Angels with Dirty Wings

Rachel Goswell's world has always revolved around dreams of musical stardom. As a young child she would stand in front of a full-length mirror and sing Into a hairbrush. Even now, at age 20, she regularly drifts to sleep humming along with the records of her favorite band, visualizing herself on stage. But today her favorite band, Slowdive, is her own.

"I just love our music so much. I usually listen to our first EP at night. 'Avalyn' normally makes me drop right off. It's brilliant: she says, in a chirping, rustic British accent.

And there's no reason Goswell (vocals/guitars) shouldn't enjoy hearing herself. Reading, England's Slowdive are one of the finest celestial bands to emerge from the U.K. since the Cocteau Twins. Gentle, sweeping and quite beautiful, with soothing spiraling guitars and heavenly chiming vocals, they're the kind of group that make journalist hacks run to the thesaurus in search of the perfect adjective, the ultimate superlative.

Since their formation In january 1990, Slowdive have floated to heights they once only imagined. They're one of British label Creation's top acts, and they regularly sell out mid-sized venues all over Europe. The band are concrete proof that high-tech, high-stress living and dally routine shouldn't keep us from dreaming.

"There's always time to dream, says Goswell. "I'm really into dreams. Right now, I'm trying to teach myself lucid dreaming. That's where you can control your dreams so you dream only what you want to. I've got a book all about it."

While Goswell helps craft majestic, ruminating soundscapes that celebrate life, her dreams often reflect a darker vision.

"They're usually about Illness or dying. I had this one dream where I was in a really weird room, and all the walls were made of glass. There was this baby tiger outside, and I went out to try to make friends with it. All of a sudden, this big mum tiger came and tried to attack me, so I ran back inside. I woke up just as the tiger smashed through the window trying to get me. I looked that one up in a dream book. Tigers are supposed to be a symbol of illness," she says.

The bands first US release, the Just For A Day LP, follows three British EPs, and is the group's most cohesive effort yet. Each song is structured around a slow central rhythm. Layered guitars swoop lazily through angelic vocals and humming cellos, causing a swelling, droning ambience. Occasionally a fuzzy, distorted guitar wisps by creating dynamic tension.

Goswell's softspoken roommate/boyfriend Nell Halstead, 21, is the brainchild behind the band's lovely swirl. A classically trained musician fed up with the hedonistic thrust of bands like Guns N' Roses, Halstead seeks to flavor music with more spirituality.

I've listened to a lot of classical music, and think that's been the biggest influence on me. Most rock music is really bland - just a reaction to a beat. It's the kind of thing that you don't really listen to when It comes on. You just sort of move to it when you're drunk. I wanted to create music that you can really listen to and be moved by".

Slowdive are the kind of band that knot your throat and make you all misty. Perhaps it's the chemistry between Goswell and Halstead, the way their vocals spiral and bend, transmogrifying into one heavenly voice - at least they do on vinyl. Live is another story.

"When we sing live there's definitely no vocal chemistry, laughs Goswell. "Sometimes we go massively out of tune. We tried having singing lessons once, but we just ended up cracking up laughing because of all the silly vocal exercises. Neil also tends to get all the choruses and verses mixed up, and we'll end up singing completely different things. He's just really daffy and forgetful."

Maybe so, but listening to his enigmatic lyrics and heavenly music, you'd think he descended from above with delicate wings and a gold harp.

"That's total crap," chortles Goswell. People expect us to be really angelic and soft spoken and fey. But we're not. We like getting drunk and getting into trouble just like anybody else. We can be really crass at times."

That much is true. In the past year, Slowdive have engaged In some rather unethereal activities, Drummer Simon Scott vomited on stage after Inadvertently ingesting a load of dry Ice, Halstead tarnished his halo jumping a drunken lout who was harassing Goswell, and Goswell pulled out a large handful of said miscreant's hair In the same Incident. Both Halstead and bassist Nick Chaplin get their kicks tinkering under the hoods of their Triumph Spitfire sportscars.

"The most beautiful thing I can imagine would be driving across the Sahara Desert with the windows down and Swerve river's 'Son Of A Mustang Ford' blasting from the tape deck. It's not a very ambient image I'm afraid, but it would be really brilliant: Halstead says.

What's the most beautiful thing Goswell can think of? If I tell you, you'll probably throw up," she says. After several moments of complete silence, she shyly speaks up. "At the moment, it would have to be Neil. We've been through so much together, and he's really special."

Slowdive are an appealing mass of contradiction. They're five vigorous, fun-loving youths (none over 21 years of age) with a mature emotional sound that owes more to Ludwig Van than to Camper Van. Yet they pull In much of the crowd that rocks out to Sisters of Mercy, Ride, and My Bloody Valentine. Slowdive have become press darlings in England almost overnight. Naturally, they're overjoyed by this, but at times they act rather ambivalent, almost let down. In some ways, Halstead is concerned rock critics have been, well, too kind. "No band could possibly sound as good as some of the reviews we've had,w he says. .So people go to the gigs and hear our records and they can't help being disappointed." - Jon Wiederhorn

Originally appeared in Alternative Press 44 Jan-Feb 92
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