Slowdive. Escape Artists
Why have people cried at SLOWDIVE gigs? Why do all the villagers near Slowdive's stuido hate them? THE STUD BROTHERS get rural and try to discover why such a young band whose new EP looks like crashing into the Top 40 are trying to be so cynical. Pics: TOM SHEEHAN
WE MEET SLOWDIVE, ENGlAND'S MOST IDYLLIC NEW band, in a pub that's abaut as close to idyllic as we can remember. And we can remember a lot of pubs. We've been blind drunk in Soho wine bars with authentically smelly French pissoirs and fighting drunk in long, cool LA lounges on Manchester backstreets. And years ago, before it became unfashionable, we did the karaoke in Kensington, our vocalchords lubricated by expensive Japanese lager. But it's been a long, long time since we've been to a pub that's so perfect. Perfick. And we're all on our way to being blissfully pissed.
The Dragon (one of two pubs in the tiny Oxfordshire hamlet of Sutton Courtney) is situated between a Norman church and a Tudor vicarage on a winding country lane known loftily to the locals as the High Street. The Dragon's not of course as perfick as Pop Larkin's local. The stone floors for instance have long since been covered with migraine inducing carpet and its "traditional fare" (advertised outside in heavy gothic script) turns out to be chilli con carne, lasogne and chicken kiev. Nevertheless, there's enough in its ancient oak beams, open fires and the locals rustic timbre to hint at some better, more innocent time. When the locals address us it's with gratifying suspicion. They know that the Dragon, their village, their little Garden Of Eden is still worth defending, still possible to defend.
Slowdive have been recording a few hundred yards down the road from here. They've produced a new EP, "Holding Our Breath", and are now working on their first album. They've been in Sutton Courtney for some time now but, though it's certain that all 400 or so villagers have come to know them, they've yet to know a single villager. Still, they've fallen in love with the place. They've even grown to like (or at any rate tolerate) the locals' quiet, unrelenting hostility.
THE studio they're using was, out of respect for local sensibilities, named The Courtyard. It's one of Sutton Courtney's most recent constructions but, having been built on the rigorously unobtrusive lines Prince Charles is so fond of, it betrays none of its modernity. Outwardly anyway.Slowdive record in The Courtyard's timbered studios and sleep under its heavily pitched roof. Literally - their dormitory loaks like an oversized T oblerone bax. Downstairs are the banks of matt black technology the group used to smelt simple chords into the chromium-plated melodies that make up three of "Holding Our Breath" 's four tracks.
The first of these, "Catch The Breeze", has Neil and Rachel, Slowdive's two starstruck lovers, harmonising in a way wistfully reminiscent of Haight Ashbury circa '66. It truty deserves the adjectives "beautiful" and" ethereal". It's what Jefferson Airplane might've sounded like had Robin Guthrie been around ta produce them. The last song though, " Albatross", begins as an ocean whisper but rapidly deteriorates into a hideous hiss of white noise and ends in unnecessorily ear-splitting tribal percussion. While mare than prepared to admire its sentiment (the ruination of beauty, noise for art's soke etc), we don't much feel like hearing itagain. Because ultimately, it's just a young band trying ta impress us with the possibility they just might be cynical.
SLOWDIVE are at their best when they produce timeless pop psalms like "Catch The Breeze". They're at their best with the epic, ambient" Avalyn" from "Slowdive", their extraordinary first EP, and the gorgeous narcotic glow of" Morningrise". Slowdive are at their most vital when they're at their most superfluously English, when they emerge from the land that time forgot, the land that England forgot, full of unironic gravitas.
So here we are in the Dragon, listening to five children (none of Slowdive are old enough to get inta Cinderella Rockafellas) through a pleasontcider haze. And virtually the first thing they tell us is haw cynical they all are. Neil, their singer/songwriter, goes one further, explaining how singularly pointless What they're doing is - fairly damning coming from someonewha's been sacked by Wimpy, McDonald's, Burger King, Our Price and a hotel thatstrang=loyed him as a chamber maid. We marvel at this unexdisplay of youthful bravado.
"Sometimes," declares Neil with a weary sigh, "it all seems such a pointless waste of time. It's all so fickle. You're not really making any kind of mark anywhere, you're just in a little backwater doing your own little thing Imean, sometimes I wonder why I'm doing any of this."
Having strolled the length of Sutton Courtney's leafy High Street and visited its Norman cemetery, we wonder what on earth is wrong with being in a little backwater doing your own little thing.. "Well, it's just escapist, isn't it?" he says. "That's what I mean abaut music being fickle and pointless. I mean, why should I wanna make records for someone in Putney who just wants to escape from reality? If they can't handle it without listening to music, why should they exist at all?"
In our ill-considered opinion (neither of us have ever studied philosophy) life's a series of intense moments interrupted by long bauts of indiHerentdrudgery. The trick is to maximise the moments and making music, even listen to it, seems as noble a way of doing so as any other, easily as noble as drugtaking, love-making or life-taking. They all share the unique virtue of taking you to places that are simply unimaginable.
So viva escapism cos basically, kids, it's the only way out. "But I don't make records to escape from life," says Neil adamantly.
Aw,come on. And he relents.
"Okay, sure. Perhaps. But the thing is it's been ea for us. We came out of Reading and ot signed up real quickly, we never had to slog it round the toilets of Landon. It's like we fell into it. All we did was what we wanted to do and here we are with Creation talking abaut a Top 40 single. It's not like we're trying to escape."
NEIL'S missing our point- he's already escaped. And we get the feeling he's missing the point quite deliberately. Neil prides himself on his cynicism, but with him it's mere affectation, a shield he believes will deflect any accusations of pretentiousness.
He tells us, for instance, that his lyrics are tales of personal experience purposely abstracted to the point of incomprehensibility. He says he writes that way because to tell it straight would be, well, pathetic.
This may or may not be so. The fact remains though, that once his experiences have been reduced to colourful trigger-words and the odd hazy but evocative phrase, they far better suit Slowdive's idyllic English dreamscape, a world where nothing is sure so everything is possible. Good news for Mr Houdini of Putney.
But of course Neil knows this. He's seen people cry when Slowdive play.
"Just one bloke," says Rachel. ''When we played' Avalyn' at Bradford. It was really strange, really embarrassing. There was this girl, really shy and nervous, who'd seen us a couple of times, and I' dspoken to her a bit. She was standing at the front next to this big guy in a long velvet coat who was slumped overright in front of me. She was pointing at him and looking at me and going, 'He's crying, he's crying'. I was so embarrassed, I just didn't know what to do.".
Well, what is there to do? You can't follow that.
Catch the breeze and fly . . .
Slowdive's new four-track EP, "Holding Our Breath", is out now.
Originally appeared in NME 8 June 19911
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