Dreamy gazey indie space rocker trio Slowness are Julie Lynn, Geoffrey Scott and Christy Davis. We caught up with Julie to chat about single ‘Sand & Stone’ taken from their Berths album.
Like many Slowness songs, ‘Sand & Stone’ is harmony-driven, droney, and has extended instrumental sections.
First up, tell us bit about yourselves - what led you teaming up as Slowness?
The core of Slowness is Geoffrey Scott and myself, though our drummers have always played a large role in creating the feel of our albums. Our first EP Hopeless but Otherwise is very much defined by driving rhythm of Erik Gross on drums. Scott Putnam who drummed on our second and third albums, For Those Who Wish to See the Glass Half Full and How to Keep From Falling of a Mountain, has a jazz background which enabled some cool syncopated feels even on some of the very droney songs, and Christy Davis, who played on the final song of the Mountain album and our new record, Berths, has a very loose style that brings incredible dynamics to these songs even when the bass is chugging forward with almost no change. But Slowness is really a collaboration between Geoffrey and I.
We had been friends for almost a decade before starting the band, and over the years had messed around on guitar together and always had a similar, droney sensibility. We always had fun playing together and seemed to come up with grooves easily.
A few years after we became a couple, Geoff played me some of the guitar riffs he had been developing, and I told him he ought to turn them into songs and start a band! He said that if he was going to do that then I should learn bass and start coming up with parts. Luckily, that summer, Geoff was house-sitting in this idyllic country home with chickens and rabbits and plenty of room to make noise, so our friend Erik brought up his drum kit, I went down in the basement and started practising along with Simon Galup on the HiFi, Geoff buckled down and came up with some lyrics, and then we all played together to develop the first Slowness songs.
Who do your take inspiration from?
That’s always a hard question, because my taste is very eclectic and mine and Geoff’s influences has huge crossover but also diverges. I would say that we are both very inspired by the Velvet Underground, The Cure, Stereolab and Yo La Tengo, REM, Mazzy Star, Spaceman 3, Galaxie 500 and Luna, Neil Young and Low, just to name a few. Geoff has also takes early inspiration from heavy metal, and even drummed in a few metal bands when he was in high school, and I also love early jazz and old timey music, and learned to play guitar by learning those types of songs. I imagine that all works its way into the music somehow!
Why the name ‘Slowness’?
While we were doing the usual game of running through countless ridiculous possibilities, and even trying a couple other names at our first shows, Geoff saw the Kundera book Slowness in the bookstore. We both loved Kundera’s short story collection, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and his new book title seemed like a good band name to us. Maybe related to the idea of slowing down in life, though not in tempo until our newest album! We both took a crack at reading the book, and though I don’t think either of us got through it, we decided to keep the name. We had just booked a cross-country tour as an unknown band under a different name, but switched it to Slowness in the 11th hour for the first show of the tour.
How would you describe your musical style?
Droney. Psychedelic shoegaze. On our new album, Berths, a little SlowCore. Some dream-pop in there too. Driven by harmonies. Those are the tags, but they do describe some of what’s going on in the music.
If you could collaborate with any living artist or band, who would you choose?
That takes some mulling over. I think I would want to collaborate with Letitia Sadier. I love her voice and musicianship both in StereoLab and on her own, she writes lyrics that speak profoundly to the human experience at both a personal and social level, and every time I have seen her play she has struck me as a person of generous spirit who would not intimidate the hell out of me despite my deep admiration. I’m sure Geoff would be on board!
Tell us about your new single ‘Sand & Stone’, what’s it about?
Geoff wrote the lyrics, so I am speaking second-hand, but, to me, the song speaks to a very basic experience most of us know of the inner conflicts and strength we need to endure the changing landscape of our lives without letting discomfort and sorrow undermine us.
When did you write ‘Sand & Stone’, and where did you record it?
Geoff wrote the basic riff of ‘Sand and Stone’ and then I came up with a bass drone separately. We flew Christy in from New York, and the three of us went into the studio with Monte Valier at Ruminator Audio in SF. We had never even rehearsed the song together, but we recorded all of the basics guitar, drums, and bass on the spot in just a couple takes! It still didn’t have lyrics at that point, but the whole vibe was laid down and the heart of Geoff’s guitar solo.
Later Geoff house-sat a beautiful place in Half Moon Bay and sitting on the beach one day, scratched out the lyrics, and then he and I returned to Monte’s to do vocals. Once those haunting lyrics were in place, I couldn’t resist throwing some Ray Manzarek type keys on there, which I just did straight into the box with my Nord.
How does ‘Sand & Stone’ represent your style?
I think there is cohesiveness to our style without sameness, so I wouldn’t say that there are other songs that sound like ‘Sand & Stone’ but, like many Slowness songs, it is harmony-driven, droney, and has extended instrumental sections.
What are your hopes for ‘Sand & Stone’?
That people listen to it and enjoy it! And to keep playing it live. It is definitely my simplest bass part on the album, but one of my favorite to play live because I find it very hypnotic.
The video for ‘Sand & Stone’ was filmed in Half Moon Bay, California, with what’s been described as a ‘hazy Lynchian backwards motion effect. How did the video come about?
Our friend Greg Dubrow, who played bass with us live for a few years and laid down some of the bass on How to Keep from Falling of a Mountain, introduced us to his friend Oliver Ousterhout, a filmmaker who was interested in making a film for the song.
Geoff took him to see the stunning spot on the coast where he had written the lyrics, and Oliver immediately fell in love with the spot. He spent quite a bit of time there developing his vision for the film, before bringing us down to stumble through a day of trying to walk backwards with grace (literally) so that he could capture the sea moving away from us and our tracks disappearing.
It was cold, we were pretty soaked from being hit by waves we couldn’t see we were walking into, but Oliver was so organised, light-spirited, and gentle of disposition that the whole day was like being in a strange but pleasant dream. I had the song looping in my head all day, and somehow the environment, our awkward motions together, and the song itself all seemed to make sense together. By the end of the day it was feeling somewhat natural to walk in a way that was completely new to me.
What other plans do you have for the year? Where can we see you on tour?
We have a few shows in the SF Bay Area and Sacramento in September, but are not planning any extensive touring right now. Later this fall we will be releasing a Part Time Punks recording session we did while we were on tour in June, and have some singles we are working on for next year.
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourselves one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
When we released our first EP, Hopeless but Otherwise, we wasted a lot of time, energy, and other resources looking for a label. We were completely unknown and just sending stuff out cold. Nothing came of it, it took a lot of energy, and was a little demoralising I would go back and tell myself not to waste energy trying to jump through the proper hoops or climbing ladders in the midst of a music industry that was changing so rapidly that no one really knows what to do anymore to develop an audience, let alone pay for your art.
It’s not that big a deal, but I would have skipped all of that and given that energy to more playing out. We make this music because we love to. Once we decided to just put the stuff out ourselves with the help of Blue Aurora Audio, and not worry about those milestones we were supposed to achieve of known labels, we found that we always had a slow but steady stream of people who somehow became familiar with us and wanted our records. That is enough.
Having said that, we are very lucky that Shauna McClarnon of Shameless Promotion put us in touch with Schoolkids Records, who released our new Berths album, because it has been a true pleasure working with them and having the support to do our work and the help sharing it.
Watch the video for ‘Sand & Stone’ on YouTube below. For news and tour dates go to the Slowness Facebook page.