Shame’s Charlie Steen – Growing up in a band

This month's guest columnist on learning to understand yourself at the same as playing hundreds of punk shows

We formed Shame in June 2014 and played our first show that July. Since then I estimate we’ve played 400-500 shows. It feels like counting pieces of hay now, we’ve lost count.

The relationship between all of us in the band when we started was a lot more loose. We all got a lot more fucked. Well, I certainly did. It was more like a party and an occasion. A lot of bands or people who I know who hold exhibitions, things like that, their friends would come down to their events. We kind of did the opposite. We did it, and then if people turned up that we knew then it was nice of them. We didn’t care in the beginning because we knew we were shit. We just took the piss. It was quite liberating.

It’s a bit similar to now, apart from now egos have definitely been inflated. At the beginning we were still so new. We didn’t have certain pressures that we do now. It was a laugh. It’s important that it’s a laugh. If it ever stopped being funny then the band would cease.

It’s weird because we did grow up with each other. I feel like we’re closer than we ever have been. We’ve been back in London for a day and I’m going around to Sean’s [Coyle-Smith, guitarist] house. We still really rely on each other.

It’s like a marriage or a long-term relationship. I can’t speak with much advice because every long-term relationship I’ve had has ended, but you get to know when you’re pissing people off and you get to know when they’re pissing you off. You learn to deal with it. The saving grace is that we have something that’s productive – writing songs and playing shows – to do together.

Everyone has their core unique identity within the band. We’re all quite different individuals. Sean is the eternal optimist and he’s always listening to music. I’m sort of… I don’t know. I don’t like to label myself anything. Eddie is quite organised. Josh is very unorganised in his life but is very talented at organising music.

The hardest thing is probably learning to understand yourself. We’re all still 21 so there’s a lot we have to learn. At the beginning of the band I probably didn’t understand a lot of things to do with my own psychology. As soon as you start to understand and address your emotions, that’s when you become a lot more engaged and aware of those you’re surrounded by. If you know what you need to do if you’re feeling slightly melancholic, adventurous or whatever… then it makes it a hell of a lot easier to relate to other people when they’re in those moods.

We vocalise stuff a lot. If someone is pissed off you say it to their face. That’s what we do. We don’t hide thoughts. We don’t shelter emotions. We discuss it and try and move on. It’s grown easier over time because we’ve all realised the necessity of communication.

And then keeping other relationships going is hard. When we think back to January [2018] time I had a girlfriend and I think that was the only thing pressing on my mind. That’s a person you want to be there for, and that’s a person you want to be with. You understand that your job is getting in the way. It’s quite a grown-up thing to be dealing with for the first time, especially when you have to go away for a three-month tour which is quite a unique job to have in terms of when you can speak and things like that.

I’ve learned to cope better. I have a fear of being on my own, which I think a lot of people have, which is why people go out, why they get fucked, take drugs, drink and things like that in this age group. I’ve definitely learned to be with my own thoughts this past year. It feels like everything has changed.

Before a show, we have seen some bands backstage who get together like a merry group of Disney cartoon characters, joining hands and throwing them up in the air. We’ve never done that once. Sometimes if you’ve had a shit day and you’ve had shit news it’s the best fucking thing in the world to go on stage. I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I don’t think about anything else when I’m on stage which is practically impossible at all other times in my life. It’s almost like a form of meditation.

I was in the bath earlier and I was thinking; by the age of 21 I’ve probably been to 170 festivals in my lifetime, which is insanity. You’ve just got to appreciate how unique this position is and how fortunate we all are because it might not last. I mean, it won’t last. Nothing lasts. We’ll enjoy it while we can. My biggest lesson from it all so far is never trust a happy band.

As told to: Greg Cochrane