Shimura Curves

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Brown and Sticky

Lead vocals: Marianna Longmire, Lisa Payne, Anne-Marie Payne
Backing vocals, guitar, programming, everything else: Kate St.Claire

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

This song was always one of the highlights of the live set, with its suggestive dance routine, and its filthy banter back and forth at the end, riffing over the most disgustingly sexual wah-wah guitar licks I could muster. I always wanted to write one of those double entendre songs (in a tradition wending from blues to 60s bubblegum to disco) where you were never quite sure if they were singing about sex or drugs or food but you knew whatever it was, you wanted it, and bad.

Each of the girls takes a turn on lead vocals on each verse, first Marianna, then Lisa then AMP, with a classic call and response on the choruses, AMP's and Lisa's voices blending together in a way that only sisters really can, with Marianna and I providing the salacious "ooh yeah"s and "oh baby"s to undercut and tease. But the real vocal star of this track is Marianna and her monologue at the end, rattling off pun after pun with enough smutty come-on to make Mae West blush.

Marianna was, in many ways, the unsung hero of the Shimuras story. She joined late - I drafted her at the nightclub where she was DJing, to fill Frances' spot - but Shimura Curves proper started the minute she walked into the rehearsal room. She sounded right, she looked right, she dressed right - and at the moment that we realied we were now Marianna, Anne-Marie and Anna, she even rhymed right.

She didn't get involved in the public spats, she never played that "I'm the more important diva" lateness game, and yet because of her bandmates' actions, she often unfairly got caught up in the flak. Marianna was always on time, always well rehearsed and totally prepared - heck, if the band had been four Mariannas, we would have run the world. With her immaculately coifed butter-blonde hair and her wide, bright-eyed smile, with a slight hint of schoolgirl naughtiness, she was the Shimuras poster girl. But those angelic looks could be deceiving. Having grown up on a farm in Australia, she behaved like the quintessential farm girl - prim and proper until she got some alcohol in her, then she would grow earthy, bawdy, and hilariously filthy. The session for this song was priceless - I saved it for last, filled Marianna with pink wine, pointed a microphone in her direction, and we just traded filth back and forth, egging her on as we fell over ourselves laughing. Some judicious editing produced the outro you hear now - originally it was longer, and ruder, though funnily, to my ears, that final "mmm" without the concluding sigh (she made me edit it out) sounds even more salacious than the original.

So what was the song about? It's funny, everyone who heard it came up with their own ideas, from anal sex to heroin to, my personal favourite, a torrid affair with our beautiful erstwhile backing dancer, Barima (I should be so lucky!) It's supposed to be ambiguous, so that everyone who hears it will project their own personal most taboo yet desired vice into it. But what is it really about? Chocolate. No, really, It is about chocolate.

I don't think that I ever technically had an eating disorder, but during my time in The Lollies, I definitely fell into disordered eating in a way that became problematic and very unhealthy. Part of it was peer pressure, that weird way that young women trigger one another, and once one woman in a group becomes obsessed with whittling herself down to nothing, the others fall into it, too. A huge part of it was the impossible pressure of beauty standards applied to women in the entertainment industry. When you are scrutinised on that level, reading reviews discussing whether the author would like to shag you before even mentioning your music, photos of your breasts blown up bigger than the accompanying piece of text in what's supposed to be a serious monthly music magazine, it's really, really hard not to let it get to you. And then the last piece of the puzzle is control. When you're in a touring band, ironically, control over every aspect of your life from where you go to who you talk to, is taken away from you, so that the last thing you have left is your eating. I starved myself, I deliberately over-exercised (I acted like it was normal to walk the 5 miles from Shoreditch to Stamford Hill, eat nothing but chocolate all day, then walk home at the end of a recording session) and I became what's jokingly called a "drunkorexic," swapping out actual food for the calories in alcohol. I lived on vodka and nutrigrain bars. I was the unhealthiest I've ever been. I passed out in public, I collapsed after shows, I got so anaemic I spent four days in hospital getting my blood replaced - and still checked myself out to go and play a gig that night. Who cared what I was doing to myself? I looked great. Everyone told me so.

Ironically, it was only by the time I started Shimura Curves that I started to have a passably normal relationship with food again. (It took falling in love with and living with a guy whose grandmother wrote the gold standard of British cookbooks, and whose aunt was a television chef, to make me discover cooking as an art, as rewarding and enjoyable as painting or writing music.) I put on weight - a lot of weight. (Having read Health At Every Size a few years ago, I now understand that what I did during those obsessive years of dieting and bingeing was permanently fuck up my set point.) And funnily enough, it's now that people concern troll me about my health - now that I eat three balanced meals a day with lots of fresh fruit and veg and plenty of whole grains, now that I can actually sprint up four floors (eight flights of stairs) to my office without losing my puff, now that I go on holidays where I eat tons of award-winning Cornish produce and hike up cliff paths for fun - now that I'm healthy, that people make assumptions about how unhealthy I must be, based on my body size. 

And Jesus Christ, the press coverage of Shimura Curves was relentless about how our bodies - and mine in particular - did not measure up to those impossible standards of thinness that put me in the hospital. For every article that lovingly compared our music to Stereolab or St Etienne, there would be three that laughed at the diversity of our bodies, called us slappers (oh heaven forbid, that some of us should not only be fat, but also be over the age of 30!) or made disparaging remarks, comparing our looks unfavourably to bands we had nothing in common with, other than having ovaries. I could not take it. It did my head in; it destroyed what little self confidence I had left. I am still, only now, undoing the damage in therapy.

So Brown and Sticky is not about drugs and it is not about deviant sex. It is about that insane, obsessive, craving, bingeing, good-bad, must-mustn't, only-going-to-have-a-taste oh-shit-I-ate-the-whole-thing relationship that I used to have with chocolate, with food-as-vice, with delicious thing as forbidden object of desire.