Squid discuss their experimental, dystopian debut album, ‘Bright Green Field’
Brighton five-piece Squid — composed of members Louis Borlaise, Oliver Judge, Arthur Leadbetter, Laurie Nankivell, and Anton Pearson — launched onto the map with the gradual release of a handful of breakout singles such as “The Dial” and “Houseplants,” and later, an EP called Town Centre (2019). With these releases and the help of Dan Carey’s Speedy Wunderground, the group quickly cemented their place among a growing crop of experimental UK post-punk bands like black midi and Black Country, New Road, their music channeling the guitar-led chaos that has proven to get any crowd moving with ease.
Working again with Dan, Squid released another two singles that lean toward those inclinations last year — “Sludge” and “Broadcaster” — but returned to the drawing board when it came to creating their long-awaited debut album with him, choosing to adopt a slightly altered sonic blueprint with motivations to try something new. With their already mounting reputation considered (and their recent signing to Warp Records), expectations surrounding said forthcoming debut have been high, and thus, they aimed not to disappoint, but also, not to rest on their laurels. As a result, Bright Green Field (due May 7 via Warp Records - pre-order) finds the group positioned in the purgatory-like space between where they came from, and where they’re going, meshing what they’ve been known to excel at with the results of their knack for experimentation.
Throughout the record, each track is intricately layered, existing somewhere between chaotic and controlled, and combining their signature sound with lush electronics and interesting samples (including field recordings of unconventional sounds from inside the studio, church bells, and more). Holistically, colorful storytelling — that describes a world in somewhat ruin and the people existing within it — is the record’s cornerstone while each track’s compelling sonic landscape, airing on the side of larger-than-life sci-fi and horror, keeps listeners on their toes. Thematically, it airs on the side of dystopian fantasy, but one thing’s for sure: it’s not a “lockdown record." Rather, it’s a collaborative effort that aims to shine light on the real tensions of the everyday that have existed even before the past year’s events. Regardless, the final results are utterly entrancing.
Ahead of the release of Bright Green Field, we spoke with vocalist/drummer Ollie Judge and guitarist/bassist Louis Borlase over Zoom to learn more about the creative processes behind Squid’s debut, in addition to the material that inspired them throughout the process. Read on for our chat...
To jump into it, how have you guys been doing besides prepping for the album? How has everything been going?
Ollie Judge: Yeah, good. Just getting a bit bored of the monotony, to be honest. We're in lockdown here, so it's like every day is exactly the same. And luckily, I've got a little part-time job that I can go to, which is quite nice. But yeah, just super excited to say that the album’s coming out.
Louis Borlaise: Yeah, it’s ultimately sprinkled with a little glimmer of hope at the moment because we've been given a list of dates now to look forward to, and it will be a kind of third-time-lucky kind of vibe, because every time we've been given dates before, we've been plunged back into another national-regional lockdown. Hopefully, we're on the way out, which might be true.
The record coming out is kind of like a light at the end of this tunnel, at least. Since it’s your official debut, you're probably itching to get it out there, but was it a bit intimidating, figuring out what you wanted to do with it? Or did everything come about naturally, since you've been probably thinking about it for a while?
OJ: I think it was quite organic; I think we just go on with it. But then, as soon as you have to name the album and decide what it's all about, I think that was probably one of the most challenging parts of the whole thing. We just write music kind of unconsciously and don’t even talk about it to each other too much. So, when we had to sit down and try and put a name to the songs, that was, for me, like the most difficult part anyway.
LB: Me too. I think the inherent value of just archiving something, you kind of catalog it by resigning to the fact that it's not just songs anymore, and it's an album. And that kind of brings it home quite a lot. Which is kind of ironic, because that idea of putting something under an umbrella and archiving it and creating a collective identity for the songs is actually something that you're planning for a date that’s in the future. But yeah, I think it came kind of as it did, just due to the fact that we had a completely different kind of schedule and approach to writing music this last year than we usually do because we were all that home, in our monotonous day-to-day.
Speaking of, did a lot of the writing process happen individually — given that you couldn't really get together and brainstorm in the same space — and everything kind of just came about how it came about? Or were there more collective discussions that contributed to it?
OJ: I think we were quite lucky in that we were rehearsing for a tour that eventually got canceled in March last year and, when we started [working on the album], we had a lot of groundwork for new tracks. So, in some ways, that was a nice springboard for us to go into being locked down with, because we had the basis of the songs and then we all just kind of added bits to them. So, I think it might have been quite a bit different if we just went into a lockdown without any new songs to think of, if we had started from scratch in lockdown. So, it was quite good that we had a little bit of prep time before.
And you obviously worked with Dan [Carey] a bit throughout the process. How would you describe the relationship that you had with him working on this project, as opposed to past works? Was it pretty much the same sort of thing, or did you go into it differently given the nature of the project and the circumstances?
LB: Every time you go back in the studio with Dan, you kind of know him a little bit better as a friend, which was really nice for this album. We'd been working with him for a single, “Sludge” and “Broadcaster,” which we did in January, maybe. It had been quite recently that we'd been in the studio with him, and I think, a lot of the time recording the single, it was quite explicit that we were going to probably be doing an album together. So, we were talking about the album whilst we were doing the single.
Because of the fact that it was lockdown and the studio’s in his house, there was this kind of unspoken sense that we knew we're going to be working together on the album for a month, and, in that time, we were going to come together as one big family. It felt like a really memorable and familial experience doing this album, because we were all together for such a long duration of time. It was just three weeks that felt like much longer in all the right ways.
It's kind of funny to have your debut cemented around this strange period of time, and, that said, a lot of the record’s lyrical material seems to come from a place of kind of existentialism and comments on the horrible reality that we’re in. When you guys were going about constructing the concept behind the album, did inspiration come from the current situation, or were these ideas already brewing about since everything has been fucked up before this point?
OJ: I kind of half-jokingly remember saying to Anton [Pearson], that we should write a concept album with loads of sci-fi themes and then that joke kind of spiraled in into kind of a half truth, I guess. But yeah, I was reading a lot of sci-fi and some of the books that I was reading sounded like what was going on in the UK at the moment. In the UK, it even seemed a bit more dystopian than the books I was reading, and I thought that was quite interesting.
I almost feel like the album could be repurposed into a dystopian film series as so much of it is very visual, as well. When constructing like the visuals for tracks such as “Narrator” or “Paddling,” did that kind of come naturally, since so much of it is very descriptive?
LB: When we're writing, the lyrical side of things is based quite a lot on visual observation and reacting to things that are quite intensely disturbing in a way. Like, for me, I think talking about COVID and how a lot of the issues that we're responding to, they were there before COVID but they've kind of bubbled to the surface along with lots of other issues, and those observations lend themselves to quite extreme textures of sound that I think we were quite interested in.
And then when it comes to, as you say, exploring the visual side of things, straight away working with Felix [Green], he had a very distinctly almost nauseating approach to graphics and textures and stuff. And that really interested us. There was one particular idea he had, which kind of ended up being quite a focal point for the “Narrator” video, it's called Render_O2 on his website, and it was revolving in the city that goes through parks and buildings and things that you see in the everyday. But when you're looking at something in real life, you see it in this realistic sense, but you're thinking about all these crazy thoughts about why it's kind of scary, or why it feels dystopian. And so, his use of technology in being able to bring out the weirdness of that actually on the screen is a super, super cool thing. We've never done a music video before either, so it's kind of a perfect fit.
What made you pick “Narrator” as the first track to introduce the album? Was there any intention behind that decision?
OJ: The label definitely helped us choose, but not in a bad way [laughs]. I think it was just unanimously everyone's favorite. I think it's a kind of nice way into the album — the first half is quite familiar, and quite similar to music we've released before, and then, it kind of morphs into this weird horror movie kind of soundtrack, which is a bit more like the rest of the album. So, it's kind of a nice mix of everything in the album in one song; a taste from the menu.
With going about the sort of shift that the sound does take, what inspired you going into that? Did the sci-fi, dystopian themes that you referenced lyrically help lead you down that road?
LB: I've been interested in, when we're writing, this kind of exploration. There is a noticeable shift into something, which can either be a build-up of intensity, or a complete sonic counterpart to what the first bit is. With “Narrator,” at the time, we were really experimenting and pushing each other to the limits of what we can do in terms of building up a section. So, the B-section being the buildup section of “Narrator,” it was a kind of vibe of running out of frets on the guitars as you kind of gain intensity, higher and higher and higher, but it just lent itself to a feeling of not really wanting to stop. So, I think the idea of establishing a groove, and then an idea, and slowly dismantling it into — like Ollie said — a kind of horror soundtrack is always quite fun. Intensity to match grew, I guess.
Additionally, genre can be so confining, but if you were to describe this album in your own words, how would you do that?
OJ: Recently, I've been circling back to the ‘90s and just to alternative rock [laughs]. That's quite a good fit, I think, because I feel like I've gone off “experimental rock band”....
LB: [We] don’t like “art rock,” really; it's not for us. It's never really been a very explicit action and reaction against an already explored kind of musical style. I think that's more on the subconscious, just because, I think, we all have a really good attention span for staying focused and staying working and putting loads of time in and trying to push up musicality and musicianship, but what we're not so good at doing is sticking with an idea if there's even a kind of vague feeling lying underneath that this is a kind of road we might have gone down before. That's not to say that, if you took a piece of music that anyone has written and put out one year, and then 10 years later, they've got another one, there's no reason why it should be a bad thing to go back and shine a spotlight on a certain idea or a certain approach. I think, a problem, or maybe a trap that is easier to fall into is if you get a good thing going, it's like, ‘If it ain't broke, don't fix it.’ That can often be a recipe just to keep pulling bottles out of the recycling bin. And that's gross [laughs].
Speaking on the idea that musicians should be able to put out content that they enjoy regardless of repetition or anything like that, is there a song(s) that you guys are particularly proud of with this record in mind?
LB: I think, from a musical perspective, a standout one for me, in terms of its satisfying to play and satisfying to understand now that it's finished, is “2010” on the album. Because we were experimenting with writing phrases and sequences that don't adhere to lining up with the start of the circle that is matched by the end of the circle across all parts. So, we developed this idea that I think felt pretty unique to us. I think, because we've done music inspired by Steve Reich and phase-based stuff, it was kind of this idea of allowing a sequence to be really long, but made up of loads of little micro-sequences. And in terms of coming to play that, there's just constant heightenings of tension and resolutions of tension, which, when you're playing, just keeps you feeling really fresh.
OJ: Yeah, writing that one was really quite difficult. It was like a massive puzzle, but it would never end. But, when it did, that was really good [laughs].
LB: When you can put the pieces back in the box [laughs].
OJ: Yeah, that's definitely one of my favorite songs in the album as well. I think the production at the end is maybe the best thing we've done; it’s just so layered and I think I still notice new bits in there every time that I listen to it. It's really quite a rewarding listen, I think. And “Global Groove” is also one of my favorites. It's just, again, very different to anything we've done before; it's a bit more kind of sinister and I don't really think there's much humor in it, which is a little bit different for us.
LB: Yeah, like the sinister limits of that, where I feel like the approach to production and everything, from the harmony and the chords to how things are mic'd up...it’s a nice counterpart to the lyrics, too.
I feel like there are a lot of small intricacies and layers throughout the album that are worth mentioning. Are there any small details that you feel like, on first listen, someone might not notice that you feel are kind of like we're elemental?
LB: There's not really a whole amount of elements that are hidden. I don't know whether we're aware of it, but I think kind of musically and emotionally, the album is wearing it on its own sleeve. I think just kind of the ability to get from one place to another...I think we wanted to challenge ourselves with little textural obstacles and interludes. And I guess it's interesting to wonder whether the listener can work out what was left up to the studio. We wanted to leave quite a lot of music almost written in the studio, and it would be interesting to know how people react to that in terms of what was really on the fly and what was a lot more premeditated, because that is quite spectral, I think.
Speaking on reception, going into it, it's probably kind of intimidating seeing how people react to things when they're out. Has seeing how people are reacting to the material thus far been a bit strange, as you’ve been forced to look at things from the confines of the internet?
OJ: I am quite excited by the prospect that people will only hear these tracks for the first time when the album comes out, like, everyone will be listening to it at exactly the same time. There won't be like live gig footage floating around and people living with the tracks for a few months beforehand. It's quite exciting that everyone's going in blind, so to speak. But obviously, it is annoying that, you know, we can't play live to people, because we all enjoy it quite a lot.
LB: It's kind of weird how there's that fact that, if you're the oldest person in the world, you live with an entirely different set of people…so, if you're 120, every single person on planet earth didn't exist when you're born [laughs]. It's kind of like that, with the fact that we were writing, and then the world that we were reacting to and being inspired by then was completely flipped on its head during the time that we were working. And then, when you come to perform it, you're performing it to a completely opposite world.
I kind of think about that quite a lot at the moment, just, like, if you take a song like, I don't know, maybe “Peel St.” on the album — I don't think we've ever performed that to anyone — it's kind of weird, it's like you have to assume that that audience is brand new, but also didn't exist in the first place.
Yeah, it's like these songs lived entirely different lives before this point. Have any of them existed for a while in the Squid archives before being released as part of this record?
OJ: Yeah, “Paddling” is one of our oldest songs. We started writing it quite a few years ago, and it kind of just got unearthed. So, yeah, that's kind of about it on the whole record, really.
LB: It's funny how words take on new meanings, as well. Like, thinking about “Paddling,” that's quite an old song, and back then, the words had completely different meanings than they have now because I've aged a couple of years in that time. It was funny, it was [initially] like, thinking about people getting older and friends pursuing their career paths and taking life quite seriously all of a sudden, but now, that viewpoint seems very naive. It's kind of like this ever-changing perspective. I guess the longer you live with a track, the words can take the new meanings and stuff.
It's also interesting, because obviously, people who are just listening to it and have no idea of the context can kind of interpret it the way that they want to. That said, are there any really important themes or ideas that you hope kind of stick regardless of people's interpretations?
OJ: It's kind of a coming-of-age record, in some respects. I think, like what you said previously, having lyrics that people can project their own kind of thoughts and feelings and anything onto, I think that's good, for them to be those kind of lyrics and to be loaded with loads of meaning, but then to also be a completely blank canvas.
LB: I kind of hope that people don't assume that it's a record that's just about now, because I think, between the five of us, we've talked so much about the places and spaces and people and animals that have inspired it as an album, but I think the more unspoken thing that really has fed into it and is harder to talk about is just our collective experiences of time and how we perceive time, but also, just individual experiences that you kind of can't really talk about because they're just sort of happening.
I think, for me, one thing, when I've listened to the album, is this kind of big jumbling of time, because all the writings of Mark Fisher and his kind of shining light on thinking about time from something that was just about nostalgia to something that was more about lost features. So, when I listen to the album, I quite like to think about how there's so many different timeframes that it's suggesting and kind of recounting. And it's not just about today and this year in COVID.
OJ: Yeah, I think the list of things that I don't want people to take away from it is longer [laughs]. For one, it's not a “lockdown album.”
LB: It's also kind of crazy the amount of coincidences that always keep happening with the words in the album. I've listened to it a few times, and it'll be like, ‘Whoa, this sounds really like something that happened this year.’ I always have those thoughts when I'm listening to “Pamphlets.” But, I’m sure all the bands say that [laughs].
OJ: Paul McCartney's new album, what the sticker says on the front is, “made in ‘rockdown’” [laughs].
LB: I'm kind of jealous of that.
OJ: Our records haven't gotten to the printers yet. We could still change the sticker on the front...
LB: And get a lawsuit from Paul McCartney, as well [laughs].