Les Shelleys are a fun band. It has been said before in this very site. They also do a very good live show. This also was said right here. After a great gig in the Night and Day Café in Manchester, I managed to talk with Tom and Angela, in a basement that looked a lot like Fight Club. A lot of leg pulling and tongue-in-cheekness ensued…
How did you meet?
Tom: Angela and I met in San Diego, California, due to a guy by the name of Gregory Page in 2002. Yup, that’s how we met. San Diego was also where we started to sing, at a place called Java Joe’s.
Angela: We had a good time singing together and started booking shows in the west coast, singing together in Santa Barbara, in a little place called Buffalo Records, which was really fantastic. Yes, Gregory [Page] suggested we sang together because he thought our voices might work nicely together!
You do have a good harmony together! So, how did you come to choose that name, Les Shelleys?
Tom: Oh, my God! That question has been asked so many times! I don’t even know anymore!
Angela: Make it up!
Tom: I guess because Angie is a very big fan of Mary Shelley and she loves ‘Frankenstein’. She’s passionate about horror novels…
Angela: Oh my God! No! So crazy… I do like ‘Frankenstein’ though.
Tom: She’s also fluent in French and wanted to bring some French flair to the music business, so when she asked me to join the band, she said “I have this great name, it’s ‘Les Shelleys’! Do you want in?” and I said “Yes, of course”. There you go.
So it was better than doing a tribute to Marcel Marceau?
Tom: Oh, yeah, it was a lot better.
Angela: Actually, Tom liked this girl when he was a kid and she was called Shelley and he suggested “The Shelleys” but I said “Les” because I thought it sounded cooler than “The”. And I speak French, which is true!
Tom: I’m sorry, but that’s just a big crock of shit.
Angela: Wasn’t she like your fifth grade crush and had a lot of freckles or something?
Tom: There you go. Mary Shelley. Angie’s French. The band.
And you tried to avoid the garage band staple of becoming another “the” band.
Tom: Well, here’s a true story: Theshelleys.com was taken. It was a web address that belonged to a couple that sold…
Angela: Real state!
Tom: So again, Angie brought French flair and said “Les Shelleys”.
I might be misremembering this one right now, but you’ve recently had a show at a museum in London?
Angela: The Bush Hall, I think?
Tom: Bush Hall?
Angela: In Sheperd’s Bush?
That one! How did it go?
Angela: Yeah, we played with Ólöf Arnalds and it was really fantastic, actually. The day before, at the End of the Road Festival, ’cause we played at the same stage, it was such a lovely experience. In Sheperd’s Bush, well, the space was so special with all that ornate moulding, the colour of the walls and just the way that the sound is captured there, it was great.
Tom: Bush Hall is jammed. Is like hidden behind this (does a shape with his hands). You wouldn’t even think that such a place could exist. But behind the front of it, it’s a beautiful venue. It’s really great. The show, well, when you play in a place like that, everything’s brought to the table, for sure. That night was a lot of fun!
You’ve got a couple of interesting covers in your set. Are you big fans of Sir (!) Burt Bacharach and Elvis?
Tom: Elvis Costello and Presley.
Could that be part of your influences?
Tom: Yeah, when we began singing, we learnt old folk songs, that’s where we started with. And then we progressed, I suppose, into the Great American Songbook and so a lot of songs that we perform and people that we are influenced by comes from the pre-Rock era, so, it would be people like Elvis Presley, before he broke, and people like Pat Boone. But also Les Paul & Mary Ford, they were a wonderful duo!
Angela: In a way, we’ve also been sort of exploring artists and songwriters that are more of our contemporaries, like one of my favourite songs we’ve performed is a cover of Elliot Smith, called ‘The Biggest Lie’, but I call it ‘Waiting on a train’ because I couldn’t remember the correct name of it. (laughs)
Tom: And neither can I! We sort of consult the Internet to get the right lyrics but usually we just work from memory, so it keeps us in line, like oral tradition, and it goes back to when people used to sing songs to other people so they would learn them, not really write anything down, like lyrics. So you’d have different versions of the same song, like, for example, the folk songs ‘Lady Margaret’ , ‘Darlin’ Cory’ and ‘Pretty Polly’ are almost the same songs, take a look at them. So that’s what we are doing is staying on that spirit of oral tradition folk music.
Tom: So by Angie saying that she can’t remember the name of the song, it’s true, and neither can I, that it’s ‘The Biggest Lie’. Fact is, I think I would rather be ‘Waiting on a train’.
I’ll check on Google for it!
Tom: Really, it is ‘The Biggest Lie’. ‘Waiting on a train’ is a Jimmie Rodgers song.
I was going to ask you, Angela, how did you decide to do percussions yourself? Was it like Irish folk?
Angela: It just came from habit. You know when you listen to music alone in your car and you start drumming in the steering wheel to the rhythm of the song? I think it’s a very natural thing to do. A lot of times in rehearsal with Tom I would do it anyways. I think, honestly, we had a show were there was nobody there (laughs) and we decided we were going to have a good time and started to be a little more loose and do what I normally do when we rehearse. It sounded really good and we thought “why aren’t we doing this when we play?”. So I started to slowly develop it and working on it, trying to have more interesting rhythms and add something. For me, it’s a pleasure because it gives me something a bit more dynamic to add to what we are doing. I think it’s a very natural element for people that listen to music and it’s how we kinda approach songs anyway, it’s like a genuine, natural way.
Tom: When we are learning a song, I’ll be the one with the guitar and I’ll start playing and Angela would be all “no, no, no, it’s not clap clap clap, but this speed, clapclapclappetyclap”. So she’s kinda like a marker, like a reminder. We kinda forget about the pace of the song so that also plays a part. It helps me when Angie brings the slaps, I remember “ah, that’s the pace”. That’s her involvement and it’s a huge, huge part.
What can you tell us about your upcoming album?
Angela: It just came out on FatCat Records in November 8th, but it’s actually a kinda of a special story because it’s new and it’s our début, but it’s something we recorded quite a while ago, when we were learning first to sing together and we were both living in Los Angeles. We both happened to live in Echo Park, maybe a few blocks from each other. Tom was in a really cool cottage and I would go over there and we’d work out songs and we didn’t care how they sounded like when we were singing them, so we thought “well, let’s just record them” and we had this minidisc recorder that a friend had given to him, and so we spent a lot of time just learning songs and recording them right away. Then came this little moment when the recordings started getting to people’s hands and they ended up liking them, but they weren’t intended to be released as a record when we were recording them! But it’s kinda cool that they are, because it’s like a time capsule. Something you make for yourself and someone actually is interested in it, rather than planning to go into a studio and have the superclean specific sound that just sort of came out of what we were doing naturally at the time.
Tom: I also like to add that going back to these minidiscs to make this record, I realised how young we were when we made this record and naïve too! I probably thought that I knew a lot back then than I know now and I think that’s also present in these songs. This incredible spirit and talent that’s in there. I think that to me is a good reason to why we are releasing that record, because it definitely comes across (!). It’s something we would’ve lost if we’ve re-recorded this songs, in a studio with production, so it’s a special record like Angie said, for that reason.
Thank you very much!
Images: From Fat Cat Records and Les Shelleys’ Official Website.
The author would like to thank Mary Jones, Ash Dosanjh, Meredith Goudreau, Angela and Tom.
Check out Les Shelleys. They are quite entertaining and they are funny to boot!