Slaves @ SXSW 2014: ‘Dubstep killed guitar music – but it’s coming back’

Slaves at SXSW - Photo © Paul Bachmann for Live4ever Media

Slaves at SXSW – Photo: Paul Bachmann for Live4ever Media

The easy way to describe burgeoning garage rock duo Slaves would be to lump them in as another guitar and drum combo that either sprouted up from the seeds of the White Stripes’ expansive post-millennial influence, or flowered under the arena-ready dominance of The Black Keys.

In this case, that simply isn’t true. Whereas the beginnings of those two groups were both steeped in reconfigured blues riffs, the sort of energized racket that Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman are unleashing as Slaves is undoubtedly more Sex Pistols than Son House. Throw in the fact that Holman handles the lead vocals whilst also standing behind a skeletal kit with no kick drum, and any comparison to early-aught revivalism suddenly becomes as antiquated as Jack White’s coffee maker.

Hailing from the South East England county of Kent, Vincent and Holman have refined their sound over the past four years into a tense mixture of damaged hardcore, pummeling proto-grunge and old-school British street punk. Vincent’s guitar lines are all equally thick and menacing, while Holman’s upright drumming style is as unhinged and heavy-handed as the desperate gasps that strain each shout-along chorus.

After releasing their furious debut ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth‘ in 2012, Slaves have continuously barnstormed all across the UK, bringing their frenetic live show to everywhere from the outsized stage at the Reading and Leeds festivals to the intimate studio setting of a BBC Introducing session. They’ve also found time to issue this year’s ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?‘, a spine-tingling single about being stalked by a Sasquatch.

We sat down with Vincent and Holman after this year’s South By Southwest showcase – check out our video interview just below, in which the duo begin by talking through some unlikely British sitcom inspirations, and then read on as they talk about what it’s like to be in a guitar band these days, the differences between releasing singles and albums, and why they want you to steal their music…

How did you guys end up playing this particular style of music?

LV: I think this is the band that we deep down always wanted to be in. I’ve always loved punk music. I’ve always loved the attitude. I’ve always been searching for someone else to be in that band. Once we finally started making music together, we both realized that this was the style that we’ve been looking for. As a kid I was in indie bands, and I would go to my friends’ and tell them I really wanted to play punk music and no one was into it. Growing up everyone was into emo and indie music, like real polished stuff. At my age and going to school nobody was listening to The Clash or the Sex Pistols; like it was so dated and no one was interested. It took me until I was eighteen and met Isaac to finally find someone who had the same influences. So when we got to practicing, it all just blossomed from there.

What do you think about the rock scene in England right now? Are all of the headlines really true? Did the guitar bands really die?

IH: They did. Dubstep killed guitar music. Well, it never really died out completely, but in the public eye guitar music really went after those indie bands, and in between Arctic Monkeys albums there was just periods of nothing – but it’s coming back.

There are some great bands at the moment that are playing guitar and getting radio play. I think it’s making younger people want to pick up the guitar again. People are getting bored of electronic music in terms of dubstep and things like that because it’s just getting reproduced and replayed. People are just stealing each other’s songs and rehashing it in all of the pop charts. So I think that guitar music is about to really come back.

We’re obviously living in an world where kids access Youtube to listen to music, or if they are going to buy any music at all, then they’re just going buy one song at a time off iTunes. You guys just released a new single this year, so what do you think about releasing singles versus releasing albums? Is there any worth to an album these days?

LV: Yes, because if you get an album then that’s a period of the band’s career.

IH: There’s no real story with singles.

LV: Yeah, like if you listen to ‘Bleach’ by Nirvana, and then you listen to like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, you can hear the different feeling. To get immersed in writing an album is just so important. Just releasing singles is so off the bat that you never get into a process and have that flow. After a single, it’s just over and then it’s done.

What if the process was different? What if you were just constantly getting in and out of the studio, releasing songs, and constantly touring?

LV: Then I think you have the problem where you release your single, and then like Rihanna releases her single, yours gets pushed under the carpet. Then all of the sudden it’s just been missed. Whereas albums just have so much more time to grow and to build while you’re on tour. And not every album song could be a single, but some album songs are amazing. Like ‘Something In The Way’ by Nirvana again; that couldn’t come out as a single, so if you never had the album, then you would never get to hear it.

What do you think about streaming and downloading, and how people don’t want to pay for anything anymore?

LV: We’ve been at shows and people have stolen our CDs. At first you’ll be annoyed, but then it’s like if someone is really willing to steal my music, then steal it.

IH: Well, you can’t really tell them to steal it!

LV: The point is that if someone is committed enough like that, then I’m not going to stop anyone from listening to our music. I mean, don’t come to our shows and start stealing stuff obviously, but when that happens I would rather have people listen to our music than didn’t because they couldn’t afford it.

You talked about the importance of writing an album. Do you have a new one that is in the works?

LV: We haven’t got the album written, but we’ve got demos and we’re well on our way. We want to have like thirty songs or something to pick from, and we’ve written double figures now. It’s just about getting the time to practice. Come summer, there is going to be demos all the time, and practicing and writing sessions.

You guys mentioned being heavily influenced by punk rock, and in some ways there is something inherently political about playing punk rock. Do you guys consider yourselves to be political at all?

LV: Music doesn’t have to have any meaning to incite feeling in someone. The way someone plays guitar, like Jimi Hendrix, he can make someone feel amazing. Just the sound of your music can incite passion in people, so you don’t have say anything directly at politicians or cause a fuss. I just want our music to give people emotion to actually just feel inspired or feel like they want to do something.

I want our music to make people feel something, but I don’t care what they feel.

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