“We’ve been living our lives online, it’s insidiously toxic” – Saint Agnes, Vampire and Social Media
2020 will ultimately go down as the year most of the world sat still and held its breath, waiting for a sign of safer days to come amidst a devastating global crisis. Life as we know it was put on pause as the streets fell eerily quiet with a lingering tension hanging in the air. It was an elongated silence no one ever saw coming, especially for the London based DIY Alt Rockers Saint Agnes who prior to the productive yet illuminating string of lockdowns, was reaping in the success of their debut album Welcome To Silvertown by supporting the likes of Monster Magnet and Ho99o9 alongside impressively selling out their solo show at The Black Heart in only 15 minutes.
Although all massively impressive feats, a new challenge emerged over the course of the long arduous year through keeping the creative juices flowing leading to the creation of arguably the bands most hard-hitting and cutting soundscape to date, one in the form of their newest mini-album Vampire.
Speaking to Saint Agnes’ front woman Kitty A. Austen and lead guitarist Jon James Tuffnell in the run up to the release of their latest passion project, Kitty’s yearning for “people to hear it in its entirety” is palpable alongside Jon’s mounting anticipation feeling “like you’re a kid stuck on permanent Christmas Eve and you’re like “come on!!! Let’s go!””, is obvious as well as inspiring considering how much this latest release must means to them after nearly an entire year cut off from producing their feral and recklessly entertaining live shows.
With fans expectations at an all time high informed by Saint Agnes’ lockdown collection of iconic cover tracks known as the The Quarantine Diaries, the advancement of their sound is truly unmistakable. When asked about what to expect out of Vampire Kitty replies “I’m always trying to be more honest with my song writing and more vulnerable. I'd say the themes discussed on the mini-album are definitely both those things”, while Jon explains in their pre-covid process “you have real life come knocking all the time, taking you out of the day-dream headspace that we tend to enter for creating” and yet post-COVID an interesting shift revealed itself that through “the isolation of the last year we have just been able to sink into our own mental world more and more with no intrusive wake up. I think it shows, in how deep this record goes”.
"We might write a whole song right there, or it evolves in the rehearsal room, or like our song ‘Brother’ it might be written backstage to be tested on an audience 15 minutes later”.
In knowing how renowned their blend of gothic aesthetics with glitching pop soundscapes has become over the years, Jon explains that “It always starts with the same thing, a deep conversation between me and Kitty. We start talking about something, a story or an experience, which then becomes a lyrical idea, usually very visual and we begin to build a world that helps us refine the stories we want to tell or the feelings we want to express” he continues “The next stage then varies depending on circumstances. We might write a whole song right there, or it evolves in the rehearsal room, or like our song ‘Brother’ it might be written backstage to be tested on an audience 15 minutes later”.
In expanding more on the bands modified writing process, Kitty reminisces the trial and error stages of the bands writing process on the road while also admitted that due to these uncertain times that “Jon and I had to work differently. We would write the music and demo it on our computer, in our flat, send bits across to the other two and work it up between ourselves that way”. The most surprising aspect of their writing process was the bands long awaited reunions in the recording studio became the first time the whole band had played these new tracks live, which established a new found intensity out of “that joy, of finally being together playing music” in which you “can feel the energy bursting out of the record” at every step along Vampire’s story beats.
It’s safe to say that through the throes of lockdown, Saint Agnes were constantly working and refining their craft; whether it was their own original songs, paying homage to the artists who have inspired them as well as their impressive visual explorations. As a band always on the look out to create a bit of disruptive chaos, especially to fill the void live shows left behind; Jon and Kitty found themselves in the locked down Hampshire countryside where they proceeded to have Kitty covered “head to toe in blood” for a socially distanced music video shoot to accompany their 2020 single ‘The Meanest Little Kid in Town’ which featured on The Family Strange EP.
Creating quite the mess wandering through fields of gold and the pristine tree line streets of suburbia at 6am in the morning; Saint Agnes’ fully fledged murderous fantasy definitely appealed to their “mischievous nature as well as felt like it helped give context to the lyrics of that song”, while also continuously demonstrating the bands willingness to adapt for the creation of their artistry. As Jon explains “we have a strong visual in mind for every song we make and this led us to making our own videos rather than relying on trying to get someone else to understand what we have in mind”, he continues “Just like the Vampire recording where we had to embrace a new way of creating we had the same for making videos.”
Whilst the past year was consumed with embracing the bands newly found versatile nature, song writing became a space to explore disillusionment and emotional turmoil attached to the usage of a modern commodity; when asked about their antisocial media messaging littered within their lyrical content, Kitty explains “For the last year we've all been living our lives even more online and it's become more insidiously toxic”, she follows up by stating “...we present our most beautiful, polished selves living our 'best lives' whilst our real selves cringe away in the background. And I somehow I found myself becoming somewhat monstrous from time spent endlessly scrolling.”
Although their gripe with social media is not the be-all-end-all of the themes and subject matters approached on their newest exploration, their third single ‘Vampire’ is a calculated one in its overall appeal “...It was a conscious decision to make Vampire a polished, pop, glittering song with these super dark lyrics to reflect the shiny, exciting, lure of social media with the dark heart it has its core”.
When asked how Kitty perceives social media manifested this harmful and toxic environment, she explains “Nobody spends time on Instagram and comes away feeling good about themselves right? We all have the power to craft a perfect image and present a perfect life online and it manipulates us to look at our own less than sparkly existence, reality, and feel shit about it. And it's actually gotten even darker in that there is now a whole genre of 'real life' influencers who supposedly document their awkwardness or weirdness or normalcy, but it's still very much an acceptable, social media-version, of it and they're finding fame and it's just another kind of twisted distortion of reality that relies on 'likes'” which feels rather sobering when you start to think of yourself in that sphere of doctored existence, constantly being blasted in the face with idealistic standards which in the ‘real world’ are totally unachievable.
"Our world view is that so much of life has been made ugly by capitalism, so many of our worst personal aspects become dominant in that environment, but there is still a magical, beautiful spark in humanity that is being challenged and is screaming into the void.”
Although social medias hold on modern society is incontestable at this moment in human history, Kitty feels there is a space for healthy usage via a need “to be really strict with yourself and use it for specific purposes as opposed to the endless, idle scrolling we all find ourselves doing twenty times a day. Coming off it as much as possible, helps you see it in a healthier way” while Jon expertly compares it to responsible alcohol consumption, as well as allows space for true anarchy via remembering “...there is a big corporate machine behind it spending a fortune to keep you hooked and if you don’t play along you are in some small way rebelling. For me the feeling of rebelling is powerful and helps me”.
In keeping with this rebellious spirit, in elaborating on various other influences that have shaped the albums exploration Jon admits that “Our world view is that so much of life has been made ugly by capitalism, so many of our worst personal aspects become dominant in that environment, but there is still a magical, beautiful spark in humanity that is being challenged and is screaming into the void”, which can easily translate to an eagerness to achieve a true sense of freedom away from all ties that hold a person, physically, mentally and emotionally down.
It’s a transcendent sub-conscious thought process that seems to echo across the entire albums story arch, from the avenging angel sent to wreak havoc on earth for our sins in ‘Repent’, to the opposing power struggle to obtain peace in a confined space in ‘This World Ain’t Big Enough’; there is always an aspect of breaking the mould in order to create or establish a new equilibrium, yet the bands one wish for listeners experiencing Vampire remains plain and simple, Jon explains “my one wish is that people listen to it and feel something, whatever that might be”, which has to be the best reaction any true artist could ever dream of from a fan.
Throughout the trials and tribulations following Saint Agnes’ journey creating Vampire, Kitty especially found that “being creative and producing art is the most important thing, and the biggest driver, in my life” she continues by defiantly stating “I feel committed, after this year, to the life I’ve chosen for myself”. As a group that thrives off of emotional outpourings via live performances “Not being able to play live shows was really difficult for both of us. The catharsis of releasing all that emotion, and connecting with other human beings, is really essential to good mental health for both of us” and considering the band just announced a string of shows up and down the UK for The Vampire Tour ’21 this coming October, fans and casual listeners alike are bound to sell out the select tour dates in record time after their latest creation, to fully experience the newly galvanised addictive brand of carnage.