INTERVIEW: Shield Patterns | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Having been forced to postpone a planned Newcastle date in February due to illness, Gizeh Records artists Shield Patterns make a very welcome return to the city on Friday 16th June at The Cumberland Arms, having not played in the region since a headline show in 2015.

Back in February, I caught up with Richard Knox – one half of Shield Patterns alongside Claire Brentnall – who filled me in on the history of the band and their artistic process.

Explaining the origins of the band, Knox explains, “It originally began as Claire’s solo project. Her first show was opening for some friends of mine in Manchester and I happened to be there. We got talking – initially I was interested in the music from a label point of view, but it quickly developed into something much more.”

Describing how their artistic collaboration has developed, Knox tells me, “Up to this point, we have never sat down in a room and written together. We both prefer the solitude and privacy of writing alone and then passing ideas back and forth. The majority of the songs begin with Claire’s ideas and we unfold them over a period of time, trying different sounds and structures. The music is very detailed in its end form and involves many, many layers of sound so the process of adding and subtracting can be a lengthy one. We’re starting to think about the next record now, so it will be interesting to see if this process changes at all going forward.”

Their most recent album, 2016’s Mirror Breathing, saw the band’s work become more sonically dense and immersive whilst simultaneously more direct in its song writing. Discussing any change in the band’s work, Knox states, “From the inside it’s not very clear how it’s changed – if it even has at all. The process of the two records was reasonably similar. Mirror Breathing was harder for sure, especially the last few months of finishing the record. We go about everything in a very natural way, nothing is forced so with that comes a slow evolution. It’s the same as most things – the more you work at something the better you get. I think with Contour Lines there was zero pressure, we just had a bunch of songs, recorded them and threw them out into the world not really knowing if anyone would like them or understand what we were doing. Mirror Breathing has certainly been received in a way that we are both really happy with. People seem to have really got it, which is encouraging. We have definitely pushed harder on melodies, and sonically it’s heavier too – but I guess not in an obvious way.”

It’s that juxtaposition of the oblique, elusive soundscapes the duo conjure up with the striking cut-through of Brentnall’s voice that makes them such a compelling and unique proposition, so I asked Knox about how they balance tight structure with their more freeform impulses. “It’s always a balancing act to a degree, but I feel like the two angles you mention there blur quite easily for us. The way the songs end up is always a natural process and they just evolve into something we are happy with over time. We don’t tend to argue too much on which direction the songs should go, it’s usually reasonably clear early on, or certainly after some experimenting you can get a sense of what it needs or what its potential is. On Mirror Breathing, there are a couple of more simple piano-based songs on there which just never felt like they needed to be anything other than that. Others started out that way and morphed into different beasts when we started to break them down.”

Even on their more stripped-back works however, there’s an attention to detail and precision from the band that is clearly no accident. “The detail is purposeful in that it encourages repeated listens and there will be something new to find each time. Personally I love albums like that. If you listen on headphones you will get a completely different experience because of the way we mixed the record. Albums are works of art in my opinion, and heavy consideration should be taken when making decisions like track orders and the overall immersive experience. You want people to be there and stay there for the whole record. We’re not interested in ‘singles’ or whatever, the album as entire piece of work is what is important.”

The duo’s attention to detail and cohesive approach to their music also extends to how they package, promote and distribute their music. Asked about the striking cover art and design work for Mirror Breathing, Knox informs me, “The front and back sleeves are photos Claire took and we spent a long time mulling over what to do with them. We’re really pleased with how it turned out though. We wanted something striking, something a little bit dark and something with water. Inside on the CD version, there are photos from Claire’s grandad that we found in some archives he left. He was a keen photographer and he left behind boxes of thousands of photos that we spent many evenings pouring over, piecing together some family history and finding images we liked.”

Shield Patterns themselves meanwhile are amongst the many artists signed to Knox’s label Gizeh Records, alongside acts like Sleepingdog, Nadja and Knox’s other current project A-Sun Amissa. The care and devotion Knox and the label put into each of their releases may not scan as DIY in a traditional punk sense, but make no mistake – Gizeh Records is as fine an example to stepping outside of the industry and building something up in a different way as you’ll encounter. As Knox conclucdes, he’s clear that the control the band maintain over all aspects of recording, releasing and promoting their work is intentional. “We prefer it that way – it means we can control everything and do things in our own time and exactly the way we want. The music industry is a weird and somewhat volatile place and being as DIY as we are means that we can make things happen without relying on somebody else. It’s not that we are against collaboration in any way, I’ve just seen the problems other bands have and the way they get treated and I’m not interested in any of that. Of course it means we suffer a bit in terms of contacts, finances and the money that can be put into promotion, but I don’t know many people making money from doing music these days, even bands that are much bigger than we are. So to that end, I feel like we are doing the right thing and if we decide we want to do something, we just go and do it without having to wait or dilute it.”

Shield Patterns play Endless Window at The Cumberland Arms with Ochre and Lost On Me on Friday 16th June. Mirror Breathing is out now on Gizeh Records.

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