UK shoegaze pioneers Slowdive have dropped their eagerly anticipated self-titled album, 22 years after their last offering Pygmalion. Anticipation for Slowdive has been climbing steadily with stellar singles ‘Star Roving’ and ‘Sugar For The Pill’ having been teased out since the beginning of the year.
“When you’re in a band and you do three records, there’s a continuous flow and a development. For us, that flow re-started with us playing live again and that has continued into the record,” said chief songwriter Neil Halstead of the reunion process.
The new LP features cover art from
To get the lowdown on life in the Slowdive camp, UTR contributor Fluffy caught up with guitarist Christian Savill to converse about reuniting with old friends, recording the new album and the dreaded 1990s music press. Stream Slowdive below and keep scrolling to read the interview…
UTR: So, Slowdive are often heralded as pioneers of the Shoegaze genre. What are your thoughts on that? Do you personally identify with that term?
I don’t know really. We’re happy to be called that. We don’t really think of ourselves as anything really. It’s nice that shoegaze has become this genre of music in its own right rather then a derogatory term. So yeah, we’ll take that.
Yeah, from what I’ve been reading, back in the day, you guys experienced a bit of sour press in regards to that, as the Britpop and grunge movements were emerging around that time...
Yeah, I think so. It was often the way it was in British music press in the early 90s, where they’d bring in a new scene, which we were the beneficiaries of, and then they’d kill it off pretty quickly to move onto the next thing. So we can’t really complain about it too much. We benefitted from their praise and then we suffered from their backlash - so that was just part of it really.
Right. All part of the hype cycle so to speak?
I think so, yeah. Back in the day, in the early 90s, the music papers, in England especially, wielded a lot of power so if they said a band was cool, they were cool, and if they turned around and said “actually, they’re rubbish” then people stopped coming to your gigs, so simple as that really.
Oh bugger. Is it a similar landscape to navigate these days with the British press? Are they still quite fierce?
No I don’t think they are, no. The NME’s not there, it’s basically just a free magazine now. A lot of those music papers are gone and I think the whole landscape’s changed. I think people find their music through different ways now, they’re part of communities. If someone says a band’s rubbish, some will make their own mind up rather then be told. Not entirely but…
More so perhaps?
Yeah, I think so.
Cool, cool. So how have you yourself been finding sweet new music to listen to?
All sorts, new and old. God, whenever people ask me that I can’t ever think of anything that I’m listening to.
It’s a tricky one hey?
Yeah, I mean, I really like listening to Mogwai. They’re a great old favourite. Mac DeMarco’s really interesting - he’s such an amazing performer. Tame Impala is just amazing. There’s loads of good new music about. I tend to like a lot of songs by bands but they seem to be a little bit inconsistent. It’s really rare for me to hear an entire album by a band.
They say it’s a single-orientated game these days, where as back in the day it was more albums. Do you find that to be the case?
I don’t know. I think people just listen to music in a totally different way these days. Where people just listen to it on their phones and they just listen to a track here and a track there, and it’s shuffling all over the place and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just different. Whether it’s impacting on quality of music, I don’t think so. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older but I’ll hear one song by a band and I’ll think “I love that, I’ll go check their album out”, and then I only like one or two songs off it which is kind of weird. So I end up listening to a lot of bits and bobs rather then whole albums.
I read that when you were first joining Slowdive you answered an advertisement asking for a female guitarist and that you were so keen to join the band that you offered to wear a dress. Did they ever take you up on that offer?
Luckily for me they didn’t because I would not look good in a dress. I was the only person to reply to the ad so I got the gig almost by default really. It was either me or nothing.
And so, that must have sparked quite the journey for yourself over the years?
Yeah, I’ve often thought about what would have happened had I not decided to send that reply off. Obviously everything would have been different. But it’s been a pretty amazing journey really, especially in the last few years, which has been a remarkable restart. I don’t think any of us saw this most recent journey we’ve been on.
Could you tell me a little bit about that and how that came to be?
Yeah, over the last few years, more and more bands have been mentioning us as an influence so more people started asking us “oh, are you going to get back together?”. At first we thought, “Well, nobody cares, so why would we?” .But then I think Primavera asked Neil [Halstead], “would he be interested in getting Slowdive back together?”. So Neil kind of broached it with the rest of us and we all jumped at it. But part of the thing was, Neil said straight away was “if we do it, I would really want us to make new music”. That’s always been at the forefront of our minds, it’s just taken us longer to do it then we hoped.
I read recently that you played a show at The Garage in London, which I understand was the venue which hosted the final performance of your original iteration back in 1993. How did that come about?
It wasn’t actually the last gig we did. I think it was one of the last gigs we did in the UK. If I remember rightly, it was a really miserable gig, In London back in '93. There was hardly anybody there and we were at a low ebb. So to come back there ... we’d just announced this show the day before, it was almost like a party really. It just felt really nice to go back and exorcise a couple of demons I guess.
Excellent, to sort of cleanse the feeling of the place for yourselves as an artistic entity, I suppose?
Something like that, yeah. But yeah it was good. A lot of people were there this time round and we did it live on the Facebook which was a new thing for us.
So from what I understand. The artwork from your latest album comes from cult animation Heaven & Earth Magic...
That’s correct, yeah.
So what about that animation influenced you?
Well, I think we’d finished the album and we were looking for some ideas that fitted with the music and we had a few things knocking about but nothing that we thought really visually summed up the mood of the record. Then Neil’s girlfriend, Ingrid, found that. They were watching the animation and as soon as they saw it they sent it to all of us and said: “What do you think? We think this is the sleeve?” and as soon as I saw it I was like “yeah that fits perfectly”. I think we just loved the idea of the girl in a box. We feel like that’s the way we wanted the people to hear the music. It’s kind of cerebral.
So in the years between Pygmalion and now, I imagine you guys all had further musical undertakings. What were you guys up to in that time period?
Yeah, I think all of us apart from Nick [Chaplin]. Nick didn’t pick up a bass at all in the 20 years in between but the rest of us were all involved in music. Neil and Rachael were in Mojave 3, Simon was doing his music, I was doing a bit of music. So we’ve all been involved in music in one way or another.
Cool and what projects did you play with in that time?
I was in a bedroom hobby band with a couple of my buddies who I’ve known for like 30 years, called Monster Movie. I guess we put a few records out but it’s very lo-fi and just for fun really.
What do you think about advances in recording technology, wherein you don’t have to hire a pricey studio in order to produce something?
We’re kind of into it. We’ll try anything that’ll help us make a record really. It’s definitely helped us on this record but we still try and do things as much as we can together to try and keep the vibe going really.
Speaking of recording studios I read that in the early sessions of recording Souvlaki, the particular studio you went to, another band had left a great slot car rig set up in the live room. I imagine that would have been a bit distracting aye?
I think it was, I think that was a big Scalextric thing and I think we said with the rubbish that we recorded down there that we should have just kept on playing with the Scalextrics.
Aww, was it really that bad?
Yeah, we didn’t have a good time down there. That was a long time ago though.
Oh no. My follow up question to that was going to be, “would these early recordings ever see the light of day?” but I guess not hey?
No, I think most of them have been leaked on Youtube and what have you - but we don’t own them so we couldn’t release them even if we wanted to. So I think they’re best left to the dust.
Also, around that time, you guys collaborated with ambient legend Brian Eno. How was he to work with?
Well, I’ll be honest with you; it was only Neil who worked with him because, our manager at the time had this crazy idea. He said: “You know what, Im going to ask Brian Eno to produce your new album”. We said: “Yeah right, he’s not going to, good luck with that.” Anyway, we got a reply from Brain Eno and he said: “Well, I don’t want to produce them but I’d be interested in collaborating.” So Neil went to a studio with Brian Eno for a day and they just worked on a few ideas and Neil bought those ideas back to us and we fleshed them out into what became a couple of songs on the record.
Cool cool. So did you have any particularly cool collaborations this time around?
No, no, we just did it all ourselves. We got Chris Coady to mix it. He did a great job. He’s worked with most noticeably for us, Beach House and we just really liked what he did.
Cool, how’d you hook up with him?
We just had a few people do test mixes for us, I'm not sure how he came about. I think he offered to do it and as soon as we heard his test mix we were just like "yep! He knows what we’re after". So Neil went out to Los Angeles to mix the whole thing with him. So we’d be in England and they’d send mixes over to us and we’d discuss it and they’d tweak it and gradually we got there.
So have you guys got many plans for grand tours and the like supporting the new album?
Yeah, basically we’re out ‘til early December now from next week on really. We’re doing America, South America, festivals all over the place. We’re hoping that someone will have us to do Australia and New Zealand later in the year. If somebody’ll have us.
Amazing, I’m sure somebody will.
Haha, we’ll see. I hope so.
So, on the Wikipedia entry for your first album, there’s the wonderfully coined term of phrase ‘experimentation with sound and cannabis were commonplace for the recording of Just For A Day'. So what are your views on brain chemistry influencing artistry? Being it musical or visual et cetera?
Well, y’know, as long as it’s not the whole sum of it. People can do whatever they want but people shouldn’t assume "oh, gee, if I take a load of smack I’m going to make a record as good as the Velvet Underground". It just doesn’t work like that. For every Velvet Underground, there’s a billion bands that just fail miserably because of that. So, it’s a good supplement but it’s not everything.
Very well put. So what was your favourite tune on the new record?
I’m gonna say ‘Star Roving’ just because when we started playing that one, I think it felt like the record was really coming together ... and it just felt like we were kids again, just getting really excited by the music that we were making, which is why we started the band in the first place.