Slowdive’s latest everything is alive has only been out a week and a bit, but there’s already been plenty of press attention around it, most of which I’ve tried to share in real time at my main Twitter but which I’ll also round up below; there’ll probably be more which I’ll add to as they come up.
But I really wanted to draw attention to a not really interview/interview with Neil over at Apple Music – or more specifically, the album page for everything is alive at Apple Music. Because beyond the usual blurbage, there’s a track-by-track annotation of the new record from Neil that’s quite insightful. And because it’s just an album page on a streaming service and no one is reading this anyways, I’ll just copy-and-paste the whole thing for posterity.
Slowdive’s self-titled 2017 comeback album—their first since 1995’s Pygmalion—had been propelled by the sense of momentum generated by the band’s live reunion, which began at 2014’s Primavera Sound festival in Spain. But when it was time to make a follow-up, it felt very much like starting all over again for the shoegazing pioneers who formed in Reading in England’s Thames Valley during the late ’80s. “With this one, it was more like, ‘Well, do we want to do a record? Do we need to do a record?’” singer and guitarist Neil Halstead tells Apple Music. “We had to get the momentum going again and figure out what kind of record we wanted to make. The last one was a bit more instinctive. Part of the process on this one was trying to remain just the five of us and be in the moment with it and make something that we were all into. It took a while to get to that point.”Slowdive / everything is alive @ Apple Music
Pieced together from a foundation of electronic demos that Halstead had in 2019 sent to his bandmates—co-vocalist and guitarist Rachel Goswell, guitarist Christian Savill, bassist Nick Chaplin, and drummer Simon Scott—everything is alive feels both expansive and intimate at once, with chiming indie pop intertwining with hazy dream-pop ballads and atmospheric soundscapes. “It showcases some of the different sides to Slowdive,” says Halstead. “It’s very much like the first few EPs we put out, which would always have what we thought of as a pop song on the A-side and a much more experimental or instrumental track on the B-side, the two points between which the band operated.” Exploring themes of getting older, looking both back and forward, and relationships, everything is alive is a mesmeric listen. Read on for Halstead’s track-by-track guide.
“This is probably one of the first tunes we worked on. I sent a bunch of electronic music through and this was one of them. There was a eureka moment with this track, where I was trying to keep it very electronic and then we ended up just putting some very noisy guitars on and it was a bit like, ‘Oh, OK, that works.’ I remember Rachel saying when I sent her the demo that she was listening to it a lot, and she said she was getting really excited about going in and recording with the band again. It was the first tune in terms of thinking about getting into the studio and recording again.”
“I wrote this three days after my son Albert was born. I came home from the hospital one night and sat down at a keyboard and started playing this thing. I ended up bringing it into the Slowdive sessions quite late on just because there was something I felt we needed on the record. I had Nick and Christian and Simon play along with my original synth part, and then I took the synth out of the equation altogether. We pulled it out of the mix and added a few more bits to what was left.”
“This started off as a very krautrock, very electronic thing. We did a version with the band and I was playing it around the house and Ingrid, my partner, started singing along to part of the song and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s really good. We should record that.’ The first demo has Ingrid singing the part that Rachel sings now. She has a writing credit on this—it’s the only Slowdive song where someone outside the band has a writing credit. I always thought of it as like a proper pop song—as much as Slowdive ever do pop songs. We sent it to Shawn Everett to mix and basically said, ‘Look, if you could make this sound like a cross between The Smiths and Fleetwood Mac, that would be amazing.’ I don’t know if we got there, but he was really excited about that direction.”
“I’d written this as an acoustic tune that I was going to put on a solo record back in 2012. It’s talking about a relationship and thinking about the things that were important in that first year of that relationship. I came back to it while we were working on the Slowdive record and replayed it on an organ and then we worked on it from that point. It has an element of The Cure about it with the keyboards. Rachel didn’t want to sing on it; she was like, ‘It’s too intimate, I feel like this is a real personal song.’ I had to ask her a few times. The vocals are treated slightly different on the recording than we would normally do, they’re much closer-sounding. I think it’s nice to have it as part of a Slowdive record.”
“I demoed this and shied away from it for a long time because it seemed very poppy and maybe not in our world. It was, again, much more electronic. It almost sounded like a Kraftwerk song. It had the lyric ‘kisses’ in it, the only recognizable lyric. Every time I tried to sit down and write lyrics for the song, I couldn’t get away from the ‘kisses’ part. I was thinking it was a bit too light, too frivolous, but the tune just stuck around. We did so many different versions of it that didn’t quite work, and in the end we did this version. We all ended up thinking it’s a really nice addition to the record. It’s got a shiny, pop, kind of New Order-y thing happening, which we don’t do very often.”
“skin in the game”
“This is kind of a Frankenstein. It’s got a bit of another song in there and then there’s another song welded onto it, so it was a few different ideas thrown together. I liked the lyric ‘Skin in the game.’ I don’t know where I read it, I was probably reading something about investing or something stupid. I like the slightly wobbly feel to this tune, which I think is partly because some of it was taken from a very badly recorded demo on a proper four-track tape machine. Old school. It gives it a nice wobbly character.”
“chained to a cloud”
“This was called ‘Chimey One’ for three years and was one that we struggled to make sense of for a long time. I think at some point we were like, ‘Let’s forget about the verse and just work on the chorus.’ It’s a really simple idea, this song, but it hangs together around this arpeggiating keyboard riff that I think is inspired by ‘Smalltown Boy’ by Bronski Beat. It always reminded me of that.”
“This was always quite heavy and dense and it took a while for us to figure out how to mix it, and I think in the end Shawn did a really good job with it. Again, it’s got almost a Cure-type vibe to it. The drums came from a different song and it was originally just a big slab of keyboards, hence the title. It remains true to its roots; it’s still got that big slab-ish kind of feel to it. I always thought the record would open with ‘shanty’ and I always thought it would end with ‘the slab.’ They felt like good bookends for the rest of the tracks.”
And to round out, all the free everything is alive interviews I’ve collected from about July forward. I particularly like the Line Of Best Fit one from today because of the Mojave 3 content.
“I wanted to play like Johnny Marr, but I lacked the ability – or was too lazy. So we ended up with these big, beautiful drones”: Slowdive are one of shoegaze’s most important bands – here’s how they shaped a genre (and the pedal market) @ Guitar World
Oh, and because I didn’t give it its own post like I did the other preview songs and maybe I’m somehow your only source for Slowdive content – weird! – here’s the video for “alfie”, release right before the album came out. Halstead’s notes on the video:
“‘alife’ is one of the first tunes we finished for the record. Shawn Everett did a really nice job with the mix. We tried so many times to figure out a good mix by ourselves and couldn’t do it . . . it sort of had us beaten until Shawn stepped in. We decided if he could handle that one he could probably do the whole record. Our friend Jake Nelson did a really nice animation for this song; it takes some of the imagery from the artwork and digs a little deeper into that.”Neil Halstead, Slowdive
Slowdive – alife (Official Video) @ Culture Fiend