Second albums proving to be difficult isn't a cliche without reason. But in the four years that it took The St. Pierre Snake Invasion to follow up their stunning debut ‘A Hundred Years And A Day', the Bristol band have faced a seemingly endless parade of obstacles and problems. And yet, somehow, they have overcome every single one of them.
Broke, relying on favours going into the recording, there quickly followed the major issue of singer Damien Sayell seriously damaging his throat on the first day of recording vocals. Throw in the exit of bassist Dave Larkin to Black Peaks immediately after the completion of ‘Caprice Enchanté', and you could be forgiven for expecting something that is bogged down in chaos and discord.
Instead, he and his band have delivered something startlingly fresh and bold, a record that takes the band's beginnings in hardcore as a mere launchpad towards an evolution into something else completely. Four years well spent as it turns out.
The complete antithesis to its predecessor (described by the frontman as "a smash and grab"), recording ‘Caprice Enchanté' was always going to be a lengthy process. Chatting over the phone, the Welsh singer picks up the story. "Basically, we don't have any backing or funding at all. So our producer Sean [Genockey] sorted us out with mates rates, and we got into the studio really cheap."
Friends since meeting in the band's early days following a gig at The Shacklewell Arms, Genockey also produced their first album and so it proved a logical step to return to his Rockfield studios. By now he was a producer in high demand, his time split between St Pierre and the likes of Roger Daltrey and Shame. "When that's happening, and he's being paid for it, I wasn't in a position to say ‘do you wanna fucking hurry up and finish ours?'" laughs Damien today at the situation that led to a much longer gestation period than originally expected.
Damaged vocal cords also took their toll. "Before I went into the booth to do the vocals, Sean asked me if I was going to warm up first. And I was like ‘nah, fuck it, don't worry about it'," remembers Damien, "First song, it fucking went." Managing to sing some of the softer elements, it took repeated visits to finally finish his parts. Understandably throughout this whole stressful period, doubts crept in.
"The plan was to have it out by the end of 2017, but it didn't happen. And the first year that we ran over, I just thought, I'm not sure if I can do this any more. I was in this completely negative mind-frame of thinking that it was just gonna be shit and no-one would give a fuck."
From these darkest of thoughts eventually sprang a shard of light, and the inspiration for the title itself. "I just had this change of mentality where I was like, I will die if this album doesn't come out. There was a subtle change in being more proactive and thinking more positively about it all."
That sudden change of mood, or caprice, came to define both the band, and the record itself, as they moved towards a new era. "As much as its fun and it's a compulsion to make art and express yourself, ultimately making music is a fruitless endeavour. I love it today, but then I hate it, and then I love it again. I think every musician, and most artists full stop, have that same feeling about themselves at times."
Recognising imposter syndrome for what it was, Damien also found himself exploring his changing self-identity as the teenager who dreamt of a future in rock and roll became a married man in his 30s with a mortgage and 60-kilogram dog. "I always said when I got to thirty I'd stop, y'know?"
These themes of finding your place in the world anew when you feel that you've lost your identity run through much of ‘Caprice Enchanté', whether it is the deeply personal ‘Things To Do In Denbigh When You're Dead' or the "triumphant defeatism" of ‘I Am The Lonely Tourist'. The former, his favourite on the record, echoes with a childhood moving from town to town in Wales.
"When I was living in Rhyl, I was like the weirdo because it was the sort of town where people just wear Berghaus and stuff like that. That song is about becoming a man in a town and a region which is obsessed with violence, a place where I wasn't really deemed or seen to be a man."
To no surprise to anybody who follows the band on Twitter, the state of politics raises its head, most notably on ‘Braindead'. With Brexit and Trump still prompting furious global debate around nationalism and that search for a supposedly ‘lost' identity, it fitted in naturally. "I imagine I'm a bit similar to other people, in that I've become desensitised to it all a bit because it's been going on for so long."
Seeking hope and optimism out of these dark days, talk turns to those who will end up having to sort it all out. "When I was a kid, we weren't marching for anything. The only good thing about this resurgence of abhorrent right-wing political views is that they are being matched by kids, decent human beings."
Just as with his personal mindset, a sense of caprice has also spread to the music itself. Songs like ‘Carroll A Deering' burst into thunderous life on a wave of hardcore, only to settle into a brief interlude from a Welsh choir (a tribute to his own heritage), before climaxing into what sounds like the clanging of the inner workings of Iron Man's metal suit. And that is only one of several musical left turns that appear here.
"Ha, that's a fucking mad one," laughs Damien, "I knew I wanted something there to do with being Welsh, I thought about spoken word but luckily…" Making the most of the additional time, his writing pushed into wholly new territories. "I pushed myself to think outside the box in terms of structure, and what people would expect, most of the songs are designed to have bits that will catch the ear because it's just not what you expect."
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the first records that springs to mind production-wise is Nirvana's seminal ‘In Utero', later revealed to be one of Damien's favourites, with that same intoxicating mix of rawness and polished production. "The first album, I wanted it to be like a modernised version of ‘Raw Power', but this one, it's structurally and dynamically more complex, so it needed to be a little more polished."
Finding that delicate balance again took time, but the end results are striking. "It worked out well, we've got that mix, and I don't think that it sounds like any other hardcore bands or albums."
Worked out well is not only a neat summation of ‘Caprice Enchanté', but of Damien's point of view too as the release date approaches with a sense that he has reached that same balance. "I'm optimistic about the album, it's about finding balance and that equilibrium - and that's where I am with it all now. I really want good things to happen, but I don't want to get excited about that and end up disappointed. There's always the possibility that someone will say this is shit, and they preferred us when we sounded like McClusky! But, then I don't want to be so stern and cynical that I don't enjoy the good stuff…"
He dissolves into laughter at this never-ending battle, in itself the perfect embodiment of the stunning piece of work that he has, finally and triumphantly, delivered against all the odds. Third albums are usually easier, right?
Taken from the July issue of Upset. The St Pierre Snake Invasion's album 'Caprice Enchanté' is out now.
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