One of 2014's undoubted comeback success stories has to be that of Slowdive. Written off by sections of the music press before being dropped by their label Creation shortly after the release of third (and final, to date) album Pygmalion in 1995. However, having been namechecked and cited as an influence by a host of bands ever since - Mogwai, Sigur Ros, Radiohead and M83 being among that number - the band announced their reformation in January of this year.
Their first show at London's Village Underground sold out in minutes, while ensuing performances at various festivals around the globe also drew large audiences. More importantly, the shows themselves felt like euphoric homecomings. Global recognition at last for one of the most iconic and influential bands in recent years.
Currently preparing for a tour of North America later this month where they'll play fourteen shows before returning home to rehearse for their two December dates at London's Forum. DiS caught up with three of the band - Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell and Simon Scott - to discuss this year's reunion, their legacy, the new album they're planning to make and longevity going forward.
DiS: How was it playing together again after all these years? Did everything fall into place quite easily?
Simon Scott: From my perspective it felt a little bit like riding a bike. When we first got together in January it gave us a rough idea of what tracks we'd attempt to play. So I spent the first couple of weeks in January just driving around listening to the old tunes. That was how I initially rehearsed. Just getting the song structures in my head. The rest of the guys got together to figure out tunings and there were a few discussions over what pedals they needed or wanted to get in order to build up an effects pedal soundbank. Neil didn't own an electric guitar at the time. He had to borrow a Telecaster from a friend. Everybody had to buy a bunch of new gear. I ended up buying a new drumkit even though I'd drummed for James Blackshaw last year so had the whole kit. We knew we had to play the songs really well. It actually clicked really quickly. It felt like we'd been in a rehearsal room together quite recently rather than twenty-one years. Last time we all played together was early '94.
Rachel Goswell: We started rehearsing in January and just did one weekend a month until May when we did a full week, then that was it. It felt quite easy to be honest. And just really good fun. We got new pedal boards so that was quite enjoyable too, playing around with new technology. Some songs required more work than others but generally it's been really good fun. All quite exciting!
Neil Halstead: It was a real pleasure. Once we'd figured out some of the basic tunings and arrangements it felt good and everyone enjoyed really it.
DiS: How did you eventually decide on which songs to play for the initial round of shows?
Neil Halstead: Initially, we consulted amongst ourselves and decided to go with the ones we were most keen on playing. Rachel did a bit of a consensus on Twitter to find out what people wanted or expected us to play. So the whole set was eventually cobbled together from that. It was quite obvious to us which songs we should play. We definitely wanted to do some songs off Pygmalion because we hadn't done that before.
Rachel Goswell: There are songs that are obvious ones to play, and I suppose with us doing so many festivals some of the set times could be quite short so we had to stick to what we thought would be crowd pleasers. For want of a better word. It is quite difficult as we all have our own personal favourites. We also gauged Twitter and Facebook to see what people were saying they wanted to hear, which was really interesting because there were a lot of requests for songs we're not playing, so we're taking note of things from that.
DiS: Simon didn't play on the Pygmalion record. Was it difficult for you to incorporate those songs into the live set?
Neil Halstead: I think Simon slotted into those songs pretty well. He's been making experimental records in that sort of vein for the last ten years or so. They're a little bit different to the other Slowdive songs but it seems to work fine with the rest of the set. There's a nice contrast between the Pygmalion songs and some of the earlier ones.
Simon Scott: I didn't have anything to do with Pygmalion whatsoever which in hindsight is really bizarre as that record has some of my favourite Slowdive songs on it. I can hear so much mid to late nineties post-rock that came as a result of that record. I left because I was told there wouldn't be any drums on the album. I just didn't see any point in sticking around. I wasn't poached by another band and there were no artistic differences between me and the rest of Slowdive. Neil had been dropping hints that he wanted to make a record that was technology based. Which is quite ironic as I ended up building software patches on my laptop and eventually launched an ambient electronic solo project of my own. I'm a huge fan of Pygmalion. It's a really beautiful record so when we were discussing which songs to play there were always going to be at least a couple from that album in the set. Neil suggested 'Blue Skied An' Clear' and asked if I had any ideas. So I made some samples from parts of the record then looped them on my laptop so I could trigger those live. The actual drum part uses samples on a loop anyway. There are no live drums on that record whatsoever. So I heard the part and learned it. It was fairly straightforward. I added some extra bits of technology to really beef the sound up live. 'Crazy For You' is similar on the record in that the drums are mixed back through a loop on a delay pedal. So when we got down to rehearsing it Neil had an idea to try and make it a little bit more like Neu! or Can. He wanted it to be repetitive but also heavy and then as we played it - which was basically Nick (Chaplin) the bass player, Neil and myself - we jammed around this loop for a while which expanded into a brand new version of the song to what you hear on the record. I find working with Neil as a songwriter for four years very intuitive - even though it was twenty years ago. So I guess that's why it felt quite natural and also why we're all really excited - if a little nervous - about making a new Slowdive record, which is going to happen imminently.
DiS: Is there a projected release date for the new album? Are there any songs in place already and if so, will any of these form part of the live set before the end of the year?
Simon Scott: The answer to all those questions is no! We've booked some time in the studio where we are literally going to turn up with our instruments, stick a little cassette player in the corner and play around with a few ideas. Just see where it takes us. Neil is predominantly the main songwriter in Slowdive and he doesn't just want to come in with lots of preconceived ideas. He wants the sound to develop between the five of us, which is how we tended to work back in the day. He'd sometimes turn up with some sketches on a four-track which he would then play to us and we'd end up jamming them out. He'd always have a vibe in his head so one piece might be Nick Drake jamming with Syd Barrett, or David Bowie sharing a pipe with Can. We've deliberately steered away from speaking about it too much. We'd rather just be inspired by one another. We initially jammed 'Golden Hair' when we first got back together and since then it's developed and changed, got heavier and that has inspired us towards approaching the new record with a very open mind. In terms of ideas for new songs, I'm Neil's got one or two. I have, same with Rachel and also Christian (Savill) as he writes as well. But instead of talking about it too much we just want to see what happens. So much time has passed and we just want to see if something fresh comes out of it. We'd rather not spoil it by having lots of preconceived ideas. The five of us are incredibly excited at the possibilities with this record, but at the same time we're also very critical of ourselves. I think that came as a result of the battering we got from the press back in the early nineties.
Neil Halstead: There's no release date or anything like that. The plan for us is to do the shows. We've got the American tour coming up and the London dates. After those we're hoping to get together and work on some new material. If it sounds good then we'll attempt to record it. Attempt to make a record. That's our aim. But there's no schedule or timescale as such. At this stage anyway.
Rachel Goswell: I'm really looking forward to it. We're going to have a couple of weeks off when we come back from America and then get in a rehearsal room. I've heard one or two bits from Simon, and I know Neil's been doing some writing over the summer as well. Initially we'll just jam and see what comes out of it. I'm really excited about it. We've been having so much fun on tour. I said at the start that was the key to it for me. Having fun. We're also really passionate about what we're doing which feels nice.
DiS: Everything has turned full circle pretty much in that Slowdive are now revered as one of the most influential bands of the past twenty-five years. When did you first become aware of such reverence?
Simon Scott: We've all gradually become aware of that. I think it really came home to me after the Primavera show in Barcelona when the organisers came up and said 25,000 people had watched us. At that point we all just burst into tears. Mainly as an emotional release of relief in that we managed to not bugger it up in front of 25,000 people! It was the largest gig the five of us had ever played. It's incredibly flattering that people are still interested after all these years. And also incredible that people cite Slowdive as an influence when forming their band. We've spoken to people after our shows who've driven seven hours to be there, had 'When The Sun Hits' as their wedding song or said 'Alison' kept them going when their best friend died. When people tell us how much our music has inspired them it amazes me. Especially after all this time.
Rachel Goswell: It was really overwhelming. Really overwhelming actually. I don't think I'll ever forget it. I remember having to get up at nine o'clock in the morning to soundcheck and it was pissing down with rain! I don't think it really hit any of us until we were standing there looking out at all those people staring back at us. I don't think you can really comprehend that size of an audience. It was very special and really emotional.
Neil Halstead: I don't think any of us were expecting the reaction we got. It all came as a bit of a shock to be honest, so we're enjoying it. It's nice to feel so much positive energy towards us at this point than there was first time round. Certainly around the time we finished recording Pygmalion anyway. We all felt we'd had enough of the band. It wasn't a happy time. So yeah, it's nice to revisit our past and enjoy it this time around. The important thing for us has been how much fun it is. For us to reconnect as friends and spend so much time with each other. We haven't seen a lot of each other as a band over the last twenty years, and that part of it has been great.
DiS: Your legacy has inspired artists like Mogwai, M83 and Sigur Ros among a legion of others. Does it make you feel proud of what the band achieved?
Simon Scott: It does, it's amazing. I love Mogwai. Since Slowdive split up, I've gone out and bought nearly all of their records. Same with Sigur Ros. There's an awful lot of experimental artists who've namechecked us as well. I've lost count of the number of solo shows I've played with other artists and someone's tapped me on the shoulder after and said the first band they ever saw live when they just turned sixteen at some small venue in Sweden were Slowdive and it inspired them to make music. It's just incredible, it really is.
Neil Halstead: We feel good that people are still being inspired by the records at this point. We're proud of certain records we put out. I think some are better than others. It's a strange one I guess, as we've always been aware there were bands influenced by Slowdive. I think this summer brought it home to us in many ways. It was really nice to play with Mogwai and talk to those guys. And also other bands who said they were influenced by us and various bands from the same period.
Rachel Goswell: Oh Mogwai! Stuart (Braithwaite) used to come to our gigs when he was little. I love them, they're such a great band.
DiS: You're playing two shows at London's Forum venue in December with Deaf Centre (Friday 19th) and Hookworms (20th). What made you decide on that particular venue and did you personally choose the support acts?
Simon Scott: We chose the Forum because it's where we liked to come and play back in the day. We had some pretty good experiences there plus when all's said and done, there aren't really that many great venues in London. I saw My Bloody Valentine play at the Roundhouse and even though they were fantastic, didn't really like the venue. It didn't seem to suit them as a band. So we crossed that off the list early on. The Forum is quite easy to get to. You come straight out of Kentish Town tube station, turn right and there it is. There's a pub opposite which is always important! We headlined there a couple of times in the early nineties and played with Ride and Swervedriver too if I remember rightly.
Neil Halstead: We did think about doing one show at the Roundhouse but then eventually plumped for the Forum instead. Our thoughts were more about what the sound would be like and it will be better in there. They've just had a new PA installed.
Rachel Goswell: We've got a history with the Forum and really like playing there. I still call it the Town & Country Club. I can't get my head round it being called the Forum. I guess it's difficult gauging what size venue to go for after what happened with the Village Underground show selling out quickly, which again was another shock. The audiences have been such a mix in terms of age too. Lots of young people as well as those that saw us first time around.
Neil Halstead: I really love Hookworms' music. They played with us in France this summer and they were great. So I was very keen to get them for one of the shows. I don't really know Deaf Centre that well. Simon's a big fan of theirs. He was really keen to get them on the bill and from what I've heard, they're great too. Simon Scott: We sat down and discussed who we'd like to come and play with us and I think we've chosen two very special bands. I don't know a lot about Hookworms but I've listened to their stuff and really like it. I don't know if there's a lot of contemporary shoegaze in there but the seeds are there and they're quite psychedelic. I'm also really excited about seeing Deaf Centre. I've played with them before. They're a Norwegian electronic duo, massive Slowdive fans in fact, but also influenced by classical musicians like David Lynch and film noir soundtracks. Again, they're taking the seed of something Slowdive had and taking it off to another universe completely.
Rachel Goswell: We chose the support bands ourselves. Hookworms opened in Paris for us. It was Hookworms and then Loop then us. I thought they were a really good band. Lots of energy, a bit different to what people might expect, so that's why we chose them. Deaf Centre again are very different, as Simon's already pointed out. He sent us their music and we really liked it. It will be great to have an instrumental band play with us and there's a nice, gentle vibe to them which fits in with how we want to open the night.
DiS: I guess they're both prime examples of how diverse a lot of the bands inspired by your music are.
Rachel Goswell: Yeah, I guess so. There's another band we played with recently, Deafheaven. We crossed paths with them a lot of times over the summer at festivals and it turns out they're massive Slowdive fans. I chatted to all of them and they're really great guys. The singer told me he grew up on Slowdive and Mojave 3. He said he had all of our records and I was like, "Really?" Guitar-wise I can hear elements of our sound but the vocals are from another place altogether. I asked him how he managed to sing like that without buggering up his voice! So it's been great meeting all these different bands and chatting to them. Temples are another band we've played with a lot this summer who I really like. We have no influence on them whatsoever apart from Sam the drummer who's a massive fan. I had a few good chats with him in various countries.
Neil Halstead: Both Hookworms and Deaf Centre are coming at it from different angles and it's great to see bands inspired by that period creating their own slant on things.
DiS: Will there be any songs from your back catalogue that haven't been played so far this year added to the live set for the two London shows?
Simon Scott: I don't want to spoil it but yeah, I think it's fair to say there'll be a couple of songs in there that haven't been heard yet.
Rachel Goswell: We're actually rehearsing next week for the American tour and will be adding some more songs in, maybe another four or five. Hopefully we'll get them sounding really good while we're out there with the intention of playing them at the Forum. The set times should be a lot longer so hopefully there'll be a few surprises.
Neil Halstead: There'll definitely be three or four songs that we've not played so far. We're back in rehearsals at the end of this week. We're going to try and fit in at least a couple of songs from the first album because we've not been playing anything off that record bar the singles. So we want to represent that a little bit more. We'll maybe have a go at 'Spanish Air'. It's just a case of trying a few out and seeing which ones sound the best.
DiS: Will there be a full UK tour?
Simon Scott: Not as far as I'm aware, no. We're doing these two London shows because the Village Underground sold out in ninety seconds or whatever. There may be a tour one day, but not for a while. We're just focused on making the new record at the minute.
Rachel Goswell: It has been great playing the festivals and re-introducing ourselves. But I wouldn't want to go on tour just playing old songs all the time. With the forthcoming American tour it's similar to playing the festivals in that we're introducing ourselves to people again as well as giving us the opportunity to play together and become tighter musically. There would be little point doing lots of touring next year unless there's a new record to promote.
Neil Halstead: I think it's important to us that we're not just seen as a heritage band. If there's no new material next year than I wouldn't expect there to be any shows. We would like to do some shows in England that aren't in London, so maybe we could figure something out next year?
DiS: Is the reunion permanent?
Simon Scott: It feels like it. None of us want this to end. We had a big party in Geneva two weeks ago which marked the end of the festival run we'd been playing where we all sat down and looked back at the past few months. We've had a fantastic summer. Not only playing the shows and meeting new people, but also on a personal level in that we've all enjoyed each other's company. We seem to have formed a stronger bond than the one we had first time around when we were twenty-years-old. We've got a lot in common and feel really inspired. I think if the new record is as good as we want it to be - because we certainly wouldn't release a mediocre album - and people like it and want to hear those songs played live, there's every chance we'll be continuing.
Rachel Goswell: Who knows? You can ask any band that. "Are you permanent?" Certainly for the next few years I'd like to think. It all depends on how the new record turns out. We have to put out a stonkingly good record for starters and take things from there. We don't have the same pressures from the record label that we had before. We're doing everything on our own terms now. We're a lot older now so we make our own choices, and it's a nice position to be in.
Neil Halstead: At the minute our mindset is purely focused on making another record. If we come up with something worthwhile and good then we'll continue. If not then it probably isn't long term, no.
DiS: Have you signed to a label or will you be putting the record out yourselves?
Neil Halstead: We've not thought too much about that either. The important thing for us is to get to that stage where we have something recorded. I guess these days record labels aren't such a necessary part of the equation. We can do stuff independently, do it ourselves. There's a lot of different scenarios. Lots of different imprints to put records out these days. Obviously at some point we're gonna have to think about it.
Simon Scott: We've all done a lot of music since we weren't needed by Creation Records any more so we've all got a fuller, slightly cynical but also more realistic view of what the music industry is like. We haven't decided on anything but there's various things we could do. You can do all sorts of things in this day and age. Even get fans involved via Kickstarter or whoever which could help finance some of the studio costs. Or we could just record it ourselves and hunt around for a label to release it. It's an interesting time for bands. The music industry's changed so much since we signed to Creation and did the whole "make a new record, promote it, tour it then start again" merry-go-round. It's empowering for musicians who have already got an audience so it's really exciting to be doing a new Slowdive record with so many choices ahead of us. What choice we may eventually make, I couldn't say at this stage.
Neil Halstead: I've never felt let down by Creation or Alan (McGee) dropping us. I think by that point we were no longer a Creation band. They'd moved on and so had we. I'm just grateful they let us put out Pygmalion. If it had come out on Warp Records maybe it would have been perceived differently?
Rachel Goswell: The whole Creation story is well documented and been out there for years. It is what it is. This time? I don't know. There are so many options. There has been people get in touch about releasing our music but we're not in a rush to decide just yet. We'll see after we've made the record, then make a decision.
Neil Halstead: The possibilities are endless for releasing records nowadays.
DiS: With the shows throughout the summer being an unprecedented success, do you feel Slowdive have finally got one over the detractors who pretty much derailed the band first time around?
Rachel Goswell: That wasn't our intention! It wasn't why we did it. Although it seems to have worked out like that. It's very odd. I'm still pinching myself. Because there was interest for us to play again - mainly just from people buying the records - it gave us an incentive to get back together. And one thing we always wanted from the outset was longevity. Which I think is what any band wants, really. Luckily, and thankfully for us, we had such a good time. With so many new bands coming along and citing us as an influence I guess it's inevitable that more people will hear our music. We're quite happy with how things have gone this year.
Neil Halstead: My personal view is that we got caught up in something that wasn't necessarily about the band. We did get a lot of flak at the time but so did a lot of other bands too. For us, it just feels nice that people can appreciate the band for what it is away from that scene. Out of what was happening in 1991 and 1992. It feels nice that we're not just sen as being part of this scene that became redundant.
For more information on Slowdive visit their official website.