How Slowdive's fans helped the band relearn their songs
In terms of musical crimes, there are few things worse than bands who get back together for a comeback album and deliver an absolute turkey. Remember Hole’s Nobody’s Daughter in 2010? Yeah, nobody else does either.
So we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief over Slowdive’s first new album in 22 years, Slowdive. It’s an album which both honours the melodic, densely layered guitar sound which made them a pivotal part of ‘90s shoegaze, but also embraces the technology and ideas shaping music right now.
It’s the kind of album which sweeps you up in its rich textures, where Rachel Goswell and co-founder Neil Halstead’s vocals buried deep in the mix have a deep emotional resonance.
“We have always used vocals as another instrument and it’s all about layering and blending in,” guitarist and singer Rachel Goswell explained to me from London last week.
“We used keyboards on the album and a Moog and our drummer Simon is a sound ecologist and does a lot of field recordings in nature and brought those elements in. The songs are like soundscapes.”
While getting back together felt natural for Slowdive, relearning the songs they last played in 1994 was considerably more challenging.
“The first song we played in rehearsal was [debut EP opener] ‘Slowdive’, and it was really easy” Goswell explained. “It didn’t feel it was a long time ago, although we had to keep referencing YouTube videos to remember what was played on guitar. Fortunately, there are some great tutorials from fans on our songs..”
Goswell and Halstead were childhood friends and formed Slowdive in 1989.
“We met at primary school when we were seven which is a really long time ago” Goswell laughed. “My best friend’s mum taught us both classical guitar, so we would pass each other going in and out of her house.”
Their sound quickly caught the ear of Alan McGee who signed the young band to his rising indie label Creation Records.
Their early EPs in 1990 were lauded by critics. But it wasn’t long before the shoegaze scene in the UK fell out of favour as Britpop and grunge arrived.
The notoriously fickle UK music magazines became fiercely critical, despite the dreamy beauty of Slowdive’s recordings.
“[This] record is a soulless void,” Dave Simpson, writing for Melody Maker, declared of their 1993 album Souvlaki. “I would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again.”
Harsh words for a young band trying to make their way in London.
“It was typical of that time in music journalism and it wasn’t just us it happened to” Goswell recalled.
“They were notorious for building bands up and then knocking them down and would always be searching for next big thing. All of a sudden when we did Souvlaki, we didn’t quite fit anymore.
“It was sad, because I grew up reading Melody Maker and NME cover-to-cover. And I would buy records based on their recommendations. But I became disenchanted quite quickly, because some of the writers were really not nice people.
“It shattered any early illusions I had as a teenager about being in a band, which as a kid was all I really wanted to do. So we decided to just make the music and do the shows and forget about everything else.”
It’s clear Slowdive have carried that attitude forward 22 years, approaching their new album with a sense of renewal. Songs like ‘Star Roving’ summon exactly that dreamy wondrous feeling of losing yourself in a night sky with its lustrous melody and incandescent guitars.
For Rachel, the reunion was unexpected, but not unwelcome.
“I didn’t expect to come back to music, but it felt like such an opportunity to do something new and to experience things we hadn’t the first time,” she said.
“My philosophy was to see how things went and only release the album if we were truly happy with it. We didn’t want to be a heritage band playing the same old songs and being a bit older you don’t want to spend time doing things you don’t enjoy.”
Slowdive is out now. Listen to Karen Leng's full interview with Rachel Goswell right here.