Esper Scout come, in my mind anyway, with one of the highest accolades possible in indie music. Better than a Grammy, or any Mercury Prize, they come with approval of none other than Mark E Smith. The Leeds based band create experimental rock that is infused with rich, vivid guitar workings, over repetitious rhythmic drumming, as MES puts it “Like a slow Stooges – They’re good!”
We recently caught up with guitarist Sarah to find out more about the band.
BM: I’m always intrigued as to where a band gets their name from. So ‘Esper Scout’ …
Sarah: An ‘Esper’ is someone with ‘extra sensory perception’, first written down in Alfred Bester’s ‘Oddy and Id’ short story and a word since used in Blade Runner, Akira and Final Fantasy. It’s become sci-fi jargon. There’s an 80s TV show called ‘Espers’ too – want to find a copy of that! With the ‘Scouts’ being a group of people, the full name refers to a gang who are connected through something you can’t quite put your finger on – this includes audiences and people who follow the band. Especially at gigs there’s a feeling between people which goes beyond sight and sound – an ‘Esper Scout’ is our term for somebody who’s part of that, or looking for it as we look for them.
BM: Would you say you’re a band with a message?
Sarah: So much of this band is about engagement, whether with people, environments or thoughts and ideas. Being accepting of and open to others is so important to social and personal enjoyment, understanding and development. Lyrically I like to encourage discussion, such as in songs like ‘Fires’, but I’m not keen to tell people what to think. I don’t know the first thing about truth, especially in the climate of smokescreens and mirrors the world’s been living in since the dawn of humankind. It’s worrying how many people are subject to distraction, particularly in the ‘west’. They think its self-protection, to stay safe in small, consistent boxes of family and work but these situations aren’t secure at all, our safety is incredibly fragile. Not being aware of these things only acts to serve the hand that feeds. It’s very unsettling. I’ve been thinking lately about how the Demon Headmaster used to make me feel watching it as a youngster. That quiet discomfort and discontent is everywhere and it’s bothering everybody for various reasons, whether they quite realise it yet or not.
Esper Scout would like to contribute to the positive change of local and global community interests and fairness. Whether from a personal and introspective or group perspective. It’s the core of who we are as people, so it’s natural that it’d make its way into the heart of the music.
BM: Talking of who you are as people. How did you all come together?
Sarah: Kirsty, Rebecca and I are from Manchester, we lived only 5 or so miles apart growing up but didn’t meet until our teens. Lou was born and raised in Leeds. Me, Kirsty and Rebecca started things in Manchester when we were teenagers and formed a punk band from finishing high school, going into college. Kirsty and I played sport together and bonded over our mix tapes on a trip to Germany when we were thirteen. I played drums back then until the three of us moved up to Leeds in 2007. Finding Lou on the Internet pushed me to pick up the guitar and later begin singing after failed searches for vocalists.
BM: What were the bands you bonded over?
Sarah: I remember at our old band (The Emetics)’s first practice with Reb, me and her found common ground when she saw my ‘Incubus – Alive at Red Rocks’ DVD. Someone once described that band as a guilty pleasure but there’s no shame. ‘Crow Left of the Murder’ is a great album! Me and Kirsty went to see Kelly Osborne in Manchester, as well as Juliette and the Licks and Bloodhound Gang in the same year or two. They were particularly memorable for some reason. I think because it was when we were at the age where you get really excited for a gig and go to the venue straight from school and wait outside. I do miss that. Alexisonfire is one of the few bands we all agree on, their album ‘Crisis’ is so well written and the lyrics are ones which really aim to communicate and connect with people and inspire change in a very direct way.
BM: Mark E Smith said you were ‘like a slow Stooges’. Do you think that’s an accurate reflection of your sound?
Sarah: Ah yes the Mark E Smith thing! I was working in a warehouse packing ‘trendy’ overpriced clothes, it was a £40 t shirt at the time, when someone text me to say that happened. Very funny. He doesn’t like owt! He said that to him we sound like the Stooges, which is a big compliment because they’re a band so notorious for being alive, freshening and raw rather than overly produced and tired. Our sound has also been associated with Silversun Pickups, Brand New, TOOL. I suppose it’s experimental and progressive rock music which is challenging in ways whilst at the same time accessible and memorable. People do seem stumped as to where to place us, especially within UK music culture. It’s a common feeling amongst people we talk to that that we’re yet to find our place amongst other bands, both sonically and ideologically. That’s no problem, we’ve had to get out there and learn through making connections, putting on shows independently, starting a label (Bomb the Twist) and self or co-recording with friends as a result of there not being an established support network for a band like us.
BM: Where would you say the band draw their influences from?
Sarah: That’s always a tough question to answer because the bands that me and Kirsty grew up listening to don’t have anything in common with Esper Scout and now it’s not much different. It’s very odd. We supported Jeffrey Lewis earlier in the year and his work ethic is really admirable. I respect him very much. For me seeing Brand New twice in 2014 was great timing, it fed my appetite for ideas. I really love their riffs, dynamic drums and how the guitars work together. The performances were transportative, its rock music you can really lose yourself in.
I took myself down to Wales in spring and without anything to do one night I went to Spillers Records in Cardiff and bought a ticket to see Esben and the Witch. Such a focused and powerful band and Rachel’s voice and bass playing was especially strong at that gig. I’d recommend their new album ‘A New Nature’ a lot as well as ‘Lose’ by Cymbals Eat Guitars (the bass line on Place Names!) and ‘Cool Choices’ by S which is out on Hardly Art. Public Service Broadcasting as well. They say more with old film samples than I’ve heard in anyone’s lyrics over the last few years.
Although it hasn’t influenced our sound Rebecca is an especially huge fan of bands from the 90s Riot Grrrl movement such as L7, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. She’s an alumni of their song’s lessons about minority empowerment. So they were and still are great sources of encouragement.
BM: While we are on the subject of bands, is there anyone you know or have played with that you think we should be looking out for?
Sarah: Kassassin Street in Portsmouth are one of the best live bands we’ve ever seen! Also make sure you see Hysterical Injury who are based in Bath and have a new release out this year. We’ll be playing with them in spring.
BM: With gigs all over the UK and a mini tour of the US in the bag, you’re building a quite a rep as a live band. Tell us about your first gig?
Sarah: It was in Bradford at a place called ‘Zu Bar’ with a friend’s metal band. The stage was tall and there was hardly anyone there. My mum, dad and brother came from Manchester and I remember them trying to park the car on a snow-covered hill while we had a very informal photoshoot on a wooden crate. As with all first gigs it was terrifying but you just have to get on with it. When you’re in a band you’re up against many a baptism-by-fire so it’s best not to think about it too much. Just do your best and move forward.
BM: You currently have a double A –side single out, ‘Belay’/ ‘Carpet of a Crest’. Can you give us a bit of background to the meaning of the songs?
Sarah: The theme for ‘Crest first came about after a German poet stopped me when we were getting on the S-Bahn train to the airport and spoke a verse of his to me – it was obscure and really cool, I could tell it made perfect sense to him. Passionately philosophical, off-beat and arbitrary. He quickly scribbled it down and is now stuck on my wall. I weaved that scrawl into the intro. I hope to meet the chap again and let him know about how that quick swap of words has kept with me.
Me, Kirsty and Rebecca went travelling up the US West Coast last year as well as having nipped to Europe and other places. The group of people we met in Sacramento, Seattle, Berlin etc. are such a range of characters, getting out and having experiences really is what makes life worth living for us. We’re not the kind of band who are settled playing in their home city (which is fine if you are!). Always enjoy having music take us around and seek new recruits to the gang as well as visiting friends.
‘Belay’ was born from my love for the human spirit. I like to observe social circumstances and the effect which an environment, its pressures and pulls have on feelings and behaviour. That’s the rope metaphor (the word belay means to tie to something). My hand tendonitis definitely brought with it a test and exploration of inner-strength as well as the support people are willing to offer. Positive and negative ways we can be treated and treat others and how that influences you personally and as part of a community, local, national, occupational. I have experience in social work which by its nature is full of stories involving struggle, triumph, ups, downs and adaptability.
BM: You recorded the tracks at Ghost Town studio in Leeds…
Sarah: … with Ross Halden. We hadn’t left the recording and mixing entirely to someone else for a while. The snare on Belay is great! It was nice to be around someone so experienced in the studio, we’re really happy with how they sound and picked up some ideas and methods from him. He’s worked with bands like Wild Beasts and Sky Larkin, the studio is great – he’s even built his own skate ramp in it too! Some of the recording highlights were captured in the video. My nana gave me a camera a few weeks before which came in handy.
BM: What plans do you have for 2015?
Sarah: We’ll be on tour in March- dates will be announced soon. (Watch this space –stAn)
We’re currently writing our debut album which is due to be recorded in summer. There’ll be a good amount of shows and festivals as well as making the most of the collective we’ve joined called ‘Chunk’ which is an independent co-op arts space owned by a small number of bands in Leeds. It’s soon to be gig and shared practice space with events and I’m hoping to host some looping workshops and possibly drum lessons there.
BM: You sound like quite a sociable bunch, are you happy for people to get in touch?
Sarah: Definitely do! It’s always great to hear from people.
Esper Scout are: Kirsty guitar, Rebecca bass, Sarah guitar and vocals, Lou drums and vocals