Song-by-Song: ‘Zöe’ by Nightshift
The Glaswegian post-punk outfit worked separately to bring their latest album together during lockdown and here’s how they did it
Formed in Glasgow in 2019, Nightshift make post-punk music that draws strength from its restraint. There’s also a DIY ethic and experimental edge to their sound which will appeal to fans of Richard Youngs. Originally made up of David Campbell (guitar), Andrew Doig (bass), Eothen Stearn (keyboards/vocals) and Chris White (drums) the addition of guitarist/vocalist/clarinettist Georgia Harris has bolstered their sonic arsenal.
Where eponymous debut (a limited edition cassette release) was forged live in the band’s rehearsal space, follow-up Zöe, which is out this Friday, found each member creating their parts at home before passing it on to the next bandmate. To break down this process even further, Nightshift take us through each of the album’s 10 tracks…
Eothen Stearn: Piece Together has a kind of cheesy homonym, peace and piece. A way of looking at micro-macro things but also trying to collage random things together. Learning to write was kind of my personal memories of being dyslexic and forming words. But also like finding scraps of sentences that you make into a bigger form, the inherent nature of writing. It is ultimately searching summering peace and reflecting how Neo-age and 70s hippy ideologies of the radical left has failed us – and consumed us. The cycles of baby boomers that were once seen as radical. The complexities around perceptions of liberalism and the slow mobilisation of the ‘left’.
SPRAY PAINT THE BRIDGE
ES: “Spray paint the bridge,” that line is Chris’s line – I wrote the rest riffing on his title. For me the bridge became the bridge of a song but also a journey.
Andrew Doig: This was one of two songs on the record we had from before lockdown. I was really dubious about whether we could recreate this and Power Cut (the other one) in the same manner as the loop-based stuff as they were more ‘songy’ or maybe required an energy I wasn’t sure we could replicate. But guess what? I was wrong! This rips, I love it. The clarinet is astounding.
Chris White: This song started in the practice room in a similar fashion to a lot of the songs on our previous self-titled release. While coming up with lyrics Eo would sometimes take inspiration from some random notes I had typed out in my phone and start singing them. This got me attempting to try writing some lyrics and by the point we had a few riffs for this song I suggested, “Spray paint the bridge,” and a few other lines as a starting point. For me, this was a continuation on the theme from another song we have called Flat Earther. In Scotland, we have some pretty amusing flat earth graffiti on road signs and bridges. That line is for those guys but also got me thinking about real graffiti artists going out and doing art in hard-to-reach places.
Georgia Harris: This song started off as a quirky, eerie bass loop Doig made, which I really liked. I just started singing over the top of it while listening and recorded my vocals pretty quickly, adding clarinet later. I hadn’t actually recorded myself singing in years so it felt a bit embarrassing but it all came together after Chris and Eo added drums and keys and effects. At the time of recording we were locked down and I hadn’t left the flat in a long time; my world had suddenly become very small. I was using this big floor rug in the middle of my living room as an ‘island’ where I recorded things and had all my gear piled up on it. It was a weird set-up but comforting at the time to carve out a little space for making music.
ES: Looking to kinship as a way of engaging with entangled environmental and reproductive issues. Loving things that aren’t linked to your bloodline, expectations, control and ownership of women’s & womxn bodies. Kith, kinship and friendship – how a band is a bond.
AD: My vocal and bass part is built over this awesome guitar loop that Georgia put together. Originally there was a longer version of the song that got edited down but we can save that for the rarities comp. I remember this one was done fairly early on and I spent a day in lockdown coming up with my parts. There was zero precedent for how we put this stuff together. I had not really intended on singing much in the band (beyond backing vocals) if I am to be honest, since we have some incredibly strong vocalists already. It felt unnecessary. But there was no expectation or plan so I just sang something. Figuring out how to play some of it live will be challenging, haha.
ES: The lyrics for Power Cut was an idea that came to me in the winter of 2019 where I experienced an actual power cut for several hours in Marseille where I was doing a three-month artist residency. It was a really patchy electric system in the hallway, not just a simple fuse situation, I had to knock on my neighbour’s door who was a lovely old man wearing a dressing gown and slippers who came out to me and we tried to communicate. I have some French, but not fluent or good with vocabulary electricity precisions. We couldn’t fix it. I ended up sitting alone in this unknown flat for the evening with candles and feeling the shapes of things as my eyes started to adjust. I started to surrender to the darkness.
And began to be irritated by my own reliance on power, tech, use of carbon. My phone battery was dead. I started thinking about grid systems and electrical-grid collapses. Hippy utopias, climate activism. Blackouts, green economies, dreaming of living off the grid. Feeling trapped by my own urban infrastructure. My mum is a gardener who has a lot of embodied knowledge that her family passed down to her. I have not retained it. But I work in a city as a Climate Action Community worker. It’s this reliance on tech which does my nut sometimes.
I have visited Slab City in the past near Joshua Tree as I was working for an amazing artist out there. People were living off the grid and there were many geodesic domes about. Buckminster Fuller style. It was a petri dish of society that had organised contradictions in itself, radical hippies vs the largest marine base. These kinds of things passed my mind and ended up being in the song. Thinking about striving to create a life that is separate to state and being free.
Also the power cut kind of became a state in 2020 of lack of power in a body, death, light, hope, energy and flow in this song. I was missing my family and friends a lot remembering being small and growing in nature.
Dave did this really great ‘waterfall guitar’ as I previously called it which clicked with the keys. I like the build on the drums and also Geo’s clarinet just highlighted the feeling of nostalgia and optimism.
AD: This song lyrically is about a weekend last summer when my mum was in hospital, I was staying at her flat in Troon, Scotland trying to figure out what was going on by phone. We were all semi-locked down, the band were editing the album and loads of WhatsApp stuff was coming through about it, which was exciting but then there were moments of fear and tension while I waited. The weather was actually good outside but the world had gone mad. I felt insane and then my mum’s TV broke and that was just the final hilarious confirmation of some truly baffling events. The song was built over a lovely loop that David had sent through. It’s a weird song but I like it.
ES: Romantic mud lyrics came when running. I kept spotting this man doing a crossword when all this wild garlic was in bloom around him. Thinking about foraging and passing time. The richness and unknown of each individual’s life. There is another story with the guitar that the others will tell I’m sure! Dave and I recorded our guitars out of time with each other. I don’t remember exactly how, but having to put together our parts separately, this was easily done. My guitar didn’t end up sounding like I originally intended, but it became something new and others liked it so that’s how it stayed. It was fitting in some way, the off-kilter guitars, like we were going through the mud too.
ES: Zöe came to me as I’ve been reflecting on this concept coined by Rosi Braidotti in her book The Posthuman – which is her contemporary reading of philosopher Baruch Spinoza. In a nutshell, Zöe means ‘live drive’ and comes from the word ‘conatus’. We were reflecting to call the album ‘contus’, but it felt a bit too pretentious. Conatus’ definition is, “An effort or striving, endeavour, impulse, inclination, tendency, undertaking, serving is an innate inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself.” In The Posthuman book there is a lot of interwoven complexities linked to mediated societies being discussed, genetically modified food, advance prosthetics, robotics and reproductive technologies. She’s looking at the sustainability of our planet as a whole and contemporary market economies profiting from this control; the commodification of all that lives.
And Zöe goes against that commodification. Braidotti’s concept of Zöe is a kind of feminist re-claiming of communal public, anti-privatisation, looking to strive for social and environmental justice. Zöe kind of became a character of striving for me when writing.
There is also an aspect of nostalgia within the record – made at a time when people were doing a lot of photo flashbacks, self-work, revaluations and future projections. Questioning the ways in which they live and imagining new ways. Zöe is a desire to keep living despite all odds but is not body essentialist. It can be a drive of the smallest animal but that what compels you to keep going.
It felt suited to the kind of grief we are all being consumed with in this year when we wrote this album. But also a power that comes from a force, which can also echo the strength of solidarity and collective action. So yeah! That’s the kind of story behind the lyrical side.
GH: This song really seemed complete by the time it reached me so I didn’t want to add too much melodically. I love the use of improvised percussion (like the Tall Dwarfs) so I decided to start banging on bottles, pots, pans, and containers to find the sounds I wanted to add, much to the chagrin of my partner, who was trying to work from home. He had to come see what all the commotion was, haha!
GH: This song was built up from one of Dave’s lovely guitar loops that seemed to me to have a very delicate character. As with all of the songs we created for this album it was incredible to hear how the song changed and grew, layer by layer. It was a necessity at the time, but also such a fun process! As usual, I just listened repeatedly to the loop and let myself sing along to it without any real intention. I find this iterative improvising process – if I can call it that – fun and spontaneous, whereas if I set out to ‘write’ lyrics I don’t enjoy it and it’s too much pressure. I’m happy for listeners to interpret the lyrics how they want. The most fun part was putting a little bit of slide guitar on this track as I was so tickled to use the slide… it often languishes in the drawer but I thought it seemed right for the song. Also, although I love playing the acoustic guitar, it would have never made it onto the album if we’d been recording in the studio as usual since I only play acoustic at home.”