28th February 2024

“As I’ve matured, I’m much more simplistic.”- Jake Shillingford of My Life Story on New Album

My Life Story have been described as the forgotten band of the Britpop era with their debut album coming out in 1995. Loving You is Killing Me is their fifth studio album and frontman Jake Shillingford went on a solo intimate acoustic tour with a selection of songs from the new album as well as older work. Jake graced the stage of the Jacaranda a very well-known venue in Liverpool which is where we got the chance to have a chat about the new album, the origin of his love for music and dealing with a zero out of five-star review.

Interview with Jake Shillingford of My Life Story

So when did you first really fall in love with music, and when did you decide that it was what you wanted to do?

Well, I think, probably a lot of this is my mum’s fault, really, because… well, two things. Both my parents were artists. I was born in 1966, and in the 60s, my father didn’t have much money in those days. You could buy a magazine that taught you how to make your own record player. Can you believe that, like a week-by-week, the first week is buy something cylindrical. So he built, and I will never forget this, he built his record player out of different parts and built the bass himself.

My mum had all the Beatles records. It’s quite an interesting story. She had all the Beatles records, apart from the White album, which, fast-forward, to when I left home, the first thing I did was go out and buy the White Album, it was, a big moment for me, I needed it because she didn’t have it. She was also really into singer-songwriters and that specific era.

I always consider myself quite lucky because by the time I was a young teenager, around 1979, that era. I mean, I did some research. 1979 seemed to be a really important year to me. It was the year I went to America with my father and Parallel Lines by Blondie was, number one in the charts, Elvis Costello was in the charts and stuff like that. And so that new wave era was a big influence on me.

And I did some reading about this the other week, that 1979 is the year that the most records were sold in all time and it will never be repeated, of course. So isn’t that fascinating? You think of 1979, you’ve got all sorts: new wave, you’ve got the beginning of electronic music, like Gary Numan, Tubeway Army, and then you’ve got two-tone with The Specials. You’ve got ska, you’ve got disco. So you have got everything all in one year. That era was when I fell in love.

What music or musicians? I guess probably a few that you’ve named already, influence and inspire your work the most.

Well, it’s quite a lot. I’m trying to think of some unlikely ones.

Any newer artists or maybe any ones that inspired the new album?

Not that inspired the album, but I went to see a band called The Schizophonics last week in Brighton. They’re a three-piece stooges, MC five-type band. I saw them play the day after Wayne Craig. Wayne Kramer, a famous guitarist, MC Five died, and it was as if the spirit of Wayne Kramer had entered The Schizophonics. You have to check them out. He’s the most incredible frontman. I love front people who give everything, and he does that. So, yeah, a new pointer, a new tip for everybody to check out the schizophrenics.

How much do you think your music has changed across the span of your career?

Well, in some ways, My Life Story is an odd one, because most bands start as small, four-piece bands, and then they get bored with that format, and they think, well, should we get an orchestra? Yeah, let’s get an orchestra and let’s get a brass section. And then they get all pompous by the end of that, by their fifth album. And we’ve done it. the complete reverse. We started as this huge orchestra and then stripped it back. So I think that’s changed quite a bit.

I mean, I think that the best way of answering this question is, I think a lot of it, to me, comes from, songwriting. So I think that my songwriting has changed over the years in that I think I’m a lot more simplistic. As I’ve matured, I’m much more simplistic. We’re going on tour next week, and we’re putting some old songs in the set and some of the songs have got, something like 13 chords in them. Now I’ll only do three chords.

The album came out, three days ago. Is it three, three, or four?

Yeah, something like that.

What was the process of making that, like?

Well, with this one. So I’ve always thought that we live in this world where everyone feels like they need to do, a concept album. There’s got to be a theme around it. And with this one, it wasn’t deliberate, but we just talked about it.

I’d write a song, and I have my own studio and I work with a songwriter called Nick Evans, and we’ve written the last two albums together, but we worked together writing music for TV as well. So we worked together all day, every day. And so I would bring a song in, we’d record it, we’d mix it with our producer and then release it. And it was a situation where we went well, that’s pretty. We just did that with ten songs. I haven’t released them all as singles, so it’s the opposite of a concept album in that each song.

I think it’s funny, actually, because I read a review recently that slightly criticised the fact that it was, well, yeah, a little unfocused and blah, blah. And people say, I really don’t like that punky one, but I really like that majestic one. Well, in some ways, that’s what it is I know you can’t please all the people. So I wanted to just write, treat each song on its own merits, dress it up in the clothes that those songs require and then put it on a record. So My Life Story fans, if they enjoy 80% of the record, then job done, kind of along that line.

Are you enjoying the audience’s reactions to the album? Are you reading stuff about it?

It’s a common phenomenon now, isn’t it, that just seeing. I suppose I’m lucky that our fans are of a certain age where they’re quite eloquent on social media. It’s not just duh and then a post. So people have been great and a reflection of what I’ve just said that people have been posting, oh, my favourite songs are Bubblewrap and Identity Crisis, and somebody else will say, well, it’s wasted and running out of heartbeats or whatever. To me, what the fans say, or I hate calling them fans, but musical connoisseurs. What the musical connoisseurs say is the most important thing to me. And My Life Story has always been quite an odd band. We’ve got quite a small but loyal fan base. So if they’re happy, then I’m happy.

Photo Credit: Flora Day

My dad is actually a really big fan.

Is he?

And I texted him, do you want me to ask a question?

Oh, this is going to be good.

Oh, it’s really specific. So there’s one review of your second album by Andrew Male. And it grinds my dad’s gears still to this day.

It’s not a very good review, is it? Did he give it a zero?

Yeah, he gave the album zero out of five and called it the worst album of all time. And my dad mentioned it and said this is ridiculous. He loves the album. So what do you do when you read bad reviews, and how do you deal with this kind of criticism? And to have so much praise for something and then maybe come across some critical reviews, how do you kind of balance it? Especially, I think as artists tend to find the negative ones.

Yeah, it’s a brilliant question from your dad, and please thank him for putting that one in there. But there are several ways of answering this. The first thing to say is that, yes, obviously, when a review is that bad, it usually does tend to be quite personal. So, when it gets personal. Yeah, then when it gets personal, that does hurt you. But if it goes so far as to say something like, this is the worst album ever made — I really hope that it isn’t — I’m pretty sure it’s not. So in which case then you think, well, there’s got to be another agenda there.

I guess the best way of explaining this is, how you receive this information. So if I read that review and I remember the one you’re talking about now, obviously when you first read it, you’re horrified, and you feel terrible, but then you think, well, it’s so bad, it’s almost similar to bullying at school. So it’s, so extreme, unnecessarily. It just doesn’t need to be. So then you think ok well it’s still been said that’s the next stage, it’s a bit like stages of grief almost. The initial shock horror, then you think it’s so crazy it can’t be true, and the third stage is wondering why this reviewer has said that. What has the band done to prompt this kind of extreme reaction? I can only say in that particular case it may have been a rival publication situation.

That’s the personal side which you can wash over, but then there is the professional side which is thinking about how harmful the review will be, you know, will it harm the band and will people believe it. If it’s so extreme, it kind of becomes a badge of honour. I mean, I’m not saying we printed t-shirts of it, there definitely aren’t any that say “Worst Album Ever Made” maybe we should have done that! It’s an interesting question because I think now anyone can say anything, people like yourself coming through have as much of a voice as anyone else. That’s the democratisation of music journalism in that way is good.

What’s your favourite song off this album, and what’s your favourite to perform live?

Oh, ok my favourite song at the moment, I mean I’m still really enjoying Running Out Of Heartbeats. The story behind it deals with the idea of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and announcing he was going to retire because he only had a finite number of heartbeats left. It felt like a fantastic subject matter for a song. So I was just really enjoying that kind of idea.

In the last four or five decades of songwriting, there have been a lot of songs where people have written ‘I’ll give my heart to you’, or ‘you have stolen my heart’. Whereas, if you align with Armstrong’s mentality you believe you only have a certain number of heartbeats you’re giving away your heart to someone these valuable heartbeats that are literally a currency. That’s the price you have to pay for love. So that’s the one I’m still really getting off on. For the second part of the question, Toni, our keyboard player and I are doing a piano-only version of Bubblewrap. We’ve got it sounding really sinister because it is a sinister love song about controlling behaviour, so that is one I’m enjoying at the moment.

This question is a silly one to finish, so if you could have anyone dead or alive come to a gig, who would it be?

Umm, well it has to be… they’re alive thankfully which is why I’m saying it. It has to be my hero, Jimmy Webb. He’s this great American songwriter, and he wrote this song called MacArthur Park, and he wrote Wichita Lineman. I’m really into songwriting and to me, he’s just the greatest songwriter. I would love for him to come and check me out and give me some criticism. Hopefully, he wouldn’t give me zero out of five!

Listen to My Life Story’s new album Loving You is Killing Me here!

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