Shame’s Magnetic Front Man Charlie Steen Is Taking Life “One Crisis at a Time”

Of course, Vonnegut.

There’s one part of it that’s great, when the American gets captured by the British soldiers, and the British soldiers are trained to, when they wake up in the morning, make their bed, do 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of reading, polish their boots, shave. And although I don’t agree with a lot of English rhetoric such as “stiff upper lip,” I really do agree with that concept of, when your mental state is starting to fade, it can be reflected quite easily in your physical appearance, and in the way you live. And as you were saying, it’s those mundane, everyday activities that felt really extraordinary to me, and they still do. I guess it’s sort of garnering back some sort of control.

Hadn’t you gone through a break-up before working on this record too?

Yeah, some of the songs on the record are about heartbreak: “Human, for a Minute” and “Snow Day,” which I’ve sort of been joking about because when we started the band, I never wanted to write about heartbreak. I mean everybody fucking does that. And then you go through it, and you realize why everybody’s been fucking doing it for a thousand years! [laughs]

“Human, for a Minute” is interesting because it’s mellower and more vulnerable than you often are, lyrically. That idea of, “Why don’t you stay, just for today.”

That was one of the real challenges, lyrically, with this record. With the themes of learning to enjoy your own company, it became very internal. And it became quite exposing, because before anybody else hears these songs, all the band hear the lyrics. And so, when we were doing “Human, for a Minute” live, it’s very challenging to stand in front of the guys when we were demoing and sing those lyrics, because they know the context of who it would be about, or what you were talking about. But you always want lyrics to be honest. I felt like it would be false If I tried to continue on with the lyrical themes of Songs of Praise.

And I have to ask you about how “Snow Day” came about because it’s the centerpiece of the record, such a highlight, so dramatic, with so much going on – it begins spoken word, there’s several “movements” all packed into five minutes. It’s cinematic, at first it feels nihilistic, then hopeful.

It came together when we were up in Scotland [on a writing trip, with their friend and artist Makeness]. Lyrically, that idea about walking up a hill, halfway up a mountain [“At the top of this hill I sit down/ I dismiss everything I see in front of me/ All mountains crumble and turn to dust”] – we would walk up this hill every day. And it became lyrically quite a good vehicle to use, as a subconscious dream theme. I think — of those themes, of heartbreak, dreams and the subconscious – this is the pivotal moment of the record for them. And, musically it was one for the band where they really put their all into it, and were ambitious and reached into a territory that we really hadn’t gone into before. We’re all really proud of that song.

Your music isn’t overtly political, but in the three years since your last record England has had Boris Johnson and Brexit, America has had the nightmare of Trump, we’ve all had the trauma of COVID – are you able to hang on to any optimism?

I’m optimistic, in the way that the survival instinct mode is telling me to be. To keep going, and to stay motivated. But I’m not fantasizing that there’s gonna be smooth sailing, that there’s just gonna be a lightbulb moment and the sunshine comes out and everybody is singing kumbaya in the fucking Hampstead Heath, or whatever. [laughs] I would like to think it would get better because surely it can’t get any worse, but then something comes along and then you’re back to thinking, “Well it can’t get any more worse.”

In my current situation, the way that I am personally dealing with things is like, one crisis at a time. In my own personal experience, it’s a real rabbit hole, isn’t it? And not a great pit to fall into, when you start looking at everything together and then suddenly it becomes, in your mind it’s like there’s no way out, no escaping it. But if you just are looking at one thing at a time – and it’s gonna be hard, there’s no doubt about that – but one thing we can take heart in is the incredible amount of support from many places we’ve seen. I mean the government is fucking useless, disgusting. But the people, and so many communities have really come out to help and support each other. Where there’s a crack, there’s always light, I guess.

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