❉ James Knights and Scarlet on the new album and their 20 year journey through synthpop…
“Russian label ScentAir Records wanted to update our existing Best Of & Rarities album from 2013… which we were more than happy to go ahead with. While compiling, we found some fun demos, and rare tracks. So this package feels more complete than the first one.” – James Knights on ‘Programmed to Perfection‘.
I’m always open to hearing new music, and so consequently when Scarlet Soho’s 2015 album In Cold Blood was recommended to me, I was intrigued. It has since become one of my ‘go-to’ synth albums: With its catchy musicality and pop sensibility, it’s a very upbeat synth album that’s extremely refreshing to listen to.
The band are James Knights and Scarlet, who started out with a more post-punk influenced output, due in no small part to the fact they were in guitar-led punk bands prior to forming Scarlet Soho. Equally influenced by synth giants such as The Human League and Depeche Mode, as rock bands like Faith No More, Scarlet Soho have mashed up genres to create their version of perfect synthpop by etching their own personality on everything they write and perform.
The band originally formed in 2004 and released their first album Divisions Of Decency via indie label Human Recordings. They were invited to tour with Razorlight and Delays which took them to a European and UK-wide audience. They also supported IAMX at a sold out show at London’s legendary Scala venue, and headlined the very first MySpace Live event in Berlin.
Four years later, they signed to Hamburg-based label Major Records (home to IAMX and Ladytron), who released the second Scarlet Soho album Warpaint in 2009. This was a clear progression from their debut, and the band were more confident in their creative output.
Further time on the road ensued, with their own headline European tour followed by UK dates with ‘80s legends A Flock Of Seagulls, and a Europe-wide outing with Zoot Woman. A third album was now on the way, and two limited edition EPs; When The Lights Go Out and Solo KO which saw the band return to Europe with Kosheen and O Children, and make their first appearance at WGT Leipzig in 2013.
The third studio album In Cold Blood arrived in early 2015 and was viewed by many (myself included) as their best work to date.
After an intensive round of promotion for the album, the band decided to take a break. James came back under a new musical project in 2016, as Knight$, which offers a new direction into disco with a synthpop sensibility.
The very welcome Best Of album Programmed to Perfection is out on 16 November, and introduces the listener to not only an array of Scarlet Soho’s tunes, but additionally a significant number of remixes. The album boasts an impressive 31 tracks over two CDs, celebrating twenty years of making music and features an 8-page colour booklet with previously unseen photographs of the band.
CD1 showcases a mix of tracks from the band’s better-known back catalogue from their first three albums, which showcases their earliest tracks to the more recent (albeit from 2015) and presents their twenty year journey through synthpop.
CD2 deals with remixes, early demos, rarities and B-sides. The album sees reworked versions of many of their popular tracks, the most beguiling for me is the Disdain Mix of In Cold Blood which takes the track to new and eerie places, creating a completely new feel to the song from the album of the same name, whereas in complete contrast, Is Growing Up the Best We Can Do’s remix by DJ Barletta gives a Britalo/hard house treatment that wouldn’t feel out of place on any Ibizan dance floor.
Scarlet Soho haven’t officially disbanded so who knows what we’ll hear from them in the future? We Are Cult caught up with Scarlet Soho’s James and Scarlet to ask them about the album…
Great to hear a ‘best of’ album is coming out for Scarlet Soho. Why now?
James: Well, a good friend Manfred told me there could be interest from the Russian label, ScentAir Records. They wanted to update our existing Best Of & Rarities album from 2013, because our In Cold Blood (2015) album came out afterwards, and that contained some of our best work. ScentAir prepared the deal, which we were more than happy to go ahead with. While compiling, we found some fun demos, and rare tracks. So this package feels more complete than the first one.
What is Scarlet doing now?
Scarlet: Currently I am at home like most of the rest of the world, but in ‘normal’ times I would be promoting and running live music events in the South of the UK, hosting and promoting feminist speaking events and co-running a radical bookshop. There is still a lot of live music in my life, albeit largely on the other side of the stage these days.
Scarlet Soho have never officially disbanded. Can we expect to hear another album in the future?
Scarlet: James and I have spoken about it a few times! It is certainly not out of the question. It would be interesting to see how the songwriting dynamic has changed for sure.
How do KNIGHT$ and your other musical project, Boytronic, fit into the equation?
James: The KNIGHT$ project is a completely different outlet, which I am enjoying. I’m fortunate that I haven’t had to juggle KNIGHT$, Boytronic and Scarlet Soho simultaneously! I think that would be too much for me!
Many artists have taken the opportunity to get creative during quarantine. What have you been doing through lockdown?
James: Yes. I’ve lost so many live shows this year, and I had to focus on some other stuff. I’ve written three new songs for Knight$, programmed a whole new Boytronic record, compiled this Scarlet Soho album, and I even had a go at painting with acrylic paint for the first time! I like to stay as busy as I can!
Which is your favourite Scarlet Soho track and why?
James: Of course, picking one is hard and it depends on my mood a little bit. Maybe When The Lights Go Out, or perhaps What You Need, but I can’t say for certain!
You never toured with In Cold Blood despite a big promo drive. Why is that?
Scarlet: A lot of things came to a head when In Cold Blood came out. It’s an album that we both are immensely proud of, and wish we had been able to tour properly. We had a gruelling tour of the Czech Republic towards the end of 2014 to coincide with Two Steps From Heartache being released. We came home exhausted, strung out and perhaps a little disheartened for the first time, despite some really great shows. James went on holiday to take a break and was taken ill whilst he was away, I was helping care for my Grandfather who had dementia and was finding that increasingly difficult. There was no way either of us could have seen the album tour through to the end, so we cancelled.
I wonder how it would have turned out…?
Where do you draw your influences from, as a band?
Scarlet: From all over the place! And digging through the archives to find the rarities for this record was really interesting – there’s a lot of stuff that never got finished over the years! There was a very specific time where we were seemingly listening only to Magazine… it showed.
I think everything seeps into the music in some way, even when you don’t choose it to. There’s bits of Faith No More, Depeche Mode, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Duran Duran… There’s probably some Britpop in there somewhere as James and I started writing together in 1999 and that’s what we’d hear out and about. Prior to meeting each other we were both metalheads, so that came out too.
I think the music of Scarlet Soho was largely us being influenced by each other.
What are your next steps, musically?
James: I want to put out some new KNIGHT$ tracks in Spring 2021. Hopefully to play live and see my fans and friends.
There will be a new Boytronic album, but we’re taking our time on that one. It might come out in 2022.
Where are your fans based? Do you have a greater following in one country over another?
James: With Scarlet Soho it’s very much spread around, but I’d say the main cities are London, Cologne, Berlin, and Austria as a whole.
Which synths have you used to produce your music? How has this changed over the years?
James: It’s very different. In the early days of Scarlet Soho we had some cheap guitars, synths and a few drum machines of our own. It all got bashed up! I remember having several Casio CZ models, which were heavy and awkward to transport!
At the time we always rented commercial studios to record, and they usually had better gear than we did, so we would use their synths, amps and guitars most of the time (unless our cheap gear had a specific sound that couldn’t be replicated with their good stuff!)
These days I do all the songwriting on my laptop, and record vocals at home which wasn’t really possible back then. I go to a studio to bounce some key synth sounds. I like to use the Pro-One a lot, and the Sequential Circuits Drumtraks. These have become essential to me in finding my own sound.
What is your songwriting process? Music or lyrics first? Who contributes what?
James: With Soho we would demo our ideas a lot! Sometimes just an intro would be enough to inspire us to do something further… Often I would hum a melody over the top of what we had created and give a demo tape to Scarlet. That same melody contained no actual words, just syllables and sounds. It was up to Scarlet to make sense out of that and firm up the lyrics!
Thanks for talking to us and good luck with the Scarlet Soho album.
❉ Scarlet Soho: Programmed To Perfection (Best Of & Rarities) out 16 November 2020 from Scentair Records as Limited Edition Remastered Double CD/Digital. Pre order signed copies now from Bandcamp
❉ Ange Chan is a freelance writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. She was also prolific contributor in the anthology collection Me and the Starman, (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music, having first been published in the 1980s music press. As well as being a frequent contributor to the pop culture website We Are Cult, she is working on her long-standing third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.
Photos Steve Hogg © Cosmic Egg Productions. Reproduced with kind permission. Website: https://www.cosmicegg.co.uk/ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org