A weird, winding, tooting troupe – Squid aren’t your standard bunch of lads in a band. With their debut album ‘Bright Green Field’ delivering on their undoubted potential, your friends at Dork are here to ask them about – erm *checks notes* – Jaffa Cakes?
Words: Martyn Young. Photos: Xenia Owens.
It’s been the eternal question facing all bands in this cursed year. How do you function as an active working band when your main way of communicating, eg playing live, has been knocked on the head? Well the answer is gardening. Gardening is the secret to a happy and functioning state of mind for post punk pop experimentalists Squid. “We were lucky in the summer to get an allotment and spend a lot of time in the greenhouse putting vegetables in the ground and harvesting,” says guitarist Louie Borlase, while multi-instrumentalist bass wizard Laurie Nankivell explains, “It’s been proper nice like. Our Red Russian Kale is still going strong.” “Our Garlic is bulbous and ready to burst out the soil,” adds Louis with all the confidence of a man beautifully at peace with life. And so he should be. From harvesting giant garlic to harvesting giant tunes, Squid are at the point of fulfilling years of promise with their stunning debut album ‘Bright Green Field’.
Squid are the kind of band who can do it all. The five friends from Brighton have established a reputation since they formed five years ago as a band capable of exciting and shocking in equal measure. You never quite know what you’re going to get, and that sense of uncertainty and ambition makes them a thrilling proposition. Their two previous EPs ‘LINO’ and ‘Town Centre’ set the scene for an idiosyncratic band forging their own path, but the long-awaited debut album arrives in the middle of an altogether unique set of circumstances. “It’s the record we wanted to make, and it’s a big thing for us,” begins Louis excitedly.
Despite the sense of excitement surrounding the release of the album, it’s tinged with a bittersweetness as a band so formidable on stage with a reputation founded on some incendiary live shows wistfully dream of what these songs could be like live. A dream that hopefully is now tantalisingly close. “We just can’t wait to play it to people,” says Laurie. “We did a session last week, and it was so much fun playing a couple of tracks, and that was just to a camera, so who knows what’s going to happen when there’s thousands of people there.”
In something akin to losing a leg, the band were forced to subtly change their creative dynamic as they embarked on making an album in which precious few of the songs were tried and tested live. It’s a challenge that they met head-on. “We did a bit of experimenting with different techniques,” says Laurie. “We had to do it just track by track. It was probably good to have space between us, but as soon as we could meet up again, we did. We met up in a pub in Chippenham, and they very kindly let us use their function room to write the remaining material.”
Despite the album being conceived smack bang in the middle of that most tumultuous year, it’s not defined by its circumstances. “It’s really important to note that it’s not a lockdown album,” stresses Louis. “A lot of the music was written before we knew there was a big old pandemic ready to swing around the corner. We were lucky in a way as a lot of the music on the album we wouldn’t have been able to dwell on as much if it wasn’t for the time we had to take it idea by idea and track by track in a whole summer of not touring.”
The album ‘Bright Green Field’ contains 11 brand new recordings with no old singles or anything tacked on. It’s all freshly squeezed Squid. “Get it from your wanky coffee shop!” laughs Laurie. It’s indicative, though, of a band constantly driving forward. “There’s no drive from any of us to look back and regurgitate a style or revisit stuff,” says Louis. Propulsive ambition is at the heart of Squid’s music, and while it can be disorienting as it hops from one extreme of sound to the other, it comes from a place of innate creativity and a melting pot of influences from the five members. There’s a whole lot at work in the Squid sound, and you hear it all on ‘Bright Green Field’. “There’s never been a conscious decision to do something different,” Louis ponders. “Because we each listen to such a different variety of music and we love experimenting, then naturally the music that comes out is in that vein. That’s been a running theme since we started making music five years ago. What’s changed is it’s got a lot quicker and a bit more aggressive on the whole.” “We still make softer and slightly jazzier things as well,” chips in Laurie.
While Squid’s music is sonically shape-shifting and dynamic, the album’s primary influence is perhaps the state of the world and our response to the last half-decade of global upheaval. Rather than explicit political polemic Squid deal with the modern age in their own oblique way. “We’ve been through lots of different phases both as a group of friends but also as people living in this country we’ve been through many distinct phases in the last five years,” explains Louis. “Our music isn’t necessarily a reaction to what’s going on around us, but we definitely take observations from these shifting times and different times on an individual and personal level. We’ve all lived together and separately, and we’re now at that point where we’re in between that, and it all goes into it.”
You can hear the joyous coming of age tempered with just a slight ominous creeping anxiety on the album’s ecstatic and frantic funk rock pop punk, allsorts jams like the careering electro of ‘Paddling’ or ‘Narrator’s’ insane noise rock crescendo. The world may seem a terrible place, but Squid want to emphasise all the possibilities it can hold. “Coming to an age of understanding and coming to terms with things within that time frame is an interesting concept,” continues Louis. “There’s massive social and political change taking place in this country and changes with our environment as well. As you become older and gain an understanding of what’s happening, your relationship to it changes as quickly as on a weekly basis as you take steps to familiarise yourself with what’s going on and respond in the best way you can. It’s shifting at a different micro and macro level.”
These are big themes, but at their core, it’s the relationship between the five friends that form their bond and hold their principles. “We don’t talk about issues explicitly in the music or the lyrics, but we definitely talk about them with each other as a group of friends. Subconsciously that dictates the piece of music we make at the time,” says Laurie. “I’d like to think the music is reflective of the times around us on some level.”
So what was the vision for the album then? “The thing we were always aware of was if you are writing music at whatever level you’re at, there was always going to be the question of is it cohesive and is there cohesion between the music?” says Laurie. “Some songs we write come out really quickly, and on some, we’re still working on them. We put the structure in place when we’re recording, and we’re still thinking of how we can improve these when we play them live. We wanted it to feel like nothing was tacked on. It was really important to have a piece of music that serves a purpose and becomes part of a system. We focused on that quite a lot. That contributed a bit to the length. Some songs are long because you don’t really want to stop a good thing.”
Another thing that took a long time was finding the right album title before they settled on the evocative ‘Bright Green Field”. “It always seems to be titles that we spend most time on,” laments Louis with a chuckle. “It came from a reference in a book we were all interested in. It ironically denotes this godforsaken island we find ourselves on and a pastoral self-awareness and self memory. The record and title feel hopeful.”
“We had a list of about 50 titles,” adds Laurie. “At one point, the album was called ‘On Demand’. We were talking about this theme of the uncanny valley where you have this sense of a field in England that denotes something positive in childhood memories, but there’s a brightness to it which makes it seem slightly strange. That fit the mood of the pandemic and a lot of things that happen today that you can’t explain why, like the rise of the far-right. Things that you’re slightly confused about.”
“We’ve adopted a willingness to roll with an idea that feels funny”Laurie Nankivell
Some of Squid’s sonic explorations can be head mangling journeys, but the band deny that they get their kicks out of messing with your head. “I don’t think it’s as conscious to be thrilled at putting someone in a certain environment musically and dumping them in another,” responds Louis. I’d say we don’t have any interest in writing music to make people feel inherently situated in one zone. It’s not a case of we shouldn’t do this because it’s too obvious, more that we write music in a way that once an idea has been established, we have an impulsive tendency to test each other to see how much we can drive it away. It’s an innate tendency to want to explore as much as possibly. It happens instinctively.”
One thing that undoubtedly runs through all Squid’s music is how riotously fun it is. There’s a playful quality to their songs that make them wickedly subversive. It’s something the band revels in. “We want people to have fun. We want to have fun playing and hope that translates to the people listening,” proclaims Laurie. “We’ve adopted a willingness to roll with an idea that feels funny and clunky as opposed to something that feels quite refined. We have a lot of fun and spend a lot of time in the studio being quite stupid,” laughs Louis. “You don’t want to spend a whole afternoon discussing things in a serious manner. Sometimes those jokes come along with us into the music.”
Some of that playful nature was aided and abetted by their producer and confidante Dan Carey, who is known for playing about with lasers, lights and just, well, being a bit of a ‘character’. “Dan has a playful persona and has been such a good companion to have and really complements our sound. We have a relationship as a friend with him now, so we can be really open about the music, and that’s resulted in us using some really cool recording techniques,” says Laurie.
The process of forming the album while working with Dan Carey came concurrently for signing with esteemed label Warp Records, something the band are very excited about. “Although Warp is seen predominantly as an electronic music label, it’s more an experimental music label in a broader sense,” says Laurie. “That’s what drew us to them. We wanted a home where we could experiment, to our hearts’ desires.”
The release of Squid’s debut album feels like a real moment for the band. The moment where they look out on the vista of a vast mountain range and feel that anything is possible. For Squid, though, it’s never straight forward. “We’ve been quite plaintive with our melody writing,” says Louis for what they’re up to now. “We’ve been enjoying sparsity. Maybe that’s just for now, and we’re going to be even more raucous than before.”
Laurie, though, has different plans: “You say that, but I’ve just been writing a piece of music for a tuba, two french horns, two violins and a double bass,” he laughs. Typical Squid. Keeping you guessing every step of the way as they continue down their own singularly bonkers brilliant path.
Taken from the May 2021 edition of Dork, out now. Squid’s album ‘Bright Green Field’ is out 7th May.