SASHA & THE SHADES (back row, from l-r): Arthur Palmer (keyboards/accordion/vocals), Sam Rutland (bass/vocals), Tom Julian-Jones (lead guitar/harmonica), Paul Winter-Hart (drums) (front row, from l-r): Sasha Adamczewski (vocals/rhythm guitar), Eli Rose (vocals)
INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
The atmospheric sound of emerging London six-piece Sasha & The Shades may be rooted in blues-rock and Americana, however, the band embrace a diverse range of genres, including punk and folk, and this is effectively reflected in their lyrical content, with themes spanning from mental health to the world of politics.
With an eagerly-anticipated new single – entitled ‘Echoes‘ – coming out this Friday, frontman Sasha Adamczewski spoke to me in-depth about that, the collective’s journey so far, future ambitions, and much more.
How did the band initially form?
I had been studying for a degree in fine art, and when I had finished that, it was close to my 21st birthday, so I decided, rather than throw a party, I would put on a gig, and get as many of my musical mates that were up for playing to perform.
One of them was Tom, who has been a friend of mine since primary school, and at the time, he had been in a couple of blues trios. I saw him play, and I was so inspired by how far he had come with his sound, and how much fun he seemed to be having on stage as part of a band, that pretty much straight after that, we started to hang out and rehearse with each other again.
Having known each other since we were kids, Tom knew that I had been writing, playing, and singing my own material from a young age, so he suggested that we take some of the strongest parts of my back catalogue, and re-arrange it, so it was more fun and suitable to perform with a band.
Going back to the birthday gig, and also there was Johnny Mac, who has been a family friend – and has worked in the music industry – for years, and he was super keen to get me to be more active in regards to my music, so he introduced myself and Tom to a producer, Sean Read, who in turn introduced us to two session musicians, Ali Friend and Daisy Palmer, who unfortunately are no longer in the band.
We all then recorded a three-track demo, which Johnny then sent over to Rough Trade Records, who despite loving the record, decided not to further pursue their interest in us after seeing one of our live sets.
After that, we decided to work on improving our stage performances, as well as producing more new material, and each time we got another opportunity, we grabbed it with both hands.
Now, we are a six-piece, who can best be described as a patchwork of old and new friends, who are all top musicians, and are also some of the kindest people that I have ever met.
How did the name Sasha & The Shades come about?
The Shades are a big part of it. It was very much Tom’s suggestion, and he made references towards a blues band he really liked. However, I think there is a strong metaphor within it as well – for how much the band and frontperson need each other, to make it a more captivating performance.
Actually, the best frontwomen and men are the best because they have the tightest group behind them who create the standard of playing and communication on stage, which allows for all individuals to perform without thinking about what they are doing and come together as a group.
It’s a standard and space that we are constantly trying to get to, as well as a debate that fascinates, as both do well from stepping out of and into each other’s shadows.
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
I think it’s really mixed. When we started, as I have said before, it was a question of using of my own back catalogue of songs, and then re-arranging these with the band.
However, it’s now reached a really exciting point where everyone within the group – particularly Eli and Arthur – are contributing to this process, and naturally the band want to be involved in the writing process and share their own ideas from the start.
Generally as a rule, Eli and myself will meet, and I will have written the basis of chords and sections for the song, then we’ll do the lyrics, which, depending on which one of us wants to lead, I might have written more or less lyrics myself.
We’ll then sort out the harmonies and where they fit together, and then once it’s laid out, we’ll start rehearsing in the studio with rest of the lads, and we always want to make sure that it utilises the range of instrumentation there is to offer within the group, and most importantly has enough light, shade, and dynamics.
What inspires the band lyrically?
That’s probably my favourite question, as there are so many ways into writing lyrics and our sound, which currently has the freedom to go in whatever direction it feels, and we try not to limit ourselves in what we are prepared to talk about.
There are the great fantasists and storytellers such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, there is what’s going on inside of you and one’s own mental health, and both ‘Echoes‘ and ‘Paint the Sky‘ are good examples of this.
Obviously, there is the political side of things, and we put out a song in May this year, called ‘Who Are You In Bed With‘, which is about Grenfell Tower and the fire that happened there in 2017, and then there are also relationships and compromises and changes that are required for these to exist or not.
You have just brought out a video for your upcoming single, entitled ‘Echoes’. How has the immediate reaction been to it?
It’s been really good. We have been working with Ben Willmott from New Build PR, who has been really helpful, we’ve also had a couple of bits of press, and most recently, we did an interview with Gigslutz about the band and new single. We also had Chris Patmore give the video and track a share and mention on his podcast for Joyzine Podcast Alliance on Mixcloud.
Before that, the music video for ‘Echoes‘ received Video Of The Week by God Is In the TV, and it was premiered by Americana UK.
And the track is the first in what will be a series of single releases over the next few months. How was the recording process for them?
It was really fun, as the band and myself have been working with Sean Reed for the last couple of years, and we always enjoy his setup and studio. With mixing and mastering, it took about just over two weeks, so it was quite an intense turnaround at the start and some long days in there as well, but it was all worth it in the end.
Most importantly, although the tracks are all quite different, and are about quite a mix of subjects, it felt like we really came out of the studio this time with a much more defined and connected band sound.
Also, what can be expected from the new songs?
An even bigger soundscape, as we really embraced a mix of instruments we now have within the group, with highlights including some really nice harmonica solos from Tom, as well as some accordion playing by Arthur.
Also, there has been a shift in the vocals, as it was really important this time round to show how Eli’s vocals and role has moved on from just a backing vocals capacity, and ‘Echoes‘ is a strong example of this.
However, ‘Girls‘ – which will be the last of our single releases, and that will be out on November 15 – is probably the most obvious incarnation of the band’s more partnership-based vocal style, as it is a hilarious but poignant look at sexual politics, with myself and Eli firing verbal salvos at each other from both sides of the gender divide.
The band have performed at various venues across London, in Paris, and played at the Camden Rocks festival earlier this summer. How were they as experiences?
There were all great experiences, with Paris being a particular highlight of ours, as we played at a really cool venue called Le Truskel for our friend Malina Malgan, who runs a great night called PrettyMalina presents Parisian High over there.
The Camden Rocks festival has been on my list as a thing I’ve wanted to be able to say I’ve done with the band for a while, so it was great to finally be able to do it, and I do like gigging in London, as there is an amazing network of people that we get to meet through gigging within it.
Last summer, we also played a festival in Belgium called La Truite Magique, and we are going back to Rotterdam soon to play at a festival called Left Of The Dial, and actually, we’re hoping to make a mini-tour of it by doing Paris with Malina again the night before we do that.
And how is it being on stage overall?
It’s the one place where life makes sense, and it is also the best high that you can possibly get, as it’s better than any induced effect or feeling that alcohol or drugs can give you, but equally as a result, when it does not work out, it can have a rather severe comedown.
However, I work in a kitchen full-time, alongside doing the music, to be able to pay for it all, and the hours can be quite unforgiving, as it can be 60+ hours a week sometimes, and therefore you’ve got to grab every moment the music hands you, so we just try to have fun with it and keep it real.
Singles and European dates aside, what have you got planned for the near future?
We’ve got friends with connections in Amsterdam, so we are currently putting pressure on the booking agent who is from an agency called Trying Your Luck to find some other bits.
However for next summer, we definitely want to try and get out to Europe a bit more and do some serious touring there, because despite loving the people you meet through the London gigging scene, there is a real generosity and fairness on the European festival scene, which does just not exist in the same way across quite a lot of the UK, particularly in London, where things are so competitive that until you’re someone, you really are no-one.
That said, there are definitely some other cities within the UK that myself and the band would like to spend some more time in and have connections to.
There is some brilliant stuff going on in Manchester, as I know of some really good bands from there through the south London scene, and Eli knows the former bassist for the Arctic Monkeys, who still lives in Sheffield, and runs music nights in the city, so we’re hoping to get something there.
I also would love for the band to be doing far more within the blues-rock/Americana scene, as the line-up for the Black Deer Festival this year looked pretty amazing, and so we would really want to do that next year.
My brother Saul – who is in the Fat White Family – is also good friends with a band I am a huge fan of called Daddy Long Legs, so we’re hoping to maybe do some touring or even gigging with them.
Also, they are slightly of a different genre, but I’m good friends with Gabi Garbutt And The Illuminations, as Sean Reed is that group, and they’re making some great stuff at the moment, so we’re hoping to do some gigs with them soon.
And lastly, what is the band’s long-term aim?
In addition to what I have just said, we are currently unsigned, and we don’t really have any form of management, so we’re on the lookout for that, we want to keep writing new music, and we hope that we can make it before the world completely turns to shit.
‘ECHOES’ – THE LATEST SINGLE FROM SASHA & THE SHADES – WILL BE RELEASED THIS FRIDAY, WITH MORE TRACK RELEASES TO COME OVER THE NEW FEW MONTHS, AND FURTHER INFO ON THIS – AND THE BAND – CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: