Slow Club have changed. The dynamic duo who plunged around the country with just a guitar and ad hoc percussion have gone – in their place, a group whose energy is reflected by their maturity, whose melodic appeal is matched by their emotional intensity.
‘Complete Surrender’ (Clash review here) is not a good times album. It’s an album inspired by heartbreak, by the tangled knots which descend upon the tail end of a relationship. For Charles Watson, though, this is an album which Slow Club have gradually moved towards.
“I’m not apprehensive at all,” he tells Clash. “I feel like we made a move on the first to second record, probably more so than the second to this one. So I’m comfortable. I’ve got faith that people who come to see our shows will just be open minded and go with it.”
Each movement on ‘Complete Surrender’ feels confident, precise. Continuing, the guitarist explains that Slow Club underwent lengthy pre-recording sessions in order to plot out their intention with each note. “I didn’t want us to just go into the studio with nothing to say. It’s nice to take some time out and figure out what it is that you want to say and how you want to say it.”
Working with producer Colin Elliott, when recording sessions came the band moved quickly. “I think we were in there for about a month in total,” he muses. “We did a couple of two-week sessions and then we mixed it in September, I think, which took about a week. Fairly quick. We desperately didn’t want to go back down there, this time. That was something we’d done before and we kind of just wanted to get in there, get it done and get out quickly.”
Yet the material isn’t exactly stripped back. At times lush, Slow Club augment their sound with horns, with string arrangements and with guest musicians. “It was amazing to get them in the studio,” he enthuses. “The string section as well was pretty special. It’s always nice to imagine something and then make it happen.”
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One of the curious facets of Slow Club’s evolution is that Charles has shifted from frontman into a more behind-the-scenes role, while Rebecca Taylor has emerged from behind her drumkit as a striking vocalist. Indeed, Rebecca takes the majority of lead vocals on ‘Complete Surrender’, with Charles working at the mixing desk.
“I suppose there are just certain things which just don’t interest me, in the same way that there are certain things I want to do which don’t interest her,” he states, matter of factly. “I think we kind of let each other do our own thing on this record. I mean, I’m quite happy to sit in a studio and listen to a snare drum for four hours. I love the production side of it, that’s my kind of thing.”
At times, the material on ‘Complete Surrender’ becomes nakedly autobiographical, with Rebecca’s tender vocal performances matched to quite sensitive arrangements. “Well, you just have to be sensitive to what this song is about,” Charles says. “There’s no point coming in with a huge guitar solo when it’s not appropriate. I suppose it’s about knowing when to play stuff as opposed to when not to play stuff. Often those moments are a lot better when they’re as sparse as possible.”
Which isn’t to suggest that the material is somehow morbid, or overly introverted: these are Rebecca’s purest pop moments, with her Diana Ross or even Whitney Houston influences shining through. “I was there when she did them, we were all there together,” Charles explains. “I think she’s been listening to a lot of '60s girl groups and I guess that’s kind of seeped in a little bit.”
Forming almost a decade ago, Slow Club have a down-to-Earth, quite Northern approach to being in a band. Largely shunning any star-like behaviour, the duo allows themselves some leeway when producing music videos.
“Personally, I’m not really into videos,” he says. “I think I speak for most people when I say they’re a f*cking ballache to make! And you have to spend more money on them than you do with the actual song. It’s a false economy in my opinion.”
“It’s a good way of people seeing it, though,” he adds, “and that’s really where a lot of people hear music nowadays. So it’s worth making an effort. The first song was us finding out where we wanted to go visually with this record, from the videos to the stage to the merch. Try to keep it all a bit more like one idea. The monochrome idea, we just kind of stuck with that.”
Recently opening Latitude festival, Slow Club are now itching to take their material out on the road. Preparing a few surprises, the band has recorded a merch-stall-only album of covers. “We just made a covers record to sell as part of the merch, we just did it in our side room. It’s basically just guitar and vocals or piano and vocals. It was really nice to take it back there, I really enjoyed doing it. It was a fun thing to do, we had a stamp made, we were just making the cases when we were in the van. It was just on a brown paper case and we stamped ‘em when people bought ‘em.”
Buoyed by the enthusiasm of their dedicated support, the band seems willing to take chances, to continually try something new. “There are so many bloody bands out there that you’ve got to do something to stand out,” Charles grimaces.
“We might not have the biggest following in the world but I feel like the people who do come to our shows, they understand it. I feel like we have a load of people who come just because their mates are there. Hopefully that’s reflected in the sales as well. It’s not massive but I feel like it’s going to a good home.”
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Words: Robin Murray
'Complete Surrender' is out now. Find its makers online here.
Related: Slow Club Review The Singles
Catch Slow Club at the following show:
11 London Electric Brixton