INTERVIEW: Slowcoaches | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Jonny Davies

Listening to the grungy, break-neck punk of London (via Leeds) three-piece Slowcoaches, it’s surprising to know that front woman Heather Perkins comes from a classical music background, with a Grade A in classical singing under her belt. In fact, Heather had never picked up a guitar before Slowcoaches. “It got to a point where I thought that I wanted to make really ugly noises instead of trying to make nice noises and not being that good at it. I first started listening to women in punk around the age of 19 – before that I’d listened to a lot of hardcore and male-centric music, suddenly I realised I could pick up a guitar and make ugly noise!”

Noisy they may be, but Slowcoaches’ debut album Nothing Gives, released at the tail end of 2016, certainly isn’t ugly. A gloriously fast and furious sucker punch of a record, it sits somewhere between grubby and sassy with enough pop hooks to make it an accessible riot. Though fun and high-energy, Nothing Gives’ lyrics deal with a multitude of frustrations and anxieties, and Heather is incredibly honest about her own mental health struggles. It turns out she’s just quit her full-time job and alongside playing with Slowcoaches, is studying to become a psychotherapist. “As someone who has mental health issues, studying it at the same time as working full-time is a little bit stressful. I worked in a male-dominated office complex, which is the antithesis of what I do when I play music. To go between the two is quite emotionally demanding – to come back from touring where everything you do revolves around doing what you love, to going back to a bunch of people who couldn’t give a shit where you’ve been and don’t understand it.”

From the way Heather spits out her lyrics and confidently commands a crowd at Slowcoaches’ intense live shows, it’s hard to imagine she suffers acutely from anxiety. But as many of us battling mental health issues know, what appears on the surface is often very different from what’s going on beneath. “I don’t really know how I do it. The only answer is that I feel like I HAVE to do it. Sometimes I feel so dreadful that I don’t think I can get through a set, it’s not just gig nerves, I’ll have felt like that all day, but something in me tells me I can’t quit. It’s almost self-destructive, seeing how hard I can push myself. Before Tramlines Festival recently I was in floods of tears in the dressing room, but five minutes later I was crowd surfing. I still felt like shit but no one would know! But there’s something about playing songs you wrote when you were feeling horrendous then seeing people singing along and dancing. Maybe it’s about being able to turn something negative into something positive, I’m really fortunate to be able to do that.”

Sometimes I feel so dreadful that I don’t think I can get through a set, it’s not just gig nerves, I’ll have felt like that all day, but something in me tells me I can’t quit

One thing that Slowcoaches are very clear about, is that their shows are safe spaces. Women have been a part of rock music for a long time now, so it seems somewhat contrived to ask about ‘being a woman in the rock scene’. But the fact that organisations like Safe Gigs For Women have to exist and stories of women being assaulted at gigs or by musicians themselves have been at the forefront of the press recently sadly proves that misogyny is still very rife. “To turn it on its head, in my opinion the straight white male rock band is completely irrelevant right now. I feel like people are starting to realise that women and the LGBT community – basically anyone who isn’t a straight white male – have a lot more to say. Frustratingly those straight white male artists still dominate even the underground scene, but I think people are starting to wise up to the fact that we’re starting to own the scene a lot more than those men are. The amount of women playing in very respected bands is increasing, just the attitude surrounding it needs to catch up!

“The idea of being a woman and being a music fan is still slightly different however. Loads of stuff in the media a few weeks ago wound me up – Sam Cater from Architects was playing a show and called out a guy he saw assaulting a woman during one of their songs. But the fact he played the whole song before deciding to say something, left the man anonymous and didn’t get security to remove him, that doesn’t sit right with me. I call people out pretty much every other show we play (and I’m not on a massive stage with security guards), yet the media still celebrated him like he was a hero. There’s still this massive culture particularly in more mainstream punk and hardcore where men are seen as the protectors of women. Frank Carter has a song during his set where only women are allowed to crowd-surf and I actually take offence to that because A) I don’t need a man to tell me when I’m safe to crowd-surf, and B) what are you saying during that song that’s going to make it so I’m not assaulted when crowd-surfing. As long as men exist as both the perpetrators and the protectors, then women still exist as this ‘helpless other’.

“Then there’s also this culture around how outrageous you can be, and that can backfire so easily.” She continues. “Fat White Family for example, have a reputation for being obnoxious, horrible people, but they get applauded for it. When I first started playing punk music, I thought I needed to be brash and obnoxious or no one would notice me. I soon realised you’re actually better off being a decent person and you’ll win more people over in the long term.”

Slowcoaches play Think Tank? Underground at Head of Steam, Newcastle on Monday 23rd October.

 

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