For London’s celestial rockers Slaves to Gravity, the priority of this venture round the UK is road testing the bulk of what will be their long awaited sophomore album. A trial run before autumns headlining victory lap, perhaps.
Playing second fiddle to the as of yet albumless hype machine of Black Spiders may seem odd at a glance but a cost-free opening slot is all part of the game plan for Slaves in Wolverhampton’s Little Civic tonight.
Amidst the backwoods sleaze rock of the rest of the line-up completed by the Black Stone Cherry-esque Liberty Lies and the slinky stoner grooves of Black Spiders themselves, Slaves’ neo-grunge approach is the notable standout from the surrounding meat and potatoes bill. Something told me that their evasion of the standard riff-chant-riff formula would go over the heads of a lot of tonight’s audience.
And true enough; despite being at home on the hard rock circuit with bands like Zico Chain and The Butterfly Effect, this wasn’t Slaves’ crowd tonight. But that didn’t stop them pulling out all the stops trying to win them over.
On another night the energy the band discharged would have been so contagious the crowd would’ve been quarantined after their performance but it wasn’t until Black Spiders hit the stage that the ball even got rolling, slowly at that.
The leather-clad Londoners ripped open the firing line with the riffing hailstorm of “Too Late” from the debut. The growling swagger of “Big Red” followed closely behind. As a song heavily backed by Kerrang and Scuzz, it’s the closest encounter they’ve had with a hit. It’s monolithic choruses and heaviness of the underlying grooves scored the band major crossover appeal and so I was a little disheartened with the reaction compared to what I’d envisaged. It’s made of the kind of stuff that would make arenas bounce, but as I said earlier, Slaves were out to convert the crowd and slowly but surely more heads started to nod in approval.
A handful of new tracks brimming with potential including “Misery Pills” and “Honesty”, bringing to mind “Everlong”, sustained the momentum they’d built up before throwing in the old favourite “Mr Regulator” to perk up the tempo.
“We’re trying out a few new songs, hope you don’t mind,” said frontman Tommy Gleeson. “But if you’re bored as shit, here’s an old one” ahead of launching straight into the mechanised staccato grinds of the “Scatter the Crow” single. It was the most well received of the night and unsurprisingly so considering the attention it brought the band upon its release.
The short-lived slot was rounded off with two more from the forthcoming UNDERWATEROUTERSPACE. “Big Tits”, which I assume, and really hope, is a working title, was monstrous, really allowing the new drummer Jason Bowld (of Pitchshifter) to explode. The first official single “Good Advice” capped off the set. A melodic colossus, it proved Gleeson being in possession of a truly powerful set of lungs, but his harmonies with bassist Toshi also propelled the immediacy of the song. A spot on choice for the first single it seems. Strangely the raucous new album taster track “Last Ignition” remained absent along with the slow-chugging mastery of “Meantime”. But despite playing mostly unheard material to an away crowd, Slaves to Gravity undoubtedly left an impression tonight. Gaining a few fans, and reassuring the few already here was the number one goal on this stop of the warm up tour. We’ll have to wait to the summer and beyond before things really start to get messy.
Before the gig I had the chance to talk to the band themselves. You can read the interview below. Thanks again to Slaves to Gravity for sitting down to have a chat! You can also download Slaves to Gravity's new album taster track "Last Ignition" for free on their MySpace page.
You’ve overcome plenty of obstacles in the drumming department. Have you found a long-term replacement in Jason?
Tommy: I certainly hope so. I hope he’s not going anywhere. We’re going to glue him to the drum seat! I think it’s really revolutionised the band, it’s so much tighter live and there’s a much more positive attitude in the band now. We’ve been the victim of getting very negative for different reasons that I won’t get into now but I think Jason’s an incredible musician and real positive influence on us all. We’re in a good place right now.
Will his time in bands like Pitchshifter bring some valuable experience to the table?
Jason: I have to say I’ve never played with a bunch of talented musicians more than these guys and it’s criminal that we’re not playing stadiums yet.
Mark: I thought he was going to say, “I’ve never played with a bunch of talented musicians before.”
(The band laugh)
Jason: From my point of view, it’s like they’ve kind of enhanced my playing as well because we’re all kind of level.
What will happen to your other bands now?
Jason: Well to be honest with you Pitchshifter was an ongoing concern and it’s not really done much. There’s a few gigs here and there but I’ve been looking for a band for a long time that I can commit to musically, that’s got timeless songs really. I’ve sort of being whoring myself in session mode for the past eight years, a bit like Dr Who, don’t really make any friends –
(The band laugh)
What’s the story with the new album – when can we see it being released?
Tommy: It’s going to be coming out sort of autumn time, we think. We don’t have a firm release date yet because we don’t have a deal yet. But we’re not going to be self-releasing, we’re going to try and find a good label that’s going to give it the support we feel it deserves. You know, not end up chucking it into a black hole and nothing ever coming of it. But it’s done. We’ve got half a song left to mix and then the first single is coming out June 21st. It’s called “Good Advice” a
nd that’s going to be a download only single and there’ll be another single just before the album drops, then the album, September or October.
Is “Last Ignition” a sign of what to expect overall?
Tommy: It’s very difficult to find one song on the album that sums it up in its entirety because I think it’s a really dynamic album. It’s got a lot of different colours and moods on there so there’s no one song that’s indicative of the thing as a whole. But it’s as good a song as any in my opinion and one we thought would be a sort of corridor into the album.
So it’s a taster track but not the first official single?
Tommy: Yeah. I guess we sort of nicked the idea off Alice In Chains; they did a similar thing with their new record. But it was a really cool way of doing it to usher you into the kind of vibe.
Where did the name UNDERWATEROUTERSPACE come from?
Tommy: I think I was probably a bit pissed (Laughs) I suppose because it’s such a dynamic record it does kind of take you on a journey from start to finish. It goes to so many different places, from the lowest of the low to super out there. A title like UNDERWATEROUTERSPACE seemed to visually bring that idea to the form.
Are there any major musical shifts from “Scatter the Crow”?
Jason: I think it’s a natural evolution into the band’s sound and I think what it will hopefully do is create the band as an entity rather than another rock band. As a band with their own sound, which is so rare nowadays with all the copycat shit you see in magazines and stuff.
Was there any difficulty in writing the second album?
Tommy: The most difficult thing was getting into the fucking studio because we were broke and there was so much uncertainty behind the scenes with how the band was being funded because we’d done everything on our own up until that point. It costs quite a lot of money to go into the studio, hire a producer to help you make the record. So just to get to the point where we could actually go ‘Right we’re going in for three weeks’ was at times difficult. But once we were in there we did it in a third of the time that we did the first album. We were really quick, three weeks in and out, done and we were really focused the whole time. I mean everyone has off days but on the whole it was a really fucking great experience to make the album.
Does the independency in self-funding still stand up well an album in?
Tommy: It’s not without it’s drawbacks. It enabled us to get an album out in a time where we looked for a straight deal for a little while and no one was making very convincing noises. So we thought we could kind of go round cap in hand begging for a deal but we just thought ‘Fuck it, let’s do it ourselves’. We’d had almost universally bad experiences with labels with other bands so at that point we said we’d figure out a way to do this on our own. I think for the way it was set out we achieved a lot. We didn’t sell oodles of copies but we built a pretty good fanbase, we got in everyone’s faces and got some great press coverage and it spring-boarded to what we’re doing now, which is taking it hopefully to a much larger audience. The one I thing I don’t think you’re going to do on your own unless you’re doing gimmicky music is become huge completely off your own back. You need that machine of a label and the weight that carries to send you into the stratosphere. It’s just hard on your own.
So you think the time you’ve invested in the album has paid off?
Tommy: Well making this one was quicker than the first. The writing process was probably about a year. We were accumulating stuff while we were on the road touring the first album and when we were back home we’d be writing in the studio.
Mark: It’s kind of a similar length writing wise to “Scatter the Crow” because that was about a year as well. The whole recording process was quicker. I think that was to do with Bob really, our producer, he didn’t let us look too hard into things if you know what I mean.
Do you write on the road at all or how are songs developed in most cases?
Mark: We don’t really write properly on the road because there’s never really time.
Tommy: If we were more pampered and travelling in a tour bus, we didn’t have to carry all our own gear and chase the promoter after the gig every night we might have more time to do it. For me I always get little ideas on the road because we hear loads of bands every night. I find like a line of melody I’ll hum into my phone and forget about it for six months, then go home and trawl through it on Garage Band or something and build a song around these little ideas. But from my perspective I can’t write lead guitar parts for shit that’s very much Mark’s department. Same for bass and drum parts, I can just put the skeleton idea out there and say here’s the basic idea.
How has the tour been going so far with the reception of the new songs especially?
Jason: I think it’s been really good, the new material has gone down really positively. When you’re road testing new material you kind of worry that people won’t accept new stuff because they want to hear the old stuff. But you have to be brave and push out the new stuff to get people hooked on it.
How has the new setlist been put together then for this tour?
Tommy: We’ve been tweaking it a little bit as we go, I mean there’s more new stuff than old in the set. We kick off with a couple of older ones and then we launch into some new stuff and it seems to be flowing quite well. I think the set is chosen more out of the dynamics of the individual songs more than whether or not they’re new or old because we’ve a half hour or so to make our presence felt. It can be frustrating there’s so many textures and colours in the band’s sound, it’s nice when you get to play a little bit longer so you can explore more of that. You kind of get into it, there’s one of the new songs that’s going more in that direction.
Do you feel that maybe having an album under your belts should’ve earned you more than a support slot?
Jason: It’s early days really. I think it would be silly to do a headline tour straight away before our machine has really kicked in because I think a lot of bands can do this, have a strategy and stick to it for six or eight months. At the moment we’ve got a good plan in place so we’re confident that when we do our own headline tour in the autumn it’ll be wicked. It’s about setting up the right tone before you embark on it.
You’ve said that Slaves to Gravity formed as a backlash to the industry. How does that ethos stand now that you have experience of the industry itself?
Tommy: I think that was a catalyst for the first songs we ever wrote and obviously we’ve found one another as a result of bands breaking up. With The Ga Ga’s, me and Toshi’s old band, it was very much a result of signing a bad deal and it just killed us really in the end. But I think you’ve got to move on, I don’t want to be someone who’s just permanently bitter about the world that they work in. You have to learn to adapt and accept the system to some extent. I don’t think any musician would look at the state of the industry and say it’s fine, because it’s pretty fucked especially for a musician. But you just have to try and be smart about it and work it as much as you can to your advantage. If you’ve got a ‘Fuck you, fuck everyone’ type attitude you’re not going to make any friends, you’re just going to piss everyone off and you won’t get what you want out of it, which is a career. I don’t see it as giving in, just being more mature than throwing your toys out of the pram because it’s not going your way. It’s a huge industry and we’re right at the bottom of the food chain realistically. But if you believe you’ve got music that will make a difference to people then you just have to hold onto that and take each situation as it comes.
Do you think some songs work better stripped down or are you always more at home with a full electric set?
Jason: It’s wicked to show that you can show another dimension to the band acoustically. We did a radio session in Scotland the other day, it was in the control room and there was a drum kit in there and you can adapt it really well even with a full band set up. Hopefully we’ll be on MTV Unplugged…or busking.
(The band laugh)
Do you see yourselves making any festival appearances over the summer?
Tommy: We’d love to but I don’t think it’s going to happen this year. It might do, I’ll never say never, but because our record won’t be out till the other side of that with the festivals been and gone, they want to book bands with something to promote. You can imagine every rock band wants a slot at that festival (Download) so the competition is pretty stiff. We might if we get a little bit of luck. There’s probably more chance we’re going to be doing Sonisphere, again that’s not confirmed either but sure as shit we’ll be doing it in 2011.
Is overseas touring something you’d see yourselves doing in the near future?
Tommy: Eventually yeah. For our sound I think it’d be hard to base yourselves purely in the UK forever. It lends itself quite well to, for want of a better term, American radio rock. I don’t think that’s ever been what we’ve set out to do but from the people we work with, the word is that we could get a lot of coverage and support in that market. America just seem a little more geared up for rock as a mainstream thing than people over here where it’s much more alternative. We’ll have to build it because obviously we can’t just book a tour and go over there because they’ll be like “Who the fuck are you?” Like Jay says, you have to have the plan and the whole thing figured out.
What do you think of the current state of contemporary music?
Jason: I think the problem is that in this country there’s one main radio station whereas in America you’ve got sixty and most of them cater for rock. It’s probably just the fact that this country is more easily manipulated by a handful of people at the top in the pop industry and because it’s candyfloss nature it appeals to people who aren’t just as passionate about music and so underground stuff gets left out because it’s harder to find, isn’t it, and I think it’ll stay like that. But on a positive note there’s a lot more people listening to independent radio so in some ways Radio One would be nice but it’s not the be all or end all.
Do you think the digital tools like MySpace have helped bands like yourselves to get off the ground?
Tommy: MySpace is great. It’s great to make that direct connection with people who’re into your music twenty-four hours a day. Spotify is a weird one because it depends on who you talk to. Everyone will say something different about whether or not artists actually see any of that revenue. I’ve read stories that people haven’t seen a penny. The labels have but nothing has filtered through to the artist. I couldn’t tell you the last time I got a royalty check.
Jason: It’s 0.01p I think for each play, it’s ridiculous. If it gets people to a show that’s a cool thing.
Tommy: It’s such a complicated thing though isn’t it, I mean, what’s next, people are just going to what up to the merch desk and nick the t-shirt?
Jason: Or steal your clothes…shit.