Kitty A Austen and Jon James Tufnell take us inside of their brand new mini-album 'Vampire'
Saint Agnes have just released 'Vampire', a brand new mini-album, via Death Or Glory Records.
A result of a year of forced chaos, the record is the purest strain of the band's dark, debaucherous and decadent sound. Created in the heart of lockdown, where they were allowed the time and space to hone in on every single detail, it's a snapshot of a unique period in time and jumping-off point for the next chapter of the band. More confident, more considered and more calloused than ever before, this is only the beginning.
We sat down with vocalist Kitty A Austen and guitarist Jon James Tufnell to find out how they set about expanding their universe in the most unprecedented of times...
What was your vision for 2020 and Saint Agnes before everything had to change so radically?
Kitty: "We didn’t have recording plans at all, to be honest. It was just touring with the vague notion of maybe doing a single."
Jon: “We had done a lot of touring already throughout 2019, and we also released the ‘The Family Strange’ EP right at the beginning of 2020, so we're quite fresh off the back of a release. We had toured with Monster Magnet. We had done a show with h09909. We were in live mode. I think that whilst we were out with Monster Magnet, we felt like, ‘This is where we belong’. That tour was big enough to accommodate what we wanted to do.”
Kitty: “And we were doing it in front of big audiences every single night. It was the first time that we could do the same show every night if you know what I mean? When you’re playing in little venues, the sound is different every night, and you don’t know who will turn up. But when you’re on tour with a bigger band, it was the same show, and we could hone in on our performance.”
Jon: “It’s the difference between being handed a different guitar every time that you play and playing your own. There’s a real charm in the challenge that comes with playing in venues where you have to adapt to the stage, and we have learned how to throw ourselves into every situation because of it. But with Monster Magnet, we got to refine what we were doing. So we were looking forward to taking that lean and mean beast they felt that we had become and pushing it even further.”
Kitty: “We were physically fit then as well, which we aren’t now!”
Considering that you only released ‘The Family Strange’ over a year ago, it feels almost incomparable to where you are right now. Even with the speed that you have made it. That’s how much this period has affected you…
Jon: “As a band, our whole passion is playing live. We love to create but playing live is the main reason we do it. When we write, we’re often thinking about what could be a great opener or a cool thing to have in our set. When it came to recording and creating ‘Vampire’, it came out of the nervous energy and mental stress that came with everybody being so unsure about what was happening in the world. We weren’t ready to write, but we craved the pressure that comes with having to do something musical.
“Kitty came up with the idea of recording a cover song, but to me, it felt like such a huge task. But we set ourselves the challenge of choosing a song, recording it, making a video and putting it out to give us the gig-like feeling of pressure where you have to make something happen. We did that, and that helped to fuel the fire. So once we had done five or six of those, we felt ready to do some fully of our own.”
Kitty: “That’s why we wanted to put some of the covers at the end of the mini-album. We wanted them to serve as an ode to what got us here, where we felt comfortable making the rest of it.”
Jon: “Yeah, they felt like part of the story. And because of that, we just seemed to write the rest of our stuff so much quicker. Because of that, it has become a snapshot in time.”
Though additionally, it feels like the characters that you portray within the Saint Agnes world have developed just as much as the music. How did you go about building that side of things up throughout this period?
Kitty: “Jon and I always say that we have a secret language because we have been talking about this band relentlessly for the past seven years. It’s all we do. So the way that we write music has always been very visual and within that world. When we write things, we ask ourselves, ‘Does this fit in our world? Does it fit in with the characters in our world?’ We’re strict about what Saint Agnes is in that respect. I think that with everything that we do, be that music or a video, we are getting closer to what Saint Agnes is.”
Jon: “We’re always refining it. We sometimes find it very hard to communicate what that world is to others because me and Kitty have pretty much had this endless conversation about it…”
Kitty: “…We try and get people up to speed on it. That isn't easy. We don’t have a producer, and we make our videos and stuff because we are control freaks over that world and that conversation. But in the future, it would be interesting to work with someone else. We have to find ways to show them what this is.”
Jon: “The thing is that we now have the confidence in who we are and what we do that we could take someone else’s ideas on board and feel comfortable in saying, ‘No’ if they don’t suit us. I think up until this point, we would have felt a bit crushed by someone coming up with a good idea and us not knowing how to explain that it doesn’t fit. Now we have so much more of a grasp on who we are.”
The fact that you were locked down meant that you were forced to exist in that world you had created outside of the hours of recording and writing as well. You can’t escape what you were creating, which makes it all the more visceral…
Jon: “That’s the thing. This is a complete immersion for us 24/7. It’s not something that we turn up to, like work, and say, ‘What are we going to write?’ It’s very much on-going. Everything in our lives gets fed back into the band. If we’re feeling really angry about something in the news, we’re approaching it from the same emotional wavelength when we write some. The whole thing is very organic. In the same way, we wouldn’t be talking about these songs in this way if circumstance had been different to what it is. We made something out of where we were at the time.”
So how did the concept of what ‘Vampire’ is come about within all of this, and how did it develop?
Jon: “There’s that confidence that you gain from when you’re out on the road, and you turn up in a town feel like outlaws. You feel like you’re different to everybody else, and you embrace it. You feel bigger within this gang, and it feels empowering. Kitty and I find social situations quite difficult, and we can be quite shy about certain things, so feeling that empowerment, when you can, is important. When we went into lockdown, coupling that confidence we had with the fear of what was going on in the world made us decide that we would ride over everything by being bigger and larger than life in everything we do. We wanted to make something that felt so undeniably complete that there was no room for doubt.”
Kitty: “Even though it wasn’t planned, I do get how the album can feel like this complete thing and a complete chapter. Because we wrote so quickly, there must have been many things that were subconsciously going in there from us. It was all heading toward that one true focus.”
Jon: "It was the speed that we made this that has helped it feel the way it does."
Kitty: “I think it’s something that we will continue to do as we move forwards. I love how we just accepted that this is what Saint Agnes sounds like at this time in 2020. Now you have that, and we’re moving onto the next thing now. Being able to utilise the things that we have done in that thing is very important.”
Jon: “As well, with Kitty completely embodying the character that she is within this record comes down to that speed too. She just went in and sang like it was a gig rather than before spending so much time doubting herself and thinking, ‘Is this the best?’ She just went in and sang in whatever mood she was in and made it what it was. There’s a strength in that.”
It feels as though the biggest thing that has come out of this whole process is the development of the Saint Agnes attitude. How does it feel to compare where you are right now to where you were at the start of this process?
Jon: “I feel like what we have done is very much a continuation of ‘The Family Strange’, which still feels very fresh, but we have just gone deeper into ourselves because of the situation that we found ourselves in. It’s the result of that band who made ‘The Family Strange’ then being influenced by the stir-craziness of isolation. Had we not had that craziness, we would still have made a new record, but it might not have been so weird in places. We didn’t have anyone interrupting our trains of thought for weeks at a time. It almost felt like we were high all the time because of that. We were so deep inside of this world. So what are we going to do next? We’re going to take things even further.”
You can pick up a copy of 'Vampire' for yourself from right HERE