By Philip Runco
Shopping’s punk rock may be a lean cut of angular guitar, drunken bass, and antsy drumming, but the words deadpanned over it paint a picture of instant gratification and overstimulation.
On call-and-response single “Why Wait”, guitarist Rachel Aggs rebuffs technological temperance in the face of everything – namely, one of those miniature computer masquerading as a phone – perpetually being in the palm of her hand. “They say I I’ve got time,” she admits without regret on another song, “but I had time and I wasted it all.”
It’s a slightly different story when I reach them on a Saturday afternoon in early November, though. The London trio is loaded in the back on a van, driving through the hills and dessert of the American Southwest, untethered from the world aside from their driver’s cell phone.
“I lost the SIM card for my phone when we were in Chicago,” bassist Billy Easter shares. “It’s kind of freeing, but then I realize that some people might want to get a hold of me. We end up desperately logging onto Wi-Fi wherever we can.”
For the past month and change, Aggs, Easter, and drummer Andrew Milk have been crossing the States in support of Why Choose, its first record for FatCat Records. (The label also gave its self-released debut, Consumer Complaints, more proper distribution earlier this year.) But while Shopping may be a fresh face to many American listeners, the three have each been making music in other bands for almost a decade, notably Trash Kit and Golden Grrrls.
“We’re all…” Easter trails off, trying to avoid calling anyone old. “Well, we’re not that young.”
Shopping supports Priests at Washington’s Black Cat tonight and Brooklyn’s Palisades on Saturday. The trio revisits Brooklyn with Parquet Courts at the Warsaw on December 11. Why Choose is out now on FatCat Records.
You’ve said the ultimate goal of a Shopping song is to make people dance. Why is that important?
Billy Easter: The type of music that we make is for moving to. That’s what it’s for. We’re not singing about anything deeply profound. There’s no soul searching. We think of it as a cathartic exercise; you listen to it and, hopefully, you start moving.
Do you find yourselves attracted to physical music?
Easter: It depends. There’s different music for different needs. We all have eclectic tastes, but one of our favorite things is going out and dancing – for hours.
Was there a particular point in your lives when you discovered that release?
Easter: I realized it as a teenager, when I was about 14. It’s a great way to forget stuff, basically.
Rachel Aggs: I’ve never been a shy dancer. I’ve always been aware of how fun it is. I find it weird when people hold back. It’s like, “Who cares? No one is watching. No cares if you look stupid.” Dancing onstage while playing is fun, as well.
Andrew Milk: I can’t pinpoint a time where I realized dancing was therapeutic. It’s just always been super fun. My earliest memories of having a good time were singing along to the radio and dancing to the music. When I was five, I came in second in a Michael Jackson dancing competition.
Aggs: I used to make my cousin come over to my house and do Michael Jackson dancing with me. We had the top hat and everything.
Easter: My cousin and I used to dance to Sister Sledge – that song, “Frankie, Do Your Remember Me.” We made up a dance. We were always making up dances. With music, how can you not move to it?
Andrew: Enough of these two and their amateur dancing background. Here I was, five-years-old, coming in second in the Michael Jackson dancing competition hosted by local radio station Hot 96 with Dr. Fox. Just a name drop there. Perhaps you’ve heard of him and his dance competition judging.
Have you noticed any difference between the looseness of U.K. and U.S. audiences? Crowds in the States have a reputation for their stiffness.
Easter: It hasn’t really been like that! I’ve heard about that [reputation] as well, but even in new York, we got people dancing. People have been moving about.
A recurring themes in your music is a certain frustration with modern life. Of course, every moment in time has its trade-offs. If you could live another era, would you?
Aggs: We were talking about this the other day, but we were talking about the worst times in history. We didn’t think about the best times.
Easter: It’s an interesting question. There isn’t a moment that sticks out; there are loads of times in history that would have been cool to be around for. I’m accepting of the fact that this is where we are now.
Milk: There are periods of history that just freak me out. I couldn’t imagine living in medieval times – like, the dark ages. It was just so dirty. That’s the entire vibe for 400 years of history. I don’t want to live there. I wouldn’t want to live during the Industrial Revolution, either. That was dirty and disease-ridden, too.
Aggs: It depends on where you were socially.
Milk: I would definitely have been a peasant, though. That’s the problem. I would have been at the bottom of the ladder, covered in boils with a hunchback. I would have been the first to die in plague. That would have been my lot in life. I wouldn’t want to live there.
But I’m quite into the idea of ancient Greece. I think ancient Greece and Rome sounds like fun. Rachel thinks ancient Egypt would have been cool.
You all grew in smaller towns in England. How would you describe that upbringing? In what ways did moving to London change your life?
Easter: We all pretty much grew up in the surrounding areas of London, kind of in the countryside, but in different areas. My upbringing was typical, I guess. For me, leaving a small town and moving somwehre where there other kinds of freaks and weirdos like me was really liberating and amazing. It was a really, really exciting time.
Aggs: I went to university in Oxford, and as soon as I finished the course, I moved to London. That’s when I met Andrew. He put on my first gig for my first ever band. I started playing music as soon I came to London.
In Oxford, there was no queer scene. There wasn’t a very good music scene. There was no underground scene for weird music. It wasn’t encouraging to women. It was pretty crucial for me to get to London.
Milk: I grew up in a small town and it was quite insular. People didn’t really move away. There were no jobs there or anything and I wanted to do art.
I moved away and got into music, because some people I met from London who were into music and I thought they were really cool. So, I joined a band. It was really easy to do that in big city. It was a way for me to get involved in music – I couldn’t figure out how else to do it. I was putting on shows in Kent, but it was London that made it real simple because there was such a vibrant DIY scene.
You three have a history of making music together that predates Shopping, but when you started making music as a trio, how did you arrive on this very particular sound?
Milk: It came quite naturally. The band we were in before, Golden Grrrls, wasn’t a million miles away from Shopping. It was still dance music at the end of the day, but it was way messier, loads noisier, and a bit more complex.
With Shopping, we scaled it back to guitar-bass-drums. We still wanted to make dance music, but I could only do a four-to-the-floor beat when we first started playing. Rachel’s style of guitar isn’t power chords or anything; it’s angular and clean. And Billy is the master of funk. She actually refers to herself as “the master of funk.”
Andrew: No one else calls her this, but she demands to be known as “the master of funk.” If that gets written down anywhere, please quote Billy Easter, the master of funk.
Milk: When you combine those three things, that’s just how it sounds. We wanted to make dance music, and we had that classic three-piece line-up, and I could only do that four-to-the-floor beat, and Billy was too funky to function.
Where there any other iterations?
Milk: A couple of our songs early on were quite surfy. It was still dancey, but when we first put out our demo, we were tagged as “surf-punk” or something, because the guitar was quite surfy. But we found our sound quite fast.
In one interview, Rachel repeated the phrase “smash the patriarchy” a few times. What does that phrase mean to you?
Aggs: It was in the context of being asked about whether we experience misogyny as female musicians and performers, and I didn’t really want to have to answer that question because that in itself is what we experience as females. You don’t ask men what it’s like to be man in a band. So I said, “Smash the patriarchy.” I was just joking. I was bored of answering that question.
That interviewer wanted me to list the instances where I experienced misogyny, and it’s like, “Well, every day, when I walk down the street and someone heckles me.” It was an annoying question. It’s annoying when people bring up gender unless it’s a specific political issue that they want to discuss with us.