Norway’s Sløtface are on a US tour at the moment; they’ll be making a stop at DC9 tomorrow night before hitting Philadelphia on Wednesday, and wrapping up their final stateside gig on Thursday at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere. After that, the band will head back to Norway for a slew of shows that will hopefully brighten up the nights of a long, dark Scandinavian winter. I hopped on the phone to frontwoman Haley Shea last week, and we talked about the current state of the planet (which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a bit of a mess), what it’s like being a Norwegian band in the midst of all of that, and (so as not to get too pessimistic) other things including Patti Smith, the creative process, language, and exciting plot points on the horizon for the band in 2018. Internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, head out to any/all gigs that apply to your geographical location, grab a copy of Try Not To Freak Out, and remember – as we continue hurtling towards an uncertain future, do as Sløtface says, and try not to freak out.
How’s tour been going so far?
Really well! It’s only our second trip to the States, and last time it was pretty brutal (we didn’t really know what we were doing), so this time it’s been really smooth and good. People are showing up for shows, and we’ve got a really good crew, so we’re happy!
Amazing! And what’d you do for your holidays?
We were all in our hometown for Christmas, and I pretty much just spent time with family. We did one Christmas show in the bar that we used to go to when we still lived in Stavanger. It was a karaoke show, and it was really fun, but that was kind of the only “work-related” thing we did.
What’s it like when you’re at home in Norway? Do you guys get recognized a ton?
No, we definitely don’t get recognized anywhere. [Laughs] But I think that’s kind of part of Norwegian culture in general; our friends that are part of much bigger bands than we are don’t really struggle with that, either. People are just in general pretty respectful of people’s privacy. It’s a pretty chill place to be an artist for most people.
Yeah, it seems that way! And speaking of Norwegian artists, I think you might know my friend Ida from Sassy Kraimspri, who I actually only just recently met at a friend’s Friendsgiving party.
She’s our favorite! She’s always been the only person in our hometown that felt like she was into the same things that we were into, and we’ve always looked up to her. She gave us our first real gig, actually! We played with her band and another really cool Norwegian band called Carmen Villain. She’s great.
Actually, someone else at the same party asked me if I’d ever heard of a band called Slotface, and then I realized that they were talking about you guys, Sløtface. I know you’ve talked about the reasons behind changing the name from its original Slutface before, and about how the “ø” sounds like “uh” so it all worked out, but I was wondering if you had any feelings about how (at least to me) it seems like tons of music projects are now co-opting Scandinavian letters to insert at random into their names. Some of them of course make sense, but others seem to be doing it purely for aesthetic value.
Yeah, we’ve definitely noticed it, because we always kind of make fun of it. For us, the reason it works is because the “ø” sounds the same as an American “u”, but then when we first changed our name, some of the first YouTube comments we got were like, “Fucking TWENTY ØNE PILØTS ripoffs,” and we were like, “No, that’s not even…they just use it for decorative purposes! That’s not even how that letter is actually pronounced!” For us it was kind of a necessity thing, but we also like that it ties us a little more to Norway, because my parents are American, and I have a very American accent, so I don’t think you’d necessarily know that we were from Norway in the first place. We kind of like that tie to where we’re from, because it has influenced us a lot, and it continues to influence the way we think, and our politics, and things like that. For us it’s a very genuine connection.
What’s it like to actually be from Norway, and then to have outsiders view it as this very utopian place? I’m sure there is certainly some truth to some of the stereotypical benefits of living there, but I know you guys have recently had a right-wing backlash, and obviously no country is perfect anyway, so what are some of the misconceptions or darker sides that we might not pick up on without being present day to day?
Yeah, we always do try to emphasize that; even though some things can be seen as utopian from the outside, we of course have our set of issues that a bunch of really passionate people are trying to work towards. Right now, we have a lot of trouble when it comes to really strict immigration policy, which we’re very much against, because we’re an incredibly wealthy country, and the fact that Norway doesn’t want to share that wealth with people that really need help is something that we think is completely messed up. So that’s a big issue along with this right-wing government, as well as environmental causes and opening up for more oil excavation in Norway, which we’re not really for. It’s a lot of the same things people are struggling with all over the world; Norway is certainly not exempt.
And I know you guys have been active in speaking out against some of these policies, and a lot of people will probably be familiar with your performance in protest of Nordic Mining. Are you permanently banned from that mountain? (Getting banned from a mountain seems very bizarre, by the way.)
Well, we got the mild version, because we were there and were assisting the protesters. We were basically told we were banned from twenty-four hours, and then if we’d have stayed another day, we’d have gone back up. But we were there as sort of motivation, and to support the actual protesters in any way we could. They received fines and were arrested and would still come back every day. One of our friends from our hometown is still paying off his fines and debts to the Norwegian government while his friends are paying off their student loans. He’s the leader of this environmental organization in Norway, and he’s 22. We definitely were on the incredibly mild end of that whole thing.
I think a lot of Americans are getting their first taste of protesting as a result of this current shitshow of an administration. What is the feeling about it in Norway? I would imagine, like most places, it’s not good.
It seems stupid, but I don’t think we ever really get over the shock of the fact that people in power just get away with saying those kinds of things. I don’t know why; we’ve been in this sort of political environment for well over a year now, and every day we show our phones to each other and are like, “What? How can you even say these things? How can these things be happening?” I think it’s still the same as it has been for a while for us, so just continually trying to use our voices as best we can, to show up for things like the Women’s March, and to show up for other things we feel passionate about. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that enough people will be vocal and active enough that we can get to a day where we’re not shocked that these people are still in power. It’s starting to feel (at least for me personally) almost like I’m a little naive for thinking that things are going to get better. All you can do is keep trying, but it does feel a little demotivating sometimes.
I really do think it’s so admirable that you guys are using your platform and your voice in these positive ways, though, which is more than a lot of creators in 2018 can say. I really liked the video you did for “Magazine”, which (maybe intentionally or unintentionally) felt like a parody of YouTube beauty tutorials, or maybe YouTube on a larger scale? Obviously it came out well before that whole Logan Paul drama where he showed a dead body in Japan’s Suicide Forest, but it just seems like a lot of people with huge followings who have the chance to be influencing change for the better are throwing it away on the dumbest, worst shit.
Yeah, I heard about the Logan Paul thing in passing; I’m not really sure who a lot of YouTube-famous people necessarily are, but the news about that particular story reached me. I think we’re not really so into that YouTube world; a lot of the things we watch on YouTube are more music-related, but the culture of always wanting everything to be public has its own downsides, I think, which is kind of a tangent of what you’re talking about. It’s a strange point in time to be becoming an adult, because as very young teenagers we didn’t necessarily have access to all of these things, and then as we grew up we got more and more opportunities to become involved in social media. Meanwhile, some people have been on Facebook since they were 10, or they put a lot of value in what people who make YouTube videos say or do. It’s a very weird thing to start to think about, that we all have this need for comparison to other people, and I think that was kind of the thing we were trying to do in the video for “Magazine”. I didn’t know how to do makeup when I was 14, but the video is obviously a super heavy-handed comment on how appearance isn’t necessarily the most important thing. We’re certainly not anti-makeup or anything like that; we support people expressing themselves and their individuality, and makeup and clothes can be a form of art, which we think is really cool and important! But it’s not the most important thing, to us at least.
Totally. And before we leave “Magazine” as a topic, you sing about Patti Smith (“Patti Smith would never put up with this shit!”) in the lyrics. What would you say to Patti Smith if you were stuck in an elevator with her?
Probably just that I really admire her writing a lot. Of course she’s an amazing musician, but her writing is the thing I’ve always found the most inspiring, because she’s always had this infallible belief that she has something to say. When you’re trying to make it as a musician, and to live off that, just hearing someone that’s so confident in the fact that this is what they should be doing is reassuring. In Just Kids, it seems like she’s always known she’s doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing, and it’s comforting in some ways, like “Okay, maybe I am in the right place and headed down the right path.”
Absolutely! She’s so brilliant, and I’ve seen her perform live readings a few times, but this was partially a trick hypothetical question, because I was once actually in an elevator with her and kind of blew it; for whatever reason, I can’t be in crowded elevators and not say something to break the ice, so on this particular day I said, “How’s everyone’s Wednesday going?” And I just heard someone in the back say, “Well, I thought it was a Tuesday, and also I have allergies. But I guess you’re right about it being Wednesday.” And when I turned around, it was Patti Smith, and I was like (to myself), “Cool, tight, glad I have made myself out to be the most annoying person in the elevator!” It hurt my soul a little bit.
Oh man! Yeah, I feel like you just have to deal with the fact that they’re just people. This is related to that – at our first show in LA this week, there were suddenly these people backstage hanging out with the band that went on before us, and I was like, “Hmm…I kind of recognize that person over there…” and he said, “Oh, you guys are about to go on – do you need us to get out of here or anything?” So I said, “No, just so long as we can make noise! I hope that’s okay!” And then our tour manager comes in and says, “You know that’s Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, right?” And I was like, “Oh man, there are so many rock ‘n roll things I could’ve said other than, ‘Sorry, I hope it’s okay we make a little bit of noise!'” [Laughs]
[Laughs] Yeah, sometimes I guess it’s better that way, than necessarily having the opposite interaction of like, being starstruck.
We toured with my favorite band of all time (Los Campesinos! from the UK) this spring, and it’s the most excited I’ve ever been to go on tour. I was like, “We’re going to get to hang out with them! I’m going to get to see them every night! This is going to be so great!” And they turned out to be the most chill people, so awesome, and all the fear that I had about what I’d do or say never actually manifested. Hopefully it’ll be that way in the future when we meet more people we really look up to. That’s all I can really hope for, at least – not to turn into a mumbling idiot every time. [Laughs]
Have you guys ever been on the receiving end of that? Like, the starstruck ramblings or loss of words from fans?
Maybe from their perspective it’s felt like that? But to us, I think we’re just as nervous about meeting them; I’m always like, “I hope they think I’m cool, and that they don’t think I’m weird!” I think that’s the case with everybody, though; everyone’s always thinking more about what other people think of them than the other way around. Nine times out of ten you’re fine.
Totally. Now, talking of touring and being on the road, are you guys the type of band that can write through that experience? Or do you try to hold off on that until you’re back home and away from the chaos?
It kind of depends. Lasse and Tor especially, who play guitar and bass, are really good about recording demos and working on Logic on their Macs, and they’ll have snippets of things to start on when we get back. That’s really useful, because this fall we toured pretty much the entire season, and then when we were getting back into writing sessions in November, we had a ton of stuff to start with, which was great. I write the lyrics, and I try to work on melodies, too, but mostly I just write words when we’re in the van, because there’s not really a table or that sort of setup. So I go through two phases where I try to write as much as I can, both internally every day when we’re on the road, because there’s so much that happens, and in a dark van for five hour stretches, you have a lot of time to think, and then I kind of look back on those journal entries when we’re working on a concrete song, and I take things from those, underline things that I like, and work those out as lyrics. For me, it’s sort of like prep work for working on the actual songs, and then I sit at home and work on them. It does make life a lot easier when I’ve taken good notes during tour.
And as a bilingual (or multilingual) person, how do the words tend to come to you?
It’s kind of a mix. Most of my journals are written in English, because I’ve been doing that since I was a kid; it was my first language, and the language I spoke at home, so right before bed I was speaking English, which meant I wrote in English since it was the first thing in my head. But when I’m with the guys, the conversations we have are all in Norwegian, and I notice sometimes when I’m flipping back through my notes I have lines or introductions that are in Norwegian, and then it skips to English when I’m thinking in a songwriting perspective. For me, those things are really mixed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, though, because for the next album a big theme is language, and how language ties you to home and things like that. For me, speaking English is such an association with being at home and speaking with my family, and now that I’ve lived away from my parents for a few years, and I never speak English around the house unless I’m talking to them on the phone, it’s a very weird thing – how do you go from not speaking your mother tongue almost at all after you’re used to doing it all the time? I think that’s really interesting, how different languages tie you to different parts of your personality and memories.
Absolutely. Alright, I promise I am about to cut you loose since I’ve held you hostage on the phone for a while now, but to wrap up, what (aside from touring and all that) are you stoked on or hopeful for in 2018?
Well, I’m always excited about new music, and one of the exciting things about being on tour is that we get to meet people who work in music that we normally just email with, so we can ask them about all the stuff they’re working on. We were in LA earlier this week and got inside information about lots of bands that I really like who I now know are going to be releasing records this year, so that’s very exciting. We also live in an incredibly dark place, so just the fact that it’s about to get lighter in springtime is exciting. We’re excited about writing new music, I’m excited to see what kinds of turns politics take and see people using their voices even more actively. I’m positive so far. Trying to stay positive, anyway. We’ll just have to see!