The Red Stains are one of the most hotly-tipped new bands around and today they release their debut single Mannequin. Ferociously independent, vocal and visually striking on stage and on toilet walls around Manchester, they've captured the attention of the likes of Tim Burgess and Kendal Calling before even releasing a single on the back of some grainy demos and live tracks. We caught up with Natalie, Sterling and Ella for a chat about their origins, the graffiti, their uncompromising attitude and the pressures of expectation being placed on their shoulders.
The Red Stains are being classed as a Manchester band although they come from different parts of the country, something that's very evident when you speak to them in person (or via Zoom in these strange times), yet there's something about them that very much captures the spirit of the city's long musical heritage and its ability to welcome people into the fold. We asked them to introduce themselves.
Ella : We’re The Red Stains. I’m Ella, I play the synthesizer.
Sterling : I’m Sterling, I play bass
Natalie : I’m Natalie, I’m the shouty, screamy, singing one
Sterling : And Ben’s not here, he plays drums
Natalie : Me and Sterling had known each other for a while online. We both moved down to Manchester at around the same time and we had this idea of starting a band, but it never really went anywhere until we met Ella.
Sterling : We talked about it, but it wasn’t until I met Ella in The Peer Hat and told her that me and Nat were going to start a band and I asked her if she played any instruments
Ella : It was out in the garden. I said I played synths and guitar.
Sterling : So I asked her if she wanted to join a band called The Red Stains. And that was it “right you’re in.” It was just us three and we’d go and practice in the basement
Ella : Ben came just before we played our first show. We had another drummer originally, we were four girls, but she moved to Bristol so we recruited Ben quite late in the day.
Sterling : The way it worked out was that we were going to do the gig without a drummer and Ben said “I’ll do the drumming” and we were like “are you sure, since when have you been a drummer?” and he said “since always.” We did a practice and it worked.
The name The Red Stains feels decidedly and determinedly provocative and designed to cause a reaction. There's an old saying that it's better for people to have an opinion on you one way or the other and to be bland, boring and not talked about is the worst of all worlds.
Ella : It is shocking, people hear it and they remember it straight away. It’s a bit of a surprise the first time you tell people about it. They have some kind of reaction.
Natalie : It’s quite a subversive name, punchy and it sums us up really.
You might have noticed their distinctive graffiti when you went to the toilets in one of Manchester's bars or venues, like a calling card, in the distinctive red lipstick or marker pen.
Ella : The lyric in the song is “you can’t wash us out.” I like that it’s literal because it’s on the walls everywhere and professional cleaners have tried to wash it out.
Sterling : We have made a nuisance of ourselves with that.
There’s history to that in Manchester though. Guy Garvey told the story about Grounds For Divorce, some of the lyrics were from lines that people had scribbled on the walls of The Temple. The Stone Roses were well known for their graffiti and there's a litany of bands who've taken to scrawling their name across the city.
Sterling : Never underestimate a toilet wall poem
Natalie : They’ve helped me out a few times
Ella : To be fair if someone wrote a poem from our graffiti, it would just be “Red Stains, Red Stains, Red Stains”
Sterling : I think that’s a brilliant poem. Poems don’t need to be complicated.
Sterling : Do you want to tell them about your lipstick?
Natalie : Our favourite haunt The Peer Hat had something to say about it. Basically we decided to spray it out like feral cats in the bathroom, The Red Stains everywhere even on the ceiling, and they were like “right girls this is enough.” It’s like an inside joke but when we first saw it again, we were like “don’t kick us out.” It’s just who we are really, we find it quite funny to annoy people. Sometimes.
Ella : It’s always done semi-anonymously so we don’t know who’s complaining. We know it’s from The Peer Hat, but we’re not sure who’s saying it so it seems like people are unwilling to confront us which is a good sign.
Sterling : We have had some graffiti backlash as well which I find funny. There’s some like “The Red Stains are really not very good” which was my personal favourite, I really liked that one and there was one that said “The Red Stains are fucking shit” which I thought was quite creative. One said we’ve only got three songs and someone has scribbled it out and written four and that’s a nice gesture. There’s some clangers on the wall, the Ben ones in particular, “Dutton smells of cheese.” We do get hate back, which I quite like.
What's very clear is that The Red Stains believe they need to have an identity as a band and as individuals within the band and to stand for something. There's very much a gang mentality about them with a healthy respect evidenced by each of them at some point in the interview apologising for cutting in on top of one of the others and letting them finish. We ask them for confirmation and their response is very unequivocal.
All Together : Yeah
Sterling : You might not like our tunes, you might not like us, but oh well, what a shame
Natalie : All publicity is good publicity.
We move on to the subject of song-writing and as you'd expect from them it's very much a collaborative effort with each member being involved in the development of songs from initial ideas through to a finished track.
Sterling : We all write our own parts. Usually Nat will come up with some lyrics or I’ll come up with some. Then I’ll either put a bass line to them or Ella a synth line and we’ll work from there and build the rest of the instruments around it. It’s quite experimental as Ben is the only one that’s actually trained in music. We collage it, put all the parts together, it’s not like we say “we’ve got to write a verse, we’ve got to write a chorus.” That’s why some of our songs change so much.
Before the release of their debut single they've had an incredible reaction from audiences around Manchester drawing attention from further afield as well with dates arranged in Birmingham and London before the coronavirus hit us. Tim Burgess has championed them as well and personally invited them to appear at Kendal Calling this year. It's something that bands that have been going a while that would give their right arm for. The band are unsurprisingly appreciative and a little taken aback by this attention
Ella : That was surreal. I couldn’t believe it.
Sterling : I thought it was a joke, someone winding us up when I first saw it.
Natalie : I was on the Met and you messaged me and I was like “what Tim Burgess thing?” I remembered three years previously, me and my friend couldn’t get tickets to The Charlatans and we were stood at the back of the building, drunk, shouting “Tim, my uncle Tim, let us in.” Now he’s asking us to do a gig.
We ask the question whether he acquiesced to the demand
Natalie : No. I don’t think he heard us.
Sterling : It’s surreal, it’s unexpected and surreal. But it’s really nice as well as being “what? Am I dreaming?”
That sort of opportunity and exposure could happen too soon for a band that might be unprepared for such a microscopic level of scrutiny and jealous accusations of favourtism or being manufactured, but it's something that The Red Stains shrug off as they're excited to be living their musical dream.
Natalie : For us no, it’s more the reaction of other people that I find quite pressurising, people thinking “oh how did they get that?” that adds pressure, but I don’t think it’s changed us as a band at all.
Sterling : When we play live it’s always chaotic. We get up on stage and we do our own thing, we play our own tunes and if you don’t like it then leave and if you do like it stay and watch. Personally I don’t feel there’s more pressure as we’ll just go and play our best like we always do. We don’t feel like we’re performing for anyone, we’re doing it because we love to express ourselves, do our thing and be loud, noisy and unpredictable. We’re not doing it for other people’s gaze.
The single Mannequin was recorded at Spirit Studios in Manchester with Timmy Harrison. For a band given to chaotic live performances, going into the studio could be a daunting time for an inexperienced band. We asked how they coped with the different environment.
Natalie : I felt it was really difficult and different. Part of the charm of us is our live performance and everyone being involved. There’s no stage and it was actually quite nerve-wracking for me and it did take a little while to adjust to the vibe of the studio because I’m really not used to just singing by myself. It’s a group effort and that’s something The Red Stains pride ourselves upon, we’re a little unit, and having to do things separately was really out of my comfort zone.
Sterling : It was different, I had flu when we were recording (note - in December 2019 no social distancing rules were broken in the making of the single). I felt like my arm was going to fall off half the time. But we had fun and a laugh. It’s definitely a different atmosphere to doing a gig. It’s a lot longer, it feels a lot more technical with a lot of takes. Weirdly it feels like there’s more pressure than a gig.
Ella : I really enjoyed it because I found I could be a lot more creative. I have three tracks on Mannequin, so I have the main synth, the guitar and background synthesizers and what we might lose in live performance we can make up for in having more tracks to play with, we can be more creative.
It very much comes across like that listening to the single and comparing it to the live recordings. It’s a lot fuller sound. We comment on that and find nodding agreement from the three of them.
Ella : Exactly.
So moving on to the single Mannequin we ask for a little more insight into the subject matter of the single.
Natalie : It’s about the idea of rejection and how you feel about objectification, how you feel you’re not good enough and you’re basically just a doll to some people, an object. It’s the way several people have made me feel in my life, but I think it means something to the others as well. The inspiration came at a time when I was feeling these emotions, but I’d felt them before. It’s cataloging all the ways in which I feel I’d been treated and people around me had been treated and it’s trying to summarise that.
The subject matter of The Red Stains' songs is always intriguing from an outsider looking in – tracks like Trolley Dashers, Jump The Met and Freezer Jesus cover subjects from shopping addiction to trying to bunk the tram without paying. They explain to us what inspires them to write.
Natalie : It depends really. Sometimes things will just come to us. Jump The Met, I was actually sat on the Met (Metrolink, Manchester’s tram system) and I’m quite well known for not having bought a ticket and the Metties are my arch-nemesis so I felt I need to write a song about this. It’s something that happens so much in daily life, it’s inevitable that I’d end up writing about it. It does really just depend though.
Sterling : Some songs will come together. With TV Static and Trolley Dashers, we wrote the lyrics together. We both just came up with some words and things that were relevant and felt like they meant something and we pieced them together into a song. Our songs are meant to be about real life, they’re meant to be relatable and real. A lot of women can relate to the words and our songs should mean different things to different people.
We finish by asking what their plans are, or were, and how they plan to build on the significant momentum that they've got behind them.
Natalie : We’ve got our set and we’ve got a few other things in the works, but because of what’s going on, everything’s ground to a halt, so at the moment the set is what we have in terms of finalised song.
Ella : We’re going to be recording another single as soon as the pandemic is over. We don’t have any concrete plans for an EP yet, but it could definitely be on the cards over the next year or so.
The single is released digitally as a stand-alone track and a three-track EP can be bought on a very limited CD featuring live versions of Trolley Dashers and Jump The Met recorded at The Railway in Didsbury last November on their Bandcamp.