After initial notice of their talent was served by debut single That’s Where the Story Ends in March, North Liverpool ensemble SO SEXUAL became a notable fixture on the city’s live circuit.
Hunkered down in the rehearsal room/studio over the past few months, their recent radio silence can be explained by the imminent release of impressive first EP Transient Scenes. Released on 30th September through US label Bleeding Gold Records, the set splices the introspective gloom of post-punk with the fiercer end of synth pop, the sound of Seventeen Seconds era The Cure sharing studio space with pre-fame Human League and Depeche Mode after their mid 1980s immersion in Berlin club culture. Led off by the propulsive Dear Sweetheart and followed by the elegiac synth sweep of lead track Slow, along with the similarly strong A Place Unknown and People Talk So Sexual sound like the finished article only a little over 18 months since their inception.
“We were in The Swan and we’d had quite a few beers and we’d been playing around on the Jukebox,” vocalist/guitarist Pete explains of how the band formed, sat in venerable city centre alehouse, Dr. Duncan’s. “At the time me and Phil had been doing this two-piece rock n’ roll kinda thing, just guitar and drums. We were thinking at the time, the three of us have played in bands for years together but James hadn’t done anything for a while and we thought ‘Why don’t we go in and just start playing about?’” he explains. “We came up with this whole scenario of what it was gonna be and ‘this is gonna be the name and we’ll just go in and do it’, but I can’t remember why we came up with the name!”
Childhood friends James (synth) and Phil (drums) met Pete through associations with various Liverpool bands at the turn of the decade, while bassist Thom joined late last year. “We’ve all gone through phases of listening to different things; more than anything now I think we’re influenced by the music we grew up with,” Pete says of the group’s inspirations. “Your first initial introduction into music, you never really shake it off.”
“I’ve tried to be mindful in trying to keep things pop, not in today’s sense, but having that element 70s and 80s pop had that was very accessible and keeping things simple, really,” Pete explains. “I think, lyrically, it always focused on past relationships, or things that haven’t worked out and trying to make music that surrounds that, to capture it right,’ Phil states. “When we started it was quite poppy but as we’ve gone on it’s got slower and gloomier, but it’s still pop music.”
Similar to just-returned indie doyens Franz Ferdinand, So Sexual had a clear idea of the sound they wanted to achieve before they set about creating it. “We wanted reverbed, chorus-pedal guitars and we wanted it to be synth driven,” Phil explains. “The sound that was going on was what we spoke about that night in The Swan and then it just happened. It was the sound we imagined. “Especially because all the other bands we’ve been in were nothing like what we’re doing, so it was unknown territory for us,” James adds.
Underpinning all the tracks is James’ Microkorg synth, the expansive wash of the keys allowing the bass and guitar ample room to manoeuvre. “Before we had a bass player I was doing a lot of the baselines,” James says. “That’s how we filled it out. When Thom came over it meant I could do something else.”
Although the group have been a going concern for less than two years, the four musicians benefitted from being in groups with each other beforehand. “With the previous bands it’s fortunate ‘cos we know how we all work,” James nods. “When we first got together the first two or three practices we did we wrote three songs and that was the first demo. I guess if it didn’t work straight off we wouldn’t be doing it, but it did,” Phil states. “Generally, we go into a room, one of us will start playing, we’ll all join in, if one of us isn’t happy with the way it goes we just stop there and then start over,” Pete explains of the writing process. “We don’t feel like we should spend too long trying to make something work if it doesn’t have that immediate spark.”
The first cut to be pulled from the EP Slow, a mournful, supine piece propelled by Thom’s foregrounded bassline, comes backed with a striking animated video devised by Florida-based artist Jollan Aurelio. A monochrome vignette centred around an astronaut and his alien buddy escaping the clutches of space monsters, the artwork was created by Venezuelan illustrators Wawa Wiwa Design.
Recorded over a weekend in Crash Studios by producer Andy Fernihough, the band’s first physical release packs a resounding visual punch, lavishly presented as two clear vinyl 7” singles with Jackson Pollock-esque black and gold paint splatter all wrapped in a gatefold sleeve. A release practically die-stamped ‘Collector’s Item’, the handsome design is due to the largesse of Bleeding Gold Records, the boutique San Diego label which recently notched up over fifty releases since its 2009 launch.
The way the band’s relationship with the label began earlier this year was simplicity itself. “We recorded the tracks on a Friday, sent them over on a Sunday to [label boss] Roger and by the week after he’d agreed to release them as a single,” Phil explains.
“We just recorded them, sent them out and a couple of weeks later we got the records,” James states. “We were planning on sending lots of CDs out to labels or maybe a do self-release. That was literally the only person we sent it to,’ Phil notes. “I didn’t even know about it; I didn’t know Phil had sent it off until he turned up the next week in practice and said ‘We’re releasing this!’,” Pete recalls, laughing.
And such is the simplicity and modest aspiration of So Sexual, a group who maybe don’t quite yet know how good they could be.
Transient Scenes is out now Bleeding Gold Records