Words by Ed King / Pics by Paul Reynolds
“We were talking about this the other day… our second sold out show in the city. It’s absolutely fantastic. We’re so excited that there are people returning show after show to come and see us; it’s such an amazing atmosphere, we honestly can’t wait to come back.”
I’m catching up with Shauna Tohill and Collette Williams, aka Rews, as they travel from a debut gig in Leeds to another hot ticket show at the Sugarmill in Stoke. Birmingham is a few notches down on the tour post, with the rock powerhouse returning for their second consecutive sold out show in the city on 22nd March – this time playing at the well-loved and well-programmed Hare & Hounds, with local support from You Dirty Blue and P.E.T.
“It’s been really good,” explains Collette Williams – as I ask about the rest of Rews‘ tour, “and it’s nice to be able to get to some places that we haven’t yet been to before – we haven’t actually played in Leeds before, which is crazy. I used to go to Uni in Leeds and this is the first time I’ve been back in about eight years.”
“Yeah, it’s been really brilliant,” adds Shauna Tohill. “We were just a bit sad about having to reschedule some of the gigs to being with, we now have new dates for them, but it’s been amazing so far.”
Rews keep a pretty rigorous live and tour schedule, with a focused work ethic both on and off the road. But beginning their UK tour as the tabloid titled ‘beast from the east’ closed off half the country proved to be somewhat of a challenge. “The two dates we had to postpone were because people just physically get to the venues,” continues Tohill, “the roads were all closed. That’s was Newcastle and Glasgow… we’d never been to Glasgow before either.”
Back touring the UK and Ireland, still on the crest of “this Pyro wave”, Rews have had a significant year – not only with the release of their stellar debut album, but also racking up some serious time on the national airwaves. And not just the rock stations either, for a while it seemed Rews had polished off their shotguns and taken over Broadcasting House.
“It’s been incredible, but so strange,” tells Williams. “We keep getting messages from friends and family saying, ‘I’m in my car, driving back from work, and you’re on the radio at five o’clock’. The DJs were really supportive too and took the time to find out about us. Apart from Scott Mills, who didn’t, then went on to tell everyone I was an alcoholic and flower arranger – he was like, ‘let’s just coin her with something’ which was quite hilarious.” But however they got through the BBC’s front door, or whatever floral self-destruction may or may not have happened in the green room, Rews’ time on the air has certainly bolstered their growing army of fans. Then again, a week of having your single (‘Your Tears’) pushed across the biggest broadcaster in the county should pay some dividends.
But time and tide wait for no radio playlist, and ‘Shake Shake’ is the latest Rews single – released in February and already building momentum. “A lot of people have been making comments about it,” explains Tohill, “and some have been comparing it to the older version that we had.” ‘Shake Shake’ was one of Rews’ original four singles, with the track first recorded and released in 2016. “but our ‘likes’ have gone up and you can see that reflected in people watching and interacting with it online. You can see that it’s been received well by people.”
“I guess we’ve got two different camps,” continues Williams, “we’ve got new fans who didn’t know the old version of it, but who love the energy of the new version. Then we’ve got the people who have been there from the start who can recognise it’s a different recording and a different sound. But when we play it live everyone loves it – it’s really energetic and they all get dancing to it, which is cool.”
Live gigs are where Rews undeniably make their mark, with such high octane and engaging shows you sometimes have to check there really are only two of them on stage. In your face Polyphonic Spree… But Pyro, Rews’ debut album that came out in November 2017 (read our Birmingham Review of Pyro here), is a ferocious first foot forward – an addictive ten track ‘avalanche’ of an album, with all the hallmarks of a rock classic in the making. Seriously, in about five years just wait for the listicles.
But Pyro also cemented their signing to Marshall Records, as Rews were one of the first UK bands to appear on the iconic rock brand’s recently formed label. “It’s been good,” explains Williams, “they’re quite hands off in their approach, which allows us some creative breathing space. But we’ve been with them a year and we’ve grown together, so I think they’ll be trying to kick it up a notch now – more international stuff, us getting out and playing more places we haven’t been to. There’s some exciting stuff on the horizon.”
“We do have some news…” adds Tohill, “but nothing we can tell you about now.” I’m guessing, and hoping, it has something to do with America. Rews would kill it in America.
But world domination aside, there are other good fights to fight – with Rews recently being pretty proactive on International Women’s Day, appearing in various panel discussions and interviews, as well an all-female gig in Brighton (if you get a chance, read the Women Who Rock feature on Mels Jukebox).
“There’s a whole combination of things, it can be quite complicated,” explains Tohill, as I ask the uncomfortably obvious question about ‘issues facing women in the music industry today’. “But I think a lot of it is just getting the right kind of support and respect really. Collette and I both find we’re well supported and respected, but there’s just, you know… sometimes, things like when you get groped whilst your having your photos taken. It’s not really on. It’s fine to give someone a hug, and some caring touch, but not anything more than that.”
“I think it’s about opportunities as well,” continues Williams. “There’s been a lot that’s come out about the lack of female musicians appearing on festival line ups, and I think it’s about turning some of the attention onto opportunities and filtering that in from the ground level up. It’s about inspiring young women to get into music, to take up an instrument, because it’s important to get the balance right. Whilst there might not be enough females (in areas of the music industry) you don’t want to go too heavily to the other side and have this sense of entitlement – that you’ve been put on the bill just because someone’s trying to fill some kind of gender gap.”
“It feels like it might take a few years yet,” adds Tohill “but the more awareness we have and the more women that get involved in the music industry, the more you won’t even need gender as a factor and we won’t see that divide anymore.”
How do you feel when gender is used to describe Rews? Being called ‘the female Royal Blood’ isn’t a bad thing, but it’s still steeped in sexuality.
“We’ve talked about this a few times,” continues Tohill. “We don’t really mind, too much, but it depends in what way it’s being used. Again, it is going to take a few years, generations possibly, to take away the kind of ‘unique thing’ about being a female band. But we are a female band, so we don’t mind people referencing that if they’re not doing it in a derogatory way.”
“It works both ways too,” adds Williams, “we can use it in our favour – some people are still intrigued by it, in a positive sense. But it shouldn’t be used just for the sake of it because it’s not a describing factor about our music. Ultimately it would be great to drop the gender and for it not to be a factor at all.”
The first time I met Rews we spent, or rather I spent, perhaps too long fixating on a word in their press release. But I’m also aware that during this conversation I have, repeatedly, referred to these two women as ‘you guys’. So, we all have out part to play. But as far as journalism goes there are many words to describe Rews that have nothing to do with their gender and everything to do with their music. Feel free to fish out some superlatives from this feature, or Google ‘awesome’ and take your pick from the world wide web of synonyms.
But for now, I’ll settle for the following: ‘Rews’, ‘Hare and Hounds’, ‘Thursday 22nd March’, ‘sold out’. And if there’s any word count left, ‘excited’ and ‘respect to Birmingham’s live music scene’.
‘Shake Shake’ – Rews
Rews perform at the Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath) on Thursday 22nd March, with support from You Dirty Blue and P.E.T – as presented by Metropolis Music and Birmingham Review. For direct event information, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit http://bit.ly/2IFpUon
For more on Rews, visit www.rewsmusic.com
For more on You Dirty Blue, visit www.youdirtyblue.com
For more on P.E.T, visit www.facebook.com/petbanduk
For more from Metropolis Music, visit www.metropolismusic.com
For more on the Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath), including venue details and further event listings, visit www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk