After their recent outstanding gig at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge, The Courtesans have now released their appropriately titled single, Genius, and have their debut album, 1917, set for release in September.
Genius is simply that – it’s an incredible track which provokes the senses. It’s typical of the album, 1917, in that it beautifully crafts and develops an atmosphere with layers of impressive musicality, which cleverly transcend genres, coupled with strong, intelligent and thoughtful lyrics from a band which has produced an exceptional debut album. It’s seductive and sultry; addictive, with just one taste leaving you wanting ever more – and that’s exactly what the album does … it brings track after track of tantalising, deep, meaningful, perceptive and thought-provoking trip-hop/rock/metal.
We caught up with the Courtesans – Sinead La Bella (vocals), Agnes Jones (bass), Saffire Sanchez (guitar) and Vikki Brown (drums) – at the gig to discover a tight-knit group, brimming with confidence, ability and astute perceptions … as well as a wicked sense of humour.
What brought you all together as a band?
Sinead: Well, we met across the galaxy. We were shooting through space and basically collided together in the sphere. Saffire was an astronaut and she pretty much discovered us.
Saffire: I’m a wannabe astronaut and a very keen gardener.
Agnes: It might sound a bit weird, but it’s a metaphor – it’s the alignment of events in our past which brought us together. The truth is we have a friend with whom I grew up in Poland and he came to England and of all the cities and places where does he go?
Sinead: Tamworth! I’m from Tamworth which is a small village in the Midlands and this mutual friend of ours came when I was young, I was in my teens, and I had some interesting experiences with this friend, not intimately, but it was very insane and it just so happens that Agnes had the same experiences with this friend in Poland a couple of years before he left so it’s strange because we had the same experiences and all of our pictures together with this one person are the same – at festivals, doing allsorts and then we met.
Agnes: It was like, what’s the chances of that. And Saffire, we met a long time before the Courtesans idea came about. She was the maddest of the mad individuals I’ve ever met and when the Courtesans idea came to be, we thought, well who else can play the guitar?
Saffire: It was strange because at that moment in my life, your names popped up into my head and I thought I should contact you out of the blue and had no idea that anything was going on and that’s also where it spawned from and it started to move quite rapidly from there. I was actually at the O2 Arena having a walk around and I just decided to call from there. That was the moment.
Sinead: I remember the first time I met Saffire. I walked into the room – she was wearing a dinosaur t-shirt and I was like ‘fuck, you’re wearing a dinosaur t-shirt. That’s amazing’.
Saffire: Pterodactyls are my favourite.
Sinead: And she went ‘Pterodactyls are my favourite’. I was like ‘I fucking love you’. That was it, friends for life – literally. I asked ‘Do you want to come to Alice Cooper with me next week?’ she was like ‘fuck yeah’. Bang – we were there. And for Victoria Brown here (hates to be called Victoria Brown, she likes to be called Vikki)
Saffire: The dinosaurs evolved into some meat
Sinead: They did evolve into some meat. We found our beautiful drummer through the dark web. She came all the way from Crewe to the Big Smoke and when she came into the room we were all half naked drinking vodka, eating cake and she was just like ‘my name’s Vikki, I like burgers’. Bang, that was it, we were in love, instantly. She’s an amazing drummer and we just fell in love with her straight away.
Agnes: She keeps it together when things fall apart.
Sinead: She does. She’s one of the most important things in the band, because if you’ve got a shit drummer, what’s the point? She’s amazing.
Saffire: Vikki keeps the beef together. It’s all about the beef. She’s a burger mistress.
Agnes: She’s the bonding element of the burger.
Sinead: We’re like sisters as a band. We love each other through everything – literally thick and thin. People say ‘oh, there’s so many girls, do you have fall outs?’. Well, not really. We kind of do, but we’re boisterous girls, so if we’re pissed off we’ll just say it to each other, have it out and that’s it. So we’ll all have our opinions, a little debate and then just go and drink some vodka, so it’s all good. We’re a family – I would die for these girls.
Do you all come from different backgrounds, musically?
Sinead: Yeah, I was brought up as a bike kid and am a bit of a grunger at heart. I went through a couple of random stages in my life. Music for me has always been my freedom and it’s how I break free. Music’s been a part of my life since I was a child. It’s the way I’ve always expressed myself, so I’ve done a lot of theatre. I was in a few little bands when I was growing up. Anything involving music – I was there, whether it was a school play or stagecoach things. I had a little emo band here and there. It’s always been a part of my life. At university I did musical theatre and through that I also had a band at Uni and when I finished Uni I wanted to focus on pursuing things through a band rather than the musical side. However, it was interesting to have different elements of music in my life as well, even things that I didn’t think I’d enjoyed, I did, and I can see how they all relate together.
Saffire: I think the theatrics are interesting, because without that you wouldn’t have Marilyn Manson, you wouldn’t have Slipknot, and I think those are, to some extent, our idols and they have shown the way for some sort of alternative. You want to be different, to create a niche and create a market. My background is predominantly metal. I love metal, but at the same time I love jazz, I love classical – classical music especially. I think I’m quite eclectic and I think the others are quite eclectic as well.
Agnes: Very much so.
Sinead: I think we all are really.
Agnes: It’s quite surreal. Although our backgrounds are quite different – our times growing up and adolescence, had slightly different influences but they cross paths in many places and overlap in certain areas. I think we share interests, obviously, and that brings us more together. My background is quite eclectic – I grew up on punk and grunge and I kind of moved to a bit of prog-rock, the likes of Porcupine Tree – an English band which is known everywhere apart from England, where nobody has heard of it, they’re big everywhere apart from England, Pink Floyd, a bit of psychedelic. And then I opened up to much more than that – even pop. A good pop song, you can’t beat that – the good melody and emotions.
Saffire: We have a new appreciation for how songs are written.
Sinead: Music’s music and when people say ‘what kind of music do you like’, well we like music, we respect artists across all types of genres – if someone’s putting their heart into it and their soul and the darkness and pain that they’re feeling then why shouldn’t any kind of music be respected? Whether that’s heavy metal, death metal, classical, pop music, r&b, rap, jazz, I think having a respect for artists whatever they’re doing, not necessarily whether it’s your type of music, but I think that you should maintain a respect for it and for what people are doing, if that’s what you want back. The people that don’t give it you back have obviously got a problem with themselves, so ultimately when we’re listening to music, and this is the thing that all of us have, we’re all very open minded people and I think we’ve all grown up as very open minded individuals. That’s the beauty of how we all work together – we see music as a collective.
Vikki: I’m open to a lot of different styles of music as well. I’ll listen to anything. When I left school, all I had been doing was playing drums with different bands and had been playing lots of different styles of music and in lots of different cover bands. I’m not sure what bands made me want to play – I just fancied playing and saw an advert for a drum teacher and thought I’d go and try that. It’s good to hit things! It’s good when you’re angry.
Agnes: I bet you were bashing little kids in the playground.
Your debut album is due for general release in September. What’s in store for us on the album?
Sinead: That’s for you to wait and see I’d guess!
Saffire: It’s definitely, I’d think, very sexualised all round and maybe it’s more of a feeling for us. We get encapsulated in that feeling and we want that to be projected on to other people and for them to feel what we’re feeling.
Sinead: It’s a very intimate album. Each song has its own intimacies, so you’re on a trip, almost so you’re tripping through the album, going up and down, coming slower and faster, together and harder, so it’s a journey of intimacy through the music.
Agnes: Intimate is a good word to described it. It goes through issues like death, issues like toxic relationships, issues of loneliness, being in love, so if you listen to the songs it definitely intimately touches the core of our beings – emotions like love, death and fear, anger and pain. If you compare it sonically to a cake
Agnes: We love cake! The base of the cake would be made of sub, heavy chest-rattling bass frequencies – sub-bass. The cream filling would be made of massive power chords and spiced a little bit with brain twisting feedback and the icing would be made of vocal harmonies which can be quite angelic but at the same time can still be quite dark. The songs, nonetheless, all have quite catchy melodies but they still keep the darkness.
Saffire: Dark overtones.
Agnes: That would be our cake. A 1917 cake.
Sinead: Would you like a taste?
Saffire: At the Hammersmith gig we did there was a couple who came to us and they had difficulties in the bedroom. Their relationship had fallen apart a little bit but they came to us and said that we encouraged them to … I don’t know how to say this.
Agnes: To challenge whatever was troubling them and to discuss things and experiment and apparently they had a really good time and things moved forward just by listening. Whatever inspired it obviously I don’t know, but whatever song or performance or energy
Sinead: Put it this way, it’s the best message I’ve ever received after a gig.
Saffire: It’s the highest compliment
It must be quite something to realise that you’ve touched somebody’s life like that.
Sinead: Yeah. I think in a sexual way which was kind of good because it’s an important part of any relationship.
Agnes: It’s an integral part. You may choose to suppress it or embrace it. Suppressing, from experience, is not good for your head or body. Denying it is pointless, you can’t escape it and it’s funny because people are saying about us that we’re sexual – we’ve heard some accusations about us, promoting inappropriate nudity and stuff like that. What’s inappropriate about nudity? We were born naked. Nobody should be objectified for being naked, I believe, and the fact that feminists, a lot of them, are terrified to bare their skin in fear of being objectified, I think is wrong as well. How wrong is the world going when it’s more acceptable to have a gun than be naked? How mental is that?
Saffire: Essentially, from the album love is to come.
Sinead: A cake of love.
What was the creative process?
Sinead: Yeah, the music for us is a creation as a whole. We don’t necessarily all have to be in a room together and be writing like maniacs. I think with any kind of music it comes to you at a point in your life when you feel it, whether that’s on your own in the bedroom and you’ve come up with a couple of lines which you could possibly turn into a song, then you bring it to the table. We mix the way we work. We’re not precious, the way we write either. If a stranger came up to us in the street and they said to us ‘I’ve written this song. I can’t sing. Can you please listen to this and what do you think?’ we’d obviously give them the time of day and if we felt something and that it was something for us, then we’d work with that person. So we do work together as a team and sometimes individually writing music, sometimes we work in twos, it just depends. We really don’t have a set way. I think we’ll always be that way. We’re open to other individuals coming in as well. But for us it is about teamwork overall because once we have a song, regardless of who has written it, it’s then important to make it grow together and if somebody is working with us, it’s important that they’re there through every step. Not necessarily to have my input, but to make it grow together and express it as a team and then your own expression comes through. We don’t have any set ways.
Agnes: On the album you’ll notice on the song writing credits there is our friend Tracy mentioned quite a lot. She doesn’t perform herself, but her song writing we really appreciate. She’s an amazing songwriter and we feel that it’s great that quite a few of her songs will see the daylight in this album because she is quite an emotional being and she is very intelligent and that shows in her songs. They are very sensual, seductive and provocative on occasions.
What can fans expect from live shows? They seem very theatrical.
Agnes: It’s an ever evolving matter. Maybe you’ve read somewhere or witnessed on YouTube, since we started doing live shows, our shows involved quite a lot of theatrics and a few interludes involving very sensual belly dancing, hot wax pouring and cuffing and all those kind of things, with a strong bdsm kind of hint to it. At the moment we’ve decided, that to promote the songs from the album, we’ve got to drop a little bit of the theatrics. We’ll still keep our energy and personas as they are, but we want to promote the songs from the album, so we want to focus on that and therefore we’re going to minimise theatrics, but it’s an ever changing thing and it might evolve, literally we don’t know what to expect. I want to have two dragons on the side, just doing a fire show and we might just make it happen. Or I might just run around naked, drop all my clothes, suddenly go mental and play the bass completely naked.
Saffire: It would be nice to have something like Deftones, that, for me, is shrouded in sensuality, even though looking at the band, physically and aesthetically they’re not what I’d, you know.
Agnes: But their music really is quite sexual. They’re a big influence for all of us.
What would you like your fans to take away from the show?
Sinead: It’s important to us for people to feel. We want them to have a euphoric feeling, an elevation, being able to express themselves as an individual and who they are and not be afraid of it. Obviously we want people to feel good, we want people to feel alive and like they can say ‘Fuck you to the world, maybe you don’t like me, I don’t give a fuck.’
Agnes: Also I would love them to sing just one song. That really is one of the best rewards for a band or musician, when the people are actually singing the song with you. But what Sinead said is really true – the elevation, the uplift, to come out of the show and feel, spiritually, really uplifted.
Any message for your fans?
Sinead: Love life
Saffire: Be cool with what you are, who you are and fuck everybody.
Agnes: Yep – pretty much. We love you all.
Sinead: Yeah, we love you and thank you for all your support so far and let this journey go on.
Agnes: Yes, we’re looking forward to playing more gigs and seeing you there.
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Author: Mark Kelly
Music lover. Gig reviewer.
Often found at the merch stand.