The buzz around Static Dress might be impossible to ignore, but – while so often such excitement can be built on unstable foundations – they’re the real deal. A band who build a whole universe around them, they’re one to believe in. But what is ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’, and why did it nearly bring their whole world crashing down?
Words: Jack Press.
Photos: Olli Appleyard.
Great art often comes with hefty consequences; the stories of artists pushing to extremes to realise their vision are all too well known, extending themselves past their breaking point in the process. For Static Dress’s Olli Appleyard, the making of their debut album threatened to not only derail the train of hype they were riding but to throw those on it off a cliff of burnout.
“Everyone was worried about everything, and it forced you away from yourself. I lost track of everything. It was the lowest of lows,” reflects Olli, lit only by the light of his screen in a moment of vulnerability.
“We weren’t a band. There were moments where it wasn’t even a thing anymore. Like, it was over and dead. Trying to do this just killed it.”
As the train began to leave the tracks, driven by artistic ambition, Olli pulled himself into out of body experiences just to hold it all together for everybody else.
“It’s really funny because you went through people’s different stages. You saw this record slowly start to break everyone, and I’m sat there like, I have to make sure this happens, but I’m already broken before everyone else is.”
Joined by bassist Connor Reilly, drummer Sam Ogden, and guitarist Contrast, Olli drove Static Dress to the deepest depths of their mental and physical limitations. In some ways, it’s a miracle the album will even see the light of day, with original members Tom Black and Sam Kay departing the band halfway through, amidst the strain of tying it all together.
So, now the mysteriously titled ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ is done and dusted, does it still feel like Olli’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, or is he finally feeling a sense of relief?
“I’m kind of just glad because, in my head, it was such a trauma doing it that I’m like ‘alright, sick’,” he laughs, without losing a sense of seriousness. Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom – excitement is bubbling under the surface.
“I’m excited for people to hear it and for people who like this band to finally get the album,” he enthuses, before his own experiences of it come clawing back to the fore. “But for me individually as a person, I’m so glad to get away from this record. I know that looking back in a few years, once I’m over certain things, I’ll be able to enjoy it, but right now, it still sends me back to a time when in my head I was the worst I’ve ever been.”
For a pessimist, Olli is pretty optimistic at times. While it’s hard to let go of a period that will continue to haunt him for some time, he has hope that it’ll mature like a fine wine. As they take it out on tour and their listeners make it their own, he hopes to learn to live with it.
“I think it’ll change once it comes out because I’ll see what it’ll be able to do for people. Not in a selfish way of ‘oh this album let us go play this show’ – I’ll see what it did for people emotionally, and I can say, ‘I’m glad that it helped you because it hurt me’.”
It’s that hurt that trickles through ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ like blood pulsing through its veins. While its story picks up where last year’s ‘Prologue’ EP left off, its musical DNA diverges. Like a ripple effect, that pain is felt throughout every song. It’s steered musically as much by trauma as anything else, every corner and crevice packed with different influences.
There’s the post-Britpop indie-rock that simmers underneath ‘fleahouse’, the pummelling post-hardcore pomp of ‘Courtney, just relax’, or the electronic underbelly that boils up in ‘…Maybe!!?’. ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ is like listening to a collage of clashing styles that ultimately complement each other. And it serves an important purpose: to push away from their past and put out the firepit of pressure the hype of being quite probably the UK rock scene’s most exciting new band has dealt them.
“It’s been daunting. I find that if for half a second we sit there and go ‘oh, is this as good as…?’ – it won’t be. It’ll just absolutely cripple us. I feel like as an artist, if you self-compare to your old work, you’re never going to progress from that moment,” Olli admits, openly aware that ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ isn’t simply the Static Dress we’re used to.
When Static Dress first dropped their debut track ‘Clean’ in 2019, they took the underground by storm, suddenly shooting onto festival bills and up-and-coming lists. When it came to their debut album, they felt it haunting them like a ghost.
“If you hyper-focus on the first thing you did, and it was brilliant like ‘Clean’ was, then you worry about it. It’ll destroy you in the end,” Olli asserts, pausing to reflect before divulging further. “We tried it; we were like ‘alright, let’s write ‘Clean’ again’, and now we’ve got nine different versions of the same song.
“We would go into the studio to record new things, and we’d pull up these demos and realise it’s exactly the same song nine times over. And some people love that,” he admits, pausing almost dramatically to deliver his own punchline. “But for a project that’s meant to be moving forwards and making waves – trying to change this whole ‘rock band world’ to make something more interesting – it’s just not going to do it.”
Static Dress’s desire to deviate from rock’s established model is a driving force behind everything they do. While a lack of a record label and limited budget constraints keep them grounded, they thrive with the necessity to stay creative with what they’ve got. Not only does it push them to try new ideas – it offers authenticity too, as every note you hear is real.
“There’s no drum sample replacement,” Olli enthuses. “There’s no fake anything. The strings you can hear, that’s all us, it’s not programmed. There are string sections made up from one violin being pitched down, but it’s all real.”
On top of that, as Covid-19 kept them apart, they had to take being a DIY band to new extremes.
“There were moments where we’d be recording in my conservatory at my parents’ house because we couldn’t meet the guy I was tracking with. I’d be sat on the floor, with a mic on two tables, both of us with masks on, and it was just so difficult,” Olli explains, exhaustion in his voice from reliving the experience. Covid-19 rearing its head meant a lot to the record. From recording at home to Olli’s mental state, it was like throwing a flash grenade into a burning building.
“I can’t really remember anything because my head got into such a space where it just blanks now. People talk about lockdown and their experiences, and I genuinely couldn’t tell you what I did. I just didn’t leave my room for months.”
Covid-19 gave to Static Dress as much as it took. With idle time on their hands, they dove into television and movies, discovering a whole world of inspiration for the story that binds both ‘Prologue’ and ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ together.
“I wanted to write a story based around really weird stuff, like The Hotel series from American Horror Story and The Shining. Stuff like that was incredible. So I started pulling in elements, here and there, and then even weirder stuff – I pulled a lot from cartoons,” Olli shares, as we question what could be weirder than Stephen King novels. His reply?
“There’s an episode of SpongeBob where they stop at a convention in a hotel, and it sounds bizarre, but it’s the weirdest thing ever. There are so many hidden jokes. I’m like, ‘this is sick’ – if you watch it rather than being like ‘oh look at the colours’, you’ll get it. I took a lot from all these places.”
And SpongeBob wasn’t the only cartoon character to lend a hand. Olli is reluctant to reveal any plot details, but ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ unfolds song-by-song, and we have Pixar’s favourite cowboy to thank for some of these elements.
“Do you remember Woody’s Roundup from Toy Story? At the end of the show, when the credits roll, they have the Woody’s Roundup song going.” It’s an idea used with closer ‘Cubical Dialog’. “You’ve had all this emotional stuff happen in the episode,” he explains, “and then it’s like the happiness at the end is there, and the song comes in.
“I thought that was better rather than leaving you feeling sad. I wanted something for people to be able to be happy because the last thing I want to do is leave people in a state in this day and age.”
Listening to ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ is like indulging in a binge-worthy Netflix series. You’ll end up tying clues together on cork-boards, chasing down the band for more. And that’s entirely on purpose. It’s meant to become a franchise you buy into, rather than something you passively comfort watch.
“The songs could all be released as singles at some stage, and that’s fine, but I want to be able to have something in my hands. That I can hold and give to future generations and go, ‘this is the thing that did it for a lot of people’,” he enthuses. “An episode of a series sticks with you for a short amount of time, and it’s your favourite episode, but a film – you’re like, ‘wow, this is an amazing film’. The way they hold up to each other isn’t the same. An amazing franchise will completely outweigh a single show.”
Last year’s ‘Prologue’ is crucial to ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster”s longevity. Even though the album was done and dusted by the time the EP arrived, it sets up the story with a legacy of its own.
Cast your mind back to Slam Dunk Festival 2021. A little band from West Yorkshire called Static Dress are getting people to buy discs at the merch table. What are they? They’re not telling anyone. You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is and gamble on it. And if you did, you got your first taste of what became ‘Prologue’.
“It was festival season, and I thought it would be cool if we started introducing a different kind of story and gave something physical to people they could only get at shows. So, we wrote all these demos, mixed them roughly and put them on a disc and had the entire thing coded and transcribed it so you couldn’t read it.”
It was a bold move for any band, let alone one who’d only had singles out. Olli saw it as fan service, but everyone else saw it as an opportunity. Suddenly, a disc of demos for a faithful few meant an actual EP – that they had to start and finish in three months.
“It’s September, and we’re putting it out in December, and I’m sat there with no music videos, no concepts, no ideas, nothing – because it was never meant to be released. There was no mastering done, no artwork in sight, so I had to call it an idea, come up with a theme and go from there.”
The pressure put on Olli to pull together an entire EP that somehow fell into step with the album they’d been making was almost unbearable. Everyone in and around the band wanted it out in the world, whereas Olli wanted it dead and buried. At first, anyway.
“Originally, I just wanted it to be single, single, single and then drop the album and be like, ‘bang, here’s a big body of work’. But I was the only person who didn’t want [‘Prologue’] out. The worst thing is, I wish I’d just said yes to begin with because if I didn’t fight it for so long, I would have given myself more time to prepare.”
Considering it was all crammed into three months, it’s clear Olli and co. can succeed under pressure. A little like rocks, they become diamonds when the going gets tough.
Teaming up with illustrator Tanya Kenny, Olli created a comic book complete with a backstory to the world of ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’. In fact, it sets the scene sensationally. But for some fans, it felt like too much too soon.
“The reason it’s called ‘Prologue’ is not that it sounds cool, but because it’s actually a prologue of what’s to come. Some people were like, ‘these songs aren’t as good as what you’ve released before, I don’t like this, I don’t like that, there are so many interludes’. And it’s like, we released it with a comic book for a reason.
“If you read it while listening to it, it would make perfect sense. If you just put it on and all you do is listen to it, you’re going to miss it. For full impact, you have to have the book in front of you to read it and go, ‘oh, that’s where they’re heading’.”
Static Dress have the commitment of a great band of storytellers. Seeing is believing. Unless you fully buy-in every step of the way, you’ll miss out on the breadcrumbs they’re dropping. Think of it as a cinematic universe. Each release is a phase, and each phase is connected.
“We’d rather focus on the small number of people invested in us and make them absolutely obsessed with it, rather than going to a big wide audience and have them listen for five seconds. We’ve made something which will last in your mind longer than just hearing it on the radio once.
“In turn, everyone’s on the edge of their seat waiting for what’s next, and that’s the purpose of it all. At the end of ‘Prologue’, you can literally hear a car driving away, and on the final page in the comic book, you can see them arriving at where ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ begins.”
In many ways, Static Dress subscribe to the mantra: if you build it, they will come. While there’s still so much to discover for the ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ era, you can sleep safe in the knowledge that it’s been made by a band who believe in giving you more than just music.
It’s the DIY attitude they’ve adopted that has earned Olli and co. so much regard; through being so individualistic, they’ve added a layer of truthfulness to their music that some choose to hide from.
“I think that it’s a lot more honest. It’s not hiding behind a blanket of getting everything done for us. I think that’s why a lot of people in the hardcore DIY scene have a lot of respect for us.”
But being so hands-on isn’t all about honesty. It’s also about surviving as a band in the modern age. In fact, it all started out this way because funds were non-existent.
“Honestly, it’s being realistic of our budget. We don’t have a label; we don’t have anyone backing us or some high mystical being putting money in our pockets to make it happen. It’s just the people in the band funding what we’re doing.”
Given the chance to go over it all again, but this time with bonus funding, would Olli change it up?
“If someone was giving us money, I’d use that budget to make something better with our internal team that we’ve got rather than outsourcing because, at this point, it makes sense to keep it in the family.”
Of course, it’s not always a route without problems. The push and pull of being a DIY band, the principles of hardcore and their ever-changing sound might have sent them into a box by some fans. Pigeonholed as a post-hardcore revival record before it’s even been released, ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ is far from just that. And how does it make Olli feel?
“It’s so annoying because I feel like post-hardcore is very broad as it is. I looked at post-hardcore as a category, and there’s like djent bands and shit, and I’m like ‘what’s this man, I ain’t with this’. If you want to call us post-hardcore – if the label makes it easier for you to identify with it – go for it, call it whatever you want to call it. We refer to it as emo, and that’s it. I feel like with the record, every single one of those songs is an emo song. It’s just a different phase or a different genre.”
They’re not the first of their friends to be thrown under the bus by genre labelling. Creeper got struck by the curse of My Chemical Romance comparisons, and Loathe can’t do anything without getting told they’re this generation’s Deftones. And for Static Dress, they’ve been lauded as Underoath clones and Glassjaw wannabees.
“I think the comparison comes from it looking like something from that era; it’s got singing and screaming, so they’ll jump to that. But if you scratch the surface and look a bit deeper than just what your brain tells you, you’ll find what it really is.”
“I look at the Underoath discography, and I’m like ‘right, okay, where’s the vocoder tracks? And the electronic interludes? What about the string sections and all the weird stuff?’ It’s just not there. We’re not the same. Some people look at us and go, ‘Oh, they’re just a Glassjaw rip-off’, and I’m like ‘no, it’s branded in a completely different way, looks a different way’. I feel like all people do is try to jump to what they can compare us with to feel comfortable, rather than just enjoying it.”
Beyond the comparisons and the concepts, enjoying the music is what Olli hopes listeners will get the most. Building Static Dress into more than just a band has broken his bones and bruised his soul, so if ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ can gift people catharsis and joy, he’s all for it.
As Olli works his way through a box of Magnums – thanks to his freezer breaking down – we ponder how it feels to look at the last three years and the journey they’ve been on.
“Honestly, it’s felt a lot like a car wreck where emotions are high, and everyone’s flying around everywhere. It’s like ripping the training wheels off your bike,” he admits ecstatically.
“Now I’m sitting back and looking at everything, I feel like it’s starting to pay off, with all this work we’ve been doing. Where I’ve been stood screaming into a mic in front of a camera in my bedroom like a weirdo, it feels like it actually did something for someone. Sometimes I feel like an idiot, and I look back and cringe, but it’s helped us grow this thing into something special.”
Static Dress’s debut album ‘Rouge Carpet Disaster’ is out 18th May.