O Monolithic Squid

O Monolithic Squid

Having just released their sophomore album O Monolith, we catch-up Ollie & Anton from one of England’s most exciting bands of the moment, Squid

Image credit: Studio UJ

Easily shaking off the sophomore slump are English five-piece Squid, who in May 2021 released their awesome debut album of boundary pushing experimental alternative rock sounds, Bright Green Field. Fast forward two years and the band return with their new one, O Monolith, and it's just about as perfect a second album as you could ask for, balancing the familiar with the new and foreign perfectly as the group expands on their unique melting pot of sounds that pull from jazz, post-rock, post-punk, alt-rock and more, resulting in a slightly challenging but extremely rewarding listening experience.

The band began working on what would become O Monolith just two weeks after their debut album dropped while on tour, which allowed them to road test some of their works in progress of what would eventually become the songs of their second album. Broadly exploring the themes of how people relate to their environments, O Monolith was recorded in the awesome environment that is Peter Gabriel’s luxurious and gorgeous Real World studios in the countryside of Wiltshire.

With the album out and the band currently on a massive European tour, we jumped on the line with Ollie Judge (Drums & Lead Vocals) and Anton Pearson (Guitars & Vocals) to find out all about it!

Thanks for chatting guys, been a fan since the first record which is where I kind of wanted to start -  you put out Bright Green Field and then within two weeks, you’re not only on tour but also starting work on what would become the new album - what led to working on the new album so soon after?

Ollie: By the time you put out a record, it’s been ages, so you’re kind of itching to get onto the next thing and do some writing.

So are you guys generally coming up with ideas all the time?

Anton: Yeah, I think we do a lot, generally that’s how we’ve worked, just done little bits here and there. When we have a few weeks between being on tour or we’re all recording, we’re getting together and writing little bits and sometimes we come up with tiny ideas during sound checks even. Yeah, just when we’re on our own. It’s kind of like a war of attrition with writing music generally with us.

I read that you were playing some of the non-finished tracks from O Monolith live after the COVID weirdness when we could have live music again, so how different was this second album’s creative cycle to the first?

Anton: I mean, there were different stages of lockdowns and social distancing at different times, so there were times where we were allowed to meet up but couldn’t play live, or we were allowed to play live but only to very small numbers, so that’s why we did that tour. I think there were times where we were just feeling really grateful that we could meet up because before we weren’t able to work, so that’s kind of what we felt like doing and what we wanted to do. There was a lot of time where we worried about how precarious being in a live band felt at different times. So yeah, there were loads of mixed feelings along with all the other normal feelings you get with writing music of frustration, tiredness, excitement and elation.

Hopefully in that order! Broadly speaking, the new album deals with themes of how people relate to their environments, and I took that quite literally when reading about how the album was made, including at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, which from all pictures just looks phenomenal, so what was it like recording there?

Ollie: Yeah, it was amazing. It was in the countryside, like a proper kind of cliched kind of band recording scenario. It was really nice because we’ve only ever recorded in cities, so it was nice to just be able to clear your head and walk around. We didn’t realise there was a chef there as well which was pretty bangin’.

What was the best dish you ate while you were there?

Ollie: I can’t really remember… he made fish cakes once, that was great.

Fish cakes done right! So did the environment have any impact, like did you make any tweaks to things you thought were set in stone before getting there?

Anton: The environment definitely had a big impact. It wasn’t just that we recorded there, just over the road they’ve got a small writing room that we did a lot of writing in, so it wasn’t like we just arrived at the studio and it was the first time we’d been there. We’d been working there for years, actually, at different times. So yeah, that kind of sense of place I think was really important to the record, but probably not in that many ways that we can explain with words. It’s kind of like - we’re all in an environment together, it becomes part of our collective thought processes and it has a big impact and there are only a few ways in which we were really conscious of that, but I think subconsciously a huge part of the album throughout.

And then I guess it’s open to listener interpretation… speaking of, I’m wondering how you guys react when you read different interpretations of your music, like you might get one person saying “they pushed boundaries and went more experimental” on one hand, and someone else might be like “oh, they went lighter or more accessible” or whatever, so what do you guys make of that stuff?

Ollie: It’s been really nice, actually. You can get in your own head a little bit just before an album comes out and wonder if people are going to like it, but no, it’s been a really nice mix and I think generally what people have said about the album is kind of what we wanted, really. A little bit more challenging and a little bit more space and a bit less claustrophobic.

That must be a pretty good feeling in an age where it seems everything gets misinterpreted! So there was a lot of cool stuff with the album that wasn’t directly the songs - as someone who grew up on 8 & 16-bit video games, the Undergrowth video game really grabbed me, what was the idea there?

Ollie: I think it was Warp’s idea, our record label just thought it would be interesting to do something that wasn’t a music video, something a bit alternative… which also meant we didn’t have to be anywhere to film a music video, which is quite nice. The guy Frank who developed the game was really nice - I think he worked on the original Doom games as well which was pretty cool. Yeah, it’s just a fun little project, something different.

What’s not little is your upcoming tours - massive tours, Europe through to the end of the year, North America next year - what’s it like at this point playing the songs from O Monolith live after playing the early iterations live, and now with the album being out and the final versions released?

Anton: Yeah, it feels really different actually. We’re on tour at the moment in England and yeah, the environment feels very different when people know the songs, I think you can just feel a lot more confident about them. I think we’ve been playing some of those songs from this album for about a year or something in little bits, usually just one or two at a time in a set, and now it’s the majority of the set so you can feel that energy of the room switch when you play something that people know, and we have that with all of the songs now which is quite fun. People just like stuff they know.

And it’s that age old struggle I guess, of people liking stuff they know and a band wanting to do different things, sometimes way too different from their older stuff for fans to relate to… I think with this second album you guys have nailed it, doing different things without alienating fans, and people already knowing and loving the songs is a good sign.

Ollie: Yeah, definitely. I think people are up for being challenged, I think people get kind of bored of bands just playing all their singles, or playing their songs exactly the way you expect them to play them at all times, and not work out new bits and not do any sort of improvisation. I think people are up for things being a bit different in a live set, so we’re trying to do that as well.

I’d say that applies particularly to your style of music, you know, you’re not doing major stadium slick pop shows where people just want to sing along to the song that’s on the radio all day…

Ollie: Yeah, we’ll never be invited to play a stadium…

Hey - you never know! Anton, Ollie - thanks so much for chatting with us about your new record!

Ollie: Great, thanks man.

Anton: Thanks.

Squid's new album O Monolith is out now via Warp Records

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