Recently did a J.R Hartley and purchased an old issue of Lime Lizard magazine, which features an interview I did with Slowdive, just prior to the release of Souvlaki. Full text below.
PART ONE: RETURN OF THE SONIC SURREALISTS
‘Surrealism is the systemisation of confusion. Surrealism appears to create an order but the purpose of this is to render the idea of the system suspect by association. Surrealism is destructive but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.’ Salvador Dali
Innovative music has always had parallels with artistic movements. Brian Eno and Cabaret Voltaire created early ambient electronica in an attempt to emulate the ideology of Dada into sound. Dada was an anti-art movement beginning in Zurich 1915 repudiating artistic convention and was a revolt against the mindlessness of World War I. Punk (and later the KLF) borrowed heavily from the international Situationist movement. Slowdive though have come closest to replicating Surrealism, transforming chaos and opposing elements into sheer beauty. Their new E.P Outside Your Room and soon to follow album Souvlaki (which features collaborations with the aforementioned Brian Eno) should see them finally diminish lazy comparisons to their label mates and elders My Bloody Valentine. “I think the Valentines are great but I think there was a point after our first E.P that we stopped sounding like them,” reckons vocalist/guitarist Neil Halstead, “I don’t think there’s anything on this album you could say sounds like the Valentines”. “The Valentines were always a lot more raw than us anyway,” chimes in bassist Nick Chaplin, “they were a lot noisier.”
Slowdive are quite deservedly proud of their new LP although even they’re not sure just who it’ll appear to now. “When we did Slowdive and Avalyn we never imagined that they would come out on record,” says Nick, “our kind of attitude has always been that we’ll just make a record we really like and it’s the same with this one. I’ve thought about it, I’ve thought who’s gonna come to our gigs, if anyone. Some of our original fan base I imagine will still be there and I imagine we’ll probably pick up some new ones. I mean, I’ll take my younger brother as an example: at the time we did Just For a Day he wasn’t remotely interested in music, whereas now he is 17, buys the music papers and is really into Belly, Sugar and stuff. Now he’s someone who wouldn’t have been interested two years ago, so perhaps we’ll pick up some of those.”
Drummer Simon Scott hopes Slowdive have now surpassed being generic ‘Indie-kid’ fodder: “indie is for your 16 year old boy who hasn’t got a girlfriend or girl who hasn’t got a boyfriend. I went to see Radiohead when they supported Kingmaker and basically everyone there looked 15 or 16 and all had on their army jackets and uniform haircuts. I’m not slagging them off, it’s just that we’re all 22 now.”
“It’s different now from when we released our the first album,” says Neil, “because good music isn’t just coming from one particular point. You don’t get that any more, you get good bands coming from other areas as well like dance music.”
Speaking of which, wouldn’t it have been easier on yourselves to have gone into say, Ambient Dub like The Orb? “We sort of discovered that when we were doing mixes of Souvlaki Space Station,” answers Nick. “I remember Neil was saying this is easy, let’s do a whole LP like this, tongue in cheek of course and yeah, I suppose it would be easier, but then it wouldn’t be true to us really.”
“I think the first album was a lot more ambient,” Neil adds. “Personally I think it’s fairly easy to do but I think that people like The Orb do it really well. To do it well is quite difficult.”
PART TWO: ULTRASILENCE Vs ULTRAVIOLENCE (SLOWDIVE ENTER THE ULTRAWORLD)
Ambient killed the indie-kid. The new school of ambient electronica generated by post-dance artists, it could be argued, is a distillation of 80s independent music during its creative peak. The likes of Gary Cobain of Future Sound of London and Phil Hartnoll of Orbital will happily tell you that early Factory Records and 4AD are as much a point of reference as late 80s Detroit techno. It’s no surprise to them then that their music seems to appeal to many kids ripped on My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins and Slowdive. “I think that our music perhaps has always had that appeal,” thinks Neil, “but I think press-wise no one picked up on it. The main difference between us and say The Orb is that they’re less to do with pop. I think we’re just basically a pop band with bits of ambient.”
In the two years since Just For a Day, indie’s meaning has become somewhat blurred. Morrisey the appointed figurehead of 80s Indiedom recently took the predominately white stereotypical view of indie to its furthest extreme – Fascism, when he controversially surrounded himself with Nationalist imagery whilst on stage at Finsbury Park. “I was never a fan of his anyway so it all just glossed over me,” says Nick. “If he’s got racist tendencies then he’s an arsehole (but I think) it’s all just slogans. It’s like all that early Joy Division and New Order fiasco. I really like New Order but I wouldn’t like to think that they had those kind of (Nazi) beliefs. I mean they say it’s just sloganeering but I guess they would, they wouldn’t come out and say we’re all racist bastards.”
The flipside of the Morrissey debacle is that Suede with their bisexual suggestiveness and the Riot Grrrl movement seem to have been seized upon by the ‘inkies’ (NME and Melody Maker) in an attempt to be on the right side of political correctness.
“I don’t really know that much about the Riot Grrrl thing although I’ve read bits about it,” admits Rachel Goswell. “It hasn’t really interested me. I just don’t see the point of being part of this massive group of women. I just don’t need it. I’d much rather be an individual on my own.”
PART THREE: DON’T LOOK DOWN (SLOWDIVE Vs THE SCENE)
If music spoke for itself then Slowdive wouldn’t have a problem. Yet even now the decidedly uncool dark cloud that is the term Shoegazer still lures over them. It’s ironic when you consider that it was a journalist who coined the phrase and not one of the now tarnished bands. As a result, bands now seem to have become more calculated in their image at the expense of actual creativity.
“Sometimes when I read the music papers I get the impression that it’s a bit of a competition to see who’s most articulate at writing,” thinks Simon. “I don’t think it used to be like that,” adds Nick. “I remember a few years ago, like before Slowdive, I’d read the music papers and there didn’t seem to be the mass hyping of bands that seems to have gone on in the last year or last couple of years. I don’t remember anything like the Suede hype ever. I mean they are a good band, yeah, but I can’t really understand how they’re getting to be this huge band just through having like 8 hundred front covers in one week. I do really like them you know, but I don’ t think they’re that special. It seems like the music papers nowadays just pick up on something like that and turn it into a huge thing.”
“I think people place too much importance on the whole press thing,” reckons Neil. “I think people should go out and hear the bands rather than just reading about them.”
Do you think part of Slowdive’s apparent image problem is that you’re seen as too serious?
“I think it’s because we’re always asked serious questions in interviews and we’re just not prepared,” says Neil. “People normally ask us questions like why are you so shit?” adds Nick, “and we’re prepared then because we are!” Unfortunately it’s not just the press who view them as a little serious. “Who was it, was it Greg from Drop Nineteens who said that we’re really serious and should cheer up a bit?” asks Nick, “yeah, what a wanker,” answers Rachel, “He looks like Paul Simon!”
Serious image aside Souvlaki is a massive accomplishment by any band’s standards. Pairing Brian Eno’s ambient visions with a quintessential English pop sensibliity that goes far and beyond Just For a Day’s looser dreampop meanderings. However it doesn’t slot neatly into the current glam revival, Souvlaki Space Station in many ways couldn’t sound any more 90s. “I wouldn’t say that we’re retro like some bands that consciously go out and say we’re going to look like this and sound like this,” explains Nick. “I mean look at us – we just look how we look normally. We haven’t got a preconceived image or anything like that. We’re more sort of earthy if you get what I mean.”
The U.F.O(rb) has now left Souvlaki Space Station. Watch the skies….