Image by James Grey
While they might have been part of the north-east circuit for over a decade under different names, in the last couple of years a new line-up and a stunning new set of material has seen the beautiful, bittersweet Slow Decades come into their own. With this material finally seeing release this month of their brilliant second album Hinterlands, I caught up with the band’s frontman Ben Lowes-Smith to delve into the roots of the record.
Discussing the writing of the album, Lowes-Smith notes, “I was living in Leeds for two years and then I moved back to my mam’s in County Durham, which was a bit of culture shock. The national representation of the north-east makes you feel like it’s a bit of a backwater with nothing to offer, but having since lived in cities outside of the region I can say with some conviction that Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough are where some of the most wonderful, vibrantly creative people I’ve had the privilege of meeting live and practise. I have no choice but to love where I am from, and a lot of this record is about interacting with that environment.”
As such, it’s an album whose hushed love songs and reflective rumination is deeply ingrained with a politicised sense of belonging, a wilful act of art to spite those who would write of the people and the works of this region. On his lyrical approach, he offers that “it’s something that resonates with me though – trying to see beauty in ugly situations, finding the glitter amongst the rubble. I think that sort of thing colours quite a lot of our songwriting to be honest.”
Part of the confidence and maturity of this latest effort also comes from a more collaborative and cohesive working environment. “Our producer Marc Bird is a good friend of ours and is a consummately professional and talented producer. I’m also grateful for Paul [Gardner, guitars/keyboards]’s diligent approach to the writing sessions in pursuing a much freer approach than we’d taken previously, and I think our best material came out in that. He’d have a chord progression, I’d sing some nonsense words over the top, and it’d go from there. It was a period when we were fairly prolific and pushing each other to be the best that we could.”
I have no choice but to love where I am from, and a lot of this record is about interacting with that environment.
Despite being a band whose distinct musical and lyrical approach keeps them from falling in too easily with any one scene, Lowes-Smith remains proud and determined that Slow Decades continue to defy the safety of categorisation. “What we’ve always endeavoured to do is write interesting, idiosyncratic guitar music with good words and good melodies that is emotionally resonant. I’m not entirely comfortable with the indie pop tag – I think it’s a pretty inward-looking, aesthetically insular scene, and as much as I really love some of the bands that have come out of all that I’d never want to impose such an insularity on our output. There are loads of bands in the area who I like a lot, and I have made tens and tens of friends through playing music in Newcastle – some of the nicest relationships I have in my life. Even if what we are doing is miles apart, you can always find some common ground.”
Slow Decades play Endless Window at The Cumberland Arms on Friday 17th March with Deadwall and May Days in Barcelona. Hinterlands is released on Monday 20th March.