Slowdive on Their Reunion, “Souvlaki,” Creation Records, “Pygmalion,” and Shoegazing

Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell: Looking Back to Move Ahead

Aug 11, 2014 Issue #50 - June/July 2014 - Future Islands
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Slowdive's reformation after decades of silence is a moment that many of its fansand, at points, the band itselfnever saw coming. The reunion was spurred by an offer from Primavera Sound, the annual music festival in Barcelona, Spain. The former members of Slowdive had kept in contact over the years and occasionally mulled over the idea of getting back together, and Primavera felt like a perfect opportunity. (Shockingly, it was the first serious, official offer they recall receiving.) It would give them several months to rehearse, and if those sessionsand the gigs following themwent well, they'd give serious consideration to turning their reunion into something more permanent. Founding guitarist and vocalist Neil Halstead has expressed that he'd like for this to be more than just a trip down memory lane, and that their intention is to make another album.

"It has to be fun," singer and guitarist Rachel Goswell says, laying out the conditions for Slowdive to record a new LP. "It's really important that everybody enjoys it."

Now, with an ever-growing set of festival-headlining gigs and the possibility of a new record looming on the horizon, the five members of Slowdive's core lineup found themselves gathered in Readingthe British town where the band originally formedfor their first set of rehearsals in two decades.

"It was quite goosebump-y, some of it," says Goswell, recounting their first practice session. "I mean, we started off with 'Slowdive,' which was the first song that we [rehearsed]. And it was really weird!" she laughs. "We sounded really good, but it was just really, really spooky. We're doing this, and I was looking around at everybody and we're 20 years older. So much has happened in our respective lives in those 20 years."

To work out details of songs they've forgotten, the members of Slowdive have turned to old YouTube performance videos, fan sites, and gear databases such as GuitarGeek.

"It's quite strange going back and looking back at videos of us from that time," says Goswell. "God knows what I'm going to be thinking when I'm 60 and looking back at everything we're doing now."

As one of the quintessential British shoegaze actson equal footing with bands such as My Bloody Valentine and RideSlowdive's stature has grown well beyond any level of fame it saw before disbanding in 1995. The band was notable for combining shoegaze with elements of dream popand later, electronicafor a sound that was softer than other shoegazers', but no less complex or layered. If My Bloody Valentine used volume to paint its soundscapes, Slowdive focused more heavily on textures and vocal harmonies.

Despite all the influence its music has had over the ensuing decades, the band wasn't very prolific during its original run. The first incarnation of Slowdive formed in 1989 and only put out three albums: 1991's Just for a Day, 1993's Souvlaki, and 1995's Pygmalion.

"We were 19 when we were signed, and Slowdive ended when we were about 24," says Goswell. "It was a real kind of roller coaster ride, and very mixed. I have good and bad memories of it."

"One of the really nice things about what we did musically was how young and naïve we were," says Halstead. "I think that allowed us to be quite serious about what we did. We'd go into the studio and produce records that sounded good to us, inspired by the bands that we loved. I wouldn't really want to change that. I think in some ways it was a spontaneous and quite exciting way to do it. It might not have necessarily been the right way, but I don't think we would have made those records if we were older or more savvy."

Although they view their youth as a big factor into Slowdive's creative blend of shoegaze and dream pop, they both admit that it likely had a lot to do with the band's early demise, as well.

"We all felt like Slowdive had been our life for six years," says Halstead. "I think we all felt like we wanted to do something else. Maybe if we were a little older we might not have split up? I don't know. I think we felt we'd done as much as a band as we could at that point. We'd done three albums, and I think with Pygmalion, we got to the end of that album, and it was like, where do we go from here? There were also some personal issues, and there were lots of issues with the record label."

Goswell feels the bubble may have burst even earlier. Slowdive's labelthe now-legendary Creation Recordswas unsupportive of the group's later releases, having moved on from shoegazers. (Creation released Oasis' debut record in mid-1994, and the Britpop band quickly became the label's biggest act.) Meanwhile, Slowdive's American label, SBK, famously pulled financing midway through a U.S. tour, leaving the band stranded stateside and forcing them to pay for the remaining shows themselves.

"With Creation, I think we kind of knew when Souvlaki came out," says Goswell. "It didn't feel like there was much interest within the label about the record...and that's a shame, because that's a really good record. I think it still stands up really well today.... I guess by that point we were so out of fashion, anyway. They were moving on to different things. Primal Scream was doing very well at that point, and Teenage Fanclub, and then Britpop a bit later. And then there was grunge, although that wasn't really in the Creation bag. There were other things going on."

Despite these discouraging turns of events, Slowdive carried on for another two years. The final LP, Pygmalionrecorded primarily by Halsteadfound Slowdive's sound shifting toward atmospheric electronica. The band was dropped by its label almost immediately after the release, which signaled for the young musicians that Slowdive's time was up.

"I think we were just dispirited," says Halstead. "[Pygmalion] got terrible reviews, and we all felt, 'Well, fuck it,'" he laughs. "'Is it worth carrying on?' That's why we all felt it was probably time to call it a day."

Slowdive dissolved shortly thereafter. Halstead and Goswell went on to form the similarly beloved and dreamy acoustic folk unit Mojave 3who were working on new material in 2013and have each released solo material, as well. (Last year Halstead also put out a record with Mark Van Hoen and Nick Holton as Black Hearted Brother.) Guitarist Christian Savill formed dream pop act Monster Movie, and drummer Simon Scott has put out solo records on numerous labels, while bassist Nick Chaplin left music behind until Slowdive's reformation early this year.

"I think it ended at the right time, and I don't regret that," says Halstead of the breakup. "One thing I do regret is that we paid too much attention to what was written about the band. I think nowadays you have a much more immediate connection with your audience; you can have a connection without a middleman. For us, the connection with the audience came through the press."

By the second record, Slowdive had become the popular whipping boys in the British music weeklies. NME described Souvlakiconsidered by many to be Slowdive's finest moment, and by others a dream pop masterpieceas "pretty but unfulfilled," while Melody Maker went so far to call it a "soulless void" in their write-up. Their reviews for Pygmalion surpassed those in viciousness. Slowdive never toured extensively, and thus never had any idea whether the general audience felt the same was as the critics.

"In this day and age, when you're an artist or a band, your connection with the audience is right there," says Halstead. "I think that might have possibly sustained us at a point when we were feeling really down about things. With the music industry, it's such a different sort of world now than it was 20 years ago."

It may be possible to sum up many of these feelings of "us versus them"in regards to bands and the pressin the very name of the genre that Slowdive helped popularize. "Shoegazing" was coined by U.K. journalists to categorize this new wave of noisy, atmospheric young bands, primarily as a way of poking fun at their largely detached performance stylesand the way the guitarists' eyes seemed always fixated on the effects pedals at their feet.

"It's a proper musical genre now," Halstead says. "Before, it was a derogatory term, really. It was initially used in a review for [the band] Moose, I think. I don't think it was ever really taken seriously at the time."

"It was such an embarrassment to bands at the time, and nobody liked it," says Goswell. "We all hated it. Even now, I don't know...I don't hate it, but obviously it's not seen as a derogatory term anymore. Obviously, it was back then, at least in the U.K., anyway. But now it's cool."

The genre has since inspired a new wave of artists who craft dreamy soundscapes from pulsing layers of guitar distortion. Many of these second-generation shoegazers were too young to follow their fuzz-fueled ancestors while they were still around.

"Or not even born at the time!" Goswell corrects us, laughing.

Still, they appreciate these younger artists finding inspiration in their music. "I think it's sweet that, 20 years later, it's being used in a loving way," says Halstead of the term. "There's been a bit of a reinvention, I think."

"The genre has gone on and taken on a life of its own," Goswell continues. "It has influenced a lot of bands over the last decade or so, which is a really positive thing. And obviously it's lovely for us, as well, because it affords us this opportunity to do gigs and that kind of stuff again."

Although Slowdive may have had a rough time of it the first go-round, the band is proud of the legacy and music it left behind, and eager to see in what directions these new rehearsalsand soon, performanceswill take it.

"[Back in those days] people would ask Neil what his aim was for Slowdive, and he'd say that as an artist, all you want is longevity, and for your music to stand up in 20 years time," says Goswell. "And it has."

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's June/July print issue (Issue 50).]

 

 



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LoveF111
August 12th 2014
8:34pm

Slowdive’s story reminds me of what eventually happened with Catherine Wheel- Though CW had some success at first, in the US the label pulled support right as Adam and Eve was released. The band couldn’t tour it; they did not know how well it had been received by the fans, and they made Wishville, which was an abrupt change of course and ended up finishing the band off. It’s nice that bands don’t have to rely on labels to such an extent these days.