Much derided in their original lifetime, Slowdive are, with My Bloody Valentine, now seen to be the most important act of the early 90’s shoegazing/dream pop scene.
Formed in Reading in 1989, the group, which consists of Neil Halstead (vocals, guitar), Rachel Goswell (vocals, guitar), Christian Savill (guitar), Nick Chaplin (bass) and Simon Scott (drums), became known for both their ambient, euphoric sound and Halstead and Goswell’s sublime vocal harmonies.
They signed to Alan McGee’s Creation label, and, after releasing their self-titled debut single in 1990, recorded three albums, ‘Just For a Day’ (1991), ‘Souvlaki’ (1993) and ‘Pygmalion’ (1995, upon which Scott who had left was replaced by Ian McCutcheon) before splitting up shortly after the release of ‘Pygmalion’.
Halstead and Goswell have gone on to play in Americana act Mojave 3, and both also have solo careers. Simon Scott has both fronted Televise and also had an instrumental solo career, while Christian Savill now plays guitar in dream pop studio act Monster Movie. Nick Chaplin meanwhile has spent the last two decades uninvolved in making music.
Slowdive announced their decision to reform in their original line-up in January. Their first gig will be at the Village Underground in London on May 19th, almost twenty years to the day after they played their last show in Toronto, on May 21st 1994. They will also be playing the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona in Spain on May 30th. Other festival gigs have also been announced over the summer, including the Latitude Festival in the United Kingdom in July, and dates in Europe and America. They also hope to record this year a new album.
Slowdive were for me the perfect band. Prior to the Village Underground gig tickets going on sale, which sold out in ninety seconds but which I was lucky enough to get, I couldn't sleep. I spoke to Rachel, Christian and Nick about Slowdive’s reformation and comeback.
PB: How did the name Slowdive come around? It is also the name of a single by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
CS: I can remember us thinking of names. It was at Neil and Rachel's school's youth club where we used to rehearse, but I can't remember the names we had under consideration. I think it was Nick's idea. I'll blame Nick, especially as he's been blaming me in rehearsals if a bass line doesn't sound right.
NC: The legend has it that the name came from a dream that I had. And there is probably some truth in that. We had a most awful name before we became Slowdive, and we just knew that we needed something different. It seemed to fit. Rachel was always a fan of Siouxsie, so really it was meant to be.
PB: It has been twenty years now since the last show in Toronto, Did you feel there had been a bigger enough gap to relaunch the band?
NC: We don't think of it as a relaunch - that's something you'd do with a brand, and we're not a brand. When the group stopped making music in 1994, that happened for definite reasons. All five of us have since gone away and done different things with our lives, but we've always retained a love for what we created and what we were a part of. We've also remained friends. The twenty years thing is not intentional – when somebody pointed that out last year we all looked at each other as if to say "really?" It honestly had not dawned on us.
RG: This year is just the right time for all of us to regroup and play together. Due to family commitments and so on, it was not possible before this time even though the subject has come up occasionally over the years. It feels naturally right to do it now.
CS: When the band split up there was so much negativity surrounding us that I don't think any of us thought that we would ever get to play together again. In recent years we've been asked if we had any plans to reform, but the timing was never right and we always had too many other things going on.
Everything has just fallen into place and the response has been amazing. The last time we played in London twenty years ago it seemed like we couldn’t pay people to come and see us, whereas now our London show sold out almost immediately. It’s going to be really nice playing to people who are actually excited to see us. I think any band would thrive off of that. We can’t wait to play.
PB: How did the reformation come about? Who spoke to whom and got the band rolling?
NC: Neil and Rachel were in Mojave 3 for a long time after Slowdive. They also had their own solo careers. During that time they were often asked about Slowdive, and whether the band would ever get back together. Simon had left the group a little earlier, and Nick and Christian were together trying to forge an unlikely partnership in Information Technology. We brought all those newly acquired talents together, so now we are really good at messaging each other when we have a new idea for a song.
CS: Neil and Rachel were discussing it for a while. We were all still in touch with each other, although we hadn't all been together for twenty years. Rachel got in touch with the rest of us to see how we felt about it. We were all immediately excited about it.
RG: Neil spoke to me in early summer last year to say that Primavera would offer us a a slot at their festival and asked if I was interested in playing again. We all spoke together after that and discussed a whole bunch of stuff and agreed it felt it was the right time to do it both personally and on a musical level. The resurgence of the shoegaze scene over the last decade particularly has given us opportunities now that would never have occurred in the early 1990s.
PB: How did it feel picking up the electric guitar again, Rachel, and have you still got the original instruments?
RG: Yeah, it's great fun cranking out the guitar again! I don't have my original fender sadly.
PB: How are the rehearsals going?
NC: Good! We sort of remember the songs but really it's just fun to be back in the same environment together. Simon and Nick are awesome. It's like they have been playing together every day, for twenty years, rather than never for twenty years.
RG: Rehearsals are going really well, we are enjoying them.
CS: It was slightly surreal at first. Neil suggested we play ‘Slowdive’ first and we just launched into it as if there had been no gap. It was a really nice moment. Nick is like the dad of the band and he keeps us focused and organised. It was amazing because Nick hadn’t even picked up a bass in 20 years, but he and Simon were immediately locked in with each other. It’s also great to have an opportunity to play some songs from ‘Pygmalion’ as we never got to play those live. I think they are sounding awesome.
Some of my favourite moments of being in Slowdive were when we’d rehearse a new song and everything would click, and we’d all look at each other and think how did that happen? It’s good to have that feeling again.
PB: You are all older and wiser and better musicians, There is talk of a new record. Will the songs still be just Halstead/Goswell songs or are you all going to write?
RG: I will certainly enjoy being part of it. Some of my favourite Slowdive songs are those written as a group, such as ‘Souvlaki Space Station’. There is a great connection between everyone in the group and everyone brings different things to the music.
NC: We're not all better musicians. Neil and Simon are probably better musicians. Rachel is a better mother. Christian and Nick are just better human beings. Any new record that we create will probably follow the same pattern as the previous ones. Neil will have songs and ideas, and we will work around those. Sometimes Neil's ideas will be fully realised, sometimes they will take some work. We are considering branching out into dubstep, but only for $10. Or a pizza. Or failing that All You Can Eat BBQ Rib Night at the Sizzler.
CS: At the moment we’re focusing on rehearsing, but a new record is a possibility. We’re just getting used to playing together again and then we’ll see if there’s a new record in us. Neil is the songwriter and he’s usually got some gems up his sleeve.
PB: Do you have any label interest, or will you self-release it?
NC: Does anyone need a label now? Nobody has approached us, as far as I'm aware.
CS: We haven’t really discussed that, but I imagine we could just self-release it.
PB: What lessons did you learn from being on Creation?
NC: We didn't really attend lessons at Creation. If we did, I would hope it would be an English class. English teachers are the best. In terms of life lessons, well, I guess we learned that you're only as good as your last record. The music industry is very fickle, and we didn't really fit in with the cool cats in London.
CS: Creation was an exciting label back in the day and I don’t think we’d change that experience. There were a lot of things that seemed out of our control though. We had particularly bad experiences with US record labels, accountants and stuff like that. We were also just out of school so we were all a bit naïve. I guess this time we’re trying to keep a closer eye on things and have people around us who we trust.
PB: Do you consider yourselves Godfathers of shoegaze/dreampop. How do you describe what you did then and what you are doing now?
NC: The whole shoegaze label is a double-edged sword. Back in the 90s it became a term of ridicule, whereas now, at least in some places it is used in a very different way. We still think it's a rather silly term, but well - revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold. A lot of journalists and commentators back then became openly hostile to what we were doing, but we always worked on the basis of keeping our friends close, but our enemies closer.
We have never tried to describe what we do particularly. I think one thing that did make us perhaps stand out a bit from the crowd twenty years ago was that Neil's songs were generally very good. Yes, we had a lot of guitar noise over the top, but underneath we always tried to have a damn good tune.
CS: Godfathers and Godmother. I can’t speak for the others, but I don’t consider our position amongst other bands at all. It’s not important. We were just a bunch of kids who liked similar music who got together, and made a bunch of songs that we all liked. Now we’re a bunch of old friends with millions of divorces and kids playing together again and trying to get to grips with the advances in guitar pedal technology.
PB: Do you have a plan with the reunion? Will you do so many dates, a new album and then see how it goes?
NC: Initially we will some festival dates and maybe some club shows. We wanted to see what the interest was, and then if possible raise some money to finance a new record.
CS: At the moment we’re playing a load of festivals over the summer and hopefully some more gigs after the summer. Then we’ll see how we feel. It’s nice that it is totally under our control. It’s also great that we’re getting to play in places we’ve never played in before. Neil and Simon have other projects to think about as well.
PB: Do you have any plans to film or record any of the shows?
NC: Tentatively, yes. We're waiting for someone to make us an offer we can't refuse.
CS: That is definitely under consideration.
PB: After this any plans for a Mojave 3 reunion, Rachel?
RG: Not at the present time. I am very happy to enjoy the Slowdive ride.
PB: Would you say the Velvet Underground were as big an influence as My Bloody Valentine?
CS: They are both bands we have listened to a lot amongst a load of others.
NC: The Velvets and others were probably more of an influence right at the very start when we were playing in bands pre-Slowdive. Once the five of us ended up in a room together and the band started to take shape properly, that changed a little. We, however, did a cover of ‘Stephanie Says’ on our first demo. And there's an obvious link between songs like ‘Venus in Furs’ and what we ended up doing. I remember revising for my Geography O-Level in 1987 and listening to ‘The Snakepit’ by the Cure, and reading about comparisons to the Velvets at that time. I just loved the sound. Needless to say, I got an A.
PB: Do you think shoegaze was killed off by grunge?
NC: Not really - these things are cyclical. ‘Shoegaze’ had a relatively short time in the limelight, and it was never particularly successful outside of ‘NME’/ ‘Melody Maker’ circles. There were bands that could have really exploded out of that scene (Ride for one), but instead new movements like Britpop and grunge arrived, which on the face of it were much more commercially viable, and probably more "fun". But that's okay, we never set out to spearhead a musical movement.
CS: Grunge and Britpop thought they’d killed it, but shoegaze came back as a messed up Zombie that won’t die. I think what happened was that for a while those young bands who were labelled as shoegaze were new and exciting, but nothing stands still. Other new bands with different sounds come along and people get excited by them instead. The Nirvana thing was phenomenal. Scenes come and go, but those records are still around and people can discover them later on. I guess that’s what happened with us.
PB: Thank you.