Surfacing in 2019 with Goat Girl collaboration Feels Hz, Pet Shimmers seemed at first to be a live band extension of Bristol musician Oliver Wilde; though it soon became clear something much bigger was afoot.
This is a band so self aware of their self awareness, that they’re completely serious and taking the piss at the same time. Brilliant songwriting and musicianship is never called into question, even while an off-key recorder is the catchiest part of a tune. They’re so Face Down in Meta, it’s perfect.
the influence of all seven members has taken the Pet Shimmers project in an interesting and accelerated new direction
Though Oliver Wilde is the key songwriter, the influence of all seven members has taken the Pet Shimmers project in an interesting and accelerated new direction. Their debut live show was on the invitation of Tom Ravenscroft at BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, they’re spending the whole of February on tour in UK and Europe with Alex G, including a sold-out Thekla show, and in March they’ll play Bristol’s Ritual Union festival alongside the likes of Marika Hackman and Warmduscher.
More intriguing though, was the surprise announcement of 11-track debut album Face Down in Meta, released at the end of January. If you’ve got ears, it’s easy to hear why the bookings are coming in thick and fast, but harder to imagine how a newly formed seven-piece, all individually musicians with multiple projects, can write and record together so successfully in such a short space of time; that is, until you meet them. We interrupted band practice and learned a little of what Pet Shimmers is really all about: its members – in all their weird, imperfect glory.
Pet Shimmers is Oliver Wilde, Lexie Jennings, Richard Clarke, Florrie Adamson-Leggit, Ellie Gray, Will Carkeet and Mig Schillace; who between them play four guitars, two sets of keys, a soundboard and drums, with four of them on vocals, among other things. With all that going on, Pet Shimmers present a colourful mosaic of sound – each part adding to a unified bigger picture, never overdoing it.
Lyrics, too, play a massive part in Pet Shimmers’ music, though they are buried deeper than you’d expect from a lyric song, sitting about level with the music. However, their retrieval offers another level of connection for the listener willing to dig for them, Oliver explains:
it’s an interesting exercise to demand more of a listener
‘I’m in the business of interpretability. Although my lyrics contain just the same amount of rage as, say, Joe Talbot from IDLES, I use a slightly different vocabulary in my way of expressing that rage.
‘In terms of burying them beneath the mix, I think it’s an interesting exercise to demand more of a listener. The current orthodoxy is always to have the lyrics above everything else, but I think it’s more interesting to actually demand the listener to envelop themselves further. Hopefully whoever’s listening makes their own connection with the lyrics and it means something to them that’s separate and divorced from what they meant to me. That conversation is really important, for me, in music in general.
‘I see myself as a writer before a musician and a singer. My musical and singing skills are very sub par, but I channel all my energy and passion into writing. Using lyrics as a vehicle to express things is something I’ve always found more rewarding than music.’
I see myself as a writer before a musician and a singer
Oliver Wilde is a notably prolific musician, putting out a 21-track album in the last half year with his Oro Swimming Hour duo project, five solo albums and countless other collaborations, so it’s clear that Pet Shimmers was never about needing another outlet. Pet Shimmers came about as a challenge to himself, at a time he was fixing to quit music, he says.
‘My solo music has always been a very solitary experience and so self-centred that really all I’m expressing is my own experience of life, whereas Pet Shimmers is somewhere where I wanted to explore the experiences of other people and make connections outside of my own bubble.
I wanted to explore the experiences of other people and make connections outside of my own bubble
‘I feel my minimum obligation as an artist is to evolve and change, otherwise I’ll keep making the same music. Collaboration is a big part of that, because the very nature of it is about understanding each other and the way you articulate ideas, which I find challenging and always have done, because I’m quite controlling with obsessive compulsive disorder. So although it’s really challenging, I’m making music I couldn’t have possibly imagined I’d have made in the first place.’
In their earliest form, some Pet Shimmers songs came from what was set to be Oliver Wilde’s final solo record, until manager Richard Walsh suggested bringing new people in, opening up the songs to them and seeing what happened. Now complete at seven core members, Pet Shimmers has become the band – not Oliver with an interchangeable cast of session musicians.
‘Oliver writes most of the music and lyrics, but as the demos get sent out, people start throwing their own parts in. All of the songs have evolved’ Lexie explains. ‘Even though it’s kept the core of what Oliver’s music is, it wouldn’t be Pet Shimmers without everything that Will’s added to it, Ellie’s voice, Richard’s guitar sound, Mig’s drumming…’
‘The alchemy of making music in a large group like this is about exploring chemistry between people’ says Oliver. ‘Although it’s taken quite a long time, we now have good chemistry between all of us, and writing and rehearsing becomes a really fluid experience as a band.’
The alchemy of making music in a large group like this is about exploring chemistry between people
In fact, Pet Shimmers has now become so much its own entity that Oliver says it’s weird to think of its beginnings in those terms. Similarly, each member of the band has their own musical projects, ranging from sad pop to country doom, however, it seems like the Pet Shimmers basket is full of eggs.
for all of us, Pet Shimmers feels like more than just music
‘I think for all of us, Pet Shimmers feels like more than just music’ says Ellie. ‘It’s like a musical family, it’s very close to our hearts.’
‘It’s like a rehabilitation centre’ says Oliver. ‘We’re all kind of ill physically and mentally, and joining the band is like bringing routine back into your life. We love to see each other and hang out, it’s become a lot more than a musical project. I think that really comes across when you see us live or hang out with us. Even though we’ve only known each other this short period of time, it feels like we’ve been friends forever.
‘We’ve had 20 something years of life experiences and musical expression and things that have contributed to the people we all are now. Those elements are evident in our solo projects, because that’s where we get to exercise our own personal indulgences, whereas Pet Shimmers is this exciting balancing act of trying to get them all in there. That in itself gives it a unique character that none of our projects have individually.’
‘We try and reinforce Pet Shimmers with all the solo projects as well’ says Will.
‘Yeah, totally’ Oliver agrees. ‘If you only come to band practice on a Tuesday and get all your ideas out then, you’re not exercising those creative muscles, so to speak. So it’s good to have something else, where when you come into practice, you are well exercised.’
‘It’s good to have musical projects that are different, because when you go back and forth and they bounce off each other, they feel refreshed’ says Ellie. ‘Otherwise you can get stagnant or clouded and you don’t really see it for what it is.’
‘It’s important as an artist to be open to being challenged’ says Oliver. ‘I’ve never really had that before, having been a solo artist and quite a controlling person through mental health. These guys know what it’s been like, it’s been challenging. It’s difficult for me to let go of the reigns, but when I do, it makes the kind of magic that this band has become.’
The close bond they have formed, or gang mentality, as Oliver describes it, enables a certain bravery that would be hard to conjure up on a solo project. If someone wants to call a song Post-Dick Circle Fuck, they’ve got the backing of six other people in the same boat.
Not in the quality of the music, but in the way it’s presented and decisions that are made, it’s pretty obvious that they’re not in the pursuit of commercial success, but something more personally rewarding or necessary.
‘It’s not about getting songs on the radio, or we wouldn’t put swear words in the title’ says Richard.
‘Having spent having spent five albums’ worth of expression trying to interpret and articulate feelings of mostly mental health challenges and general environmental observations’ says Oliver, ‘Pet Shimmers aims to be more of a celebratory project – a celebration of our privilege of expression, a celebration of people and their uniqueness, and a celebration of our weirdness. When we feel like we might be going down too much of a strange avenue, or we can’t say the word pussy, we all just go further down that route.
What’s been really fun and interesting in this project is exploring the extremity of everything
‘What’s been really fun and interesting in this project is exploring the extremity of everything. As soon as an idea comes, rather than just leaving it there because you don’t have the energy or the creative capability to take it any further, that’s when someone else can help you take it even further and even more extreme.
‘So when you wonder why there’s swearing on it or we choose to write a song about this, that or the other, it’s all completely intentional.’
‘Or even things like on songs where there’s really obvious autotune and people might think that’s tacky, but actually it’s completely intentional’ says Lexie. ‘It’s almost taking the piss out of the fact that autotune exists.’
‘I play out of time on Post-Dick as well’ says Will. ‘My guitar goes at a pace that is out of step with the music’.
‘We’re in the pursuit of imperfection and not being afraid of showing our mistakes’ says Oliver. ‘Ultimately the band is an exploration of our own vulnerabilities and flaws, so that becomes what the music is. That’s what makes music human. I think it’s really harmful to expect perfection, because it’s not realistic. Anything that does achieve perfection tends to be be mediocre and soulless. And we spend a lot of energy making sure that there’s lots of feeling and spirit in our music.’
we spend a lot of energy making sure that there’s lots of feeling and spirit in our music
‘It feels like things can get pretty intensely emotional’ says Richard. ‘I find it intense, but in a nice way. We’re all very open and it’s cathartic.’
‘We try and empower each other’s catharsis, because that’s what it is for everybody’ says Oliver.
Like any new band presenting their debut album, Pet Shimmers are keen not to be pigeonholed – luckily it’s impossible to do so. Musically combining elements of bedroom pop, psyche, lo-fi, synth music and lots more, their sound is more concerned with individual energies and what happens when you put them together.
‘Often, people ask us: “What are your influences?” – and I think it’s really stupid question’ says Oliver. ‘Most of our influence doesn’t come from music as such, it comes from people. People and stories and relationships and experience are far more influential and far more inspiring than any human achievement.’
‘And relatable,’ Lexie adds ‘because everyone is experiencing being human.’
‘With Pet Shimmers, we try never to have a destination and that’s the exciting thing. There are so many accidents and we leave a lot up to chance and other people to fill in the blanks’ says Oliver. ‘It’s very tangential in that as soon as I think I’m making my way towards a destination, someone chucks me off the rails, so to speak. In the spirit of Pet Shimmers, we’re all throwing our ideas and feelings into a jar and shaking it up and just desperately trying to catch that explosion.’
‘The album is us flexing our muscles of what we can do, in terms of there’s no boundary of where we put our musical genre’ says Will.
The album is us flexing our muscles of what we can do
‘The album is just an imperfect, perfect reflection of what we are experiencing and sharing in our lives at this current time. Kind of like Harmony Korine makes the films he wants to see, we make the music we want to hear. You know, it’s called Face Down in Meta for a reason, it’s all self aware and self referential’ says Oliver.
That being said, they’re not (or no longer, in Oliver’s case) operating under the oft-employed guise of giving zero fucks what an audience thinks.
‘There’s a slight relationship you need to have with an audience. I used to say this about my solo music, and I don’t feel this way anymore, “I only make music for myself”. I think if you really only want to make music for yourself, then make it for yourself and don’t share it with people. I try and have empathy for the potential possibility of people listening. And if I put myself in their shoes and look at all the bands that are being championed at the moment in the British music scene, I would feel slightly alienated, so we’re filling in that blank.
it’s totally okay to indulge all the weirdness and strangeness and extremities that you want
‘I think what’s really wonderful about Bristol is its willingness to embrace eclecticism to the point where I don’t really have anything in common with my peers, such as Giant Swan, IDLES, Spectres and Lynks Afrikka, but we make music out of necessity and that’s something we all have in common and we are nurtured by our community. Some cultural communities don’t necessarily empower everyone within it, whereas here, it’s totally okay to indulge all the weirdness and strangeness and extremities that you want.’
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger