LOUDER WITH: Saint Agnes
Ahead of the release of their mini-album 'Vampire', we had a chat with Kitty A Austin (vocals/guitar) and Jon James Tufnell (guitar/vocals) of Saint Agnes. We discussed the inspiration of the album, the messages behind the tracks, and what it was like creating music during quarantine.
First off, can you tell us about 'Vampire', the premise behind it, and how it came to be?
Jon: Every release we do is a snapshot in time, a capture of who we are as a band and as artists in that situation. We didn’t want to sit around and wait for things to go back to normal before releasing more music, we wanted to make music and to do that we embraced the weird situation that lockdown presented. Rather than writing in rehearsals or on tour and trying songs out in front of an audience we had to write at home and send riffs back and forth by e-mail and the first time we played the songs together was in the studio, looking through sound proof glass at each other. We were fascinated when we started the process to see what we’d create as a result and we’re really proud of the record, we made something that’d never have existed had we not thrown ourselves into the challenge.
Kitty: We are primarily a live band and that big show energy is our life-blood, so musically we wanted to create something that we knew would work well onstage. Lyrically we built on what we have done before, create a larger than life universe for the songs to exist in and then tell personal stories or express personal feelings with these overblown dramatic stories.
As a mini-album, 'Vampire' experiments with different sounds. The single 'Vampire' has elements of 80s synth pop for example, so who/what have been the main musical influences for this album in particular?
Jon: I can assure you there’s no synths on the song! Everything we do is just guitar, bass and the same tools we have used on every release. What people are hearing as synths is just a lot of distortion!
Kitty had a lyrical idea about social media, how it makes blood sucking monsters of us all. How the last year has seen people needing to live increasingly online and view the world through the filter of social media. Social media is essentially about exploiting two things, insecurity and narcissism. It encourages people to curate themselves like a personal brand and this is both a trap for the creator and with the idealistic images it creates, it is a gut punch to people seeing it and feeling insecure. Baby’s birthdays, family bereavements, marriage proposals are all used to gain some meaningless online kudos and by doing that it sucks the life, the meaning out of all those events.
Kitty: The lyric is about the ugliness hidden beneath the seductive, brighter than life charm of it all. We envisaged the undead, a vampire just taking and taking for eternity. And musically rather than make really ugly music we thought it’d be more subversive, more poignant to create something that had a superficial sheen, that had the equivalent of an audio instagram filter on it to gain entry to the party and then start wrecking the place. It felt more trouble making and rebellious to do that and we are nothing if not hell bent on being a spanner in the works!
The lockdowns have really affected your creative work, such as The Quarantine Diaries. How have they shaped the mini-album and how you approached making it?
Jon: We were still in touring mode when lockdown hit. All our plans ruined and all our energy with nowhere to go. We weren’t quite ready to create our own music, but we had to do something. Live shows are all about the moment. You can plan and rehearse, but it is about the do or die moment and we love that. So we decided to learn, rearrange, record and make a video for a cover song in a day, just to create some of that musical instinctiveness you get from playing live. We did one a week and ended up making an EP to share them with the world.
Kitty: The process helped focus our minds on how we’d make writing and recording work in lockdown and by the time we finished the last of the covers we had a hundred ideas of our own we wanted to explore.
Without giving too much away can you explain the ‘psalms’ that are featured in the CD and vinyl copies of the album?
Jon: We love to put little easter eggs into the music on each release, in fact there’s one on our debut album Welcome To Silvertown that links up to a song on Vampire. As well as creating spontaneously we do have an over-arching vision and this allows us to do these things. So for this release we wanted to create something extra that would flesh out the universe the main songs exist in specifically for people listening on CD or vinyl. In the age of streaming we know that choosing to listen to a physical record tends to be a more deliberate and immersive experience and we wanted to exploit that, take the opportunity to add some extra colours to the picture.
Kitty: Each Psalm has a very different inspiration and all come from ideas that were formed alongside the main songs. So we took those ideas and filtered them through a different process to the main songs. What happens to this lyric if we frame it like it is the tagline of a 60s horror b movie? Or, if this undead creature was not a Vampire but an artificial intelligence, would it be tragic to be alone and unable to die?
What’s one take away you want people to get from listening to the album?
Jon: I believe music is totally in the hands of the listener. Whatever they take away is so personal and has equal value to someone else's totally different feelings. As long as we are eliciting an emotional response I am happy.
You’re a band that is very interactive with their fans, why is this so important to you?
Jon: Without an audience there is no show. And one of the reasons we started this band was we felt it needed to exist, there wasn’t anyone doing quite what we do and created the band we wished existed. To find other people who are happy it does means we have something in common and in a world of divisions that is a wonderful thing.
Kitty: I think both of us have always felt like outsiders, like we didn’t quite fit. So I think it’s natural to want to find your people, to always be searching for connection.
Is there a stand out fan experience?
Jon: We had a show that never happened. It was scheduled just for when lockdown hit, but it had sold out in 10 minutes! After so much touring and hard work to know we’d built an audience that were that hungry to see us is amazing and the fact the show never happened is so tantalising. When gigs are back on and we get to do this for real it is going to be chaos. We cannot wait.
As a band that loves live shows so much, when everything goes back to ‘normal’ what’s one event you’d love to perform at?
Jon: All of them.
Kitty: Invite us and we will come.
'Vampire' is out now - order your physical copy of the record here:
Check out the video for single 'Vampire' below:
Saint Agnes have announced a 2021 UK tour. Catch them live at the dates below - tickets for which are available here: