A couple of weeks ago we caught up with Saint Agnes backstage at the Cosmosis Festival of Psychedelia in Manchester, where they’d just finished a thunderous set under what to lesser mortals, could have been challenging circumstances.
We first came across a nascent Saint Agnes back in 2013 comprising Kitty Austen (of Lola Colt) and Jon Tufnell (Lost Souls Club) who had just released their début EP – ‘The Good Fight.’ After regaining our composure and replacing the socks Saint Agnes had blown clean off we went on to describe their sound as ‘frontier psych noir’ and ‘pure cinematic Ennio Morricone rock n’roll’ because, well, that’s how we talk in real life too.
Saint Agnes have since expanded their line up to become a four piece with the addition of Matt Devine on drums and Ben Chernett on bass and over the last year or so their spectacular live performances have been winning over hearts, minds and ears. We had a chat with them all about, amongst other things, how things were progressing as a four piece, the correct social etiquette when confronted by Russell Brand on a towpath, their new EP, and perhaps most shockingly, Ben’s unrelenting love of sausages.
VP: Given that you (Jon and Kitty) are in different bands, how did the idea for Saint Agnes get off the ground?
Kitty: Well I met Jon at a local gig, we got chatting, and we both had similar ideas about music so we began jamming. I’d been in Lola Colt for about a year, and although I write with them, it’s a collective and so is on a smaller scale and I really fancied getting more heavily involved in writing again.
Jon: Yeah initially, it was gonna be just an acoustic set up, so we could just busk it! with the idea of going on a busking holiday 😉
Kitty: Yeah we should definitely still do that, but the music we were writing didn’t really suit just two people. Then we started adding all these ridiculous dramatic key changes, big sounds, quite cinematic, which we knew wouldn’t come across very well with two people.
Jon: In my other band The Lost Souls Club I was kind of like the leader, I was writing everything and telling people what to do. I certainly didn’t fancy doing that this time around, so I said to Kitty “have you got a riff?” And the first riff she played was ‘The Tower Falls’, which sounded really bold and dramatic, a bit like an epic Cowboy theme. So that was it, the sound was there, and then we were like Ok so let’s add an Ennio Morricone mix section, and all these dramatic flourishes kind of worked their way in !
VP: How’s the transition gone from a two-piece to a four piece, and why did you decide to re-record the songs again ‘live’?
Jon: Yeah it’s been really good we’ve just released the ‘Live Under London EP’, which we recorded at the end of last year. We did it because when we first started out it was just me and Kitty and now having a full band we were playing the songs very differently live and people seemed to really like the live versions. We thought it’d be kind of cool to round up the first chapter of what we’ve done and take the four songs we’ve released so far and record them live in one take.
Kitty: Yeah kind of quick and rough and ready, a statement, this is who we are and what we’re about.
Matt: We are a different band when we play live there’s a real energy and rawness, and we just wanted to capture that. No messing about or tweaking, just go in play it and capture it.
Jon: And it was great to do all the handmade deluxe covers, to have a hand in the whole process every step of the way, writing the lyrics cards out, it’s something we’d always wanted to do, to take ownership and be involved in the whole process.
VP: And you’re building quite a name for yourself as a live band via word of mouth, rather than PR fluff.
Kitty: That’s good to hear, we just need to get out more and play to different people – get the word out. London can be quite strange; it can be the same people you play to, which of course can be great fun when they know all the words, but perhaps you can get a bit too comfortable.
Jon : Yeah London is a surprisingly small scene, I mean it’s very active, but at times you also feel you’re living in the epicentre of a creative community that’s trying to do wacky crazy new things every day. So you can over think stuff and think ‘f**k maybe we should do something a little weirder?’ Like when we played Manchester last time around, we were thinking, ‘are we psychedelic enough?‘ But by the end of the set there were guys with their shirts off jumping on stage, crowd surfing so we were happy.
VP: As we’ve mentioned you started off as a duo, and as the songs developed you expand to a four piece – how did Matt and Ben get involved?
Matt: I’d just moved to London, I’m originally from Birkenhead but had previously been in punk and hardcore bands in Brighton, which was cool but I was getting to the point where I felt there was only so much mileage in hitting the drums as hard or as fast as I can. I wasn’t in a band at the time and saw an ad on Gumtree, “drummer needed for western psychedelic band,” so that was it, I was bang on it. I grew up on 70’s rock and blues from my dad, and Kitty and Jon sent me a demo of ‘The Tower Falls’, which I thought was sick, and we had a jam and it just jelled.
Kitty: And we tried out a number of bass players, and at times it got a bit Spinal Tap. There were quite a few characters! Then we met Ben, who lived on a boat, so I wanted him to join so I could go on his boat!
Ben: Yeah I’d also just moved to London and was living in a boat on a canal and these guys popped their head through the window and said they needed a bass player.
Kitty: And we had a barbecue on the roof of Ben’s boat, discovered his extraordinary love of sausages, and the rest is history!
Jon: Actually when we were having a few drinks on the roof of Ben’s boat Russell Brand walked past and we were about to offer him a drink, but thought perhaps it wouldn’t be the polite thing to do, given he’s in recovery !
VP: And Ben probably wouldn’t have been best pleased sharing his sausages?
Kitty: He really does love sausages!
VP: So what have been your highlights so far?
Jon: I’d say headlining the Art Rocker New Blood festival, which was a big moment for us.
Kitty: Yeah, it was a really cold Wednesday in January so we weren’t really full of expectation in terms of a turnout but it was packed! And we were like -‘wow how did this happen!’
Jon: And when you see people singing the words you think, well we must be doing something right!
Matt: I think one of the proudest moments for me was listening back to the ‘Live Under London’ Ep. As I said before I come from quite a hardcore/Punk/D.I.Y. background, where it’s kind of like “here’s £150.00 go and record something quick” so to hear how we sounded as a four piece really gave me goose bumps.
VP: So what’s next for Saint Agnes, are you looking toward any more releases or working on album at the moment
Jon: It’s probably too soon for an album, we need to try and take things to the next level, but also we don’t want to rush an album out and not make the best of it if that makes sense. We’ve got about fifteen to twenty songs, which we think are really strong, so we’d hate to rush them out and not get people’s attention. We’d obviously like a deal to help us get an album out in the right way, and there are some mumblings and rumblings but we’ll have to wait and see what happens. We’ll probably put out a few more tracks, but at the moment we’re readying a couple of videos for Live Under London. We thought we’d do it ourselves rather than pay someone.
Kitty: Without a budget it can be tricky to get your ideas across and make them happen, so it’s quite hard to make one on a shoestring.
Jon: To be honest we’re not video makers and it’s never been an ambition to be actors, but we live in this weird world whereby we need to make videos to help promote our songs. Like I’m sure most actors rarely have to record a song to promote their latest movie.
Kitty: And every time we make a video, it’s always bloody freezing. But at least when we make our own at least we can have a laugh.
Matt: Yeah – tripod, beers, action.