• John Van de Mergel

Albums | Suzie Stapleton, We Are The Plague

Een meesterwerk, album van het decennium!

Ik ben niet iemand die snel 'album van het jaar' roept, zeker niet wanneer er nog vijf maanden te gaan zijn en er ondanks alles nog heel wat leuks zal verschijnen. Het debuut van Suzie Stapleton echter schreeuwt om de titel 'album van het decennium'!

Nog nooit van deze dame gehoord? No worries, dat moet en zal snel veranderen.

Ook al ben je geen fan van duistere zielen als Joy Division, Sisters Of Mercy, Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan en konsoorten, om de uitstekende songwriting kan je niet heen. Ben je wel fan van bovengenoemde, alsook van sterke vrouwelijke performers als Chelsea Wolfe en Emma Ruth Rundle, dan hoef je niet verder na te denken: gewoon We Are The Plague aanschaffen, NU! Dit is zo'n album dat je constant op repeat kan zetten zonder ook maar één enkele song te skippen. Ik doe het nu al vijf dagen op rij en het zullen er nog meer worden. En dan heb ik het nog niet over die stem gehad. Net als Chrissie Hynde beschikt Stapleton over een diep, donker (contralto) stemgeluid. Dat timbre gecombineerd met een ruwheid die we ook terugvinden bij Marianne Faithfull (en als 'whiskey soaked' omschreven wordt) resulteert in een zéér uniek, uit de duizend herkendbaar, geluid. Het laat de in het V.K. wonende Australische toe haar emoties - en die komen écht uit de diepste, duistere ravijnen van de menselijke ziel - ongepolijst, direct en doodeerlijk te uiten. Haar boodschap is niet mis te verstaan: we zijn verdomme niet goed bezig, al jaren niet, maar we kunnen het tij keren als we maar willen.

Het album lijkt op muzikaal vlak wel ingedeeld in drie hoofdstukken. Na de intro volgen vier nummers die een vrij stevig rockende band laat horen, met het titelnummer als absoluut hoogtepunt. Neen, de teksten zijn niet aan het begin van de Covid-19 pandemie geschreven. Wel een paar jaar eerder, maar vanzelfsprekend uiterst toepasselijk op de huidige situatie. Laat je meevoeren door het donkere basgeluid van Gavin Jay dat elke song op sleeptouw neemt. De drums van Jim Macauley volgen speels de lead en leggen schitterende accenten. Opnieuw gaat Stapleton echter met de glansrol lopen: de gitaar scheurt de ene keer als een cirkelzaag door metaal om dan op andere momenten lichte, melodieuze toetsen te plaatsen. Volgen drie rustpunten die semi-akoestisch aandoen. Die kenmerkende stem komt vol tot uiting in de a capella chant The River Song, enkel ondersteund door wat sporadische slagen op een basdrum. Don't Look Up en Angel Speak zijn intieme juweeltjes gedragen door de elektrische gitaar.

In de laatste vier songs weven de drie muzikanten sublieme onaardse soundscapes, met opnieuw het diepe basgeluid en de speelse drums als basis. Suzie Stapleton houdt het qua zang en gitaarspel ingetogen, maar daarom niet minder zwart: gitzwart (*)! Het is zo goed als onmogelijk een favoriet eruit te pikken, maar als het écht moet, doe dan You Where There.

(*) Vanwaar de uitdrukking 'gitzwart'? Git, oftewel Zwarte Barnsteen. Barnsteen kan een elektrische lading opwekken door het over een wollen doek te wrijven. Aan verpulverd git, vermengd met water of wijn, wordt medische krachten toegedicht. We are The Plague is pure elektrische ontlading en het beluisteren ervan werkt absoluut helend!

Releasedatum: 19 juni 2020




“We Are The Plague” declares Suzie Stapleton over the anthemic, fuzzed-out bass line that

opens the acclaimed scribe and alternative alchemist’s extraordinary debut album. It is a rallying cry, a howl into the abyss, the defiant call of a generation sold down the river and acutely aware of its own imminent demise.

When 2020 was rung in and we entered the new decade, nobody predicted that within a matter of months life as we know it would be chewed up and spat out, no longer resembling the carefully curated Insta-reality that we had collectively slumbered into.

Stapleton recalls, “I had a meeting in early January to discuss the artwork for We Are The

Plague. I joked, ‘I hope a deadly pandemic doesn’t sweep across the globe before the album is released’. About a week later, coronavirus starting hitting the headlines.”

“The virus is of great concern, however, the biggest threat to humanity is humanity. When I began writing for this record I was thinking a lot about all the challenges we face as a society - the degradation of our environment, the growing chasm between rich and poor, the petty politics ruling and failing us all. In a very short period of history, we’ve drastically changed our ways of doing things, becoming increasingly focused on ego-driven ventures and short-term financial gain that is causing the collapse of the ecosystems we rely on to live. We’ve lost our connection to our spiritual selves, our communities, and our connection with nature.”

The Australian-born artist relocated to the UK in 2015 after several European tours and a chance encounter with producer Cypress Grove. Instantly enamoured with her midnight vocal, Grove invited Stapleton to record for The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project, a labour of love and tribute to The Gun Club’s frontman. This invitation saw Stapleton appear alongside Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan and others - it seemed Stapleton’s muse had bigger plans for her, whisking her from the Southern Hemisphere and planting her amongst her musical heroes. This twist of fate led to Stapleton also appearing as guest vocalist on two records with Lydia Lunch & Cypress Grove, boosting her cult following and cementing her reputation as one of the most intriguing new acts on the London scene.

In the summer of 2018 Stapleton locked herself away to commence writing sessions for We Are The Plague. “I had just finished touring with The Church, and an opportunity came up to use a vacant house in Brighton. There was no furniture just bare floorboards with nails sticking out, covered in ancient carpet glue. I got a bed and an old fridge from Freecycle, set up camp and got to work”.

These bleak surroundings void of distractions proved a fertile ground for creativity. Stapleton conjured a collection of poetic and textured songs that formed a deep, dark pool to draw from when rehearsals started that autumn with the band in London.

Stapleton met bassist Gavin Jay when she toured with Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind,

with whom he also plays, in 2015. They joined forces with drummer Jim Macaulay (The

Stranglers) in 2017. Jay and Macaulay provide a solid, seething backbone for the record which traverses from alternative rock to gothic-blues through to alt-folk.

Drawing on a background in audio-engineering, Stapleton self-produced the record which

consistently defies the limitations of the humble three-piece. This comes down to Stapleton’s

attention to detail and her expressive and unique guitar playing which ranges from the light touch of Elliot Smith and Duke Garwood, to razor sharp, effects-soaked riffs evoking Sonic Youth, PiL, or Soundgarden. Whilst guitar is her main weapon, Stapleton added touches of piano and violin to fill out the soundscapes. Her long-time collaborator, cellist Gareth Skinner from Melbourne, also appears on three tracks adding to the overall lushness of the record. The album was mixed by Dan Cox (Thurston Moore/Laura Marling/Pete Doherty) at London’s Urchin Studios.

“We tracked the drums and bass at OX4 Sound in Oxfordshire early in 2019. I then worked on the sessions at home where I recorded the vocals and guitars and worked on arrangements. It can be difficult keeping perspective when you’re switching between engineering and performing, so this process took a while. At times I was also limited by my basic set up - an old computer that struggles to run an old version of Protools, and I only have two mic inputs, but I made it work.”

The dedication and tenacity has paid off with second single ‘Blood On The Windscreen’ gaining airplay on BBC 6 and BBC Introducing in the UK, and the ABC and Double J in Australia, and RTL2 in France.

As we pass the hours with “Quota-filling articles and midnight ghosts”, poised to re-enter this strange new world like a “foetus blinking in the sun”, Stapleton offers a bold soundtrack to the apocalypse. With her raw, poetic lyrics she examines power and inequality “Oh look what time has gone and done, killed off the king and crowned the only son / Burned beneath the rules of other men”; questions our accountability “We are dangling controlled by puppets in a long lineage of string a tangled web tied to the wind and oblivion”; offers salvation “We are shifting sands, we are wet paint, we are blind love”; and urges action “The future is here, and the dawn that divides night and day is clear”. It is a moving meditation on our place in history told through an intensely personal lens. The album closes with the layered production of Negative Prophet which rings out with the fittingly poignant question “Oh God, do you believe in me?”.

Stapleton has now settled permanently in Brighton, drawn to the sea and the pull of an ancestral tide - Stapleton’s grandmother was born in The Lanes in 1922 across from where Bella Union records now stands. “I have been thinking about what it would have been like back then. Spanish flu swept the world just before she was born. It must have been terrifying in those times with limited communication, basic medical services and little sanitation, not to mention it overlapping with a world war. I’m very grateful that all I have to do is sit on a couch for a few months watching Netflix and having virtual drinks with friends.

“When this is over, will we go back to destroying our planet, poisoning our resources, and

hammering the nails in our collective coffin? Or is this the wake-up call we need to recalibrate and work together for a better future?

“I’m more afraid of us going back to business as usual than I am of coronavirus.”

Louder Than War "This is a lady that is simply too good to be ignored.

Suzie Stapleton is gonna be huge. You heard it here first...”

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