Rick Witter, Shed Seven – Interview
Rick Witter, Shed Seven
After a 16 year break from the recording studio, York’s Shed Seven exceeded all expectations at the end of 2017 with smash new album Instant Pleasures, and a sell-out UK tour.
Steve Crabtree spoke to lead singer Rick Witter about recording, touring, 2018 and staying young…
So. Instant Pleasures. Your first new album in 16 years and it’s been well-received by fans and critics. You must be happy with how it’s gone down?
It has gone down extremely well, yeah. It’s not something that just happened, there was quite a build up to it – a few years in the making. But seeing the reaction it got has been really satisfying. And because it’d been so long in the making, we’d been very excited about it for a very long time – and even when we were writing it we were thinking ‘we’re doing something quite good here’ – it had a good feeling to it. And when we started demoing the tracks, and showing them to people we trusted it went down really well. It was pleasant after so long away without any new material. I know it sounds cliché and every band says ‘it’s the best work we’ve ever done’ – but I honestly believe it’s the best work we’ve ever done.
It certainly fits in to your back catalogue. Some bands might have opted for a change in sound or mood.
I think the one problem we had was that we didn’t want to ruin our back catalogue by releasing any old rubbish. Just to say that we’d done it, you know? Because a lot of bands do just keep writing stuff to keep dipping their toes in. But none of this was with any kind of thought process, we just wrote songs. We did it naturally as we’ve always done it, and it seems we haven’t lost it in that respect. But it’s a bit weird – I think that every song warrants being on there. We didn’t just write four big songs and filled the rest with a load of rubbish.
“It takes a lot of perseverance”
Well I was going to say, I don’t think there’s a filler on the album. There’s 12 great songs on there. But how many songs did you have to write to come up with 12 songs to make Instant Pleasures?
We had maybe 15 or 16 songs, and a couple of ideas that we didn’t quite have time to finish. So they ended up going on a bonus CD that we released at the same time. There’s a particular song called ‘Waiting For The Catch’ that seems to be going down really well with fans, but to me it’s not finished. I’m almost kind of annoyed that we didn’t leave it off that, and save it for future stuff, but we could still rework it. I read a lot of bands who say they’ve written 60 songs and whittled it down to 12, but we’ve never done that. Not ever. We’ve always written as much as we need. We may change things and re-arrange a verse and all that, but the songs were songs. The way we do it, we just write things and decide it’s good enough. Sometimes it takes a lot of perseverance – some take a few months to get them how we want them, and others can take 20 minutes. ‘Better Days’ literally took 20 minutes to write, which is crazy. It’s almost like reaching in to thin air and grabbing it. It’s a really weird thing.
You said it’s been a long time in the making, but can you remember which one of you first said “Let’s do a new album”?
Well, we split up in 2003 for music industry reasons. We didn’t want to fall out, and come to one of those piss-poor endings. But it was in 2007 when Alan (Leach – drummer) decided that we should do a few gigs. We all agreed with him, I think we all missed playing live. So after a break of four years we just put a few dates on sale without really knowing what would happen and it just went a little bit thorugh-the-roof. We had to upgrade venues, add gigs, and it became a big tour. So we just carried on doing that for ten years, and throughout all of that time we’d keep being asked ‘will you do anything new?’ In 2007, 08 and 09 it was never an option. We were all busy doing other things and we were quite happy just playing our old songs knowing that people were coming and loving it. Maybe when it got to 2013 we started to think ‘how many more times can we get away with doing this?’
“A riff came out of nowhere”
But even with the 2017 tour, we announced it before we announced our new album and it still sold out straight away, so there is still room for our back catalogue. I can’t remember at what point it was, maybe about three-and-a-half years ago when we were together in a room rehearsing and doing something. And just a riff came out of nowhere. And it was the riff to ‘Nothing To Live Down’. I pricked my ears up to Paul (Banks, Lead Guitar) and before you know it, I’m on my hands and knees in the rehearsal room with the old pad out, scribbling out words. It was like we’d started all over again, like we were 18. It was a really exciting feeling to have. So we did ‘Nothing To Live Down’ first, and before we knew it we had ‘It’s Not Easy’, we had ‘People Will Talk’ and within four or five months we had a few big songs. So we were wondering what to do with it. We weren’t on a label or anything and we knew fans would be interested in it so should we just release a four-track ep on iTunes? Please us, please the fans – everybody’s happy. But we just kept writing and we ended up with the 15 or 16 songs that were good enough to go on an album. So it was a long but happy process really.
Since you last recorded an album, the whole scene must be different. We’re in the digital age, the charts isn’t what it was, radio stations are more targeted. Did you enjoy the whole process of promoting Instant Pleasures, or do you wish it was like it used to be 20 years ago?
It’s totally different now. I’ve really enjoyed the process. I’m still getting used to the industry side of things, that’s totally changed. The streaming side of things. Half the reason why we called the album Instant Pleasures is a nod to the current climate really. If you want something you press a button and you’ve got it. So in that respect it’s massively different, but in the respect of recording the album it’s very similar to how it used to be.
You recorded 12 new songs, but only played four of them on your 2017 tour?
Well, like I said before – we put tickets on sale before we’d announced that we’d got new music. And we’d sold a lot of gigs out because people wanted to hear our old back catalogue. So we were thinking that we can’t do too many new songs because we don’t want to alienate people who just want to hear ‘Disco Down’ and ‘Going For Gold’. We were just conscious that we didn’t want to overload it with new songs. But the weird thing is we were being told every day that we should be playing more of the new songs! So we left it to four new songs, and everyone was leaving happy. But because we’ve got this new product, in 2018 we might do things a little differently and concentrate more on Instant Pleasures. It’s a happy problem to have so many songs.
“Life of its own”
So for 2018, you’re headlining Castlefield Bowl, and you’re touring Australia
Yeah, things are coming in thick and fast now, and it’s because we’ve got new product. If we hadn’t have written the new album, we’d probably just be doing festivals. But the need is there. We’ve never been to Australia, so that’s exciting. We’re in Europe. So after a few weeks off, we’re back on it!
If you could choose one Shed Seven song, and one artist to cover it, which song and artist would you choose, and why?
Right, well funnily enough when we first wrote ‘Better Days’, it took about 20 minutes but we knew there was something really special about that song. And I think that song will take on a life of its own over the years. I think over the space of time it’ll over take ‘Chasing Rainbows’ as our ‘calling card’. But the first thing I said to Paul when we were sat at the piano and we’d hammered it in to shape was “I could imagine Adele singing that”. I know Adele isn’t really our kind of ilk, but that’d help sell a few copies of it if she did a version! So I’d quite happily listen to her do a version of ‘Better Days’.
And lastly, when me and the rest of your fans were following you back in the 90s, we were 16 or 17 years old and you were a bit older. Now twenty-some years on we’re still following you but you look younger than us! What’s Rick Witter’s secret?
Well I have water flown in from Switzerland.
[Laughs] To be honest, after a massive tour if you could feel how my body feels you’d probably feel quite old! But I think in a way it’s an important part of being in a band – looking quite cool and ageing well. So we’re doing that alright so far, fingers crossed that’ll continue.
Instant Pleasures is available now to download from iTunes