shame Embrace Being Uncool in Pursuit of Honesty

On 'Food for Worms,' the band shun the avant-guard in search of a honest response to lost friendships

Photo: Pooneh Ghana

BY Sydney BrasilPublished May 17, 2023

If there's one near-universal truth about your mid-20s, it's that you're bound to lose some friends. There's something about the brain's pre-frontal cortex fully developing that brings to light the things you once ignored, or maybe never considered. Now in the trenches of this transient time themselves, South London's shame are making the most of it.

"Throughout the last few years, we've gone through phases of being deeply worried about people we know, being concerned about the paths that people's lives are on," guitarist Eddie Green tells Exclaim! via Zoom. "And that becomes such a prominent topic of discussion when you reach this sort of age." 

It's this dilemma exactly that inspired Food for Worms, shame's most reflective album yet. Characterized by growing pains in every direction, their third effort is their most self-actualized — matching Green's description of it as "a coming-of-age album, but just a bit later down the line." Detailing friendships lost to self-hatred, addiction and life change, the album's loose theme comes from a "perspective of acceptance" as the narrator pulls himself out of the mud.

Of course, this matured emotional perspective also informed the record sonically. Though not a total departure, the post-punks-at-heart have sanded their edges in favour of more melodic exploration, tethering them less to their angular peers in the London scene. This egress led to a more honest album, even if it meant becoming "less sonically challenging" — or, as Green sarcastically puts it, "It might not be as cool as stuff we've done in the past."

He further explains, "I think like, the last few years, avant-garde has come to the forefront. And it's like, if you're not making some kind of fucked up genre-bending, nonsense, crazy shit, then it's not cool. … We never really did that in the first place. So why are we trying to do that now?"

That's not to say their musical forthrightness came easy. The early days of Food for Worms were riddled with writer's block — a rut that only waned after a series of sporadic gigs. Once they wrote entirely new material for smaller, friends-and-family-oriented shows, the songs began to flow.

This experience reminded shame that, at their very core, they're a live band: "We kind of finish things on the stage. We don't really know how good we think something is until we played it to a few people," Green reflects.

With the shows and Food for Worms' songs now in tow, the band were ready to set forth on their original goal: recording the album live. Now, they could abandon the "regimented" reconstruction of tracks that defined their last two albums, 2018's Songs of Praise and 2021's Drunk Tank Pink, and focus solely on being five friends playing music together — much like they are on their current North American tour. 

"There was a lot of us being in the room for five hours straight [practicing] the same song," Green says of the recording process. "I think what you get at the end of that is completely incomparable to something that has been recorded separately."

Beyond the drawn-out recording sessions and extensive tour schedule, it's safe to say shame are used to spending lengthy periods of time together. The five of them — including Green, vocalist Charlie Steen, guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith, bassist Josh Finerty and drummer Charlie Forbes — are all friends outside of their professional sphere. Which, of course, lends itself well to the album's themes. 

"Professionally and personally, we've become completely intertwined in almost every conceivable sense," Green explains, adding that they have "next to zero time away from each other." Still, their interpersonal relationships have not faltered. In fact, shame's tight-knit dynamics have made for "clear but unspoken boundaries" between them. 

Even if they're able to read each other with precision, the band pride themselves on their communication skills. When asked for advice on how to navigate friendship during turbulence, Green shares what's worked for shame thus far: "I think one thing you learn just going through the sort of teething problems that you get to at this age [is that] you cannot solve anything without communicating."

Though disclosure may very well mend, sometimes it's just about having the right people by your side. "I think it's that our desires have remained the same over the years," Green says of his bandmates. "We've had some rocky times with productivity and getting stuff together as a collective, but I think this record has proved that we can overcome those things."

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