Get Better is available via:
Rock; Alternative; Punk
31st January, 2018
The E.P., Wish You Were Her, is available from 30th March. Pre-order via:
SOMETHING wonderful is happening in music...
PHOTO CREDIT: @del-photos
at this very moment. In fact, there are quite a few wonderful things occurring that make me feel hopeful about the future. That might sound vague – so let me explain...I will come to the wonders of Screech Bats in a moment but, when thinking of them; I think about the great female bands of the moment - and how they attack stereotypes and discrimination. I want to investigate independent venues and how, especially this week, they are under the spotlight and being celebrated – and mean a lot to newer bands like Screech Bats. From there, I will talk about bands that have a rawer sound and write about meaningful subjects; a look at connections and closeness within the ranks; differing from the commercial grain to provide the listener something more exciting and prosperous; a small nod regarding heart-on-sleeve songwriting – ending with a chat about recording processes and adopting a new way of working. Esme Baker (Vocals), Lexi Clark (Drum); Rio Hellyer (Bass) and Kit Reeve (Guitar) compromise the exhilarating and explosive Screech Bats. It is odd how we categorise band and how, in this time, we do not seem that far evolved regards labelling and respect. By that; I mean many – critics, fans and the like – call any band without penises ‘girl bands’. That may be factually true: but what is wrong with dropping the ‘girl’ part?! I listen to a lot of music but, among my nostalgic favourites are En Vogue, Destiny’s Child and TLC. They are, again, compromised of women but there seems to be something rather patronising about the tag of ‘girl band’. They are seen as a homunculus and lesser; a cute and pink-coloured proposition that, bless them, are making music with the boys. Screech Bats (rightfully) refute that label and see themselves as what they are: a kick-ass band that can mix it with the best of them.
PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Bremner
That is something modern music needs to get out of: sexism and the way we, for no reason, compartmentalise women and men; so that the latter gets the spotlight and attention; the former still has to fight to gain parity (little sense of) and respect. I am avowedly committed to raising my voice in a quiet congregation. There are many male journalists out there but, in truth, how many are actively writing about sexism in the industry?! It is a topic I have covered in depth – but it always annoys me how now, in 2018, we are still lacking necessary progression and consciousness. A lot of great new artists are being overlooked because of their gender. Screech Bats address and confront a lot of issues through their music. They are getting gigs and recognition but I feel, because of the way the industry is set up; how long it will take them to ascend to the bigger stages – compared to a similar, like-minded male band. I will talk about some gigs they have coming up – and why everyone should come and see them – but I am seeing a lot of female groups that are producing exceptional material. Whether it is dreamy, Folk-led harmonies or delicate Pop fusions; harder, spikier Punk or the sort of U.S./U.K., Rock/Alternative concoctions of Screech Bats – there is a lot to be excited about. I have always preferred female musicians because there is a depth and sense of innovation the guys lack. That might be a generalisation but I listen to everyone from Hannah Peel to Sleater-Kinney and am amazed at their dexterity. There are female-only festivals available out there but I wonder whether the solution – when it comes to showcasing the best female artists – is a simpler one: dropping the gender tag and assessing music…and nothing else. We should have a gender-neutral, fluid industry that supports every artist on their own terms – regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or race. I am proposing a system/government for music and, without boring you with the details, would hire specific people to tackle everything from sexism to the threats placed on small venues. In any case, getting back on the tracks; bands like Screech Bats show how stupefying and unevolved sexist attitudes are.
This week is Independent Venue Week and, as such, there has been fevered passion placed on the best spaces out there. I have been tuning into BBC Radio 6 Music and their celebration of independent venues. Steve Lamacq’s afternoon show (1-4 P.M.) has been broadcast from a new venue each week including Boileroom - where Screech Bats have a special connection to – and it has been illuminating. I was tuned in yesterday when Lammo was at Liverpool’s Parr Street. He spoke with IDLES – who played a stunning set there – and the guy who runs the joint. They spoke about the need to preserve these spaces and how, for many, it is a sociability and sense of understanding they cannot get anywhere else. That goes for musicians and the punters who come down. I am fearful there is not enough being done to safeguard the great venues around the nation – going back to that government idea… - and it threatens to cut short the careers of some sensational artists. Screech Bats have some wonderful gigs coming up but the way they cut their teeth and develop their craft is these venues. They have enjoyed hotly-received gigs in venues designed to showcase and support upcoming artists. If their lifespan is questioned and they have to battle to keep the doors open – what sort of damage will that do to the music industry?! It is, in a way, a sort of global warming: the solid foundations and fauna that makes the world beautiful will wilt, crumble and melt. It is shocking seeing so many wonderful venues close because of various reasons – either noise complaints, underfunding or fewer people attending in a time where we spend our evenings on a laptop. The reason I raise this point is because Screech Bats are the sort of act you want to see go all the way. They have a live energy and set that blows the cobwebs away and provides a captivating memory. Led by the scintillating and nuanced voice of Esme Baker; the band are as tight and in-tune as any I have heard.
There is a closeness and understanding that makes every song strike and lodge in the brain. They will go to play some huge venues in time – and I know they will headline a major festival in years to come – but the only way they can get there is these smaller locations. I wonder whether our Government are aware of the live music scene and how wonderful it is. They are probably more into Classical music and spend their evenings cosied up with a nice documentary about Vera Lynn. Not that this is a bad thing – she is a legend! – but they are so detached from reality and why we need to do everything we can to secure live venues. Screech Bats are among the best live performers around and always treat their audience to a seriously awesome show. I wonder whether they fancy and lure after the openness and mass-capacity venues: maybe they will continue to bring their music to the best small venues out there. We need to get out of the mind-space of calling female bands ‘girl groups’ – the new Spice Girls ‘reunion’ will hardly help! – and offer more female artists time at these venues. I study the bills of the venues around the country and there is still the dependence on male bands and artists. I wonder whether there is that assumption male artists are more profitable and commercial. As their E.P. looms, more later; the exceptional Screech Bats will be plotting new moves and a fulsome, adventurous summer. I know their talent and determination will get them to the top but they raise issues more of us need to investigate and challenge. It is hard enough (for female groups) to get recognition on their own terms – and avoid being seen as lesser beings – but that is triplicate when you throw in the sort of threats being levied at small venues. In any case; the wonderful quartet gives me a reason to believe they will be huge fixtures in years to come.
PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Bremner
I have spoken about the tightness and sisterly bond within the ranks. Their sounds are raw and exciting but there is plenty of depth and intelligence in the music. I hear a lot of harder, dial-turned-way-up bands who lack substance and are designed to get crowds thrashing around and not take anything away. Don’t get me wrong: I love bands that can get the juices flowing and get the fists pumping. There is something primeval and unbeatable about that sense of belonging and community – everyone bonded in a venue; a helix of grit, swagger and imminent detonation bringing us to the point of ecstasy. If you can translate that to tape then that is something rather special. I am always drawn to bolder, louder artists but, as I get older; I find myself looking for something more meaningful and personal. I grew up listening to the likes of Soundgarden, Audioslave; Nirvana and Ramones: bands who could create something timeless without being shallow and commercial. They penned songs that addressed deep and important subjects – sometimes harsh and dark – and, as such, resonated hugely. Now, as I mix in classic acts and newer bands (most of them female/female-led); I look to Screech Bats and see a reason why we should highlight them above their peers. Not only do the four-piece have closeness (more on that in a bit) but they manage to blend suggestions of older-days and the new. Bands like Against Me! and Siouxsie Sioux and Ramones; Jimmy Eat World and Cayetana (the Philly Punk band are fairly new onto the scene). I grew up in the 1990s – started life in the 1980s – and was exposed to a mixture of the 1970s Punk pioneers and the Grunge/Alternative legends of the 1990s. It was a heady and revealing education that has stayed with me. I get a sense Screech Bats have a similar authority and passion. You can sense embers of Punk’s past but they have a fondness for U.S. Alternative/Indie bands and fuse that with their own D.N.A. and conjecture.
I know they provide a great live sound: the sound one hears on record retains that raw excitement but brings in other strands and textures. You cannot deny they have a clear connection and respect for one another. The band began life as a side-project – Hearts Under Fire was the band that went on hiatus and, before long, saw them form Screech Bats. Other artists might have drifted apart and lost contact; gone separate ways and formed other groups. That was not the case here. Screech Bats is the result of four women who love spending time together. Baker notes how the rehearsals were a thing of relief and love; they would all look forward to getting in that weekly space and jamming – determined to get some incredible music down and toss ideas around. You know, when hearing them, they will always be together and continue to evolve. There are bands out there where the relationships are quite strained. I can hear it come through clearly. If the members are not all together and focused; it leads to material that sounds sloppy, insincere and distracted. The bands that keep in the mind and propel the heart are those where the members are a unit. There is no weak strand or half-hearted member of Screech Bats: every player has their role and the democratic nature of the group means each is free to express and evolve. Bands who recruit a dictatorial/undemocratic regime means the frontman (usually it is the male bands who are most rigid) and the other members are mere pawns. It is good having a lead songwriter but, if the other members are not allowed a say in the composition and future work – how long will they happily play together? Screech Bats are led by Baker’s creations but, at every stage, there is discussion and assimilation. Clark, Hellyer and Reeve are not shills and silent partners: they are integral to the sound of Screech Bats; helping bring those vital and personal messages to life. The girls have a real love for one another and treat their band as more than music – it is a safe space where they can be open with one another and channel frustrations and revelations through something wonderful.
I will come to the song itself but, before then, I want to look at Esme Baker specifically. I have been reading P.R. material regarding the track, Get Better, and their upcoming E.P., Wish You Were Her. If the latter reminds me of a joke on The Simpsons – Homer sending Marge a bawdy postcard when he was away; cheekily suggesting the busty woman on the postcard is a more attractive spouse – it is a collection of songs that stem from harder times. I will focus on the song in more details soon but, when looking at the tracklisting for the E.P. – it seems like romance, one-night stands and death are working alongside hope, rebuilding and tackling the taboo. The Valentine Song and Just Like You suggest something romance-based and personal; Blood in My Hair and Get Better have their own themes – Every Good Thing, maybe, more redemptive and spirited. The band is not here to be chart puppets who write about love in a very lacklustre and ordinary way. They are unconcerned with the boring, cliché and tired: their music is much more candid and interesting. Baker, herself, has battled with mental-health issues (as have many; as do I) and, in a sense, revealing it through music is brave confession and therapy. She wants to break the taboo and address topics that are cloistered and hidden from the mainstream. As more and more musicians reveal their mental-health struggles; more listeners are seeking out revelation and dialogue through music. She does not write about it in a very disturbed and accusatory manner: the songs are real and open; her heart is out there but, above all, you get truth and guidance from a songwriter who will give heart and hope to many. The same goes for the rest of the band. Their experiences and lives are interwoven into the songs and movements. Throughout the E.P., there will be assessments of one-night stands and relationships running their course; life and death contrast; everything is done with a positive message and sense of renewed purpose.
Wish You Were Her is out on 30th March and follows their 2016 eponymous E.P. Their latest material is their mist confident, mature and impressive. One of the reasons is the way Baker takes off her clothing and reveals scars. She has gone through turbulence and harrowing times and emerged stronger and more resolved. I am not sure whether she is in a much better place now – my interaction has been brief – but I bonded with the songs and the messages coming through. Music is here to heal and educate as much as it is to provide escapism and physical relief. Although my experiences with love/sex are different to those of the band/songwriter – the former more frustrated and dwindling; the latter more monastic and theorised – I can relate to those lines about mental-health and battling demons. I have been walking the black dog for sixteen years and, as much as I want it to do – I know it as much a part of me; a reason why I am creative and live life differently to others. The horrid, sh*tty side of depression might be good for writing and creating: when it comes to relationships and everything else; it can be quite lonesome and hard. Experiencing the worst aspects of the illness – I have been at the point of death a few times – and trying to get people to understand how hard is a constant fight. I know Baker’s experience is different to mine: we have a lot in common, in a lot of ways. I hear her perform personal and troubled lines in a very earnest and unencumbered way. There is too much stigma and taboo attached to subjects like anxiety, depression and mental illness – there is a certain amount of reservation when it comes to sex and passion, for that matter. Music is not an innocent virgin who reads a book by candlelight and is chaste and pure – artists are free to express themselves and not be fearful of repercussion and judgment. As the mental-health crisis expands and becomes a burden – I wonder whether we should still treat the subject as a sitting shiva. We throw drapes over mirrors and, when it comes to ill health and death; we discourage people to look at their reflection – we prefer them to focus on something more ‘dignified’. Massive respect to bands like Screech Bats for providing oxygen and light on the subject.
The thing that hits me about Get Better is, well…the hit. Backed by production values that mean the words are decipherable and passionate – clean enough so they are not mixed down low in the track – but keeping the instruments and microphone dirty; it is a song that takes you by surprise. A lot of Rock/Punk-natured songs are either too lo-fi and undercooked – making it difficult to hear what is going on – or, even worse, it is polished and prim. Production that wears Prada and drinks a mojito is not going to bond well with a (male) core than prefers tattoos, ripped jeans and the work of The Clash – there might be some good sex and fun; it will never lead to anything real and long-lasting. I am going off-track but my point is this: the production perfectly supports the band’s aesthetic and adds new dynamics, layers and colours. Backed by stunning support and incredible musicianship – the percussion is tight, evocative and tough; the bass holds it all together and adds melody and bounce; the guitar is tussling, bruised and snarled – Baker is up-front with a vocal that mixes deeper tones with painful words. It is easy to fall for her voice right from the off. It is so expressive and instant; it is beholden to nobody else and carries so much weight and wonder. The “emptiness” in her soul was part of a conspiracy and crusade loosely tied with string and fraying at the seams. Against the tide and rip-tide notes; Baker lets her voice bounce, protest and crash. Right from the start, she reveals her pains and shows how tough things have been. Rather than dress things in tinsel and project metaphor and innuendo – things are direct, unadorned and direct. Skies once sunny and romantic are black and cloudy; doors once golden and open are black and closed – there is a bit of metaphor, sure, but it is meant to convey the troubled past and how bad things were. One instantly projects themselves into the song and follows the heroine. It is the way Baker projects and delivers her lines that (gets the words) into the head. There is a distinct accent – a slight London twang with, I think, Americanisms in places – that differs from what is out there.
Rather than copy the rather stilted and limited vocals I hear in so many bands: she brings my mind back to the halcyon days of Punk and some of the best new bands of the moment. Whether speaking about herself or a general malaise; there is this figure adorned in white who meets a subject in a nightmare. Maybe it is a therapy setting or a troubled conversation. The heroine casts a tragic and despondent figure that used to possess a certain hope and alacrity. Now, through circumstance and ill fortune; she is a shadow of her former being – tried to battle through the smog and find supportive voices. Whether seeking a softer, tender kiss – a relationship that provides hope – or answers to the quandaries spiralling in her mind – she is pleading and imploring to the ether to deliver clarity. Talk of needles and revelation gets me thinking of medication and counselling. Maybe the injection of medication has brought some stability; the conversations have led to semi-conversion. Know what Baker does for a living (a tattoo artist and studio owner); maybe her work and the way she expresses who she is – through art and design; bonding with like-minded people and etching something profound to the skin – her profession and passion have provided that stability. There is talk of absence and a departed figure. Whether it is a representation of her former self (and a happy guise) or a guy – their loss is causing tears and anxiousness. I feel there is a mixture of the two. The heroine has seen romance go and been let down by men – perhaps the type who do not appreciate who she is and all her wonderful points – but the depression and numbness that she feels requires a more medicinal and productive remedy. The band are incredible throughout and provide ample support for their lead. The strings snap and bark; the percussion and bass work alongside one another and elevate the vocal. Baker is like a “grain of sand lost in the galaxy”. She is keen to reveal her shortcomings – she is not perfect and has been in a bad place – but that is part of being human.
Baker is beating herself up to an extent. Maybe she has been withdrawn and a bit off with people who are there for her. That is understandable given her illness and struggle. Now, with clearer sight and a more positive psyche; she is an available friend and improved – those who have left her have reason to come back and provide another chance. She is, as Get Better implies, improving and determined to get through the storm. She is special and worth a damn; she followed a darkness through corridors and avenues – taking pills and resisting the lure of darkness means things are starting to look up. There is melody and uplift in the composition. The chorus lifts the spirits and, after one listen, sticks in the head. The effusive and positive coda means people will register an instant hit and feel lifted listening to the song. Baker has traversed the quicksand of ill psychology and lost people along the way. Her way with words and images makes the song a more physical and real thing. It is that sentient quality that means you go into the song and follow her every step of the way – letting her know things will be okay and she is closer to perfect than she things. Get Better provides background and revelation; it goes to the confessional booth and does not hold back for the priest. The heroine is brave and resolute through every machination and phase. Whilst an exceptional writer and unique, compelling lead voice – the song depends as heavily on Reeve, Hellyer and Clark. Their support is not a minor role: they heighten every line and provide each emotion Baker sets out to deliver. They have been performing together a long time so know how to connect and deliver a wonderful song. The bass works with the drums and drives the vocal; the guitar works with all three but takes the song in a new direction. It is a four-way unification that not only provides Get Better the strongest, most alluring skin it can – the nuance and depth means listeners will keep coming back for various reasons. The song is indication Screech Bats are among the finest young bands around – and that everyone should get their E.P., Wish You Were Her, on 30th March.
I have talked a lot about the band and what makes them special. Their E.P. was recorded in a Blackpool rehearsal space with James T. Boom (of Sonic Boom Six). Sessions would often start and run through the early-hours and, in a lot of ways, provides a more realistic impression of the E.P. It is harder to convey pain, urgency and a need for rebirth when the sun is out and there are people milling about. After the sun goes down, and the peeps are tucked in bed; the bands plugged in and started work on Wish You Were Her. Get Better is, to me, the core and gravity-centre of the collection. It is a song that will relate to many - but provides others something they have not experienced before. There is too much commercialism in music. This means issues like mental-health and distilled into a cocktail of heartbreak, self-doubt and generic pomp – it is not as raw and focused as it should be. Screech Bats want the positive to override things. They want their listeners to realise things will be okay: that does not mean they turn the listening experience into a PG-13 thing with censored words and softer tones. They talk about sex and men in a very human and honest way; they tackled life and death without being off-putting; the way they look at mental illness will help many and encourage other artists to do likewise. I have talked about sexism and gender labelling in music. I feel we need to get out of this mindset and calling female bands ‘girl bands’. That might sound like a narrow distinction but there is something Pop-based and juvenile about the word ‘girl’. Bands and are bands, mate – we should not separate and divide artists because of their gender. I urge everyone to get Wish You Were Her when it arrives. I have provided the pre-order link at the top of this review. Get Better is a fantastic track that shows how much the band has developed in the last year or two.
The band play Boileroom (Guildford) tomorrow; they head to Nambucca on 23rd; back in Boileroom for 5th April – there are a couple of gigs between them. They are splitting their time between Surrey and London but, as I hope, London will be their future basis. They have careers and lives that cannot be uprooted but, when it comes to fostering and developing their careers; being based full-time in the capital might be the solution. I have a lot of affection for areas like Brighton, too – I wonder whether they will pull gigs at Green Door Store or Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar. I mentioned Brighton because I have limitless respect and love for the people. They are much more open-minded and accepting than many – naming no areas/people – and are a lot friendlier and compassionate than others. I feel Screech Bats will be welcomed and taken to heart. The same goes for those in cities like Manchester and Leeds – the former, especially, is somewhere they should aim to play this year! They will stick to local spots but, knowing these areas; I feel the band could find popularity and huge acclaim in other cities. They hit Camden Rocks Festival on 2nd June: one of the (if not the) biggest gigs of their career! That festival seems natural-born and designed for them. In the hot and scented air of Camden; they will thrive and strike. I know they, in time, will get U.S. dates and gigs further afield. I know promoters, labels and venues in the U.S. – from New York and L.A. to Texas – and Australia that would love to house their kind of music. How far ahead they are looking is up to them. I know they will go all the way and, right now, we have the wonderful Get Better. To paraphrase The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band classic: “I have to admit it’s getting better/A little better all the time…
(AND ever better it will get!).
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PHOTO CREDIT: Mace Maclean Photography