Some seem more susceptible to fame and success changing them than others. But this was never going to be the case with Sheffield duo Slow Club, was it? They’re the type of band who may headline the biggest venues in Camden and still come across like they could cameo in a Bisto advert. With their second full-length seeing the two at the top of their game and the tightest the group have ever been, but there’s no cockiness in sight.
This isn’t, however, to say that Slow Club don’t have a boisterous side. Singer and occasional percussionist Rebecca Taylor is definitely someone whose Guardian Soulmates ad would feature the word ‘bubbly’ somewhere along the handful of lines, with interests sure to be listed as Beyonce, Eastenders and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club . Taylor even recently wore a Wednesday shirt-come-dress on stage at the band’s headline Shepherd’s Bush Empire show and in doing so undoubtedly became the Owls’ most eligible bachelorette, with an appearance on Saturday morning footy show Soccer AM almost certainly waiting in the wings.
Charles Watson, co-singer and the guitarist of the pair, on the other hand we know much less about than his female counterpart. Quieter and of fewer words, as we start the interview I find him back at his Northern home having just been catching up with some post-tour washing. When compared to Rebecca’s mile-a-minute natterings, you may assume that Charles wouldn’t necessarily be a journalist’s dream package but what you do get is a someone thoughtful, collected and infinitely humble. Together they embody what Slow Club is all about: reaching high but keeping your feet firmly on the ground. When asked that Sunday supplement, journalistic conversation-filler of what he’d likely to be doing if not in a band, Charles exhales languidly and pauses for more than a second. “I don’t know really”, he stretches these words in his thick Yorkshire accent. “I was going to study History, so I’d probably be in loads of debt.” Seeing as he has perfectly described this writer’s current situation, it’s for the better that he went and pursued the band.
The band’s new album, entitled Paradise, came out in September to favourable responses across the board. The record, the follow-up to 2009 debut Yeah, So, was recorded in London during December of last year and finished off in May with producer Luke Smith, formerly of the band Clor. “Our idea of success is constantly changing from day to day”, Charles says. Indeed, the record has been well received from here to the BBC and even almighty Pitchfork – not that the band read the reviews all that much. “Just seeing people at gigs is the most reinforcing thing, that all this is actually real and that the fans like the new record” Watson argues. “It’s easy to read so many articles and pieces but the only thing that’s actually real and matters is seeing people there at your concerts. It is something physical and that exists, not just writing on a page, it makes you think – you know what, people do actually like you.”
The album certainly reflects a progression and a subtle growth and maturity blossoming in the band. Even the title itself suggests this, the word ‘paradise’ seeming worlds different and entirely more settled than the brash ‘Yeah So’ of their debut. So why did you they choose this title? “Well, we both knew we were after a one-word title – something short and to the point. Then the way the song ‘Paradise’ turned out meant that it made loads of sense to name it that”, Charles explains. Our conversation takes a detour and I ask him what records he’d take for company on a paradise-like desert island. He rummages around for his laptop, worried that whatever he says he’ll probably regret the answer as soon as he thinks about it again later. He lists Bob Dylan’s ‘To Ramona’ as his first, as well as Nico and Jackson Browne’s ‘The Fairest of Seasons’, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ classic ‘The Night’, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor track ‘Gathering Storm’ – Charles’ “favourite piece of music ever written”. Upon realising that these choices only total to four, he then racks his brain painstakingly for a fifth. I tell him he could always just play the others on a continuous loop, but he finally comes up with “just anything by Leonard Cohen”. To me listening to Songs of Love and Hate all alone for eternity would certainly cause you to make a hell out of any heaven – and I like really Leonard Cohen – but each to their own.
Despite all of the album’s critical and commercial success, a strange and darkly comic thing happened on the day of the Paradise release. Just imagine you’re in Charles or Rebecca’s shoes (dependant on your gender and/or shoe size) and it’s the date you finally release your second album – a record that by the mere default of clichéd sayings will always be touted as your “most difficult” and “most important”. Well, what’s the worst thing you think could happen? Perhaps a shock release from another group? Maybe a comeback from one of the world’s biggest bands? How about putting these two things together and adding the exact same name to the sleeve of the release, as this is exactly what happened: with Coldplay snap-releasing their new returning single, also called ‘Paradise’, on the very same Monday.
“I didn’t actually know until the day. I think it was Rebecca who told me”, Charles says. The word ‘paradise’ quickly shot to trending status and news feeds were filled with people nattering on about Chris Martin’s new vocal style, interspersed every so often by Slow Club fanatics complaining that everybody was talking about the “wrong Paradise”. The unflappable Charles remained calm amongst this seemingly disastrous PR event: “I wasn’t too worried, to be completely honest, as I don’t think that our fans who would buy the record anyway would necessarily get us confused with Coldplay all that easily. I’ve not even heard their song and I don’t think they would have ours, so there’s no beef!” He pauses with a thought and continues: “I think there was also someone else who released a track called something-Paradise that day too, I saw it on Pitchfork . We probably should have just thrown a joint-release party if we had known.” Slow Club, Coldplay and Drake: now that billing would have been truly something else – and quite literally something for everyone.
Such is the homely-seeming nature of Slow Club – which is maybe down to their strong Sheffield accents or perhaps just their consistently level-headedness that always comes across in interviews – but it poses a question of how they cope in a world of fast-paced living and seemingly-endless travelling. For someone who’s never journeyed on a scale that most modern bands do a least twice a year now, it seems as if it would be quite understandable to miss the comforts of home even when surrounded by such great opportunity. “It’s better to treat touring as a chance to have fun, rather than waste away in dressing rooms. I actually find travelling to be one of the most stimulating things you can do, especially creatively” Charles says. “If you can be bothered to get up and explore the place then it makes the opportunity seem more like a holiday. We’ve gone to the beach quite a few times on this tour, because the weather has been unusually good.” I ask Charles about a few shows the band played in Tokyo last year where Rebecca in particular seemed quite homesick at the time. “That tour was quite difficult for the pair of us – it was a strange ten days. We had never experienced any weather like that before and along with the jetlag, it just made us zombies. We were doing two gigs a day which definitely took its toll and made us so exhausted”. But like many musicians – Tom Waits included – Charles has much love for Japan as a country: “Tokyo itself is such a fascinating place and we did meet some interesting people out there – I think we’re going to go back in January, but nothing’s confirmed quite yet”.
It’s quite common for things to get tense in bands: you’re surrounded by the same faces day-in day-out and performing next to the same people every night, it’s easy for things to become grating. Their mere member count means things could become especially claustrophobic on the road for a group like Slow Club, especially seeing as the band consisting of two friends who met in school and have been together as a sole outfit pretty much since. For these recent UK dates the duo have added two new live musicians to the touring band, as Charles explains: “I think we’d both reached that point last year, maybe it’s because we had been touring a lot before recording Paradise, but we both were kind of getting to that point where something had to change. We weren’t at the point of constantly arguing or anything, but it felt like it’d be good to try something different.” Charles seems to think that this has only made the connection between he and Rebecca even stronger. “It’s been a breath of fresh air having two more with us on the road, as it’s made us both realise what we’ve got when it is just us two. It’s been a good eye-opener in a way.” There’s no plan to increase their number count in the long-term though, Charles says. “But I don’t think we’ll ever add any more members to the permanent band, I think we cover all bases in the studio between the pair of us. This is just the way we like it.”
The band recently played their biggest headline show to date at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a show that sold out on the back of Paradise. “It’s been really cool seeing more and more people at our shows. Especially these last few, the audience numbers have really grown”, Charles says in his ever-humbled tones. “We’ve never been the type of the band that sells things out in a day, where tickets go really quickly or anything. But with these ones, the numbers have shot up – which is such an awesome feeling.” On that night of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire show, I remember reading a little snippet posted on the internet by somebody who was there remarking that he was surrounded at all angles by loved up indie couples in the audience. Slow Club do indeed seem like one of those bands that people just want to share their passion for. Recalling this anecdote to Charles, I ask how it feels to have such an impact on others. “Well,” Charles reflects, “there’s so many albums that make me think of a really happy time with someone – so for it to be our music is really cool”. But then, of course, there’s the downside: “I just hope they don’t all split up at the same time or then everyone will hate us and associate us with that”, he laughs.
Slow Club themselves aren’t strangers to their admirers either, especially famous fans. The group’s lead single ‘Two Cousins’ was recently remixed by none other than Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, better known as Glasgow’s Arab Strap. This sentence is strange enough to write, and the thought almost too bizarre in theory to comprehend, but what is even more peculiar is how effortlessly natural the reworking sounds. Charles recalls how this all came about: “Well, Aidan Moffat used to live in a flat beneath a friend of mine up in Glasgow” he explains. “Becky’s always been a big fan of his so one day we were staying there and she slipped a letter under his door with our CD in it and a little note. And then Malcolm turned up to see us a play at a show in Scotland”, Charles continues. “They totally did the track off the cuff really and didn’t say anything about it until it was done – but it worked really well, I think.”
With Paradise only being out a matter of weeks and still a couple of months left of the year, it’s surprising that as our conversation draws to a close Charles seems to have his sights sets firmly on the future and 2012 already. “We’ve already booked an Australian tour for February” he says. “Hopefully we can fit in Japan and America around then as well.” There’s also a new release already in the pipeline, the singer reveals. “We’ve been talking about writing another EP around May as well, which we’re hoping to record before next Christmas.” The band have stated in previous interviews that they see this album as a stepping stone between their original sound and what they’re aiming for, so what are they working towards? “I think that the EP at least will be a bit more stripped-back”, he ponders. “We’ve spent most of the year recording this record, so it’d be good to do something a bit more relaxed. While we want to record more stuff, we don’t want to spend another two months on five songs”, Charles explains with a sense of nostalgia in his words. “We learned so much from Luke [Smith, Paradise producer] and I think we’re going to do the next album with him as well, but for now it’ll be good to do things in more a laid-back, kind of old-school way – like we used to do it at the beginning, I guess.” Charles stops for a moment, before continuing: “I guess it could sound a bit silly, but it’ll be nice to go up North, spend time back at our parents’ houses, see a few friends, have a bit of a break, kick back and record with some different people.”
But before this, there’s the small matter of that annual festive show at the intimate Union Chapel that we’ve all come to expect. “We haven’t fully planned the Christmas show yet but we’ve been talking about it”, Charles says with a certain coyness. “We’re looking to bring a special sort of instrument in for the performance, but not sure quite what it will be yet. So it’ll remain a bit of a secret at the moment.” Along with exhausted comparisons to the White Stripes and any other boy-girl group under the sun (just not the Ting Tings, please), the theme of Christmas seems a very easy journalistic area to prod at with Slow Club. Their debut hit ‘Christmas TV’ came out back in 2009, featuring in NBC sitcoms and the like, the group’s own Xmas EP and accompanied by the annual yuletide show, the festive season does seem to be a key thread running through Slow Club’s work - but Charles is ready to downplay this once and for all. “We’re not overtly Christmassy or anything. Yeah, we did the single one year and then an EP the following Christmas, but to be honest that EP was just an excuse to go in the studio and record a load of stuff without having to worry about it being a proper release or anything, or a full-formed album.” But this doesn’t necessarily mean the duo aren’t looking forward for their festive treat: “It’s still quite a nice thing to do though, because so many bands don’t play at all around Christmas. Being able to establish this show now as an annual thing means a lot. Many of the people coming will be ones that have been the year before so that’s nice” he says.
So the group aren’t going to be gunning for a Christmas #1 any time soon? “I don’t think so”, Charles laughs. “Sure, it would be great for the PR aspect but I don’t think we could quite manage that. And I don’t think Rebecca would want to topple whoever wins X-Factor off the top of the charts either”.
Paradise is out now on Moshi Moshi
Photo credit: Phil Sharp