The London post-punk trio aren’t looking for a platform.
When the world is falling apart, have a dance party.
That maxim seems to encapsulate Shopping’s approach to modern life on their new LP, The Official Body, which was produced by Orange Juice legend Edwyn Collins. Though its ten songs abound with references to groupthink and alienation, the album’s skittery drums, jagged guitar riffs, and chunky bass lines just might convince you to quit worrying and start moving your feet.
Billy Easter (bass guitar and vocals), Rachel Aggs (guitar and vocals), and Andrew Milk (drums and vocals) met through the London DIY scene and formed Shopping in 2012, out of their previous band, Cover Girl. They released their hard-charging 2013 debut, Consumer Complaints, on Easter and Milk’s label Milk Records before signing to FatCat and releasing the angular Why Choose in 2015.
Shopping toured that second record amidst the turmoil of Brexit and Trumpmania, twin phenomena that seem to have inspired some music journalists to read post-punk trio’s antics as “political.” While the label is by no means disingenuous (their songs have tackled issues like capitalism and identity politics), the group bristles slightly at being boxed in by the classification.
“I think it would be really easy to be like, ‘We have a platform, what are we going to say?’ and put loads of pressure on ourselves as if our music can change anything,” Aggs said over Google Hangout. “I know that sounds a bit depressing, but it kind of can’t. The most it can do is be cathartic for us and our friends and our fans.”
If there is a label that sticks to Shopping, let it be one of self-reliance and tenacity.
“We haven’t had a completely easy, breezy, beautiful time where we’ve been basking in the release of our last album for the last two years,” Easter said. “But we haven’t let it get us down. We’re still here and we’ve got another album.”
Shopping play with French Vanilla, Future Punx, and Pickled Onion at Market Hotel on March 3. They have also just released a new video for their track “Suddenly Gone” from the new album The Official Body, you can check it out below.
AdHoc: How did you all meet and first come together as Shopping?
Andrew Milk: It’s a tale as old as time.
Billy Easter: It is a classic tale of treachery and deception. We all knew each other from the DIY music scene in London. We were all in bands already and Andrew used to put on shows, just various crossovers and links. So we were hanging out and started a band with two of our other friends called Covergirl. And that went for like a year or so, and we had a track on Captured Tracks.
That basically became a bit dysfunctional, because there were five of us; everyone was really busy and stuff. Then I got made redundant from my day job, and Rachel and Andrew had a lot of free time in the day time, so we were like, “Let’s do another thing as well.” And Andrew had already thought of a name, which we all really liked, and that somehow seemed to be the thing that spurred it on to begin with. We were like, “We’ve got a name!” And then we just did Shopping.
Andrew: I think the hardest thing sometimes to come up with and agree on is a name. So we had that and were like, “The hard part’s over. Let’s just do the music we’ve already been doing, because we played together in that five-piece.” We knew how to make music and come up with stuff together, and we all enjoyed doing that.
Can you talk a little bit about what the DIY scene in London is like?
Andrew: Rachel probably knows it best now.
Rachel Aggs: Yeah, I was just thinking the other day about how much it’s changed.
Billy: [When we first started out], you had a lot of people who had really shit day jobs who wanted to be doing something else, and they crammed in doing loads of band practices, fitting tours around work, and playing in London a lot. That’s what it was like then.
How do you think it’s changed?
Rachel: I think it’s getting more and more expensive to live in London. That has an effect on how intense the scene is. I think people struggle a lot to find space to practice and time to practice. But they still always carry on—I think the London punks are very resilient in that way. They still manage to find space and time somehow, but it’s intense. Bands don’t often last that long, which is a shame, but can also be quite exciting as well because there’s always new bands.
Billy: The good thing for us was it wasn’t like you had to “enter the music biz.” We had friends who were doing press and setting up really small companies at the time. So we’d get friends who would make our videos, friends who would do press, friends screen-printing T-shirts. It was a bit of an underground village. What’s that thing when it’s like a factory but it’s on a smaller scale?
Andrew: A cottage industry?
Billy: A cottage industry! I feel like it was a cottage industry.
Rachel: I was literally just thinking, “Where did the term ‘cottage industry’ come from?”
Billy: People were setting up small labels. And I guess that’s still what’s happening? But luckily those things have grown, and people are doing that now for their main job. And we’ve moved a little bit away from the DIY scene I guess, but we still do a lot of our stuff. We don’t outsource everything.
Andrew: It definitely felt different. The label stuff—I reckon there was more of that happening. There was this period of time, [around] 2009, when people were finding cheap-ish ways to release vinyl and tapes and there was a huge demand for that kind of stuff. Small releases could make your money back. There were bedroom record labels like Faux Discx and Milk! Records, and stuff around that had a bit more longevity. Now—and I might just be out of touch—but there are fewer bedroom record labels that are actually releasing records.
Billy: Now, because vinyl is so desirable, you’ve got to compete with the massive labels who are constantly producing vinyl.
Sounds like the community you belonged to back then was not just a professional scene, but a social scene as well. How has that changed now that Shopping has taken on a life of its own and this is more of a full-time job?
Andrew: We didn’t really start with “Let’s have fun in the scene.” We started doing Shopping with the notion, as Billy said, of doing as much as we could with the time that we had: releasing records, getting shit done, getting stuff out there. So I feel like that mentality is kind of the same. There’s a lot more shit to do now, but the idea for the band was never, “Let’s just have a laugh.” Part of it was always, “Let’s get stuff done.”
Rachel: Creatively, I don’t think it’s changed. We’ve had to work quite fast, but we’ve always worked quite fast when writing songs.
Billy: There’s a lot more admin stuff—the less fun element, the business side of things. And, yeah, it’s pretty time-consuming, but we always want more people to hear our music. The DIY element of playing in a particular scene—we just wanted to expand a bit further than that and make sure lots of people can hear our music to see if they like it. And they did like it. So we were like, “Okay, let’s make more people hear it.”
When you dropped Why Choose a few years ago, a lot of the press around that record talked about how your songs are political, but you’ve said that you don’t necessarily want to be perceived as an overtly political band. Two and a half years later, things feel even crazier politically. How did that affect your approach to this new album?
Billy: Weirdly, it was kind of the same, because we weren’t really thinking about it consciously, but a lot of this album is responding to what happened again. It’s still not something we try and consciously do, but it just happens that way because we live in the world and we’re frustrated.
Andrew: We didn’t overthink when we were writing it. That notion of people trying to tell us what we are and us railing against it didn’t change the way we make songs.
Billy: Because we really don’t “rail” against it.
Andrew: I think that narrative did come from us, because whenever anyone asked us about politics, we’d always say, “Well, we didn’t deliberately go in with a message, we don’t want to be dogmatic” or whatever. That’s the wording we’d always use in interviews, because it’s true. But having had to constantly say that to people didn’t change the way that we made songs.
Rachel: Also, I think it would be really easy to be like, “We have a platform. What are we going to say?,” And put loads of pressure on ourselves as if our music can change anything. I know that sounds a bit depressing, but it kind of can’t. The most it can do is be cathartic for us and our friends and our fans. We just want to make something that feels good, and what felt good at the time we were writing it was probably responding to our situation and the world’s situation. Politically, that situates it, but it wasn’t an overt attempt to “speak out.”
What is your songwriting process like?
Billy: We always get together in a room; no one really writes parts away from the practice space and brings them in. It was a bit more difficult this time around, because we’re living farther apart. Andrew lives in Glasgow, I’m still in London, and Rachel was still in London at the time [before moving to Glasgow].
Part of the DIY scene breaking down in London is we used to practice in the basement of Power Lunches, which was sort of a DIY hub in London [before it closed in 2015]. So we had to be more organized; some of us had to travel, and we’d just get together and practice and write songs.
Andrew: It was the same as we’ve always done it, except this time we had to pay for spaces and grab time when we had it, rather than when we were all in London and had a venue to practice in whenever we wanted. We don’t have that anymore, sadly.
Was there anything in particular that you were listening to while writing and recording The Official Body that ended up influencing the record?
Billy: No [Laughs].
Rachel: Not really. I guess the one thing was we introduced a bass synth and some drum parts that Andrew plays, so there are more electronic sounds on it. But that’s quite a subtle change. We don’t really reference other songs or other bands while we’re writing. It’s just not something we do.
Billy: I think we were just like, “Let’s carry on with what we’re doing. We didn’t feel like we needed to desperately change our sound or put out an album that sounds completely in a different tangent. This is fun and it’s working and we still like it, so we’ll carry on. But we wanted to add some new sounds that would make it a bit more dance-y. We didn’t want to do an exact replica of the previous two albums, but we didn’t want to veer off too much.
Andrew: It’s nice to talk about [working with Edwyn Collins] because he’s really nice. He really liked our music, and we all obviously really like his music. It’s been an honor to work with people like that. That’s one of the many amazing aspects of getting to do this band, getting to make those connections with people that you never in a million years would think you’d get to meet, let alone work with or be chatting with them as if you’re on the same level or peers. It’s ridiculous.
Billy: Yeah, you get complacent sometimes, but then I’m like, “Hang on a minute, we just spend a bunch of days with Edwyn Collins.” My 18-year-old self would not believe that.
How do you think you’ve all changed as people in between Why Choose and The Official Body?
Andrew: It’s all just shit, really. I lost the job that I loved doing [at] the venue [Power Lunches] that I’d given most of my adult life in London to, developing and growing. And the only thing that I wanted to do in London, which this band was formed in, was gone. So I moved to another country and settled here and started a serious relationship with someone and moved in with them. So ups and downs, I’d say.
Billy: How have we changed as people? I mean, I’ve had a very, very dramatic time in that space of time. I think because of what’s going on in the world, there’s just constant life stuff coming up. It’s meant that Shopping hasn’t been our main focus all the time, but we’ve carried on. One of the ways to get through tough times—and it might seem cliché—is doing something creative. Writing music with Rachel and Andrew is always really satisfying, and it works really well. We really enjoy doing Shopping.
We haven’t had a completely easy, breezy, beautiful time where we’ve been basking in the release of our last album for the last two years. But we haven’t let it get us down. We’re still here and we’ve got another album.