We catch up with The Little Kicks' frontman Steven Milne to chat about their brand new album Shake Off Your Troubles and their ambitions for the future
Since 2013's Put Your Love In Front of Me, The Little Kicks have been letting go of the anxieties of their younger years. That continues with fourth LP Shake Off Your Troubles and its carefully crafted indie-pop songs of acceptance, swollen with strings, synths and a quietly garnered ambitious self-assurance.
The band is older, wiser and clearly aiming higher. Unsigned but reemerging with the confidence of a slickly managed group with the backing of a major label, The Little Kicks' newfound belief is largely attributable to the quartet's driving force – main songwriter and frontman, Steven Milne. His wealth of industry nous, gained largely as booker for Aberdeen venue The Lemon Tree, has been invaluable for the band, but there's also a divvying up of day-to-day duties between all four members, who sensibly treat being in a group like a small business.
“There's no reason why we can't make our artwork nice, and get vinyl, and just act professionally and confidently. That hopefully reflects in the music too,” suggests Milne. “We obviously would love to win a SAY Award or get a tour support with a big band, and why not? A few years ago we would have been like, 'that's not going to happen for a band like us,' but there's no reason why you can't try. You're only going to get it if you push yourself for it.”
Feeling slightly removed in Aberdeen from Scotland's musical heart in the central belt, the band has perhaps had to push themselves that bit harder, and it's paid off. “I sometimes see us doing similar shows to bands with management and labels and a lot more help than we have, and I think we're obviously doing something right if we're still there on the same bill,” he reflects. “We're quite pally with a lot of big bands in Scotland and kind of see them as contemporaries in a way, although they're doing much better than us and don't have jobs full-time… that kind of thing does encourage you to try harder.
“You do see bands kind of leapfrog us in a way because we've been around for such a long time that you do think, 'how come some bands are getting such and such and you're not?' But then we just quietly do what we do with the time and the budget and the resources that we have.”
Mastered at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios in London, Shake Off Your Troubles was met with a different approach than previous records, with the band holing up in a lochside lodge in the Highlands to record it. Working 24/7 to get just the right aural aesthetic, Milne sometimes spent hours on solitary synth parts until they were exactly as he'd envisaged. After initial trepidation, the setup on the banks of Loch Ness afforded them the space and time to gain the confidence to experiment with new sounds and technical approaches.
“You're quite exposed being in a band together, singing about things that are quite personal to you,” Milne admits. “There needs to be the ability to just try stuff without feeling judged, or that someone's going to laugh at you for making a mistake. We definitely achieved that in the lodge, everyone was very relaxed and just trying things.”
Adding to the experimentation was the inclusion of the Cairn String Quartet on several tracks.“We've never had strings on a record before,” says Milne. “We would never have done that a few years ago; we would have just thought, 'we can't do that, we don't know how to do that,' but now there's a bit more of a feeling of 'let's try.'”
Shake Off Your Troubles is far less crestfallen than previous work, with Milne admitting Put Your Love... was written at a vulnerable time. “I felt a little bit uncertain in the period of that last record but prior to the finishing stages of this one I was in a really good place,” he offers. “You get a little bit older and you realise you're actually very fortunate, especially with all the stuff going on in the world at the moment, people have got a lot less than me. For me to be singing about being heartbroken didn't really feel right. It was more about being a bit more grateful for what you've got and, I don't know, just relax a little bit.”
He continues: “We had a bit of a turbulent time at the end of the last album. The band lost a close friend, which is reflected in one of the tracks pretty obviously; that's our way of paying tribute. But other than that song we wanted to make something that was a pretty straight upbeat album.”
Doing things their own way has so far worked, with strong support from a variety of national radio, and anticipation around the new record's release. While The Little Kicks wouldn't rule out getting help if it was “the right deal”, they're happy having full creative control, and they're doing just fine.
“The music is the most important thing for us,” states Milne. “It's not really our desire to become famous and all that bullshit, we just love playing live, we love playing gigs, and as long as it's music that we believe in and enjoy playing we'll continue to do that. Hopefully there's people that come to see it and support it, and they have for the last three records or so, so that keeps us going.”
Shake Off Your Troubles is released on 3 Mar via Loosen Up Records. The Little Kicks play The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 3-4 Mar; The Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 10 Mar; Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 11 Mar.