Like all good clichés, there's more than a seed of truth to be found in the saying: “a band has a lifetime to make their first record”. So what happens when that band comprises of just two of you, friends and partners in rock for almost ten years, and suddenly it's time to make record number two?
“With the first album we'd probably played those songs about 1000 times before we actually made the record,” says Charles Watson, guitarist and one songwriting half of Slow Club, of the band's debut, Yeah, So. “And for this one,” says Slow Club's other half, Rebecca Taylor, “we locked ourselves away in this little room in Finsbury Park in north London. And we forced ourselves to write in a very different way.”
This was, Rebecca says, “like swimming through treacle”. Compared to their previous lives in Sheffield, where Taylor and Watson met through the local music scene in their teens, joined forces in the band Lonely Hearts – “We were like... a really bad version of the Walkmen” – and then split off to form Slow Club in 2006, the experience of writing in London proved to be a difficult but necessary rite of passage. “I used to write songs in my parents' living room, when they were in bed, with my headphones on. Charles used to write in his mum's kitchen,” says Rebecca. “Then we're locked up together having to write for more than an hour at a time without wandering off to get a cup of tea.”
But the band were keen to show how they had grown up both as people and musicians since the “wahwahwahfitallthewordsin!” (as Rebecca describes it) lyrical content of their 2009 released first album, and from Slow Club's concentrated period toiling away in north London, the album Paradise was born. The band's sophomore album consists of ten songs which capture the duo's idiosyncratic dynamic, at once both upbeat and melancholic, and a perfect balance of masculine and feminine. Even when the melody is gorgeously light, or the riffs are delivered with furious delight, there are still lyrics such as Where I'm Waking's despondently romantic: “I can feel you getting closer…Don’t think about when things get older”. Perhaps that's because Paradise, despite its felicitous name, has a quiet preoccupation with mortality, or more obviously, of loss. “Heartbreak is the dominant theme of Slow Club’s music because that's something we have both experienced the grief of,” says Rebecca, though in a distinctive flash of self-deprecating humour, she deadpans: “Yeah, I'm the dumped girl. That's my thing. I imagine my autobiography will be called Tears of A Clown, I'll just joke about it then cry about it at home”
Hearing about the motivation behind the music, it’s not hard to see why Slow Club found the writing of Paradise to be a difficult, if cathartic, experience. “I think we both wanted to move away from our obsessions on the first album, and look more at our families, and how the loss of someone you love can affect you,” says Charles, before adding: “but we do still end up coming back to love and heartbreak, we can’t help it.”
“So, death and shagging pretty much sum this album up,” says Rebecca. “Yeah,” agrees Charles sardonically, “cocks, fannies and death. That's our thing.”
Cocks and fannies aside, loss is an apparent theme not just in the band’s songwriting, but in the nature of Paradise's inception. Where as the first album was recorded and produced by the band in Sheffield’s Axis studio, this time Slow Club auditioned producers to work with them in London, and that was a process which involved a good deal of creative adjustment from this usually self-contained little unit.
“There were tears and tantrums on my part,” admits Rebecca. “It was about letting go of control… some of those songs were so important to me, even the suggestion by someone else to change it would be like “what!” But in producer Luke Smith, formerly of mid-2000s electro-pop band Clor – and producer of Foal’s Mercury nominated Total Life Forever - the duo found someone who they could trust.
“We auditioned quite a few producers, and until the last day we thought we’d found the one. Then we worked with Luke and the song started to sound like, ‘love is in the air!’”, says Rebecca. Charles adds: “Luke is a total geek. He’s got thousands of ways to make a synth chord sound different. In the end we knew we could trust his taste.”
It’s understandable that Slow Club found it hard to open up and change their way of working; not only do Charles and Rebecca display a kind of effortless, finish-each-other’s sentences kinship off stage, their working relationship is equally close. “When I start a song, I have half my mind on what Charles will do with the second verse. Our relationship works because we totally rate each other, and over the years we’ve become incredibly honest about how we approach songwriting together.”
Paradise itself bears the touch of a songwriting unit who share and divide. Songs begin and end with Rebecca and Charles swapping verses, even when the song itself is deeply personal to one of them. On Never Look Back, which bubbles into existence with cooing two-part harmony, Charles delivers the startling lines: “Baby brother in the next room, trying to bring him back to life”. It sees the 23 year-old singer recalling a dream in which an imaginary brother lays dying in the next room. On Two Cousins, Rebecca imagines that life is simply a journey which ends in our return to childhood when we die. “Hold on to where you’re from, it’s where you heart goes when you’re done”. Gold Mountain drifts languidly, like the lonely walk home after a drunken night out. It is, in fact, yet another song in which the bittersweet melody belies the arresting theme at the heart of the lyrics- “They have found, when life is pouring out, you are the only one that counts-“ Earth and Ash is about Rebecca’s closeness to her granddad, and her underlying fear about what will happen when he dies. “I've not played him the song, he wouldn't get it,” says Rebecca, “He always says (adopting a gruff Sheffield accent): 'why can't you play one of them Eva Cassidy songs? Or something by Joni Mitchell?'”, so I can't imagine a song about him dying is the introduction to Slow Club he really needs.”
So Slow Club had a lifetime to make their first album, which garnered top star reviews and was described by the NME as: “uplifting, catchy, interesting, joyous, heartbreaking and – not that it matters, obviously – very good”. In their second effort, it seems the band have learned the power of allowing songs the space to breath.
With its swooning but raucous take on doo-wop and its frazzled, fragile representation of soul inspired rock, Paradise is typical of a band whose members divide their obsessions between Destiny’s Child and Noise-pop. Slow Club’s currency is songwriting which sees romance in the unlikeliest of corners, and Paradise applies a lighter, more honed lyrical touch to telling their story. More than anything, Paradise is a platform for Slow Club’s mordant Englishness at its best, displaying a restraint and self-deprecating wit even in the darkest of sentiments.