Slow Club were always a band that employed interlacing melodies and rhythms. But this summer’s album ‘Complete Surrender’ heralded a new air of self-assurance and scale in their music. Starting back in 2006, Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson never looked like they were simply going through the motions. But this year the pair seemed to shift up a gear. It’s all became slicker, lusher and a lot sexier.
A celebration of pure pop, ‘Complete Surrender’ nods to everything from Northern Soul and Frankie Valli to Abba and Spector’s Wall of Sound. Although steeped in tradition, there’s nothing classic or retro about this album. It’s simply a snapshot of where two people are, musically, at a particular point in time. “It wasn’t so much about adopting that sound as it was about moving forwards,” Watson admits. “We did want it to sound timeless, rather than being simply nostalgic.” Producer Colin Elliott played a major part in the album’s sound as well. Known for his work with Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker and Kylie Minogue, it seems a good fit for a band looking to develop their sound. “We’d met him a few times, he’d worked on a few demo for us. Then he suggested going into the studio.”
Lyrically the album takes a big step forwards too. Various narratives betray stories of relationships under pressure, crippling emotions and human nature. But does the title indicate they’ve given themselves fully to pop sensibilities now? “I don’t go out with an air of mysticism or anything. They were just two words that sat well together. Obviously after the album was released they took on a new meaning.” For Watson it’s an album that Slow Club have gradually moved towards.
For all its theatrics, ‘Complete Surrender’ is simple, direct and beautiful. Maybe it’s all about the progression for them. Where their debut ‘Yeah So’ vaguely stood on the periphery of the folk camp, it was labelled so because people had trouble with its anomalous textures. You’ve got dreamy melodies, acoustic guitars and two-part harmonies? We’ll put you in the folk camp. That way we’ll know how to deal with them. So that’s where people placed them. Following on from the debuts’, almost belligerent, DIY set-up came the intelligent, if a little chaotic, strains of its follow up ‘Paradise’.
Despite ‘Complete Surrender’ coming nearly three years after ‘Paradise’ the two albums were closer in the Slow Club timeline than it appears. “There wasn’t that much of a gap in recording, but we’d just changed record labels, so there was a small delay in sorting out release schedules.” This time the pre-studio process was lengthy, ensuring they knew exactly how each song would be arranged before they laid it down. “I like to go into the studio as prepared as possible now. Previously all the experimentation would happen whilst we were recording, but it’s better to have a set idea of what we’re doing.” A change of pace for a band that previously experimented and played around to hone their sound, this no-nonsense approach saw the recordings occupy a couple of two-week sessions, with the mixing taking another seven days.
So they hit the studio armed with fully formed songs and plenty of motivation. The resulting tracks might be simple at their core, but layers of horns, strings arrangements and a producer with a keen ear for a big sound meant a difference to the final product. “Colin did come forwards with a number of ideas. He worked on a lot of the strings and horn sections on the album.” There’s also a covers album being released on vinyl, to celebrate Record Store Day. Neil Young, Future Islands, Pulp and Bob Dylan will all be getting the Slow Club treatment. It’s another welcome move for a band consistently labelled as endearing. “We don’t set out to be endearing. I think it stems from wanting to look like we’re enjoying ourselves on stage. That comes from seeing loads of bands who didn’t seem like they’re enjoying themselves.”
Obviously Slow Club hasn’t been lured away by the bright lights of commerciality just yet. The transformation lies with their sense of ambition. Technically Slow Club are no different eight years on, the change is in the styling and the confidence in the arrangements. Where they once combined voices, sheltering within their harmonies and writing from a shared perspective, now they’re each developing their own personalities within the music.
The band’s evolution has seen Taylor performing much of the lead vocals, Watson concentrating on the production side of things, with drummer Avvon Chambers and bassist Rob Jones now joining the fold. Watson admits he and Taylor do have different outlooks on their music. But they seem to appreciate what enthrals one might be met with disdain by the other.
It’s this acceptance and the understanding that’s reached by the pair that makes Slow Club such a great band. They influence, stimulate and inspire each other. Taylor undeniably leans towards classic pop and R&B, whilst Watson embraces the more experimental, relishing in using the mixing desk as an instrument in its own right. What they’re producing, at least for as long as it interests them both, is big, glossy and proud. But it’s not them discovering their soul, it’s us.
Slow Club play Brighton Dome’s Studio Theatre on Mon 9 Feb, 2015
Their album ‘Complete Surrender’ is out now, via Caroline International.
Images by Andy Earl