Shimura Curves

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Other People's Cigarettes

Lead vocals: Lisa Payne
Backing vocals: Kate St.Claire
Everything else: Kate St.Claire

This was always conceived as the album opener. But though we tried several times to open our set with it, the song seemed cursed - once the laptop malfunctioned, another time the guitar cut out, so it was never played very frequently.

It was written in those weird days, right at the end of The Lollies. In fact, "OPC" or "Other People's Cigarettes" was the catchphrase of our driver/roadie/soundman/ligger/general bon viveur, Jesse - every time he was trying to give up smoking, he would stop buying his own packs, but would end up smoking more, because he was so "down with OPC."

I was living in Clerkenwell at the time, in that mad flat above a pub, with the style journalist, her boyfriend (the flat's owner) at the weekends, and an erstwhile indie popstar who occasionally flew in from Japan to sleep on our sofabed. I had a tiny, box-like room at the back, with a loft bed above, and a desk that I turned into a home studio below. I'd just recently got one of those 2 second sample/delay pedals, to replace the "etherealiser" I'd been using since the late 80s, that gave up the ghost in a puff of grey smoke, quite fittingly, in a dank basement venue in Oxford. I was just mucking about trying to learn how to use the sample/loop function when I came up with this odd little riff, inspired by weird Turkish prog records.

It was a difficult place to live, noisy, smelly, and to make matters worse, relations with my housemate (one of my closest friends before I moved in) were fraying. Smoking was a major bone of contention. I'm a non-smoker; she swore that she was going to give up before we moved in together. But when you live above a pub, OPCs are the easiest of temptations. She took to rolling her last cigarette, right before she went to bed, at the kitchen table. I would wake up, usually with a raging hangover, and find that she had forgotten to clear the vomit-inducing ashtray and fag paraphernalia from the exact place where I needed to eat.

The dislocation and sense of alienation of living in someone else's flat, smelling someone else's cigarettes and not even feeling at home in mine own life, spilled out all over the lyrics. And it became a weird, spooky, haunted-sounding song.

I recorded a demo of the track at Jesse's house, up in Swiss Cottage. A copy of that demo made its way to the ears of a renowned indie record label, and I actually had a couple of meetings with a man responsible for signing some bands I really, really loved. The Lollies were breaking up, I told him. Never mind, he said, if I'd written this song without them, he'd sign me as a solo artist. He was obsessed with OPC. He wanted me to go into the studio with some back-up musicians gleaned from his label, but I balked at that. I was having trouble keeping track of who I was, between other people's cigarettes, other people's music, other people's clothes and yes, ashamedly, sometimes other people's lovers. And he wanted me to go into the studio with other people's bands? I said no. Bad move. Jesse pulled the disappearing act I've written about before, and my contract disappeared with him when I could not produce the masters. Yes, it is 10 years now, and I still have never forgiven him.

But the song resurfaced as a Shimuras track, the sparse guitar-loop and Turkish percussion backing track now filled out with these gleefully warped Tim Burton "la la la"s which still send a shiver down my spine when I hear it.

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