Squid: 'It seemed to perfectly work and align but out of complete chaos'

Squid

Credit: Holly Whitaker

Ahead of the release of their debut album Bright Green Field, Squid recall the process of piecing together their most ambitious project yet between national lockdowns

Squid may still be riding the wave of A-listed tracks 'Houseplants' and more recently 'Narrator' and 'Paddling', but the five-piece are destined to make an even bigger splash with their debut album Bright Green Field, set to be released on Fri 7 May.

The unique genre-bending sound created by this group in previous releases has been described as everything from frantic post-punk, kraut-jazz, post-rock and latterly 'indie-intellectual'. And it appears that adhering to convention or committing to a particular creative process continues to be low on Squid's agenda.

'Changing your process is as much a fun part of musical identity as is having a specific way you make music,' says bass and brass player Laurie Nankivell. 'The only thing that has stayed constant is that we write the music as a five 95% of the time.'

Squid is made up of Louis Borlase, Ollie Judge, Arthur Leadbetter, Laurie Nankivell and Anton Pearson, who all met at university in Brighton back in 2015. The decision to shift from five friends to 'Squid, the band' involved bonding over ambient and jazz music, late-night jam sessions and a childhood tale of Judge choking on some calamari, Nankivell explains, as well as their 'unanimous love of the sea-faring animal', adds the band's keyboard, strings and percussion player Arthur Leadbetter.

The word unanimous is fitting, given how the band writes their music together. This collaborative process has culminated in their upcoming debut album, described by Judge, the band's lead vocalist and drummer, as being darker and emotionally deeper than anything they've released before.

'When the pandemic hit, we all scurried away under various rocks around the country and started panicking and worrying about how we were gonna get this album done,' Leadbetter recalls.

Before eventually consolidating the missing pieces of the puzzle in a pub in Chippenham, the band created a shared drive, or 'cloud brain', where they stored the literary works of J. G. Ballard, Douglas Coupland and Mark Fisher. These narratives would lay the dystopian foundations of the desired 'imaginary cityscape' they had envisioned for the album.

'It was the idea of the flyover in West London being a space that Ballard had written about in the 70s, and that it hasn't changed much. If anything the skyscrapers have just got bigger. It feels like his prediction of the future has been relatively accurate and I guess we were musically and lyrically trying to describe that in different sections of the album,' Nankivell explains.

Whereas previous EPs were written amidst the mania of being on the road, Bright Green Field seems to have taken on life's change of pace. It is intricate and considered, but doesn't shirk on the band's boundless creativity and beloved experimentation.

Recorded in the hot summer months between lockdowns and produced by Dan Carey (who has worked with the likes of Black Midi, Kae Tempest and Grimes), Bright Green Field undoubtedly gives off all the aforementioned post-punk, rock funk, kraut-jazz notes and much more. Guests on the album range from orchestral to jazz musicians, including saxophonist Lewis Evans (of Black Country New Road) and trumpet player Emma Jean-Thackray, whose harmonic arrangements add jazzy textures throughout tracks like 'G.S.K' and 'Global Groove'.

Squid's Bright Green Field album artwork

Bright Green Field album cover

Experimental recording techniques included everything from a medieval rackett, layered voice recordings of friends and families documenting their lockdown realities, and a triangle beater hitting a loose spring in Carey's studio – which Nankivell remembers ended up hitting Leadbetter in the face during a take.

During one session Leadbetter remembers Judge pacing around the studio, sombrely talking into a dictaphone (the crackly vocals heard at the end of 'Global Groove'). 'It just made me so sad. And it seemed to perfectly work and align but out of complete chaos. It was a really emotional moment…' he says about finishing the penultimate song on the album.

The end product is a sonically diverse patchwork of tracks which, from a distance, conjure up a bleak image of a dystopian, industrial, and frighteningly familiar, England. With sprinkled references to ongoing gentrification in places like South and West London further grounding the band's 'imaginary cityscape' in reality.

The arrangements are delicately constructed, like the inside of a well-oiled machine, while others (like at the end of 'Boy Racers') sound like the rumblings of a whole factory. Judge's emotive and rhythmically exciting vocals show him dancing between speaking, singing and screaming. Meanwhile, the groove-locked drum loops and funky guitar riffs offer relief from the heavier moments of dissonant improvisation.

Bringing the studio-born Bright Green Field to live audiences marks a new process for Squid. As it stands, this cephalopod may need a few more limbs to replicate the extensive palette used throughout the album when performing in front of a crowd.

'Maybe by the end of the year we'll be touring with an orchestra and a brass band in order to facilitate a couple of the tracks. But probably not… we may just have to get a different synthesizer,' jokes Leadbetter.

Even in the absence of live gigs, the group is finding ways to connect with listeners through new music videos or updating their weekly Squiet Please playlist where each band member contributes two tracks they've been particularly enjoying.

Orchestra or no orchestra, existing fans are no doubt chomping at the bit to see Squid live again. Bright Green Field may be their densest piece of work to date, packed with literary and historic references, but prospective listeners can rest assured that there is no expectation for the work to be held under a magnifying glass.

Asked what audiences should take from the album, Leadbetter explains: 'If anyone just listens to it in its entirety, then that is amazing in itself. Frankly we are not here to say, "this is a message to the world, for a better world" or anything. This is just us doing some music and if anyone listens to it and enjoys it, then that's amazing.'

Bright Green Field is out on Fri 7 May via Warp Records.

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