Photo Credit: Scott Chalmers

At Takedown Festival 2023, we sat down with Saint AgnesJon James Tufnell and Ryan Brown to discuss their forthcoming album Bloodsuckers, the story behind the music and the strong friendship within the band. 

Hi Jon, how was your set for you today at Takedown?

Jon: It couldn’t have gone better to be honest. It’s quite a big deal for us because we haven’t played much for a little while. And it was our first show playing some new material off the new album. And we had a new bass player Ryan. And so yeah, it was kind of you know, finding our feet on stage again. And it always comes with a bit of nerves. And the response is great. Couldn’t have gone better, in fact, I’m sure I saw people singing words to the new songs, the songs that aren’t out yet. So, either they’ve got some like, dodgy copy, or the song’s catchy enough, they’re picking up by the second chorus, which is good.

Could it be they’ve seen you before and picked it up there?

J: These are totally new, never played before ones.

Now that’s pretty impressive! Can you sum up Saint Agnes in five words for people who might not know you?

J: Probably not! Dark, emotional. Joyous.

Ryan: Layered.

J: Layered, that’s good and intense.

You’ve kind of touched upon it, but you announced your new album Bloodsuckers not too long ago. Can you tell us a bit more about the largely self-produced album?

J: So, this album, again, it’s a big deal for us, because we’ve been totally independent, up until now is the first record we’ve done with a label. And it’s not just a label it’s a major label. So we were, you know, nervous about how that might play out. But we said, going into the whole thing that we really want to retain control, because we like to self-produce. We’re just total control freaks. And it’s not because we don’t respect other people’s work at all. It’s the fact that if we don’t do it ourselves, it feels like the whole point of doing it has gone. It’s like if you wanted to cook a meal to show someone that you love them, if you hire a professional chef, it’s not really the same. Some people might love that and be like, that’s the gesture but for us we want to have this kind of sweat and effort as it’s part of it.

And so, the label, were just like, ‘you’ve got a vision, and we trust you’, which is great. And it was totally hands off. In fact, the only difference between doing it entirely ourselves and with the label was that we had a bit more confidence because the label were like look, ‘you guys know what you’re going doing, go do it’. Whereas when we’ve done it before, we’re like, do we know what we’re doing? Think we do but you start to second guess yourself.

On this one, Kitty has had like a very, very difficult time on a personal level. Over the last couple of years, as I’ve been it’s been brutal really. And through all of that, she’s still been like, throwing herself into the music as her outlet to try and maintain some sense of like control over life, I suppose. And this record is a hugely emotional record for that reason. She wrote the lyrics and just one thing which has happened, was her mum passed away unexpectedly like totally unexpectedly. The day we got back from being on tour with Skindred you know, it’s just it was so it was a totally out of the blue like, just horrific for her and she we’d started some songs before that point. And they already had quite an emotional angle. And then she was then grieving and writing and trying to deal with stuff and was like, you know, we said, ‘Do you not want to do this?’ and she was like ‘No I want to do it’, and totally threw herself into it. And it’s been like a real privilege to work so closely with someone who’s willing to go that deep on a record. It’s, it sounds dark, but in some ways, it’s kind of the dream. Because music, ultimately is you’re making a product. But we’re hope we hope we’re making art. We try it, we see it as art, and we’re making art. And to have someone who’s just like, this is what I want to say. And this is how I want to say it. I don’t want to fucking compromise. So okay, cool. Let’s just do this. You feel totally empowered by someone who’s like, I’ve had something horrific happened to me. Anyone worrying about this or that just seems fucking, pathetic in comparison. So, I want to say this, and I want to do it this way. And I’m you know, it was amazing.

So, like, when we recorded Animal, the next single, I was sat there like listening on headphones, my eyes closed while she was recording the vocal. And she just absolutely, went for it I didn’t know, because I had my eyes closed. I didn’t really want to put her off. I didn’t know what was going on. I can just hear it and thinking like this is rocking. And then at the end of it, I could hear this like huge, like, sound and it’s actually like throwing the mic stand across the room. And she was like, on the floor, like, totally spent do you know what I mean? And she was like, that’s the vocal take I’m not singing again, you know, and it’s like that. It chokes me up now, thinking about it. And you’re like, Okay, she’s done her job, right? We have to knock this out of the fucking park. And we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve made because it feels like a true and honest piece of art that is challenging for people but I think some people who are at a certain stage in their lives will hear it and it will resonate very strongly. And you know, that’s my hope.

That was a really lovely insight into the album.

J:  Sorry, that was a really long-winded answer.

But it was really nice to hear too. Do you feel like there’s a song on the album which summarises the release?

J:  Summarises the release as a whole? Ryan, do you think there’s a song which represents it as a whole?

R: I’d say At War (With Myself) that we played today.

J:  Yeah. Yeah, that’s quite a good choice. Because the album as a whole, it’s quite like yeah, it’s quite layered. We don’t just hammer the same thing home the whole time. And At War With Myself is the name of the song, it’s not going to be a single.  It’s the third track on side two. And it’s like, we played it today and it’s about Kitty trying to deal with the mental burden that was going on for her and the refrain at the end is like is ‘the same old shit. I’m so sick of myself.’ Like, you know, it’s so lyrically it’s quite on the nose, it’s really kind of just like, really raw and musically it kind of covers the ground of having some layers of atmosphere and then just some like brutal, heavy, kind of almost industrial style, industrial meets Prodigy kind of style stuff happening.

You’ve definitely just sold the album to us and no doubt others reading too. Taking it back, do you have a favourite lyric from your back catalogue or even the new album?

R: I actually do, it’s the one on the sofa in the video.

J: This World Ain’t Big Enough 

R: It’s the Middle Eight. Kitty comes in with like ‘Motherfucker, now do you see?’ and it’s like you can feel the attitude. Yeah. Before I even met the guys properly, I was listening to them like I feel like I’m going to get my head kicked in a little bit.

J:  For me, my favourite is the end of a song we’ve got called The Meanest Little Kid In Town, which is kind of like, it’s a bit like a kind of ballad type thing, but it’s got like a sinister intent the whole way through. And the outro is this like, constantly repeated ‘move out the way bad motherfucker coming through’. And I just love that because again, like knowing Kitty really well and it really came to life when we did the video because we had watched Killing Eve. And Kitty was like, wouldn’t it be cool to just kind of like, cuz she was like, I love that character. And we just went and did the video did it in lockdown like this socially distance thing covered in blood walking through suburbia and stuff. It was great. It scared everyone. But she was just having so much fun with it. And it’s this kind of revelling in darkness and feeling badass and her being Kitty’s like really, in my view, she’s a unique voice of rock music because she’s so incredibly authentic to a point that it can be hard to work with. But she is relentlessly authentic. And that move out of the way bad motherfucker coming through. So like, it was the song that could have got played on the radio at that point for us. And it was like, okay, we’ve just said that, like, 21 times. Yeah, that’s not going anywhere near radio, but it was the right decision musically. Yeah. I just fucking love it. I think so good is that whole bit, the way she performs it is amazing.

It’s really lovely and clear how much respect you have for Kitty, but what would be your favourite or one of your favourite memories from your time in Saint Agnes? It can be onstage or something which took place off stage

J: I think I think like some fairly kind of obvious ones, like playing Download Festival was absolutely amazing. Looking across and seeing like Kitty and Andy knowing, we’re there playing music that is ours and uncompromising and at that point, you know, no label. No one had touched our music, it was just us like, this is us, purely us and we fucking graft and got here. We don’t have famous parents; we don’t have this. We’re just here on our own merit playing this amazing thing. And there’s fucking people watching it, loving it. And I think seeing like, I think the moment I love most was like Kitty used my spare guitar for this song This World Ain’t Big Enough and at the end of the song, we have this feedbacky section. She just destroyed everything and we always say as a band like play like there’s never going to be another gig and it’s like, well, there is like, okay, cool. We don’t we can’t play tomorrow and I loved that. I was like those kinds of things. I don’t know, it feels special to me those moments, because it really feels like us against the world a lot of the time and we’ve really felt like the outsider. You know, a lot of stuff to do with like bands hanging out backstage and all those kinds of things. Everyone thinks everyone’s like one big happy family and it’s not that we have any enmity with anyone at all. But we always still feel like we’ve tended to feel like the odd ones out that aren’t quite in that clique and stuff and so having a moment like that, where it’s like, cool, there’s an audience here for us we’re playing on a stage, someone must fucking care, made us feel good for a minute.

We think it’s quite clear that a lot of people care, especially during your set today which we loved watching.

J:  Yeah, well, that’s amazing. Because you know, this is our life and we really put everything into it. Nothing is done with a cynical intent of just trying to make people like it, it’s done because we believe in making art and if that resonates with people, that’s incredible.

So you have the album on the way and you’ve got the show at the Black Heart on the 20th.

J: Yeah, that’s kind of an album. Pre-release party and there’s a bit of a backstory to it if you can be bothered for me to go on about it.

Let’s go!

J:  So when we were touring loads before locked down, we were just in Germany supporting Monster Magnet and our manager was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to just do a really small London show? and put it on sale and just like see how quickly we can sell it out’. We were like, yeah, that’d be fun. So, we put it on sale and it sold out in a day. I mean, like amazing fuck that’s is so cool and we were really looking forward to it. We came back from that tour supporting ho99o9, who are one of our favourite bands on Valentine’s Day. We went to the Black Heart a couple of weeks later to go like recce the venue and just kind of be like, ‘Okay, what could we do to make show really good here’ and then the next day it was like lockdown. So, when we were doing this album, Kitty and I thought it’d just be cool to just start this cycle where we had to cancel that show. It’s a bit like it’ll be cool to start this cycle where we were cut off before. So yeah, we put that show on sale and again, it sold out, like really quickly. So, it’s like, cool, people are still hungry for it and it’s gonna give us a chance to just go, no support band or anything, just go and play loads of songs on the album for our hardcore fans. Go hang out with people, you know, just get that whole kind of thing going as it’s been a while.

For people who couldn’t get tickets for the show, are there any more live shows in the works?

J:  There will be. We’ll have to double check with our press guy that we can say because we don’t have definite dates but we’re doing a headlining tour in the Autumn. But we don’t have the dates yet but maybe by the time this goes to press, we will have them so.

So stay tuned and keep your eyes peeled…

J:  We’ll be playing UK headline shows and some Europe headline shows in the Autumn.

And finally, do you have any messages that your fans reading this?

J:  If you’ve followed us this far, then you’re obviously up for like the challenge of trying to dig deeper into music into what we do, and it’s just gonna get a wilder ride from here on out!

Saint Agnes‘ new album Bloodsuckers is set for release on 21st July 2023 via Spinefarm , available to pre-order HERE.

Nicola Craig
Head of Live with an unwavering love for the seaside, live music and writing about others instead of myself. Twitter: @nicolalalalar