Image: Alex Kurunis via Ian Cheek Press

“There’s darkness within all of us, but it’s nothing to be scared or ashamed of”: an interview with Squid

The makings of a rock band persona are an interesting thing. Upon being told that the interview is at 9:30 am, I’m expecting to be greeted by a bunch of really tired guys with raggedy hair and a smell of alcohol and cigarettes so pungent that it’s able to hit me through the Zoom call. But that’s not what I get – as Squid’s keyboardist Andrew Leadbetter sits down, he’s thoughtful and considerate as he talks about the band. Even from the background of the call, a relatively plain room, only really decorated with filled bookshelves, he gives the impression that this is someone deeply passionate about the music he is working to create, and less so the aesthetics and media cycles that are thrown in alongside it.

Even from the introductory questions, where he answers something that has probably been posed countless times (namely, what does it mean for him and the rest of the band to have released their second album), he takes his time with his responses.

Throughout O Monolith, you can sense the band weaving through a variety of sounds

“The first album (2021’s Bright Green Fields) we wrote was written over quite a long period. So, the songs that you’re writing, you’ve had lots of time to play live, play them on your first tours, and it really feels like a formative record. Then the second album, was very different because we’ve just had two years of lockdown and COVID”.

He then switches to talking about the joy of being able to be more expansive in the songwriting process with this album, able to utilise new sounds that in some ways were considered impossible. Talking explicitly about a desire to bring this further, he cites Dean Blunt’s 2021 album Black Metal Two and how intriguing the use of an ascending scale with no real conclusion is to him. Songs like ‘After the Flash’ use this explicitly as vocals and instrumentation rise up and up with no real destination.

“It’s just like a big like pot of ideas that you just throw something in”

Andrew Leadbetter

Of course, he explains, whilst there are restraints as to how high up a piano played by an individual can go, the same is not true of something that is regulated by a script and is then auto-generated. Leadbetter calls the sounds “beautiful” despite how generated it is. Whilst Squid as a band may not reach artists like Grimes in the levels of endorsement of AI in their music, it’s clear that they still see it as a ground for exploration of their own sound.

But maybe it’s just a part of the developed, more expansive version of the band. Being able to mix a variety of different sounds means generating different kinds of music. He likens it to cooking a meal, more specifically a stew: “It’s just like a big like pot of ideas that you just throw something in. And it’s like, sometimes if I’m making a big stew, sometimes it starts to taste really nice and it’s great. The only difference is that you can actually take stuff out.”

Leadbetter also points out the use of satire in their songs

It’s an apt comparison – the band has a lot going on, so it would be easy for them to lose things in amongst the stew or for the flavours to become dilated in a sort of sludge, but that never happens. Throughout O Monolithyou can sense the band weaving a variety of sounds, crafted both individually and as a band, whilst making sure they never lose sight of what makes them work together and how each member can operate effectively within the group.

Songs like the album’s closing track ‘If You Had Seen The Bull’s Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away’ wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the collaborative nature of the band that is so eloquently discussed. Driving bass, distorted guitars, and orchestral accompaniments are all able to blend together so well because of how they are formatted, and even more so how they were created.

“There’s darkness within all of us, but it’s nothing to be scared or ashamed of.”

Andrew Leadbetter

But where have these new sounds positioned Squid emotionally? In an interview with the NME around the release of the album’s lead single ‘Swing (In a Dream)’, drummer and singer Ollie Judge called the album “cynically spiritual” especially about their earlier work. When asked about if he sees the new album similarly, Leadbetter takes a moment to think, eyes darting around, before he answers:

“I feel like when we were writing the record, we didn’t really discuss how the meaning and the direction of what we were writing and what it was going to be or how it was going to be finished.”

Reflecting on finishing the album, he notes something else Judge said: “There’s darkness within all of us, but it’s nothing to be scared or ashamed of. Confronting it musically and inventing it in a way that uses imagery in our music is a very good way of getting these fears out of you.”

Leadbetter also points out the use of satire in their songs: “We’ve used it in the past as a very interesting way of presenting problems in the world and presenting your own kind of fears and worries,” he says. “I think that’s potentially a way that we’ve developed as a band recently.”

There is some enjoyment in being able to play their newer songs for the audience

In many ways this makes sense, in comparison with their earlier work, O Monolith is in heavy conversation with introspective art and analysis of the feelings of band members rather than being focused on political landscapes. It draws on the works of dystopian writers like JG Ballard whilst also having discussions with artists like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and even James Bond, jokingly talking about how a possible title for the album was the 1979 film Moonraker. It’s a more cathartic output and a way for the band to release a core part of themselves that, while has always been present, they are clearly pushing towards the forefront of the music and are excelling at it.

But then, of course, is the band’s upcoming tour. Although there appears to be some reluctance from Leadbetter, who I sense prefers the comfort of the studio, there is some enjoyment in being able to play their newer songs for the audience. They are able to find new ideas that they are able to use in their new work, but there are some conscious decisions about what is able to be played on stage.

I ask Leadbetter about the songs they will no longer want to play live. “It’s not that you’re ashamed of them or regret it or anything. I think that they’re great songs, but it just feels like we’re a different band in a way. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just very hard to fit that in different genres and from different styles. Also, it can be tricky to work those into a one-hour set.”

It feels an apt summary of the band – overflowing with new ideas whilst also trying to put it within the confines around them, whether that be the restraints of an album or a setlist. However, at the core, it’s clear that they care about the music they create as well as other members of the band. Even when talking about the plans for upcoming projects and if they’re working on new work – Leadbetter is considerate of how the cycle of album creation and promotion impacts other members and how they feel going forward. No matter what, it’s clear that with the quality of their recent output, their approach to creativity is working, and should allow them to build on the strong foundations to grow even further creatively in the future.


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