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Just For a Day: An Interview with Slowdive

28 July 2014

If you’re searching for some glorious Shoegaze music, look no further than Slowdive. The English five piece put out three blissful records, Just For A Day (1991), Souvlaki (1993), and Pygmalion (1995) and then went onto other projects with Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead moving onto Mojave 3 and solo material. Drummer Simon Scott also has created several solo albums featuring more ambient or experimental music worth checking out. This interviewer sat down with Neil Halstead and Simon Scott at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago before their stellar live set later that day.

BIG TAKEOVER: What song(s) were you looking forward to playing live the most when you reformed?

Neil Halstead: Well, I think for myself, I was really looking forward to doing anything off of Pygmalion because we didn’t ever get a chance to play anything off that record. We split up before we toured Pygmalion. Initially, when we were talking about it, I felt this would be a really good chance to play these songs. Personally, I like the less pop songs, I suppose. The more instrumental songs we do are what I prefer.

Simon Scott: Yeah, there’s a few songs that have a space where we can play and be in the moment and connect musically to carry on a little longer and jam slightly. A lot of it is practical issues to try to remember the songs and the tunings. Some tracks are really studio songs and wouldn’t work live. The less poppy up numbers are strangely more of a thrill to play.

BIG TAKEOVER: As a fan, while listening to many of your songs, when the vocals come in, they are almost like their own special instrument in a way, working so well with the music it’s like a beautiful landscape and texture as part of the shoegaze appeal. It’s never a jarring experience to listen to a Slowdive record but a calm and happy one which is always inspiring.

Simon Scott: We often get a lot of people who say when they listen to Slowdive, it’s kind of like some sort of therapy that helps them get through difficult times, which everybody has (us included) over the years. That’s really cool, that someone can pop in a Slowdive record and it can brighten their morning so they can face the day or at the end of a long bad day they can pop in a Slowdive record and their day can sort of dissipate and dissolve.

BIG TAKEOVER: With Slowdive,(not so much Mojave 3 or Neil Halstead’s solo material which is more recent) these songs were composed at a time when there were different trends in music. If you were composing these songs now and recording them, how different would they sound from the original recordings?

Neil Halstead: If we were to take those songs now and treat them as new songs, we would treat them really differently. I would never write those exact songs at this point in my life. They are songs that come out of being 18 or 19 years old. It’s interesting how they still connect with many younger people. We’ve noticed that when we’ve been doing these shows there are some really young kids that are coming out and really loving the band and the records. We’re aware they are the same age as when we were first recording these tracks. I think these songs are written from a young person’s perspective with a certain kind of angst. I’m in my mid 40s so I don’t have the same kind of young person’s angst. Middle age angst is a bit different than adolescent angst. I’m worried about different things at this age than I was back then. We could be writing yacht rock-the next record could be just total yacht rock (joking)

BIG TAKEOVER: Have you been able to work on any new songs and what might these songs be like?

Neil Halstead: We haven’t had time to work on new stuff yet with touring.

Simon Scott: We’ve been trying to nail the set so that on an afternoon like today when we perform, we don’t let people down. We just haven’t had time. We’re kind of scattered around the UK so it’s not possible to just pop in at each other’s houses for a cup of tea and jam and stuff but we’d like to, yeah?

Neil Halstead: The plan is basically to do a bunch of shows that takes us to the end of the year and then we’ll seriously think about working on some new material.

BIG TAKEOVER: What was the trigger to help inspire you to get back together and play a live tour at this time?

Neil Halstead: I think there was a lot of different things in our own lives leading for this to be a good time to do it. Initially, I did some shows with Rachel when we were playing Mojave 3 songs. We hadn’t done anything together in a long time and this got us thinking about making a Slowdive record and we talked to Simon. It seemed like everyone was up for the idea and able to make room for it in our own lives. I certainly think that even 5 years ago, we wouldn’t have had a consensus.

Simon Scott: Yeah, if it had been four or five years ago, I would have been getting my own music technology degree and Neil and I were working on solo careers.

BIG TAKEOVER: Your solo stuff is also really interesting. The way you combine field recordings and create ambient music is very relaxing and helps me feel calm and even to fall asleep at times.

Simon Scott: I listen to ambient music to fall asleep all of the time. I think it’s a compliment that someone can switch off to the stuff I, it’s in your environment and doesn’t intrude.

BIG TAKEOVER: Has playing live and receiving renewed acclaim for your previous works helped inspire this process?

Neil Halstead: For me personally, it’s been really affirming just to renew the friendships that have lapsed over time. Above and beyond that, it’s really nice that there are people still interested and excited about us playing. I think we all feel lucky about being able to do it.

Simon Scott: I agree with Neil. Because so much time has elapsed, we have to really make the most of it and enjoy it. We have fun hanging out together.
Neil Halstead: It’s kind of cheesy to say but it really is about the fun of it and everyone making the most of it.

BIG TAKEOVER: How is the creative process different with solo material for both of you vs. the collaboration process as a band?

Neil Halstead: There are definitely parts of the process that are the same. Whether I’m working by myself or with a band, there will be an element that I’ll create. Sometimes, with Slowdive, it’s stuff that just happens at that moment when we’re all together. I think some of our best stuff has occurred when we’re in a rehearsal room when we’re playing something that leads to the creation of a song.

Simon Scott: I think essentially the kind of seed of the songs has got to be the right thing. Neil was very good at bringing that initial idea into a space where we can connect with it and as a band Slowdive can play it as a band and refine it. It’s been so long since we’ve had those moments in the studio where we just tried stuff and knew “That’s It!” I remember Souvlaki where Neil wrote the tunes and we kind of jammed it and experimented, which was a lot of fun, and put in the drums and pedals and the whole mixing process was very creative.

Neil Halstead: I think it will be interesting to see how Slowdive part two works. I don’t think we really know that at this point in terms of brand new stuff. I think it’s fair to say initially that when Simon was playing with Slowdive, he wasn’t as interested in the songwriting process as now so I imagine he’ll give much more input writing new songs now.

Simon Scott: Yeah, definitely. I mean, as musicians we’ve all expanded our music horizons. I mean, we were little kids almost, little teenagers when we were writing these songs. When you get older and you’re still interested in music, which we all are obsessed with music, you discover new styles of music and maybe learn another instrument and refine your song writing skills which were in the background. But, as Neil said, we don’t know really yet how it will pan out.

Neil Halstead: Yeah, like I said, it will probably be Yacht rock. That’s where it will end up (j/k)

BIG TAKEOVER: I’d be really surprised by that! You mentioned being inspired by other bands, I noticed that you were going on tour with Low and I really like that pairing!

Neil Halstead: We saw them play at ATP in Iceland a couple of weeks ago..

Simon Scott: …And all of our jaws just dropped! We turned up, got off the airplane, had a couple of pints and then walked into the venue and wow!

Neil Halstead: Low’s been one of those bands we’ve all been into for a really long time so having them come and play with us is amazing, just a really nice thing. We weren’t expecting them to be interested to be honest.

Simon Scott: I don’t know if any of us met them at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Iceland which is where the concert was but they seem like the wonder that social media is and to RT a lot of our tweets about coming to North America and Rachel mentioned that they seemed really into the fact of us touring.

BIG TAKEOVER: I’ve seen them quite a few times over the past two decades and definitely can say they are a phenomenally genuine and creative band on album and live. The way Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk work together vocally is also so fantastic!

Simon Scott: They’re sublime, aren’t they!

Neil Halstead: I think the wonderful thing about Low is that you could take those songs and record them in so many different ways and they would still sound great because they just have really cool melodies, you know?

BIG TAKEOVER: Would you ever want to cover a Low song?

Neil Halstead: I think we probably will do.

Simon Scott: It’s funny we were talking about this possibility on the bus and covering Mogwai as well because we’ve done a few shows with them too..maybe one day if we get the time. But, really it will just be amazing for us to watch Low every night on the tour. They are quite powerful and the power is quite visceral. The space sucks you in. They’ve refined their craft over the years.

BIG TAKEVOER: I think it will be great. I think there is a large overlap between Slowdive fans and Low fans.

Neil Halstead: It kind of makes the ticket price more worth it because gigs are expensive nowadays as well! It’s kind of nice to have a really good bill.

BIG TAKEOVER: Well, some things are worth saving up for and Slowdive is always worth saving up for!

A review of Slowdive’s live set at Pitchfork with many live photos can be found here

Photos for the entire festival including some larger ones of Slowdive can be viewed here


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