Friday, January 27, 2023

Speaking to The Slow Readers Club About Their Latest Album, Upcoming Tour And What They Fear The Future Holds

Over the last decade, The Slow Readers Club have developed a strong cult fanbase throughout Manchester and the UK. Lead singer Aaron Starkie has been at the forefront of the success with his unique vocals and thought-provoking lyrics. 

Yet, with his brother providing an eclectic range of guitar sounds and a rhythm section that consistently drives the songs forward with both precision and ferocity, the experienced foursome have consistently released some of the most intriguing music throughout their time. 

After their previous album, the larger-than-life ‘The Joy Of The Return’, unexpectedly crashed into the UK top ten, the band are back with their latest offering ‘Knowledge, Freedom, Power’.  

Music is to Blame sat down with Aaron to discuss his fears for the future, the reasons to be hopeful and what we can expect from an album that promises to be the band's best yet. 

What’s life been like for you and the band since we last heard from you? 

Obviously, we had covid and everything to contend with like everyone did and we did a lockdown record through that. When things started getting going again, we got back out on the road, did some support shows with Pixies and James, big shows like Castlefield Bowl with Pixies and two arena shows with James in Portugal. It’s finding our feet again, doing some cool stuff and hopefully building it back up. Everyone’s taken a hit. 

As a band that makes their living getting out on the road, how was it finding your feet after such a lengthy period off? 

Yeah, it was a weird one. As soon as we were able to gig again we were doing really. You could sense a bit of trepidation in the audience as to whether it would be the same, but now it feels like it did or even better as people appreciate it more. 

You’ve got your new album coming out, can you explain why you’ve called it ‘Knowledge, Freedom, Power’? 

Because the world has been through some very bleak shit, a lot of my previous lyrics have been quite existential, dark and dystopian and it felt a bit indulgent to write like that exclusively on this record.  

I wanted some more positive messaging. I have a seven-year-old and a twelve-year-old and they’re starting out in life. Me and my brother grew up on a council estate in Wythenshawe and our horizons felt limited, but I was told by my parents that if you try hard you’re as good as anyone else, even if life wasn’t presenting as much opportunity as it would to someone from more salubrious circumstances. I held onto the belief that you can learn your way up, so ‘Knowledge, Freedom, Power’ is like that.  

Also, the world is full of misinformation, so it’s about pursuing the truth I suppose, without being too pretentious about it!  

On your latest single ‘Modernize’, the lyrics are quite angsty, is there a fear in what the future holds? 

That one is a techno-fear song. There’s a lot in the press at the moment about the rise of artificial intelligence and what that’s going to do to the world of work and how many jobs will be wiped out – so that’s scary! I think everyone feels these pressures when you grow up, that you’ve got to keep up with changes in technology and stay in the race kind of thing. That’s where I was coming from with that one. 

It has a good synth riff to it as well as a driving beat, musically it’s cool! 

You’ve touched on the synth and techno aspects of the two singles we’ve heard so far. It reminds me of your previous record ‘Build A Tower’ but with a larger, more anthemic sound. Was that a conscious direction to go in? 

My brother plays guitar and I do the keys stuff. The last record we did and the one before it was more guitar led and that might just have been about the time he had on his hands, but this record tended to be more synth-based. We work on a song-by-song basis though and the record takes its form over time, but with this one we’ve definitely leant more into synths and big beats.  

We worked with a different producer so that means there was a different energy and the process of making the record was different. We had a week of pre-production where the producer worked on the arrangements with us and we got the sonic template for the record established. We are really proud of it and it’s an evolution of what we’ve done before. Hopefully, our fans will like it and it’ll win new people over as well. 

What can we expect from the tracks we’re yet to hear? 

There are brighter things in there. There’s a track called ‘Sacred Song’ which is about an imagined goddess saviour and there are a few others that are lighter in spirit. There is one called ‘Seconds out’ about the impending war in Ukraine that is obviously very heavy but there is light and dark as there has been on all our records, just with our commitment to good melodies and danceable beats. It stands up well against our previous work and the feedback we’ve had so far is positive, so I’m excited! 

What’s the one track you’re most excited about people hearing? 

There is one called ‘Afterlife’ that is very Slow Readers Club, it has a big build into the chorus that I think people will really like. My personal one is ‘How Could You Know’ which has a really nice piano riff and it’s quite a delicate tune. My head is in more of "liking the positivity" at this time. The band like ‘Forget about me’ and it’s a really good tune as well. There is a lot there and I can’t pick one. 

You’ve already touched on AI and Ukraine, but when you’re watching the news do you make a conscious effort of thinking you’re going to write about it or does it come more naturally? 

It’s always bubbling away in the background. With Ukraine, I was kind of nervous about writing explicitly about that, and the track isn’t explicitly about it as at the time of writing the tanks were on the border and people were still speculating. It’s more generally about conflict and the powerlessness of the individual to have any impact on it. Sat here in Manchester talking about Ukraine, it feels like such a remote thing that I can’t influence in any way. It is mostly inspired by world events.  

There is another track called ‘Lay Your Troubles On Me’, my wife and I were binging The Handmaid’s Tale at the time and there’s some lyrics in that track influenced by the show. It comes from anywhere.  

For a while I will just have melody lines and I am singing nonsense and occasionally if I’m lucky I’ll have a hook line or a chorus that will come straight away. Even right up to the studio I can be like “shit I need some lyrics for this one” but usually it works out ok. 

When you are penning lyrics that touch on controversial topics, do you ever worry about how they’ll be received? 

I guess. When I’ve personally spoken about politics on Facebook you get the odd person telling you to stick to music. I’m still a person and so far the band's presence on the internet has been fairly agnostic.  

The more we go on the more I think I’ll say what I like and tough shit. I’ll support the football team I like and I’ll support the politics I like and people can deal with it. You want to be part of the conversation and influence people to your point of view. That’s what everyone tries to do online to one degree or another, but I suppose it is a concern that you can piss people off and they won’t buy your record, but what can you do! 

Does that attitude come from being an experienced band? 

Yeah, I think so. It’s better to have an opinion than not, if not it’s just a waste! 

You’ve mentioned James and Tim Booth has been a massive advocate of The Slow Readers Club. How does it feel having one of Manchester’s most famous sons, despite the fact he’s from Leeds, constantly supporting you? 

Brilliant. It was actually Jim Glennie, the bass player, that tweeted about us. I was sat in work and was proper blown away. We’d never had a sniff of a support slot with anybody. We’d done a few festivals but hadn’t had anyone give us a break at that point. It was more like “Wow they know we exist!” and we managed to get a CD to the band and said we’d love to support them. Fortunately for us they had a record and a tour coming up and we managed to get on it and that changed things for us big time. We were really embraced by their crowd so we’re very grateful for that. 

Tim Burgess has been a big champion of ours, we’ve done his listening party. Clint Boon at XS Manchester has been championing us for years as well so it’s good to have the endorsement of those kinds of people. 

The Slow Readers Club now, it’s safe to say, have cult status around Manchester in a similar fashion to James, do you see yourself as a similar band to them? 

Obviously, they fill arenas and we don’t fill arenas, so they’re in a different stratosphere. We put music out into the world that is loved by an amount of people, but you sometimes want the opportunity for it to be picked up on a film or have a bit of TV exposure, I think we’ve got parallels in that regard.  

We’re just a band making music that a certain amount of people like, and more people would like, if they got to hear it. I think of ourselves as on a par with any Manchester band that’s gone before really, it’s just a question of more people hearing us. 

Do you think about how you’re going to get more exposure when you’re releasing an album, or is it more like we’re going to make music we like and what happens, happens?  

Most of our conversations are made up of how we’re going to get more exposure, it’s our daily WhatsApp conversation! I do get quite relaxed about it sometimes. I’ll leave this earth one day and will have been part of putting six albums into this world that have made a connection with some people and that’s a great thing to have done.  

At the same time, we could be bigger, and we still want to be bigger. We’re supporting Pixies at Cardiff arena this year and have some other TV things in the pipeline that expose us to more people. We’re always looking for those opportunities and each one of those things builds the audience more - it's incremental. Even doing interviews with yourself, it opens us up to new people. 

You’ll be massive once this interview is released! 

That’s what I was told! 

You’ve got a tour coming up in support of the album, what can people expect from the show? 

There are a few things we’re doing production-wise to try and step things up a bit, which people will have to wait and see but it’s mainly making things slicker and linking tunes and things like that. The audience will obviously be hearing new music, we’ll mix up the old stuff whilst playing some of the big hitters. Expect a good time – it’s always a cool atmosphere at our shows. I’m really looking forward to it! 

You’re off to the continent as well, you’ve already sold out a show in Rotterdam. How does it feel when you go to different countries and cultures but still have people connecting to your music? 

It’s amazing! It’s like a new challenge and you don’t know how you’re going to be received somewhere else. Selling out our first show here was a buzz so to do that abroad is fantastic. 

We’ve been fortunate enough to play some festivals in Europe. We’ve done Mad Cool in Madrid and Rock Werchter in Belgium, you play to a few thousand people and then a good proportion of those come to your shows. We want to do more of that. We’re working again at the moment, Covid put us back into our day jobs so we cant tour as much as we’d like to but we’re doing our best to get out to as many places as we can. 

You’re doing The Met in Bury as well, but that’s for Independent Venue Week. 

Yes, it’s a little intimate acoustic show. It’s been a great place for us, The Met. Four of our first five albums were recorded at Edwin Street Studios which is at the back of The Met with a guy called Phil Bulleyment. We played one of our albums in full there a few years back just before ‘Build a Tower’ came out, so it’s a nice one and it’ll be a stripped-back set, which should be interesting. We’ve got to rehearse a bit more for it! 

How important do you think venues like that are? I’m sure you’ve heard about the noise abatement issues surrounding Night and Day in Manchester, how important is it to maintain these places?  

I don’t know where smaller bands would cut their teeth without places like that. I don’t know a band that can pull thousands of people straight out the door, they’re massively important! We played Night and Day tonnes of times back in the day and there are loads in Manchester that are vital. We’ve seen some go already, like Roadhouse, and it is tough, especially at the moment. Economically everyone is feeling the pinch and maybe going out less and venues have massive overheads so it’s really challenging.  

Music is one of our biggest exports from this country so the government should be taking steps to make sure these places still exist. I think they got support during Covid, but it probably needs to continue. 

One final question, you can choose one artist to support The Slow Readers Club, and an artist who you’d love to support, who are you choosing and why?  

The first one is easy because we’ve chosen Andrew Cushin to support us on the next tour.  

I’d probably choose to support The Killers because I think we’d go down well with their crowd and I love their music. Plus, they play sixty-thousand-seater stadiums so that would be good! 

Tickets for The Slow Readers Club's upcoming tour can be found here and you can pre-order the album here. 

James Ogden 

Image: Trust A Fox Photography 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment Here;