SHOPPING: YOU CAN DO THIS
illustration by abraham jay torres
I first discovered Shopping when their album Consumer Concerns came out—the artwork caught my eye almost immediately, and the music was the missing piece to fit a void in my new music repertoire that I didn’t even know was there. A queer post-punk dancey band with a political point of view! Their music recalls ESG and Delta 5 but with hints of disco and sharp lyrics that are a call to action—altogether, it’s something they’re making their own. They successfully balance an exciting dance-able sound while also challenging their audience with commentary on current social issues. Their new The Official Body is out now on Fat Cat and they perform at Resident with French Vanilla and Lithics on Wed., Mar. 21. This interview by Emily Twombly, who was added just before press time to DJ the show as well.
I wanted to ask you about the balance of being like a fun dance-y band but also having lyrics that are more serious. Is that what you set out to do originally? Or just where you just ended up? You balance this fun persona with being political as well.
Rachel Aggs (guitar): Good question. I think sometimes there’s some songs that we’ve done that are like … I don’t know what they’re about. I know that sounds really stupid, but … they start to annoy me after a while, I think. Some of them are like, ‘What is this song?’
Andrew Milk (drums): It has to be rooted in real emotion.
Rachel Aggs: It’s kind of hard to do that every night—to sing nonsense. It’s fun to be silly—you need some of that in life—but also if you’re going to do a set of songs every night, you have to believe in them and they have to mean something to you. Otherwise …
You need some substance.
Andrew Milk: It feels a bit like a clown.
Rachel Aggs: I don’t think I’m like … confident enough as a performer to do that, really. I kind of have to care about it. I think we all do. We all like to sing about stuff that we are genuinely frustrated about or genuinely want to work through. But just because we’re singing about that stuff doesn’t mean the song has to be a downer.
Billy Easter (bass): Exactly—the song can be fun, and then what I quite like is that if people do happen to sing along—which is amazing—or if they’re in their car and they’re singing along to the song, they’re singing stuff that is maybe stuff to be conscious of. But to a dance-y beat. It’s something that’s helpful, in some way. I think that’s nice—in context, though. But it’s sort of like it helps them in some way, you know?
You’re often compared to Delta 5, the Slits, ESG and Gang of Four—are there other influences that that guide your song writing? Do you like those comparisons?
Rachel Aggs: We love all those bands but it’s not what we started out to do. We didn’t decide, ‘Oh, we’re gonna do a band that sounds like all these bands sound.’ We wanted to make music and that’s how ours happens to sound. Because those are the ways we know how to play—it’s kind of like us playing within the limitations of our capabilities, but also wanting to make it slightly playful. The post-punk kind of sound is the product of that sensibility. We have lots in common with those bands but we don’t really decide the genre we’re gonna do, and our influences are all very different.
Billy Easter: It’s not like we all sit at home and listen to post-punk. We have really eclectic music taste. So, yeah—maybe if our skills were more versed …
Andrew Milk: Like … a disco band. If we knew anything about synths, then …
Rachel Aggs: I think we might be like a pop band, if we really could be.
Billy Easter: If one of us is really good at singing and can do production, we’d probably say, ‘Let’s go.’
What bands are you inspired by or have been excited about recently?
Andrew Milk: We did a tour with a bunch of really cool bands in the U.K., actually, and one of them from Glasgow called Kaputt is really awesome. They’re kind of brand new, but they did have some stuff on the internet. I think there’ll be a record coming soon. They’ve got this very angular very Glaswegian kind of post-punk sound with a saxophone that’s pretty cool. We’re also currently on tour with French Vanilla—speaking of like sax-punk. They’re awesome.
Rachel Aggs: We listen to a lot of 80s music. We just listen to loads of stuff!
What was it like working with [Orange Juice’s] Edwyn Collins on this last record? How involved was he?
Rachel Aggs: It was amazing. He’s a really sort of beautiful guy and just really enthusiastic and passionate about music and it really was infectious to be around to him. He wasn’t like … hands-on producing. In terms of the sound, it still sounds like us, really. But he just kind of passed on his enthusiasm to us, I think.
Billy Easter: He’s like an encyclopedia of music. Which is great. It’s like, ‘I think we should put a bit of this in, it’ll sound like …’ He makes you think a bit differently.
Andrew Milk: What was that disco song he kept playing? Like really famous disco? ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life.’ That’s it. But mixed with loads of other punk stuff as well. He said he’s got a really good sense of fun, and I think … given what we were just talking about, that’s really important for this band—to have this big element of fun in the music. To—no matter what the content of the song—to be able to party to it? Maybe? And you get that, yeah.
Billy Easter: He’s also really motivating. He’s got a rigid schedule and we worked really long hours and really hard every day. He’s not real strict or anything but it’s like you wanna …
Andrew Milk: His passion for music is really infectious. I think it really gives you fresh ears for your own stuff when you’re around someone that’s like so enthused and so excited about what you’re doing.
Rachel Aggs: And also what you were saying about him coming up the stairs to the studio every da—he’s had to overcome so much physically to do music and to pursue his passion. It feels like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna get up and we’re do this every day!’ Yeah, work hard—yeah!
How did you end up hooking up with him?
Rachel Aggs: We just asked him!
Why don’t we talk about how Shopping formed and how you all met each other?
Rachel Aggs: We met in London—we were doing different bands and stuff. Andrew was putting on shows. Billy was doing a band called Wet Dog that I’m a super fan of. And we were playing shows together and hang out and then we decided to start a band called Cover Girl, which was like a queer party band with 2 other people so it was kind of eclectic for a gig cuz there were too many people—it was really fun but—
Andrew Milk: There wasn’t too many people—it was just too many conflicting schedules.
Rachel Aggs: So we did that for a bit and then we decided to stream-line it and just do a band with the three of us.
And you guys put out your first record yourselves, right?
Rachel Aggs: Me and Andrew did it on a label that Andrew started a few years before called Milk Records. We just wanted to get on with stuff really quickly and not be really bothered with the whole music biz scenario. We were like, ‘Let’s press this ourselves’ and we did. I’m running the label currently.
You were pretty big into the DIY scene in London—how has that influenced you as you’re getting bigger? Do you feel like you have continued with your DIY ethics?
Rachel Aggs: I think we still maintain …We’re still very involved in the whole ‘doing’ part of the band, basically. Now that we’re a label, other people do stuff for us—like press people and booking agents. But we’re always still very much involved and we’re conscious that we don’t wanna create a huge distance between us and the other people—people who listen to our music and people in DIY scenes. I mean, it’s not even like a conscious thing. I think that it’s very good that we started off with the attitude of ‘Why would we need anybody else to do stuff for us?’ Obviously when the workload increases it starts to make sense, you know. You want to get different opportunities through agents and stuff. But we like to have a basic understanding that we can do a lot on our own.
Andrew Milk: And the way that the music scene works can be a bit intimidating and weird sometimes. I think that we’re really lucky to have this genuine sense of community and connection with other bands that is much more important to us. And I don’t know … Go on, what should I say?
Billy Easter: I mean—we still do a lot of stuff ourselves. Create art work …
Rachel Aggs: With our attitude towards actually making music and playing shows, we always wanted to be inclusive and seem accessible to people because I think that we started in this way of really learning as we went along—learning to play and write songs. I don’t really think we project an air of ‘professionalism.’ When we play shows, we’re like, ‘You can do this. You can join in. You can be a part of this.’ That is something that’s really great about the DIY community and the scene and shows that we are used to. You always feel like you’re really a part of it—as an audience member, I mean.
Do you see differences in the DIY scene in the U.K. and in the U.S.?
Andrew Milk: Not really—I actually think that it’s something that connects. For a while now there’s been a strong connection between DIY bands in the U.S. and in the U.K. and a lot of touring together. The only word I can think of is ‘cameraderie.’ But it’s been really cool because it’s meant that … well, for U.K. bands that I’ve been in, it’s meant there’s a band to go tour with often. It makes the DIY aspect a lot easier because there’s a community of people that are booking shows, playing shows and liking the same music and wanting to spend time together on tour and yeah. Differences? I don’t know. Is there a difference?
Billy Easter: There might be but we didn’t come out the U.S. DIY scene. I would say it’s probably quite similar because both would have evolved from the hardcore scene in the 80s, and that connection of doing DIY tour circuits and those communities that sprung up from that. Definitely the influences [are a connection]—like in the U.K. and in Europe, and like punk in general. Especially touring ethic and DIY ethos. It’s universally influential.
Do you have any advice for people that are starting bands or who wanna start their own label and they don’t know where to begin?
Andrew Milk: I would say … it depends. I don’t know, it’s tricky. Everyone’s gonna have to have access—various degrees of access to community and resources to be able to do that. I don’t want to sound condescending or whatever, but if you are in a city and there is a DIY scene there then … search that out. It’s not always gonna be your people but if you are queer or a person of color or a marginalized member of society, then specifically people listen to that. I think that can be really empowering, if you’re in a city. Obviously that’s quite a specific situation but for us I think it was really to get involved once you found something that was happening, and if it isn’t happening then … Like, I started doing the record label and putting bands on in Maidstone—in Kent—and that really wasn’t happening. That was not a good move. I didn’t find my people there. But when I moved to London it all clicked. A gig that I did was Rachel’s first gig for her band Trash Kit and a bunch of other queer punks and a huge section of the queer punk community and loads of people that I now call friends were at that gig—at my house! Where I didn’t know anyone … Yeah, everything’s kind of fitted in. If you’re in the right situation you can find access to things.
Billy Easter: I think it’s important not to fall for the myth—that to do any of this stuff you need to somehow obey the music industry. This has been created to make people think that they can’t do stuff, or that there’s a correct way of doing it, or that you need to network with the right people, and things like that. It’s not true.
Andrew Milk: There’s no one way of putting out a record or starting a band or making music. There’s no right or wrong, really. There are people that do that—that do the industry one in a billion where they’ll just write a song in their bedroom and then have some label person hear it and all of a sudden, they’re the next big thing or whatever. That can happen but it’s not the right way or the wrong way or the only way that you can get involved at all. Finding your own way is the best advice, I guess. Don’t feel like you have to compromise on what you can and can’t do.
Rachel Aggs: And you don’t need to be ready to do it. I remember that gig that we played in your house—we were like completely unready! Unprepared to do a gig.
Billy Easter: If you get an opportunity, just do it. Don’t speak about it, just do it. And I think that even being terrible … it’s great.
Where do you see yourself as a band in the next five years?
Rachel Aggs: Where do we see ourselves in the next five years? We want to have the opportunity to carry on doing this. We don’t wanna fade away. At the moment that seems … you know, it seems possible. We wanna carry on making music, playing it for people everywhere.
Andrew Milk: And have new people hear it and reach new audiences—make new connections. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will have played new continents, new countries. Places we’ve never been before.
Billy Easter: We wanna play somewhere in the southern hemisphere. And obviously we need our own private jet to do that. [laughs] Yeah, got to get to the private jet status!
SHOPPING WITH FRENCH VANILLA AND LITHICS ON WED., MAR. 21, AT RESIDENT, 428 S. HEWITT ST., DOWNTOWN. 8 PM / $10-$13 / 21+. GET TICKETS HERE! SHOPPING’S THE OFFICIAL BODY IS OUT NOW ON FATCAT. VISIT SHOPPING AT SHOPPINGFC.BANDCAMP.COM.