Long Read: Slaves – “I feel we get misjudged all the time”

With a dislike for authority and a reputation for hard-hitting live shows, Slaves sure sound like your regular indie punk band. However, with their latest release Acts of Fear and Love, the Kent duo opens up, defeating all pre-judgment and let their emotions out.

“Did you know Iggy Pop collects chairs, and he has a parrot”. The boys of Slaves are currently sitting across from me in a mediocre backstage room in Oslo. This is one of the first stops of the duo’s European tour in support of Acts of Fear and Love, and as of now, the spirit is high.

So far, we’ve touched on the subjects of Scandinavian etiquette (“I’ve read that you guys aren’t big on small talk”) and interior design, before establishing that contrary to popular beliefs, the Kent duo has a rather fancy taste when it comes to bottled water.

Their latest album, Acts of Fear and Love, offered a clarity and emotional tinge that we’ve not seen much of from the guys before. It is a release that seems self-indulgently introspected, whilst still offering an honest commentary on the current political and socio-economic situation. Opening up a conversation through lyrics as well as a boundary-pushing soundscape, even the title holds dual recognition of unforgettable school knowledge as well as a welcome reminder.

“I was sat in this class and the teacher for some reason started going off on one about the meaning of life, and got really deep. It was. It was essentially: ‘there’s no such thing as hate. Just acts of fear and love’”, drummer, Isaac Holman says. It is an old lecture, yet it’s painfully relevant today. “It feels like just a reminder that we’re all human is quite necessary. Especially in these days because of all the political turmoil and scandals” guitarist Laurie Vincent states.

The cover of the release is graced with a picture of the duo, though, rather than the usually glossed over rock cliché, Slaves have gone for a much more mundane everyday vibe. “We wanted us the be on the cover, that was the main thing. Then we just did loads of setups around the house”, Vincent explains. Setting up around Isaac’s house, the homely atmosphere did perhaps stretch the comfort of the shoot, resulting in the cover photos. 
“I just ended up getting in the bath,” Holman tells. “Laurie sat on the toilet, and Laurie’s son Bart just wandered into the room, and the photographer snapped it.” “It just sort of happened.”

“We put way more of ourselves into the record”

The cover art might be the result of a happy coincidence, the record itself is much more thought through than the rather straightforward melodies we’ve grown used to from Slaves.  Acts of Fear and Love was recorded in a residential studio space in Brussel, and here they embarked on the all-encompassing musical journey that would result in their third studio record. The guys talk about how they really took control of the album process, and how those efforts resulted is an album with a much wider scope of reality as well as emotion.

“I guess we just approach it in a way that we put way more of ourselves into the record”, Holman ponders. “Usually it feels like you just record it, and it’s all quite practical, but we just gave it so much more emotionally and physically [this time]. We just of explored our own creativity a lot more.”

Vincent elaborates on how the songwriting took the front seat on the release. “It was more controlled, we were really writing songs a lot,” he states, continuing that the songwriting process was a lot more elaborate and prolonged than what they were used to. “We were writing songs right off the back of Take Control and the tour we went on in 2016. ‘Photo opportunity’ came about on that tour, and we‘d just keep playing it and writing on it, and when we got to the studio it still wasn’t finished. On the albums previously we just wrote the songs and recorded it how they were written, whereas this time in the studio we were changing things, changing structures, basically putting a lot more thought into our songwriting.”

Fronting themselves as a punk band with an emphasis on high-energy live shows, Slaves perhaps isn’t the band you’d expect to release emotional songs about heartbreak. However, the duo is coming into their own as a band, and with that pushing the boundaries of their own perception. “I feel like, whereas before we were kind of trying to shout for a lot of people – it’s way more personal this time”, Holman says. “It delves into love and memories. I feel like it’s more personal – it’s a lot softer on some levels. Then again, there are also cuts that are harder than we’ve ever gone as well. Like the end of ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’ and the song ‘Bugs’ are pretty hard hitting.”

“We are serious sometimes, and sometimes we’re just stupid.”

This contrast between hard and soft seems to be a profound new asset for the duo, and Slaves are taking the full advantage of a more personal record. Though the writing was more considered it wasn’t a burden on the boys. Vincent admits that “it was different”, but insists that it was a good different. “It just felt very honest and real.”

Throughout their catalogue, the guys manage to balance between the serious and the silly. Their sense of humour is conveyed both through their smashing live shows and music videos as well as golden one-liners. However, the duo still doesn’t steer away from the serious matters, whether is it voicing their opinions on matters such as the situation in Palestine or the state of the music industry.

“We are serious sometimes, and sometimes we’re just stupid. I feel like we like to get out personalities across in the music we make. It wouldn’t feel right if it was all silly or if it was all serious, its gotta be aspects of all of our personality traits”, Holman explains. Vincent elaborates that “early on, we started enjoying the fact that we confuse people. They don’t know how to perceive it.”

“Entertainment, energy, lots of sweat.”

Though they clearly love the live aspect of being musicians, the touring life isn’t always easy. The constant travelling and rollercoaster lifestyle can take a toll on anyone, yet the duo really attempt to take healthy measure, Isaac does admit it’s intense at times. “We have a few mental breakdowns, but overall we’re pretty good. It’s intense but we love doing this.” Despite the breakdowns, they reassure us that a Slaves tour really doesn’t fall prey to the clichés of rock’n’roll. “It is ups and downs, but we really do look after ourselves physically and mentally. We exercise, we eat well. Laurie doesn’t drink at all, and I don’t drink very much”, Holman says. “We take it pretty seriously. We want to give our best performance every night, and we want to feel good”.

Preparing for their biggest UK tour to date, Slaves seem pretty chill about the whole idea. Already known as one of the UK’s most ferocious live acts, it’s not surprising that they list “energy” high amongst their live assets.

What can the crowd expect?

“Entertainment, energy, lots of sweat. Laughter, seriousness, embraces”, Vincent Lists. Holman states boldly that “there’s nothing like it.”

‘Slave’ is defined as “a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them”, in the Oxford dictionary. And whilst the choice of band name may have come with a sense of youthful rebellion, it also stands as a shining protest against the norms.
“We were inspired by bands like the Clash and Sex Pistols. I think we were just looking for an abrasive name that sounded like a punk band. Slaves came up and we were like, ‘yeah that sounds like a punk band’. We were both working really dead-end jobs, doing things we hated. Both had been told our whole life to go to university. Don’t be in a band, don’t shave your hair off, don’t grow your hair long”; Vincent explains.

“I don’t ever remember anyone saying I could do anything apart from going to university”

Their creative endeavour is just as much about eliciting a sense of safety as a protest against the British way. Slaves don’t seem to have much of a wish to follow the conveyer belt of life, and as a band they seem to thrive in opposition. It’s a very punk testament and yet, on ground level, it seems to grow from a very human need for a sense of belonging.

“I don’t ever remember anyone saying I could do anything apart from going to university”, Vincent admits. He continues pondering how the elitist view of the system seeps into education as well. “I remember picking drama and music and art as the subjects I wanted to do for my exams, and people were saying they’re not real subjects. Whereas studying geography is a real subject. So, I think there’s big reforms and big changes that have to be made in the UK. Like, everyone I went to school with they’re all miserable. All got massive debts and don’t have jobs they like cause they listened to the older people. Fuck the adults.”

Despite the call for change, and further denial when I ask if they aren’t a bit adult, Slaves aren’t against running the course. “There’s definitely subjects you do need to go to university for but it’s not for us”, Holman clarifies. 

It’s unconventional and I think it shows the element of possibility”

Throughout this conversation it is clear that Slaves aren’t a band that’s afraid to hold their ground or use their voices. And, though their statements hold some wise thoughts as well, their most prolific output is the music they make. They want to inspire people, even if it might be inspiring someone to go to uni. “Just give the feeling that they can also do something, anything. It might inspire them to go to university”, Vincent says. “We’re just like two people who aren’t the best at our instruments, but just have a lot of fun. We just picked them up and were just like, ‘let’s start a band’. It’s unconventional and I think it shows the element of possibility and the excitement in being able to create new things.” “Just do stuff, do it cause it feels good, as long as it’s not hurting anybody else”, Holman concludes.

In a time where political agendas seem to be at the forefront of everything, it is hard to keep a creative venture authentic. As art is inevitably shaped by society, and in this case, a society so polarised it’s hard to see any middle ground, is it hard to not let the opinions be the only output? “I feel like without even addressing it, you are addressing it – because you’re in it”, Holman ponders. Though it isn’t as bleak as it may feel. “I think all music and all art is a political act,” Vincent states. “To be as anti-establishment to make something which seems frivolous. We’re not using our time to be efficient tax payers, or to benefit society in general, we’re actually quite self-indulgent. It is a political act to pick up an instrument I think”.

Whilst being a musician may not be the most efficient way of serving your country or paying your bills, it can certainly have some good sides. “I’ve listened to music every day since I was 16 – like, every day,” Vincent shares. He continues to ponder over how much music says about perception. Often being labels as typically masculine men, the honesty and emotions that came through on the album was perhaps a surprise for some. Although they are aware of this, the duo think it’s important to push against those masculine stereotypes as well as showing emotions for everyone.

“To see a band like us bring a love song into the album I think was important.”

“I think songs that are about love that’s coming from masculine people..”, Vincent starts off. “I think that a lot of people have the wrong idea about Isaac and myself, that’s we’re quite boisterous. Hearing us write a song about heartbreak, which we’ve both experienced, that’s a good thing for society as well. Not for it always to be pop acts talking about love, rather not believably, and to see a band like us bring a love song into the album I think was important.”

The hyper documentation of everything seems to have increased the need for instant gratification and superficial impressions, something Slaves have felt as they’re passed judgment on.  “I feel like we get misjudged all the time”, Holman says, and Vincent adds that he feels “like we’ve always been misjudged”. Despite the harsh judgment, Isaac thinks it’s a result of how we consume everything these days.

“I think it’s easy for people to do it”, he says. “They just see the haircuts or the tattoos or they listen to like one section of our music and they just miss the point. Anyone that every looked into our music actually understands it. And that’s another important part about society now is that people do just judge everything on the first initial impression. Spotify – 30 seconds of a song, or less. Everything is fake, it’s quite hard to go deeper with things.”

Though the world may seem like it’s growing increasingly superficial, I mean a Reality TV star is running the most powerful country, it’s not all dark. But, as the Kent duo suggest, maybe we need something constructive, a different focus.

“When you look at the grand scheme of things. It’s mental.”

“That’s another reason why we thought we’re gonna write some other songs and look more intrinsically at ourselves, because there’s only so much you can keep telling people that’s everything‘s fucked before they go ‘well what are you gonna do about it’”.

Is everything really fucked up though? 

“Trump’s pretty bad, like when you look at the grand scheme of things. It’s mental. That’s why we’ve gotta have this positive message and everyone just gotta like go to more gigs. Music makes people happy, and I think even the way Isaac drums is a political act, the way he refuses to sit down like a normal drummer. People seeing that. Kids seeing a new way that things are possible, opening up their minds, who knows what will come next.”

In the end, all we’ve got to do is see what comes next, and hope it’s good. And for Slaves, that means heading out on tour, playing shows, and hopefully, they’ll inspire someone to pick up their drumsticks or go to university.

Slaves embark on their biggest UK tour to date, kicking off this Wednesday, 7th November in Newcastle and ending at London’s Alexandra Palace on the 24th. Tickets for the tour are available to purchase now.

Words and Photos by Aurora Henni Krogh

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Aurora Henni Krogh

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