The Red Light Sting are one of Vancouver’s greatest musical assets. Much like The Beatles did in the early sixties, the group has been able to absorb the sounds of today’s underground and convert them into a unique style. Beyond their music, band members Andy and Zoe run Ache Records whose catalog boasts releases from Hot Hot Heat, Death From Above and Radio Berlin, just to name a few. I had the privilege to talk to all five band members (vocalist Greg, guitarist Andy, keyboardist Zoe, bassist Jeff and drummer Paul) after their show at North Vancouver’s Selwynn Hall.
DiSCORDER: So I guess we’ll start at the beginning. How did you guys all hook up and form the Red Light Sting?
Greg: Well, the three of us were in a band
Zoe: He’s not going to know who you’re talking about.
Greg: Oh, okay. [Laughs] Andy, Zoe and I were in a band called Hooray for Everything, and our original bassist Matt was in a band with me called The Self Esteem Project, we had the same drummer in both of those bands, but then he moved to Saskatoon so that kind of broke up both of the bands I was in, so I was kinda angry and writing kinda angry songs. Then I wanted to work with this guy again… this guy being Andy. And then this guy, Paul, was in d.b.s. with Andy and then Andy showed him some stuff that we were working on and he was like, “I want in on that.” Then we needed a keyboard player cause I was originally going to play keyboards, but then we realized that I couldn’t play keyboards and then we figured out Zoe could. So Zoe played keyboards.
Andy: And somewhere along the way we picked up this jerk…Jeff. [Laughs]
Jeff: They asked me to join about a year ago through a bunch of confusing emails.
Greg: It seems like so much longer.
Andy: How long ago was that?
Jeff: It’s a year.
Most of you guys are in other bands or doing your own thing. What was it about The Red Light Sting that made it the priority?
Andy: I don’t think it was a decision anywhere along the way, it just sort of happened. d.b.s. and The Red Light Sting overlapped a little bit. Me and Paul were in both for a few months I guess and then d.b.s. broke up, so pretty much all my time and energy went into The Red Light Sting. And from there I’ve had side projects. But my side projects don’t really involve practicing or playing the guitar in any way so it’s an entirely different thing.
Do you find it difficult to write in a band with so many creative people?
Andy: No. That’s what makes it easy. We don’t even have to do anything. We just turn on our amps….
Greg: …and the songs write themselves. I haven’t heard it before…is this a cover song?
Andy: Paul just clicks, he counts in and we just start playing something and it always works out well.
Where do you come up with your ideas for the lyrics? They’ve always struck me as being like an excerpt from a book.
Greg: They’re actually directly taken from books. [Laughs]
Andy: Almost all of them are from Stephen King.
Greg: That’s fucking weird, I was going to say “Stephen King’s It.” [More Laughs]
Andy: Wicked dude!
Greg: But no, anyways…what were we talking about?
Zoe: Where you come up with your lyrics.
Greg: They’re just there for the most part. We’ll bring in the song and I’ll have a couple of ideas for what I want to talk about. I’ll focus on one area at first and just kind of repeat that over and over. And then I’ll establish the theme kind of and then just base it around that. That’s a pretty boring answer. [Laughs]
I’ve noticed on your website you have links to a bunch of other bands’ sites and almost all of them have managed to become sort of buzz bands recently. You guys obviously have good taste in music.
Andy: Well, most of those bands are our friends. We don’t put links up for just any band. Yeah, it is weird that most of our friends’ bands got popular and we didn’t. [Laughs]
Greg: I wonder why?
Zoe: We don’t like to just put links to anyone. We try to keep it small, to just the stuff we respect or our friends…and we also respect what they do.
Andy: I don’t respect any of my friends actually…especially these guys.
Has it been kind of weird with Hot Hot Heat’s success recently?
Andy: It’s not really weird…it’s kind of interesting.
Greg: It hasn’t really affected us, I don’t think.
Zoe: We’re happy for them. They worked really hard.
Andy: It doesn’t really affect us in any way, it’s just an interesting thing to happen I guess.
You guys are working on a new record right?
Andy: Yeah, it’s done.
Zoe: Done recording.
Andy: Yeah, we’re just working on the artwork and stuff like that.
Why have you waited so long to put out a full–length LP?
Greg: We write really slowly.
Zoe: We didn’t want to. Initially we just wanted to do EPs.
Andy: We thought the kind of music we play didn’t work after forty minutes. That’s why we only play for fifteen minutes.
Greg: We just figured it would be too annoying.
Andy: But I think that we’ve done pretty good with this one because we kind of switched it up a little bit. I don’t think it gets boring…and it’s still pretty short.
How short is it?
Greg: Thirty minutes.
Zoe: Ten songs.
All of the Ache Bands have very distinctive album art. Where do you come up with the ideas?
Andy: Well, The Red Light Sting stuff we all design together. We all sit around and come up with an image or one of us brings in an image. Greg brought in the psycho image for the cover of the split and I brought in the photo of the mannequin for the next one.
Greg: The third one [Our Love is Soaking in It] was like a still from a movie that the guy that runs Sound Virus did. It’s just like this scene of his grandma smoking so we all thought that looked pretty cool.
Andy: We hired a design team from London to do the album art for our full–length.
Pulling out all the stops for this one?
Andy: Yeah. No holds barred. We also got Paul McCartney to play a song on this one. [Laughs]
Greg: He plays three tambourines…all at the same time.
Andy: You might call him the tambourine man!
Where did the idea for Ache records come from?
Zoe: Hot Hot Heat was playing around and we really liked what they were doing but they only had a demo, and Andy had just gotten a new job where he had extra money and thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll start a record label,” because nobody was putting out their records. So he did that, but then he needed some help, so I ended up putting in some money and helping. We did the Hot Hot Heat record and then The Red Light Sting was starting out, so we did the split. Now it’s a lot more like a business.
Andy: Originally, we didn’t know where we were going with it. It was like, “Hey maybe we’ll do a split with Hot Hot Heat, that’d be cool,” and then d.b.s. broke up and I was like, “Oh we’ll release the last songs that we recorded.” Then suddenly we were like a real label.
Zoe: Now it’s really busy. We both have day jobs, but it takes up the rest of our spare time when we’re not practicing.
You’ve got the Divorce series coming out now too?
Zoe: Yeah, that’s coming up, as well as the Kid Commando full–length, Femme Fatale full–length, Secret Mommy LP and Piers Whyte EP, so we’re really busy.
Finally, how would you describe The Red Light Sting’s sound?
Zoe: We are like totally awesome.
Andy: I would call it incredible.
Greg: Are you going to elaborate on that?
Zoe: Sebastien from Death from Above told me that our new record was very eclectic and thinks that it should be filed under world music. So I hope that’s a good definition.
Greg: Awesome, eclectic world music…The Red Light Sting. Somewhere between Maxi Priest and Megadeath.
This story originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of Discorder Magazine.