In The Middle with Squid

Ollie Judge and Louis Borlase talk Nicholas Cage, being blinded by lasers and their wonderfully anarchic debut album Bright Green Field.

Since singles like ‘Houseplants’ propelled Squid to the forefront of Britain’s burgeoning experimental art-rock scene, the band have barely looked back. Their limitless take on music has left critics, journalists and other cultural predators desperately trying to pigeonhole them under a single genre. The cephalopod named 5-piece have sprayed back a range of projects that defy music classification into their faces, escaping any creative confines the industry tries to put them in.

They are, unquestionably, an act on the lips of every label executive up and down the country. Despite such status, Louis Borlase and Ollie Judge, two of the band’s members, are living modestly. “I’m visiting my parents at the moment” Judge tells us, pitched up against a bright yellow, floral wallpaper that he claims to be far from his cup of tea. Borlase is just down the road in Bristol, where the two live normally.

Ahead of Bright Green Field‘s release, they are feeling a mix of nerves and excitement. “It all feels like it’s building up to something, what that is though I’m not quite sure,” says Louis apprehensively, before disclosing that his parents first met in our very own Hyde Park Pub. “Like Louis’ parents meeting, it feels like young love I guess” chuckles Ollie to the camera.

Squid. Credit: Holly Whitaker.

Both members keenly enlighten me on their fondness for Leeds, noting vivid stories of playing here. Gigs at Hyde Park Book Club and Headrow House with Black Country, New Road were particularly memorable for them. “I can’t wait to be back up north again, we love it there” expresses Judge with a tone of sincerity. As a band known for visceral live sets, you can imagine that their current inability to tour has been frustrating.

Before the pandemic, Squid had gigs coming out of their ears. Live shows used to be a way for them to test out songs, and eyeball the crowd’s reactions to see if they were playing any worthy singles. Making their debut was a completely different process. “It all came pretty naturally, but I guess we had a lot of luck in 2020. The nature of when restrictions were lifted in the summer meant that we could strike while the iron was pretty hot,” explains Louis from his bedroom. And pretty hot it was.

Crammed into producer Dan Carey’s studio, the band recorded Bright Green Field in 35 degree heat. And this wasn’t the only battle that Squid had to overcome in the record’s creation. It turns out Carey had some pretty left-field techniques to get the best out of them. “Sometimes he turns on lasers and smoke machines” says Ollie with a bizarrely casual tone. “Dan likes it when you make mistakes, and the easiest way to do that is shine a laser in your eyes” confirms Borlase.

The surreal recording settings Squid found themselves in for their debut inspired a range of peculiar sonics on the album. From scrap metal found in skips to medieval instruments like the racket, their eccentric choice of sounds epitomise the vigorous, idiosyncratic style they have carved out for themselves.

Squid – Bright Green Field LP artwork.

On lead single ‘Narrator’, it’s Martha Skye Murphy’s erratic vocals that test the limits of listenability. They might not be everyone’s glass of milk, but they’ve made it onto just about every BBC 6 music show since its release. Steve Lamacq played the song one night whilst my family were having dinner, which resulted in the station being permanently banned in our house at tea time; the accumulation of Murphy’s screechy howls, an overcooked veggie chilli and a gruelling Tesco shift proved too much for my younger sister, who’s now enforced a strict regime of Classic FM around the table. “I feel proud and guilty at the same time” laughs Louis hysterically as I tell them the story.

Long before the likes of Mary Anne Hobbs, Shaun Keivney and various other DJs on BBC’s roster were playing their singles, Squid were all students in Brighton. They formed the band in 2017, jamming in local venues on the South Coast of England. One night, after testing their neighbour’s patience with a characteristically noisy band rehearsal, Judge and Borlase woke up to the unwelcome gift of a sharp knife and baby formula bottle on their doorstep. “What I gathered was the neighbours were trying to say ‘why are you two babies making so much noise?’ And the knife was saying ‘I’m going to kill you'” reflects Ollie.

Squid – Narrator (Official Video) ft. Martha Skye Murphy via Squid on YouTube.

Standing next to Nick Cave in an art exhibition, who they claim could be seen frequently in Sainsbury’s, was another memorable university anecdote the pair were eager to tell me over Zoom. A typical video-call technical glitch here led me to believe it was a certain Nicholas Cage that they saw in an art exhibition. As it turns out, Judge also had a story to tell about the Hollywood star. Walking down the backroads of Bath, the singer-drummer noticed a car suspiciously slowing down next to him. To his surprise, the puppety face of Cage, who was there that day to switch on the city’s Christmas lights, peered out of the window and grinned mischievously at him.

With the global pandemic preventing anyone from meeting one another, it seems Squid are craving collaboration now more than ever. “We are writing quite a lot of music at the moment that lends itself to people from outside the band coming in on it” reveals Louis with a quick scratch to the hair. From their forthcoming tour, you can expect plenty of onstage collaborations and improvisation, which takes influence from their time as students playing a jazz venue in Brighton.

Squid’s debut LP might not end up being for everyone, but its multifaceted blend of sonics reflect the chaotic year we have all experienced. If you can confide in the beautifully brash, David Byrne-esque vocals of Ollie Judge, and impulses of experimental jazz, punk, and just about any other genre, then Bright Green Field will be perfect for you. The album is to be released on Warp Records, a label known for bringing some of the most groundbreaking music into the mainstream. “They are a label we have always looked up to, and have always had a keen interest in music that goes beyond the confines of genre and style” explains guitarist Louis proudly. The pairing, therefore, seems like a match made in heaven. Squid sonorously portray everything Warp have come to be over their 30 years of existence.

As our conversation draws to a close, I ask if they have any remaining remarks to let loose. “Don’t practice in your room too loudly or you might get threatened with coded messages from your neighbours that will haunt you for the rest of your life” says Louis matter-of-factly. It’s refreshing to see a band as talented as Squid not taking themselves so seriously, even in the run up to their debut album.

Bright Green Field came out on 7 May 2021. You can listen here and catch Squid on tour later this year.

Squid – Full Tour Poster 2021 via Ian Cheek Press.

Header image: Squid. Credit: Holly Whitaker.