Rick Witter, singer, songwriter and front man of Shed Seven chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Youth, his ideal Christmas, their latest album Instant Pleasures and their current tour of the UK.

Rick Witter is a singer, songwriter and front man of the York-based Britpop band Shed Seven. He formed his first band with school friend Paul Banks in 1986, while still in his teens, and played in various local bands, including Brockley Haven, with Banks, Tom Gladwin and John Leach.

In 1990, Witter, along with Gladwin, drummer Alan Leach and guitarist Joe Johnson formed Shed Seven and they signed their first record deal in 1993. Just prior to signing their six-album deal with Polydor Records, Banks joined the line-up as their new lead guitarist, replacing the departing Joe Johnson. Rick spent the following ten years recording and touring with the band, co-writing many of the band’s songs and at the height of their popularity between 1994 and 1999 they had fifteen top forty singles and four top twenty albums in the UK.

The band officially broke up in 2003, but reformed for a greatest hits tour in July 2007. Shed Seven continued to play shows around Britain periodically until releasing a new studio album in 2017 with the announcement of Instant Pleasures.

Whilst currently touring the UK, Rick Witter took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Rick how are you?

I’m alright thank you very much Kevin, how are you?

All is good thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No worries at all. Thank you for being interested in just what Shed Seven are up to (laughter).

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Well I have to say that it is all getting rather exciting and also very busy. Obviously it is this time of year where we would start to become busy anyway, but with the added new material and a new album to put into the melting pot, we are all just preparing ourselves to be honest with you.

You are currently out on tour here in the UK, just how is it going?

It’s all going really well at the moment, touch wood. We are all really enjoying ourselves.

How is the new material being accepted?

Again, what can I say, the fans seem to like the new songs and what is even more pleasing for me is just how easily they have slipped onto the set list. It’s always a gamble whenever you play new songs whilst on tour because the fans always want to hear the hits together with the songs that they have grown to love over the years. However, what I am pleased to say is that there is not a mass exodus to either the toilets or the bar whenever we play any of the new material which speaks for itself (laughter).

The tour hits Rock City here in Nottingham on Friday 8th December, just what can we expect?

Well the biggest thing here is that we do not want people coming along to a gig expecting to hear the whole new album. I personally do not think that is the way that it should work. We put the tickets for this tour on sale before the fans even knew that we had recorded any new material, and a lot of the tickets sold like they always do; they pretty much sold-out straight away. We really do want to put the message out there that anyone who has bought a ticket is guaranteed to hear a lot of the old hits because that is what people love, that is what they come out at Christmas to hear. However, quite clearly we have got a new album out and we simply cannot ignore that fact.

So the set list is not too new song heavy, but I like to think that there is a good mixture. I don’t think that people are going to feel let down by it. Anyone who has been to one of our Christmas gigs before knows exactly what to expect. On the other hand, anyone who is coming along for the very first time we are going to rock your world.

You always seem to be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat when it comes to the bands supporting you. You have done it again this year because you have Cast opening for you.

Yes we have and I have to say that was another conscious decision. Way back in the day we were label mates with Cast when we were both signed to Polydor Records so we have always had a bit of a history with Cast. We played a few gigs with them back in the 90s and over the past few tours we have had the Inspiral Carpets playing with us, Chris Helm out of The Seahorses playing with us, so we really wanted to keep that tradition up. I ran the idea past the guys in Cast and they were all well up for it. I personally think that it sounds exciting. The tickets are not that expensive to see two relatively 90s bands so you are getting good value for money.

It is always nice for us to play with a band who have had some hits in the past. It just creates a really good night out. Plus the fact that it will be December by the time we get up to Rock City. Everybody will be winding down from work for Christmas which all makes for a really good quality night out.

And tickets for the tour have sold really well.

Yes they have, they really have. We have to date sold fifty thousand out of the fifty-five thousand that we originally put up for sale. I know that this will most probably sound like me being conceited but I have to say that we as a band are responsible for those good ticket sales because over the past ten years we have hammered the message home that we are a good quality live band. People have cottoned onto that and want to come along and have a good night out so all fair play to them.

I have been playing the new album Instant Pleasures for a couple of weeks now and I think that it is a great piece of work. Shed Seven are well and truly back.

Thank you very much. We are all very proud of the album. I have to say that it has been a long time coming but the whole point with this album was not simply to do something that was inadequate or something that would defecate all over our history. It was always at the forefront of our minds to do something that wasn’t going to alienate people but at the same time we didn’t want it to be too Shed Seven and I really do think that we have managed to do both of those things really. I think that it is very Shed Seven but it is fresh and more to the point and I think that it is very exciting for both the band and the fans. Anyone who buys the new album is going to absolutely love it.

It is a piece of art and it is a piece of history, so after I am long gone the album will still be here for people to enjoy. If they don’t like it then perhaps they will use it as an ashtray, who knows (laughter).

That’s right, I personally feel that it sounds like a fresher, newer version of Shed Seven.

I’m so pleased that you have said that because that, pretty much, is what we were trying to achieve with this album. To be honest, what I have been trying to say to anyone that would listen is that if you are a Shed Seven fan then you are going to love the album because it has got that Shed Seven backbone to it. But then again, I guess that the whole purpose behind this now is that we have done something pretty special for us. The aim now is to win people round who perhaps didn’t really like Shed Seven in the past. We would like some of them to finally hold their hands up and say “we might still not like your band, but you have done a good job” and even more than that we would love to win people over who have never even heard of us.

That is quite a positive buzz that we have currently got going. I personally would love to hear people saying “just who the hell are Shed Seven” to now saying “god, these are a bloody good band. Oh god they have got four previous studio albums which I will investigate” (laughter).

I have to ask you, why has it taken you and Shed Seven sixteen years to write, record and release Instant Pleasures?

Well just to give you a potted history, the band kind of split back in 2003 for various reasons, mostly record industry reasons, and then in 2007 we all thought that the reason as to why we had all got together in the first place was to play music and to do gigs. That is what the big buzz always was for us. So after four years we found that we had all missed performing live. We put a few gigs on sale in 2007 to test the waters and to see if there was still any interest there and to most people’s surprise we found that there was still a lot of interest in the band. So we had to upgrade the venues and add extra dates and stuff. Then we found ourselves kind of not going through the motions as such but reforming every other year and playing Christmas gigs.

It was great fun for us and quite obviously there was a need for it because we kept playing these big venues; the people kept coming singing every word back to us. So we always knew that there was that nostalgia thing there and so we knew that we could get away with doing that, and have fun doing it which is what it is all about really. But then, quite clearly, in the space of ten years that we have been doing that now, which is quite crazy thinking about it, but in that space of ten years we have been asked countless times by avid fans “are we ever going to hear anything new” and let me tell you, it has been a real struggle to answer that question.

Although perhaps it would have been a good thing to have done way back when, we simply have never found enough time in the day for us to have given any new material the justice that it deserved if we had done it, say six years ago. It was always in the back of our minds that if we did intend to write anything new, it had to have one hundred percent commitment behind it or there would be no point. The last thing that any of us wanted to do was to defecate all over our history. So it was never really the right time for various reasons; band members being busy doing other things, because it really does take a hell of a lot of commitment to sit down and create new art.

However, three years ago now we found ourselves together in a rehearsal room, jamming our old stuff, getting ready to go and do a gig, and a new riff came out of nowhere. I have always jotted down lyrical ideas together with the melodies running around in my head, so I actually found myself joining in with the rest of the band. By the time we had finished our two hour session, we had the bones of two or three songs. We were all looking at each other going ‘wow obviously there are legs for this to work’. So without telling anybody, we just carried on doing that. The reason we kept it secret was that I thought that if we started telling people that we had written a song then that brings immediate pressure as everyone then is aware that we had written new stuff.

That was the last thing that we would have wanted simply because the thought of having people pestering us every other week would have been undue pressure for us if I am honest. So for the past two or three years we have just ended up writing this album basically without any idea of just what we would do with it to be honest. Because we had been out of the music business for so long, the whole industry has totally changed so we didn’t really know what to do with it; should we release a couple of EP’s on iTunes and do it ourselves. But then we started giving the album to people who we trusted within the music business in order to let them hear our demos and see what their thoughts were.

The reaction to the album was incredible and so I thought that we couldn’t possibly do this ourselves, we needed to push the album as much as we possibly could, hence a new management company, and hence a new record label. It has just kind of snowballed from there which for me, I have to say, is very exciting.

So how much time has it actually taken you to write and record the album?

To actually physically record the album it took us three weeks in Spain to lay down every track and then we bought it back home, spent a week in London laying down the brass, the strings and a Gospel choir, and then two or three weeks to mix it. So a couple of months in total but with a few days off, here, there and everywhere. Even the recording process was slightly different to how it has been in the past. I will hold my hands up and say that maybe back in the 90s we were all maybe quite precious (laughter). We would write a new song, and we would think ‘we have written that song’ and we would get someone like Steven Street to produce it.

Steven back then would suggest to us “why don’t you try that” to which we would always reply without fail “this is our song, this is what we have written” (laughter). Whereas this time around, perhaps being slightly older, perhaps being a bit longer in the tooth, we were all a lot less precious about these things and I think that comes through on all of the tracks on the new album. I honestly feel that really shows in the new record.

On the subject of producers, you worked with Youth on the new album. How was that?

That’s right, we worked with Youth over in Spain where we were literally trapped alongside a mountain in Southern Spain; eight fellas with literally nowhere to go (laughter). There was nobody else for miles around. It was a bit like doing a male only Big Brother if I am honest with you. But being honest I think that helped as well because I feel that if we had done it in London we could have jumped on a train and gone home for the weekend. I think that probably wouldn’t have had the same effect to the sound of the record. While we were recording it, it was just really good fun because it was all new to us.

Youth would come in and say “why have you put that bit there” and “why don’t you try to write an extra bit for this bit” and as I have said, in the past I would have said “are you being ridiculous” but now I just thought ‘hold on, let’s see just what could happen here’. So two or three songs on this album were kind of written whilst we were recording it, which was a really exciting process for us. Youth has opinions, let me put it that way, in fact he openly told us that not a lot of bands go back and work with him again after they have worked with him once (laughter). But he’s not bothered about that because he is there to do a job and he wants to get one hundred percent out of it.

It worked really well for us; it was a great team, a great experience, and if I am totally honest with you, we would probably go and work with him again. He came up with some really great ideas, and whilst obviously at the end of the day it is our music, he really was on the ball. He had ideas, he had opinions, and it was great fun sitting down with him discussing stuff as well as just playing the songs on the album for him. For me, and I have to say for most of the band, it was a full-on musical experience.

You have briefly mentioned being with a new record label. You are now signed to BMG Rights Management. How is that working out for you; is it a good fit?

I don’t know yet to be honest (laughter). I am still learning every day. I have to say that for me it is a really weird thing. Everything is so different to how it was for us way back in the day. Every day I am learning something new; how things are processed, and how things are arranged. We signed to BMG a couple of months ago now and I have not actually met any of them yet so in answer to your question, I don’t know (laughter). As long as they push the album then that is all that matters.

I have to say that the two tracks that I keep going back to are Butterfly On A Wheel and Nothing To Live Down. I think that they are two standout tracks.

Thanks for that and this is what we were getting a buzz out of really when we were recording them. I honestly do believe that all of the songs sound anthemic; they have all got big choruses, and this is what excites me about each and every one of the twelve songs on the album. They can all stand alone on their own merit. It’s like an album of old so to speak where you would buy an album back in the olden times and every song would be good on it. We made a big point of making sure that the track listing was right so that songs flowed into others in such a good way rather than having an album with three really big songs, and the rest were just there to make up the numbers.

That to me was really important and that’s a good thing because we are selling it on vinyl, flipping it over to side two made it really important as to which song came in at number seven. It was all thought through so it is really exciting. I have rather overheard the album now so I want to move on but I really can’t say that to you can I (laughter). There is a track called Hold On on there which is really a ‘Shed Seveny’ kind of thing; it has a really big chorus and by the end of the song we have eventually turned into The Rolling Stones. It really does have an exciting vibe to it.

On the track It’s Not Easy you actually sing ‘checked shirt or Sta Prest’ which instantly took me back to my youth. Being older than you I actually used to wear Levi Sta Prest trousers every day back in the day. Who told you about them because you are far too young to have worn them (laughter).

(Laughter) well this is it, I often have problems regarding what I am going to wear. I often wander around my house thinking ‘is it going to be a waistcoat today or is it going to be a blouse’ (laughter). That whole song is basically that; it’s about getting a bit older, not really being able to choose between things, and not really having the energy anymore. But all done in a very positive and comical way I hope (laughter). I have older friends who, like you, actually did used to wear Levi Sta Prest trousers back in the day (laughter).

You say that you have “rather overheard the album now so you want to move on” in that case are there any thoughts on a new studio album?

Yes there is. Obviously we have become this band that reappears every other year, does a big tour and then we all go off and do our own separate things for an extended period of time. However, this time it’s different because we have got something to promote and something to push. When I say that I want to move on I say that in the sense that I have overheard the album because I have had to record it, mix it and record videos for it. I think that the plan is going to be for us to finish the current big tour, release a third single from the album in January 2018, go to Europe, Australia and America whilst playing festivals all over the world, hammering home the point that there is a new album out there after sixteen years. We need to do that as much as we can because taking a sixteen year gap really is a big story. And then in the downtime the idea is for us to start writing new music. It now looks like we are once again an ongoing concern. So for anyone who really is not into Shed Seven, hide away now (laughter).

You have mentioned that you are selling the album on vinyl, you have also put it out on cassette. What baffles me is that the kids all want to buy new music on cassette but what are they playing them on?

(Laughter) that is just what I think too. Having said that my very own home stereo system made up from separates, does in fact still house my double cassette player (laughter). Having said that I probably haven’t used it since 1996 (laughter). So I don’t even know if it still works or not. So yes, you are dead right but to be honest, sometimes products are simply good to own, to look at, to touch and to smell. Whenever I used to buy vinyl, I couldn’t wait to just open the bag and smell inside. New vinyl has such a lovely smell. And obviously with vinyl as well, if you get a gatefold sleeve, then that is just an impressive body of work within itself. With the great artwork together with the whole instant pleasure of owning the vinyl side of things, it all fits together so well.

For Shed Seven to put the album out on vinyl actually works threefold for us; if you put the record on then you are going to be instantly pleasured, which is a little bit of a cheeky nod (laughter). But then also in this day and age and a lot of people would agree with this, if you want something then you simply click a button and you have got it straightaway, you are instantly pleasured. That is just the way of the world these days. But also when we went off to Spain, we all thought that we should take a Polaroid camera over with us, in order to document exactly what we were doing. We now have 777 limited edition box sets which is basically the album split over seven 7” vinyl singles together with a couple of extra tracks on there to make up the seventh one.

We thought that if we took 777 original Polaroid pictures which covered everything that happened during our time spent in Spain, for example, it could be me having a wee behind a hedge or it could be Tom playing his bass, then the idea was that it would be an original Polaroid picture taken by a member of the band, and one of those is going to go into every individual box set. Whoever buys the box set will not only have the album, they will also have an original piece of art too. And obviously with a Polaroid picture, you press the button and you are instantly pleasured with the picture. So there you go. And as you can now see, we are not thick Northerners after all are we (laughter).

Anyway, all that I can say on the subject of cassettes is that I have got a suitcase full of cassette singles in my attic so bring it on (laughter). I will hold onto them until they become popular once again and make a mint (laughter).

(Laughter) let’s just hope that they will still play. I know exactly what you are saying in relation to vinyl albums, however at the moment the pleasure of buying an album on vinyl from your local record shop seems to have disappeared.

Yes it has sadly. When I was fourteen I used to do a milk round which meant that I had to get up at four in the morning, getting home at eight and then get myself ready for school. But through all that I would be thinking ‘I can’t wait to get that brown envelope on Friday and I am going straight off to Track Records to buy that new Morrissey twelve inch’ (laughter). That, for me, made the week go round.

Being a record collector, if there still is such a thing, means I’m a bit of a dinosaur. It is a totally different entity now.

Yes it is, totally and utterly. I actually do feel a little bit sorry for the kids because this is all that they know. I have got children who are nineteen years old and this is all they know. However, they are interested enough to ask questions especially when they are going through my vinyl collection. Of course vinyl is now making a comeback but I still feel a little bit sorry for the children and young adults who are having to pay thirty quid for a vinyl album. That’s just bloody crazy.

That is so true and in my opinion it is still not quite a level playing field as yet.

No it’s not, not at all. However, I am sure that if the interest in vinyl starts to wain then you will see them start to come down in price. It’s a crazy old business and at the moment vinyl is for the cool cats (laughter). I’m sure that people will cotton on sooner or later. I remember buying albums on vinyl back in the day for £9.99 and that is what I feel they should cost today. An album should be about a tenner basically.

I can remember buying vinyl albums for £2.15 back in the day.

Don’t tell me, you then took them home and played them on your gramophone (laughter).

(Laughter) not quite, not quite (laughter). Being serious for a minute, what was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh where the hell did that come from, that is a very good question. Depending upon what mood I was in at the time, I am always close to shedding a tear whenever I play The Smiths. Songs like I Know It’s Over or I Won’t Share You can hit me with the right note at the right time. Having said that I can’t exactly remember the last time that I shed a tear which is quite sad. Crying is a very important thing to do every now and again.

As you will be touring through the festive season, I want to ask you, what was the best Christmas gift that you have ever received?

That’s easy, that would be the love of my good lady.

And on the other side of the coin, what was the worst?

Being told off by the good lady (laughter).

You will be touring right up to Christmas so just what would be your ideal Christmas?

Usually at the end of a big tour I am kind of a bit worse for wear so the ideal Christmas for me is to do as little as possible and for me to relax as much as possible. Obviously because of the nature of what I will have undergone, the thought of me going anywhere is a definite no-no. So for me it is all about being at home, being warm, and continuing with the alcohol (laughter). Which to be honest is not really a very good idea after five weeks on the road on tour (laughter). But hey ho it’s Christmas. There is always an excuse to have a beer or two and mine today is that it is Wednesday (laughter).

Rick on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. Good luck with the rest of the tour and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.

Thanks Kevin, cheers for that. You take care and we will speak again soon. I will see you at Rock City. Bye for now.