The pair are back with their second album Paradise, out tomorrow on Moshi Moshi, which sees them bolster their sound as Charles goes electric and lines his guitars with fuzz, while Rebecca’s drum beats are tightened and rolls accelerated. Things have developed from the energetic acoustics and marching drums of their now two year old debut Yeah, So, but its their lyricism that still distinguishes Slow Club. From the wit of ‘Where I’m Waking’, with the face-brightening line “I can see you looking at me; you got the brains, I got the body”, to the beautifully silencing lines vocalised on the stripped back ‘Gold Mountain’, these are words are built on ponderings over love, death and the tolling of time. Yet while much of the subject matter is dark, since their approach is often sardonic and is frequently put to dance-inducing melodies, darkness, quite fittingly, isn’t the prevailing mood in Paradise. Plus the album features a secret track, which is always exciting.
Slow Club made a name for themselves in Sheffield a few years ago with gigs in packed out spaces on more than one occasion turning into table-top performances, with Rebecca drumming on a chair. They’ll return for a gig on their home turf of South Yorks on Friday for the first time in a while (though I’ve been told not to expect chair bashing this time around – they can afford proper instruments now), and so we had a little chat with Charles about the band’s expectations and new directions.
A few years ago you were playing all these packed out gigs to a dedicated, excitable crowd in Sheffield; you’ve been away for a bit, but what are your expectations for the upcoming tour?
We haven’t done many gigs this year so its hard to tell what its going to be like. We did a gig in Camden a few weeks ago and it felt like the old days, playing to our crowd, and hopefully when we play the Leadmill next Friday it’ll be like that. We’re trying some different things, playing the new songs. We’re touring as a four piece, with another drummer and a bass player. Though its still just us two in the studio.
Whereas quite a few of the songs on Yeah, So had been around in your live set for a while before release, Paradise has more of a sense of being thought through, more honed. Is this down to thinking more with an album in mind from the start this time?
The first album always just felt like a bunch of songs to me because they’re all from different times and places. Once it was mastered and released it was like an album, but in my head I knew exactly where we were when we wrote each song. I listened to some of them last week for the first time in a year or so and it made me really happy; I’d forgotten so many little things about it that made me smile. But Paradise was very much written in one space and recorded at one time with the same set of instruments, which gives it more continuity between songs. The drums have got a lot to do with making it sound like an album rather than a lot of songs. We bought a new kit before we went in and there’s a very definite drum sound throughout the record.
How did your writing progress into the second album?
It was totally different. Most of what I wrote on the first record was done on guitar, a little on piano, but this time around when we started writing we didn’t want to make another album that sounded like Yeah, So, and right off the bat we had a vague idea of where we wanted it to go. I started buying lots of cheap instruments, weird keyboards and drum machines. We spent a lot of time at the house just messing around with them, trying to get something that was really exciting us rather than just sitting down with acoustics again. So a lot of it was sitting and making noises for a while before they turned in to songs.
And what was it like working with Luke Smith from Clor as producer?
He’s a total super geek! He’s very rhythm based, which is what we needed. A lot of the stuff I did on the first album is very floaty and washy, and i wanted to get out of that. There’s still quite a bit of it but its set to a bit more of a regimented beat, not as vague. He whipped Becky into shape on the drums too, pushing her to try different things. She started using symbols and high hats. I’ve never heard her play drums like she did when we made the record. I kind of don’t think of her as a drummer a lot of the time since she spends so much time singing, but she plays so loud and fast its hard not to be enthusiastic. It was a real eye opener as to what a producer is, one that pushes you to your absolute limits. If we hadn’t concentrated on that so much the album would’ve been a lot weaker.
Your lyrics often address darker subjects (I’ve read you describe this as a record on ‘death and shagging’) on a track that manages to sound upbeat. Can you tell us about the relationship between the lyrics and the music?
On Yeah, So the lyrics were the first thing, but I personally wrote less lyrics in the last two years for Paradise than in the years before. I just concentrated on music. When we were writing the album I wished I’d written more lyrics, but I’d rather not force it. In the studio it just kind of happened. Once it all started to come together some of the words changed, and we wrote two extra songs at the end. In that sense it made it a lot more of an album, as when we put vocals on one song we felt like it needed something else, so we added to the music or took something off; the words and the music informed each other.
Paradise encompasses a wide range of sounds; from Rebecca’s Twitter its clear she’s into R&B, can you tell us about the influence of musicians you drew on in approaching this record?
I got into Arthur Russell after we’d finished the first album and he’s had a lot of impact. He had this mad, long career and if you listen to his first album or his really early stuff and then listen to his disco stuff, you can’t believe its the same guy. You find out he had all these musical aliases and was so busy all the time. It’s not so much the music but the idea of being totally free to do exactly what you want that drives me. The thought that he was part of something really amazing in San Francisco, and then a movement in the ’80s and ’90s in New York, how someone can adapt their whole brain and being to fit in but to not fit in at the same time. The people I love don’t treat it like its some sort of God given right that they should be a musician and signed, but really labour at it. It might sound a bit poncey… But take Nick Cave, again not so much his music but his outlook on the way he makes his music. He’s there everyday at 8 and sits and writes until 6 and then he leaves. I like that.
A lot of people assigned Slow Club with the labels ‘twee’ or ‘folk’, which doesn’t seem to show full respect for your originality, or instil accurate expectations into people coming to your gigs for the first time this tour. What are your thoughts on bearing these labels?
I hate it. It throws people’s perceptions of what it actually is. I think about it in a song sense rather than an album or us as a band. I love sitting at home and playing classical guitar and I guess if we didn’t go to the studio and try them out in different ways then we could be a straight folk band. Sometimes people don’t do their research properly and just put things out there and, especially with bloggers, there’s no quality control. Its a great thing that everyone has a voice, but at the same time there’s so many people copy and pasting a lot of other writers that sometimes you end up with these articles that say the same thing, and you don’t get any accurate description of what the music makes them feel. Even if someone really despises it, but they write about it in such a way that says ‘I hate it because…’, I’d rather read that. At least they’re feeling something.