Sløtface have a brand new record out TODAY! Titled Sorry For the Late Reply, it’s PURE FIRE; I’d highly recommend grabbing a copy ASAP. In advance of the release, I spoke to Haley Shea about the writing and recording process, performing the new tracks in front of some unconventional audiences (inmates and high school students throughout Norway, the band’s home country), welcoming a new drummer into the Sløtface family and more, so get ready to internet-eavesdrop on all of that (and more) below:
Congrats on the upcoming record release! What was the timeline like making it? What are some of the first lyrics, chronologically, that you wrote for it?
We started working on it right off the bat after the last tour we did for the first record. We got off a really long (for us it was really long) eight week tour in 2017, and then I had all these ideas that I started working on while we were still touring. I covered one of the walls in my bedroom with paper and started writing down notes, and the first few bits of things were for the song called “Passport” and also the song that’s called “Sink or Swim”. Some of the lyrics from each of those choruses built the foundation for the rest.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you sort of threw caution to the wind in terms of really doing what you wanted to do with this record, and not being worried about that. It doesn’t seem that you were particularly self-conscious with the material first record, but was there any big shift for you as a band that made you feel especially comfortable with this one?
Yeah, I think the whole throwing caution to the wind thing is more about us being more confident on the second record, because we learned a lot from making the first one. I think we felt a lot less pressure, and I think we felt that we knew what we liked and knew a little bit more what we were doing this time. That made it easier to work on. And we also wanted things to feel a little bit simpler; a lot of our focus with the first record was like, “How fast can we play this?” or “Look at how difficult this is to play!” But nobody really cares about that, and we learned that after the first record I think. That was really the driving force. We weren’t trying to make anything complicated, necessarily.
Totally. Now, I also heard you’ve been playing some of the new songs at Norwegian schools and prisons, which is super interesting!
Yeah, while we were working on the new material we did two rounds of tours of Norwegian high schools, and part of that is that we also play shows to inmates who are receiving a high school education. They’re offered the same program as other high school students are; it’s called The Cultural Backpack in Norway. And we got to do at least two gigs in prisons on the last tour, which is really interesting and fascinating. It’s a really cool thing to get to do.
Absolutely. Do you feel like you learned anything new about the prison process in Norway? Obviously it’s very different to what we have here in the US.
I don’t know if we learned very much that was new about it, because it’s kind of common knowledge that rehabilitation is the big focus in Norway. So receiving an education is a big part of rehabilitation. But for us as musicians, it’s really cool to see what kind of music the inmates are making, because a part of rehabilitation is having healthy outlets, and music is one of those things. It’s always one of those really nice things about playing music; no matter where you are or who you meet or what kind of life you have, if you’re into music, you have a lot of things in common, and a lot of things that are really easy to talk about. That was no different with inmates in prison, which is a nice, full-circle kind of experience.
How was it playing in the high schools? Any direct feedback from the students? Any tough love that you didn’t expect? [Laughs]
Well, playing in prisons is a lot easier than playing in high schools, which shouldn’t be surprising, but I guess it kind of was. It wasn’t “tough love”, but we like to do these school tours because we get to play to people that we might not necessarily get to play to, and we get to play to a lot of people that might not necessarily think they like the kind of music that we make, but when they get the chance to see it, maybe they like some part of it. As a musician, you usually play music to people that have bought a ticket to your show and like something about what you’re doing, so that’s a really interesting experience.
It’s also hard, because almost anything that high school teachers told me I needed to do when I was in high school, I was less excited about doing than if I’d just found it on my own. Like, awesome books that we read in school were just less good because somebody said I had to read them. So I have full sympathy for all the kids we played to that were like, “This is gonna suck because my teachers told me I have to go to this.” So it’s a pretty unforgiving audience, especially because they’re teenagers and they don’t show a lot of emotion, necessarily. Or they might pull pranks or pretend that they’re too cool to be there, but a lot of the conversations we had with them one-on-one afterwards were really rewarding. And we get to talk to them about what they think about music, what they think about what they want to do with their lives, what they think about feminism, the environment…all of that kind of makes it worth it for us.
Totally! That also makes a lot of sense about things being less appealing when they’re compulsory. It’s just so funny to think that anybody would be unenthusiastic to see you guys play, though! I came to Øyafest in 2018 and you couldn’t even get close to the stage since there were so many people watching your set! Now, playing these new songs live, what’s the learning curve been like for how they’ll translate when you’re on tour?
We’ve been working on the live set a lot lately, and for the past few weeks we’ve been finalizing it before we play the first shows in the middle of February. We have used a lot more synth elements, and there’s at least one song that has a cello track on it, and I think we thought those would be harder to translate to our live expression than they actually ended up being. We’ve changed some things, so they don’t sound exactly the same as the record, but it’s been cool to try and figure out a different way to play them. We wrote them one way and ended up recording them another way, and now that we’re playing them live we’re working on a third way to play them. It’s always kind of a nice challenge, because it’s never fun when you’re sick of playing the same thing. That’s happened; we played a lot of the songs on the last record for a year before it came out, and then we played them for another year, and by the end they’d kind of lost a lot of meaning. [Laughs] So it’s nice to have these new lenses to look at things through, because it forces us to get excited about the songs again every new time we have to work on them.
Right. And you’ve got a new drummer now, so has that lent itself to reimagining any of the songs, or just changed up the dynamic overall?
I think in any group setting, bringing in a new person who has their own personality and different energy levels and things like that is always going to be interesting. As a band, we’re a really super tight-knit group; our first drummer, Hal, we all grew up together, and we were almost like siblings. So having a new member was weird at first, because I felt like I became a lot more self-critical of how we worked. There was a lot more need to talk about things than what normally might’ve just been things that everybody just understood already. So that definitely changed a lot of things for us, because when there’s a new person there you have to explain some of the stuff that might’ve seemed obvious before. And as soon as you start explaining, you might think a little bit differently. That goes for the recording process, or how we wrote the music. I can’t think of any concrete examples right now, but yeah, bringing Nils into the room was a really nice change. It was nice to have different energy. Of course it was weird, and we missed Hal, especially in the beginning when we were working on songs he’d worked on for a few months with us, but we got used to it.
Cool, that’s exciting! Now, are you finished up with all your coursework now? I saw you’d been taking some classes which ended up inspiring some of the ideas on this record.
So Tor, who plays guitar, is getting his masters in business (I think that’s what you’d call it) now, so he’s still doing coursework, but the rest of us aren’t. But I was taking a few classes at the university in Bergen when we first were working on this record, which was fascinating. I took my first American literature class, which I thought was really interesting; I took that in college, and I was obviously a lot older than maybe a lot of the kids in the States would be when they read these things. I thought that was weird and interesting, and I learned a lot. It gave me a lot of new perspectives on things that I think maybe a lot of Americans who’ve gone to school might take for granted, that everybody knows about. That was interesting to me.
Well, and you obviously have American heritage, but then growing up in Norway and identifying as Norwegian…how does it feel to learn things about the US through the lens of a Norwegian curriculum or a Norwegian news cycle?
It’s always been weird for me, ever since I was a kid. It’s not a thing I agonize over all the time, but I don’t really identify as Norwegian. I don’t identify as American, either; I’ve always kind of felt like I’m a little bit in between those things, which I think is great, because it gives you a kind of mixed perspective on things. But it’s also always weird, especially in the political climate right now, or the political climate when I was a kid, when Bush was president, during 9/11. It’s a weird lens to see things through, to be on two sides of it, kind of. I think I’ve always struggled a little bit; there are a lot of stereotypes about Americans in Europe, and that goes for Norway as well. Like, all Americans are “fat” or “lazy” or “eat junk food all the time”. I’d always have really strong reactions to that when I was a kid, like, “Not all Americans! You guys don’t know anything!” But at the same time, I’m not really interested in defending the States at all times, either, so it’s a weird in between place, and it always has been.
I bet, especially now. Speaking of which, we’ve got “New Year, new me” on the record, so to wrap up, I’ll ask you about which lies (if any) you’re telling yourself this year. I know I’m telling myself plenty of lies about self-improvement.
Yeah, of course. I’m still trying to always be healthier, exercise more and eat less sugar, but it doesn’t seem to be going that well so far. [Laughs] My resolution this year was to eat more regular meals. I thought I’d set the bar low, but already that’s proving to be difficult. [Laughs]