Words by Jonathan Stout
As the pandemic drags on and band members are forced to spend increased time away, home recording scenarios are becoming more common. In many cases, it’s the only way for artists to continue to collaborate safely.
Glasgow’s Nightshift took the act of creating remotely one step further with the recording of their newest album, Zöe. Not only did the band write and record the album from afar, but many of the members had never even met in real life before beginning its composition.
A super band of sorts (featuring past and present members of Spinning Coin, Robert Sotelo, 2-Ply and I’m Being Good) Nightshift play angular yet flowing compositions, built around a foundation of undulating loops. The result can be chill and hypnotic while also brooding and ominous. Although the band was originally formed with a goal of replicating the No Wave sounds of This Heat and early Sonic Youth, they instead land slightly closer to the Raincoats or ESG, with a contemporary post punk pulse. Lyrically, Zöe tackles some pretty heady subject matter, including philosophy, feminism and the failings of capitalism. Amazingly, even when dealing with serious subject matter, Nightshift’s music still comes off as positive and even uplifting.
Off Shelf: Many of your songs blend aspects of post punk and no wave, two genres that can often be cold natured in tone and/or cynical in lyrical content. However, your newest album, Zöe, focuses on many positive subjects, like friendship, resistance and possibility. With the global events of 2020 hanging over us all like an ominous gray cloud, what inspires you to still explore positive subjects in a time when many others find themselves wallowing in a depressed fog?
Andrew Doig: Personally, I love life and I love music and people so it comes easily. I realize how lucky that makes me.
Georgia Harris: There’s only so much misery one can take before wanting to rebel against it!
OS: You have said that you used a system of restraints when recording your newest album, similar to Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. For readers unfamiliar with this method, it’s a card-based system, featuring assorted challenges made to inspire and push musicians past creative barriers. Do you mind giving a couple examples of some of the challenges you all created for yourselves?
GH: I can’t remember if there were restraints apart from doing everything remotely, although starting with mainly loops was another unusual thing. I’ve only now read Eno’s prompt cards–they’re brilliant, thanks for bringing them to my attention! “A line has two sides” is going to preoccupy and puzzle me musically and mathematically for a while.
The challenge I enjoyed most was just picking out one of the songs we were sharing, in whatever state of development it was in, and seeing what or even if I could add to it. The best part was always hearing what others would do next though! I’m sure it would have unfolded differently if we were all in a room together, so this was an interesting and surprising process to try.
Eothen Stearn: The restraints were made mainly from the loop being the skeleton. Personally restraint wise, I would give myself time windows or riff with lyrics for a set amount of time. I think you just hand them over to one another anyways and that is a strange process. I had no clue what it’s going to sound like! It felt a bit like getting a camera film developed or looking at a ceramic glaze for the first time out of the kiln. We all seem to work so differently also. Georgia is super creative with fitting in her clarinet bits also, this kind of cosmic echo around other lyrics mirroring the melodies and stuff. Good at making it glue and flow. The clarinet added to the free, expansive feeling. Dave also has a bag of tricks of guitar paraphernalia which are often found objects! So it’s always quite alchemical! I’m not mentioning Doig and Chris here but they are the driving forces and are super creative and committed. It also takes a lot to hand over one loop, and not add anything for that song! Act of generosity.
OS: You created this album by sending audio files back and forth to one another from afar. At what point did it become clear that in order to continue with the band you’d have to try this method?
AD: A few weeks into lockdown it seemed like trying out this remote approach might be fun and something to do, there were no expectations other than trying to keep sane.
GH: I had only had two jams with some of the Nightshift crew so rather than ‘continuing’ with the band I was joining under the weirdest circumstances! The second one was Friday March 13th, which felt appropriately spooky as the magnitude of the approaching crisis finally started to sink in. So, having not even met Dave before we were locked down, I was pleasantly surprised to get involved in the musical swapping from home that resulted in the album. It was amazing to still be able to make something together!
OS: This method of recording is certainly a change, brought on by the pandemic. How have you been adapting otherwise?
AD: My day job has been challenging to adapt to for me at times, but I am utterly privileged in every sense so can’t say anything other than boredom has been annoying at times.
GH: There were some big personal changes, but I’m used to how things are now. In a way that worries me. I wonder if I’ll forget or not relate to who I was before? Anyways, I guess that’s life; we’re constantly moving forward, like it or not!
OS: Your press release mentions Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman – an examination on that philosophical notion – as an influence on the songwriting of Zoë. What aspects did you draw from when writing the album?
ES: We called the album Zoë as Braidotti refers to Zoë referring to a ‘lifedrive’. A striving forward despite odds. In her book, The Posthuman, Braidotti is building the term ‘Zoë’ on philosopher, Baruch Spinoza’s term ‘conatus’. The word conatus also appears in my lyrics. Nightshift felt ‘conatus’ was too pretentious to call an album so we chose Zoë instead. I’m also basically a fangrrrl of Braidotti so it’s a kind of homage!
In her own words, talking about the concept ‘Zoë’, Rosi Braidotti said, “Zoë as the dynamic self-organizing structure of life itself stands for generative vitality. It is a transversal force that cuts across and reconnects previously segregated species, categories and domains.” But Zoë is very complex and many things, just like a person. It felt relevant to the entangled mess we were processing daily.
I channeled Braidottis’ concept of ‘Zoe’ to be a kind of a character to speak holistically about intersectional means. I also like the queerness in her approach, staying fluid but present, in between entities.
The pandemic gave me a deeper despair about current failing structures of late-capitalism. This empty doom feeling paired with a pure appreciation of the natural world. These kinds of ideas can be found in her book. I love her approach of weaving political social histories and how she deals with entangled matters. For me, she effortlessly speaks about feminist theory, gender, ethics and the natural world. Moreover, the intersection with social and political theory, cultural politics, gender, feminist theory and ethnicity studies. Her recent work around necropolitics and ‘Biopower’ also really resonates with pandemic, alongside social and climate justice.
What you read enters your subconscious. A relationship between author and reader. The generosity and power of such writing transcends. I read this book several years ago, and follow her later writing attentively but sometimes it takes a moment of digestion for things that have inspired you to reappear, a kind of hopscotching through time. Books accompany a person in a life, surfacing at times that relate to when read. Not so dissimilar to discovering an album! They make up part of your fabric, reality, journey.
For me Braidotti is a kind of a mystic but maybe that is what philosophy is no?
OS: Why did you decide to work with Rob Alexander for your video of “Powercut”?
GH: Rob is a good friend and one of the most inventive and inquisitive people I know. I really value his unique perspective on things and knew it would be a fun and collaborative process to make a video together. He’s always been a legend in the DIY music scene in Glasgow too–putting on gigs, playing in bands and running the Winning Sperm Party label, along with Chris and others. I’d venture to guess Rob has documented thousands of hours of gigs with his sneaky GoPro. You know that one friend–the one who’s always filming when you’re acting daft or there’s some antics? That’s him! Even with the limited time and filming opportunities we had, I noticed some incidental and observational footage of this sort made its way to the final cut. I thought it was great!
OS: To an interested listener who’s never heard to your band, what song would you recommend to them? Why that song?
AD: I like “Merci David” from our first tape, it’s pretty crackers and epic in a way.
GH: “Flat Earther” from the first tape made me fall in love with Nightshift before I joined! Otherwise, I’d say the album Zöe is best digested as a whole, but “Piece Together” is the first track and first song we created remotely so it wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
OS: The pandemic has altered the normal release process for bands. Normally right after a release a band spends the next year touring to promote it. Do you think live shows will be in your future for 2021 or do you have other plans?
AD: I would cry if I thought playing live was impossible this year, but actually I do so I am crying, but in 2022 nothing will stop us, touch wood.
GH: I hate trying to plan for the future at the best of times, but especially now! I’m up for whatever 2021 has to offer as long as we’re all vaccinated and everyone gets to dance and be close and carefree again!