We’re huge fans of Slothrust here at Sister. So we were pumped to hear news of the band releasing new material seemingly so soon after celebrating the UK release of their previous album, Everyone Else last year. We were thrilled to catch up with singer/guitarist Leah again, as her compellingly raucous and creatively unpredictable band embark on a fresh tour in support of their incredible new album, The Pact…
With a new absolute behemoth of an album just released, there’s clearly been a lot going on with Slothrust since we last saw you guys thrashing out in support of Manchester Orchestra (which was an incredible gig by the way!) Could you tell us a bit about how you’ve spent the time since the last record and tour as a band - and the process behind creating The Pact?
After we got back from Europe we started refining the new material and tracking demos. Many of these songs we ultimately put onto ‘The Pact’. We began talking to producers and met the brilliant Billy Bush. He had the type of ears we were looking for. This was our first album where we had the opportunity to spend more time in the studio and experiment with different sounds. We entered this recording process very open-minded.
You’ve claimed that this is "the most fun” you have ever had making a record”. What differences and developments to your approach made it so?
While making this record, we were less concerned about recreating these songs live, and focused more on how to push each of them to their full potential in the studio. Arranging them for the live show has been an entirely different process. I played the keys parts on the record, but we got Kyle a keyboard for our stage show and that really opened things up.
Does this also affirm that the band are tighter and happier than ever when it comes to crafting songs/recording/performing?
In our last interview you told us that you were constantly pushing to write more material and create music that might not even make it on to a record because you like to give songs time to breathe and evolve. Have any of these new tracks been brooding for a while and achieved their evolution, or have they been produced fresh for The Pact?
This album is mostly made up of songs written during the past couple of years. Some of them were written recently in one sitting, like The Haunting. Others I was experimenting with for years. I wrote the main guitar riff from Fever Doggs so long ago that I can't even remember. Travel Bug is a song I wrote on classical guitar on this island off the coast of Massachusetts (where I am from) called Star Island about two and a half years ago. The oldest song on the record is Some Kind Of Cowgirl. I wrote that as a consideration for our previous record, but ended up revisiting it for this album instead. Its first incarnation was on a really cheap Yamaha keyboard I recorded in a freezing room in Brooklyn that I was subletting one February.
You’ve mentioned that you were also able to take risks with this new album, and that you’re saying “yes more than no these days.” What triggered this shift in mentality? And what have you found to be the outcome so far?
We have all been playing lots of different types of music for a very long time. I used to be super into austerity, even detached in a way. I had more of a stoner-metal aesthetic and approach to live performance. I spoke very little and made zero eye contact with the audience. As time has gone on, I have grown out of that and would rather do a show that feels more theatrical and full of dynamics. One of my earliest passions was musical theatre. I no longer feel the desire to hide my voice behind instrumentals that drown it out. I am ready to be heard clearly.
On the subject of being heard clearly - we have just released the ‘Sound Issue’ of Sister. How far do you think music and lyricism can still provoke change and positively influence in today’s cultural climate?
I come from a poetry and creative writing background so I have always been committed to lyrics that say something. Crafting lyrics that can stand on their own and communicate as poetry and prose is crucial for me. I like to think of the music and the lyrics as serving each other in order to say something that neither could quite say on their own. To me, this creates the most compelling art. Everyone digests things so differently. There was a layer of darkness and gloom on the previous record that I think a lot of people felt a deep connection to. 'The Pact' takes that feeling and embraces it when it feels right, but ultimately pushes past it and offers a new type of light. I'm stoked to have a queer-power song on this album, as well as so many others that feel they are from a place of confidence.
You begin and end The Pact on two very different tones. Double Down with its poppier hooks and trademark fused chorus, then concluding on a very intimate, acoustic level with Travel Bug with which you can’t help but reflect on where the record has taken you from start to finish. Does this contrast represent something of a narrative journey for you?
There is a very similar lyric that appears on both Double Down and Travel Bug. The lyric is about rolling the dice, and getting snake eyes every time. I liked the idea of using this lyric against two totally different musical and lyrical ideas. You begin to reevaluate its meaning in a different context. Winning does not always mean the same thing. Depending on how you think about it, those two songs could be viewed as parallel, or opposite. Double Down is about getting free, tearing walls down and staring your bullies in the face. Travel Bug has to do with being guarded and attached to your solitude because it makes you feel capable.
The Pact otherwise unravels at a fairly varied pace - those immersive, and intimate acoustic moments weaving in and out of the fierce, rapid production of the likes of Fever Doggs where you just sound like you’ve turned the amps on and just completely let loose on your instruments. Was this intentional when structuring and ordering the tracks?
We thought a lot about the best sequence for this album. It was tricky because each of the songs is pretty different. It took some experimenting, but I think we landed on the appropriate order for the musical experience we wanted to offer. Starting with Double Down, which is the poppiest track on this album, and ending with Travel Bug, a song that I recorded by myself in my house in just one take, felt so right.
Now that the time has come to start blasting these new songs out on tour, what can we look forward to experiencing at a 2018 Slothrust live show?
You can expect a more dynamic show than you have seen in the past. We even do a song where Kyle (bass) plays keyboard while I just sing. That is entirely new for me with this project and I am loving calling forth my childhood theatre dreams. Next up is magic tricks.
You can listen to The Pact and for more info on Slothrust’s current tour here (UK dates in the new year!)
The band have also just dropped their new video - a sensory realisation of Leah’s subconscious - for ‘Birthday Cake’ which premiered on Paper Magazine.