Having released one of the most absorbing noisy, dark hardcore EPs this year, Portland’s SLOTHS are getting ready to enchant us with more intense blasts, twists and roars. In my interview below, SLOTHS inform the world about the writing process for their as-yet-to-be titled debut full length, discuss some of the influences behind starting this band, DIY and hardcore punk culture, and a lot more. Be sure to take a read and leave us your thoughts!
Formed in 2010, SLOTHS have released a demo and two EPs the later of which, “Knives” was released on Vinyl via Black Lake Records, Don’t Live Like Me Records, Loaded Sound Records, and Hash Crimes. They have extensively toured the west coast as well as covering the majority of the US in August 2013 and have recently wrapped up their “Twenty Years” West Coast / Midwest tour in September. Their recent EP, “Twenty Years” is a split release between The Ghost Is Clear Records, Don’t Live Like Me Records and Illuminasty Records.
Hey guys! Good to have you here. What’s up? How’s fall in Oregon?
Kyle: Hey. Lots of school/work/catching up on life for us right now after getting back from a month long tour (getting back from tour is always a bummer). Band wise we are setting up a release show for the vinyl release of our new EP “Twenty Years” (it is coming out on tape too!), writing new music, and trying to figure out some sort of winter tour. Fall in Oregon is rainy and gloomy but I like it like that. I think I have some sort of reverse seasonal depression from growing up here; I tend to get depressed and restless during the spring and summer and feel more comfortable during the fall and winter.
Ha! My man! I’m experiencing pretty similar feeling at my end.
Ok, so “Twenty Years”, your newest EP will be out on Vinyl in October via The Ghost is Clear Records, Don’t Live Like Me and Illuminasty Records. Are you happy with the final result of this offering? How tough was it to put it together?
Kyle: The vinyl is almost here, —we have the test presses—and if all goes according to plan this release will be the best thing we have ever done aesthetically speaking. It will be our first release on colored vinyl (clear), which I am really stoked on and will have high quality artwork made by our bassist Alec van Staveren (and those cool matte black inner sleeves—I’m a vinyl nerd).
Content wise I think this is the best thing we have ever done (although I can’t speak for Alec and Nate). I feel a lot more confident about my lyrics on this release and I think the music is more cohesive than what we have done in the past. Also the recording and mastering quality is markedly better than anything else we have put out (thanks to Fester from Haywire Studios and Brad Boatright at Audiosieged).
The labels we are working with are all great although it is very hard to organize split-releases. Getting this record put out was a frustrating process. We initially pitched a 7’’ but soon found out that what we had recorded was too long to fit that format. It was hard to find people who were willing to pay for a 12’’ initially (pressing records is expensive!). Eventually we talked to The Ghost Is Clear, Don’t Live Like Me, and Illuminasty and they were all down to put it out.
Four different labels put out our last record Knives. This was actually beneficial because the record reached many parts of the U.S. (and Europe, Black Lake Records, who helped put Knives out is based in Scotland). Hopefully working with three labels all based in different places will have the same effect.
Don’t Live Like Me is a Massachusetts based label that we really trust and have worked with before. Kehan, who runs the label, has been a huge supporter of our band since at least 2011 and has done a lot for us. The Ghost Is Clear Records (mostly out of KC) is run by Bobby from CANYONS and Brian who used to be in TIGON. We played our third show ever with TIGON and we have looked up to that band and label ever since; we are really excited to be working with them. Illuminasty Records is a new label based in Seattle/Portland that our friend Tristan is starting (we are his first release). Tristan has really eclectic taste in music, plays in the fucking amazing band LEATHERDADDY. and is an all around good human. We will both get a lot out of working together. The three labels all have different aesthetics and varied musical output which is perfect for our style.
Awesome! How do you approach each different form of writing? Is it usually some incident or moment that leads you to write a new track? Tell me more aboput the process.
Kyle: As far as music writing goes, we all participate in writing each song. Generally Alec (our bassist) or I will write riffs, —we often write parts together—and then bring them to Nate (our drummer) who will add beats to them. Nate critiques our writing and offers suggestions for changes in tone, timing, feel etc… Once we have a few parts that flow well together we go about turning them into a song—writing transitions and making sure everything “works”. Sometimes we spontaneously come up with parts while jamming at band practice, but normally I like to write in my room on an acoustic guitar or with Alec.
The lyrics don’t come until after the music is finished; this style of music calls for very percussive vocals and so I often have to write lyrics that fit the amount syllables in a given vocal pattern (I make the patterns up first by just screaming nonsense at practice). Lyrically I always attempt to draw from experience, —I am more attracted to singers who sing about things they have been through–yet touch on aspects of life that are universal and relatable.
Twenty Years is about the most relatable subject of all: death. I know that every writer and artist explores death at some point but it is continuously fascinating because every person has a private and singular relationship with the subject. The lyrics for Twenty Years were sparked by the death of one of my two closest childhood friends (they were twins). He died at the age of twenty (in 2013). His death was the onset of a depression for me (something that often crops up unexpectedly in my life). I attended his funeral and the funeral of a neighbor that year. At his funeral, and in its aftermath, I was able to see first hand what it is like for someone to die young—the way it permanently changes their family and affects everyone who knew them. I had my own brush with death in 2011—I was suicidal and heavily detached from reality–and my friend’s death really forced me to see the subject in a different light.
The lyrics for Twenty Years address all of this and also explore funeral customs in the US (and how strange they seem to me), the preservation of life through art (does this mean anything?), and the afterlife (hint: I’m a big Camus fan). Our last EP, Knives, was about growing up and reflecting on my own experiences with suicide (although Nate wrote his parts on that record—they have similar themes but are about something else); in a way, lyrically Twenty Years is the really fucked-up, dismal, and unwanted sequel to Knives. As depressing as this all is I really tried to carve out some room for hope in these lyrics—it was very difficult.
Do you feel like you are rearranging people’s minds with your lyrics? Or at least trying to?
Kyle: No. I have no intention of changing the way people think about these things—I’m in no position to do that; I know as much about death as anyone else (nothing). The most I can hope to do is translate my experience in a way that is relatable and compelling for others. In a sense, writing about this stuff is selfish—for me, creating something out of a negative experience is the best route to healing. Writing, like making or listening to music, is a method of lessening our sense of isolation.
Speaking about making music, how do you think your sound has evolved since the early stuff? Are you seeking progression in the instrumental area of your work? How important is the form and the shape of things for you guys?
Kyle: Our music has changed immensely since the first demo (released in early 2011). Our sound has evolved most in terms of cohesion. The three of us have always had pretty different tastes in music with a few shared influences. When we first started we would switch between so many styles in order to cater to our diverse tastes. These rapid stylistic changes made for some very spastic sounding music. Our early recordings have a very linear “cut and paste” feel to them—there are quick successions of riffs that sometimes don’t sit well together.
As we have grown up with the band (we started when we were pretty young) our interests and tastes in music have pushed even further apart. Between the three of us there is an incredibly diverse and contrasting set of influences, and yet our sound has become more unified. We try to blend our influences together to write music that is unique—we hope to make music that is more than just a bunch of genre or band references (“this sounds like _____ but with a little bit of ______ and some _______thrown on top”), we want to make music that sounds like SLOTHS. Over the years we have consciously tried to highlight songwriting over technicality; we place more weight on the songs that we play than the fragments that make them up. We also place a lot of stock into the way our records flow together as whole pieces of music (on Twenty Years there are shards of the same melody scattered throughout every song, this melody appears in its completed form at the end of the record). The “form and shape of things” is incredibly important to us.
Beyond the intentional shift towards a more cohesive sound our music has changed from record to record in some superficial ways: Each record has been recorded in a different setting, we have acquired better equipment over the years, and Nate and I have become more confident in our roles as vocalists.
Apart from music and direct inspirations for your lyrics, are there other things, people, issues, cultures, etc. that influence your work and approach to running a band?
Kyle: Well the most obvious influence would be DIY culture. Like many bands that start when they are young we did not have (and still don’t, although we are lucky enough to have labels supporting us) the means to fund vinyl releases or fancy t-shirts, or pay for others to do art for us. Because of this we ended up doing things ourselves (dubbing tapes in my room at my dads house, silkscreening shirts with free ink at school, creating our own artwork and layouts and booking our own tours).
Nate volunteered for many years at a radical bookstore/infoshop in Portland called Laughing Horse. Although we have never been a “political” band we are definitely influenced by the way that place was run in terms of running a band (making things cheap and accessible for people-keeping merch very close to cost and putting any profit back into the band and playing donation based shows). Unfortunately Laughing Horse closed down very recently and Slabtown— one of Portland’s only other community based all ages music venues—followed suit. We have always been dedicated to all ages music, having started the band when we were underage we know what it is like to be denied access to shows (either playing or attending them). We try to make as many of our shows as possible accessible for everyone. There aren’t many venues left for that in Portland, but Nate puts on shows at his house where we play frequently.
Is writing and performing these tracks an attempt to understand things, an outlet for something, or an attempt to communicate? What are some of the keys to understand the need to run a hardcore band like yours?
Kyle: Writing and performing this music is in different ways all three of those practices (an attempt at understanding and communicating my experience as well as an outlet to do so). I write lyrics for SLOTHS as a way of processing events in my life—usually things that are hard for me to process emotionally otherwise; writing reflectively about these things helps in understanding the way they have affected me. Writing music with others (Alec and Nate) is in some ways, a more honest form of communication than talking—sometimes it feels like I can relate to people more fully through music. Playing live is obviously a very direct (albeit one-sided) form of communication with the audience—sharing my experience and (hopefully) providing something relatable for those who have gone through similar things.
Playing hardcore influenced music is ideal for this sort of communication because the genre is so immediate. This is music that when played live can be felt in a tangible way—it physically moves people. Because of this, it is an ideal format for translating external experiences. I have another project (called DROWSE) that I use to translating the internal. Also, playing this type of music is just really fucking fun—it is a great way to escape the banality of everyday life. Like making any form of art, playing music provides a sense of purpose.
Ok, so back to your work – it’s been 4 years since you formed SLOTHS and this new record marks your third EP. Why not release a full length? Are there already some plans to put out a debut album?
There are a few reasons for this. Although we started in late 2010 Alec and I moved to another state in 2011 and didn’t return to Portland until 2013. As such, our time together as a band was limited to when we would visit Portland. We would have to plan tours very specifically and have little to no rehearsal beforehand. When we would write, we would write song over the span of a few focused weeks (it was this sort of focused session that produced Knives).
We take a very long time writing songs—we try and make sure each part sounds the way we envision it. We would never want to rush the songwriting process in order to have more songs. I like to think of each EP as more of a mini-LP—we have released our past two on 12’’ format with the same attention to detail packaging and production wise that a full length would receive. We would also rather leave people wanting more as opposed to giving them too much—many full length records—especially by loud bands—end up overstaying their welcome at around 40 minutes or so (when we record our first full length it will still be “short”).
As I stated earlier we have grown up with this band and our sound has changed immensely. Every release has sounded different than the last and we feel our sound is finally starting to cohere. Each EP has provided us with the growth that we needed to get to where we are. Our next release will be a full length—we are in the process of writing it.
Great to hear that! Please be sure to drop us a line as soon as you have some details to share.
Ok, so let’s close the main part of this interrogation with one more question about the album. You brought this new effort on the road during you West Coast/Midwest tour this September. What feedback did you receive from the audience? How were these shows?
Kyle: I’m stoked to be able to say that this was our most successful tour yet. We have gone on longer tours before, but this tour had the most overwhelmingly positive response to our music. The new material translated better live than anything we have done in the past (especially for those first hearing it—our older stuff is more spastic and therefore harder for new listeners to grasp on to.) We had some shows where big mosh-pits broke out spontaneously. Some specifically memorable shows were in Champaign/Urbana IL (thanks again Maddie Rehayem!) and Santa Cruz CA (NILS!), and Nashville TN. At this point we have toured the West Coast enough to have established friendships in many different cities; the shows have only gotten better. We are finally beginning to feel that connection in other parts of the country as well.
Who do your feel are some of the most underrated artists coming from your area?
Kyle: There are so many great yet underrated artists coming out of Portland/the Pacific Northwest/West Coast. I’m going to name a lot, I hope I don’t forget anyone:
Oligopolist Records is a label I am associated with based in Portland run by a few of my friends. They specialize in experimental music (mostly electronic based). Some of my favorite artists on the label are: ITALICS (ITASCA PHASAR), STUDENTS, THEE WXRD CALIGULA, BIG SIGH, Garren Epley, and Taylor M. They also put out some French musicians such as PUN COLLINS and CHAMBRY and release visual art by great artists such as Ryan Selle and Amanda Mackenzie-Noice.
Good underrated Portland bands: U SCO, HONDURAN, THE SKY ABOVE AND EARTH BELOW, LOVE AND CARING, MR. BONES, TROUBLED BY INSECTS, DDY GLOBOX, CARRION SPRING, POLST, PRIZEHOG HUMOURS… There are sooo many.
My roommate Kevin makes really sad/beautiful music as DESERT OF HIATUS.
Some underrated West Coast/PNW bands: WHATFUNLIFEWAS –I fucking love this band, KING WOMAN, FOIE GRAS, VALLEY GIRLS, LEFT ASTRAY, DHARMA, my friend Nils is starting a band called LEUCROTA, LEATHERDADDY, DARTO, again there are so many good bands from our part of the world that it is hard to list them all—sorry if I forgot anyone. Definitely check out all these artists!
Alright. I guess that’s it from me, buddies. Thanks so much for the very insightful answers! Is there anything you’d like to add here?
I’ll add a bit of shameless self-promotion (haha). All three of us have other projects that we play in and you should check them out!
Thank you so much for your interest!