‘When you listen to our records there is a level of wanting people to think and react, and maybe think differently. But live, we really just want people to have fun and lose themselves,’ says Lower Slaughter’s bassist Barney Wakefield.
Pitching themselves at the heavier end of rock’s range with riffs big enough to rival Black Sabbath and vocals so powerful they could raise the dead (courtesy of ex-Divorce member Sinead Young) the four-piece delivered their first collection of socially conscious racket in 2017 with What Big Eyes.
Following that record Sinead returned to her native Glasgow and Barney, Graham Hebson (drums), Jon Wood (guitar) remained in Brighton, but the geographical divide didn’t stop them recording an equally fiery follow-up.
The band are now set to release their second record in March, and Some Things Take Work, while as ferocious as its predecessor, also dives deeper into the personal and political issues broached on their earlier work.
We chatted to Barney about the difficulties of their long-distance band relationship, musical development, and the big issues that run through their latest album…
How difficult is it to manage the band with one third of you in Glasgow and the other two-thirds in Brighton?
It’s really difficult, and it gets more and more difficult as time goes on really. We make it work as best we can. I think that’s the difference with this record to be honest, because with the first album by the time we recorded it we were still living in the same city. With this album we’ve had to write it and record it since we’ve had the spilt, geographical split that is. So, it’s hard. The way we make is work is the three of us, well, apart from Sinead, we write the music together then we send it to Sinead and then she works on lyrics. She comes down when she can and that’s usually to coincide with gigs, so it’s usually here and there.
When we get together to play, it’s like old friends catching up, it’s like a holiday. We’re not a full-time band at all, it’s very part time in that sense. It means we have to turn down a lot of gigs, but it also means when we say yes to things that makes them more special because we have to really put the time in.
There’s a lot of gigs like that in Brighton, in my opinion, bands are just always playing, and I think people know that that’s not really the case with us. If we’re playing you probably won’t get the chance to see us for a few months. It makes it a bit more special for us and those that are watching, I like to think.
Is the record’s title a nod to your long-distance band relationship?
It’s a nod to that and other things as well. It’s the title of one of the songs on the album, and I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, but I think the first song we wrote for the album. So, it’s the oldest track on the album as well. And the title, well Sinead titles all the songs, and lyrically I think that song addresses more personal things, but yeah, as an album title it reflects how we work as a band and how we interact as four friends as well. It really does. We can’t rush things and we really have to put the time in when we can. It takes a lot of work and time, so that’s what the title alludes to, I guess.
When we’re planning things and going through the motions of planning tours and stuff it can be a grind and can be a stressful thing, but when we’re actually touring, recording and playing it’s definitely worth it.
How do you think your sound has evolved since What Big Eyes?
A certain way we’ve evolved our sound – so there’s a track on our first album called Caliban and the Witch – that was a song where there was much more singing going on, like delicate singing rather than shouting. We were really happy with how the first record went, but on reflection those sorts of subtler moments are overshadowed by the loud, heavier stuff. We tried to work on that a bit and give Sinead more space to sing and moments for breath and space in the music.
There’s couple of tracks on the album that especially do that. There’s one track, it’s the last track actually, I don’t know if people will really get it but there’s a kind of RnB feel to the vocals. Sinead is very into RnB and she’s got a large influence and knowledge of that kind of stuff. We really wanted to expand on those kinds of things and not just play straight heavy music. We tried to evolve the sound in that way.
Given the success of your debut, did you feel any pressure to follow it up?
There’s been a little bit of pressure that we’ve put on ourselves around whether people will react to it as well, or worse. But you have to not think about those kinds of things and think about how it sounds to yourself and how you feel about the music. But yeah, we’re aware that there will be some kind of expectations on it. We tried block that out when it came to writing and recording.
We hope people like it, but we know that as long as the four of us like it [that’s okay]. The thing with the first record that was very unexpected. We didn’t expect it to go down as well as it did, but we knew the four of us liked it. We just trusted our instincts and we trust our instincts on this one as well.
Were you at all surprised at the success you found with your debut, given how heavy your music is?
Really surprised, especially when people like Shaun Keaveny were playing it on 6 Music Breakfast Show – we didn’t expect that at all. It did blow us away, and we wish we could have acted on it a bit more. We played as much as we could, but again, going back to the geographical limits we couldn’t do as much as we wanted to.
Lower Slaughter aren’t afraid to tackle some weighty themes, but on the flipside there’s an energy and enthusiasm that counters the darker elements of your music. Do you aim for a certain amount of levity?
Yeah. You know Sinead provides all the lyrics, so if there’s any kind of dark subject, that’s from her. But also, I don’t think all of her lyrics are dark. I think there’s quite a good balance, and some of her lyrics are fun to some degree. But, when were making the music it’s just escapism, we’re just escaping the daily grind – we just having fun with playing music.
So, from the music’s perspective we’ve always just approached it as fun, feelgood rock, maybe that’s a cliché, but that kind of thing. With the way that Sinead writes the lyrics, it gives it a balance. And I think makes it our style, which organically came about.
Mental health is an issue explored on the record, and one that has become more prominent in recent years, not least in the music industry. Do you think enough is being done to support musicians?
The more musicians talk about this subject, and any kind of subject really, that’s only a good thing. It’s good to see high profile bands like, whether you like them or not, Idles. They’re really great ambassadors for talking about those kinds of things, and their work with Samaritans really does help.
I don’t know, again, the lyrical subjects are in the hands of Sinead and I know it’s something she feels very deeply about. She may have her own thoughts on whether these things should be supported more, but as a group, if we’re putting that out there – any sort of train of thought on mental health issues, or any other kind of issues, and people react to it in a positive way and it helps anybody – then that’s a small job done on our part. The more musicians do that, then that’s only a good thing.
You’ve also described yourself as a party band, and that’s also apparent on the new record. Is that also a reaction you want from your audience?
Totally, when you listen to our records there is a level of wanting people to think and react, and maybe think differently. But live, we really just want people to have fun and lose themselves. When we started the band the only real aim – I can only speak for myself on this point – was to make music that people could just throw their fist in the air to [laughs]. Musically that was the aim, and I can see those kinds of reactions when we play. That’s the main objective live – to be a good, fun band to watch.
What bands are you most enjoying now?
I mentioned Deafheaven earlier – I thought the last album was really great. I’ve been listening to a lot of John Hopkins, I’ve really been enjoying Leon Vinehall, he had an album on Ninja Tune last year, I really loved that. The last Pigs album was really great, they’re good friends of ours, we dig them. I really like Snailmail a lot and the Daughters album. Again, I work in a record shop, so I’m constantly listening to new music.
I know Sinead has been loving Cardi B. I’m not sure what the other two have been listening to [laughs]. Graham is in to a lot of classic metal and stuff, but he’s always listening to the new stuff as well. Jon, I’ve no idea. It’s quite funny he used to put on gigs when we first met 15 years ago, I think he listens to less music than the rest of us now.
Prime, that’s a really good hip hop album that came out last year. Christine and the Queens, I really like Christine and the Queens actually. And there’s some really good bands in Brighton and London that we’re mates with. I heard the promo for the new Teeth of the Sea record, which was really good. Rocket [Recordings] are just putting out such good stuff. There’s that core of Rocket and Box [Records] that are putting out really great stuff in the UK. The Big Lad album was really great. It wasn’t as big as it should have been, but they’ve got a really strong fanbase outside of the normal rock scene. They kind of crossed over into that sort of rave culture. They’re doing fine, but it’s one of those records I’m constantly telling people about.
What else is in store for Lower Slaughter in 2019?
The new album comes out on the 29 March, Brexit day. Hopefully we can be an antidote if it comes to it.
We’re gonna be playing some shows around the album, and that’s about it. We’re really the kind of band that takes it one day at a time. We’ve got some sporadic tour dates around the album release.
John is always writing new stuff, so no doubt we’ll be working on that soon enough. For now, our state of mind is releasing the album and playing some shows around it and take it from there. It’s how we did it last time, we didn’t really have any master plan. We released the first album and it did surprisingly well and we just played shows around it as best we could, so we’ll just keep going.
Somethings Take Work is released on 29 March via Box Records
Forthcoming 2019 tour dates
Apr 3 Album release party, The Green Door Store, Brighton
Apr 4 The Old England, Bristol
Apr 5 The Loft, Southsea
Apr 18 Temple of Boom, Leeds
Jun 7 The Moon Cardiff, Cardiff
Jun 8 Box Records All Dayer, The White Hotel, Manchester
Artwork by Julian Dicken moonshakedesign.tumblr.com