By Tatiana Simonian
In the late 1980s, while bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam were poised to introduce America to the rebellion of grunge, a seemingly disparate movement had emerged in England known as shoegaze. Anchored in the melancholy post-punk of acts such as Cocteau Twins and Jesus and Mary Chain, these acts relied heavily on an arsenal of pedals, reverb and indistinct lyrics. Shoegaze music wasn’t so much about what was being said, but rather how it made you feel. It was psychedelia for a new era.
The shoegaze movement was heralded primarily by three mainstays: My Bloody Valentine (MBV), Ride and Slowdive. MBV were trademarked by the prowess of guitarist Kevin Shields and their sheer mind-blowing volume live. Ride, discovered by Jesus and Mary Chain’s own Jim Reid, had a psychedelic yet almost pop feel to their music. Ride wrote spaced-out rock that juxtaposed fragility with flanged-out power.
Slowdive, on the other hand, was pure beauty. While MBV and Ride had defined elements of rock to their spaced-out sound, Slowdive preferred to revel in the ethereal. Vocalists Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell sang lilting melodies against the backdrop of swooning guitars and delicate drumming. Their music was transformative and took the listener on a journey; where you were going … was up to you. Although they disbanded in 1995, not long after being dropped from Creation Records (who, ironically, hailed the band’s return this week), Slowdive’s influence would continue to inspire a new crop of songwriters.
In a 2005 interview with M83 after the release of “Before the Dawn Heals Us,” I asked singer Anthony Gonzalez if he had an affinity for the band. M83’s early work seemed highly reminiscent of Slowdive. He acknowledged that their first EP, notably the songs “Avalyn (Part I)” and “Avalyn (Part II)” were favorites and said, “I’m fascinated by all the things which have a connection with space.â€ Slowdive, with signature songs such as “Souvlaki Space Stationâ€ could easily be counted as one of those things.
After Slowdive’s dissolution, Halstead, Goswell and then-drummer Ian McCutcheon went on to form alt-country/dream-rock outfit Mojave 3. Halstead resolutely left his delay and reverb pedals behind and picked up an acoustic approach. He would go on to record several solo albums for Jack Johnson’s Brushfire records. When I interviewed Halstead in 2008, in advance of his sophomore solo release “Oh! Mighty Engine,” he still seemed wary of reconnecting with his shoegaze roots.
“Everything that was interesting about [shoegaze] at the start, actually ended up devouring it. The fact that the bands were all inspired by each other was really nice at the start. But then it ceased to be about pushing musical boundaries – and probably quite rightly, people got bored of it. And also, Nirvana came along with a fucking amazing record that had a lot more passion and something you could grab hold of. Grunge hit and suddenly all those shoegaze bands were suddenly going, â€˜Well, fuck, where has our audience gone?’â€
When asked if a reunion would be in the cards if Coachella ever came knocking, he laughed and said, “I’m still waiting for the offers to roll in.â€
Now, nearly two decades since the band dissolved, Slowdive have announced a reunion and will play Spain’s Primavera Sound fest alongside Arcade Fire, Kendrick Lamar, Nine Inch Nails and others. Buzz Bands LA caught up with members Rachel Goswell, bassist Nick Chaplin and drummer Simon Scott for their first interview with a U.S. publication since the announcement was made.
So, the basic question … Why now?
RACHEL GOSWELL: The time is right for everyone in the band now. We have all been busy doing other things in our lives and it wouldn’t have been possible to do anything before this year. Last year we discussed the possibility of doing a new record and decided that the first step would be to play some live shows and take things from there.
Can we expect to see the original lineup?
NICK CHAPLIN: Yes, absolutely. That was very important to all of us that everyone was involved. Well, to clarify, the lineup will be Neil, Rachel, Christian, Nick and Simon. The five of us worked on everything from the “Holding Our Breath” EP to “5” EP, and everything in between including the albums “Just For A Day” and “Souvlaki.” Simon also drummed with us for by far the longest amount of time when it came to live shows. So really this lineup is “Slowdive” to most people. Ian (who replaced Simon around the time of Pygmalion), will also hopefully be involved in some way.
Can we expect to hear new material? A new album? (Side note: Can you please play “Souvlaki Space Stationâ€?)
NC: You won’t hear new material in the immediate future. It’s a big enough challenge to play all the old songs! However we certainly would be interested in making a new record – it depends how everyone feels and how the shows pan out. If we feel good, enjoy it, and people are interested, then yes, we would certainly consider it. “Souvlaki Space Stationâ€ – well, you’ll have to wait and see but I would think there is a pretty good chance of that. We intend to try and create a set of Slowdive favorites, plus two or three tracks that maybe people would not expect.
What are your thoughts on how the landscape of music has changed since Slowdive was last on the scene?
SIMON SCOTT: Playing live has always been essential for any band, probably even more so now that music sales are lower than ever, so its lucky that Slowdive have always had a good live reputation. The five of us are all very aware of how things have changed in 20 years, such as having access to mobile phones, online social media and digital downloading, but essentially not too much has changed with regards to bands who play guitar music. We still all want to hear great songs and epic soundscapes, much like when we were teenagers listening to The Cocteau Twins, Loop and The Jesus And Mary Chain.
Since the early 1990s, the advancement of technology and the Internet has changed how people now hear and create music. It’s cheap (unfortunately sometimes free), quick and very easy to access the vast catalog of musical history that is available online and this has helped shoegaze filter down into various musical genres, becoming an influence to a few really unusual and exciting artists over the subsequent years. Even some hip-hop and metal have evolved with shoegaze influences and this wouldn’t have happened back in 1990.
What does it feel like reuniting and practicing for gigs again after such a long time off?
NC: Surprisingly normal! Some of us have not seen each other for the best part of 20 years, but the first rehearsal almost felt like we’d never been away. Of course, we are all having trouble remembering things – Neil doesn’t even own an electric guitar anymore! But we’ve sent each other away with homework, and we’re listening to the old songs at home and gradually it’s coming back. In terms of personalities, everyone is really much the same! We slotted back into our previous roles almost immediately, even down to the same Spinal Tap references.
What are your plans for touring stateside? Have there been any festival offers you have accepted?
NC: To start with we are concentrating on festivals in Europe and hopefully Asia. However, we always felt that the U.S. was our strongest market – whether that was true or not is open for argument! As a result we are really hopeful to play again in the U.S. We always enjoyed our time there and it would feel strange to reform and never go back. We had one lovely offer to play at a festival this year, but unfortunately it would have meant breaking our word to another promoter in Europe as the dates were problematic. So the answer is yes – we would love to, and we intend to work hard to make sure that we can come back. The more publicity we can get over there through interviews like this, the greater the chance is that we will be able to!