While bands like Tame Impala and whatever name Thee Oh Sees are going by in 2023 remain popular in the persevering psychedelic rock scene, there are a plethora of underground bands and labels working away underneath to try to keep the genre alive. One of these labels is Rocket Recordings, with a roster full of bands such as Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs and Bonnacons of Doom, trying to do just that. One of these bands is not The Shits, the newest addition to Rocket, who proclaim that psych-rock is dead and they are the executioners.
Hailing from the industrial city of Leeds in West Yorkshire, The Shits are rallying against a psychedelic transcendence by creating sounds you’d likely hear if you were locked in a dungeon. Continuing my Leeds x Everything Is Noise collaboration for the year, I wanted to learn more about them and get an insight into what went wrong leading up to and following the release of their grimy new album You’re A Mess. Safe to say I got what I bargained for.
To get to know the band a little better and delve into their deranged minds a bit, I was joined by vocalist Callum Howe who, when discussing the beginnings of the band and their mission statement, told me:
‘You know, we’re a bunch of slack-jawed yokels from the provinces. The band was started by Jack, Henry and Harry (bass, guitar and drums respectively) in late 2017, we began by practicing in Harry’s basement. There was another guitarist at first, who has since been replaced by Sam (we then added Tom on third guitar following our devastating performance at Supernormal Fest last year, he’d agreed to play with us for the one gig; obviously it went very well). I joined on vocals at the second or third practice, I only really knew Jack at the time but naturally we all now occupy the greatest portion of each other’s hearts. The ‘mission’ wasn’t ever really discussed, though I suppose now you could ascribe such adjectives to the band as ‘talented’, ‘obnoxious’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘salacious’ – we try to maintain these aspects.‘
From these first practice sessions, the band began to make a bit of a name for themselves around the underground with their ferocious and biting live performances. Their debut album Punishment appeared in 2020, with their repetitive and sludgy style already on full show. The sound is full of grit and it gets under your skin, while the razor sharp vocals give just a glimpse into the mind of Howe. 2023’s You’re a Mess is their second LP and has upped the ante and honed their style a fair bit from this first album. To me, the mood of the album sums up some of the harsh realities of the UK at the moment with its harsh nature, yet Howe states:
‘There’s no specific search for ‘harshness’ when we’re writing music, nor do we feel the need to channel any generalised notion of negativity. It’s all good fun. The lyrics are simple and narratively driven, there’s no escaping your environment but at least as far as I’m concerned I don’t care about directly reflecting it in the music. If it comes across that way then fine. Stylistically; you don’t need us to tell you what informs the music, but I’ll tell you for nothing that none of us give a fuck about ‘AmRep‘.‘
In terms of style, a lot of comparisons could and have been made to classic noise and garage rock, including the AmRep label, but they have created a concoction of their own through these influences. The repetitive nature of the songs has created mesmerizing results with the viscous distortion of the guitar riffs going around and around and around during every song. While 7-minute opener and single “In My Hotel Room” sets the tone, most of the album has shorter songs with variations in tempo but no letup in intensity.
You’re a Mess is an album that I feel manages to get better across its runtime, culminating in the mammoth closer “I Regret Nothing, Pts 1 & 2”. While the splitting into parts reminds me of classic soul à la James Brown, the song couldn’t be much further in feel but for a similar swagger and confidence, clocking in at a smidge under 9 minutes. It’s a vital album, with a spiteful attitude that sums up and helps to combat what the album description calls the ‘litany of crushing indignities‘ that life in the 2020s has to offer.
As well as a musical step forward, You’re a Mess also saw a step up to the famed British Indie label Rocket Recordings. The music that The Shits offer up is a nastier prospect than most things on the label, yet they saw more than enough to rush to sign them. Upon the signing, Rocket explained: ‘Witnessing The Shits mind blowing mix of The Stooges, Brainbombs, Lubricated Goat, Drunk in Hell, live on stage, we were totally floored, and we knew this band had to be on Rocket.‘
The resulting marriage seems to be a fairly happy one, brought together by megalithic walls of distortion and seemingly kept together by a propensity for heavy drinking. From their side, The Shits commented: ‘Rocket were consummate professionals when it comes to releasing the record, and we had a great time getting fucking leathered with them in Tilburg. As far as their track record; we are the best thing on that label.‘ Unsurprisingly, given that they’ve executed psych-rock, there is still a bit of a gulf between them and the label stylistically.
As far as a point of difference goes, The Shits bring a snarling attack alongside this clear hubris. It makes for a fascinating proposition, on record and on stage. In terms of their presence on stage, signing with Rocket also gave them the opportunity to play the famed Roadburn Fest in the Netherlands last month (on the Rocket 25th anniversary stage). On the experience Howe was less than glowing, as he affirmed that ‘the catering was fantastic. Playing on a stage that big to so many slobbering losers felt like something we/they deserved.‘
Back in the smaller spaces that The Shits more regularly dwell, they have consistently involved themselves with exciting DIY spaces which have seemingly become an important part of the band. I’ve noted before that these spaces are imperative in building a scene too, on these spaces and the scene though, Howe tells me:
‘Some of us are working on a space in Leeds and Sam runs a venue in Newcastle called The Lubber Fiend. Despite our international success playing at DIY venues is where we get to have the most fun. When we came back to Leeds (which you can see in the video above) to play in the middle of our European dates the crowd behaved appallingly, it was fantastic. Who cares about a ‘scene’?‘
The Shits‘ attitude is clear for all to see and they’re a hugely intriguing band. Whether you want to listen to their records or experience their wailing hedonism live, you’ll be far from bored and drowning in their thick garage punk. They’re a one of one band, and that’s how they like it, and be damned if you don’t – but they wouldn’t really care what you think anyway. The Shits have just one call to action for all of you now you’ve the end of this article, ‘buy the record you stingy twats‘.