A Really Big Shoes Interview, Part 4

Continued from Part Three

Bill Kopp: So Ignition is the first new Shoes album in 17 years. It’s an obvious question, but why so long?

John Murphy (bass/vocals): It sounds terrible: eighteen years. And of course there was never any grand plan. I think, when I look back at what was happening in the late 90s, there were a series of things. We were trying to maintain this building. We had to “feed the baby” every month, and the baby wanted two grand. Jeff had been making a living from [producing] sessions, and that was drying up; bands were sinking money into home gear. So that was the beginning of the end for that.

Also, independent distribution was going belly-up. We lost tens of thousands of dollars in the whole effort of trying to be an independent label. We’d have a distributor who’d owe us $2000, send us $600 and then order more CDs. We’d say, “Okay, they made an attempt in paying.” So in the end, they’d owe us five grand. Then they’d shut down, and we’re out that money. The business end was just eating things alive. We were turning on each other. Being in a band is not unlike a marriage: money problems can ruin a marriage.

When we put the building on the market, it sat unsold for almost three years. And in that time, it had become such a bad taste in our mouths that the idea of starting something that we couldn’t finish just didn’t appeal to us.

And once we sold it – 2004 or so – it’s was sort of a relief for awhile. It was bittersweet, and we missed it, but we were continuing with our lives, getting jobs. Maintaining. Gary moved three times during those years. Jeff moved twice. I moved twice. So those other things just took precedence. We hated thinking of Shoes in the past tense, and in fact we didn’t think that way. We just thought, this will work out eventually.

When Gary moved [the most recent time], he built a studio in his basement. And he had been buying gear all along on eBay: top-notch microphones and outboard gear. So the whole approach shifted; before we had a 24-track analog board. Now things have obviously shifted into digital. So Gary was learning Cubase and those programs on the run.

So we said, “Well, now there’s a place. Can we even do this any more? And will it live up to our expectations?” And after trying a few things, we felt good about pulling this off. So we began in fall 2010, through 2011 and into the beginning of this year. We finished recording in April, and we spent May getting artwork and packaging together, and manufacturing took a few weeks in June.

You can sometimes forget just what’s involved. Even though we saved ourselves from having a 30, 40, fifty thousand dollar deficit from recording, we still had costs. So even once you make the decision to do it, it takes time.

BK: It would seem that with all this new material and reissues, and the book, now would be the time to capitalize on the buzz. What’s next for the band?

JM: We knew we wanted to do the Ignition album. So now we’re thinking, “So, here we are again.” What the future holds, in that you can record a song in a week and then put it on your website for people to download, that really does change things. The point is to get new music out in some way, and now we’re able to rethink that. You could sequester yourself for a year and a half, working on twelve to fourteen songs. But you could pop ’em off one by one. It’s a different way of thinking.

BK: It also, in a curious way, is a sort of return to the singles era. And it also plays up and builds upon the band’s direct relationship with its fan base: no longer do you have to say, “We have these four or five great songs, but you can’t hear any of ’em until we come up with seven more.”

JM: Right. And if you have an audience, it works to the artists’ benefit, because it’s a helluva lot more immediate. I remember John Lennon bragging about “Instant Karma.” I think you have to consider what are the goals of a group. And if it is about getting material out quickly, [this direct approach] may not have the fanfare of an album release, but it may be a model for how to put things out in the future. You have to consider it; if you turn you backs on it, it’s kind of foolish.

Shoes’ latest album Ignition, was released on the band’s own Black Vinyl Records on August 14. At the time of publication of this feature, Mary Donnelly‘s book Boys Don’t Lie: A History of Shoes is scheduled for publication the last quarter of 2012. Real Gone Music’s 35 Years: The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977-2012 was released August 14 October 2.

UPDATE: The initial salvo of Numero Group’s vinyl Shoes LP reissue program is as listed below. Note that all of the titles below can be pre-ordered right now. So, do. — bk

  • One in Versailles – November 13, 2012
  • Bazooka – November 13, 2012
  • Black Vinyl Shoes – November 27, 2012
  • Present Tense Demos – November 27, 2012

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.