Live at The Garage, London
What do you do when your band is flying high and playing the best shows you’ve ever done, only for the country to go lockdown? That’s the situation that Saint Agnes found themselves in, after an incredible year following the release of their impressive debut Welcome To Silvertown in 2019. Endless touring and festivals culminated in opening for Monster Magnet on tour at the beginning of 2020, a Valentine’s show with Ho99o9, all topped off by selling out a solo show at The Black Heart in less than 15 minutes. No mean feat for a DIY band, but it comes as no surprise when they’ve enthralled audiences around the world with feral live performances and a vitriol that you want more of.
Many of us spent lockdown baking banana bread and attempting sourdough loaves, but Saint Agnes kept themselves busy in the only way they know how – making music. There are a lot of cliches about diamonds being made under pressure, but the risk of going stir-crazy after not leaving the house for a few months meant that risks were taken, and new sounds were found. It resulted in the creation of The Quarantine Diaries – a twisted collection of cover songs with accompanying vignette-videos filmed on an iphone in their east london flat – and the upcoming mini album, Vampire.
“Having this structure of trying to do a cover a week with a video, it kept us sane” recalls Jon James Tufnell. “We were creating stuff with the tools that were available, and as a band that’s always been our philosophy, we’re never going to fake something. We won’t write a song that needs an orchestra, as we don’t have one! We use the tools that are there, we use the equipment that we’ve got, we find that inspiring.” Frontwoman Kitty A. Austen agrees: “Jon and I were locked up together with our computer, so it forced us to write new music with no outside input at all, no playing ideas with the band, no audience reactions to shape things. It’s definitely created a more succinct, more punchy sound. We get to the point quicker – but we’re just as disgusting and in your face” laughs Kitty.
Saint Agnes like to keep you on your toes, and nobody is ever quite sure what they’re going to do next. Pressings of their visceral Goth-western debut album Welcome To Silvertown and the follow-up EP The Family Strange both sold out, and so far they have clocked up over 6 million streams on Spotify. They also have a hugely loyal and rabid fanbase eagerly awaiting releases. The thing that keeps Saint Agnes fans so engaged is Kitty and Jon’s world-building – they are, obsessively, in control of all aspects of songwriting, music production, video directing and artwork creation and this makes for an almost immersive fan-experience. LIsteners are invited to lose themselves in an all-encompassing twisted, comic-book world. Saint Agnes also love to engage with their fans in creative ways, going as far as offering out their track Daughter of Lucifer to be remixed and received hundreds of submissions.
The mini album is a thing of beauty. To quote Kitty, they may be more succinct, but Saint Agnes have lost none of their fire and vivid storytelling. Kitty explains: ‘Humanity can be too much sometimes: too desperate, too evil, too difficult to process, so we like to blur very real-world narratives with larger than life fictions in order to cope with the chaos of it all a little better.’ Saint Agnes aren’t a band to spend time sitting pretty, they’re more akin to a furious, snarling stray.
The band always seek to go above and beyond, and for the physical copies of the Vampire mini-album on CD and vinyl they’ve crafted a series of ‘psalms’ – musical interludes that thread throughout the album and expand and enrich the themes. There are numerous (creepy) easter eggs and secret messages littered around too – don’t worry, no spoilers here to ruin the magic – but there’s plenty of extra, dark flair to be discovered.
Saint Agnes are renowned for their visceral (and reckless) live shows, abandoning all concern for their personal safety and clambering around, all in the name of having a great time. Seeing as live shows are on hiatus, they found a new way to shock during lockdown when filming a video for The Meanest Little Kid In Town from The Family Strange EP. “We did a socially distanced shoot in the Hampshire countryside” recalls Jon. “We covered Kitty head to toe in blood, inspired by Villanelle from Killing Eve. We had time to kill so we were walking through suburbia at six in the morning as the joggers appeared to see Kitty walking along with the blood covered hammer, trailing red behind her,” he laughs. “How can we make our own little bit of disruptive chaos that we’d normally be doing on stage? How can we do something that feels like us in the most mundane of places in suburbia? So that’s what we did. We made a right mess.” There’s no stopping them, despite a pandemic. “We’re directing and editing videos ourselves. It’s all DIY slash control freak” Jon says wryly. “We’ve created this world that we live in, either mentally or physically at all times. It’s everywhere for us, and we want everything we do to embody that. The music, the videos, the artwork, it all makes sense”.
As well as the new songs, two incredible cover versions have been included. One of the highlights was receiving a response from none other than Nick Cave himself, when he heard their quarantine cover of Grinderman’s ‘No Pussy Blues’. He described it as “haunting and superior”. “I pretty much had a heart attack on the spot” says Kitty. So, here’s to 2021: the year of Saint Agnes and the year of the Vampire.