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Interview: My Life Story’s Jake Shillingford talks new album World Citizen and competition in Britpop

My Life Story – fronted by Jake Shillingford – made their debut in 1993 and came up as part of the Britpop scene.

With a string of top 40 hit singles and albums in the 1990s, My Life Story released their last album Joined Up Talking in 2000. 19 years later, the band has just released new album World Citizen, preceded by lead single Taking on the World.

I caught up with Jake to talk about the new record, discuss the Britpop scene of the 90s and dig into some of his stories from back in the day.

Hi Jake – the new album is coming soon. Are you excited/nervous?

Myself and songwriting partner Nick Evans have been writing for film and TV over the last seven years. It’s been an amazing experience translating people’s ideas into music, however much has happened to me in my own life recently so I felt the need to express my own creative ideas. I’m really looking forward to hearing people’s thoughts on the album.

Do you have interesting (or naughty!) stories from the 90s?

I tried very unsuccessfully to chat up Courtney Love.

Was there a camaraderie amongst the Britpop bands or was there more of a competitive edge?

No words can describe how unprepared I was for the competitive nature of that mid-nineties scene. I’ve had fascinating discussions with musicians from the 80s and the 00s and even though there’s always been a healthy competition between acts over the decades I don’t think anything compares with the vitriolic and downright nasty nature of many bands of the Britpop era. I’ve got many theories that may explain this, but perhaps that’s for another interview.

Do you miss the Brit Pop era or are you more forward facing than that as a band?

It was an exciting time and possibly the end of an era when bands could get signed for the price of 3 houses and be nurtured and developed. My Life Story was essentially a 12 piece band with an orchestra and brass section… I even had my own tailor! So those days were amazing and fulfilling. However, as a songwriter I believe that songs should reflect the times. The lyrics for World Citizen were written in the months of June and July 2019 so I’m hoping people will see it as a very contemporary record that is set against a backdrop of current attitudes, divisions and language.

What has life taught you since?

Be true to yourself and to others and the rest just seems to slot in after that.

What made you want to release a brand new studio album after 19 years? Why so long a wait?

I have a lovely new person in my life who has encouraged me to be true to myself and share my creative spirit.

Are you doing anything differently these days in terms of how you write songs/ perform live etc?

In the 90s I used to write songs while I was running. I would carry a bag of 10p coins with me. Every time I came up with an idea, I would run to the nearest phone box, call my answer machine and sing the beginnings of a verse down the phone. I’d set off again, and once I came up with a chorus I would seek out another phone box and feed in another 10p. When I got home I would listen back to my messages and have a full song.

Now I have my own studio with an endless supply of biscuits.

Tell us about the new album World Citizen – what inspired it lyrically and musically?

World Citizen was composed during the recent chaotic global news landscape where reality as we thought we knew it is constantly being reinvented… In dark times we find safety in what we know and understand. It’s about returning to the sense of the self, the freedom and simplicity of nature and the clarity and honesty of love and union. Ultimately, I’d say the theme of the album is searching for truth in a world full of lies. Even if that’s a personal truth.

What are the songs from the album you are most excited for people to hear?

During the writing of Telescope Moonlight Boy, Scott Walker passed away. He has been a huge influence on us over all the years and it’s clear now listening back to the track that we channelled in some Scott love during the recording of that track.
A Country With No Coastline has all the metaphors that you would associate with the current political crisis in Britain, however it’s much more to do with understanding our own identities as World Citizens and our place and role in society.

The album is available in some (rather glorious it has to be said) formats from your website. Have you always been into the DIY ethic?

Yes, we do have some history. My Life Story released the first ever MP3 only UK single in 1998 entitled If You Can’t Live Without Me Then Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?
For me, performing and songwriting is all about communication. Now we are afforded direct lines of communication with our fans I really enjoy that community. Bands like My Life Story can only survive with the direct input and support of our fan base. It enables us to produce pure, undiluted music, free from restraints and influences from the commercial world.

We see that you have also a package where the band plays gigs at fans houses! What inspired that idea and what was it like?!

We initially raised funds for the new album through the now defunct PledgeMusic site who have now gone into administration and owe hundreds of thousands of pounds to many bands and fans across the globe.

It was an idea that came out of the ashes of that crash as we started to consider fundraising options. I’ve always enjoyed playing My Life Story songs in a stripped down acoustic format. It’s an opportunity for the songs to cut through in a more direct, emotional way without all the epic arrangements, bells and whistles. It’s very humbling to be invited into someone’s home and to celebrate their special occasion.

The first single Taking On The World has a very punchy, optimistic vibe to it – was this intentional?

The upbeat sound counters a darker edge to the lyrics of Taking On The World.
The single is like a Black Mirror episode in song form. It’s about the ultimate dystopian TV reality game. A pop apocalypse where Flat Earthers and Fake Newsters take on the Old Darwinians and Extinction Rebellion in a battle of conspiracy theories.

I imagined what the end of the world would be like if it was played out live on TV, with Man declared the winner over Nature on a technical knock out, choking on golden non biodegradable ticker tape as he celebrates his pyrrhic victory!

What was the idea behind the video?

It reflects the dystopian nature of the lyrics, with the thermal yellow hinting at impending disaster.

The video gets increasingly glitchy and hazy throughout, building towards a crescendo of chaos.

When I heard the track we felt it could be a theme tune to a massive US TV show (just putting the idea out there!). How would you feel if it was picked up for something like that?

We would be very happy! Nick and I have composed music for the US show Homeland as well as a horror movie by Rooster Teeth entitled BloodFest, last year. So it was always in the back of my mind that perhaps our writing style on the new album may suit film or TV.

I know you are now an award winning TV and film composer. Does your life in the band inspire that side of your career and vice versa?

Many film and TV composers are anonymous. Yes, of course Hans Zimmer always springs to mind but there are so many other incredible musicians in what is a large industry. I guess having been in a band since I was 13 I’ve always thought it was important to see a human face behind the music, for example when I go to see a theatre show I’m always disappointed if you can’t see the orchestra. So in some ways, going out on tour with My Life Story gives Nick and I an opportunity to show some of our clients in the TV and film world that we don’t just sit behind a hot mixing desk eating biscuits (see earlier question above)!

Second single is going to be #NoFilter. Very much underscoring the Insta generation, no? Is it a critique of our addiction to social media?

It’s more of an observation than a critique. I love the way that the English language is adapted and given new meanings by new generations. #NoFilter is about seeing the truth and beauty in unconditional love. No frills or affect.

What is the one song you wished you’d written?

The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress by Jimmy Webb.

You have collaborated with many well-known artists over the years, is there anyone left you’d like to work with in the future?

I would like to work with Marc Almond again, having collaborated with him on PJ Proby’s Legend album in 1996. Four years ago he sent me a message telling me to write another My Life Story album and thankfully I listened to his words.

I hear you have some funny tour stories- care to share a few?

I got back to the tour bus once and found six teenage girls had broken in and were sitting politely in the snug area, helping themselves to beer and Quavers.

You’re touring the UK again from November: what can new fans coming to see the shows expect?

There’ll be a good mix of new tracks and old favourites, plus some special guests joining us along the way!

What will 2020 bring for My Life Story?

We are looking forward to finding out, you never know what places a new record can take you.

My Life Story’s new album World Citizen is available to buy now. Watch the music video for lead single Taking On The World below:

Angela Johnson
Angela Johnson
Angela is Theatre Editor at Entertainment Focus. A journalist and writer, she's a 'plastic' scouser now living in London. She loves absorbing all 'the arts' the capital has to offer, especially live comedy.

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