Seeing Scarlet

Bill Cummings 07/12/2006

Seeing Scarlet may be a new name to many of you, but the London four-piece are about to burst onto your radar in the coming months with their two part download album "Mental Notes."

Seeing Scarlet's sound is best described as: anthemic, indie pop, with a dark underbelly, they're a modern rock band with classic influences, their songs contain personal lyrics with universal appeal. Their star has been on the rise over the past two years, last year they burst onto the live circuit leaving accolades in their wake (and winning Xfm's unsigned band competition on the way). By the end of it, even more superlatives for their debut single Ugly Girl/Never Good Enough. The double A side sold out rapidly and MTV2 playlisted the video.

The recently appeared upon the Music Tourist Board's compilation, and have been gaining great reception live, the Evening Standard's London Lite Newspaper saw them on stage last month and described them as “Fantastic Beyond Belief”.

GIITTV caught up with Seeing Scarlet's enigmatic front man Charlie Beall for a chat about their new album, their video's shoe string budget, and his band's unique vision of the world.

How did you all meet?

Tom and I met at Camden School for Girls sixth form. We then went on to university where we met Jim and started writing songs together. When we brought these songs down to London we met Stix and took it from there...

Your first single Ugly Girl / Never Good Enough got a great reception were you surprised?

Not surprised. But pleased, certainly.

What are your musical reference points?

The classics I guess - Bowie, The Police, Blur, Smashing Pumpkins, Stones, Beck, Depeche Mode. And then we have our individual guilty pleasures: I'm a huge Bob Marley fan and Tom has always been really into Pearl Jam. Jim's a Gorky's Zygotic Mynci fan while Stix has a special place in his heart for Kenickie I believe. I'm not sure it's fair for me to comment on their tastes though.

The first Seeing Scarlet track that caught my ears was "We Will All Be Aliens" what was that song about?

It's quite difficult to give you a straight answer because to answer what 'We will all be aliens' is about is almost to answer the question 'What is Seeing Scarlet' about.

Essentially it's all about leading a simulated life, where you're not really connected with the original reason for why you do the things you do and as such you're somehow disconnected from the world or alien. If you think about it, the average day of a lot of kids these days might involve getting up and playing a computer game, which usually involves beating the shit out of someone or bombing them, sending a load of their friends stupid pictures on their phones, then maybe watching a TV programme about people living together in a simulated commune or something. The actual things these relate to - war, communication and living in a commune, are pretty far removed from the life of this kid - for him it's just a day on the sofa or at on the keyboard. At some point you're going to forget the real-life things that these virtual-life things really relate to. And if that happens then you won't even know what they are for. That's what Aliens is about.

Where did you record the new album?

We recorded it in a number of places because our producer Jack Reynolds has a mobile recording unit. We started in an ex-crack den in Old Street, but that was too cold and too expensive, so we moved to a space above a pub in Watford. The whole enterprise, pub and studio, was run by a bunch of heavily stoned guys who also appeared to live there despite the lack of running water. Which partially explained the smell.

Unfortunately, the entire building was dismantled two weeks ago so they can extend a shopping centre. Alas, it is the first and certainly the last album to be recorded there.

The finishing touches were added at Dan Swift's (Snow Patrol, Aqualung) studio in London Bridge and with Phil Vinall (Placebo, Elastica, Auteurs) at Britannia Row studios.

Why did you decide to release your album as a two part download?

When we were recording the songs, the thing we noticed is that we were telling two stories: one had a distinctly dark edge with songs dealing with feelings of anger, frustration, fear and melancholy. And then another set which we call our redemption songs and these are the more uplifting and rousing pop-rock songs. The second set don't make as much sense unless you've been introduced to the first so it made sense to release them like this. Part 1 is like a gateway drug.

Do you see downloading music as the future?

It's the present, whether we like it or not. There are still some things to iron out about downloading before it works properly. Personally, the track quality is still an issue for me and also peoples' tendency to hoard thousands of MP3s and then channel surf across them without listening properly. But I think as the technology improves, it'll be really liberating.

What's behind the album's title Mental Notes?

We had just had a really long weekend in the studio and there were so many ideas floating around about what we needed to do to each song to get it perfect. Tom sent through an email to the band with all these reminders for percussion parts, keyboard ideas, vocal effects that we'd discussed. The subject of the email was 'Mental Notes'- I replied saying that's what we should call the album.

A lot of these songs are personal reminders about how we live life, like post-it notes. I liked the idea that your thoughts and emotions could be written on you like tattoos or scars, because we all wear our experiences on our bodies in one way or another. Hence, the body artwork on the sleeve cover.

There seems to be a vast pop potential to the Seeing Scarlet sound, whilst retaining an under current of craft and darkness, is this an intentional construct or just how the songs naturally emerge?

I think we're comfortable writing big pop-rock songs. It seems the right thing to do. What doesn't come so easily I guess, is writing comfortable lyrics to sit on top of those songs. That's where that darker edge comes in.

But there is no 'project' or 'intention' so to speak. Setting rules for yourself diminishes the mystery and quality of your work, I think. Our intention is to write about the questions thrown up by the world as we see it - questions that other people might not bother asking. The idea is we're like a camera, taking snapshots of the world as we see it - not a digital camera, where you can keep deleting if you don't like what's going on in the background till you get the perfect picture, but an old-style manual one, where you get what you've taken.

Linked to that you seem to be compared to the likes of the Killers, the Strokes and Interpol, do you think this is a reflection of the way you mix your influences with a modern rock edge?

If it's a reflection of anything, it's that we're unafraid of creating big songs, and playing them to the best of our ability. When we first started out we'd get compared to cult acts we'd never heard of, so if we remind someone of the Killers then that's a better fit for us now than reminding people of the Lefte Bank say or Cornelius.

Do you feel slightly apart from the whole music scene at present?

I wasn't aware there was a scene and if there is I'd certainly try and run away from it. Great bands always exist on the margins- it's the only place you can see the world properly and make decisions that are true. Our songs are about how we see the world, not vice versa. ?

Charlie in your live reviews alot is made of your stage presence, is stalking the stage something you practice at home with a hairbrush in front of the mirror?

It's something I do naturally without thinking. It's not something practiced or put on. I've always behaved that way on stage. Presence is not something you can practice really- you either have it or you don't. I'm just glad I have it.

Linked to that your lyrics seem quite personal, yet they have that universal feel, who writes the words, and how do you come up with them?

I was always amazed by how Morrissey could make his own feelings and problems seem like yours and everyone else's. I think, generally that focusing on the personal is sometimes the best way of understanding the collective. The devil is in the detail so to speak. So if you look closely at your own life, you'll find it says a lot to other people about theirs. Tom and I will generally start the lyrical ball rolling but there are no rules and we all know each other so well that we tend to make additions and amendments at every stage.

In terms of song writing how do the songs emerge, are they jams that are built into full songs, or are the lyrics there and worked upon?

Some are written, some are built. And there are no real rules about which ones work out best. Certainly, writing to a formula doesn't work for us.

How did you manage to stay within the "vast" fifty pound budget, for your new video?

Well we only spent about half that actually. It wasn't a particularly conscious choice, there just wasn't much to spend money on...I think the problem with a lot of videos is people start off with thinking about what they can spend money on, rather than with ideas. We had a good idea, and it didn't need loads of money - we got some identical white T-shirts, they came from Next I think and we didn't have much of an issue with ripping those up, and Tom a mammoth bottle of ketchup left over from a trip to Wales involving a lot of bacon butties. Other than that there was some leftover cornflour, because no-one really uses cornflour as far as I can tell, and a few roses. Jim got a special deal for a dozen.

Who came up with the face paint look for your new video? What's behind it?

When I wrote the treatment I just tried to think of loads of different ways in which a person could be manipulated on and around their face while still getting on with life. It all fits into the Mental Notes idea that you wear your experiences on your body like little reminders on post-it notes, but still you soldier on. And it looks pretty scary/perverted depending on your take on the matter.

What can people expect from Mental Notes 2?

Ah. Mental Notes 2. Well we're not quite sure what to expect ourselves at this stage as we still have some decisions to make about sequencing and exactly which tracks to put on, though they have all been recorded. What we can say, and what is quite exciting about it is that it will feel very different. It's interesting because the songs seemed to fall quite naturally into two groups even though they were mostly recorded at the same time. These part 2 songs are ones we've given more time to breathe in many ways, and with some of them we didn't really know how they'd end up sounding at the start of recording. I think some of them are more sophisticated, there are more layers to the sound, and they are less straightforward rock songs. It's showing that we can do a lot more, basically. There's one side of us that is tight live rock act and other that likes getting experimental in the studio and not being bogged down in thinking about how we'd do a song live until after we've recorded it. I remember a lot of late smoky nights working on the part 2 tracks, adding a bit of keyboard here or wierd backing vocals there. But make no mistake, there are some absolutely belting pop songs on it.

What are your plans for the future?

It's hard to say, as the future is an uncertain landscape. I can tell you one thing though: we're already working on at least five new tracks for a second album and plan to make three more videos in the coming months. Mental Notes 2 will break open the door that part 1 has unlocked and Seeing Scarlet will be a force for 2007 to reckon with. That's what I reckon at least.

Thank you for your time.

MENTAL NOTES (Part One) is available from iTunes/sussed online retailers, and on sale, with the video 'Something's Not Right' ( below) made between two World Cup matches one afternoon this summer for 24.91 (Ketchup 99p, 4 x t-shirts 11.96, roses 8.99, flour 49p, lightbulb 99p, Hair gel 1.49, eyeliner - models own) at their new website:

Mental Notes is completed with Part Two next year.