Special Feature: Damien Sayell of The St Pierre Snake Invasion On Influences, Identity And Much More

The St Pierre Snake Invasion Band Promo Photo 2019

The St Pierre Snake Invasion are on the cusp of releasing their second album, Caprice Enchanté. An album that is guaranteed to be making headway come the inevitable end of year awards, the world should rightly be on tenterhooks for reviews of this Goliath to drop. What better was than to stoke the flames of excitement than by sitting down with TSPSI’s own Damien Sayell? The enigmatic, sardonic, wry, fiercely intellectual and self assured frontman of The St Pierre Snake Invasion took the time to speak to us and offer some insights into their music, the musical world at large, and just why and what it is they are shouting about so eloquently. The conversation fit neatly into distinct ideas of identity as an outsider, political identity, fame and the self, so read on to get a glimpse into some of 2019’s best music.

“There was a sin//There was a child”: Introduction and Influences

Sam: So for our readers who might not know you I’d like to talk about influences, both on the album [Caprice Enchanté] and on the band in general. To my ear I can hear a bit of Every Time I Die, [The] Dillinger [Escape Plan] , Gallows, the scope of Faith No More and some Mclusky. Am I on the money there?

Damien: Yeah that’s sort of right, so initially when I started writing songs for the band I wanted it to sound like Mclusky, The Bronx and Refused as the three core foundations, and then I chose parts of other bands, so say, Sex Dungeons & Dragons off the first album [A Hundred Years a Day] I wanted to sound like The Birthday Party, but I thought how would  Birthday Party sound if those three bands [Mclusky, The Bronx, Refused] got together and made it. So we just kind of did that for the first album, then for this one there was more kind of The Chariot, Meshuggah and Every Time I Die, definitely more Every Time I Die on this album more than the last one, and a bit less Mclusky.

Well, you can have too much Mclusky. I imagine.

Ah see the thing is, cause I’m friendly with Andy [Falkous] it’s harder to look him in the face when I rip him off [laughs] you know? I actually have to speak to him now, whereas four or five years ago I could be like “Well I’m never going to meet him, so fuck it”.

“Be sure to bury me left of the middle”: Political Identity

So sticking with Mclusky, I saw one of the 2000 Trees [Rate or Hate] videos and you said Mclusky were a huge influence on your lyric writing. Why in a time of such political division and upheaval did you decide to write such an introspective record rather than maybe lashing outwards?

[Laughs] That’s a very good question! I was wondering if this would come up. So the theme of the album was initially romanticism and how I’d romanticised music and that, and the first album was very much looking at things I didn’t like and I was shouting about it and being vitriolic, and to be honest I used to feel like I was quite bigoted. We had this song called Safe & Sound which was about charities and how there are “disaster people”, you know people who only are invested in a disaster for three days until the next thing comes along, and I was angry at that, and I remember once saying at a show “If you don’t give to charity, then you’re a cunt”. And I thought about it and realised it’s just a completely bigoted thing to say, and I found in music that, after our first album came out and didn’t do as well as I personally feel it should [laughs], I kind of felt like a lot of people were doing that and it seems to be the political climate where whoever shouted the loudest was the person who got heard. You know there were lots of protests with slogans being repeated and I recognised that in my own music and I didn’t feel that it was a way, in terms of politics, as a way forward. I think there needs to be nuanced conversation so I purposefully steered away from shouting things that were really obvious and making it seem like my opinion was better than everyone else’s. So yeah it was definitely an informed decision.

That’s a really interestingly out point and it makes sense; the nuance of the conversation you’re presenting. I suppose the only point where it strays into “typically” punk is on [second single] Braindead, which is seemingly about the far right and your dislike for them.

Yeah, well this is the thing, the whole point of this album, lyrically, is that I don’t want people to know when I’m singing whether it’s about society or whether I’m singing to myself. A lot of those lyrics are not aimed at anyone but me. So yeah, Braindead is the one that is closest to highlighting the contrast between whether I’m singing at myself or singing at society, where the language that I use in the song is supposed to sound like right wingers, you know, talking about immigrants; “From the East they scurried West”, “There’s someone in your garden and they’re here for your kids”, whereas what it’s me actually saying is something about a political campaign that goes from East to West; it’s in your garden here for your kids, trying to poison your children with these ideas, ideas of separatism and they’re doing that with ideas of identity, saying “Your British identity is important and it’s being attacked”. [The idea is that] That was me with age or with someone else’s success, it felt like that was taking something away from me, and it’s a really disgusting way to feel, it’s not a good place to be in, it’s not a productive place to be in. Sorry I’m waffling now [laughs]. I can do it all day see, I’m Welsh!

“South of reproach I’m known as Casanovacaine”: Personal Identity

No problem at all, how did you get from Wales to Bristol?

So I was living in North Wales, and I was visiting a friend in Bristol and Big Jeff – do you know Big Jeff? Everyone around Bristol does – who is a Bristol institution, he’s about six foot six, I think he’s on the autistic spectrum, he goes to about three hundred and twenty gigs a year all around the world, bands have written songs about him, he’s really well known in the Bristol and wider alternative scene, and I visited Bristol about four years before I eventually moved here and went out one night and he was there. My friend new him and they were chatting and he said “I’ve just seen this band, I’m going to see another band now and then I’m going to another band afterwards.” Coming from a seaside town where there was one venue and shit bands – every Wednesday even when it was my band! – it was just a real “woah” moment, there was this metropolis of creativity waiting for me, so that’s why I decided to come.

There is such an incredible crop of bands down there, I’d say Bristol and Brighton are the real scene leaders in the UK.

I’d say Leeds as well which is a little bit kind of Avant-garde. Bristol is great, but there’s a little bit of fashion with it as well, there’s a bit of hipster culture, whereas in Leeds they’re all just weird as fuck! They all listen to Jesus Lizard and have bizarre lyrics, but yeah Leeds is great.

So you taking about Bristol being a creative hub, and inspiring creativity, what inspired It Gave A Lovely Light and I Am The Lonely Tourist as they’re, at least sonically if not thematically, pretty diametrically opposed to the rest of the album?

So, It Gave A Lovely Light, we had a song on the first album [A Hundred Years a Day] called Rag to a Red Bull, and that was a song that I wrote about staying in lock ins [in a pub after hours] with Dev from Idles, so like “I never go home when I should, if I could then I would but I don’t so fuck it”, it was paying homage to us wanting to stay and talk about music for ages, and I wanted to repeat that on this album but perhaps in a less gung-ho way and do it on a more reflective way, because the album is about getting older and accepting things you can’t do, so that i one took from, it’s a poem by Edna St Millay, I read that in Christopher Hitchin’s autobiography, Hitch 22, and he’s reflecting on that in his memoir, reflecting on going for that second bottle of whiskey and it kind of resonated with me the idea of being creative, the creative people that I know are always the ones who want to stay up latest talking about art and artistry, so it’s all homage to that but I wanted it to be a bit sombre. I Am The Lonely Tourist was about a certain artist from Bristol called ‘Lonely Tourist’ and I have the utmost respect for him, he is a beautiful human being and an amazing songwriter. So it’s homage to him as he writes triumphantly defeatist music, so it’s really about this Glaswegian fellow who is really sombre, and there’s so much melancholy in what he’s singing about but it’s always upbeat. I wanted to kind of do that with the final song on the album as I know this band isn’t going to go anywhere, I know that the things that I want are never going to be achieved, but there’s something poetic and beautiful about it anyway.

It does end the album on a really touching and as you say, triumphant note.

Yeah I just want people to know that I’m not always a miserable cunt. [Laughs] Just ninety eight percent of the time!

“If it doesn’t suit the scenery, well, I’ll drink to that”: The Outsider/Identity

On being an off kilter punk band that no-one wanted, how do you feel about your place in the British scene now?

Honestly I don’t think we have one. To be honest friends of ours who are promoters will say to us that we are bigger than we think we are, which I would disagree with, and that we mean a lot to the people who know us, which I would agree with. In terms of up until now that we’ve started using Matt [Hughes] for PR, I don’t think that Palm Reader, or Employed to Serve or Ithaca, you know these bands that are doing really well at the moment know about us, have heard about us, like us or even give two fucks about us, I don’t think, I feel like we’re still this outside bet and you know what… I like that, I really like that. It was always intended to be that way. If all I wanted to was to be known as a hardcore band, I’d have the guys dressed in black jeans and black hoodies, and I’d be screaming “I wanna see a circle pit” and all that kind of shit, which we never do, I like where we are. So stay where we are but be bigger if that makes sense [laughs].

It’s nice to be able to play the outside, even a Cult band gets legendary status. Like Dillinger.

Well I always said to the boys it’s better to be a Pixies than Nirvana. It’s better to be the band that sows the seeds rather than the one out the front. No-one wants that. Well some people do, but I’ve seen Dev walking down the round getting stopped six or seven times by people whilst walking twenty feet to a different pub. That’s not what I fucking want. [Laughs]

So speaking as the outsider, I assume you have plans to tour this record, who would you take with you or who would you like to take you out?

Fucking hell. This is easy, this is easy, there are a handful of bands I would take out from the UK, I would take USA Nails, John, Frauds, No Violet, Cassels, Sœur and I’d take Milo’s Planes. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Milo’s Planes but live, straight up one of the best bands I’ve ever seen. And then if I was going to tour with anyone, it’d be The Armed. Their last album [ONLY LOVE] is just ridiculous. We’re both playing at 2000 Trees, I messaged their guitarist and we’ve had a little back and forth, and we’re playing the same day and the same stage so hopefully! The album that they released last year makes me feel lucky to be alive. I can’t remember the last time I fell in love with an album as hard. And it’s one of those ones where every listen you catch something new every time. Same as The Chariot, listening to Long Live, you get something more than hardcore it’s just pure artistic expression.

“I’ve been sucking all the wrong dicks//Tryin’a keep myself afloat”: Fame

So, perhaps an easy one, is that Jamie Lenman on Omens?

It is Jamie Lenman, yeah. I spoke to him about that because I knew he’d sung on Black Peaks’ album [Statues] and he’d sung on, well loads of people’s stuff he’s a little whore isn’t he? [Laughs] And it always appears in the track listing “feat. Jamie Lenman” and I said to him, “look, I don’t want you to think we’re using your platform to get people into it.”, we want people to listen to the album and think “is that fucking Jamie Lenman” and use his voice as a texture as opposed to using his fame as a hook. I wrote that song pretty much all in my head before we got to the studio. I’ve done that with a few songs but out of all of the ones I’ve ever done, Omens is the one that came out closest to what I could hear in my head, I could hear that croon and I could hear his voice screaming it and when he did it it was just… Fucking awesome [laughs].

You saying that you don’t think TSPSI will get you as far as you want, what are your expectations for this album?

[Laughs] I have no expectations for this album at all. It’s a poison. If I could give any advice to new bands it would be; expect nothing and don’t think that your owed anything. With the first album it felt like there was nothing really like us around and so it felt like we kind of deserved recognition, and it doesn’t fucking work like that, and I feel the same about this album, I feel like in terms of bands in the heavier genres, we have something a little off centre, and there is a lot of consideration in the writing that you’d think would make us stand out, but really none of that matters we just need someone with a little bit of influence behind us to give us a push and we could see, but no I don’t have any expectations for this album. When we listened to it in the studio, just the music without vocals, Szack, the guitarist, who apart from me is the only original member left in the band, and we were listening to fucking, I think it was Remystery, and it was just like I can’t fucking believe that this is us. I can’t even remember playing this [laughs], but the five of us have a total, total belief that this is a legitimate and solid piece of art, but we’ve been kicked the fuck out for so long that we’re just going to take every step as it comes and see where it goes.

Yeah I mean you’ve gone through a lot of hardships, have they informed the album musically speaking? Has there been any frustration or anger put down on music?

Yeah I definitely think it has, it took four or five years to get that [the first] album done and there were people talking about “this band with lots of energy and they have social commentary and it’s delivered in a sarcastic way” and we were that band for a long time, then came the album and, for all intents and purposes it flopped, in terms of getting us bigger, it did fuck all. From that we started writing the second album, and some of my best friends, the guys in Idles are starting to get big and everyone’s saying “wow they’re an energetic punk band with sarcastic lyrics about society”, and as much as I would never, ever begrudge their success at all, it’s fucking amazing seeing them go from strength to strength, but a piece of me was like “well what the fuck?!” [Laughs]. So a lot of the lyrical content comes from that, not bashing them but bashing ourselves, you know why can’t we separate that [Idle’s fame and TSPSI’s overlooking] from us. Their success doesn’t mean that you’re shit, their success doesn’t mean you won’t get where you want to be, and the whole loss of identity theme came from that as well. I was no longer the frontman who was going nuts and saying shit about society, it was my friend, so it did inform the lyrics to a certain extent. I will say, Dev, the bassist of Idles and I bonded over a love of Mclusky, and over a few years they realised that they were a punk band. They were always an indie band, with punk sensibilities, now the first album is punk with indie sensibilities, the second is a bit more indie, but I think they started to take a bit more of the Mclusky influence, as we had, and they got people of influence who got behind them. Then they’ve taken every opportunity that they can, and look at them now, it’s awesome.

The St. Pierre Snake Invasions’ new album, Caprice Enchanté is released this Friday (June 21st). It is one of a very select group of albums to achieve a maximum 10 out of 10 here at Rock Sins, and you can read our review here. They have a release show on Friday at The Fleece in Bristol, and a handful of other dates across the Summer, including appearing at ArcTanGent. Full details can be found here.

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