Reef return with hard-rocking new album Shoot Me Your Ace as tour comes to Hampshire | Interview
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Re-energised by its success the band set about writing and recording a new record as soon as possible.
With a set of songs they were happy with, the Place Your Hands hit-makers rehearsed until they had them nailed down and headed into the studio, pre-pandemic.
The end result was Shoot Me Your Ace, a no-nonsense collection of 10 straight-ahead anthems which finally comes out this Friday.
But as frontman Gary Stringer explains: ‘It's both the quickest and the longest record we've ever made. It was done in 48 hours in east London – it was bonkers, quite extraordinary.
‘We wrote it over a eight-nine month period, started putting the songs together, had about 14-15, picked our best 12, and went up to town.
‘We ended up with six songs done by end of play on the Saturday, and by the end of play on Sunday... we were all live in the room, the bass and the drums, no overdubs – totally live.
‘Ninety per cent of the guitars were done – we doubled a couple of guitars here and there, and a couple of solos, and I re-sang three or four tunes, but apart form that it was all done in a weekend.
‘We've never laid anything down that fast before – no way. We were well drilled, we'd been playing together a long time and we had all the songs together in our heads. It was the first record we'd made with two guitars, live, and we never stood on each others' toes once.
‘Andy Taylor on one guitar – Jesse (Wood) on the other. It was quite something.
‘Jack (Bessant) played out of his mind on this album, he's on fire on the bass. We’ve got a world class drummer with Luke Bullen – when you've got the tools to put it together with the musicians who are that good, you're able to put in great performances, and I think the songs are great too.
‘It couldn't have gone any better, and we were absolutely buzzing, flying, the momentum was sky high.
‘We came home to drink a beer and relax for a minute, and the whole country shut down!
‘We've had to sit on it and suck our thumb, and like everyone else work out what our next move was.’
The Andy Taylor who played on the album is the former Duran Duran guitarist, who was with the band during their ’80s pomp.
Taylor invited Stringer to come to Ibiza and sing on his solo project after hearing the vocalist’s performance as a guest on reggae-metal kings Skindred’s 2018 single, Machine.
A single Love or Liberation was released from those sessions, and the pair got on so well Stringer in turn invited the guitarist/producer to hang out with the band.
‘He came over to England maybe a year later and we invited him up to play with us at Glastonbury Festival. I think he got a buzz from that, I know we certainly did!
‘Then we invited him down to the rehearsal room and we started jamming. We felt a really good vibe, just playing every day – 11-7, getting into it. Before we knew it, six months in we had the basis of an album. It was really bloody easy! It just made sense to go in in and record it.
‘We had 12 songs by the end of it, but we dropped two – an acoustic ballad, and a soul ballad. We've touched on all sorts of different styles in our careers – rock, pop, R'n'B, gospel, we've done allsorts, but we wanted this to be a straight rock'n'roll record, so we cut off the two mellower tunes and put out 10 bangers.’
Two years after recording Shoot..., Stringer says he’s still happy with the outcome.
‘Most of the time, the music I've made, if you ask me two years after I've recorded it how I feel about it, there's usually one or two tracks where you think: “Well, I would have changed that, or changed a lyric there”. But this record, it just wasn't that way. Maybe it fits for where we are now – It's a feel-good rock'n'roll record.
‘Something very special went on in that room over that weekend and you don't want to mess about with that too much really! It's the old adage if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
‘If it hits the spot when you hit play, leave it be! People can spend thousands of pounds trying to tart up and mess about with music that's got a good heart and a good feel.
‘I love the way it sounds – Andy did a great job with it, and I'm really proud of this record.’
The album is the first with Luke on board as drummer, and aside from festival dates, this run of shows will also be his first full tour with Reef
‘We did 10-12 shows last summer, which is about 10 more than I thought we'd do,’ laughs Gary, ‘I thought we'd be lucky to get two or three.
‘We also did one club show last autumn, which was the first club show we'd done since autumn 2019. It's been a long time since we've done indoor shows, and that's what's so exciting about getting back out there now and sharing your music. That gig was in Swansea – the vibe in that room, a full room, the excitement, the anticipation, the energy – it was just a real buzz, and I can't wait to do that in April.’
While the news album is released in a variety of physical formats including CDs, vinyl and even cassettes, there is sadly no MiniDisc.
Most people’s first sighting of Reef was in a 1995 advert for the format featuring the band and their song naked. Despite the format’s great promise, it got overtaken by technological advances to become the 8-track of its day.
But at the time, there were howls of ‘sell out!’ from some corners of the music press for allowing their music to be used in a commercial.
‘It was brilliant for us,’ says Gary.
‘Back then, with the inky press we had – NME, Melody Maker and the like – it wasn't considered a very right-on thing to have your music in an advert. Nowadays, I don't care who you are, you're taking that advert every day of the week!
‘We had all sorts of music shows and dedicated channels [back then], all of that has been stripped down. There ain't a lot there now.
‘If you want to get into people's homes, most of Joe Public is watching TV of an evening, so if you want to get your earworm in their brain, you get it on an advert and you're away.
‘I think most bands and artists would bite your hand off to get a song on a big advert nowadays.’
They were however, careful not to allow themselves become tied too closely to the advert – he cites the example of one-hit wonders Stiltskin who topped the charts with Inside after it was used in a Levi’s ad.
‘When we accepted the advert, we said we don't want Naked to be the first single, and they were happy with that deal.
‘When the advert came out, it helped fill the rooms, but we released Good Feeling first and that went top 30. It wasn't until months later we put Naked out. We probably could have had a number one if we'd put it out at the time, but I'm not sure I'd be talking to you now about Reef had we had done that...’
Reef are at Engine Rooms, Southampton on Friday, April 29. Go to engineroomssouthampton.com.