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Fasten your seat belts...

The Screaming Banshee Aircrew have a new line-up, a new album, and an eye on the future. The band intend to push things beyond the confines of the UK goth scene in which they made their first test flights. The timing is right: with the indie world coming round to the idea that a little something of the night is actually rather cool, there's a window of opportunity here which just might provide a suitable take-off slot.

All of this seemed like a good reason to grab a few words with the band about how it all started, and where it just might go in the future. Seats in the upright position, please. Doors to auto and cross-check. Here we go...

[And I promise there will be no further foolish air travel references from this point in!]

First things first: what was it that made you want to be in a band in the first place? What was it that made you realise that singing along to your favourite records with a hairbrush for a microphone in the privacy of your bedroom just wasn't enough? I've had plenty of 'hairbrush moments' myself, but I've never quite got to that tipping point where I say - 'I'm going to do this for real!' Do you recall any particular moment of inspiration that resulted in the band coming together? How did you find other people who shared that 'Let's form a band!' idea?

Ed: Speaking for myself, I guess it's just an inbuilt need for affirmation. I've always had a fear of crowds, and self-esteem issues, so doing what I do successfully is quite an unexpected turnaround. I guess I did grow up doing Bauhaus impressions in the mirror, and always wanted to stand out from the crowd in some way, so in that respect the live performing is just a natural progression from this. Screaming Banshee AircrewHowever, it did take me 12 years before I plucked up the courage to actually get on a live stage and those nerves are probably part of why my performances tend to be so highly charged. In the end, my weaknesses seem to have turned into strengths. I actually found that performing in front of an enthusiastic audience is relatively easy, as you feed off their energy and the crowd seems to become one person, a one to one interaction. Of course, those occasional gigs where the audience is cold or the gig doesn't take off are another thing entirely… and a lot of hard work… so it's in my best interests to be as entertaining and enthusiastic on-stage as possible.

After singing for at least two bands that only recorded, and failed largely due to my worries about
performing live, SBA was the first band that actually managed to get me on the stage. The fact that our first ever gig was something of a joke, a Rocky Horror special, provided me with the extra push needed to actually perform for the first time… and you could say I acquired something of an addiction to it.

Jo: For me it has never been about 'hairbrush moments', but more a sheer love of music, and of
performing. I have always been very much into making music, and learnt violin, guitar and piano from a very early age; I spent most of my childhood rehearsing with some orchestra or choir or another. Singing is always what I have loved best though, and it's what I concentrate on these days ­ not just in the Screaming Banshee Aircrew ­ I'm a bit of an amateur opera singer too! When I was a kid, whenever careers teachers asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I'd say I wanted to be a singer. Nobody took me very seriously, and then it all fell by the wayside with the need to do the whole university thing… until I met Ed. I suppose it's also true that like Ed, I suffered something of a confidence problem. When he originally approached me to see if I'd be interested in joining this band-thing he was putting together, I turned him down! Luckily for me, the girl that was recruited instead of me didn't stick, and I got a second chance.

Chris: Performing is the only thing I've ever been good at really. At an early age I started to learn
the piano but I got distracted by acting for quite a few years (I was in 'Heart Beat' once). Then I got
bored and started to play guitar. I grew up listening to bands like Bon Jovi and Guns 'n' Roses and always wanted to do what they did, live the rock and roll lifestyle. I'd played in several local bands and
recorded a few songs with Ed on my old 4 track but I never thought my guitar playing would amount to anything. Then Ed asked me if I could play in his band. I never imagined that 5 years down the line we'd be doing what we do now.

Screaming Banshee AircrewTori: I guess I've always been attracted to the band way of life. As well as being about 'The Music' it's about being part of a second family unit, about being dynamic, using all your head and surprising yourself. Music has always been significant and it's always fascinated and thrilled me, ergo, the people who made the music were distinctly different from your average person in my eyes. As a teenager most of my friends were in bands but I always felt like I had missed my chance to get into it. Even at 17, I felt like I was never going to catch up to the level they were at. Regardless, I was really grateful to be around a group of people who were more interested in seeing other bands and talking about music rather than dropping anchor in the back seat of an XR3i. By some backflips of fate, I found myself with a Fender and a Welsh bass teacher. I decided that I wanted to stop regretting never giving it a chance. One year later, I found myself in the right place at the right time (i.e. the pub) to join Rome Burns [for whom Tori also plays bass] and it's probably been one of the biggest learning curves of my life to date.

Neal: Dancing in front of Top of the Pops to Ian Drury and the Blockheads, fancying the socks off Suzy Quattro, determining that Gary Numan was god by the age of 10 and my mum insisting that Elton John was grateful for his mum making him play the piano, therefore I should be too, gave me a few clues. Then it’s those bedroom band moments, when you’re pissing about with your mates, assigning different roles to each other, singing way out of tune, making an awful racket while your parents bang on the ceiling to shut you up, that make you want to do it for real. It’s a cliché but once you’ve done it the bug is with you for life. You never stop looking for those like-minded people. And when I failed my grade 6 piano exam on posture (I tucked my feet under the stool) my anti-establishment views were set in stone. Rock ’n’ Roll was the way it was going to be for sure.

I guess the Screaming Banshee Aircrew started out in much the same way as any other band - playing whatever back-room-of-a-pub gig you could blag. Did you find it helpful at this stage to be part of the goth scene? As with any subculture, there's a 'scene crowd' to which bands of the scene can play. This means that even the newest bands can grab an instant audience, naturally primed and ready to pay attention, in a way that bands working in the general alternative/indie/whatever area can't do. Did you find that being a goth scene band gave you that more or less instant interest?

Screaming Banshee AircrewEd: There's no doubt that playing within the scene has helped us a great deal. Apart from a generally more forgiving audience, and a smaller number of bands to compete with, the scene has its own infrastructure which operates quite independently from wider music genres and is much more accessible. Our growth in the first two years was quite slow, as we were largely playing local pub and battle of the bands style gigs. Once promoters in the scene began noticing us (largely due to an appearance at the Edinburgh Goth Weekend, just after Jo joined the band) things just seemed to rocket out of control. Saying that, I think those first years outside the scene provided us with many of the tools, skills and coping mechanisms that have stood us in good stead ever since…it can be useful spending time in the trenches.

Jo: Shame I missed out on that valuable learning experience then, eh? I think I was very lucky with
the point at which I joined the band, because as Ed says, it was just as things were beginning to take
off for us. I didn't have to go through any of the drudgery of playing the back room of the local pub, or battle of the bands competitions. I've never really experienced what it's like to play to a completely uninterested crowd (or no crowd at all!) or to be completely mismatched with the other bands on
the bill. But for me I think that really highlighted how the nurturing environment of the goth scene does
help bands to achieve a respectable level of success relatively easily.

Was there a ripple of interest around the scene as soon as the band emerged? I recall the Screaming Banshee Aircrew was quite well-known in the northern part of the UK long before you played in London, which meant that there was a bit of a buzz about this mystery band from oop north by the time you actually hit a London stage. I think that helped the band win attention, but was this all part of the plan, or just the way it happened to work out? How did things originally build up?

Jo: Yes, I think we were relatively well known in the North before we got to play in London, although it's not true to say that we hadn't played down south. We had played a number of gigs in Colchester before we got a sniff of a London gig. I'm not sure what effect this had on the reception we received when we finally got to play there, but it certainly wasn't part of some great strategic plan… more just a feature of the London-centric nature of the goth scene (and the music industry in general) making it very difficult for a band from oop north to get a foot in the door. And I say this as a southerner myself ­ it's not just some northerner's chip on shoulder!

Even now it surprises me when I see relatively well known bands from the Yorkshire area advertising what is to be their 'first London gig' when I would have expected that they'd have played there years ago.

Screaming Banshee AircrewEd: Jo has pretty much covered this question… and I think to a large extent we got a reputation in London the same way as we did the north, by going there and playing at them! Saying that, there are some quite discernable inequities in place that inhibit bands from the North of England actually getting the opportunity to play London, and if you don't play London it's very difficult to make a wider name for yourself.

The London scene is quite a harsh and competitive environment and it's common practice for payment to be based around the number of people who turn up to see you... the infamous 'so which band are you here to see?' policy. In contrast, the northern circuit (or at least, the non-London circuit) tends to be much more up-front about such things and arrange a guaranteed fee for performances ahead of schedule. This results in London bands being able to travel north with relative ease, whereas northern bands have to shoulder very large expenses for little return, due to the likelihood that audience numbers in London will be low to start because nobody knows them. Combine this with the Londoners' general lack of interest in what happens in the rest of the country (unless it comes to their own doorstep) and you have the perfect combination for a divide between north and south. This is not always the case, and it's rather an over-generalization, but it is still common. SBA made a large loss on our first trip to London, but we've always believed you have to speculate to accumulate. It paid off in the end, as it was on our second such gig that we got offered our current record contract.

At the risk of generalising - and perhaps being rather cruel - for many years the default line-up for a UK goth band was two or three dour blokes in black, strumming and mumbling to a drum machine, trying to be as much like the Sisters Of Mercy (or, if they were really adventurous, Fields Of The Nephilim) as possible on a minimal budget. Of course, I realise that I'm being rather unfair to a scene that was, in fact, always far more diverse, and which threw up several genuinely good bands. Nevertheless, there was a period in the 90s when goth more or less collapsed under the weight of its own cliches. But the Screaming Banshee Aircrew could never be placed in the cliche crowd. The band demostrates a fine grasp of dynamics, has a flamboyant and energetic stage show, and a neat line in witty and pithy songs. And you don't sound anything like the Sisters! Were you aware that you were creating something quite at variance with the standard UK goth band style and sound? Was it a deliberate decision - 'See those clichés? We're NOT going there!' - or did it arise naturally, as the various members of the band pooled their ideas and influences? In short, how did you invent this curious monster called the Screaming Banshee Aircrew?

Ed: Wow, that's quite a big question there... so I'll give you a big answer!

I don't think there was ever any real desire to either avoid clichés or fall into them, although from the
beginning I was determined to put together something entertaining, energetic and exciting live, something that seemed rather a rarity on the scene at the time. We've always been rather self-indulgent in our material and just write songs that we, as a band, like. We've been accused of not having a consistent sound in the past, but this is largely because we haven't tried to have one and we try to ensure that each member of the band gets individual input into what we write. The fact that other people like it too is largely a pleasant side-effect, although expectations of the band and our relative success did eventually become something of an issue.

This latest album has been a long time coming largely for those reasons, we started to worry about what our fans would expect from us and found ourselves trying to write material 'like the last album'. In short, we were in serious danger of becoming a tribute act to ourselves, both live and on recordings, and it killed off the creative process. It was only after we decided to jump off the comfortable gig bandwagon and take the time out to actually enact our long-term plans, increase our lineup to a fully live act and reverted back to our original ethos that things actually started happening again, and an album was born. In fact, of all the criticisms that have been heaped on us in the past, unoriginality or trying to be a 'standard goth band' are the ones that irritate me the most, as they are way, way off the mark.

Of course, there are influences to what we do and many of the band members come from a goth background so those elements do inevitably feature in our music. My own major influences are the early post-punk bands, especially Bauhaus, and the multi-layered combination of vocals used by bands such as the Virgin Prunes and The March Violets combined with the strengths of many of the bands, especially the U.S./Canadian acts we've played with. These things develop, as do individual
tastes, and we try to bring in as many diverse elements from both inside and outside the scene as we
can. I'm particularly interested in exploring new territories and styles with the new lineup, and
exploring the new Banshee Aircrew's potential as much as possible. Once again, times they are a changing, and it's exciting to be part of it.

One particular point that I think stood out right from the start is that the Screaming Banshee Aircrew has two vocalists - and often not employed in the usual lead vocal/backing vocal manner. In many songs, there's a kind of call-and-response thing going on. And, of course, on stage there's double the up-front action, compared to a band with only one singer. How did that idea come about? Does it take hours of rehearsal to figure out who's going to sing which line? Or does it all happen more or less by instinct?

Jo: How did the idea come about? Oh, that was just me trying to big up my part! When I joined the band, I was replacing a girl who was much more just a backing singer, and at first I slotted into that mould somewhat. But being the greedy person that I am, I wanted some of the limelight too; I wanted to the opportunity to show off with some vocal aerobics and also have some of the attention prancing around on thestage and thus the double up-front action was born.

Ed: From the very beginning SBA was intended to be a double-fronted act, I was interested in exploring the dynamics of bands such as the March Violets and Pop Will Eat Itself and this seemed to be an element that was missing in the scene at the time, especially combining male and female vocals. It's taken a while to actually put this into place, as our previous female singer was much happier staying in the background and I suspect that Joanna was originally much more interested in singing rather than performing. Saying that, it didn't take long before Jo started trying to steal the show… which can only be a good thing, increasing the onstage chaos.

It was probably no coincidence that SBA started to really take off as a live act shortly after Jo joined the band. Of course, sometimes even I have to take a rest…so having someone else to take over can be useful at times too. In terms of developing songs, I think it's just natural that when you work together for a long enough time you eventually start finding each other's strengths and styles and work towards them. To a large extent, when Jo or I write material we can each envision where the other's vocal will work best and leave space for them to further develop that part of the song themselves.

The band has just put together a revised line-up, but it's interesting that it all seems to be happening under controlled conditions, as it were. Most bands are bounced into line-up changes when somebody unexpectedly leaves, but it seems that you've got a whole strategy here. It seems that you're bringing in new people in a bid to deliberately push the sound and presentation of the band in a new direction. So, is there a master plan? Do you have a vision for the band that is different from the way it's been so far?

Jo: Well, conditions were not entirely controlled, because it did all come about as a result of our old guitarist, Screaming Nick, leaving. But then again, we weren't bounced into it, because his departure was not entirely unexpected…and not all of the changes relate to that anyway. It was more the case that the need to recruit a replacement for Nick, and the period of change that ensued gave us both the impetus and the opportunity to put into motion other plans that had been on the back burner for a long time.

Chris: Yeah, as Jo said we had been talking about getting a drummer and getting rid of our backing tapes for nearly a year but due to our circumstances we never got round to it. When Nick left it was the perfect time to start putting these ideas into action.

Screaming Banshee AircrewEd: Most of the band have had the intention of going completely live for quite a while now, but the sheer scale of such a change has prevented us from actually putting such plans into action. We've been pretty successful as a '4-piece-with-backing-track' act, and instead focused on making our live act as rock and roll as possible to make people forget that we've been using tapes. There just hasn't been a suitable break in our schedule to allow us the time to make such a change.

With the sudden departure of our old guitarist from the band, due to some long running issues, we were already unable to continue as we were...so decided that this was the perfect opportunity to put our improvement plans into action. In order to make a success of going completely live, it required almost doubling the size of the band and reworking all our material from scratch, in many cases having to strip the songs down to their basic elements. This has been a very difficult change toimplement, where even our old favourite tracks now sound very, very different. As a result, we were more than a little worried about how this may be received by our audiences. However, we've just performed our first gig with the new lineup at the Beyond The Veil festival and it seems that we may well have managed it, so things can only get better now. Having a fully live act will enable us to further develop interesting material and push the live act much, much further than a backing-track band could possibly manage. It also opens up new territories for us to explore, where not being a 'proper' live act would have been a huge problem.

How did you go about finding the right people to join? Do you have a bunch of mates who you can call upon, or was it a case of doing the more formal thing of putting ads in the music mags etc? Is it a bit of a daunting prospect to meet new people with whom you will be
spending a lot of time - sometimes in uncomfortable or stressful conditions? It always seems to me that the people side of putting a band together is often overlooked, and yet sometimes
this is the make or break element. I speak as one who's seen plenty of dressing-room
arguments in my time! What is it that makes you think, 'Yep - this is the right person!' ?

Ed: Finding other people to play with is always rather hit and miss, certainly in our case it has
always been a combination of necessity, convenience and total accident. Never careful planning, even for the original line-up. Chris, being my younger brother and already having more live experience under his belt than me, was an obvious choice when we began, we're lucky he decided to stick with us as he already had several successful projects of his own. Vicky (our first backing singer) was a barmaid at the same pub Nick and I first hatched the SBA plan. Jo was a last minute stand-in for a Newcastle gig when Vicky pulled out for work reasons, and we decided to keep her.

The latest recruits have been a similar story; we met Don first through a mutual friend in a pub and snapped him up as soon as we found out he was interested in drumming for a band, Tori is an old friend of ours who we initially borrowed to fulfill a gig commitment when Nick pulled out of the band. Neal is the only member who has ever had to audition, and we pretty much snapped him up straight away as he's very versatile and multi-talented.

Chris: Its definitely daunting bringing new people into a band. I think the most important factor is
'can we get along with these people?' and 'do they want the same things out of this band that we do?'. We've had tension in the past because members have had different ideas of where the band should go. I’m glad that now everyone in the band has a similar vision of where they want this band to go. It can create a real buzz when we are rehearsing and trying new things.

So now there's a new album (almost) out. How would you describe the album to someone who's never heard a note of the band's music before? Give us some shameless promotional spiel!

SBA new albumChris: Ermm, a well rounded masterpiece of epic proportions! I like to think of it as the bits of the Banshee Aircrew which were previously unexplored.

Tori:
It's like embrocation for the soul, a body-punching nipple-tweak of death rock, a cathartic projection of heartfelt loss and disappointment, a hurricane of violin elation and synthetic purring topped off with some gothjazz candy cane sprinkles. You will love it.

Neal: It will blind you, surprise you, tear you apart then sew you back together again the wrong way round. It’s the soundtrack to the Breakfast Club that should have been. Cooler than ice with so much substance that it defies the laws of physics.

Ed: It's a warped and twisted tangle of vines between the land of what once was and the horizon of what will be. Best take a rest here and enjoy the shade, as the land ahead is treacherous and full of steep climbs, heroes and dragons...

Jo: No spin needed. The album speaks for itself. Buy it, you know you want to.

Don: Awesome!

Where do you hope the new album will take the band? Obviously the simple answer to that question is 'Onwards and upwards!', but there's a not-so-simple answer to that question, too...

We've mentioned the way the Screaming Banshee Aircrew first emerged as part of the UK goth scene, and the 'scene crowd' still provides the band with its audience. But the down side of working within a scene is that although the scene crowd can give you a useful flurry of initial interest, where do you go from there? The UK goth scene these days is not large, and it's probably fair to say it's rather insular and backward-looking. This surely imposes a limit on how far any band can get ahead.

At some point it must have struck you that the UK goth scene, for all the advantages it can give a new band just starting out, simply isn't big enough, or even interested enough, to allow those new bands to go all the way to the top. Sure, with a bit of luck you can get to be a big band within the scene, but that's not really saying much. The UK goth scene has many bands - good bands, with great potential - which long ago reached the limits of what the scene can give them. They've more or less stalled at that big-fish-in-small-pond level. And, because the scene is so small, even the biggest fish in the UK goth pond will never amount to more than a minnow in a puddle.

So, what's the answer? As the band stands poised to take on the future, the first conundrum has to be...how do you get beyond the limitations of the UK goth scene?

Jo: Essentially, I think you've pretty much answered your own question. Yes, it's certainly true that the goth scene provides a good platform for young groups to get off the ground, there's a lot of infrastructure there, a guaranteed audience, and a nurturing and supportive atmosphere, including a general idea that one should go to gigs in order to bolster the scene etc. But you are also right in saying that it is very easy to stall at the big-fish-in-little-pond level. Personally I think that one of the reasons for this is that the goth scene is very insular ­ there is very little awareness within the goth scene of what's going on outside it and very little awareness outside of it that it even exists, let alone what is actually happening in it!

Screaming Banshee AircrewEd: Many of us in the band come from a goth background when it comes to music, so it's inevitable that SBA will always contain those elements. However, we've never really tried to write exclusively goth music and we already have a very diverse fan base, so it's natural that we may want to expand on this. The simple answer to the question is that to expand outside the goth scene, you need to perform outside the goth scene... and hopefully your act is strong enough and has a diverse enough sound and live appeal to succeed in the big bad outside world.

Luckily, there are growing elements out there where an obvious overlap occurs…so there's no need to abandon your roots while spreading your proverbial branches into new territories. Either way, it's an interesting and exciting challenge which is a large part of the reason we do this.

Tori: I came in pretty late on the new album so I wasn't around for the development, but I remember Ed playing me some rough mixes of the new songs a long time ago and I thought they were brilliant. Now that the album has been finished I can't help but think how far SBA have come since the days of the early releases, 'No Camping' and 'Titanic Verses'. Some of the songs are a lot more sophisticated simply because the band has employed new instruments, techniques, and styles - but don't fret! There's some dirty deathrock in there too! I think the album will be received well and I hope that this will give people the taste of what SBA can achieve in the future.

As far as the goth scene goes, it's a lovely, safe place to be but breaking out is very hard. Before being a trainee flight attendant, I've brought people along to SBA gigs and they loved it, bought CDs, threatened to return etc. so it's not as if the music is non-transferable outside the realms of goth and suddenly becomes null and void in the ears of a non-alternative person. Now that Don and Neal are on board, we can concentrate all SBA efforts into the future.

Don: Can anarcho-punks just do black?

Neal: We’re going on a little adventure to the outside and we’ll let you know what happens. Well, there’s going to be a lot more to it than that. We’ll need to point our gothic compass in the right direction for a start. Which is unlikely to happen first go. We need to play the right gigs, which is also unlikely to happen first go. Essentially when a band makes a foray into new and unexplored audiences (Ed’s good at that) you never know how it’s going to turn out, but we’re going to have a hell of a time finding out. That’s what rock and roll is all about. It seems I’ve joined the band at what will be a most exciting juncture. I’m really looking forward to what the next year will bring.

 

Essential links:

Screaming Banshee Aircrew: Website | Myspace

Photo credits: Studio shots of the band are by Duncan Grisby, except the photo of Ed and Jo, which is by Andreas Beck.

The first live photo, showing the full band in action, was taken at the Cockpit, Leeds, by Markus Dheus. The other two live photos, featuring Mister Ed alone, were taken at the Underworld in London by Uncle Nemesis (go here for more).

The album When All Is Said And Done is out now on Resurrection Records.

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