Jake Shillingford has been fronting My Life Story for twenty years. To mark this anniversary, he’s taking a stripped down version of the group on the road for a series of shows around the UK.

In the first of a two-part interview, we catch Jake in his home studio, musing on the prospect of touring, illicit adolescent forays into screen-printing and the sad loss of Lou Reed.


PB: It’s been rather a dark week for music, with the death of Lou Reed. While there are few obvious parallels between his work and yours, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary band that wasn’t influenced by him in some way. What are your memories of Lou?

JS: I grew up listening to a lot of Velvet Underground. I was listening to 'Heroin' before I knew what heroin was! Heroin was one of the first songs I learned to play, because it’s only two chords. People don’t realise, but the Velvet Underground were very easy for people of my generation to pick up a guitar and learn the songs. A lot of them were quite like nursery rhymes.

I remember when I was fourteen and my father was a screen-printer by trade, and where our front room would have been was where he had his studio with his silk screens. I remember tracing the cover of 'Rock and Roll Animal', and made it into a screen with the lyrics of 'Heroin'. So, I took all of the buttons off my school shirt, and screen printed the Lou Reed cover onto the front, and then re-sewed the buttons, and went in with my own screen-printed, Lou Reed, punk rock shirt. I wish I’d kept that. So, yeah, Lou Reed affected me so much that I risked expulsion.

I suppose kids now will be turned on by the Beach Boys and the Doors, even Love. Love were very melodic, and the west coast sound was very psychedelic, whereas the Velvet Underground and the east coast sound was much darker. I guess the choice of drugs had something to do with it; the west coast was mescaline and LSD and pot, whereas the east coast was heroin and amphetamines.

PB: It’s twenty years since My Life Story’s first single, 'Girl A Girl B Boy C', was released. Does it feel like a long time? I suppose what I mean is that it must feel like quite an achievement to have a career spanning two decades.

JS: Well, certain things feel a long way away, and there are things that feel a lot closer. The one thing that I have to keep reminding myself of is that 'Girl A', although it wasn’t a commercial success, some people have described it as a brave first single, in that it’s in different time signatures, and when it came out Suede had had a single out and Blur were changing their sound from the Stone Roses-y sound that they had when they first came out. We were doing something that was really quite different.

Now, it irritatingly gets wrapped up in Britpop and it’s dismissed as something that everyone was doing, and it perhaps feels a little watered down. The one thing that I feel quite proud about is that 'Girl A' came out before the term Britpop had been coined, and we were really just trying to do something that was the antithesis of what was going on around us. I suppose the penalty you pay when you do something like that is that you stick out like a sore thumb if you don’t get it right. Now, when people tag us with Britpop, I don’t feel that bad about it.

PB: So I suppose, to a certain extent, you made cellos fashionable again?!

JS: Yeah! I just felt that if you wanted to make an impression that you have to the opposite of what’s going on, and never jump on a bandwagon. If I ever speak to musicians now, I always say not to try and copy what’s on around you, because by the time you’ve got your act together the scene has moved on. I’m not saying that what we did was entirely calculated that way.

When we started My Life Story, I had just got back from a trip round the States, and it was bit of a journey of discovery. That was in 1989, and then when we came into the nineties the music that was coming out of America was taking over. A lot of that stuff was good, but I just felt, living in London at the time, finding the whole Acid House thing, and I was also promoting a club at that time (Dingwall’s - Ed), and there were a lot of bands coming in, but I felt there was just a lack of personality. I was dying to see front men and front women again, and I felt that if no-one else was going to do it, then I might as well have a go myself.

PB: In the past, you’ve limited the My Life Story performances to one-off shows, like 'The Golden Mile' anniversary show at Shepherd’s Bush. What’s changed that you now feel the urge to go on a full-scale tour?

JS: Strangely, it was that night actually. We set up this after-show where we got the chance to meet some of the fans and, twenty years on, it’s exciting, bewildering and humbling that, for a band that weren’t a huge group – I think a lot of people are surprised to hear that we could sell out the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I think that’s testament to the songs, but more so to the fans.

That evening, I spoke to pretty much everyone who stayed around and I tried to have a reasonable conversation with them, and the overriding message was that it would be really nice for us to play in their hometowns. With My Life Story, the mountain has always come to Mohammad, because of the size of the band – that restricted us a great deal back in the day. I just felt that there were people at the show who had come a long way, taken time off work, staying in a hotel – it’s not cheap now to go and see a band.

I just thought let’s try something else. It would be nice to get back on the road, but it would be very difficult to put the full My Life story out on the road. It just wouldn’t be practical in this day and age, so I thought let’s try and do both, so I’m going out on the road with a very small, tight band of local musicians based down here in Brighton.

There are connections, though. Tony who’s playing keys for me has often played with My Life Story as a second keyboard player, and Nick on guitar is my song-writing partner in Choppersaurus [Jake’s new project with an album due in January – see next month’s interview for details]. These are guys who I work with down here in Brighton, so it seemed to make a lot of sense.

We’re doing the songs in a different way. We’re not doing My Life Story light. It’s a different kind of My Life Story. It’s the rockier 'Joined Up Talking' phase, performing those songs in a more direct fashion. Sometimes, when you strip back the orchestral embellishments, you get to hear a little bit more of the heart of the song.


In the second part of this interview, Jake will be talking further about My Life Story, and unveiling his new project, Choppersaurus. In the meantime, My Life Story are touring the UK to commemorate their twentieth anniversary. Details of the tour can be found at www.mylifestory.uk.com















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