One of this year's most eagerly anticipated releases is Slowdive, the self-titled fourth (and first in twenty-two years) album by the legendary shoegaze outfit of the same name. Released on Friday 5 May, early signs from the two singles released so far ('Star Roving' and 'Sugar For The Pill') suggest it bares all the hallmarks of classic Slowdive, from the former's widescreen anthemic rush to the latter's quieter atmospheric lullaby.
Here, drummer Simon Scott tells DiS about how the album came together and what the future holds for the band.
DiS: The show at Liverpool Arts Club was probably the best I've ever seen Slowdive. How was the rest of the tour?
Simon Scott: It was a good night. The first night of the tour in Glasgow was our first gig in about eight or nine months and with us playing three new tracks there were a few first-night nerves. When it all clicked everything felt right.
Will you eventually be incorporating all of the songs off the new record into the live set?
We've rehearsed most of the songs already. There's only a couple that we haven't sat down with and worked out. When we were rehearsing for those club shows last month we were a bit unsure which ones to play. If we'd played five or six new songs it would have meant us having to leave out some of the older material people wanted to hear. So we decided to put 'Star Roving' in the set because it was already out and 'Sugar For The Pill' as it was about to come out. 'No Longer Making Time' is so much fun to play so we decided on leaving it at those three for now. We're off to play some shows in the States next week so we'll be looking to slip in some of the other tracks while we're over there. So by the time we come back I'd like to think at least half of the album will have featured in our live set and eventually some of the older songs will slip out from time to time. Mainly because we've already spent a couple of years playing the back catalogue and us getting back together was never just about that anyway. It's great playing those older songs but we really want to be playing new stuff and be a contemporary band that doesn't just cling on to its past.
Slowdive is the band's first album for twenty-two years. When did the songs start to materialise? How long was the writing and recording process?
It was a little difficult to get the wheels in motion to begin with in terms of being in the studio because we kept getting tour dates added. Initially, when we reformed in 2014 there were only six or seven dates in the diary then it became twenty and then it became thirty then forty and so on right through to the summer of 2015. We didn't get many free weekends where we could book a studio and find the time to all be in the same place and jam out ideas. It all came together last year at Courtyard Studios near Oxford where we recorded the other albums funnily enough. Initially, we went to The White House in Weston-Super-Mare where we did '40 Days' and also recorded our first demo of 'Avalyn'. I was still drumming for The Charlottes at the time before replacing Adrian (Sell) who went away to University. Anyway, nothing really occurred while we were there except maybe the odd middle eight or intro. It wasn't until we hooked up with Chris Hufford who engineered all of our earlier records that things really started to happen. Even though he's busy managing Radiohead these days he invited us to come and hang out in his studio. Once we got in there it seemed so familiar. It looked the same and Chris was still around so we block booked it in the early part of last summer, and Neil (Halstead) moved in for four or five weeks. We'd got lots of fragments at that point but it wasn't until we went in there that it all came together and when it did it happened very quickly.
Which songs were ready first? Which ones kickstarted the record into what it is today?
That's really hard to remember! When we were down at The White House I've got a vague recollection of 'Sugar For The Pill' being jammed. All of the money we earned from the gigs in 2014 and 2015 we pumped straight back into the band and booked a load of sessions where we simply set up and recorded every day. Neil would take fragments of those songs down to his studio in Cornwall, edit and chop them then explore those ideas. Then he'd bring them back to us in the next session and we'd try and shape them into songs. So we'd mess around with the arrangement or add a different part. Maybe change the bassline or something. Once one song was finished we'd then go onto another one then another and so on. Then we'd add or change a few bits and pieces so there wasn't any one particular song that was completely finished first if that makes sense. When we went into Courtyard Studios last summer it all started to come together as a whole, so we sent it off to Chris Coady to mix. Even though it took a year and a half to make the time was right creatively for it to solidify and really gel and become something special last summer.
Was Chris Coady your first choice to mix the record or were there other people you contemplated working with as well?
There was a time when it was finished and we wanted someone just to give it that final element of a good mix. We'd worked so closely with it and been in each other's pockets since we formed in 2014. In January we started rehearsing then May we did Primavera and the following summer we travelled the world doing festivals and playing those old Slowdive songs. Off the back of that, with the momentum we'd built we went into the studio as a five-piece, did those tracks but then got to a point where we knew we couldn't mix the record. We'd done as much as we can from a songwriting and production point of view. We'd all worked really heavily on it. We'd all given up a lot of time to record and re-record, be there and lend a hand whenever we were needed at the studio. So we decided it would be best to good someone in that really knows what they're doing to mix the record. Pay it some special attention with fresh ears. We're big fans of the work Chris Coady did with Beach House. We did send it out to a few people, many of whom were friends. But as soon as we heard the mix Chris did we just knew he'd got it. He just had that extra kind of ability that we didn't have. He nailed it very quickly at Sunset Sound in LA last November.
Were there any other songs or ideas left over from the sessions that might be revisited at a later date?
We've always been a band that's discussed things democratically between the five of us. If somebody isn't into an idea or one person doesn't like something it will get discarded. Which I think explains why so many old tracks that we recorded are on the internet. We did quite a lot of stuff in the early nineties, some of which are really good songs. But if somebody wasn't into it for whatever reason it didn't make the record. On this record in these circumstances there was one track that wasn't a unanimous choice - one or two people liked it, one or two weren't sure - so it got left off. We only wanted eight songs and we'd already picked what was going on the album. This was an extra track knocking around that I think might come out on the Japanese edition. It was a very last minute idea and nobody was really sure whether it would work or not. It's a pretty good song but it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album. I think all of the songs on the album fit into that kind of Slowdive frame whereas the other track doesn't quite fit. We recorded it right at the end of last summer and I guess back in the day we'd have put it on an EP or saved it for some sort of limited edition release. I think it will come out somewhere but it's like an unofficial track in a funny kind of way. I can't even remember what its called!
How do you feel about your unreleased demos being on torrent sites and You Tube? It must concern you that people are leaking your music without permission, particularly tracks that aren't likely to ever get an official release.
It's not so much a concern. We actually find it quite funny. I was doing press with Neil all over Europe. Me and him were flying from country to country and we started to joke about those tracks. We've got no idea how or who put those tracks out there. How they ended up online or where they came from. What used to happen was we'd go into the studio and at the end of the day, we'd have five cassettes made - one for each of us - which we'd then take home. They were the only copies that existed of a lot of those songs so we were joking that there must be some odd kind of Slowdive elf sneaking into our personal cassette collection and uploading these hissing monitor mixes of songs we weren't fully sure about. To be honest there were a lot of good songs in there. We had one called 'Hide Your Eyes' which I remember talking to Tim Hecker about when I was doing a solo tour with him. He used to ask if we were ever going to re-record and officially release it but we've never been about that. Once each record's done it's done and this record had to be fresh. It had to fit into a framework of where we're at now. We were never about finding old b-sides or half finished tracks and putting them out. It worked for other bands but we wanted to make sure this album was fresh. That it represented us now. The five of us now. It had to be really great because we didn't want to undo any of the work we did back in the nineties. We certainly won't be going on You Tube and learning those old songs with a view to recording them ever again that's for sure.
Slowdive have inspired a whole new generation of bands, but when it came to writing these songs for the new record were you inspired by any bands who've only just formed in recent years?
I guess so as music fans. We're just a bunch of music geeks. We all still buy tickets for shows, still buy loads of records. We still nag our tour manager to take us to festivals early so we can watch a load of the other bands. But we certainly didn't sit down and plan everything out so certain parts sounded like a certain band or a certain record. There wasn't anything like that. It wasn't contrived in any way. When the five of us get together we sound like we do. There's different kinds of textures and different moods that come across in all the songs on the album. This record is a familiar sounding Slowdive record. It turned out way poppier than any of us thought it would. It turned out the way it did yet its got a load of energy in it, presumably just from us enjoying playing together so much after so many years. However, it's amazing to read interviews or have other musicians tell us they saw Slowdive back in '92 and we inspired them to form a band. Bands like Mogwai for example. It was really cool playing with them and becoming mates then finding out they were huge fans of our band back in the day.
Do you see the new album as being a case of unfinished business? Do you think the band had to spend nearly two decades apart then regroup to be able to come back with a record as strong as this?
It's certainly not unfinished business. We're really humbled and surprised by all the attention we've received over the years. Now we've reformed we're really humbled by the fact people really get it. At the end of the day, the song is king and the music always wins. We're pretty amazed that the songs have lasted this long but we haven't come back feeling there was a sense of injustice we were never a big band. We were a small indie band back in the nineties. We didn't sell many records. We never had a hit like a lot of our contemporaries. We never really strayed into any other kind of genre. I think Lush would be the first to admit that their big hit was a Britpop moment when they released 'Single Girl' and it got in the charts. Ride were always on Top Of The Pops and daytime radio, Chapterhouse had a hit with 'Pearl'. But we were always a small band, and to be a small cult band from the early nineties we had no way of knowing people were on their laptops googling Slowdive and Souvlaki and thinking this is pretty good, I'm gonna go out and buy this record. So when we got back together in 2014 it was amazing to see so many people come and see us play live. Now we're really interested in the new songs so it's not like unfinished business. For us lovely to know the songs have stood the test of time.
The album is coming out on Dead Oceans. Were you considering working with other labels at the time?
There are loads of amazing labels to be honest with you. I won't reel them off because my favourite labels will be different to the other four's. We did this album without a record label. We paid for it with our own money which we earned from those reformation gigs. We never had any pressure to make it sound like a certain way so it fitted with a label. We literally just locked ourselves in the studio, turned the lights down and started to play. Once it was finished we sent it to Dead Oceans because that whole Secretly Canadian group have got some amazing stuff. We listen to quite a lot of the bands on that label. The War On Drugs, Bon Iver, Ryley Walker, loads of stuff on the Secretly group we really like. They've got some great re-issues as well such as The Plastic Ono Band record. They were just on our radar so when we sat down we threw in a couple of ideas, and instantly as soon as they heard what we'd done they were totally into it. They know the record inside out, so they obviously must have sat down and got incredibly excited about it. It just felt right. We really like them as people as well so it felt like a really nice new home for us. We're really delighted to be signed to Dead Oceans, for sure.
So what does the future hold for Slowdive? Is this now everyone's main focus? Will there be another album after this one? A tour for the album? More festival shows announced?
We've already started talking about making the next record! Which might surprise a lot of people but this record is quite poppy in many ways. 'Slomo' and in particular 'Falling Ashes' which I co-wrote with Neil represent a part of Slowdive that's less of a pop band and more of an experimental ambient one. They're more similar to the songs on Pygmalion than Souvlaki in a way. I guess there are two sides to the band. There's the one that's really into Eno and ambient composers and minimalism. Using technology in the studio and experimenting with sound. Then, on the other hand, there's the songwriting side with melodies and almost pop choruses. This record is definitely a bit lighter and 'Falling Ashes' is essentially a song Neil started on his own in the studio. He was playing the piano and he had this idea of 'Falling Ashes'. So I opened my laptop and had this digital processing software and started to loop him singing and playing the piano. He sat there playing for ages and I just carried on recording him, messing around with all these different loops, manipulating the sound of him playing in the studio. When he turned around and saw I was there I plugged the laptop into the desk and added it to his piano and vocal line and finished the song really. That was just pure experimentation. It's pretty much improvised from start to finish. Neil was fascinated by the sounds I started to create which I guess is linked to my solo ambient electronic work. We were talking recently about the pair of us going into the studio and experimenting more. It's opened another door for us which we want to explore. If we get any free time this summer we'll get the laptops out and see what new ideas come in. We're really excited that this album's coming out. We're really excited that we're going to be touring it in the autumn. We're excited to be playing the new songs at the festivals this summer. There are lots of live shows being planned.
Whereabouts will you be touring?
We've definitely got our eye on doing more theatre and club shows later in the year. Hopefully, we'll be going back to Europe and covering the Americas. Go to Asia again. We want to play these songs to as many people as possible. We're really enjoying the five of us being together. It wouldn't be Slowdive if the five of us didn't get on, and it wasn't fun. We're having a good time and really inspired by the new record. Just playing on that small UK tour we've just done and meeting people after the gigs and seeing the responses to the new songs. How well they fitted in with the old stuff. We love getting together and playing live so there'll be a lot more of that.
You put out a solo record at the start of the year, STUK. Are you working on any new material of your own at the minute?
I am. And Neil's still writing his folky solo stuff. We were both asked about this in an interview the other day, and Neil said he's always working on solo acoustic guitar tracks but he'd never give them to Slowdive. He likes to keep the two worlds separate and I agree with him. Slowdive's more about the five of us. It's not about recycling ideas from any of our other projects. My ambient project is very different to what we do with Slowdive. I'm continually writing. Rachel's been doing the Minor Victories stuff recently. She's got some really good songs as well and that's her outlet. I'm sure when Stuart from Mogwai and Rachel's diaries give them a free moment they'll get together and write some new stuff. Most of us are busy doing our other stuff. I really hope this new Slowdive record is well received. We don't want to count our chickens. That's all I'm gonna say! I don't want to tempt fate. We've waited a long time.
Slowdive is out on Friday 5 May via Dead Oceans. For more information on the band, please visit their official website._