Shimura Curves

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Just Like Friends

Lead Vocals: Kate St.Claire
Harmony Vocals: Anne-Marie Payne, Lisa Payne, Marianna Longmire
Everything else: Kate St.Claire

Download on SoundCloud. The track is free, but if you like it please consider donating something here.

I have told the story behind this song rather too recently to want to tell it again. In fact, it was trying to explain the emotions behind it, and how they still resonate through my fears, that gave me the idea to publish these old songs this way. But I've reached the point with this particular story that Borges explored in Night of the Gifts, where I am no longer sure if that is the way it all actually happened, or if I've been telling the story for so long that the Story itself has supplanted the actual memories. And memories are such tricky things, they are so seldom recorded in perfect detail, like videotape, they're more like projections that the limbic system assembled from a jumble of sense impressions, that have to be reconstructed each time they are brought to mind.

In my mind and my memories, now, the Shimura Curves years were some kind of golden age I long to return to, but then I go back and read the older entries of this blog, and am surprised at how often I was actually confused and unhappy and totally stressed out. It's like there were two narratives surrounding that band, and I can't work out which one was the real one.

In one narrative, it was all giggling fits and sleepover parties with my best friends. We drank pink wine and ate pizza and gossiped at rehearsals, and planned our outfits and made each other mixtapes and did each others' hair. Four girls in love with the world, and our manager, Emma, who was also our biggest fan. Happy moments like snapshots, places that sweep into focus in my memories, imbued with the essence of that band and echo with those girls' laughter. That house full of writers in Hackney Wick where Frances and Ampy lived, me sitting on the steps down to the kitchen as they made dinner, then eating communal supper round the dinner table. Anna's flat on the Holloway Road just up from the Garage, where she played me a Knife album for the first time. (I wrote Just Like Friends on her sofa, strumming her housemate's semi-hollowbody guitar.) The top floor of Marianna's house in Archway, lying on her bedroom floor as my bandmates drew freckles on my face and laughed about ever-more ridiculous suggestions for remixers and planning our stage show for when we played Wembley, and we'd have fireworks and everything. That Erno Goldfinger flat in Poplar where the Payne Sisters lived, and fixing Lisa's stereo because she couldn't hear her own vocals panned hard to one side in the mix. An impromptu a capella version of Stronger, sung to unamplified Jazzmaster, while waiting for soundcheck in the garden at Cargo. The grin on Emma's face every time we took the stage, whether it was the back room of the Windmill, or the main stage at 93 Feet East. They were the happiest times of my life. Weren't they?

And then there was the other narrative - the narrative where I felt put-upon and taken for granted and overworked and under-appreciated. The endless fucking waiting around, as two of my bandmates decided to have some weird passive aggressive contest to see who was the ~most important~ in the band, by who could be latest for rehearsals, gigs, soundchecks, etc. and therefore cause the most fuss at their eventual arrival. As a relentlessly punctual person who is routinely 15 minutes early for everything in case a bus gets delayed, I found it beyond infuriating. Then there was the fact that I provided all the music, and therefore had to drag a guitar, a bag of pedals, a laptop and sometimes a MIDI keyboard to every gig, while the others waltzed in and out with nothing more than a costume change. And, of course, asking a bandmate to transport a practice amp half a fucking mile to a gig was the most massive imposition, which required being two hours late as opposed to merely one, with every other band on the bill waiting for it to arrive so they could soundcheck, staring daggers at me, because I was the only one there. I thought it was just me being oversensitive when I pointed these things out. But when we played the Truck Festival, The Texan roadied, and was absolutely flabbergasted at the division of labour in the band, and how much my bandmates protested over being asked to do trivial tasks like handing out flyers. I wrote the songs. I recorded the songs. I mixed and produced and talked to mastering engineers about what format and bitrate they needed because no one else understood that stuff. I arranged the laptop backing tracks for live shows. I arranged the sets. I wrote the set-lists and made sure everyone had one. I talked to the soundpeople and made sure we had the right amount of mics and the correct interface to input a laptop into the soundboard. I set up and soundchecked and triggered the laptop, and played guitar, and sung, and had to tear down the entire stage set-up while they were skipping off to snog their groupies backstage, and sometimes they had even finished the wine before I got off the stage. I paid the deposits, on club bookings or on tourvans. I paid for all the equipment, bar one microphone which paid for itself by us not having to go into an expensive studio to record our album. When they complained how much ~work~ it was to occasionally hand out flyers, well, it started to all feel a bit lop-sided.

I had been a musician for over half my life - I played my first gig at 16, worked as a session bassist in New York for five years, toured the UK several times. I knew the sheer amount of hard graft and shifting heavy gear and finger-blistering rehearsals and ass-kissing and shitty support slots at the Bull and Gate that it took to get a band up and running. And in The Lollies, that hard work (and a substantial amount of luck and excellent personal contacts) had started to pay off - so Shimura Curves didn't start from nothing, we started off already further along than any band I'd ever been in. I had expectations of commitment based on the (I now realise quite extraordinary, compared to most UK indie bands) work ethic of bands I'd previously been in. Rightly or wrongly, I felt like my bandmates walked into a situation where all the groundwork had been done, without even realising it was being done. And I started to feel really, really resentful, at how put-upon they would act when asked to handle a portion of that work, and at the same time, how entitled they felt to my time and energy, for instance, complaining if the set-list fairy didn't magically hand-draw and leave the sheets by their microphones at every gig. Guess who would not turn up to the soundcheck, then complain loudly into the mic that it was the soundman's fault she couldn't hear herself in the monitor. If four people had four different commitments for each day of a week we needed to rehearse, guess whose social life got shunted over, guess whose dates got cancelled, guess who took endless days off work? There was a sharp divide - friends of ours who were also in bands thought I was being exploited, friends of ours who had never been musicians thought I was an ogre. And I remember the surprise with which a mutual (non-musician) friend greeted it, when I broke down into explosive tears of frustration, because he had an actual go at me for just asking my bandmate to just do her job. I felt like I got no sympathy because I wasn't cute and vulnerable and pretty, I was hard and tough and no-nonsense because that's what it took to be a session player in NYC. That bloody-mindedness that made the band even happen in the first place was what made me look like an ogre.

I know it all sounds so petty when listed in black and white. And what good is it doing to drag it all up again? I still get annoyed, thinking about the time we scheduled a much-needed quick rehearsal the morning before the photoshoot for our single, and I dragged my guitar, and pedals (if you've ever seen the size of my pedalboard, you'd realise this was not an insubstantial thing) and bag full of costume changes all the way up the hill to Archway, only to have one bandmate cancel because she "felt fat" and required our manager to cycle across town to reassure her. By the time I dragged myself plus all my gear on a hot bus across town over to Dalston to the photographer's studio, I felt a lot more than just fat, I felt sweaty and disgusting, and my hair was so lank and gross that people said I looked like Kurt Cobain on the back cover of that single - but I somehow had to stuff that irritation down and pretend to lark around for the camera. I got through a fuck of a lot of the prop wine on that occasion, is how I coped. It was supposed to be fun; it was the life I'd dreamed of since I was 16, all coming true. Oh, and then my other bandmate got rat-arsed and went off to have a super-awkward one night stand with the label-mate who had been at that photo shoot with us, thus ruining any chances we might have had of having an ally in the brewing war with that record label. The record label we only signed with because it was run by another ex-bandmate's on-again off-again (mostly off-again) ex-boyfriend, who I'd disliked from the first night I met him (he was an indie snob, I was a Poptimist, and he was outraged - outraged! - that myself and another Plan B writer were discussing Britney Spears at a Final Fantasy gig) and then grew to loathe after he oh, just walked out on said bandmate while she was having a miscarriage, leaving her to get home from hospital by herself because he would rather go out DJ-ing. And believe it or not, it went downhill from there. I never believed her insistence that she wanted us to sign because it would be good for our career. He schmoozed our contacts even as she was hacking his email to see who he was cheating on her with. Was it worth getting into bed with his label, in order to secure the Radio 1 airplay he promised us? No, no it was not. I learned a hard lesson through that - never, ever, go against your instincts regarding who to work with, no matter who urges you to do it.

Do I feel disloyal about typing out all these complaints, some legitimate, some verging on nasty gossip, about people I used to count as my friends? Oh, I'm sure they could tell tales about me. The time I got so drunk at a bandmate's party I hurled a glass bottle at some boy's head. The time I got so angry at that jerk from our label and his annoying friends that I screamed the rammed dressing room at the Garage completely clear of liggers in two minutes flat. The shouting, the drinking, the times I took to my blog to air disputes that couldn't be resolved in person. (How ironic - which is a nice way of saying hypocritical - given one of my bandmates' career as a confessional blogger.) I know I come off badly in their versions of events. That is, if they remember me at all.

That's the thing. That you can spend 3, 4 years of your life locked up in these intense relationships with your bandmates, cooped up in dressing rooms, rehearsal studios, vans, urgent meetings in posh restaurants. And your phone stops ringing, your email stops pinging, and then one day, you never see them again. They have moved on with their lives, they have forgotten you, but you're stuck with this unfinished milestone of your life. Just Like Friends, indeed.