Skin In The Game: Slowdive Interviewed

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Slowdive have been called many things, but ‘jet-setting rockstars’ isn’t high on the Clash word cloud when we get patched through to singer Rachel Goswell. Fresh off a trans-Atlantic flight following the band’s North American tour, she’s still getting over jetlag while trying to navigate her answers. The tour, though, has left her re-energised – and the response to excellent new album ‘everything is alive’ has put fresh wind under the band’s wings.

“It was brilliant!” she exclaims. “The gigs were great. There’s a lot of young kids at the gigs. We now occasionally have the phenomenon of screaming teenage girls, which is something new… for us! Never thought that would happen for Slowdive.”

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As it transpires, the band’s song ‘When The Sun Hits’ has been trending on TikTok, with Gen Z claiming the glacial, shimmering musicality of Slowdive as their own. “Well, our manager told us that,” she says smiling. “I’m not on TikTok!”

‘Everything Is Alive’ is the first Slowdive record in six years, and only the second of their remarkable 21stcentury re-union. A finessed, succinct experience – eight songs, 40 minutes of music – it finds Slowdive working with real confidence. “We are notoriously not quick at releasing records,” she notes. “It’s just the way we work, really. For any band it’s always a gamble when you’ve got your new record coming out… in terms of how it’s going to be received. We’ve always done what we wanted to do. We’ve stuck to our guns… it wouldn’t be out there if we weren’t happy with it.”

Setting high standards for themselves, Slowdive also have to navigate their personal lives. First time round, the band were scarcely out their teens – this time round, they have family commitments. “We’re all parents, we’ve got kids, we all live in different parts of the country… so there’s a lot of juggling that has to go on.”

The new album criss-crosses the pandemic, the songwriting framed by some unique challenges. Separated from each other, the band still moved in sync, supporting each other through difficult times. Rachel lost her mother, while bandmate Simon Scott grieved for his father – at times like those, the group’s innate support structure proved to be invaluable. Rachel notes: “The grief side of things may not necessarily be on the record, per se, it’s more of a private thing. But we were able to support each other.”

“We agreed amongst ourselves to take 2019 off as a break,” she explains. “By the end of that year, we had itchy feet – we wanted to do something. Neil presented us with about 40 ideas, in various forms of completion. Some were just nuggets. We whittled it down to 15, and then down to eight.”

“By the time it came to recording, we were all definitely very excited to be outside our houses. Just being together was enough! Having the semblance of a normal life back again.”

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Much of Slowdive’s career has been a work of defiance. Music press darlings for around two weeks, the subsequent backlash hugely distorted the way their music was perceived – just re-visit the original reviews for ‘Souvlaki’ and ‘Pygmalion’; now regarded as deeply influential feasts of guitar-rooted invention, at the time they were dismissed. To survive such a thing, you have to be absolutely certain in the people around you.

“Particularly as you get older, you realise there’s no point in doing this if you don’t get on,” Rachel says simply. “It has to feel worthwhile on a personal level to still do this together. I don’t know whether as a band we’re a bit of an anomaly… the success of Slowdive is something I couldn’t have imagining happening. We don’t take it for granted. The friendships in the band are really important. When you go through 30 years of knowing something… they’re brothers from other mothers, basically. And I’m the annoying sister!”

Clash caught Slowdive at Glastonbury earlier this year. Airing fresh material, the band were one of the weekend’s absolute highlights, yet it was actually the first time they’ve visited Worthy Farm. “I don’t know why that is… it’s a funny one. That’s the first time I’ve ever been to Glastonbury. We’ve played to festivals all across the world, but it’s a different kind of pressure with Glastonbury, mainly because of the cameras and the status Glastonbury has.”

In spite of the huge attractions elsewhere, the tent was packed front to back, with loyal fans waiting hours to get a prime spot. Noting this, Rachel can’t help but praise the supporters who have stuck with Slowdive. “We’ve met some astonishing people over the years doing this. A lot of like-minded people as well.”

Making the record proved to be a focussed experience, with each member inputting in the sound, ethos, and direction of the material. “We are democratic in our decisions in everything that we do,” she notes. “Whether it’s to do with the music or stuff outside of that – gigs, merch… everything we democratically decide what happens. Sometimes that’s frustrating if you don’t win the argument!”

“We wanted to get down to the nitty gritty,” she adds. “We always envisage an album as a vinyl object – Side A and Side B. Simon and I both collect vinyl, it’s very important to us. And that’s all part of the discussion on how to present the record.”

A long-time record collector, Rachel cites Drift Records as her favourite place to pick up new purchases. Clash is also a fan – introduced to the shop by Pale Blue Eyes, who have a close connection to Drift. “Oh they’re one of my favourites! We did a warm-up gig before Glastonbury, and they opened for us. I think they’re great, and they’re lovely people to boot.”

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One of the wonderful things about experiencing a Slowdive concert is their awareness of space; from their earliest tracks onwards, they seem to have allowed room for the material to grow, the minimalist parts intersecting in the most graceful manner. It’s one reason why we’ve never seen Slowdive play the same show twice.

“That’s an interesting observation,” she muses. “I think with live shows, we feed off the audience. It’s an energy exchange. The audience plays an important part. The visuals are an important part. It’s not just the five people onstage. The new songs have a different energy. It keeps it fresh and exciting.”

“Yes I do think we’ll do something! I don’t know when. We’ve been procrastinating for three years about doing it. I saw Justin (Lockey) at Glastonbury. The desire is there. Stuart (Braithwaite) is a close friend. Martin (Bulloch, Mogwai drummer) texted me earlier today, we’re seeing each other in Glasgow shortly. There will be another one, but when it is I cannot say.”

Stuart, of course, wrote a book – would Rachel ever consider this…?

“It has been brought up,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m thinking. I’m just thinking! The truth is, a lot of the 90s I don’t really remember, to be honest. Nick and Christian can remember everything. My memory is quite hazy with Slowdive, the first-time round. Part of that is that I was a stoner. And possibly because some aspects I’d rather forget… they weren’t always the happiest times for me.”

At one point, Slowdive appeared to be lost to us, buried beneath the lava-strewn wreckage of the Britpopalypse. Rachel continued in Mojave 3, while her previous work became to slowly, gradually attract a new audience. “It’s one of the blessings of the internet, really, is that people are able to hear it at the touch of a button. That’s how it’s survived. It’s nice to be part of it, and to see how much the music means to people… of all ages.” 

Now arguably bigger than ever, Slowdive are thirsting to re-connect with fans across the globe. Next up is a South American jaunt, with the band set to play Sao Paolo, Beunos Aires, and other cities that – at one point – must have felt like a daydream.

First time round, Rachel wasn’t enamoured with touring, but that’s all changed now she’s adjusted to the rigors of flying. “Botanical gardens, art galleries, and esoteric shops… that’s my bag!” she says. “It’s good to get time away from each other, to down-regulate before soundcheck.”

Finding perfect balance, Slowdive are making some of the best music of their lives, and attracting their biggest audiences to date. Little wonder she sounds so confident, and so at-peace. “I met so many people on the last American tour, from really young kids up to a 70-year-old. And that’s astonishing, really… and humbling. I’m proud of all the records we’ve done, so I’m always grateful for what’s happened.”

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‘Everything Is Alive’ is out now. Catch Slowdive at London’s Troxy on November 3rd.

Words: Robin Murray