There Seems To Be A Lot Of Love Out There: A Slowdive Interview
, January 29th, 2014 05:35
Following last night’s news that Slowdive have reformed, founder members Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell talk exclusively to tQ about re-learning the old songs, advances in guitar pedal technology, the possibility of a new Slowdive album and why this time it's all about having fun
The last time I saw Neil Halstead, back in October last year after his solo gig at Cecil Sharp House in Camden, I had just written a glowing review of his album as one-third of Black Hearted Brother for tQ, the gist of which was, "Hey losers, stop hankering after a Slowdive reunion and dig what’s going on now!"; a not unreasonable stance to take, seeing as the BHB album was brilliant, with Halstead busting out the effects pedals for the first time in almost two decades and making a “splendid freeform racket”. I joked with Halstead about this, and the fallacy of any imminent Slowdive reunion, sharing the story of how Steve Queralt [shoegaze namedrop clunk] once told me, apropos of a Ride reunion, that he hadn’t even picked up a bass guitar since the band split and it wasn’t as if he was just sat by the phone waiting for Andy and Mark to call. We laughed. Well, I laughed, but looking back, I can see that Halstead just grinned nervously and took a shifty pull on his roll-up. The sneaky bugger knew then what we all know now – Slowdive, the band at the vanguard of the shoegaze movement of the 1990s, the shoegazer’s shoegazers, the dreampop pioneers, have reformed.
Of course the clues were all there, even then. The special guest at Halstead’s Camden gig was Rachel Goswell, former partner in Slowdive and Mojave 3 (and in love), who tentatively added some of her gorgeous harmonies to a handful of Slowdive songs. Both insist, in separate phone interviews that I conduct with them about the reunion, that her appearance – the first time she had sung with Halstead for almost ten years – had nothing to do with Slowdive getting back together, but was instead a favour for Nat Cramp of Sonic Cathedral, a tireless supporter of shoegaze past and present, who was keen on seeing the pair reunited on stage, even if just acoustically and for a couple of nights only.
What Cramp, and the rest of the captive audience at Cecil Sharp House that autumn night, didn’t know, was that the deed had already been done, back in the summer when all five original members – Halstead and Goswell, along with Christian Savill (guitar), Nick Chaplin (bass) and Simon Scott (drums) – met and agreed that the time was right to get the band back together. Lewis Jamieson, a music PR, former 4AD A&R man and good friend of Goswell’s, helped the band to secure management with the same team who look after Editors and the wheels were in motion. Over the past fortnight, the shoegaze quintet have been dropping a few not so subtle hints that the reunion was on the cards, with Twitter going into meltdown when band members started following a recently set up official Slowdive Twitter account, and appearing to start a countdown to today’s date – January 29, 2014. A flurry of online news pieces and lots of speculation followed, with official confirmation finally coming last night with the announcement that the band will play Primavera Sound in May.
“I’m super excited,” admits Halstead, when we speak on the phone, 12 days before the news finally breaks. “We had our first rehearsal last week, which was fun. We were surprisingly good. Quite a few of the songs came back quickly.”
“Trying to remember some of the guitar parts has been challenging!” reveals Goswell from her home in Exeter. “We went through about seven or eight songs in the first rehearsal and during some of them, we were like, ‘Wow!’”
“In the first rehearsal, the first song we tried was ‘Slowdive’ – the first song on the first EP,” Halstead says. “It was one of the more straightforward ones, and we had a real goose bumps moment. We all just looked at each other. It was quite creepy. It was like, ‘We were good!’ There’s only three albums – well, and quite a lot of EPs – to choose from. We will definitely be playing some stuff from Pygmalion, as we never got to play that record live before. I think the live set will be a pretty fair reflection of our career and our hits – or not hits as they were.”
Goswell also has some set list disclosures: “We’ve discussed which songs we’re going to play – all the old favourites and a couple of different ones. We’re looking at doing ‘Golden Hair’ (the Syd Barrett cover from their third EP, Holding Our Breath) and we’re definitely going to do ‘Avalyn’. We’re going for the epic.”
“The initial impetus was the idea of doing some new music,” Halstead explains, a revelation to get the hearts of the shoegaze hardcore all a flutter. “It seemed easier to do that because it’s not so public. But then we thought it would be good if we could raise a bit of money to make the record, and doing a couple of gigs would enable us to do that. And that’s the way it shaped up – while we’re rehearsing we can see if we’ve got another record in us.”
So it’s not only live dates to look forward to – Village Underground announced today (see below) and Primavera Sound already confirmed, with more to follow – but the tantalising possibility of a brand new Slowdive album, perhaps even featuring lost classics such as ‘Silver Screen’ and ‘Joy’, songs that never made it on to the band’s third and final album, Pygmalion in 1995 (the band split after its release), which ended up being a Halstead/Goswell collaboration created almost entirely from samples and loops. “We knew Pygmalion was going to be the last record,” Halstead says. “I think we’d reached the end of the road. We got dropped by Creation and we didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm for it anymore.”
“It fizzled out,” agrees Goswell. “Nick and Christian weren’t happy. People weren’t getting paid and there’s only so long you can go on like that.”
In fact, being in Slowdive during the Creation years wasn’t an altogether happy experience. The band was castigated in many quarters of the UK press; condemned for being well spoken and middle class and portrayed as having nothing to say. And unfortunately for Slowdive, the problems went beyond bad reviews.
“There was a lot of angst first time round,” says Goswell. “Neil and I were in a relationship and we split up. Keeping the band going was incredibly hard. We were young and naive; we had terrible management and a terrible accountant who ended up in prison. The business side of it was a complete mess. But this time round we’re 20 years older and we want it to be fun and to enjoy it.”
The idea of it being “fun” is more important to Goswell than anything else. The seeming ordeal of bad reviews and financial woes was put into perspective after the birth of her son, Jesse, in 2010. Jesse was born with CHARGE syndrome, an acronym for a specific set of unusual congenital features that left him profoundly deaf and partially sighted and required a life-saving heart operation aged just five months. He is still fed via a tube in his stomach overnight.
“He’s very challenging,” reveals Goswell. “It’s a very complex syndrome so all my attention had to be on him – and rightly so. It’s been a really rough ride and clearly I’ve not been in a position to do anything with Slowdive. It’s been the last thing on my mind. But over the last year, things have settled down and he’s stable and relatively healthy so I feel able to pick up other areas of my life. I just want to do the things that make me happy. It sounds cheesy, but it’s all about finding the positives in life now. Having Jesse has been humbling. He’s an amazing little boy.”
Halstead is also down with the idea of it being a more carefree experience second time around. “We want it to be fun for us, but we also want the people who are into Slowdive to come and see the band and enjoy it for what it is. I’m not interested in any critical reappraisal. I meet a lot of kids who got into the records after we split up and they say, ‘I’d love to have got the chance to see Slowdive play live.’ So for them, this is a nice opportunity and I hope they come out and enjoy it.”
Despite Slowdive ending in mild acrimony there was no real hatchet to bury or issues to work through before the band could get started again, though Halstead reveals that Goswell had to have “a little chat” with drummer Simon Scott, who left before Pygmalion, to persuade him it was the right thing to do. In the post-Slowdive years, Halstead and Goswell recorded five albums as Mojave 3 (still a going concern), and both have made solo records (Halstead three, Goswell, just the one). Savill was in Monster Movie and Scott formed bands Inner Sleeve and Televise and has recorded experimental music under his own name. Only Chaplin hasn’t done anything musical, though Goswell says that at the first rehearsal he was “beautifully rehearsed and telling us what to play. He’s always been the most organised and the most practical one in the band. He’s been emailing us set lists.”
The reformation also gives the band the opportunity to enjoy the love and respect that has been showered on them in their absence. Shoegaze, the genre that once caused such opprobrium, is now fully rehabilitated and universally lauded, not that the modest Halstead gets off on any potential adulation. “We’re gonna drink it up!” he chuckles. “No, not really, though I’m sure we will end up playing to bigger audiences this time.”
“The IRONY!” laughs Goswell, when it is pointed out to her that the second coming of Slowdive will probably be more successful than their initial career. “We’ll get to play all the festivals that we wouldn’t have been offered 20 years ago.”
And of course there are financial incentives, though both play this down. “Obviously we’re getting paid,” admits Goswell. “But it’s not megabucks. It costs a lot to go on the road, especially with five people.”
“We’re not getting paid enough for there to be any real financial incentive for doing it” explains Halstead. “But there are loads of artistic reasons, especially if we can get a new record together.”
“I hope we can do it,” says Goswell, of the possibility of new music. “I think it will be a bit of a slowburner, but the potential is there.”
After suffering such a vicious kicking from the UK press in the early-1990s, the band would be forgiven for having some trepidation about how the news will be received, but Halstead isn’t bothered about the possibility of negative reviews. “I don’t think I’ll notice it in the same way I did when I was 18. Back then, the NME and Melody Maker were your Bible, and you lived by what they said. But I’m a 43-year-old man now, so it’s not going to affect me in the same way. I’m sure some people won’t be happy with it and I’m sure a lot of people won’t care either way. It is what it is.”
And what it is, for the shoegaze fraternity at least, is fucking exciting. The duo’s enthusiasm for what is to come is palpable, not least when it comes to the geekier elements of reforming a band noted for their treated guitar sound. “There are lots of pedals around now that weren’t available before,” Halstead says. “I’ve been beavering away putting together a new pedal board for the past few months. That’s been fun.”
“Guitar pedal technology has moved on quite markedly in the past 20 years, so we’ve had to update everything,” Goswell adds. “Luckily, my partner sells guitar pedals so we’re well catered for. He knows his stuff, but I’m clueless. I’m not like the men in the band.”
“The fact that the music we made still stands up today and is influencing new bands says a lot, and that makes me feel very proud of what we did,” Goswell says, as our conversation draws to a close. “There seems to be a lot of love out there for Slowdive, which is nice. It’s naturally come full circle. Me and Neil have known each other since we were seven. We were in Reading last weekend for the first rehearsal and it was funny, driving up there with Neil, now we’re in our 40s. It’s the right time.”