IF you haven’t heard of Slaves yet, they’ll not be off your radar for much longer. The electrifying, savage stage presence and raw sound of Isaac Holman on drums and vocals and Laurie Vincent on bass has been steadily making waves across the UK music scene for the last two years. Carving out a new, unpretentious genre for their oft-mislabelled ‘punk’ sound, the Kent duo have secured themselves a place amongst industry heavyweights; comfortably holding their own alongside the likes of U2 and Sam Smith on Jools Holland and Zane Lowe and Biffy Clyro at Relentless Live 2014.
After appearing on the BBC Sound of 2015 long list and with Radio 1 Hottest Record in the World nods for their singles ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Feed The Mantaray’, the hype is tangible for the release of new album Are You Satisfied? on June the 1st.
The band’s first UK headline tour in May already requires an extra date for a sold out London performance; alongside Reading and Leeds, Standon Calling, Bestival and Longitude to name but a few festival appearances lined up, the duo certainly don’t do things by halves.
In a sparsely furnished room in the back of the Barrowlands, I caught up with the boys on the Glasgow leg of their last UK tour supporting Jamie T to talk influences, integrity and why they actually hate being called punk:
How does it feel now playing your own shows and alongside the likes of commercially successful worldwide artists, in comparison to playing your older shows and support slots for the likes of Cerebral Ballzy?
Laurie: “Well, there are more people to play to! It’s good; I like the challenge of a mixed crowd. It bridges music, punk people to everyday blokes. Like supporting Jamie T… he’s got a lot of fans that aren’t as open minded but we enjoy the challenge of that, every night there’s someone that shouts ‘cunt’ at you for the whole show, but it just kind of makes you laugh.”
Isaac: “We love the heckles.”
Tell us how you met and started playing as Slaves?
I: “Laurie would come and see my old band play-”
L: “And supported your band…”
I: “We just got chatting and he said if you ever need a bassist think of me- then we actually got rid of our bassist and I called Laurie up and he joined the band, and then we just weren’t enjoying it so we broke up and started this.”
L: “I think it was a competition of who got Isaac and I won! It was just like no one actually wanted to make the type of music we were making, so it wasn’t a question of becoming a two piece, no one really had the same influences. Also stylistically, no one was into the clothes we were and for us that is quite important.”
On the subject of aesthetic, now you are signed to a major label (the duo announced they were signed to Virgin EMI in March last year) can you continue to produce that gritty, underground feel in your music? You said previously you were looking to distance yourself from being all about aesthetic and the ‘clique’ nature of the music scene. How do you maintain that integrity and that mind-set?
L: “I think the bigger labels are looking to display that sort of credibility- they signed us for that purpose. We’re not seen as major label. Their jobs don’t depend on us writing the next number one hit. We’re allowed to do what we want and in our contract it states that everything has to be signed off by us. We design all our own merchandise, we do all of that. We style ourselves, everything. Really the people at the label are just excited to work with us and what we’re doing, so we are really lucky. It’s basically like being on an indie label, but with the backing of a major label.”
Do you feel more pressure to achieve success? The style that you have, for me, and I think a lot of other people who listen to your records, is the two fingers up to everything else going on- do you feel like having a major label attached to your name adds pressure, and did you ever set out to achieve success?
L: “I see it as a platform for success- I think anyone would be lying to say they didn’t want that. But when we started Slaves, it wasn’t for success- it was for the love of music. We were both in bands that were much more commercially viable, and then we decided it’s not actually that fun, let’s just start a band for fun. I think we both accepted that we’re not going to make it as musicians; we’re just going to have fun. We never thought we’d be on a stage, never thought any of this would happen, but it happened because we love the music, we’re dedicated, and that’s not changed, and if someone said it’s all over tomorrow, we know that we did – like, we had fun, we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun, so the pressure’s not there because we’d walk away anyway.”
You’ve cited quite eclectic influences, Elliott Smith for one- what have you been into recently?
L: “I probably listen to more acoustic music than I ever do punk. I’ve been listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen on this tour. In terms of the lyrics, the sounds we are trying to make…they aren’t actually straight up punk. Formulaic punk is just… terrible.”
I:”I prefer not to listen to heavier stuff as well, because when we get into a practice or come to a gig and I hear Laurie play a really heavy riff it’s exciting to hear. It’s fresher. If I listened to punk all the time it would be so tiresome. I’m really into my hip-hop as well, lyrics wise, classics like Biggie, Tupac… Jurassic 5 too.”
I hope you don’t mind me saying, but your current attire (the boys are sporting a matching leisurewear combination worthy of Del Boy – classic Adidas tracksuit and trainers, white vests, sovereign laden fingers, gold chains and a fantastic fedora hat effort from Laurie) doesn’t really fit with the straight up punk image that every interview you’ve had so far suggests…
L: “Interviewers are lazy; we won’t give people good answers unless they do their research. The NME get us wrong every time. I think these people that interview us and want to call us punk are not interested in the music. Rage Against The Machine is probably the most punk band that has been around in the last however long, but they’re not labelled as punk either. I think punk is just a stupid name given by people who don’t think about it more. I think people misinterpret it all and it’s time to shake it up a bit.”
So you wouldn’t label what you do at all?
L: “I think we would go as far to say that we hate the word punk…”
I: “But we do also understand that it has to be categorised to some extent. To outsiders they would say we’re a punk band, but for us it’s just the music we make together. We never tried to put a genre to it.”
L: “I think everything develops- like with the first Streets record, they were probably a garage band, then with the second album they were probably more pop related? I feel like our new stuff isn’t as straight up as the first stuff we put out, so in our heads we are definitely exploring- I guess no one’s heard it yet…”
You said in a previous interview your inspiration for writing songs came from everyday things- girls, going out, conversations, poetry, even philosophy. Now, with being on the road to success, your life is going to change- you’re going to be recognised, your everyday is going to change into doing interviews, being on tour, in the studio. Do you think lyrically this change is going to be a challenge?
L: “We’re just evolving with it. We’re documenting the everyday from a different aspect- there’s one song in particular that has the lyric ‘don’t remember the last time I saw 7am’, I think other people might relate with that as well for different reasons, for us we stay up at night and get up late because we’re in the studio, and someone else who say is at university could have the same thing. I think essentially we still encounter everyday life at the moment the same as everyone else.”
I: “I think it’s important to try and involve you in everyday things as well and not get lost in this world, it’s important to switch the TV on a watch a load of shit that’s really uninteresting for inspiration. I don’t think you stop observing just how weird everything is just because you get a bit of success- if anything; it’ll all become weirder.”
How difficult was it to translate your live sound which is pretty raw and in-the-moment to record?
I: “We’ve struggled in the past but we’ve found a producer that really understands us and we really understand him so I do think it’s going to be a lot easier now.”
L: “We tried with 4 or 5 people in diff circumstances in the run up to recording the album- it just didn’t sound like us and it was like quite deflating, then we came across this guy Julian Thomas, and he’s just captured us, since then we’ve had more time to work on the sound and it’s evolved – I’d go as far as to say the record sounds better than we are live now. So were just trying to up it each time and then work out how to do the reverse again.”
How does it feel playing alongside the musical heavyweights- the likes of Sam Smith and U2 on Jools Holland, for instance?
I: “It still hasn’t really sunk in…”
L: “We haven’t really changed anything we’ve done in three years, we were just in a Clio driving ourselves and loading in every day, so people can’t really accuse us of coming out of nowhere. This entire thing still feels quite strange, we still act the same, treat people the same.”
What’s your favourite song to play live?
L: “New stuff is exciting to play live – ‘Sockets’, ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth’. We’ve brought an old song back which is named after our first EP – it’s really fun to play live, it gets the crowd captured.”
L: “That’s difficult. Before I would’ve just weighed in and said ‘him, he’s my hero’, but in some ways I’d never want to make a song with someone like Joe Strummer, because he’s too big. With collaboration, you give something to each other that the other doesn’t have. These people that I really love, like Tim Armstrong maybe, or Jamie T, are so amazing – but I feel like you’d have to veer off to a different angle to actually make it worthwhile. Mike Skinner, that would definitely be interesting, and we love an artist called Baxter Dury- Ian Dury’s son. He is such an inspiration to us. I reckon Daft Punk though – Slaves versus Daft Punk. That’s two on two – pretty fair.”
You’re known for your energetic, captivating live sets. What’s the best gig you’ve been to recently?
L: “There’s this band called Gengahr. Every time I watch them live they blow me away.”
Your music sounds aggressive, but you’ve said you’re actually quite happy. When are you at your happiest?
L: “I think in those moments between things, you’ve just finished at the studio and at home with your girlfriend, or like just about to go on tour and it’s all a bit exciting, right in the middle of everything it all can get a bit tiring, but the excitement of getting home to your family or your girlfriend, those moments are the happiest, when you’re really taking it all in and thinking this is incredible. You do get slow days on tour.”
Finally, you need to clear something up – in a previous interview, you said Davina McCall makes you most angry. Why do you have a problem with Davina?!
Both: “Do we? *laughs*”
I: “I think that was an email interview. Sometimes we mess around with them. Sorry Davina- I’m sure you’re lovely.”
L: “I was probably on a double espresso high and didn’t know what I was saying…”
On that note, I leave the boys to continue doing what they do best- carving out a name for themselves as the must see live act of this year. With an unburdened sense of style, individualism, and talent in droves, 2015 is shaping up to be the biggest yet for the duo; and one thing is evident- these Slaves belong to no man.
You can get tickets for the upcoming UK tour HERE.
Pre-order new album Are You Satisfied? HERE.