Interview: A conversation with Saint Agnes at Nambucca in London

There are two sides to Saint Agnes. Questions are met with charm and grace, but the second footsteps are heard striding for the stage, the audience’s eyes are transfixed. Bony white fingers firmly grasp microphones, instruments poised at the ready; the stage is no more a stage than it is a wasteland in which one false move could set the room ablaze in a state of free-for-all.

At the back of the room, the muffled sound of an engineer can be heard prompting the band to start. What comes next is a barrage of blood soaked blues and rock and roll and lead singer Jon Tufnell’s harmonica shreds throughout “Merry Mother of God Go Round” like a swift sharp switchblade slashing through what was seconds ago a tense and chilling atmosphere.

Stylistically the band’s southern gothic demeanor fits comfortably on stage as it would in a roadhouse way out west. Jon and Kitty Arabella Austin’s chemistry is undeniably reminiscent of The Kills and The Dead Weather, and bassist Ben Chernett and drummer Andy Head compliment the band’s cinematic reach to potentially be the soundtrack to the next Cormac McCarthy’s on screen adaptation.

Tonight, at Nambucca in London, audiences witnessed their own adaption. As cameras are thrust in the band members faces, spines are twisted and lustful looks are given, Saint Agnes, the once patron saint of chastity, is now the seductress, enigmatic and captivating that would no sooner look at you with love than she would smile as the buzzards pick at your bones and you find yourself able to do nothing but smile back. Watch this band; watch this band now before it’s too late, before you have to sit up high beyond the gods and watch the Devils below do their dirty work.

Our conversation with the band is below.

Photo by Keira Cullinane. Top photo by Rob Blackham.

Saint Agnes Interview

 

How did you guys meet?

Jon: Kitty’s in another band called Lola Colt playing keys and percussion and I was in another band called The Lost Souls Club which was coming to an end and we did a gig together and Kitty and I met and we got talking about doing something together.

Our original idea was to go around traveling around the UK busking just for some adventure. We’d talk about it as a kind of mental safety net to escape the confines of the freezing cold flat Kitty had in Plaistow. We ended up writing a couple of songs and just demoed them at home and they became these raw, but epic cowboy rock songs. They were really not that playable as an acoustic 2-piece so we decided to keep an eye out for other musicians to work with.

I don’t even remember how we met Matt our first drummer, that period seems to be a little hazy! In the end though he had a particularly Spinal Tap accident, stepping on a wine glass when getting out the bath.

Kitty: It exploded into his foot.

Jon: We had a few dates coming up that Andy stepped in for because I knew Andy from my old band. The shows were great, with us just playing on the fly with no rehearsals. Matt wanted to take more time away from music so it all worked out just fine and Andy stayed.

Jon: (jokingly) Ben, I can’t even remember.

Ben: I just turned up one day.

Jon: Yeah, just turned up.

Kitty: That’s Ben, classic Ben.

Jon: We needed a bass player and Ben just forced himself upon us. Actually the truth is, Ben was living on a boat and we were walking along the canal on a hot day and Ben was sat on the back of his boat playing guitar. We got chatting and the next thing I know he’s in the band playing the craziest bass I’d ever heard.

Where does the influence for your music come from?

Kitty: I find that question so difficult because your whole life influences it.

Jon: What you’re making is informed by everything you’ve ever played, ever listened to and the mood you’re in at that time. If you have had a conversation that stuck in your mind in the morning it might influence a lyric you write on the train on the way home. It all plays its part. That’s what makes music so unique to individuals.

Our love of blues is based on the fact it is a simple musical formula, there’s very little variety in the notes and chords themselves, but there’s infinite variety in the approach, the attitude and the mood.  When Kitty and I wrote our first song, Old Bone Rattle, we took familiar blues patterns and just did our thing in our way, with images of a western dreamscape running through our minds as a form of escape. We’ve been doing the same ever since.

Kitty: I’m particular guilty of this in that I will obsess over a band for quite a few months and then I just want us to sound like that band, so like recently I’ve been listening to Iggy Pop and I come in and say ‘guys forget everything, this is the new direction, we suck, The Stooges make us look like amateurs’. So they have to stop me from doing that.

It’s really hard for me to say what inspires me because it changes all the time but I guess the blues thread has kind of run through everything because it is what I grew up listening to.

So blues accommodated what it was you wanted to begin with and then it developed from there? 

Jon: It’s a framework to hang an idea off, a starting point. Music for us is about expressing a mood or telling a story and doing that a quickly as possible so it stays fresh. That spontaneity is why there’s something really fiery and exciting about rock and roll and blues. Sometimes sitting down with a pen and working out time signature changes, harmonies and chords can result in something getting lost from the original idea. For us anyway. The faster we work the better the end result.

So with that in mind, is that the kind of mindset you have going into the studio, can you elaborate a bit more about the process?

Jon: The first stuff we released was recorded in Kitty’s flat with one mic, that’s what Old Bone Rattle was done. But then we became and actual band and Ben and Andy’s influence plays a big part in how we sound. Whereas on those early recording Kitty and I played everything we now have Ben and Andy who are great musicians bringing their own style to the band.

Kitty: So we went as a whole band into an actual studio and recorded live. We recorded minimal overdubs and it was an experiment to hear what we actually sound like, the four of us, with minimal thinking involved. This was over a year ago now and we’ve been playing together so much since I think it has grown again to feeling even more raw and alive.

Jon: And we’re all playing a little bit out of our comfort zone which is exciting. Kitty had played in Lola Colt for a couple of years doing keys and stuff and before that fronting bands but doing more acoustic and more melodic based things, I was always the frontman doing more Black Rebel kind of things, everything is kind of close but one stage further for all of us and I think that’s exciting. We’re all on a journey of discovery together.

Kitty: Putting the right feeling across, it really does take time; people are rushed and think ‘oh we’re a band we’ve got to do our first album’ but I’ve really liked having the time to play together, to hear what it is this particular four people sound like when they play together. I feel confident now that we know what that is and can now make our album and have something we’re proud of rather than just rushing through.

You state on your website the artwork comes from illustrator Laura New, what was it about her work that caught your eye and how is album artwork important to you?

Kitty: I think artwork is really really important, it’s the first thing people see before they even hear our music so it needs to be totally representative and related to the music. Laura’s amazing, how did we even meet Laura?

Jon: We met her at a gig, but the main thing is she just sent us a design for a t-shirt and just said ‘I’ve done you a t-shirt, you can use it for free’ and we said ‘cool, we’re just about to release a single, do you want to do the artwork for that?’ Luckily she agreed!

When working on the lyrics Kitty and I have a very strong visual in mind and its important to try and convey that, so people listening can have an extra clue to what our world is. When Kitty and I are writing it exists in a world, almost like a town we’ve created in our minds. We were amazed when we saw the Nick Cave film, 20,000 Days on Earth as he says something similar.

Kitty: It came out what, two years ago now and somehow we hadn’t seen until recently. He discusses his writing process and it was quite like a moment like oh fuck yeah that makes so much sense, the way he approaches songwriting and everything he’s saying, that’s what we’ve been doing, but never been able to describe it before.

The way we write songs is very visual; it’s story and character based. I always picture the characters I’m writing about and I think Jon, you’re the same aren’t you?

Jon: Yeah, each song has its own mini film created in our minds that gets fully realised when Kitty and I bring our separate ideas together.

How would you describe your live shows?

(Extremely loud noise behind can be heard in the background)

Andy: Like someone throwing an ice bucket.

Kitty: Like that, pretty much like that. Aggressively like an ice bucket.

(Laughs)

Jon: With live shows, there’s like an internal battle going on, it’s quite personal really. As a kid I was very shy, but would marvel at these incredible rock stars and artists totally embracing the moment. I lived so much in fear and self-reflection that I never embraced anything! So a live show for me is always about trying to throw off concerns, to be free, to be what I envied as a kid, to fully express myself with no filter. It feels like you’re truly alive and its in those moments you create the best music. However self doubt and all the usual human failings can get in the way, that’s why it is a battle with yourself. It might be why our performances can be so intense.

Kitty: It sounds so lame but to lose yourself is the goal of every gig. When you don’t do that it is like, oh fuck that was an opportunity in my life to do that thing that I love, to truly exist in a real, immediate, primal way and I didn’t do it. If it were easy though there’d be no reward, right?

Andy: My goal when we play live, to melt people’s faces. For me it’s about abandoning thought and sort of not really caring too much. Even though it’s cool people have come to watch, you still kind of feel you’ve got to be pleased first. If I’ve done the best job I can do, sweet, and then if someone comes up and says that was awesome that’s a cherry on the cake. There’s some gigs where it might be a complete shambles but as a whole thing, even if it’s not happening you’ve still got to look at each other and go ‘right guys, hearts on the sleeve’ and stars might not be aligned but it’s still a damn good feeling.

Jon: There’s something about being part of a team that is really fun, that’s why people love team sports or being part of like a gang of any sort, we’re a little gang and whatever problems get thrown at us, we did a couple of weeks ago where every single bit of gear on stage broke.

Kitty: Every bit of gear.

Jon: But we decided not to stop and just play stuff with what was working.

Kitty: I don’t know if that was the best decision.

(Laughs)

Jon: But it was amazing.

Andy: Might be shit, might be amazing, it’s fun to take that risk.

Jon: It’s a real moment, you don’t have to do these perfectly choreographed manicured musical performances, roll with the moment and see what happens.

Andy: Yeah, even if it might be three seconds, it’s worth it.

Lastly, What can we expect from Saint Agnes in the future?

Kitty: We’ve booked studio time so we’re definitely doing the album this year, when it’s coming out we’re not too sure yet but we are touring Europe for the first time in May which is exciting.

Jon: And we’ve got the 17th March show at Tooting Tram & Social. We did a Radio X live session for John Kennedy and he invited us to play his show. Our first time south of the river I think?

We’re pretty prolific writers and we want to spend the next month finishing off all the ideas we’ve amassed over the last 6 months so we can go into the studio and record as much as possible with some nice little extras for B-sides and all those cool things. We do take quite a lot of pride in our B-sides on the singles; I don’t think many people have heard them as they have been limited to the physical only releases. For Merry Mother of God Go Round we did a Nine Inch Nails cover and the one before that, Sister Electric was a great old blues gospel song called Get Back Satan

Kitty: Yeah you and me recorded it in my living room, just one mic, quite pissed and yeah we put that as the B-side.

Jack Lloyd
Jack Lloyd lives in London. He has written for websites such as Music Vita and The Metropolist and is currently hosting his own podcast Ramble on Records at www.soundcloud.com/rambleonrecords.

Interview: A conversation with Saint Agnes at Nambucca in London

There are two sides to Saint Agnes. Questions are met with charm and grace, but the second footsteps are heard striding for the stage, the audience’s eyes are transfixed. Bony white fingers firmly grasp microphones, instruments poised at the ready; the stage is no more a stage than it is a wasteland in which one false move could set the room ablaze in a state of free-for-all.

At the back of the room, the muffled sound of an engineer can be heard prompting the band to start. What comes next is a barrage of blood soaked blues and rock and roll and lead singer Jon Tufnell’s harmonica shreds throughout “Merry Mother of God Go Round” like a swift sharp switchblade slashing through what was seconds ago a tense and chilling atmosphere.

Stylistically the band’s southern gothic demeanor fits comfortably on stage as it would in a roadhouse way out west. Jon and Kitty Arabella Austin’s chemistry is undeniably reminiscent of The Kills and The Dead Weather, and bassist Ben Chernett and drummer Andy Head compliment the band’s cinematic reach to potentially be the soundtrack to the next Cormac McCarthy’s on screen adaptation.

Tonight, at Nambucca in London, audiences witnessed their own adaption. As cameras are thrust in the band members faces, spines are twisted and lustful looks are given, Saint Agnes, the once patron saint of chastity, is now the seductress, enigmatic and captivating that would no sooner look at you with love than she would smile as the buzzards pick at your bones and you find yourself able to do nothing but smile back. Watch this band; watch this band now before it’s too late, before you have to sit up high beyond the gods and watch the Devils below do their dirty work.

Our conversation with the band is below.

Photo by Keira Cullinane. Top photo by Rob Blackham.

Saint Agnes Interview

 

How did you guys meet?

Jon: Kitty’s in another band called Lola Colt playing keys and percussion and I was in another band called The Lost Souls Club which was coming to an end and we did a gig together and Kitty and I met and we got talking about doing something together.

Our original idea was to go around traveling around the UK busking just for some adventure. We’d talk about it as a kind of mental safety net to escape the confines of the freezing cold flat Kitty had in Plaistow. We ended up writing a couple of songs and just demoed them at home and they became these raw, but epic cowboy rock songs. They were really not that playable as an acoustic 2-piece so we decided to keep an eye out for other musicians to work with.

I don’t even remember how we met Matt our first drummer, that period seems to be a little hazy! In the end though he had a particularly Spinal Tap accident, stepping on a wine glass when getting out the bath.

Kitty: It exploded into his foot.

Jon: We had a few dates coming up that Andy stepped in for because I knew Andy from my old band. The shows were great, with us just playing on the fly with no rehearsals. Matt wanted to take more time away from music so it all worked out just fine and Andy stayed.

Jon: (jokingly) Ben, I can’t even remember.

Ben: I just turned up one day.

Jon: Yeah, just turned up.

Kitty: That’s Ben, classic Ben.

Jon: We needed a bass player and Ben just forced himself upon us. Actually the truth is, Ben was living on a boat and we were walking along the canal on a hot day and Ben was sat on the back of his boat playing guitar. We got chatting and the next thing I know he’s in the band playing the craziest bass I’d ever heard.

Where does the influence for your music come from?

Kitty: I find that question so difficult because your whole life influences it.

Jon: What you’re making is informed by everything you’ve ever played, ever listened to and the mood you’re in at that time. If you have had a conversation that stuck in your mind in the morning it might influence a lyric you write on the train on the way home. It all plays its part. That’s what makes music so unique to individuals.

Our love of blues is based on the fact it is a simple musical formula, there’s very little variety in the notes and chords themselves, but there’s infinite variety in the approach, the attitude and the mood.  When Kitty and I wrote our first song, Old Bone Rattle, we took familiar blues patterns and just did our thing in our way, with images of a western dreamscape running through our minds as a form of escape. We’ve been doing the same ever since.

Kitty: I’m particular guilty of this in that I will obsess over a band for quite a few months and then I just want us to sound like that band, so like recently I’ve been listening to Iggy Pop and I come in and say ‘guys forget everything, this is the new direction, we suck, The Stooges make us look like amateurs’. So they have to stop me from doing that.

It’s really hard for me to say what inspires me because it changes all the time but I guess the blues thread has kind of run through everything because it is what I grew up listening to.

So blues accommodated what it was you wanted to begin with and then it developed from there? 

Jon: It’s a framework to hang an idea off, a starting point. Music for us is about expressing a mood or telling a story and doing that a quickly as possible so it stays fresh. That spontaneity is why there’s something really fiery and exciting about rock and roll and blues. Sometimes sitting down with a pen and working out time signature changes, harmonies and chords can result in something getting lost from the original idea. For us anyway. The faster we work the better the end result.

So with that in mind, is that the kind of mindset you have going into the studio, can you elaborate a bit more about the process?

Jon: The first stuff we released was recorded in Kitty’s flat with one mic, that’s what Old Bone Rattle was done. But then we became and actual band and Ben and Andy’s influence plays a big part in how we sound. Whereas on those early recording Kitty and I played everything we now have Ben and Andy who are great musicians bringing their own style to the band.

Kitty: So we went as a whole band into an actual studio and recorded live. We recorded minimal overdubs and it was an experiment to hear what we actually sound like, the four of us, with minimal thinking involved. This was over a year ago now and we’ve been playing together so much since I think it has grown again to feeling even more raw and alive.

Jon: And we’re all playing a little bit out of our comfort zone which is exciting. Kitty had played in Lola Colt for a couple of years doing keys and stuff and before that fronting bands but doing more acoustic and more melodic based things, I was always the frontman doing more Black Rebel kind of things, everything is kind of close but one stage further for all of us and I think that’s exciting. We’re all on a journey of discovery together.

Kitty: Putting the right feeling across, it really does take time; people are rushed and think ‘oh we’re a band we’ve got to do our first album’ but I’ve really liked having the time to play together, to hear what it is this particular four people sound like when they play together. I feel confident now that we know what that is and can now make our album and have something we’re proud of rather than just rushing through.

You state on your website the artwork comes from illustrator Laura New, what was it about her work that caught your eye and how is album artwork important to you?

Kitty: I think artwork is really really important, it’s the first thing people see before they even hear our music so it needs to be totally representative and related to the music. Laura’s amazing, how did we even meet Laura?

Jon: We met her at a gig, but the main thing is she just sent us a design for a t-shirt and just said ‘I’ve done you a t-shirt, you can use it for free’ and we said ‘cool, we’re just about to release a single, do you want to do the artwork for that?’ Luckily she agreed!

When working on the lyrics Kitty and I have a very strong visual in mind and its important to try and convey that, so people listening can have an extra clue to what our world is. When Kitty and I are writing it exists in a world, almost like a town we’ve created in our minds. We were amazed when we saw the Nick Cave film, 20,000 Days on Earth as he says something similar.

Kitty: It came out what, two years ago now and somehow we hadn’t seen until recently. He discusses his writing process and it was quite like a moment like oh fuck yeah that makes so much sense, the way he approaches songwriting and everything he’s saying, that’s what we’ve been doing, but never been able to describe it before.

The way we write songs is very visual; it’s story and character based. I always picture the characters I’m writing about and I think Jon, you’re the same aren’t you?

Jon: Yeah, each song has its own mini film created in our minds that gets fully realised when Kitty and I bring our separate ideas together.

How would you describe your live shows?

(Extremely loud noise behind can be heard in the background)

Andy: Like someone throwing an ice bucket.

Kitty: Like that, pretty much like that. Aggressively like an ice bucket.

(Laughs)

Jon: With live shows, there’s like an internal battle going on, it’s quite personal really. As a kid I was very shy, but would marvel at these incredible rock stars and artists totally embracing the moment. I lived so much in fear and self-reflection that I never embraced anything! So a live show for me is always about trying to throw off concerns, to be free, to be what I envied as a kid, to fully express myself with no filter. It feels like you’re truly alive and its in those moments you create the best music. However self doubt and all the usual human failings can get in the way, that’s why it is a battle with yourself. It might be why our performances can be so intense.

Kitty: It sounds so lame but to lose yourself is the goal of every gig. When you don’t do that it is like, oh fuck that was an opportunity in my life to do that thing that I love, to truly exist in a real, immediate, primal way and I didn’t do it. If it were easy though there’d be no reward, right?

Andy: My goal when we play live, to melt people’s faces. For me it’s about abandoning thought and sort of not really caring too much. Even though it’s cool people have come to watch, you still kind of feel you’ve got to be pleased first. If I’ve done the best job I can do, sweet, and then if someone comes up and says that was awesome that’s a cherry on the cake. There’s some gigs where it might be a complete shambles but as a whole thing, even if it’s not happening you’ve still got to look at each other and go ‘right guys, hearts on the sleeve’ and stars might not be aligned but it’s still a damn good feeling.

Jon: There’s something about being part of a team that is really fun, that’s why people love team sports or being part of like a gang of any sort, we’re a little gang and whatever problems get thrown at us, we did a couple of weeks ago where every single bit of gear on stage broke.

Kitty: Every bit of gear.

Jon: But we decided not to stop and just play stuff with what was working.

Kitty: I don’t know if that was the best decision.

(Laughs)

Jon: But it was amazing.

Andy: Might be shit, might be amazing, it’s fun to take that risk.

Jon: It’s a real moment, you don’t have to do these perfectly choreographed manicured musical performances, roll with the moment and see what happens.

Andy: Yeah, even if it might be three seconds, it’s worth it.

Lastly, What can we expect from Saint Agnes in the future?

Kitty: We’ve booked studio time so we’re definitely doing the album this year, when it’s coming out we’re not too sure yet but we are touring Europe for the first time in May which is exciting.

Jon: And we’ve got the 17th March show at Tooting Tram & Social. We did a Radio X live session for John Kennedy and he invited us to play his show. Our first time south of the river I think?

We’re pretty prolific writers and we want to spend the next month finishing off all the ideas we’ve amassed over the last 6 months so we can go into the studio and record as much as possible with some nice little extras for B-sides and all those cool things. We do take quite a lot of pride in our B-sides on the singles; I don’t think many people have heard them as they have been limited to the physical only releases. For Merry Mother of God Go Round we did a Nine Inch Nails cover and the one before that, Sister Electric was a great old blues gospel song called Get Back Satan

Kitty: Yeah you and me recorded it in my living room, just one mic, quite pissed and yeah we put that as the B-side.

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