A quintet formed in the seaside town of Brighton, Squid is one of London’s many promising post-punk bands. With a manic and raucous drive, they have shared the stage with groups such as Black MIDI and Black Country, New Road. Their sound not only includes traditional rock instrumentation but percussion and horns as well. This may seem out of place in post-punk… until you listen to it.
I’ve been a fan of the band for some time now, and was inspired by the upcoming release of their debut album, as well as the rising popularity of others in the scene. So I reached out with little hope of getting an interview. But to my surprise, Louis Borlase, one of the group’s guitarists, replied to my email in under 5 minutes. He told me he’d be happy to talk.
When I remarked on how fast he responded, he laughed and said that he’d just been watching YouTube at the time.
The first time I spoke with him, he was running for the trains with some of his mates. The call ended up dropping early on, so we rescheduled. So most of this interview takes place on the rainy streets of London.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Leahy-Miller: How did you all meet?
Borlase: Well, I met Ollie [the band’s vocalist and drummer] before I met Anton [guitar] and Arthur [keyboard] because me and Ollie are both from the West Country in the U.K. When I moved to Brighton, he was living in town, so ever since then really we’ve hung out every single day. We met Anton and Arthur through courses because we were all studying music together, so we were able to get to know each other musically as well as friends. But we didn’t really do much together outside of the course until we were in the second year of university. That was when we jammed a little bit. We didn’t really want the pressure of having an actual band and asking, you know, “oh could you book my band.” So instead it was just easier to ask some venue to let us use the space for cheap. So we did that at a little jazz club in the center of town, which was great, and that was really down to a guy called John. He owned this little venue, and he really kindly let us use the place for free. We did quite a lot of music there and it was all quite loungey, quite different to what we do these days. But yeah. That was kind of the line of heading toward making music together. And it kind of stayed like that for a really long time because we were still studying.
This was in 2015, but our approach to writing music and our understanding of each other as musicians has changed a hell of a lot since then.
Leahy-Miller: You mentioned that you don’t really have a “setlist” when you’re playing shows. How does that work?
Borlase: Yeah, we always will write the songs out, because you’d be surprised … there are certain times where we’ve all just started playing different songs. So we do often write a setlist, but it’s so improvisational — in the sense that there is no way I think that our music repeats. Audiences from different places in different cultures and different scenes and crowds and stuff, you know, react differently, so you automatically respond to that.
Sometimes the nature of the performance has a really big impact on the freeness of our music. Like, for example, a festival gig is very different to a kind of, a headline show or a support slot show, where you have all these new elements of time, and the ability to divulge. So, as well as crowds, I suppose, the context affects it as well.
Leahy-Miller: Do you have a “worst show”?
Borlase: Yeah, and it’s really easy for me to remember that because it was so awful. There’s nothing else that ever really paralleled it. There’s a group of people who put on a festival called “End of the Road,” which is a great, great festival that takes place right at the end of the summer, just as the evening’s getting quite cold. And they also do a sort of Christmas showcase in December. This is at the end of 2018, and we were quite new to gigs with a lot of people, but we were also feeling a little bit more confident about what we could get away with, I think. So we thought we’d make it kind of Christmas-themed. We got a little basket and put in a little Yamaha Casio tone-esque keyboard and wrapped it in blankets and kind of paraded around pretending it was the baby Jesus. And it had a built-in demo song, which was Wham!’s “Last Christmas” that we started kind of jamming along to.
But then from there, all hell broke loose. I think I broke like three strings. But there was an audience in the way, so I kind of had to keep playing. You know, it was just like chaos, and I didn’t feel experienced enough to be able to write off the situation. And you could see people have gone from finding it funny to just finding it really shit in a really short amount of time. That’s the worst.
Leahy-Miller: Do you have a favorite guitarist that has influenced you in some way?
Borlase: Yeah, I’m originally a pianist, so I find it really easy to think of who’s my favorite pianist. But for me, Jim Hall has always been quite a big inspiration in that I’m a really big Bill Evans fan, and his albums that he has done with Jim Hall are some of the most like really beautiful, kind of tender pieces of music. There’s something about his playing that feels so memorable and delicate. But having said that, there are so many others as well. Like, I was thinking about the question that you asked about the top albums, and I realized that I’d missed the Stereolab album “Dots and Loops.” I love the guitarist Tim Gane. I think he’s just one of the best guitar players in that he’s managed to kind of make that band’s music so memorable and unique for them.
Leahy-Miller: Squid often share the stage with other post-punk bands such as Black MIDI and Black Country, New Road. You seem to share this manic, energizing sound, and even similar instrumentation. Yet it’s been stated that you’ve never really drawn inspiration from these other bands. So how would you explain that you have these similarities amongst each other?
Borlase: Both MIDI and Black Country, New Road, they feel quite a long way away from what we’re doing. And there are some similarities. I suppose the biggest one I feel is that they are bands that have a lot of respect for dynamic extremes. I’m always hearing something that will inspire me from the idea of a kind of, like, balance between a momentary explosion of sound, followed by an elongated, really stretched out beauty. And I don’t know whether I feel like we’re particularly similar, but I think maybe we have the same musical interests and that’s what maybe manifests as a noticeable similarity between our music for the listener.
Leahy-Miller: If you could only listen to five albums for the rest of your life, which ones would you choose?
- “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” – Tortoise
They have this cool electronic sound, without vocals, and it kind of challenged a lot of the boundaries that they had at the time.
- “Metamorphosis” – Philip Glass
It’s just really beautiful. It really influenced my taste, and just the simple piano playing.
- “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” – David Bowie
Just because, you know, David Bowie.
- “Untrue” – Burial
This actually was my first real introduction to electronic music.
- “On the Beach” – Neil Young
My dad was the one who showed me this, so I kind of have this connection with it.
Leahy-Miller: Where did the name “Squid” come from?
Borlase: It’s funny because we’ve been asked this before, and we just can’t remember. Have you ever listened to the band Beak?
Leahy-Miller: I have not, no.
Borlase: So have you ever heard of Portishead before? Yeah, so Beak is the project of the synth and drummer from Portishead. We were massively into Beak at the time. So I think maybe on a subconscious level, we took that monosyllabic animal sound and kind of like nicked it. But we all explain it differently. Arthur seems to think that it was from walking through Brighton, and he passed a restaurant, and he smelled the cooking and was like, “Squid, mmm … Yeah, that’s a good band name.” And I kind of like to think that maybe that’s the one that’s closest to the truth, but in honesty, I don’t think there is a concrete memory in place.
Leahy-Miller: And what is one album that every person should listen to at least once?
Borlase: I think “Philosophy of the World” by the Shaggs. If you listen to it, you’ll know what I mean. It really makes you think, like, what makes music good? Because this album is completely unmusical, none of them really know how to play their instrument or anything, but it’s good. It has this charm and for some reason it’s an enjoyable album to listen to.
Leahy-Miller: Do you have any advice for people learning music in a university setting?
Borlase: I guess like the best way to delve into something that you’re interested in, when it’s to do with playing music and performing music, is to always assume that it’s more important to be having fun with it than to feel like you need to, on a kind of level of complexity, bring yourself to the level of other people. I think it’s far more important to always make sure that if you’re going to rehearsals and you’re writing a lot, that you take a step back, and you realize that everything that you’re doing is just super interesting and fun. Because otherwise, maybe it’s not that you shouldn’t be doing it, but maybe there’s a sign that the kind of, like, approach that you’ve got might not be the best one for you. And that doesn’t mean that you need to stop doing music, but maybe there’s something else that’s out there that would interest you even more—like another instrument or like jamming with a different size group of people or something.
Squid’s debut album Bright Green Field is out May 7.