Since forming in Sheffield in 2006, Slow Club have released two EPs and two albums, each showcasing different and distinct facets of their musical DNA. While most bands seem happy to rest on their laurels, afraid to push their sound forward, multi-instrumentalists Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson get a bit bored of recreating the same things over and over. So while their 2009 debut album Yeah So was a beautifully ramshackle collection of country and folk-tinged strumalongs, 2011’s more experimental Paradise – produced by Luke Smith (Foals, Everything Everything, Fryars) – pushed and pulled the band into myriad new musical directions. But nothing can quite prepare you for the quantum leap that takes place on their beautifully epic forthcoming third album, Complete Surrender.
Recorded with producer Colin Elliot, who’s previously helped create an equally widescreen sound on albums by Richard Hawley, Complete Surrender touches on everything from Motown and the output of Memphis’ Stax Records to the immaculately produced pop of the 1970s, via Frankie Valli and David Bowie. “I was listening to a lot of Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, lots of 70s stuff,” states Charles, reflecting the fact that the band’s varied musical reference points shift and change all the time. Rebecca, for example, spent a lot of time between albums luxuriating in the straight up pop of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, before shifting focus to the likes of Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Fleetwood Mac. “The way these women would tell a story and open their hearts and be simple and truthful in their lyrics really inspired me,” she explains.
The first seeds of what would become the album were sowed towards the end of the Paradise tour, with the Phil Spector-esque, lustful ballad “Not Mine To Love” and the sighing “Everything Is New” first aired in a live scenario. “Those songs were connecting so much quicker with people and you can tell from a crowd what’s working and what isn’t,” Rebecca says. “For some bizarre, magical reason Charles and I were both on the same page with this album. I remember the first time we spoke about what we wanted it to sound like and we were both agreeing and it was like ‘wow, gosh’.” And that sound was something far simpler and more straightforward than what they’d created on Paradise: “Just keeping it bass, guitar, drums, strings, brass, really classic and to the point. I think we’ve grown up and you get impatient with music and you want it to make sense.”
As with most things in Slow Club world, the shift in sound wasn’t some massively pre-planned decision, more just a natural evolution. “A lot of these songs are just us playing them live as opposed to on the last record where we didn’t really do it like that,” continues Charles. “It was fun at the time but we’ve had two more people in the band now so having more people play the songs on stage definitely changes your perception of how the band could be better. It felt like we were more of a gang doing it.” Mostly written in a pool-house hideaway in Stroud, away from temptation and distraction, Complete Surrender – despite being released nearly three years after Paradise – actually came quite quickly, with songs started in January 2013 and the bulk of the album finished by May.
This sense of economy can be heard in the songwriting, which is allowed more of a chance to shine cocooned as it is in simple but effective melodies. “We knew that this record was going to be a lot more straight – more about the songs than anything,” says Charles. “We spent a lot more time on the songs rather than the production or pre-production. So I think we just wanted that to speak for itself really.” “It’s more about the emotion in the lyrics and then the music would compliment that,” agrees Rebecca. “On the last record we wanted to be obscure and push things to sound strange, whereas this one was completely the opposite really.” That’s not to say that the songs are sparse or bare-boned; in fact with lashings of strings buoying songs like the effervescent title track and the pogoing, Brian Wilson-influenced “Suffering You, Suffering Me,” it’s almost what you might call ‘lush’. Rebecca has her own theories as to why. “We’re just at an age now where we want it to sound more expensive and for life to be more fabulous,” she giggles. “That’s all it was really. I don’t find there’s anything more beautiful than that sound.”
That sound was also hard to perfect, with the band keen not to fall into the default ‘retro’ sound so beloved right now. “We really didn’t want it to sound ‘retro,’ but we wanted it to have that grace and sort of respect for itself,” explains Charles. “To avoid falling into that trap we’d just say, everyday in the studio, ‘we don’t want it to sound retro’,” laughs Rebecca. “I think it’s in the playing really,” continues Charles. “A lot of those old records they’re not coated in reverb and that’s what people tend to go for. It tends to just be really amazing players that have practiced and locked in. We just tried to practice the best we could.” The relaxed feel also extended to the songwriting, which was less governed by rules and free of the pressure of it being a complete collaboration. “On this album, we’d start writing a song separately and then finish it together, or one person would start it and the other would figure out what they were going on about and help. The freedom of me being able to sing about some things that were happening to me and for Charles to sing about something that’s happened to him just made it quite a lot easier really,” says Rebecca. “I started to worry that I’d have to say ‘we’ and I couldn’t say ‘he’ or something, so now we don’t worry about that. Fleetwood Mac is an example of how you can all be in a band and you can all sing but it can be one person’s emotion.”
While it’s likely things will evolve again when it comes time to record album number four, Complete Surrender is the sound of a band completely in control of their muse; showcasing not only a desire to experiment but to harness that spirit into songs that still make total sense. Skipping along from the celebratory, upbeat, pure pop rush of the title track (and first single) via the lovelorn urgency of “Not Mine To Love,” to the slowburn majesty of the horn-lead “The Queen’s Nose” – which showcases Rebecca’s emotional, lung-bursting vocals – it’s an album that you’ll want to live inside for years to come.