Over two decades ago, Carl Mann and Simon ‘Syd’ Oxlee were signed to their first record deal as The Shop Window. After spending recent years on opposite sides of the planet, Carl found himself back in the UK and eager to make music. Along with bassist Martin Corder and drummer Phil Elphee, Carl got back on the guitar and vocals with Simon on the keyboard. We chat with The Shop Window about their single ‘Reflection’ and much more!
Why did you decide to enter the music industry?
Carl: I have always been obsessed with music. Apparently, as a three-year-old I used to spread my Mum’s vinyl out on the floor and spend hours playing them, not knowing who anyone was of course. I may inherit some pretty scratched up vinyl one day! At fourteen I got a cassette copy of The Smiths Hatful of Hollow, from that moment on I knew I wanted to be in a band.
Phil: It was never a conscious decision, more a natural progression. Lunchtimes in the school music department jamming and discussing bands with my friends always won over football on the field.
Simon: Music was the way to make sense of who I was. Finding The The and The Cure at 15 gave me my fixed reference point. I started writing my own words and then next thing I’m singing in a band!
Can you tell us about your track ‘Reflection’?
Carl: ‘Reflection’ was written a couple of years ago after a change in lifestyle. This new period gave me time to self-reflect and take stock of what is important in life. I started to realise it’s not about focusing on the destination but all about enjoying the journey. We chose this song as our next single as it’s the opposite end of the spectrum to Mannequin Lies, our debut release. We wanted to bookend our sound and what we’re about early on in the journey.
What was the recording and writing process like?
Carl: I had the verse chords and riff lying around for a couple of years, but changes in life and time to digest gave birth to the lyrics, chorus and vocal melodies. Once I had the basic song, it was a case of bashing it around in rehearsals with Martin (bass) and Phil (drums). Simon came up with the harmonies, which were the icing on the cake.
Simon: Carl gave me a demo of the track and I was blown away by it. I drove around with it for several weeks, fleshing out harmonies before joining them in the studio. The car is a great place to have a good sing up!
Phil: Carl sent me a pile of demos and this was the last one of the batch. There were no lyrics at that point, but even then I felt there was something special about it. The first run through as a band felt effortless. You can’t ask for more.
Carl: Recording was pretty straight forward as we had covered the groundwork in rehearsals. It was a lot of fun layering up the outro for a nice kind of shoegaze vibe. Our producer/mix/engineer Callum Rafferty at Raffer Studios has a wonderful knack for pre-empting what you’re thinking and adds a welcome modern edge to our retro 80s/90s indie vibes.
Does the single have any significant meaning for you?
Carl: I think a lot of lyrics written around this period was heavily influenced by becoming a Dad. Subconsciously, the responsibility and unconditional love that comes with being a parent massively affected life and the lyrics I wrote. The lyric in the song ‘Seen my Reflection’ is probably about looking into my son’s eyes and seeing myself more than anything else.
What do you hope people take from your music?
Simon: I think the line ‘be a good human’ says it all.
Carl: I hope it might make some stop to think about what is important to them – life is a marathon, not a sprint. In much the same way that lockdown has made people rethink their lives a bit, it will hopefully inspire some positive change. For me, keeping life simple is best. Ironically, it feels like the route to a fuller, happier life. As a piece of music, I hope listeners can escape into the song for a little while.
What is more challenging for you – melody or lyrics?
Carl: Lyrics are definitely more challenging for me; I procrastinate over them. When working on melodies, I get a massive buzz that is much more natural and flowing than when writing lyrics. I guess I am one of those people who is always drawn in by the melody of a song first and the lyrics afterwards. It’s rewarding to express emotion in the form of a melody, the language is universal.
Simon: Carl is a master melody-crafter which lends itself to great harmonies. It’s a joy to do.
Carl: Why thank you, Sir. Am I the strawberries or the cream in this ‘better together’ equation?
Simon: Surely you must be the strawberry, which I guess also makes you Dick Dastardly to my Mutley!
Lyrically, Carl’s very open for me to add my own ideas to help shape the final song. We’ll discuss the shape of the song wordwise and then work and rework ‘til we’ve got it.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
Carl: I listen to and buy as much new and old music as I can, which constantly inspires me to create and keep going. My wife tells me I don’t actually function properly as a human unless I am making music. It’s definitely the fuel keeping me firing on all cylinders. I’m always trying to write a better song and become a better musician.
One of the things I find so beautiful about being a musician is that you learn something new every day. The day will never come where you can say, “I’ve learnt everything there is to learn about being a musician and songwriter”. We’ll all die one day and will only ever have scratched the surface.
How would you describe your sound?
Carl: Our sound is an accumulation of the music we have been passionate about over the years. Jangle-pop, with a smudging of shoegaze and early 90s indie. There’s probably a dose of 80s pop and some Mod/60s influence in there as well (maybe not with this current single though!)
What do you think is the best way to discover new music?
Carl: Word-of-mouth, which these days also means Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m still old school though – I buy Uncut every month and listen to BBC 6 Music if I’m cooking. There are some great online radio shows too, an ideal source for finding new music. The Indie Lounge is fab for it!
What does the rest of 2020 hold for The Shop Window?
Simon: Present a great album to the world!
Carl: We’re heading into the studio at the time of this release to finish our album. We have eight-song to record on top of the six we’ve already laid down, giving us a good pool to select the album from. We’re gutted we can’t be out gigging this year, but to counteract this we’re releasing a new track every two months until the album is ready for release.
Do you have a message for our readers?
Carl: Don’t think about the destination, enjoy the journey. There is ONE human race, ONE world we live in, and ONE LOVE for all. Be good humans, love while you can!