‘Some things are just meant to happen’ – It’s a phrase we use from time to time when trying to process events with outcomes we don’t always expect; one which embodies the curious idea that life and its components are somehow linked by a thread unseen and intangible, needing only the slightest tug of circumstance to bring it all together. Arriving as a gift from a very generous universe, Pet Shimmers’ story can be told with a similar explanation.
Spearheaded by Oliver Wilde and featuring members from projects as far field as Swallow Cave to Portishead, Pet Shimmers start can be accredited to the dramatic change brought by Wilde’s solo project sadly coming to its end. Whilst this certain time period for Oliver carried with it an unwelcomely sombre and disenchanting quality towards music and life on the whole, the universe around him, however, was busy laying out an abstruse blueprint for a very new and luminous future.
With gentle guidance from close friends and some chance encounters that brought into contact the group of artists whom Wilde would eventually call bandmates, a change in outlook gradually occurred; a realisation which acknowledged that the world was now matching together a collective crew of creatives, both equally idiosyncratic but cut from the same cloth, all yearning to form something much bigger than themselves. Thus, Pet Shimmers came to be: an aggregate of individuals embarking on a journey different to ones partaken before, opting for collaboration, championing of the collective viewpoint and searching for inspiration from worlds outside of ones own.
With the cosmos finally finishing its string pulling, Pet Shimmers are gearing up to release a manifesto based on what they found when seven became one, cerebrally entitling it ‘Face Down In Meta’ – an immersive and tumbling debut of an album, full of glacial splendour and synthetic vistas, interwoven beautifully with the ‘more feels, less H(urt)z’ mentality we need to counteract our current bellicose times.
Sitting in a room with six out of the seven official members (Richard Clarke being sadly absent from our chat), you get the sense that a family vibe runs deep throughout all that Pet Shimmers does. Before any interview takes place, a playful conversation about wrestling occurs, which subsequently tumbles into spirited threats about who could beat who in the ring. It’s with these salutary scenes of friendship that you can understand why the world would want to bring these group of oddballs together in the first place – and now that we have a band set to become more sacred and well regarded than anything else before it, aren’t we all glad that it did.
There seems to be quite the talent pool within Pet Shimmers, leading some people to wonder whether you function more as a collective rather than a band in the traditional sense. Could you tell us how you all met and how the project came together?
Oliver Wilde: We actually all met through fairly tentative threads. Ultimately, Pet Shimmers has been a process of reinvention: as my solo project was sinking, these guys were on board and luckily stuck around for the projects conception. Pet Shimmers has become a place where we can all throw our ideas into a jar, shake it up and just desperately capture the explosion. Some of us were strangers when we met, but one by one we’re starting to find a balance and a chemistry, and that’s sort of shaping the direction that the band is going in.
When you first introduced Pet Shimmers, you spoke about how happy you were to be able to share the songs, and that Richard Walsh (your manager) had made you feel able to ‘love music’ again. What is it about the project that’s made it restore your affinity towards music, and why has Pet Shimmers and its components made you ‘love music’ again?
OW: To be honest, with my previous solo project, I was just really over-doing it with myself. I had a band that started to get serious momentum and the pressure started mounting, and as a person who is slightly physically and mentally unstable, that kind of pressure is enough to break you – and it certainly broke me. My experience of making music and creation became more about making money and fulfilling other peoples desires rather than my own artistic ones, so naturally I just fell out of love with music.
Richard Walsh very much helped me to see another way forward, because I was actually just totally ready to give up on music forever, and this album coming out, the worst version of it, I was just going to give away for free. So I guess Pet Shimmers has become like my healing process through all that stuff, and the most important part of that healing process is the community and family which has been formed through it all.
It does feels that collaboration seems to be at the heart of what you do in Pet Shimmers. As you were transitioning away from your solo material, was creating an entity where a large body of creatives could work together the ultimate goal, or was there another intention behind starting the group?
OW: Well, when we first started Pet Shimmers, we wanted to have a core band, but extend it and bring in all the sorts of peripheral members and contributors. As someone who is slightly set in my ways, it’s kind of nice when people challenge me and show me other ways of looking at things creatively. The results are always more interesting when you have a back and forth dialog between different individuals, and I find it becomes more meaningful as a shared experience. I would have probably made the same record over and over again if I didn’t have what I have now.
Collaboration can sometimes be an anxious and difficult thing when you’re giving others permission to edit something so precious such as a song idea or lyric. Was it natural for you all to trade ideas initially?
Lexie Jennings: I think we’ve all struck a really good balance when it comes to working together. After everyone has kind of chipped in their contributions to a song, we’ve gotten to the stage where we can say, “oh that’s not very Pet Shimmers” or “that sounds very Pet Shimmers”; the songs have now taken on a certain sound and a certain feeling that we all sort of collectively understand. It’s so far removed from anything we’ve worked on previously outside of the band in our own projects and the music has now become its own little world.
OW: I think it’s a matter of understanding. One thing which we try and do is to respect everybody’s ideas and see them through to some kind of natural conclusion. I think the minimum obligation of an artist is to make art which you would like to see or hear, and it’s the same with Pet Shimmers: we all have our own ideas and visions of what the band is, but we can never be individually definitive of what that vision is, because in essence it’s a combination of all our visions combined. It takes a certain level of respect, trust and understanding to get to that point.
Lyrically, I feel that Pet Shimmers tread in a territory where the songwriting is deliberately obscured. What is your mindset when it comes to writing the lyrics, and in what way are you hoping that the listener will connect with them?
OW: Well, I’ve always felt that the writing for my own projects has been approached in a more literal way, but for Pet Shimmers there are human resonances that I want to connect with, and interpretability is the most important thing for me in that context. Really, my focus now is in provoking something I hadn’t expected to provoke in other people.
So since you’ve moved away from writing in isolation to now ‘celebrating the shared experience’ of creating songs with others, has there been a change in the way you approach songwriting and the subject matters you choose to write about?
OW: Initially, I always believed that songwriting was about presenting a point of view that’s very much an individual one, but it was through working with Nick (Stevenson) from Oro Swimming Hour that I realised you can actually have totally different ways of writing. For Pet Shimmers, it did start out very much being about my point of view, but then I found trying to write songs more about current topical subjects and universal feelings more effective. I realised it’s more about trying to write from a collective, universal point of view that I think works best for this band. So I definitely feel like I’ve found a new voice for writing in Pet Shimmers – which is a bit more dirty in some respects (laughs).
Pet Shimmers have already enjoyed an incredible set of experiences so early on, and that trajectory is continuing with your recent announcement of a 19 date tour with (Sandy) Alex G. How is everyone feeling about that?
OW: Yeah, it’s amazing! I met Alex many, many years ago when he was touring ‘DSU’ and I don’t know why, but I knew he was going to be an important person in my life. I bought him a full English breakfast in a tin because I knew he would remember that. His agent happened to come to our recent Green Man show, who then asked Richard Walsh if he knew anyone suitable to tour with Alex, and we all put ourselves forward. We knew that this had the potential to be one of the most important things that could happen to the band at this stage, so we were all kind of toying with various ideas of what we could do to see the opportunity over the finish-line.
Finally, we had the idea to send over to Alex one of Will’s tape machines with a little recording of Ellie just saying, “Hey we’re Pet Shimmers, let us tour with you in the UK and Europe”, followed by a song off our album. We made a funny picture of a dog with loads of boobs to go along with it and it worked!
That’s an amazing story. Whose idea was it to send the tape machine?
Will Carkeet: It was Ollie’s idea originally to do a gesture. Initially he was like, “let’s all fly to New York and meet him”, but we said, “let’s send a tape machine instead, that’s a bit more realistic.”
OW: Sometimes you’ve got to take the initiative. I was inspired by IDLES when they sent a cake to Foo Fighters’ management with a picture of Adam (Devonshire) topless with the words, “let us play with the Foo Fighters”, and that was what swung the deal. Sometimes I think that if a band really, really wants something, they should just totally go for it.
I read somewhere that the video for ‘Persona Party’ references the ‘I Feel Fantastic’ Youtube video. I know you’ve all expressed interest in finding out about the more bizarre and unique phenomenons which occur online, and I can’t but help feel that some of that culture bleeds into Pet Shimmers identity. Would you say that Pet Shimmers is influenced by that odd-ball aesthetic, or is there some other source of inspiration you draw from for your visuals?
OW: Oh, absolutely! I think the internet is an amazing place where literally anyone in the world can express themselves, so you just get every kind of spectrum of ideas and styles. The name of our album is called ‘Face Down in Meta’ and I love that whole idea. I don’t know if everyone else feels this way, but I love memes. I think meme culture is just the best art-form of the 21st century, I really do. I wouldn’t say our art-style is in any way derivative of memes as such, but it’s more just like how the idea of sound, imagery and lyrics can evoke and drive humour. So it’s when you watch the video for Mortal Sport Argonaut, it’s just like hopefully – and some people might think it’s just pretentious art, or whatever – that when people watch it, they just think it’s quite funny.
Oliver, you always use very playful and poetic language when writing about the band on social media, but I can’t help but feel that sometimes what you say comes from a very personal place; “…a bedroom emo overcame his loneliness by hiring rad model vibes and flower rangers” is a quote that stuck out at me. Reading this, I feel that the friendships forged in this band have helped you personally, is that true?
OW: Above all the fireworks and flowers, there is a slightly more darker reality to this whole thing. I was very ill last year – physically and mentally – with all kinds of challenges, including having a stroke. My life is kind of like this: I have this ice age thawing cycle where when it’s the ice age, I’m usually having a heart attack, or my mental health has gone out of control, and then when it’s the thawing it’s when I’m the most productive, and it’s when all this art and music comes out from me. I think when you’ve nearly died three times, it makes you feel like you should be filling your life with as many beautiful and meaningful experiences as possible, and so far everything we’ve done in this band has been just that.
It’s like what we were talking about earlier, the universe has kind of just brought us all together. Making this album, compared to my own records, has been really stress free, and the band has just been like a rehabilitation centre for us all. Everyone here has been through something very difficult in the last year, and just coming into practice, even though it was really hard to do, became so important. Now we have something beautiful to show for it, and it just renders all what’s happened in the past obsolete, because we now have this beautiful, fun, celebratory piece of art. There’s only positive feelings being shared, and right now I just want to share that positivity with as many people as possible.
Pet Shimmers’ debut album ‘Face Down In Meta’ is out now. Purchase the album here. Stream the album from bandcamp in the link below.
Words and Photos by Dan E Brown