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Interview: Neil Halstead of Slowdive Discusses The Unknown Country

Slowdive's Neil Halstead
16 April 2022

Slowdive’s last studio album, Slowdive, came out in 2017 – but fans hoping to hear new music from the beloved English shoegaze/dream pop band should seek out The Unknown Country, an evocative film that features two of the band’s songs (“Slomo” and “Star Roving”) – and some new music that frontman Neil Halstead specifically wrote and performed for the soundtrack. Starring Lily Gladstone as a grieving Native American woman traveling from South Dakota to Texas, The Unknown Country is an unconventional road trip story that blends actors in a road trip story with real-life people telling their stories in documentary-style segments. The stunning, dreamy imagery is a perfect (if surprising) fit for Slowdive’s evocative sound. Currently making the rounds on the festival circuit, the film recently screened at the SXSW Music Festival, receiving rave reviews. Calling from his home in the U.K., Halstead discusses how and why he got involved with this film – and what comes next for Slowdive.

How did your soundtrack work on this film come about?

NEIL HALSTEAD: [Writer/director] Morrisa Maltz got in touch originally because she wanted to use a couple of Slowdive tracks. She sent us something that was pretty similar to what was the final film. I liked the vibe of it. It’s really beautifully shot. The cinematography is amazing. Above and beyond the Native American aspect, I liked that you had this combination of acting but then documentary, as well, where you meet these real people throughout the film. I thought it was really interesting, the way it was all done. Where Morrisa had placed the Slowdive music, it seemed to work really well. Then she asked if I wanted to score a couple of scenes that needed it. It seemed like a fun thing to do.

What was it like doing this film work as opposed to writing for a Slowdive album?

NEIL HALSTEAD: It’s completely different. I really like it because it’s collaborative thing. You’re reacting to story and the images and the whole feeling. I suppose you trying to enhance someone else’s story when you’re trying to score a film, and I really like that as a process. I think in a way it frees you up because if you are in a band, you may have to conform to a certain idea of the band. [With] Marissa, I didn’t feel it had to be a certain sort of thing. I felt like I could react to whatever she sent me. I wasn’t put in an awkward position where she was like, ‘I hate this, can we do something else?’ I mean, that could happen and make things a bit more tricky. So if you are a professional scorer, I guess you have stress to do with the fact that possibly they may not like your first idea. But luckily, I wasn’t in that position, so it was quite a positive experience. It’s quite exciting and really interesting, how much you can change the feel of a scene, depending on what kind of music you decide to do on that scene. So it’s kind of a weird manipulative dark art, scoring films, I think, which I haven’t really done much of before, so it’s totally a learning process for me. I’d love to do some more. It’s an enjoyable thing to do.

Unknown Country film still

What do you think it is about your work that connects with people so strongly that they’d want to do something like this soundtrack with it?

NEIL HALSTEAD: I think Slowdive has always had a niche market. The people that like our music generally really like it. In this instance, it suited the slight dreaminess of Morrisa’s film. It does have a slightly surreal quality that suits the mood of some Slowdive music. It is a real honor to be able to have your music used in someone’s film. It’s always a nice thing to hear your music in a different context.

Did working on this film spark your creativity and make you want to write more music in general?

NEIL HALSTEAD: I would love to do more stuff for film, so in that way, it definitely sparked a creative thing. We’ve been working on a Slowdive record, and I’ve been working on some other music, as well, so it was a nice break from that, to do something different.

As it’s been five years since your last Slowdive album, fans must be anxious to hear a new one from you.

NEIL HALSTEAD: Well, I don’t know if anyone’s anxious, but we are quite keen to get something done!