend so much time thinking about this stuff that by the time it comes round, they’ve got annoyed with us and sodded off anyway!

MGM: You’re all self-confessed introverts, yet you describe an incredibly intense, exhibitionist style of live performance. Does this present a challenge when you’re having to go out on stage in front of people and deliver the show?

CBM:  The stage persona thing – It’s like the Batman question. It’s like, who’s real? Is it Bruce Wayne or is it Batman? Which one’s the mask? And we’re a bit like that. Is our offstage thing the mask and the onstage thing the real person? Who knows? I don’t even know myself. It’s a weird one. We know most people get into bands to live the rock and roll lifestyle, all the partying, the girls and everything that comes with it. We didn’t. We didn’t want to do that, our attitude is different, and people are a bit unsure because they’re like, why aren’t you coming out? Why don’t you want to come to the club with us after? We’re not that kind of people, none of us are. We’re all quite social, but we’re a little bit insular. Anyone who knows us will tell you that we’re friendly enough, but we don’t really feel the need to go and mix with industry people and stuff like that. I suppose we’re a bit of an introverted band that seems really extroverted when we’re on stage.

 We actually tried to have complete stage personas at one time, where everything was a theatrical show. We’ve all got a lot of internalised energy that’s trying to get out, because as you can probably tell we’re quite subdued people. I think now it’s 50% persona and then 50% the energy inside that wants to get out that you can’t express in day-to-day life. You’ve got to behave a certain way in society, and you’ve got to get on with people where half the time you probably want to scream at somebody, and you can’t. But on stage you can.

 

SHADOW SMILE PLAY THESE CITIES THIS YEAR –

April 6th – Nottingham

April 13th – Manchester

April 19th – Birmingham

April 21st – London

July 13th – Shadowfest, Bradford

October 5th – Steel Paws Festival, Sheffield

October 11th – Edinburgh

October 12th – Newcastle

Tickets for all events are available from TOUR | Shadow Smile

 

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