The strange second life of Slowdive stands in marked contrast to the band’s initial run.
Releasing three albums, the band were loosely tagged as shoegaze but in reality embraced everything from ambient composition to the emerging sounds of drum ‘n’ bass, all while working alongside sonic auteur Brian Eno. The group’s three nigh-on perfect studios, however, didn’t quite gain the respect they deserved at the time, and when Slowdive finally stumbled to a halt after being dropped by Creation few were left to mourn their passing.
But then a funny thing happened. Rather than slip quietly into the background the band’s catalogue kept slowly persuading new fans to rally to their cause, with Slowdive arguably providing the template for a fresh generation of shoegaze bands. Sure, My Bloody Valentine were the root, but few delivered a more succinct or definitive account of indie rock’s more dream-like, somnambulist and downright poetic urges.
To a new fan, then, Slowdive have become something of an unknowable object, only grasped fleetingly in the vapour-like enchantment of that opening trilogy. It’s something of a surprise, then, when Rachel Goswell’s voice tumbles onto our phone line – on tour in the United States, she’s wonderfully down to Earth, an irrepressible font of enthusiasm and engaging wit.
“It’s brilliant!” she gushes, when probed about the release of the band’s new album. Her voice collapses into laughter before she continues: “It’s nice for us, obviously. I think we’re all just a bit relieved that the record’s out now. I feel like we can relax a bit, and the response has been amazing. We’re all really, really happy with how it’s going.”
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The band have every right to be pleased. Reforming for live dates in 2014, Slowdive then decided to go into the studio, endeavoring to expand their remarkable catalogue after a break of two decades. There’s no doubting that it was a risk, as she readily admits.
“There’s nothing wrong with bands coming back and playing old stuff, but we wanted it to have a bit more purpose than that,” she insists. “We spent 2014 doing so many shows that year – far more than we were expecting to because it really just took off. It had been a long time since we had all been together, so we spent that year doing the live shows.”
“I think really it wasn’t until we got to January 2015 when we were able to take stock of what happened the year before. And then it sunk in. We were just so busy at the time. I was hardly at home for six months, it was ridiculous, really.”
“And then we had a little bit of a rest, and we just started booking weekends here and there, in-between looking after our kids. Some of it was in rehearsal rooms, jamming around to see what came out. We recorded little bits on our iPhones – how technology changes! And then we booked into a few different studios.”
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It was just like: let’s see what happens...
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In order to reach into the future Slowdive retreated into the past – and booked time in the studio that hosted their very first demo recordings, collected on the ‘Slowdive’ EP.
“I think it was a little bit of a nostalgia thing… and it’s quite cheap there!” she chuckles. “We funded the record ourselves. We didn’t have a label in place, which was actually really nice because there was no pressure from anyone else. It was just like: let’s see what happens, and see where we are at the end of the process. That was definitely a bit of nostalgia thing, and that was just trying out very early ideas.”
The sessions were as free-form as possible, with each member of the band bringing new ideas to the table. “We had lots of bits that we’d brought in – Neil (Halsted) had worked on a few things – and songs like ‘Slomo’ and ‘Go Get It’ came out just messing around in rehearsals. A bit trial and error.”
“We are conscious obviously that Slowdive has a very specific sound. We were conscious that we wanted to retain the sound but we didn’t want to rehash old stuff. There were some ideas that we had that we ditched, because they were too Slowdive. It needed to have a bit of progression.”
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The new record is certainly progressive. There’s an argument that it’s the most un-Slowdive record of the band’s career, with the four-piece de-constructing their sound to explore elements of post-punk, ambience, and even the driving interstellar rock sound of lead cut ‘Star Roving’. It’s an album that looks defiantly to the future.
“We were confident that it needed to have this progression,” she continues. “We wouldn’t have put it out if we weren’t happy with it, and we certainly wouldn’t have started looking at label deals, either. But I think we all felt that it ended up being a really cohesive collection of songs. It does have nods towards ‘Pygmalion’ and ‘Souvlaki’ but we feel there is a progression into the future.”
“We’re talking about doing another record, so it turned out pretty good!” she laughs. “It’s good to start something new, and it’ll be interesting to see where we go from here. And I guess we’ve got 20 years of experience of doing various musical things, and I guess dynamically that brings different things into the band. There’s just a lot more knowledge there for all of us.”
Released on Dead Oceans, the smooth transition into the second era of Slowdive stands in stark contrast to the mistakes that dogged their opening chapter. “It was great not to have the pressure of a label, but actually I think being the people they are I can’t imagine them being a pressurising label anyway. I think we’ve got tentative deals to do another one or two records with them, so we’ll see how it goes! I think they’re just good people.”
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It’s good to start something new, and it’ll be interesting to see where we go from here.
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“We’re really lucky, we’ve got a good bunch of people around us, both there and the people who manage the band now. They’re just a lot more clued up, and we were completely clueless when we started and made a lot of mistakes, I think, the first time round, behind the scenes. Our accountant ended up in prison. That sums it up!”
Ultimately, though, what Slowdive left behind has only gained in importance as time goes on. Sadly poorly timed – the band’s debut arrived just as the shoegae bubble burst, and a rabid music press lurched towards grunge and then Britpop – their output has ironically taken on a timeless quality.
“When we made those records we always said back then that we wanted longevity as a band,” she insists. “Obviously the music is the most important thing. We had such a hard time in the UK, press-wise at certain points, that it was quite demoralising for us. We were very young, and the whole set up with Creation when things went pear-shaped… it was quite disillusioning.”
“But we were always really proud of the records that we’d made, and we were always a little bit stumped as to why people were so full of animosity and hate for us! It was a bit… God, what have we done to deserve this flack?! And I don’t think we did deserve it, actually.”
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I’d never imagined I’d be in a band doing that kind of thing.
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The band’s return, then, brought with it some long overdue recognition. “It’s incredible. I feel really lucky that it’s happened. If somebody had said to me four years ago that this was going on I just would have laughed at them. People were telling me over the last few years ‘oh do you realise how influential Slowdive now is on these bands?’ And I didn’t really take it seriously.”
“And I think even when we got to Primavera in 2014 we didn’t really get it until we walked out on that stage. And then we were like: now the penny’s starting to drop! I’d never imagined I’d be in a band doing that kind of thing. It was a really emotional experience and I think the last few days have been emotional – certainly for me! It’s quite a surreal thing that’s going on for us”.
“We’re really proud of this record, we’re really excited about it, and it’s really nice to have it out. My favourite thing in the world is doing shows – I love playing gigs and I love the immediacy, the response of audiences. It’s what I’ve always loved doing. It’s nice to be able to come out and play new songs now that are going down easily as well as the old stuff. It’s great!”
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'Slowdive' is out now. Catch the band at the following shows:
9 Glasgow O2 ABC
10 Manchester Albert Hall
11 Leeds Town Hall
13 London Roundhouse