NICK SCHULTZ and EMMA NEWBY from The Faces of Sarah talk to Nick Awde
Alhambra Live Magazine #004
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— The Faces of Sarah: Web – Sonicbids
— Alhambra Live: the-alhambra-theatre/bats-in-the-attic
ALHAMBRA LIVE is one of the biggest grassroots music venues in the North West. Based in Morecambe on the sea Promenade, its adaptable spaces (and unique Lake District views) make it a vibrant hub for all-dayers and weekend festivals (Goth, Mod, Ska, Northern Soul…). It is also a hub and home for gothic music with Corrosion club night and the CorrosionFest & Bats in the Attic festivals. For more info, contact Fiona +44 (0)7771 200 873 / email@example.com
Nick Awde: As a band with a long track record, it’s no surprise that there are some great interviews and profiles of you around, which to be honest not a lot of bands are that fortunate to have. Maybe we can start by talking about how coverage for bands operating on the darker side of music seems to be getting worse, more problematic, more restricted rather than something that’s growing in response to the growth of post punk/aternative in general, goth in particular.
Nick Schultz: I totally agree that’s the situation. I don’t know if it’s because when we started out 20 years ago, but I could think of at least five different fanzine/magazines that were doing the rounds. For most of the bands, you submitted your CD, you got reviewed, did an interview, people would come down and review your gigs. There used to be a steady flow of all that, and I don’t see so much of it anymore. There’s a lot on social media from fans of course, but in terms of professional media, it’s really thin on the ground.
NA: Do you think it’s simply another symptom of the challenges facing the UK’s live circuit?
Nick: I think so. Obviously it’s got a lot worse since Covid, that’s for sure. When we first started off, in London alone there could be up to six clubs or venues where you could regularly hear goth/alternative bands play – or play there if you were a band. It was vibrant actually – even though at the time we were told that the early 90s let alone the late 80s were so much better and we were at the tail end of it. We would all moan about it, but compared to how it is now, the late 90s seems like another Golden Age.
Emma: There’s definitely a move, not just in this scene but in a broader sense, whereby people are living their lives more online, and I think lockdown has just fast-forwarded that along its natural progression.
NA: How do you think the smaller, niche grassroots festivals fit into all that today? I think we’ve seen that the big festivals were already problematic before Covid, the divide in wealth and other divisions in the country being mirrored in the nation’s festival hierarchy. And on the cusp of Covid, it did seem as if that divide was on the point of being addressed by the growing grassroots festivals that were seeing the wisdom of uniting and not competing. What’s happening in Morecambe with the development of Corrosion Fest and Bats in the Attic is exactly part of that evolution – earning their place in the national narrative as the first Corrosion Fest opened on the weekend before all the venues closed in March 2020…
Nick: That’s right!
Emma: Yes, Corrosion Fest was our last day out before everything closed.
NA: It was historic, that sort of before and after moment which you can’t go back on, and you were there at a new goth dawn and then the curtain came down on it two days later. For grassroots festivals to build that back up now isn’t being helped by the fact that the big festivals have come back with bigger backing than ever, and consequently they’re making more money than ever – as are the big tours. All the industry statistics are becoming record-breaking. I mean I’ve got nothing against Ed Sheehan and Harry Styles, but the amount of money they make per gig could pay for a string of grassroots festivals across a year. Do you think there’s room for more festivals like that?
Emma: Definitely. It’s a case of just not letting it all collapse. I know there’s a lot of challenges for organisers and promoters around pre-sales at that level. People are still not prepared to buy tickets in advance, so it can often be a gamble if they’ve got costs and overheads to put these smaller festivals on and there’s no real indicator of who might turn up at the door. I know the risk is all relative because the overheads will be smaller but without large-scale corporate backing it is often more of a personal investment made by individuals.
There is a need to prove to people that grassroots festivals and gigs are happening, we need more robust promotion, more varied platforms where you can get to people outside of your immediate circle. On platforms like Facebook you’re generally always talking to the same few hundred people and we’re all trying to think of ways where we can reach more people to let them know events are happening. There’s so much on all over the country every weekend at the moment but sometimes you look and you think “how come I didn’t know about that?!”
At the moment with Covid still a problem, it’s even more about trying to extend the reach and say to people we’re out there, we’re doing it and just giving them the reassurance that it’s safe and it’s okay to get back out there!
NA: Perfectly put, although sadly I suspect what you’ve said isn’t going to go out of date just quite yet.
Emma: It will be a slow but steady return, it might be that we end up putting on fewer quality grassroots festivals at this point, so we have more time to promote and give everyone a better experience, make sure bands can cover their costs and venues can make a profit and pay their staff.
There’s always an element of speculate-to-accumulate at this level of course, but you’ve still got to make everything count and that’s where definitely your first point about promotion, interviews and press comes in, excitement needs to be generated around an event and it needs time to gain some momentum
NA: You’ve mentioned the band’s international experience, which is an area that many bands haven’t managed to break through, so you’re able to add Brexit to our general Covid woes. Did the band start going abroad right from the beginning or has that happened in phases – or maybe it’s been quite random?
Nick: We didn’t play our first gig abroad until around ten years into the band’s timeline. We were just focusing on doing a lot of gigs in London and the rest of the UK.
After waiting for a good enough support slot that would take us out to Europe we absolutely jumped at the chance when it arrived. The first show was in Athens and it was a totally incredible experience; In London you had venues like the Underworld who would put on some incredibly good all-dayers, but it was all beginning the dwindle – and then we went to Athens where the energy was just different at that time. We went from that to finding our second home in Germany, where they’ve always been really receptive toward us.
Emma: My first gigs with the band were in Europe, I was amazed by the experience in Germany, seeing so many fans wearing Faces of Sarah T-shirts – nothing can really prepare you for that!
Nick: Another thing they tend to do in Germany that we know is the crossover between rock and goth music at venues; you’ll have a DJ on in between bands who’ll play Sisters of Mercy then Rammstein, Judas Priest and back to the Mission. Here in the UK, things have tended to be more separate between goth/other rock, which can be either a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not for us to judge, but definitely in Germany they cross over a lot more and therefore you end up playing in front of more people. At the end of the day, if they like your band and they like where you’re coming from, genre becomes immaterial.
Last October  we supported Fields of the Nephilim and that was just out of lockdown, it was packed and yet smaller events continue to struggle for support… so it’s a tricky one and I don’t know if anyone’s got the answer at the moment.
NA: I suppose these are all things that have plagued the music business since, say, the early 80s at least. A problem with a new twist is how do you balance recorded and live music? Lockdown was a test for the recording side, but coming out of lockdown has also proven to be a test for how to get back on track live without the two things spinning too far out of orbit from each other, especially if you had a backlog of stuff. Like during lockdown you’d be presumably having to record or think about it but as soon as coming out of lockdown you’d have to just be absolutely concentrated on playing live and making up for lost time. But you can’t do one without the other now, I don’t think.
Emma: It’s a really good point. 2019 was the band’s 20th anniversary so we had this little strap line ‘#FOS20’ that we launched at an anniversary show in London. We had two releases that year, a full album and an EP, with a view to 2020 being a massive year for the band. We had so much planned and the Camden gig was an incredible night, packed out and a real family feel. There were people who turned up for that show that Nick hadn’t seen since the late 90s and 2000s!
So how 2020 unfolded forced us to really rethink how we celebrate #FOS20. Nick and I were fortunate to be in a lockdown bubble and as we’ve got a little studio set-up we were able to put an EP together and some homemade videos which really kept us going.
The combination of online community and social media during lockdown was really important, but since we’ve come back into the ‘new normal’ it’s definitely been challenging rescheduling gigs, travel etc, but we got there. We had a brilliant run in the spring of doing gigs here and in Europe over four consecutive weekends. After so much downtime this was incredibly enjoyable.
Now it’s all about going back to balancing both. We are talking now about planning in our next recording and release, we’re definitely getting back up to the pace were used to before Covid, it’s all just taken a bit of adjustment in all areas of life I think. Musically it is important to us to keep evolving the sound and releasing new material and we are very much looking forward to getting new music out there again.
NA: What direction are the Faces of Sarah going now, or is it too early for speculation?
Emma: Essentially we still love playing the back catalogue live and we understand that people want to hear these classics! With the new recorded material we’ve gone on to introduce more second vocals and our songwriting is more about co-writing like the early FOS days. For example writing a song where Nick will come up with the tune and then we’ll go away and I’ll write a melody for a chorus and Nick will write a verse, then we bring it back together. So there’s definitely a new level of originality being brought into the band’s sound. Ultimately Nick’s got such a distinctive male vocal and that will always define FOS wherever the music goes.
Nick: We definitely do make more effort image-wise now without focusing too much on a particular look. I always liked the idea of having individuals in the band and I want them to keep their individuality on stage too. We just want to be ourselves and focus on performance – I’ve never thought it’s a compliment to copy other bands, I personally think it’s really lazy.
It’s taken me years and years to develop my own vocal style, so even if no one else likes it I can say well at least it’s me. For example I love McCoy’s and Eldritch’s voices but I don’t want to sound like them, absolutely not… because there’s already a Carl McCoy, there’s already an Andrew Eldritch, they do what they do brilliantly. To me it’s all about trying to be yourself and sound as original as you can.
NA: As you say, you’re a outward looking band and you’re not averse to collaborating with other musicians. Is that something you actively seek or is it just an extension of this evolution of FOS?
Nick: One of the first collaborations we ever did was with Candia from Inkubus Sukkubus. That was years ago when we were playing a lot of gigs with them and seeing what an exceptionally good singer and a fine front person she was. By the very last date of our tour I asked her if she’d like to sing on a track and she agreed! I went away and wrote ‘Misery Turns’ and Candia came down to London to the studio, they were exciting times for all of us and we struck up a friendship between our two bands that still exists now.
A few years ago I also did some guest vocals for Paul Miles from the Nefilim, for his band Sensorium. It was a completely different vocal style for me, but it was his baby, so I sang differently which was a great experience just to see how someone who had worked the classic Zoon album approached writing and recording. It was an absolute joy to spend so much time in studio with someone that worked with a band really the top of their game which the Nephilim very much were at the time.
Emma: When I was songwriting before I joined the Faces of Sarah, I was playing a Schecter guitar –thanks to social media this led me to get to know Michael Ciravolo who curates the Beauty in Chaos project. It was exciting when he agreed to play some absolutely beautiful melodic lead guitar on a track that I’d written, ‘Cimmerian Shade’, which made it onto the Positive Revenge EP.
It’s funny how these things work out, and despite all the negative points about social media, it does give you access to a much bigger community than we had back in the day. There’s pros and cons of people being very accessible, and all the time you have to try to take the positives.
NA: You’ve spoken about about FOS’s origins being in London. Where are you based now as a band?
Emma: We are near Chester, just off the Wales border, our lead guitarist Lee Higgins is in Merseyside, and our bass player Tim Jarvis lives in Edinburgh; so we’re quite spread out, but we make it work and know other bands that have got much more extreme geography, so we can’t complain!
NA: The fact that you’re based in the North is significant. It seems to me that there’s definitely been a goth, alternative and even post punk retrenchment or migration up North to where maybe people understand the language better – I might be wrong of course. So I could ask you Nick, do you miss what the Camden life had to offer?
Nick: When I return to London it does get me thinking. Before I left London about four years ago, to me it had already changed quite a lot. You go to these old haunts to check them out, and they’re either shut or completely changed beyond recognition. Even iconic places like Camden Market seem to have been gentrified and lost some soul. It was a great place, it was intoxicating, it was exciting, it was different. There was always somewhere to go, someone to hang out with, always something going on for people who like the same things but it doesn’t feel quite like that anymore.
I’ve found that there’s a genuine love for music that I’m discovering up North, in cities like Liverpool where live music still blasts out of every pub and bar, which for me is more the way Camden used to be; on the other hand it has been a huge struggle finding band members up here, which I never struggled with in London, so maybe there’s something in that that points to it still being a mecca or hub, but maybe it’s just a bit more underground now.
NA: So basically you’ve had to let go of something that was an important part of the band’s formation and context but isn’t any more. On the other hand, Emma, you have a very Northern perspective…
Emma: I’m from Cumbria originally but grew up mostly around Manchester and Cheshire, and then I lived abroad for all of my twenties. I travelled a lot with my job so I used to be based in London during the week, so I’ve been fortunate to have had the chance to experience the culture first-hand even though I would have loved to have been there at the height of the goth scene; Manchester had some great venues too back in the 80s that have also long since gone, which is a shame.
NA: Not to make us sound treacherous, but does goth/alternative need London and the South East at the moment?
Nick: I’m not particularly sure that it does. It does sound quite treacherous doesn’t it? But where do you go in London? You used to go to hang around Camden right, in the 90s and early 2000s?
NA: I did – and in Madrid when it was undeniably retro, [laughs] so I got the best of both worlds.
Nick: I used to go down the Devonshire Arms, that was the meet-up point obviously. Camden was relevant, there were always gigs on and everything. It seems to me as you said earlier that all the all-dayers and other festivals are happening further and further up north now, for example Leeds is still really active on that front and Whitby will always be a mainstay.
Having said that we hosted the first All That Is Divine festival in London in October 2021 – it was at the Lounge 666 (Archway)and it was pretty well attended, I have to say. The festival we did this year was at the Musician in Leicester and it wasn’t as well attended, and yet the location was more central which is what we thought people wanted… so it’s maybe not an exact science!
NA: It does, and it’s not all about knocking London or bigging up Leicester – this is more about what we’ve saying about the post-Lockdown disruption to live grassroots music that’s still going on and exposing existing gaps as well as new.
Nick: Exactly. Looking at it longer term term there is definitely more balance across the country and less focus on the South/South East which can only be a good thing for everyone. Back in the day we’d come up and play the Warehouse in Leeds, which was so exciting because of the association with bands like Sisters and the Mission. I loved coming up North then, but I was also more than happy to go back down again because the gigs were better attended there – better gigs being put on in better venues in London, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
NA: We’ve mapped out a lot of the challenges facing the goth, alternative and post punk scene here, but what about the wider challenges, notably the generational aspect of trying to get the kids in, to keep the transmission going? The legacy may seem to have a default that reverts each time to the 80s, but there’s a reason for that because it’s timeless and that’s absolutely reflected in the new music that’s being produced today too – there really is something for everyone. But live, it doesn’t always seem that way when you view the age range of the audiences – and the age range of the bands on stage.
Emma: Again, that’s a difference that you notice in Europe. I’ve done more gigs at the moment with this band in Europe than the UK and you do notice a difference. We were in Belgrade in February and that’s probably the youngest audience in general that I’ve played to with this band, a real cross-section and a real fever-pitch excitement that a band should come from the UK to go and play in one of their industrial clubs. It was great and lets you know that there is definitely a strong future for a timeless genre such as this. I don’t know why it would be that the music transcends the generations a bit more in Europe. At Dark Skies Over Witten last year there were young kids with ear defenders on, so definitely the new generation coming through!
One of the things we were talking about for our next London show, which will hopefully now be in December , was how do we try and get some bands on that bill which will attract a bit of a different crowd, just to mix it up a little bit. Because we do run the risk of stagnating and playing to each other and to the same faces in the UK, and that’s something we’d love to try and address if we can.
NA: That’s right. Interestingly, it’s in Camden that we’ve been setting up a night for young and emerging bands – goth, industrial, post punk – that will act as a showcase to give the venues and festivals up north an idea of what the kids are doing down here, and also to share knowledge with the bands here about the scene outside London. So hopefully it becomes a portal for young bands to go up North and vice-versa. I would especially love to see festivals across the country give the first slot or two each day to the kids so they get the experience of being on a top-notch bill and playing to a big crowd, as well as learning from watching the other bands play. And they’ll also bring in younger audiences with them.
Nick: That’s brilliant, and what we’ve always been talking about making the connections for those younger audiences. Our promoter in Germany brought in a couple of what he calls the “young guns” playing at his Dark Skies Over Witten all-dayer. He says if we don’t get these younger groups involved in the goth rock alternative scene, it will die with us. When bands of our age decide that we’re not going to go out and we’re not going to play anymore, what’s going to be left? So the young band went on and they were awesome. I was sinking in my chair, thinking “aw bloody hell, they’re really good”…
Emma: We really didn’t want to go on after them! [both laugh]
Nick: I was sitting at the merch table watching one of the bands and there was a queue of people coming up to me because I was sitting next to their merch table, asking me if I could sell them the band’s T-shirts. I said what about ours, man?! But they were brilliant.
If you’re a young band, you want to create your own version of what’s gone on before. Because I come from more of a rock background and I only discovered goth in the late 80s, I was fascinated with everything about it but my big interest was what were their influences to make themselves sound like that? When I spoke with people that knew a lot about the Nephilim and they’d say there’s a strong Pink Floyd influence in there. I’m thinking “okay that’s really interesting”…there’s reggae in here, along with Motörhead, Iggy and the Stooges, Zepplin. They put all their influences together to create something completely unique.
Now that’s the beauty of music – the chaos and the uniqueness of it all, and I think you’re more prone to thinking outside the box when you are a bit younger because you don’t give a damn what people think. Sometimes it’s the actual disorganisation and the chaotic nature of putting the music together that formulates some beautiful moments. If there was a young band that dressed up a little older and sounded like the Sisters, they’d possibly go down a storm, but why should a young band want to pick up a scene or genre that way? It defeats the whole object of what made those original bands so great.
Emma: That’s where the challenge lies. But it’s not just goth music, it’s across most of the genres.
Nick: It’s a tough one, but I really hope that there will be a young group that’s going to come out there and take the whole goth scene to a totally new cool level.
— Bats in the Attic 2022 tickets: morecambe/the-alhambra-theatre/bats-in-the-attic
— McGothicfox Promotions Facebook: @McGothicfox
— Corrosion Facebook: @morecambegoths