Slaves have risen up the indie-rock ranks faster than any band in recent history, and are about to release their second album in as many years.
The duo of Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent produce a snarling punk noise, the kind of music you’d never expect from their native Royal Tunbridge Wells, and are gearing up to release sophomore album Take Control on September 30.
Alex Nelson sat down with guitarist Laurie to talk politics, being friends with a Beastie Boy, and how broken wrists and dislocated shoulders influenced the new record.
We’re coming off the back of the Reading and Leeds weekend, where you guys played on the main stage. What was that like?
“Very, very surreal. Without sounding cheesy it was a dream come true. I don’t think we expected it to be as big as it was and as many people watching us. It was quite surreal.”
Your new album – Take Control – is out on September 30. What can we expect to hear from the new record?
“There’s some new themes – or continued themes I should say – but mainly new instrumentation. There are a few songs where we play our instruments differently and Isaac might be on bass while I’m playing guitar, and Isaac raps a bit.
“But there’s also some really intense songs like ‘Spit It Out’ which reminds me much more of the early Slaves material. I think there’s a bit of everything on it.”
With just guitars and drums that can place limitations on the band. How do you go about keeping the sound fresh?
“We always just experiment, so on the new album there is a song where I’m playing a synth-line on a keyboard.
“We don’t limit ourselves. We don’t just say we can only write with our own instruments; if there’s a piano in a studio, we’ll play it!”
Where did the album title come from? Is it more important than ever for people to ‘Take Control’?
“It’s tied in with the last album – the question of ‘Are You Satisfied?’ The name was the first thing that came before any of the songs; Isaac had an idea for a track called ‘Take Control’, and we just agreed, right there and then, that would be an amazing album title.
“We don’t really like self-titled albums because it seems like a waste of an opportunity to say something – and it just felt ‘right’. Like, Are You Satisfied? and then Take Control. They just lend themselves to each other.”
What was the process behind writing the new album?
“We came away from Are You Satisfied? wanting to write some heavier music. It started off very guitar based and thrashy, but then there were various injuries that meant we had to make it play slower.
“I broke my wrist and Isaac had just had an operation on his shoulder, so playing fast wasn’t really an option. I think that’s where songs like ‘Angelica’ came around, where we were forced to look again at how we play our instruments for a while.”
Do you think, even without the need to play slower, that having a good mix of loud and soft on an album is a good thing?
“I think it’s important to try and get a musical landscape going on. I think we managed that in the songs on the first album, but on this album I think there’s also a landscape in the way it’s produced. Some tracks sound quite lo-fi and others sound quite glossy. It’s a more well-rounded, thought out album.
“We also want to make sure our live shows are interesting and they’re not just breakneck speed, so a lot of the tracks that we just wrote are exciting from a live perspective. Bringing in extra instruments or slowing it down so when you play the heavier ones like ‘Spit It Out’, there’s even more emphasis on them.”
You’re obviously a band with a lot to say. What sort of themes are you tackling on the new album?
“The songs have always been rooted in social observation and politics.
“But I definitely think this album dips a bit further in to politics without directly saying which politics. We want to inspire people to have an opinion rather than give them our opinion.”
You’ve spoken in the past about your love for hip-hop and grime. Will we be seeing those influences make an appearance on the new album?
“There’s a track called ‘Consume Or Be Consumed’ where Isaac has these ‘bars’ that he’s had since he was 16. I’ve been trying to encourage him to use them for years but the time never really felt right. But on this album, after everything that happened with our Live Lounge and performing with Skepta, it felt right to put a hip-hop track on.
“So Isaac raps on it and then Mike D does a verse at the end.”
How did that collaboration come about, and what was it like working with one of the Beastie Boys?
“Obviously working with a Beastie Boy is just surreal – to call one of the Beastie Boys your friend is very odd and something you never expect to say.
“But as soon as we met him he was just a normal person like everybody else. He works really hard in the studio and he got a lot more out of us than we normally do; he pushed us and helped the songs on a lot.
“It came about because one of his friends passed him our record, and he approached us like ‘I want to make some music with you’. It was never meant to be an album, we were going there just to get in the studio with him. But within a couple of hours it seemed obvious that we were just going to make an album.”
Take Control is released on September 30 via Virgin EMI. Pre-order it here