Shoegaze Week: DiS talks to Simon Scott about his time in Slowdive
Simon Scott has spent over twenty years making music with numerous outfits, and still continues to make music today both as a solo artist - indeed, his forthcoming long player Navigare is released on Miasmah Records in June - and also as a member of both Televise and Seavault.
It would be fair to say, however, that he is perhaps best known for being one-fifth of iconic shoegaze outfit Slowdive, and even though he only spent three years with that band, his work on groundbreaking albums Just For A Day and Souvlaki was an undoubtedly essential part of the legendary status that his old outfit have attained over time.
Speaking candidly about his time in Slowdive and subsequent work, in the second of our interviews with former members of the iconic Slowdive, DiS is honoured to bring you one of the most insightful conversations we've had with an artist in many a time...
DiS: You've been involved in music for over twenty years now, from your earliest days with The Charlottes and Slowdive through to working with Lowgold, forming Televise and of course your solo work. How does it feel to see so many new bands citing yourself and the various people you've played with as an influence for starting a band?
SS: Flattering and very kind are the words that spring to my mind! I feel very happy to have been part of something musical that has influenced how people make music or even just listen to it. I remember hearing My Bloody Valentine and The Cocteau Twins and thinking "this is the sound I want to make" so I am delighted to be associated with something so positive and inspiring.
DiS: I remember seeing The Charlottes open for Ride many years ago in Nottingham. Did you think back then that your career - if that's the right term to use - would turn out the way it has?
I was drumming in The Charlottes when I was sixteen so to me then I was doing what I always wanted to do which was play music. I knew from the age of eleven music would be what I'd do with my life so to me I was just doing my thing and taking it all very seriously. That is why when I overheard half of the band discussing going off to university I began to plot my next move and along came Slowdive who asked me to join them.
DiS: You are probably best known for your work with Slowdive. Is there a particular recording from that time which you are most pleased with or proud of?
I am proud of being in Slowdive as it was a great band and both albums are special to me, as are a lot of the extra tracks we did as b-sides etc too. If I had to pick one favourite track it would be 'Catch The Breeze' but Souvlaki is a better album and Brian Eno is on it too which is a real treat personally. We also did a cover version of my hero Syd Barrett's 'Golden Hair' which is really great and "Avalyn" live was good too...
DiS: I recall Slowdive getting some quite vicious comments in the music press at the height of their fame. Did that affect you at the time or were you quite oblivious to the whole thing?
Yes it did affect us as we were all teenagers at the time and we couldn't understand why people were so outraged by our sound that they had to tell the NME or whoever that they wanted us dead! Now I think it was attention seeking by bands who were struggling to have anything interesting to talk about.
DiS: The term "shoegaze" was initially cast as a derogatory term, mainly due to the stance bands such as Slowdive displayed on stage and also because of many of the bands making similar music's Home Counties origins. Over time, the label has become synonymous with some of the most ambitious and innovative music of the last two decades. How do you react when people describe you or your music as "shoegaze"?
I always thought Robert Smith, when he was in Siouxsie & The Banshees playing guitar, was the coolest as he just stood there and let the music flood out. That anti showmanship was perfect so I never really understood why people began to use "shoegaze" as a negative term. I think if Slowdive didn't stand there looking at what pedal was about to go on and off we'd have been shite. If we'd have behaved like Van Halen it would have been a comedy band so I am glad we were static and concentrated on playing well. Now it is a positive term and people seem to be tagging "shoegaze" onto a lot of really interesting musical projects so finally after all these years it is not a dirty word. "Shoegaze", "ambient electronica", "dream pop" or "Gloom gaze" are all appropriate and positive terms for my music past and present.
DiS: You left Slowdive just before third album Pygmalion. Looking back, do you still feel you made the right decision to leave at that time or would you change the past if it were possible?
If I could change the past I would have taken us right back into the studio and done a third album that featured all of the great songs we never released such as 'Silver Screen' and 'Joy' but unfortunately the band had unravelled by then. Creation were hinting that it was all over so I decided to go and hook up with other musicians and got offered some nice gigs etc so I just left. I think Pygmalion was a Neil (Halstead) and Rachel (Goswell) album essentially so I'd have been called in to add one snare part perhaps and I just wanted to play music so it would have been a waste of time.
DiS: After that, you worked with various people including Chapterhouse, Lowgold and Saint Etienne, before forming Televise, your first role as a main songwriter and frontman. Was starting your own band something you had intended to do all along, or did it just seem like the logical next step?
The very first thing I did was write a bunch of songs where i recorded all the parts and sent it to Sarah Records who wrote back asking to put it out. This was just as The Charlottes began so I never got round to getting it out but I never considered myself as just a drummer. In 1997 I got a band together called Inner Sleeve who signed to Fierce Panda and I sang and played guitar so that was the first time I got on stage as a frontman. This is when Lowgold got signed by Nude so I went drumming for them for a few years and returned to Inner Sleeve but changed the name to Televise. 'Smile' was on that album and I re-recorded it as Televise in 2002 which is on Songs To Sing In A&E.
DiS: What would you say is different about Televise to all of the other bands you have worked with?
Televise differs from a couple of other bands I have just drummed for as I have complete freedom to do whatever I creatively want to do. I have a studio at home so if I can't sleep I go in there and I don't have any restrictions on what instrument I play.
DiS: You also play in Seavault as well as run your own label (KESH) and have your first solo album Navigare ready for release any day now. How do you find the time to combine so much work?
I guess I am very driven creatively and I love making music so it doesn't seem like so much work to me. My KESH label is refreshing as I give people the opportunity to release great music and I get the occasional Televise/Simon Scott remix by bands or artists I love such as Hannu, Greg Davis and Sawako. When Televise gigged with Isan we had a beer after the show and suddenly it was the "we should collaborate on some tracks" conversation and the next thing we knew Morr Music were putting it out. My solo record, Navigare, has a cinematic quality which I felt may suit what Erik at Miasmah recordings was into so I sent him a CD and he wanted to release it. I really like the freedom of having various projects on the go as Simon Scott, Televise, Seavault and running a record label are all characteristically different so it always seems fresh.
DiS: How would you describe Navigare musically in comparison to your other works?
The feel is different from Televise and Seavault because despite there being huge reverbed guitars and drums it is much moodier with some deep melancholic themes and electronic sound samples. My uncle was a submarine officer and he died from alcohol abuse and this has seeped into some of the tracks. Moving out of London back to Cambridge has also affected the tone of the album as Televise is essentially a shoegaze band from London and this is a totally different musical progression. I also use Max/MSP and SuperCollider on some of the tracks subtly mixing technology with my old tape samples and field recordings. I guess Navigare draws from many more musical sources and I play a huge amount of different instruments on this album which mix together well with various electronic textures.
DiS: What is your opinion on the so-called perceived "shoegaze revival", or are you like me in thinking that those kind of artists never really went away, just the media ignoring them instead?
Everything spins in and out of fashion and following on from everything being about the 1980's the early 1990's was obviously going to become the next big thing. To be honest I have been seeing the influence of shoegazing come and go for years so it seems really great that a revival has appeared. Mogwai, The Polyphonic Spree, Bloc Party, Lali Puna, Deerhunter, Godspeed YBE!, Epic 45 and the movie Lost In Translation have been inspired by shoegazing. It is odd how fresh the MBV and Slowdive albums sound today which is why it has stood the test of time and makes me proud to have been in Slowdive.
DiS: Of the newer, post-millennium bands who are releasing records on labels like AC30, Sonic Cathedral and Northern Star among others, which ones have caught your eyes and ears the most?
I love what has happened in electronic circles with shoegaze as it has been taken to another place such as a lot of the releases on labels such as 12k, Morr Music, City Centre Offices and Ghostly International. A lot of electronica has a huge shoegaze influence and I always get comments from label bosses or artists who mention being fans of Slowdive and Chapterhouse. The fact that people are starting up clubs and labels to expose great music with a shoegaze flavour is fantastic.
DiS: Are there any other bands out there you think we should be looking out for?
The Sight Below is an electronic shoegaze artist from Seattle and is amazing, Taylor Deupree from 12k releases some awesome records such as Moskitoo, Sawako and Chris Willts. Aus from Japan is great and his label Flau is brilliant with releases from Orla Wren and Cokiyu. Also Cornelius is fantastic and in particular the track 'Star Fruits Rider' which is old school shoegaze but with a modern twist. Miasmah has released quality albums and the Jasper TX album Black Sleep is a must for anyone with a shoegaze/Gloomgaze fetish.
DiS: In hindsight, if you could relive the past twenty years, would you do anything differently?
I regret drinking so heavily in Slowdive now as it took me two years to recover from all those tours (he he)! Seriously I wouldn't change anything as I have been in some pretty good bands and have musically learnt so much.
DiS: Finally - and this is a question from several people (which I'm sure you've heard too many times before...) - do you ever see Slowdive reforming in the same way people like My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver did last year?
Personally speaking it would be great to play those two albums again live and we are all still friends but surely it is too soon? MBV formed in 1980 and Slowdive in 1989 so maybe in nine years time we'll have a play together....
For more information on Simon Scott and forthcoming live dates visit his MySpace