Slowness first came to my attention when they responded to a comment I left on another band’s facebook page. Curious, I clicked on their profile picture and discovered, first, that Slowness is a Shoegaze band, and then, after listening to their debut EP Hopeless but Otherwise, that Slowness is a very good Shoegaze band. Two days later, I posted Vibrato 11.04, a compilation featuring “Black & White” – the first song on their EP, and now, a couple days after that, I am interviewing two of the band members: Geoffrey Scott and Julie Lynn. There really doesn’t seem to be anything slow about these guys.
After a few minutes of trying to use an inelligant, three-sided Gmail chat in the manner I suggested, Geoffrey must have figured out how to use Gmail’s group chat function. Suddenly three people in three different locations were all participating in the same chat. What follows is more or less what they had to say.
NWs: First off, thanks for doing this interview. Thanks, too, for letting me use “Black & White” on Vibrato 11.04.
Geoffrey: Thank you, Rob, for including us.
NWs: My pleasure.
NWs: I believe I read that Slowness became the band’s name not all that long before the EP was released in 2010. Is that right?
Geoffrey: Yes, we had a couple of other names before finally arriving at Slowness. They never really felt right at the gut level, but Slowness did.
NWs: Interesting. Who came up with that name?
Geoffrey: We lifted it off a Milan Kundera novel.
NWs: What were some of the previous names?
Geoffrey: Mothers of the Disappeared and Past & Future.
Julie: We came up with those names because we needed to have a name to play out, but they both always felt a bit goofy to us.
NWs: Isn’t the first the title of a U2 song from The Joshua Tree?
Geoffrey: Yes, and we obviously still hadn’t found what we were looking for.
NWs: Good one.
NWs: Alright, now you have a name you like, so introduce me to the band. Tell me a little bit about who plays what instruments, how the songs get written, that sort of thing.
Julie: Geoffrey and I collaborate in writing many of the songs, though he writes all of the lyrics and plays a major role in the arranging and producing. I play bass, keys, and do backing vocals. And we’re really happy to have Scott Putnam playing drums and doing backing vocals now.
NWs: So, who sings “Black & White”?
Geoffrey: We both sing together most of the way through that one.
NWs: I thought it was basically female vocals, but whenever I venture a guess, I invariably get it wrong and end up looking foolish. I have been burned often enough that I no longer care to speculate openly.
Julie: Ha ha! From what gets thrown on the record player, I know how many falsetto singers have influenced Geoffrey.
Geoffrey: After several failed attempts, I hesitated for so long to start a new band, mainly because I always envisioned female vocals accompanying mine on my records, but couldn’t make it happen. It took finding Julie, a summer of finding my own, new voice, and Monte Vallier’s production to achieve that. Now, Scott adds beautiful harmonies to our new songs, so we’re feeling good about our next record, which we’re also working on with Monte.
Julie: Yes, while Monte is not in the band as such, he has played a crucial role in making our music.
NWs: Geoffrey, what did finding your own, new voice entail?
Geoffrey: What I had done, vocally, prior to Slowness did not work for me. There was a difference between what I heard in my head and what came out on tape. So, when I spent a summer in the country, house-sitting, I had the luxury of standing in a room alone everyday for hours, with no one but the dog listening to me as I experimented with different techniques. I just started doing and re-doing demos until the voice sounded right. Being alone and losing most of my inhibitions freed me up to try different things until I finally found the sound I was looking for.
The members of Slowness clearly enjoying their interview with NWshoegazer.
NWs: Are you guys Bay Area natives? How long have you known one another? Have you been in other bands?
Julie: Geoffrey and I have known each other well for more than ten years. Neither of us is from the Bay Area. He’s from upstate New York, and I’m from Canada originally, but grew up around the globe. Slowness is my first band.
NWs: Around the globe? Tell me more.
Julie: I was born in Canada, but then moved to Kenya, then Mexico, and then Hawaii. My dad was a Research Ecologist, and since there wasn’t much work back in those days for ecologists, he found work where he could, and we kept moving. I always went to public schools and just had to adapt to being thrown into new worlds. In a lot of ways, it was a good way to grow up, though I’m sometimes envious of people who grew up in a certain place, knowing their friends for most of their lives.
NWs: Yeah, changing schools, especially mid-year was the worst. My dad’s from Buffalo, but he has lived in Niagara Falls as well. So, I’ve been up in Geoffrey’s neck of the woods.
Geoffrey: We were both born in that region within a few hours drive of each other. I went to Niagara Falls when I was thirteen. That was wild. I kept picturing people going over in barrels and inner-tubes.
Julie: I’ve never been, but I love going back to the Northeast. One thing we don’t have out here in San Francisco is real seasons. We’ve been talking about doing a tour in Japan this winter so we can get some snow.
NWs: Did you know each other back East?
Julie: No. We met out here through mutual friends, and, over the years, we’ve done a few other collaborations that worked very well. From my perspective, it seems like the experience of the collaboration is as important as the music. It has to be cooperative and fun. Which it is.
Geoffrey: Otherwise, forget it. I joined my first band as a drummer when I was thirteen and have been stumbling through them ever since. My first guitarist wanted to take it outside to fight when we couldn’t agree on the chorus in a Judas Priest song. The last meaningful project I was involved in, before Slowness, was playing guitar on tour with [the] caseworker.
NWs: How and when did you come together and decide to form the band that became Slowness.
Geoffrey: Three years ago, when [the] caseworker was in the process of moving away from SF to different parts of the world, I was left with a bunch of guitar sketches. Demos, I guess you’d call them. One day, Julie gave them a listen and was like, “well, let’s dust them off and make them into something.”
I was fortunate to be house-sitting in the country at the time. There were chickens and other animals, so my friend Erik Gross would come and help me fix the fences and stuff. The place had a big living room, so I asked Erik to bring his drums up, which he did. We set them up in the living room and recorded a few songs; Julie engineered most of them. She bought a bass, started learning how to play, and laid down the bass tracks. The dog would bark at the drums; you can hear that on the demos.
NWs: But not on the EP. I know [the] caseworker; I have These Weeks Should Be Remembered.
Julie: I love that album.
Geoffrey: Monte’s on that one. I was a fan of Half Film in the late 90s. Then they disappeared and came back on the scene as [the] caseworker and released These Weeks Should Be Remembered. I went to their gigs, got to know them, and they became good friends of ours. Conor suggested we record with Monte. He also played guitar on the EP and helped us mix it. We did about twelve songs, which we shaved down to six and then down to four. Then the legendary Kramer contacted us on MySpace, said he liked what we were doing, and offered to master our mixes. We were delighted to work with him.
NWs: You know, I couldn’t believe it when I read that Kramer mastered your EP. I think I owe the man an apology. I have always held him responsible for those superfluous and sometimes annoying bits of noise found in some Galaxie 500 songs, but there is nothing like that in your EP; it’s seamless. It’s like that scene in Amadeus where Mozart explains to the Emperor that his music has just as many notes as it needs, no more, no less.
Geoffrey: We are editors more than anything. We produce a lot of annoying bits ourselves and have to step back and say “no to that one!”
Kramer was great in providing atmospherics for Galaxie 500, and was as ground-breaking as an indie producer as Dean Wareham was as a songwriter, and as the band was at doing it their way without anyone’s intervention. They only had Kramer make it better, which is what he did when he mastered our EP.
NWs: I cannot argue with that. I’m sorry for doubting you, Kramer. For my penance, I am going to listen to The Big Sell-Out and meditate on your greatness.
NWs: I’d say that your music was clearly Shoegaze, but it doesn’t remind me of anyone from the original scene. Who do you think you most sound like? Who are your influences?
Julie: We didn’t really start putting ourselves into that category until it seemed like everyone else was saying that we were Shoegaze.
NWs: Well, if sounding like MBV, JaMC, Ride, or Slowdive is necessary in order to be Shoegaze, you aren’t, but I still think you are.
Geoffrey: We do love that stuff, but no more so than Miles Davis or R.E.M.. Julie’s mad about Django Reinhardt, and Scott’s crazy about Ween; I’m still in love with Rush. So there you go.
NWs: Got to love those Ayn Rand inspired lyrics. My favorite Rush album is Subdivisions, what’s yours?
Julie: I came to Rush late, because I was so in love with Post-Punk when I was young that I disdained any type of Metal. I’ve had a lot of catching up to do.
Geoffrey: Signals is my favorite, too. But equally Grace Under Pressure, as I saw them on that tour – my first concert as a young lad without parental guidance, and it was an out-of-body experience.
NWs: Doh! I meant Signals. I was having a discussion with a Last.fm friend, and I told her that I don’t sing Shoegaze songs in the shower; I am more likely to burst out with, “Though his mind is not for rent…”
Geoffrey: “…to any god or government.”
Julie: I don’t sing Shoegaze in the shower either. I guess ’cause I don’t know what the lyrics are half the time. A lot of the time, I love the vocals as just another instrument.
NWs: That is exactly how I feel; I don’t always understand them, but the lyrics have got to be there. With Shoegaze, I can usually only remember the words while singing along.
Julie: I think the new EP we’re recording shows more of a Metal influence than was evident on Hopeless but Otherwise.
Geoffrey: Yes, we will be banned from all Shoegaze websites when it comes out in the fall.
NWs: I was thinking that there is some irony in the choice of Slowness for the band’s name; things seem to happen pretty fast with you guys. Some of the bands I’ve been in contact with have yet to play a single show, others are hoping to raise enough money thru Bandcamp to finance a release on CD or vinyl, while you have put out an EP that Kramer mastered, toured the U.S., and all four of your songs have been turned into videos. How do you explain this?
Geoffrey: We’ve been together for almost three years, and as of now, we have only a four-song EP to show for it. We’ve toured because we chose to, and we pay for everything ourselves. We’re not waiting for someone else to help us. The filmmakers who made the videos are friends of ours who do what they do out of love, not for money or anything else. Kramer is a mystery and a blessing. We don’t expect anything and don’t think we deserve anything, but we’re in love with what we’re doing, and every once in a while, we get a little surprise that delights us.
NWs: I’ll have to disagree with you on the deserving part. I like the fact that you distilled twelve songs down to four, because those four songs are excellent. I am very much a quality over quantity kind of guy, and I like your philosophy in regard to doing things for yourselves. I suspect that if you weren’t worth knowing, you wouldn’t have the friends to make videos, etc..
Geoffrey: Marty, Brad, and Michael (the filmmakers) are all friends of Julie’s. She’s the one who gets things off the ground. She booked the tour and built our website.
Video by B. S. Wise
NWs: Tell me about the tour; where did you go, and what are some of the best stories that came out of it? I am particularly interested in your visit to Portland. I hate that I missed the show, but I had not yet become aware of you, and I have no idea where that venue is; I’ve never heard of it. What was it like? Who did you play with? Will you ever come back?
Julie: The tour was a very interesting experience in lots of ways. We went through Denver, all the way to Connecticut, and back. We had many wonderful experiences with the people at the shows and with the bands who played with us.
The booker and crowds at the Fishtank in Denver were fantastic, and we definitely want to go back there. It is a very underground scene, where it is clear that everyone is at the show for the music. As soon as we arrived in Denver – after a long detour through the Sierra’s – complete strangers started helping us out. It was strange to go from there to Texas, where we had several near death experiences.
In two days, we had two car accidents that were beyond our control, and in the second one, hours before my birthday, I almost got flattened against our van by another vehicle that blindly backed into us. Always nice to remember to appreciate being alive! Right after that experience, we arrived in Granbury, Texas, at Studio 216, where the owners of this great little, off-the-map venue took excellent care of us. They even had a few birthday cakes handy (though not originally intended for me).
We thought we were out of the woods until we entered Tennessee in the wee hours of the morning. When we stopped at a little gas station to refuel, we told the woman at the register about the lunar eclipse going on outside. She had on a T-shirt with “Welcome to America. Now speak English!” printed on it, and she looked at us like we were crazy for caring about an eclipse. Later that night, we played an open air show in the backwoods of Tennessee, with every variety of moonshine being offered to us.
New York City was great, and we really enjoyed playing with Dead Leaf Echo, who we’ll tour with this summer. We stopped at another really cool venue in Pittsburgh, Garfield Artworks. Great crowd. After seeing the Badlands for the first time, we stopped to watch the World Cup Final in Wyoming, and ended up in a bar where we had to wonder if we’d make it out of a Meth nightmare. We almost played with For Against in Lincoln, Nebraska, but the schedules didn’t work out.
Portland was great. Our friends Foreign Cinema came up from SF to play with us. We’ll definitely get back there, possibly in June.
NWs: That’s good to hear.
NWs: About Europe and Japan. Are the dates and venues set? Have you been invited to play shows in Japan?
Julie: We’ve been talking to some bands in Japan and just thinking about where we want to go.
Geoffrey: Monte shared our EP with some labels there, and we have a few connections, so we’ll see where it goes. As for Europe, we know that’s where our fans are. The first person to buy our EP was in Rome, and we have some booking connections there too.
NWs: The Dead Leaf Echo shows, will those be in the States?
Geoffrey: Yes, we’ll do Boston, New York, Philadelphia, D.C., and Baltimore with them in July.
NWs: At the moment, you’re in the studio making another EP: For Those Who Wish to See the Glass Half-Full. Will that come out before your trip to Europe?
Geoffrey: We’re not sure. We’ve had a tendency in the past to rush things along, and it never works. And the production on the new one is getting more and more interesting, perhaps we’ll use some strings and really dub it out. We’re going to take a day to mix each song, then master, then package, then promote, then… So we’ll see. We just want to go play in these places, whether or not we have it done.
NWs: Again, I admire the philosophy.
Geoffrey: There’s no other way to go about it.
NWs: Oh, there is; it just doesn’t yield the best results.
Geoffrey: Right. Especially these days. It’s so confusing, because everything now is so instant, and we expect immediate results. But we’ve been around the block enough times to know that slow is the way to go.
NWs: Hence, Slowness.
Geoffrey: I guess we chose the right name.
NWs: It certainly seems that way.
At this point, we agreed that we were all hungry and had covered a lot of ground in a very enjoyable chat, so we decided to stop here.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
iPod Songs: “Black & White”, “Duck & Cover”, and “Slowboat”
The only reason “Little King” didn’t make it to my iPod is that it is over nine minutes long. If you like Shoegaze, you’ll want to get this EP. Amazingly, during the month of March, Slowness is giving it away in a high quality, Variable Bit-Rate MP3 format at no cost to you. Simply click on the cover art shown above – a link to the band’s website – and, from there, navigate to the music page and click on the link to CDBaby.
*This post takes its name from the first song on Voyager One‘s From The New Nation Of Long Shadows.