With the release of new album, ‘Future Echo Returns’, Northern Irish three-piece Slomatics are finishing up their set of three conceptually linked albums. We chatted with them for the first time to find out more about how they work, and what they are going to be working towards in the future.
Interview by Jarod Lawley
Hi, thanks for your time. Firstly, congratulations on your new album, marking the end of a trio for you which started with ‘A Hocht’. How does it feel to have completed this sequence?
It feels pretty good. In a way we felt there was some pressure to give this record a sense of finality that wasn’t there with the first two. They were easier to write in some ways as we were able to leave things open, whereas this time we needed to tie it all together. It felt like we’d managed to do it, at least as far as we wanted to, so I guess it’s mission accomplished. To be honest it’s maybe not something we’ll do again but we’re certainly happy to have been able to see it through, it’s almost two hours of music which to us feels like a lot!
Could you outline the narrative of these three albums, or is for something for listeners to decode and interpret?
Aye I’m afraid it is. We have been asked to give details quite a lot – people even messaging us asking for lyrics – but you’ve hit the nail on the head there, it really is for the listener to interpret things as they choose. That’s something that I loved when I first got into music, trying to work out what the message was, and it really added an element of mystery to the likes of Hawkwind and Sabbath albums. I’ve been amazed at the number of reviews where they’ve really picked up on what the albums have been about, which is really rewarding, but at the same time if someone gets something completely different out of them then that’s great too. I’m also aware that the very idea of a concept album is fairly pretentious, so if people just want to turn it up and listen to the riffs or whatever then I’ve no issues with that whatsoever – there’s plenty of classic records which aren’t about engaging the brain at all.
Where did the idea come from to do a set of three albums and how much planning was put into each individual one?
We talked about it as soon as we started writing ‘A hocht’ and it became a real focus as we wrote that album. We decided then that the narrative would stretch over a couple of albums and when we talked the whole thing through it became clear that there were three distinct phases, so it made sense for each to be an album. We’d talk about how the overall mood of each record would be, and then when it came to writing each one we’d sketch out the narrative and think about the dynamics- light and shade- and really think about how each would flow. With all three, the tricky thing was how to start and finish each record, as that’s where the links were. It was a fun challenge to sketch out a record first and then go away and write it, but it was good as it helped us focus on what was needed rather than just write until we’d forty minutes worth. We’d get quite meticulous towards the end, spending a lot of time fine tuning nuances which, in all fairness, may not even be detectable to anyone other than ourselves. But then that’s the point isn’t it, writing music for yourself.
Do you feel like the band will write albums in the way these last three have been done again?
Right now I’d say never again!! I might feel differently in a year or so, but right now we’ve no intentions – I think it’s done now so to start into another three album cycle might be overkill. We’ve a couple of projects lined up which are different anyway, so it’ll be a year or so before we start thinking about album number six anyway. I quite like to try new things so the thought of focusing on individual songs rather than concepts is pretty exciting right now.
Musically and conceptually, how does ‘Future Echo Returns’ differ from your previous works?
It’s hard to say, I suppose that’s up to the listener to decide really. The aim was certainly to add more depth to this one, and try and push the different elements of our sound without losing what we enjoy doing. Hopefully songs like ‘Ritual Beginnings’ represent a departure of sorts, but at the same time we aimed to write some of our heaviest stuff too. We’re always trying to focus on melody and our singer/drummer Marty put a lot into varying the vocals and trying new things. As unlikely as it may appear to the casual listener we actually do try and add as much melody as possible – I’ve always loved stuff like The Melvins which have these great vocals – so hopefully we’ve added a little more of that. Conceptually it feels like our most concise, but again I’ll let you be the judge of that.
An emphasis on heaviness seems to be consistent with all your albums- is this fixation here to stay?
Yeah. Most of the music I listen to isn’t actually really heavy, and none of us have a huge connection with metal in 2016 to be honest. That said, when we get into the practice space and turn the amps up the stuff that sticks is still the heavy riffs. I think if you’ve grown up listening to heavy music then that’s just in your DNA, there’s no denying it. As much as we love using synths and experimenting, nothing gets close to turning a Matamp up full, plugging into a fuzz box and hitting a low note, there’s just something visceral about it. There’s also a challenge there – there are a thousand bands out there who tune down and play really loud, so I suppose the thing is to try and do something different within those boundaries. We’ve no bass player either so from the very start our tunings and equipment have been geared towards covering the whole sonic spectrum, and that tends to mean focusing on the low end and riff dynamics. All that being said, we’re taking about doing a drums/synth record with no guitars at all here in the Belfast studio we use, so we might change all that. We’re not young anymore, and those amps are heavy to carry upstairs, so Synthmatics could happen!
The doom/sludge/fuzz genre, is no longer a new one- how do you deal with this? Are you always looking to progress?
It wasn’t new when we started either. I mean, there’s always been nasty, fuzzy, heavy sounding bands around – look at Blue Cheer. I think what separates the good bands in any scene from the not so good is simply not watching what everyone else is doing too closely. Of course I love a lot of the bands we play with, like Conan, Ommadon, Serpent Venom, Slabdragger etc, but I don’t think we ever think ‘Oh the new Bismuth record is great so we should do that’ or whatever. It’s easy to rip another band off, but in the end you’ll sound like just that, a rip off.
We’ve always tried to just play the music we enjoy playing, and not worry too much about how it’s perceived. In some ways being from Ireland maybe helps, as the scene at home has always been really supportive and self contained, with no-one trying to hard to be really cool or whatever. In answer to your question, we like to think we’re always looking to progress, but we’re also just playing music for ourselves, so what feels different to us might just be the same old racket to anyone else.
Your approach to songwriting over the years seems pretty stable- is this true?
I suppose so. I think that when our drummer Marty joined it allowed us to be more creative and try new things but essentially it’s just three people in a room with some amps and a drumkit. We still love to jam and pretend we’re Hawkwind in the practice room!
Could you give us an insight into the creative proccesses within the band? What members are responsible for what?
It varies from record to record really, some are more collaborative and others are more pre-planned. I’ve always been able to write riffs and get ideas together for songs, but quite often those ideas will change quite a bit when we get into the practice room. Having Marty in the band has led to much more collaboration – he’ll often hear things very differently from how I intended them to be, and than the whole thing will shift a gear. With the new record I was aware that the studio time was booked so there was some pressure to get the songs together, so I wrote the guitar parts at home and brought them to the other lads, and then Marty would make sense of it all and add the melody and lyrics. I suppose the previous album, ‘Estron’ was a fairly similar approach, but certainly on ‘A hocht’, Chris wrote more of the songs, with the likes of ‘Flame On’ being pretty much his fully formed songs. We jam together a lot and often songs will just develop from there. That’s definitely the most fun way to write.
Over twelve year career, do you feel you have made much of an impact on other musicians and fans?
Yeah, all the people who’ve left the room once we’ve started playing!! I don’t know really, it’s not something I think about at all. I mean, Jon from Conan has done an amazing PR job for us over the years so that’s been immensely flattering given how amazing Conan are, but I don’t think anyone in a band – certainly at our level, which is essentially a garage band – thinks much about their impact. It’s been brilliant playing to big crowds at bigger shows, but I’m always aware that these things won’t last. When all’s said and done we do this because it’s fun, that’s all that matters. I’m sure we’ll still hook up and make some noise for years to come regardless of whether we’re still gigging and recording.
What musicians, old and new, have had the greatest impact on you?
I’ll give you one old and one new. Old – Ron Ashton from the Stooges. He was just so wild – and this was the late 60s/early 70s, and although he was a really amazing musician technically, he absolutely understood the power of minimalism and just hammering out a simple riff. Up until I heard the Stooges in the late 80s I was into thrash metal, and he was just a complete eye opener. Even though I didn’t play guitar then he helped me believe that I might be able to.
New – John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees). This guy is just incredible. He’s clearly very technically gifted, but doesn’t overplay at all. His rhythm work is just really intense, like he’s absolutely beating the guitar to death. That intensity is really inspiring, and that fact that he has such an individual approach really makes me want to push the (very, very limited!) boundaries of my own playing.
You’ve toured throughout the UK and Europe, but surely now you have fans all over the world. Do you have any far reaching tour plans following the release of this LP?
Not really I’m afraid. We all have full time jobs and young families, and touring just isn’t really something that we can do. We try to fit shows in around weekends and time off. We’re heading off to Norway in a few weeks which we’re all really excited about, and we’ve never played there before so it should be fun. After that we’ve some shows in England, Scotland and Jersey happening next year. Jon from Conan is trying to persuade us to do a week around Europe so you never know…
When can fans closer to home expect to see you on stage next?
Our hometown launch show in Belfast is in October and I’d imagine we’ll do Dublin then too. UK shows are happening in the new year, we can’t give too much away about those until the promoters announce things.
Thank you very much for the interview, Slomatics, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Just thank you for taking the time to chat to us. Our new record ‘Future Echo Returns’ is out on Black Bow Records on September 2nd, hope you enjoy it. Thanks!