Brix is animated. A new Extricated album, their third in as many years, is almost upon us. There’s an autumn tour on the horizon, a regular occurrence for this most hardworking of bands that are defying both the years and the well-trodden path of becoming your own tribute act.
Apologise, say goodbye, euthanise, strap me down, pump me up, crash, crash, crash…
She’s recounting the lyrics to Crash Landing from Super Blood Wolf Moon, which was released on 25 October. Her arms are tapping out Paul Hanley’s rhythm in a Shoreditch cafe on a Friday afternoon. Brix’s beloved Gladys, her pug, sits impassively. Gladys is stoically comfortable. I get the feeling that Brix getting excited about her music, her writing, her fashion, isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Gladys is calm, unruffled as stories are told and passions expounded.
We chat for a couple of hours. There’s a couple of glasses of wine. The time whizzes by. It’s a thrill and a pleasure. Brix is on her home turf around the corner from her base of 20 years. Brix and her husband Philip were early adopters in this now uber hipster corner of London. We’ll chat about how things have changed, about her life in the fashion business and what is around the corner.
Boy, will we chat. I get home and start transcribing. Thirteen sheets of A4 later and I’m wondering how to piece this together. We talk about Brix’s relationship to music and creating. The themes for the new album. Rosemary’s Baby, addiction and despite Brix’s answer to my first question – death. Quite a lot of death. Scandinavian trolls find their way in too.
You’re getting it in instalments. It will be conversational. Brix quotes the lyrics frequently as she gets in the groove. I won’t be doing that verbatim.
It’s simple. If you want to know the lyrics – go buy the album from here. It’s wonderful (as are the first two Extricated LPs).
So here goes.
Stuart: This is the third Extricated album in just over 2 years. What’s informing the speed that the Extricated are working at now? Is it a mortality thing?
Brix: Nothing like that for me but what happened for me was that there were 15 years of making zero music, not even listening to it. Being pretty much spirit-broken. I’d done all that work in the Fall and all that work in the Adult Net, and I reached a point where I had to completely pivot to get out of something that wasn’t feeling good. I had to reinvent myself in other ways which I did. While I did that, I rediscovered loads of other things but it was actually the writing of the book (The Rise, The Fall, The Rise) that did it. Somehow the writing of the words of the book opened the stream of inspiration and the music started just coming again. It must have been waiting there in the ether, ready to go but it needed to let the feels lie fallow.
Stuart: The first song that you said you wrote in the book was Alaska. Was that a different song to the one that ended up on Breaking State?
Brix: Yes, that was a song that was going to be on my solo album called State of Alaska, which was a very different song but I don’t know if Jason (Brown, the Extricated’s guitarist) ever knew about that. But then for album two, he wrote a song called Alaska. Sometimes you have this connection, it’s almost telepathic so it’s weird.
I’d got to a point in my life where i could only do what felt good to me, that was authentic.
It just felt brilliant to create and get the skin goosebumps and when we started writing music and when this band came together, when I started on my own and when I got back together with them, everything else just disintegrated. I just gave up everything. I still did TV now and again, when it was something that I want to do but at this point, it’s not about mortality, it’s about passion and there’s nothing as important in this life as to follow your passion and what makes you happy.
Stuart: I remember reading in the book when you reached that kind of block around music, you weren’t even going to gigs or listening to new music. Has that changed, now that you are active, being a fan as well as being a creator?
Brix: Yeah but it’s different. Jaded is the wrong word as it’s negative. I’m super discerning and I feel like I have an antenna to pick up when people are super authentic or when they are channelling on another level. So I listen to stuff, it’s like people that are working at the highest level, almost multi-level, not banal. I won’t go to something unless I want to go unless it’s speaking to me. I have some weird of OCD for a couple of things but one of them is music. So if I hear a song I like, it can be anything from any era, it could be something new, it could be something old but I will listen to it again and again, sometimes for months, sometimes only one thing or one artist.
So I had this thing for Sparklehorse, Mark Linkous. I knew Mark and I wrote with Mark actually. At the time I was doing that I knew he was super talented but I didn’t quite get what a fucking brilliant genius he was and on every level, producing, words, oh my god. Only recently I rediscovered it after Tom Ravenscroft played something and it tweaked my mind. I thought “Oh my god Mark.” I haven’t thought of him for oh so long. So I went back for six months and all I ever had on my headphones was and then the same thing happened way before that with Sufjan Stevens. It could be Angel Olsen.
Stuart: Angel Olsen’s a really good example. Have you heard the new album yet? It’s absolutely stunning.
Brix: I haven’t. I’m hearing really good things about it.
A few weeks after we meet Brix’s and I chat on Twitter. She’s now heard it and thinks it’s incredible.
Stuart: One of the things that I’ve found is that I’ve got bored with male voices, that don’t really tell a story or the story they are telling is a story that’s been heard over and over again. More of the music to which I listen is created by women. For example this year, Angel Olsen, Little Simz, Shura. It seems to be women’s voices are much more authentic or have more to say these days.
Brix: Women have a more unique voice but are less bothered about showing their vulnerability. The one thing we all have as human beings is that we are all vulnerable, we all have the same core fears. We look in the mirror and we all have these insecurities. When you are telling the truth and you are being vulnerable and you are laying it on the line, it resonates with other people. I think that women are much more comfortable with doing that, much less ego-driven and pretending and posturing. Just as a generalisation, not all men and of course, not all women. I think it’s kind of a time for women right now where they’re trying to find their power and their voice. They were previously pigeon-holed and put into boxes. It wasn’t a level playing field.
Stuart: I was listening to a Desert Island Discs recently with Ann Cleeves who writes the Vera stories. She was saying that writing strong female characters has become more compelling because previously, a woman in a crime novel would be a prostitute, a show-girl or a woman scorned. Actually now, there’s a place where women can be central to the story. That feels like what I’m hearing in the music scene now which feels better than some bloke trotting out banalities.
Stuart: The album seems to have something different to it, taking things in a different direction. The two songs that bookend it, the initial song which has a Velvet Underground/Sunday Morning feel to it and the final song the God Stone which has strings and feels like a new direction. The first album Part 2 feels like it was a clearing of the decks. This is a reset. With the second album, Breaking State, it’s like – this is us, this is our personality. The new album feels like it is going off in new directions.
Brix: Exactly right.
Stuart: What’s prompted that? What’s given you the comfort to do that?
Brix: It’s all organic. There was no conscious thing, we’re gonna do this or that. The first album there was a thread of the sound of the Fall going through it because that’s where we left off. There was a lot of anger in me from the first album that I needed to get out. The songs were played more aggressively and were more simplistic. They were more direct in their writing. We were finding our feet and reclaiming the songs that I wrote and Steve Hanley wrote in the Fall that were ours. Things like L.A.
When you write a song, you hear it your head and you know what it can be. When you are working with other people, you take on board their view of the song too. Working with Mark E Smith was collaborative. It came out in a different way to when I originally heard it. I was like, oh I’m the songwriter, I’m going to go back now and do it the way I heard it. The same with Feeling Numb, although that’s a more simple song to some extent. So it was really a reclamation of what I did. I did it when he was still alive. We wanted to use that as a springboard to where we going to go. Where we going to go, I did not know.
In the Extricated both Steve Trafford and Jason are extraordinary writers. It is collaborative. They send me the songs and I’ll sit in my living room writing the lyrics, using the music as a trigger for the words. Use that to create the visual things. I would hear it and I would trigger stuff. It’s all of it channelled and all of its filtered through my own life experiences. We’ve worked with each other for a long time now. We really trust each other.
It took me a while to get back on my feet as a singer, to find my voice, to figure out who I was and be totally honest. It’s leaps and bounds from where I left off.
Stuart: You seem more confident being front and centre. When I first saw you at the Rough Trade In-store. It wasn’t your usual gig environment. There were less than 100 people, it was a Saturday afternoon, daylight. I could sense you coming in and the anger was evident and you were staking your claim. Go back to the first album, the first two songs (Pneumatic Violet, Feeling Numb), there’s an exclamation at the end of them. It doesn’t sound bitter though….
Brix: (laughs) In a positive way. And let me make this clear. It was a transmutation of anger. So I was using the feelings that were inside me, transmuted into art. There was positivity and a strength that was coming out. From years of being silenced, allowing myself and needing to be silenced to be creative. Needing to break my state, pivot and do something else in order to get back to what was important to me.
Stuart: You mentioned breaking your state. Is that where the title for the second LP comes from?
Brix: Yeah – breaking your state is a technique. If you’ve got any negative repetitive thoughts, which we all have “you’re not good enough, you’re not strong enough, you’re not fit enough, you’re not pretty enough”. Sometimes you get into this state where you have these thoughts in your head and you can stop that. You can change it. You can make a choice. You can choose better thoughts. And one of the greatest ways to break your state is music. You put on a record and you switch to another mood, another environment, you’re taken away. Or you garden, or you meditate or you chant or you pet an animal or you look at fish in a pond, you put something in your mouth. Whatever it is, it breaks you out of that repetitive thought process. Breaking State – that’s what we needed to do with that second album.
And also people, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, really love to build a scaffold and pigeonhole you – they’re that or she’s that. They put you in a genre or a category and they say they’re only that or that. Wrong! I want to work with no limits.
I want to be free to create on the highest level with no boundaries whatsoever and be risky but do it within the boundaries of catchy or mind-blowing. With this album, people are going to be, oh my god, where’s it going to go from here. I think it will open a few eyes and minds.
Stuart: There is a distinction between this album and the last one. Given the speed that you are working at, that’s pretty extraordinary. It’s so melodically engaging. When you listen to things like Hustler, It’s straight between the eyes. I often think it’s harder to write the direct stuff. You go and see someone and they play this mid-tempo thing that just ambles along….
Brix: Yeah or they create soundscapes which are just wishy-washy and have no edges or they’re all over the place and one verse is about this and one verse is about the other. They patch shit together – you can tell! Hustler is right between the eyes because it is about addiction. We all have it. It manifests itself in different ways.
Stuart: So what other themes underpin the album?
Brix: So here’s the thing. I got loads out of my system in the first album that I needed to deal with all of those years. The second album was getting to where we were going and I think, there’s one song on it which feels this feels right and it was Vanity and also Alaska.
I do love those deep dark grooves, those hypnotic, fucking grinding heavy grooves. I also like infusing sun light into a chorus.
As a writer, I’ve always been obsessed with the chorus, to take it and lift it and also to have clever words that work on many levels that are unexpected. Every song I write, I aim it to be a poem on its own, so that the words can completely stand up, separate from the song as well. With this one, it came so fast on the heels of the other.
The first song we wrote for this one was Crash Landing. It was something that Jason said, “I’m working on this, it’s in 11/4.” I’m like “Oh my god!”. I listened to it and realised that I have to be very clever because the time signature is such that it is a tricky way to fit the lyrics in and make it make sense without being cobbled. I just let it flow. I didn’t even know what it was really about. It came with the title Crash Landing. Quite often I try and keep a title if someone’s given me a working title and work it into the lyrics. Sometimes I have to completely erase it. Steve Trafford wrote Hustler. Its name was Battleship and I’m like “That’s going!” or maybe Stomach Cathedral or something absolutely terrible. That’s harder when they give you a title that doesn’t resonate. It was in their heads though, so it’s not wrong.
Crash Landing was that. Pretty soon I realised that it was two voices but in the same person. On one side is your awareness and on the other side is your ego. I’m always trying to step outside and be present in the moment. With this one, I want to capture the two sides of the brain that are talking at the same time. And then I remembered that I have to do it in syllables, it had to have a count of three.
(Brix recounts the lyrics whilst tapping her arm in threes)…..
So what it is, is someone preparing to take a drug overdose to commit suicide. One side is the person describing what’s going on and what they’ve learned from life and the other side is the checklist from the suicide note – “Apologise, say goodbye, euthanise, strap me down, pump me up…. crash, crash, crash” which is what they say when they call for in hospitals in an emergency. “And no right angles occur in nature, Lincoln logs and tinker toys”. I didn’t realise it until much later but my brother is dying of multiple sclerosis. Now he’s very ill, he’s blind, completely paralysed and is now not able to feed himself. And we’ve had to have the conversation about going to the next place because he’s trapped in his body. If I had a dog and it was suffering, I would put it down. And that was a conversation that I had with him. Tinker toys and Lincoln logs are what we played with as kids.
Stuart: What’s a Lincoln log?
Brix: They’re logs that you put together that create old-fashioned American log cabins. It’s a very post-modern reference to American culture and of course, they’re all right angles. The other feeling is, if you’ve ever had an operation and they put the needle in you to go to sleep. That glorious transition, that feeling of drifting off.
Stuart: I really like that feeling. I’ve had a couple of operation in recent years and that feeling of “away we go”.
Brix: It’s really glorious. Anyway, after this album came to be, which wasn’t very long ago as we did it very quickly. I sat back and with Jason, who’s one of my best friends on the tour, and I was so blessed to find another writing partner like Jason. After having someone like Mark E Smith, no one compares. It was extraordinary. I’ve worked with other people at other times but when it’s magic, it’s magic. So he and I quite often sit up when I go up to rehearsals in Manchester. I stay with Jason and his family and he and I sit up all night talking. We can’t help it. We have a glass of wine, put on records, talk, talk, talk – we put the world to rights.
And then I realised, we went through the whole album and the albums not necessarily about me. It’s filtered through my experiences but it is about the global feeling of grief, vulnerability and fear. Starting with Strange Times. Immediately that’s about Brexit and Trump and climate. We’re just living in strange times. It’s also about death. Every song is probably about death in some way. There was another vibe. There was my stepson’s friend who died of an overdose who I’d known since he was a kid. There’s a direct reference to him in it.
Stuart: And do you remember at the start of our conversation about mortality? That’s something that comes across to me.
Brix: In every song. I am channelling. I don’t know what else to tell you. This is what I felt and I put it out.
For the first time I’ve not written songs about “I am angry” or “you’ve fucked me over”. It’s nothing to do with that. This is how we all feel as a race, as a species.
Stuart: And that channelling. Is that different from the way you have created previously?
Brix: It’s refined. I’ve always done it. That’s how I hear it and it just comes through to me. I believe it comes from the collective consciousness of one mind. I believe that we are essence in form and when the form dies, which is our body, the essence goes up and it is there, ready to be tapped into. I believe that. Call me crazy but that’s what I believe and every artist, doctor, Nobel prize winner taps into that, teachers. It doesn’t matter.
Stuart: One of the positives of the digital age is that we get to leave a record. My daughter can say to my grandchildren – “This is what your grandfather did”. It’s quite a comforting thing to leave that permanent record.
Brix: I’m not doing it for any other reason to do it other than it’s my life’s purpose. I’m not doing it for any other people. I am driven to do it and it feels good. I will continue to do it until it feels doesn’t feel good.
Stuart: That’s a theme for you, isn’t it? Doing something until it stops being good, whether it’s TV work or opening your boutiques. There is always that pivot point that you referenced earlier. “I’ve woken up this morning and this isn’t instinctively what I want to be doing”.
Brix: It wasn’t so much with me. It was extreme, maybe a couple of times. People who can’t get out of bed because they hate their job so much or their bodies fall apart or they’re doing something that’s making them miserable. Just not finding their joy in life. They’re doing because they went to school, I’m a lawyer, I have a law degree but really they want to go to Scotland and start a self-sustainable farm. Or they’re in a marriage and work out they’re gay. People get stuck and get fearful of making a change. Change is terrifying, especially going into the unknown. I really feel if you are doing what you love, everything will be fine. Sometimes you have to give up certain things but you find your way. You just have to navigate in any every moment.
We start discussing Super Blood Wolf Moon.
The first song Strange Times is about the global feeling of what’s going on. “Open the curtain, reveal the scene etc”. The second one is about addiction on all levels, and about feeling so empty inside.
The third song is Wolves. It’s about death but it’s also about being protected by your pack. Losing one of the members of your pack and how it is upsetting. There have been times in my life when the only friends have been my dogs. The only unconditional love, the one thing I can count on is the animals. “The coat I wear just hide the scars”: Everybody puts on a false thing whether it’s in Instagram, they’re putting up false pictures of their lives, they’re trying to create a scenario saying “Look at the fabulous time I’m having. Look how fabulous I look in these clothes. Look at my friends and what a good party I’m at”. All it is is people putting on clothes to hide their scars really. “The cross I bear is etched into my skin”. We self-harm, it’s like being a shark with lots of scars.
Dinosaur Girl’s about depression and about the medication of our culture with antidepressants. It was from Paul Hanley. For years I was put on antidepressants. And for the 15 years I was on it, coincidentally was the 15 years I didn’t write music. So it was the dumbing down of everything, it was the pushing down of all your emotions. I’m not saying it’s wrong. Sometimes you need to go on it. Sometimes it is a stopgap that helps you bridge a situation. It was healthy for the time that I needed it but eventually, when I got off of it, I became creative again. I got to thinking. Now with the strange times and everything that is going on, the prescriptions for antidepressants and medicating our culture are on the rise. What’s going to happen to our bodies 2000 years ago when archaeologists or whatever species that is left digs them up? Over-medicated bones that have sunk into our DNA are going to permeate into the earth. How will the bones be different?
Crash Landing which is about suicide. Wintertyde is a kind of ghost love story.
Stuart: Waterman feels like it has a Hanley mega-groove behind it.
Brix: Jason Brown wrote it.
Stuart: So it wasn’t the Hanley’s? Wow!
Brix: We split all of our publishing. That came out of Jason’s brain. We know each other so well. It was Jason’s thing but the Hanleys bring it alive with their rhythm section. You can write a demo, they put their touch on it and it becomes a Hanley. Jason didn’t write something which is outside the realm of possibility. It makes sense. It’s got that deep dark hypnotic groove. Waterman is a drug pusher. The verse is the person that is smacked out of their head and delivered in a smacked-out way, it’s really fucked up. The chorus is the drug pusher saying hey, hey. what you’re doing today. You can be the very best version of you. It’s the sales pitch for the drugs. Wasteland is completely about the climate crisis and global warming.
And then Tannis Root.
Stuart: So I googled Tannis root. It’s a fictional herb and there’s a reference to Rosemary’s Baby.
Brix: It’s a weird one. Originally it was another Jason Brown thing called Brain Cells – the prison of your mind. So I wrote a song with lyrics about that. We did a demo at this house and then sat with it for about a month. I called him up and said “Everything is good but something is wrong with Brain Cell. It doesn’t feel right to me.” He said “I was thinking the same thing. It needs more space. It’s too wordy.” So I had to go back and erase everything from my mind and out came Tannis Root.
It’s definitely about dark energy.
I believe in the manipulation of energy, much like Mark E Smith did.
There’s dark energy and there’s light energy and you need both things to create. The world is about polarity. Magnets work on positive and negative. So there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just energy. For some reason, Rosemary’s Baby came into my head. I wrote it syllabically like I did with Crash Landing. So I heard the beat (Brix taps out again on her arm – ah, ah, ah, ah, (pause) ah, ah, aah) so I knew it had to be three syllables.
So what came in was Tannis Root which was the herb that they gave Rosemary in the movie to help her lose the thread of reality and mate with the devil. The Ruth Gordon character serves her chocolate mousse but she’s uncultured so she say’s “How do you like your chocolate mouse (sic)” which is a witches thing. It was chalky and it had drugs in it. The middle 8 is the visual reference in the movie when the devil comes into the room.
There’s another reference to another movie that I saw last year which is along the same levels of disturbing which is The Border. It’s a Scandi film about these people who are border guards but they are actually real trolls so they’re much more in touch with their animal instincts. They’re super sensitive. A lot of them have been hit by lightning. They way they can tell if people are smuggling is that they can smell the fear coming off of their bodies.
And then, of course, The God Stone.
When we finished mixing it I wept. I went back to London and said to my husband, “If I die tomorrow, I’ll know that’s the best thing I’ve ever made. And if I do die, it’s the only thing that I want played at my funeral”. And unbeknownst to me, Jason said that to his wife Sarah too.
Sarah did all the string arrangements. She’s a freelance principal violinist who plays with Liverpool Philharmonic, Halle etc. She’s an extraordinary player and arranger. We’re lucky to have her. She’s sitting there whilst the songs are being written in the house and they’re getting under her skin and permeating her psyche. The string arrangements, therefore, are at a different level than you would have from somebody else.
When Jason sent me the God Stone, I couldn’t process it. I couldn’t process it. There was no chorus but I knew it was something really special. It felt like it needed to be sat with. The way I write is that when I’m blocked when my brain is controlling me, I go to the gym. I get on the treadmill and have the headphones in. And I listen to it over and over again. Pretty soon because I’m doing something physical with my body, boom it comes in.
I got all of the words fully formed like with Vanity but I also got the voice and all the nuances of how to sing it which is very different from my style. I don’t think it is me singing it. It’s coming from another dimension, through me. I couldn’t get off the treadmill fast enough. I took my phone out, recorded what I can onto the voice memo and ran home. Put the demo on what one device, sang what I heard in my head on the other device and sent it back to Jason. I didn’t really go into depth, I just knew it felt good.
There was a lot going on, it could have gone in a million directions. It could not have captured what Jason and I knew was there. It’s a fragile, ethereal thing. After having a distance from it, listening to it, I knew what was going on. The opening part of the breathing, It is what is happening when the spirit is leaving the body. It’s the musical journey that the soul goes on when it dies. When the soul leaves the body and goes into the collective consciousness. As the soul goes up above the body, you hear the guitars coming in which is beginning to hit the body in the ether, looking down on the body, to the grey station where you go after you die.
I imagine it as a place where you are cleansed, where the pain that is around you from your life is dissipated. A preparation place for going into consciousness. And then from thereon, you go up and then you begin to hear essences coming from all of the consciousness that ever lived. It’s the music that’s telling the story, you hear the Indian violin and the Latin chanting. I don’t speak Latin and when I wrote the lyrics, they were the words that came out of my mouth. And then I google what the fuck it was and it was crazy what happened. You go up more and pretty soon you hear the entire sound of consciousness and you hear the sound of energy and of planes of electricity crashing together. I felt long and hard about telling people what it is because I wanted people to get there on their own. But I think that is such a gift for a writer to explain what is in their mind. What does it hurt to have a guideline to visualise?
I explained to Brix how I had been there when my father had died and I saw him come out of unconsciousness, look around at us, smile and pass away.
Brix: I believe that when people are on the cusp of dying, their face takes on a glow, youthfulness and time peels back. Their relatives or angels come down and help usher them. You can feel the release as they go. I’ve seen it with my grandmother and my dog, Pixie. The spirit left her body and what was left in my arms was a shell. It’s a beautiful journey and I’m not afraid to die as I’ve seen it.
We chatted about choosing the music for my Dad’s cremation and my choice of Brian Eno’s Always Ascending (“that’s entirely appropriate. You’re obviously an intuitive man, you get things on different levels and you’re awake”).
We are all vibrating at different frequencies and that’s how things connect. The God Stone is about ascension. So now I can die happy. Now I’ve written my own death song. I don’t feel like my ego is in it. I don’t think that it is even me. I’m channelling…..
We’ll leave it here for now. There’s more to come. Brix discusses her plans for the future, the hurdles to being successful in the music industry in 2019 and the band’s relationship with their audience.
Thanks for reading.