I’m late to listen in to The Shamed’s band practice – it’s dark, chilly and as I come into the small practice studios Lee Smith, front man and axe wielding giant welcomes me whilst pondering the purchase of beers.
After perfunctory introductions the band settle into sound checks before working through songs from their live set – the music is the purpose – it’s the aim so that’s what they do. Despite the self-effacing apologies for the quality of the sound and even in the crusty atmosphere of the ramshackle hired rehearsal room the music is alive, it speaks to something in me at least I’m fairly certain I’d forgotten on a conscious level – the beat, the bass, the riffs, the loudness brings me back to an energy I’ve missed .
The Shamed are a tight unit – Lee has had a link with Leighton Griffiths from the beginning of his life – their mums went to school together and they would become friends themselves in playschool. Lee befriended guitarist Rob Jones in first school and the pair went on to meet drummer Richard Baker in secondary school. Despite being in and out of each other’s lives since school The Shamed is a recent confection – assembled last year by Lee on the demise of his former band Fixed Bayonets (“It wasn’t a direction I wanted to go in,” elaborates Lee), the initial line up was Lee, Rob and a guy called Kev – who was a short lived involvement. Then Lee decided Leighton, who had set aside his musical ambitions some time before, was due a return and handed him an old bass and pulled him into The Shamed.
“I remembered Richard walking around with drumsticks in Denbigh School,” continued Lee as we sit on the scratchy, industrial carpeting of the rehearsal room. “I asked him to be part of it and he said yes.”
Initially setting themselves up mid 2015 with plans to rehearse and write until they felt ready to start gigging in March 2016, the chemistry and energy meant that they threw themselves into live performances at the end of 2015. Proving themselves quickly a mainstay of the Milton Keynes scene, which they support with a fanatic fervor attending other band’s gigs, has started to prove somewhat problematic.
“Gigging is cutting into writing time,” says Rob.
Lee agrees: “Some of songs we’re getting out there but we’ve not learned them yet. We want to catch up with ourselves.”
But this baptism of fire and lack of rehearsal and writing time has force the band into their own creative niche.
“When we do the songs live they evolve into something else,” muses Richard.
Lee adds: “I don’t give as good a vocal performance on demos. You get live and cut loose a bit more – you’re vibing on the energy from the audience so you give it more when you’re smashing it out live – you can’t recreate that in a studio.”
Outside of music all four work full time to put food on the table – Lee works as a behavior mentor working with troubled teenagers, Rob has a business buying and selling returns on an auction site, Richard works in banking and further moonlights with his drum kit in a blues band, Leighton is a bricklayer.
But real life doesn’t limit their ambition – there’s a promo video in the works, t-shirts are selling out, the music is already available on SoundCloud and their loyal following is already littering YouTube with live videos. Gigs are scheduled in months ahead, festival appearances have been booked and their band are setting their sight on reaching outside of MK – hopeful of playing iconic venues such as the Camden Electric Ballroom – more details on Facebook.
“Where does the energy come from?” I ask them as Richard sips on a flask of coffee and Lee bemoans the ongoing lack of beers.
“It’s hard,” says Richard, “We all have families. But it’s also like we’re almost regressing to our school days. We’ve got a lot of energy there. Our motivation is just to go and rock it.”
Lee adds: “We’ve all got a passion for music. Life would be pretty shit if there wasn’t music. It’s the one thing that everyone has. Song writing is a cathartic thing – there is stuff in there that means something to me. I won’t tell these guys what it means – writing is part of working out everything. I like to tell a story – I won’t tell people what it means but they bring their own meaning to it.”
This is embodied in the band’s song One Life which, although not specifically written for the purpose, commemorates their schoolfriend Ben Watt, who took his own life.
“It automatically became a song about him,” says Lee.
The Shamed are particularly fervent about their connection to their audience – who they are devoted to. Lee explains: “We live in a ‘swipe through’ culture which means it’s easy to dismiss things as disposable – so connection is important. You can give it your all as long as you can connect with someone. If we connect with just one person its worth it.”
He adds: “To create something from nothing is a special thing. People ask for demos and we’re happy to share them. People will have that on their iPods and are playing our songs on their holiday – listening to our songs around the world.”
The Shamed, as school peers, are all now 36 – I ask what has changed from being teenage rockstar wannabes?
Lee ponders and says: “I’ve gained more self belief. I used to turn away from the audience. Now you know you’re bringing confidence to the table. You know you’re bringing something to the table. We know now the important thing is to put on a show. I’ll go on a drum riser and do a scissor kick now.”
According to Richard confidence isn’t the only advantage of 36 over 16: “The band has missed that first stage of a band – we’ve already got mutual respect and we’ve been coming in and out of each other’s lives. There’s no awkwardness.”
Rob nods sagely and adds: “I’ve been in bands where they won’t even talk to each other.”
Lee, always the man with the bottom line summary states: “We’re all bringing 25 per cent each…I know what these guys can do and that they have got it. I know if I have fucked up Rob will step in and look after me. Rich will just keep the beat going…It’s about having that belief in each other.”
The band draws on a rich pool of influences. Although all have been through phases of drum and bass, garage, rap and dubstep their main influences have been drawn from music of their defining memories –Lee being the only kid in nursery with a leather jacket emblazoned with The Clash, he and Leighton rifling through parents’ Frank Zappa LPs, Rich revisiting his parent’s legacy of disco, and Rob drawing from Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.
As diverse as their thoughts on music history are they all reached a watershed point with the seminal grunge band Nirvana. Lee first got a guitar having heard the riff from Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing – but once he was unable to master it instantaneously he got bored and the guitar got put away. He adds: “Then I heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – I got the guitar down from the loft and never looked back.”
Rob chips in: “I’d played keyboard from being 4 to 12 and then I heard Nirvana and picked up playing guitar.” Rich then fondly recalls how the school hall rang out with Nirvana covers. To hear them talk and share their favourites like I’m not there gives the feel that they’re talking about the importance of the best bands of the 20th century whilst sat on the desks at the back of a classroom – it’s clear their sound comes from a deep well of memory, a rich combined remembrance they share, as much as from the artists they idolized.
When it comes down to brass tacks, this four piece isn’t about a teenage wet dream of rock stardom, they pull something from the fresh, beating heart of their lived experience. It is something real, which is all soul and no compromise. Their hope, their will is driving them forward. They make music that connects them to each other and it’s this soul of The Shamed that connects them to their audiences.
Lee concludes: “Whether we’re getting pissed, having a few beers or going to see another band we’re spending time together – there’s no egos – we just want people to enjoy what we do #fuckthebullshit.”