Slow Club on Avoiding Retro, Reverb, and Horrible Relationships Interview | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Slow Club on Avoiding Retro, Reverb, and Horrible Relationships

Two of Us

Jul 15, 2014 Photography by Kate Garner Slow Club
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One of the hardest questions a band has to answer is, unfortunately, probably one of the most common ones they are asked: what kind of music do you make? For Slow Club‘s Rebecca Taylor, that question came recently when she was making a routine stop at the hairdresser. “And I said, ‘I don’t know!’ I have no idea how to answer that question. We were a folk band, but I never really felt like we were a folk band. I know everyone says it’s hard to say what they do, but I genuinely have no idea. And that’s great, I think. I just don’t know what else to do.”

Taylor is right; Slow Club was never a folk band. Though she and co-leader Charles Watson made two albums (2009’s Yeah So and 2011’s Paradise) that included superficial nods to folk musicstarry-eyed melodies, acoustic guitar, two-part harmoniestheir music has largely defied easy categorization. That’s what makes their latest, Complete Surrender, so striking. This time, they are making overt nods to genrea bit of R&B guitar here, some soulful horns therebut the whole adds up to something that is no more a soul record than their previous releases were folk albums. It’s classic without being retro, rooted in tradition without being bound to it, and it’s their first album that feels more outward-looking than introverted. Speaking on a gray England evening, the duo discusses the shift in their songwriting approach, the differences in their musical preferences, and how their creative relationship has changed over the past eight years. [Note: These are extra portions of our interview with Slow Club, quotes that didn’t make it into our main print article on them.]

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): This record certainly has a more retro feel, but at the same time it doesn’t seem like a genre record in any sense.

Charles Watson: That’s good, because that’s what we were going for. We didn’t want it to be a retro thing. We tried to take the ethos of old records, like not being too precious with takes. The last record we did, we were very meticulous with what things we used, and we spent a long time laboring over things that on this record we decided to just go with. Some of the takes are all live, even the vocals. Some of them are first or second takes. It was really nice to know that we can do that, because on the last one, I was worrying to myself like, “Are we real musicians? Does everyone do this?” Because with technology, you can literally do anything you want, and after a certain point you have to question what’s real and why you are doing something. What’s the point in doing something if you’re just going to change it and make it perfect? I think we tried to make it a lot more honest and real. Not that the last record isn’t honest. But we wanted to leave a few more blots on it, if that makes any sense. That represents us as a live band. Even when we’re tight, we’re still pretty loose.

Were there things you did consciously to make sure the album was classic-sounding but not retro?

Rebecca Taylor: We knew we didn’t want to make a retro album, but we knew the references that we had were very much in the past and the sounds we wanted were old. But it feels like we didn’t push it too far in one way or the other. The only thing that I think is throughout it is that beautiful sound. Everything sounds as good as it can. If you try to achieve that with each song, it has a classic feel but isn’t emulating anything. New music is everyone trying to emulate something that they’ve heard and that they like. That’s what makes you like it, in a way. If you’re searching for a sound and you hear it, familiar sounds appeal to you. But I’m glad it doesn’t sound like a dated record, like a ‘60s soul record. That was there and was influencing us, but we didn’t want that. With technology, you can rip off every sound that was ever made. You could make it sound like a ‘60s record, but that’s not the point. The class and how grand those records are is what we wanted to emulate, not exactly what they sounded like.

Did you go into this album with the intention of making a different kind of record?

Charles: I guess so. I think I tried to concentrate a lot more on the lyrics for this one. On the last one, I felt like I didn’t put as much time into the words. I put a lot of time into the music and sound, but this time around I took a writing course, at the beginning of last year, just to try and flex a few different brain muscles to see if it would make any difference. And it did. I’m probably going to do that again at some point.

Do you think particular themes emerge throughout the record?

Rebecca: It’s kind of obvious that I was in a really horrible relationship that was taking over my life, really. And it was around the time that we needed to be writing our next album, and I personally couldn’t see past where I was in. I felt like I was down a well, and there was this pressure to write stuff. I started to just write anything to get the process going, and I thought, “Well, I won’t use that or that. It’s too personal.” And a lot of it ended up getting used. You just have to make your peace with it and let it go. Thematically, as a whole album, there are two people’s emotions in it. Some of the ideas that we were talking about were abstract concepts and we would write from that point together. We keep saying that the theme overall, in a weird way, is friendship. It’s not really reflected as much in the songs that I wrote, but that’s what helped more than anything, this camaraderie.

Your previous records had moments where it seemed like there were obfuscations and abstractions that were almost intended to keep listeners at arm’s length. These songs, on the other hand, are striking simply because of how direct they are.

Rebecca: It’s amazing. An example that’s a microcosm of that for me is that the first album was the first time we’d heard ourselves recorded in any way, and I always begged for as much reverb as possible. I longed for so much reverb on my vocals, because there’s something scientific about hearing the last bit of your note that makes you believe that you’re in tune or some shit like that. But it was such a comfort thing. Then the second record is still soaked in reverb, and I was still trying to fuck the sound in my vocals up. We both were, really, trying to distort it or do something else. This record, I was asking for less reverb on my vocals. It was coming out of my mouth, and I was thinking, “My god. I’ve come so far.” It’s really this mask thing that you do, this comfort thing. Reverb can sound great, but a lot of people hide behind it. All I want life to be, really, is beautiful and rich and weighty and everything to have a real class about it. I don’t think you get that with tricks. It has to be quite bare and natural. And the performance has to be really good. I found myself working so much better in that way.

Would you say it’s easy to get on the same page creatively at this point?

Rebecca: No. I wouldn’t say that that’s easy, and it gets less and less easy. And our lives have gone in really different ways, personally, and that’s brilliant. But we’ve been through so much, as well. We’ve been in each other’s pockets for nearly 10 years, and there’s got to be something in that. No disagreement would ever change what we’ve done and our relationship, so creativity becomes difficult because things I want would embarrass Charles and things he wants would bore me. We have different angles we could go off in, but if we didn’t have each other, those angles would be too indulged, I think. I think it’s good right now for us to influence each other. Music is so wide open that you can do anything you want. Plenty of musicians go too far down their own path, and it’s not good for the music. It’s difficult at times [to work together], but it’s always worth it and it’s always for the better. When it isn’t, I guess we won’t be a band anymore. But for the moment, it’s really good.

How do you think your creative relationship has changed over the years?

Charles: I think we’ve tried to be more respectful of each other’s visions. On the first album, it had to be us. The voice of the band is not I or you, it’s we. We were writing it in a parallel format almost. The last record was very much split down the middle. I feel like this one is just us backing the other one up on each other’s ideas. I feel like we respect each other’s work a lot more. Not that we ever didn’t. I just think that sometimes when you think something’s really important, with time you realize that it’s not important at all. You just have to respect someone’s space and taste.

Do you think the same things sound good to each of you?

Rebecca: I’m much more about a song than I am about a sound. I would take a really great performance over something sounding like “Oh, what’s that?” That doesn’t really get me going anymore. On our second album, I love it, but I spent the whole time saying, “It needs to sound weird! It needs to sound fucked-up!” I was constantly saying that, but I guess this is a different point in life. I like the simplicity of this album, and that’s what I wanted to hold on to, really. But the last track is pretty out there. It sounds pretty bizarre, so there’s still some of that on there.

[Note: These are extra portions of our interview with Slow Club, quotes that didn’t make it into our main print article on them.]

[Note: This article first appeared in the digital/tablet/smartphone version of Under the Radar’s June/July issue (Issue 50).]


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