Slaves (UK)* are brash; the type of brashness you’d expect from a band moving through a musical genre no longer sweltering the Billboard 100 or being pushed to the masses through augmented Spotify playlists. To hear Laurie VIncent and Isaac Holman speak on the current state of punk music, and, to a greater extent, “guitar music,” you can’t help but feel that after three albums—2018’s Act of Fear of Love being the latest—this band is fighting an uphill battle, albeit one they relish.
“Growing up in the ‘90s, there was a renaissance of guitar bands like Blur and Oasis; everything seemed massive. But now, it’s like you’re fighting just to have a say,” Laurie says. “That sort of music is at the bottom of the pile again, but then I guess that’s part of the fun of being in band because we’ve got to work our way to the top.”
For all of their talk about experimentation with production styles last seen in the wonderous expressions of The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, and Black Flag, Isaac and Laurie come across as two musicians fighting tooth-and-nail to show that they, and the boisterous music they bang out every night, has a place. Lyrics about youth disenfranchisement, wanderlust for purpose, and laughing at the obscene realities of fragmented society are met with drum compositions and guitar riffs that speak loudly to the character of this band; a band that proudly describes their earlier efforts as “unpalatable.”
“No indie label ever rated us or offered us a deal. We only got offered one deal,” Isaac says proudly. “So I think everything we’ve done is about proving people wrong and proving ourselves wrong, so if anyone is going to comeback and surprise people it may as well be us.”
This type of music, built upon a foundation of undeniable, insatiable energy is not for everyone; I’m assuming that if it was we’d be staring at musical landscape much different from what we have now. The Slaves (UK) represent something new based in something old—music as a haven from the constant stream of frustration many of us feel in our day-to-day. This a band hitting its stride and asking questions of themselves, and of the industry they have to traverse. This is a band reflective of the moment they represent; youthful confidence fighting against waves of traditional power structures. But most importantly, this is a band composed of two guys who know nothing else and are unwilling to budge.
Brightest Young Things: You guys are coming off your third album (Act of Fear and Love), which I read took like a month to make. Your previous two albums, you basically released a year apart, and I’ve read that you guys ideally want to release an album a year.
Isaac: Yea, that’s still…we’re not the sort of band that just sits around. We constantly want to create.
Laurie: The Beatles used to make two albums a year, and the reality is that the amount of time it takes to write and make an album, by the time you’re done you’re onto the next thing. So when you’re really creative, one album every two years is quite slow. It’s really about getting the wheels in motion; making an album is a big deal especially if you’re trying to tour.
Isaac: Yea, and we don’t really live near each other. If circumstances were different, and we both didn’t have anything going and we lived next to each other, I reckon we’d just be banging them out.
Laurie: If I didn’t have a family, I don’t think I’d ever leave the studio; I’d just be painting or making music.
BYT: How do you explain the two-year gap between the second album (Take Control) and Act of Fear of Love? Was it just a busier schedule or was there something unique to this album?
Laurie: I think the time it took to write the third album compared to the second was only an extra couple of months. We spent a longer time writing this one, and we put a lot more thought into how we were going to record this record. It didn’t feel right to just go straight back into it. It felt like it was time to do something different.
BYT: You guys are often described as a socially conscious band, and in previous interviews you’ve said that your music is a sort “call to arms” for disenfranchised young people. How do you maintain that message through three albums but also keep it dynamic?
Laurie: I sort of said to Isaac before this album, that if we’re going to talk about the same stuff then it has to be the best we’ve ever said it. That’s why we limited that subject to one song. The way we play as a band is enough of a statement for us to not even have to vocalize anything; the way we get out there, the way Isaac plays the drums, it’s just a big fuck you to the music industry. We’re going to do whatever we want, and if we were going to put it into words, it had to be the most powerful songs we’ve made. On “The Lives They Wish They Had” [first track on Act of Fear and Love], Isaac wrote an album worth of lyrics for one song, and that’s what our band is about. At the end of that song, when Isaac shouts the band name, that really just makes perfect sense.
On this album, we were also exploring ourselves more. There are still a few bits in there aimed at government figures but they’re more loose. I think good music should make people feel [something] but I also feel that great music shouldn’t be forced things down people’s throats. We focused on making our instrumentation as powerful as possible.
BYT: You once said that current rock music wasn’t dynamic enough; that it sounded flat. Looking at your own music, what do you think there’s left to explore sonically?
Isaac: I feel like with this album we really started to properly explore what we want to do. Before, we kind of had a formula, we felt like we had what we had and that was it. But now, even with our small set up, we’ve realized that we can do so much.
Laurie: We haven’t explored groove at all. Some of my favorite punk songs have groove in them. Even “Damaged” by Black Flag has a swing to it. And also, “Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop, and loads of other stuff by Iggy Pop have a swing and a strut. I don’t think that we’ve done anything with that vibe.
Isaac: I also think that was because I wasn’t very good at the drums [haha]. But now I actually think I’m good at what I do and I reckon I could do a tune with a bit of swing in it.
Laurie: There’s so much to explore. The drums and just leading songs off beats more. And lyrically, I think we’re both just getting to our best.
BYT: I imagine a lot of that exploration comes on the production side. How does that fit into your desire to eventually become a production duo?
Laurie: Yea, it’s also just starting to understand that live music and music made in a studio are two separate things, and enjoying them both for what they are. So now we know when we go into certain live situations, how we should tailor our set to different audiences. And when we’re in the studio, we focus on making things sonically sound good. On this album [Act of Fear and Love] I feel like we’ve become comfortable with having two different perceptions. A lot of bands are just one thing [live or studio].
Our band is about being dynamic, about the videos being funny but not making the music stupid at the same time. You can’t really understand our band unless you’re fully in it. We’re still trying to work it out ourselves, but it’s fun that there are so many sides to our band.
BYT: Since you released your first album, is there anything you’ve encountered in the music industry that you didn’t realize you hated?
Laurie: Yea, I fucking hate all of the politics between live streaming and the injustice of it all. Growing up in the ‘90s, there was a renaissance of guitar bands like Blur and Oasis; everything seemed massive. But now, it’s like you’re fighting just to have a say. That sort of music is at the bottom of the pile again, but then I guess that’s part of the fun of being in band because we’ve got to work our way to the top.
I also enjoy everyone saying that guitar music is dead, and no band is going to headline in the future. Everyone told us that our band was never going to do anything, and we proved them wrong. We didn’t even think we were going to do anything.
BYT: Why did people say that?
Laurie: Because our music was so unpalatable. We’re signed to a major label [Virgin] but we do whatever we want and we’re run like we’re on an Indie label.
Isaac: No indie label ever rated us or offered us a deal. We only got offered one deal. So I think everything we’ve done is about proving people wrong and proving ourselves wrong, so if anyone is going to comeback and surprise people it may as well be us.
BYT: Does it upset you that other music genres are tapping into punk music? Playboi Carti recently released Die Lit, an album that’s heavily grounded in punk rock influence, and is that sort of appropriation worrying?
Laurie: Hip hop is the new rock component and I think there’s too many bad rock bands that maybe fucked it up for the rest of us. All of those credible hip hop acts respect bands like us.
Isaac: I really love that sort of crossover and I find it really interesting. I actually really like Die Lit.
Laurie: It’s an exciting time; the spotlight is on hip hop but it’s kind of fun to try to bring the spotlight back to bands like us. There are some great bands in the UK, and it feels like there’s a scene that’s slowly happening where you have like four or five really good punk bands or bands influenced by punk.
BYT: A lot of the frustration you voice about the current state of young people has to do with the negative feelings following Brexit. But I imagine those same feelings of frustration and hopelessness probably resonates with American audiences too.
Isaac: There’s frustrated kids everywhere. You can feel that same energy.
Laurie: It’s time for people to start becoming part of a movement, but that also doesn’t mean people need to start preaching political values; they need to find a release to the frustration. Everything in the world is so set up against young people, even if it’s just the confusion of where they should go with their lives and how everyone should just go to university. It’s fucking confusing and I think more people should just start picking up instruments or painting; living real lives and not just staring at their phone screens. People need to come and experience venues that may not exist in another 20 years; venues that provide a real fucking human experience.
BYT: In a way, you guys are against the system in much the same way that The Sex Pistols were against [Margaret] Thatcher in the 1970s.
Laurie: Back then, everyone knew what side they were on. In the UK now, everything is so fractured between the older and younger generations. People that would traditionally vote for one party are voting for a party they would be against. You have more racism as well, and that’s where it gets to the point where you just want to scream and shout and go play music. I think that’s where we’re at; it’s just too ridiculous to even try to sum up now.
- The band’s name has been a topic of discussion in most previous interviews, and fairly so. For that reason, and with limited time I had, I avoided the topic. An article from The Fader published in 2015 (see here) does a good job of discussing the topic with added context.