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The sound of California cool and New York grit comes to fruition in the assaulting Kaleidoscope of noise which is at the core of the band Slowness. Following on from their highly acclaimed 2014 release How to Keep from Falling off a Mountain, they release a new album of superior workmanship in Berths. Preceded by two singles which are hinged in the ether, “Berlin” and “Rose” gave an early insight to the direction and dream-like shoegaze adventures that lay ahead.
Only eleven years into their lifespan, Julie Lynn, Geoffrey Scott and Christy Davis present a fully formed work of six mesmerizing tracks, a soundtrack for our times. That said, Berths is the signpost directing the future of music. A hybrid of sound, as My Bloody Valentine meets a submergence in the sixties counterculture.
Following on from the release of Berths, and riding the crest of adoration, Julie Lynn of Slowness took time out to answer a few questions about the album, their journey so far, and where it will take them from here.
Congratulations on the release of Berths, how long did it take between writing, and finally recording such a mammoth album?
Julie Lynn: Thank you! We appreciate your kind words. We are very happy it is out. This album was written and recorded slowly over a four year period. It began very quickly and unintentionally. We had returned the week before from touring the Mountain record in Europe, and were staying in NYC with our friend, and engineer, Dave. One day, Geoffrey was in the living room messing around with a guitar riff, and I picked up my bass and joined in. In less than an hour, we had the basic guitar and bass parts that became the foundation of Side A of the Berths album—’The Fall’, ‘Beyond’ and ‘Berlin’. It was a trip! We were so excited about the sound that we asked our friend Christy Davis—who had played drums on the final track of the Mountain album—if she would come try out some drums. She did, and within a few more days Dave was joining us on engineer duty and we laid down the basics for those songs. Of course they morphed over time, but the drums and many guitars on the record are from that hot summer day in Brooklyn just messing around! Side B developed piece-meal in San Francisco. Geoff came up with riffs for “Breathe” and “Sand and Stone” that I eventually found parts for, and I came up with the bass for ‘Asunder’ and he found parts for it. And then we brought Christy to town and she did her magic on all of it! All the while, Geoffrey was writing and rewriting lyrics, so at the end of four years we managed to finish this album.
What are your own personal tastes and inspirations in music?
Julie Lynn: I have a pretty eclectic taste in music. I love early 20th century jazz and old timey music, and definitely have disco in my blood, but I have probably been most influenced by psychedelic rock of the 60’s, and by the post-punk movement.
Does each member have an individual taste in music which when brought together creates that very unique sound?
Julie Lynn: I think so. Geoff and I have tremendous crossover. We both love the Velvet Underground, The Cure, Stereolab, Mazzy Star, Galaxie 500 and Luna, Low, REM, The Smiths, Red House Painters, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, and others. Though I have come to it in later years, Geoff also has strong influences from Heavy Metal and has spent a lot more time listening to bands such as Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized. I still spend a lot of time listening to Pink Floyd, Donovan, the B-52’s, and the Doors. I do think our sound, even if it is very grounded in post-punk and shoegaze, is very much a meeting of our influences. We bring the heavy, psychedelic, and drone from slightly different places.
When Slowness started out was there an initial ‘click’, in terms of a chemistry between you?
Julie Lynn: Definitely. Geoff and I first started sporadically playing music together almost 20 years ago, sitting around playing guitar after he gave me my first guitar as trade payment for doing artwork for an album. It was droney and cool and mostly in open tunings. Since we were just improvising, I guess you could say that from the beginning our musical relationship was in creating songs together. We had a long hiatus from any such jamming while I had children and we both went about our lives, but when we returned to playing together a little over ten years ago it came together pretty naturally. I learned the bass so that we could work on some of his guitar-based songs, and those became Hopeless but Otherwise. I can’t see from the outside, of course, but for me there is something very unique in how our guitar and bass parts work together. As things unfolded, whether a song started with a guitar riff or a bass riff, with a little work and experimentation, I think we have always been able to find something that complemented while having some interesting tension. We were a couple too by that point, and that is probably similar to our own personal chemistry!
Musically, do you feel Berths is a more honed and well executed album than How To Keep Falling Off Mountains?
Julie Lynn: I think so. We spent more time on it, and it was very important to us that we loved every second of it. We always feel that way, but spending a full handful of years making the record ensured that no parts were able to stick around just because we became attached to them in the moment. They had to stand the test of time. Mountain was also written and recorded mostly while Geoff was living in Brooklyn and I was living in SF. Our work together was a little more disjointed, and that may reflect in the music. Berths is very steady collaboration between us throughout despite breaks we needed to take for our personal lives.
The vibe running through Berths is so relaxed and chilled at times, is this a reflection of the recording process?
Julie Lynn: Yes! We decided to take a very different approach to recording Berths than we had past albums. It was a conscious choice. In the past our albums were largely recorded piece-meal. We would record together to get the drums, but most of the bass, guitar, keys, and, of course, vocals were overdubbed, which meant Geoff had to spend a great deal of time editing. There were always some guitar or bass tracks from basics sessions that were kept, and that was always exciting for us. And with some songs, such as “Slowboat” on the Hopeless EP, we ended up using our drums/bass/guitar from the basics session as the foundation, relatively unedited. We loved the energy and organic feel of those bits and pieces that were recorded in this more ‘live’ fashion, and also liked the idea of getting away from the reliance and tedious work of the editing table and focusing on the energy of playing together during a recording session. So, we decided with Berths, to try to record many of the songs ‘live,’ without a click. Not having a click allows the music to ebb and flow in pace, which makes editing challenging but dynamics great! Christy is a fabulous drummer, and is able to bring such a chill, full, alive vibe to her drumming. When we flew her in to record the B-side of the album, we laid down the basic drums, bass, and guitar for all three songs in the space of a few hours. I think there was only 1 and half takes for “Asunder”, and we had not ever played these songs together! I think this quick recording process and knowing it was all about the vibe of our playing together translates into a different feel in the album.
The gap between HTKFOM and Berths was substantial in five years, did it worry you that Slowness may have lost their original impact?
Julie Lynn: We knew that our long absence, especially at a time when music distribution and social media has been changing so rapidly, would mean that our momentum would be dampened in terms of followers. However, Slowness has always had a steady flow of new listeners (thank you!) that discover us somehow or other, so that part didn’t concern me too much. We care most about making the music, and hope very much that we can have people listen to it so that it is, in a sense, completed through being received by an audience. Creating songs we find beautiful and meaningful is our goal, so we don’t really worry about losing impact but, rather, look forward to finding out what our impact will be over time.
What did the band do in that space of five years? Did Slowness exist as a working unit?
Julie Lynn: We did exist as working unit. We played live, sometimes with Christy and sometimes as a duo when trying out the Berths material, but we also spent a year revisiting live shows of Hopeless but Otherwise, playing with our drummer Erik Gross who drummed on that album and bass player Greg Dubrow who played bass with us while we were working on the Glass and Mountain albums. We also slowly worked out guitar leads and keys and vocals for Berths. And some of that time was just downtime working on other aspects of our lives. We both have jobs that take a lot of energy and I have two teenagers, and while we were going through the process of ending our ten year relationship as a couple we minimized our rehearsals, sessions, and shows for a couple of years.
In the live setting, how do you feel the new tracks stack up against older material such as 2012’s “Race To Mars”?
Julie Lynn: We just finished doing a small tour of the Berths album to celebrate the record release, and it definitely stands up. I had wondered the same, because when we play the older material—especially as a 4-piece where I play keys and Greg Dubrow plays the bass—the music becomes very psychedelic. That is a lot of fun! Our friend, Sean Eden, joined us on guitar for this tour, so we did this as a 4-piece as well, and once we found our groove it was very full and dynamic, especially with two guitars floating around. We did a live session for a Part Time Punks radio show that we will release this fall, so you will get a chance to hear something closer to the live feel. Though we did throw in a couple old songs!
Where do songs such as the masterful “Berlin” and “Rose” (a personal favorite) come from in respect of lyrics and music?
Julie Lynn: “Berlin”, with its angular discord, is very musically and lyrically tied to our feelings upon return from touring in Europe and re-entering the USA. We were both deeply feeling the culture clash, especially at a moment went we felt that the USA when people were struggling with increasing economic pressure and the country seemed to be spiraling toward certain forms of totalitarianism. The song is not about Berlin, but about the darkness we were feeling in our own country and how it relates to the excesses, fears, and collapse almost a century ago in Europe. “Rose” is more of a wander through different personal discords, between neighbors, between partners, and within the self. It was a reflection on many things we were living as Geoffrey moved back from NYC to San Francisco. I do love that, despite the heaviness in the lyrics, the song remains dreamy and somehow uplifting.
How hard is it to reproduce the sound on the album in a live setting?
Julie Lynn: Because we recorded the songs in a very live-way, with no loops, and a conscious choice to stay away from many layers of guitars, it translates pretty well to live. This is particularly the case if we have add another guitar. In the shows we just played, having a second guitar even allowed us to comp some of the keys parts!
This is the first time we have worked with a PR agent, and it was definitely a relief not to do all of that work ourselves, especially given the changing landscape of blogs and press since our last release. That was extremely helpful, and Geoff and I have had such full plates that I imagine we would have had trouble doing the type of outreach for this album that we did for past ones. Shameless Promotion PR also steered us to take a slightly different approach that we have in the past, in terms of releasing singles and videos in advance. We definitely were receiving that attention earlier because the release and press that they generated for ‘Rose’ and ‘Berlin’ made many people and writers aware of the album before its release.
What does the future hold for Slowness?
Julie Lynn: We will be releasing our live Part Time Punks sessions at some point in the fall, and then intend to start releasing singles over the next two years. We have numerous songs in the works, and, once again, feel like switching gears and trying a different approach by releasing them one at a time.
Thank you very much for taking time, I completely adore the album, and it is always refreshing to review something and then find a month later you are still listening to it.
Julie Lynn: Thank you so much for your time and interest!
I am very glad you are still enjoying it.
Sand & Stone;
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