❉ Brix talks about the new album, L.A. as her muse, and escaping the shadow of The Fall.
“People say, ‘Oh your glass is half full’ – but no. My glass is not half full or half empty – I have a fucking glass. That’s it. I have a glass; everyone has a glass. So for me the resilience is, even in the darkest times, to just find that spark of light, because it’s so dark everywhere.”
Earlier this year Brix Smith released Valley of the Dolls, which is actually her first solo album after her time with The Fall and then Brix and the Extricated. An uplifting album of garage, power pop and punk, it includes guest appearances from The Bangles’ Susannah Hoffs and Siobhan Fahey of Shakespears Sister and Bananarama on backing vocals, and was produced by Killing Joke founder Youth. Nick Walters spoke to her before her gig at Bristol’s Strange Brew on 23 May – the first leg of her tour promoting the album. (Click here for tour dates)
How was lockdown for you – did you find it affected your creativity?
Basically, I wrote the Valley of the Dolls album with Youth during lockdown. We started early on in Lockdown 1, sending files to each other whilst I was in London and he was in Spain. He would send me backing tracks and I would record the vocals and the melodies and the words and everything and send them back to him, and he would say, ‘add another harmony here, do this here, do that here, that’s great,’ and pretty soon after the first two or three songs we realised we had something special, because originally we were writing for other people – we work together as a writing team. Then I thought, I might as well write during the pandemic, what else am I gonna do? So anyway it turned into this album and it was a labour of love – you know, it was just so amazing to have no pressure to write an album. No money pressure, no time pressure, I could just spend all day in my bedroom recording the vocals exactly as I wanted, every word just how I wanted – it was a real luxury.
It really got me through, and I really enjoyed Lockdown 1. I stayed in my apartment with my husband and my dog, and we had a gorgeous time together. It was amazing for my relationship with my husband, as we realised how much we love each other, how much we like spending time with each other – and a lot of people found it the opposite to that. Then, Lockdown 2: still working on the record, but by then restrictions had eased up so Youth and I met finally met in person, so I did some recording in Wandsworth, and I flew to Spain and recorded some finishing touches there.
And then Lockdown 3 was complete and utter shit. My Dad died, my stepson was in a coma on life support, and my brother died. It was really hard, I never saw them again after lockdown, I couldn’t get over to America to see my mother, it was really tough and I started to really suffer mentally. It was scary, you didn’t really know what was going to happen.
Strange Times from the last Extricated album Super Blood Wolf Moon in 2019 seemed to be a premonition of the pandemic.
It was a premonition. Pretty much everything I write is a premonition. I did it in The Fall as well, you know, all the time. It’s weird – there’s stuff on Valley of the Dolls that’s a premonition. Anyway, so lockdown was a complete mixed bag, but I choose to think… for instance, on this album the last song is called Black Butterfly, and some journalists have called it ‘the anthem of our times’, because it really is about lockdown, and it’s about the isolation, separation, and the fear, and missing love and then ultimately it’s about transformation. It’s about all of us going into the whole thing, this one species with one way of life, and coming out more empathetic and kind, and shedding all the things that are no longer important to us and coming out as better people, even though we’ve all been through it and we’ve been through it together. So the butterfly is the symbol of transformation – it’s the ultimate symbol of metamorphosis you can have because a butterfly comes from a larva and a cocoon and opens into something beautiful, and this one’s black. So we’re going into it having been scarred, but beautifully.
Do you still find yourself influenced by your time in The Fall?
Everything that’s led up to where I am now, every part of my life, has gone into the melting pot and become part of me, so it was obviously a massive part of me and I was a massive part of The Fall, but I think this is the album I’ve always wanted to make, even before I was in The Fall, but it took me all these years to get round to it, finally standing up for myself and saying, ‘actually, it’s all about me right now, not about that.’ But I would not be where I am now if it were not for that. So it’s just a whole journey, really. So I do not feel under the shadow of The Fall any more, I’ve certainly broken the back of that, and I barely play any Fall songs now.
How did the involvement of Susannah Hoffs and Siobhan Fahey come about?
Susannah’s been my friend since I was 13, I’ve played with her for a long time in LA, our Moms are best friends, and Siobhan is also a really good friend – she’s been on stage with me with the Extricated a couple of times. During lockdown, Siobhan happened to be travelling around Spain with Nick Launay, the producer, who is a friend of Youth, and who has produced Nick Cave. Youth had invited Nick to visit at any time so they came to the studio and he said ‘let’s get Siobhan on the record.’ He asked if she wanted to sing on it and she was, ‘Yeah!’ So she sang on Valley Girl and Changing. Susannah had not been on any of my records, though I had played with her, and I thought it would be nice to have her on BVs because no-one does harmonies like a Bangle. And I thought, ‘how cool that I’ve got my besties on there’ and they’re from, like, the world’s biggest female bands!
Los Angeles and California features prominently in your work – you wrote a Fall song called L.A., an album entitled Lost Angeles…
I did Waking Up In The Sun, I did Disney’s Dream Debased, I did Hollywood – it’s my muse. It’s yin/yang, and that’s why it’s so fascinating. On the surface, it’s so glamorous, it’s utterly beautiful – the gorgeous glistening ocean, the smell of orange blossom, flowers everywhere, bright blue skies and balmy weather, beautiful people with perfect bodies and perfect smiles and it’s where you go to make it. In America, if you want to make it as a star in whatever capacity, you go to L.A. So people go there full of dreams and full of ego and it eats them up and spits them out – and for every two people who are successful and make it, you’ve got two million people whose dreams are crushed. And really when you look at L.A., underneath the surface, it’s a place of broken dreams, and people have had their hearts torn out. Suicides, prostitution, pornography, gangs, paedophiles… There’s a lot about men on this record, men who preyed on women like me when I was young.
You have come through a lot and have survived, thrived – do you think that it’s easier to cope as you get older?
I don’t think it has anything to do with age. I think it’s all to do with mindset. A positive mindset and living in the moment, and really enjoying it when things are good. Suck the nectar out of the flower. And then when things are bad or scary or awful, to know that it is only a moment and that it will pass.
It may last longer than other times but you will get through it, and it will shift because nothing ever stays the same, everything changes constantly, so not to freak out, and you need the darkness to find the light. You cannot understand the light, unless you’ve lived in the dark. But you mustn’t be terrified of the dark, because it will pass. So it’s that super-positive mindset for me. People say, ‘Oh your glass is half full’, – but no. My glass is not half full or half empty – I have a fucking glass. That’s it. I have a glass; everyone has a glass. So for me the resilience is, even in the darkest times, to just find that spark of light, because it’s so dark everywhere.
Are the Extricated still a going concern?
There is never a definitive end. It was an amazing band for me because it gave me back my mojo: playing with those guys, they really had my back, I got my songwriting chopped up again, I learned how to be a front-woman which I never was before, we wrote great songs, had a really good time doing it, and then lockdown happened. The guys live in Manchester, they have families, some have young children, so life just intervened – there was never a discussion to finish it, or not finish it. I just had to keep being creative, which is why I made this album, and now I’m loving this. So it may have naturally just come to a conclusion. But I don’t think you can ever say… I mean if someone offered us X amount of money to play I’d ask the guys, and do it in a heartbeat.
I have a lot of plans – I’m already working on the next album. I’m writing with other people as well; I can’t tell you who, but one of them comes from Bristol. So I’m doing a lot – I’m doing some TV projects, I’m writing, there’s just a lot going on. And I just want to enjoy my life. At the end of the summer, I’m going to have, like, ten forks in the road, from which to choose what the next one is. But it’s all good!
Brix Smith and her all-female super-group – completed by My Bloody Valentine duo Deb Googe (bass) and Jen Macro (keys/guitar) plus Lisa Lux (drums) – are currently touring in support of the new album, followed by select festival dates including Rebellion Festival (6th August). Tickets for the shows are available from her website.
❉ ‘Valley of the Dolls’ by Brix Smith (Grit Over Glamour GOG1LP) was released 3 March 2023 and is available on LP and CD formats, RRP from £12.99.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Nick Walters is the author of several Doctor Who novels including the Doctor Who Magazine award-winning Reckless Engineering. He has also written numerous SF and horror short stories. He lives in Bristol with his bike and his cat, his favourite band is The Fall, and his favourite Doctor Who is Tom Baker.
Artist photos: Sonic PR.