Shields are a talented electro pop/rock band from Newcastle that have a very clear idea of the music they want to make.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 24 Apr 2012
  • min read
Their sound is electronic pop/rock, but as you can see from their exclusive performances for M, they have no problems changing into a stripped-back acoustic style.

M found out a bit more about Shields' influences and songwriting:

How long have you been making music together and how did that come about?
Luke: We had our first gig in Newcastle just under a year ago. Me, Tom and Rich met at college. We jammed a few tunes and went to record at Blank Studios where we met John. John got so involved with the recording process and added so much that we asked him to join. Previous to that I did a lot of writing with David in another band which had since disbanded. We all had a very clear idea of the sort of music we wanted to make so it all just came together very quickly.

Who are your inspirations?
Tom: We really like bands that use vocals in interesting compositional ways. Such as Everything Everything, Tune-Yards, Dirty Projectors etc. We love beats and I listen to a really wide variety of drumming styles like world beats, gospel and Hip hop and although our music is none of those things, a beat inspired by one of those styles can spark a tune for us. As we're a five-piece we also naturally inspire one another on a subconscious level through any ideas, small or large.

How do you go about creating songs as a band?
John: It isn't really the same for each tune. Some times a member of the band will come to the practice room with a finished song structure and the rest of us just flesh it out. Other times it will start with something as simple as a particular synth sound which sparks a mood in the practice room, which leads to a jam, which eventually ends with a finished product. There is a lot of back and forth with songs. We might record something that works really well in a live situation but once we demo it we realise we have to adapt it for the recording. Sometimes a member will come with a solid idea that gets completely pulled to bits and put back together in every which way possible before we settle on something. Ultimately we always want to make sure there is something you can remember easily in our songs. We like to make it musically interesting without compromising the 'song'.

What’s your approach to writing lyrics, are they storytelling or more abstract?
Luke: For me I like to the lyrics to have a definite theme. They are always about something in particular. I often start by writing about a state of mind or feeling and then focus more on what it is that is causing that state of mind and hopefully end up with something concise.

You all come across as perfectionists, is it difficult to 'finish' a song and who says 'stop'?
John: Ha! yes. The main reason it is so difficult is because we have our own little recording set up which means no limited studio time. Once you get into production as well as composition it can quite easily get out of hand. We tend to show our friends and people we work with demos as we go and usually someone out of the band tells us to stop once it gets to a certain point.

Is there a music scene in the North East that you are part of?
John: There's a really strong scene developing at the moment, especially in the alternative pop area. There's a whole load of bands making waves at the moment and we like to get involved with each other, supporting for single launches etc. Vinyl Jacket, Polarsets, Mausi, Grandfather Birds, Lets Buy Happiness are just a few to keep an eye on. We spend a lot of time hanging around Blank Studios, I work there and its a bit of a hub of activity for local musicians. As such we always have the pleasure of keeping up with what everyone's up to. There's a lot of support from Generator, a local music support and development organisation who do a good job of creating a sense of unity within the scene.

Do you enjoy touring/live gigs or are you more at home in the studio?
John: We always feel very at home in the studio. I do a lot of work as a recording engineer and for me there's nothing better than working on recordings of our own material, being a bit experimental and trying new things. The recording process is also quite a big part of our composition process, once we have an idea and structure we generally throw a demo down so we can listen back and tweak sounds and structures etc.

That said, we are equally at home on stage. In my mind the expression of a piece of music as a recording and as a live performance are two very different things - there are things you can do on record that are impossible live and there are things which work very well live but don't translate so well to record. One of the greatest things about playing live is the interaction between the energy of the audience and our energy on stage, they feed off each other. Also, when you play a live show its generally very loud which changes the dynamics of things. Because you don't have these aspects to work with in the recorded version, you make up for it in other production orientated ways.

What's been your favourite gig so far?
Luke: That is a hard question to answer. We played Shepherds Bush last week and for us that is a big deal. It was amazing and I thought it would take some beating but then we played Flèche d'Or in Paris which was equally amazing for different reasons. It was much more intimate and the energy was amazing! The week before we played at the Cluny in Newcastle to a load of our mates and that never gets boring. The variety of gigs and venues is the best thing.

What are you listening to as you travel and is that music giving you ideas for songs?
Tom: The sound of FIFA on the playstation took up quite a lot of time on tour thanks to Rich and Dave. When that wasn't on we listened to bands like Dirty Projectors, Field music, Radiohead, Givers, Beach house, Battles, Elbow, Arcade Fire, Pink Floyd, Tune-Yards, The list goes on. While on tour its nice to just turn up the music to just enjoy it and switch off a bit. Obviously every now and then something we are listening to might catch your ear from a creative point of view. It all has an effect at some point.

If you could perform live with anyone (past or present), who would it be?
Dave: The list would be endless, in the past bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Beach Boys, The Police, Yes obviously would be a privilege for any artist. Modern day acts we would love to share a stage with include, Elbow, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, I think we're dreaming a bit though!

How have you gone about getting your music heard?
Rich: Playing as many gigs as possible to as many different audiences as possible, recording live sessions, pushing our releases on and off the internet. We've been lucky enough to receive a bit of national radio play and have a some of our music synced with promo videos for ASOS, Landrover and Action Aid which obviously helps a lot. I think its a combination of as many different mediums as possible.

5 May - Live At Leeds Festival : The Well, Leeds
12 May - The Great Escape Festival : Sticky Mikes Frog Bar, Brighton
18 May - Liverpool Sound City : Static Gallery, Liverpool
22 May - The Cluny, Newcastle w/Fixers
1 June - The Gateshead Sage 2, w/ Hyde&Beast, Vinyl Jacket, The Union Choir

Photo: Shields 2011 (c) Elliot Kennedy