Death, Drama and Innocence – an Interview with Saint Agnes
Easily one of the best new live bands we here at Pure Rawk have caught this year, psychedelic garage rockers Saint Agnes make a gloriously atmospheric spaghetti western rock n roll, the perfect music for a peyote-fuelled trip into the desert. Luckily though, given our limited access to both peyote and deserts, they also sound pretty good playing in the slightly less glamorous confines of East London. We caught up with Jon Tufnell and Kitty Arabella to talk about saints, lost souls and Ennio Morricone…
Now Jon, a lot of our readers will know you from your previous bands that we’ve featured in the past, Plastic Toys and more recently Lost Souls Club. Can you tell us how you came to move on from there and start Saint Agnes?
Jon: I’m flattered to think anyone might remember me. Plastic Toys had died a good few years ago and The Lost Souls Club due to personnel reasons was going really, really slowly. Music started to feel like a burden rather than a release, and I craved doing something that felt spontaneous and free. Kitty was looking to start a project where she was singing and playing guitar, so the timing was perfect. We wrote the first song and recorded it in a day, not over thinking it at all and the sound just fell into place.
There are a lot of elements of Saint Agnes that were starting to appear in your songwriting and style in the latter days of The Lost Souls Club, would it be fair to say what you are doing with Saint Agnes is a progression of some of those ideas?
Jon: I just write what comes to me, and I suppose the timing meant there were similarities. The difference is in Kitty’s writing and influence plus the decision to not agonize over things. We don’t ever want to kill the excitement of the original idea. We were both a little tired of wrestling with the endless routes you could go down with one song, one chorus of a song even, so our self-imposed rule when writing together is to write quickly and move on.
The band’s sound is often described as spaghetti western, and likened to the film scores of people like David Lynch, or Ennio Morricone. As a British band, how do you come to be playing that kind of sound? Do you see any contradiction in being a British band playing music so heavily indebted to the American West?
Kitty: Absolutely not! After all, what constitutes ‘British’ music? We’re a beautiful hybrid of an island, diversity is the best thing about this country. So looking overseas for artistic influence is not only natural, but actually difficult to avoid. Why would anyone want to narrow their artistic scope?
Jon: We love exaggeration and moments of high drama in music, and nothing does it better than those Ennio Morricone soundtracks (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, Once Upon A Time in The West, and others). To take those kinds of ideas and throw them in with the fire found in good 3 chord blues just feels right to us. I think the UK/USA divide is irrelevant really these days. Anyone who grew up through the 1990s and 2000s was exposed to an international mixture of music, films and culture from both sides of the Atlantic, and I know I never even noticed what country things were from. It was either something that grabbed me or not.
The traditional question for a new band I suppose is to ask about musical influences, but given the filmic quality of your music, this somehow doesn’t seem quite the right question for you guys. So instead, what are your film influences?
Jon: Well that’s the thing, we like film. We like film score. But we’re by no means experts. I think it’s more we just ignore restraint and let ourselves be dramatic, and to us that is perfectly synonymous with Clint Eastwood staring at a man running through a desert graveyard with Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold playing in the background. I think our biggest influences are still musical, we just seem to write music that often is described as cinematic.
As well as Saint Agnes, Kitty is also a full time member of Lola Colt, who are also being given the same noir pop and spaghetti western tags in reviews at the moment. What would you say the key differences are between what Saint Agnes is doing and what Lola Colt are doing right now?
Kitty: I think it’s a case of very lazy journalism. The music in Lola Colt is very cinematic but in, in my mind, in a completely different way. It’s about dynamics, groove and textures of sound. It’s about how the sonic waves fit together and complement Gun’s vocal. It’s very, very different to the brash, bold and rock n roll nature of my writing with Saint Agnes.
We’ve just released the debut Lola Colt album Away from the Water, and we were actually discussing this the other day – the spaghetti western influence, that is so often attached to Lola Colt music, really doesn’t feature so much! I think in Lola Colt we make music now that is quite different from what any of us expected, and certainly strikingly different to Saint Agnes.
It must be hard juggling Saint Agnes and your commitments in the more established Lola Colt. How do you decide your priorities between the two?
Kitty: It’s not too bad actually! I have a rule, the first thing that gets booked in the calendar is the priority. I think that’s fair. The two bands are at quite different stages, it’s still early days for Saint Agnes, so clashes are not yet as common as you might think. Ask me again in a year!
I note that the Saint Agnes of your name, or Agnes of Rome as she is sometimes known, is a real saint, the patron saint of young girls in the Catholic church. Why choose that for your band name?
Jon: Saints, gods, sinners, heroes and villains are powerful ideas, and when you’re young before becoming jaded and apathetic, the world seems to be made out of these kinds of characters. As a martyr and the patron saint of young girls, Saint Agnes seemed like the perfect name for invoking images of death, drama and an innocent mind exploring these ideas.
Listen to Saint Agnes at https://soundcloud.com/saintagnes/
Catch Saint Agnes live at the following shows:
18th December – The Soup Kitchen – Manchester
19th December – Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar – Brighton
7th January – Artrocker New Blood Fest, Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen – London