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

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“A band called SLUG can be anything that you want it to be, it doesn’t carry any real baggage. A name like Slayer for example, that immediately gives you an idea of what that band want to be. SLUG gives you that freedom to do whatever you want to do.” So says Mr Ian Black, the man behind the moniker. Yes, the age-old ‘what does your band name mean?’ question is horribly hackneyed, but here it’s important. You see, SLUG as a band represent a sense of freedom, of the wonderfully unpredictable, of not being afraid of offbeat idiosyncrasies. It’s this lack of restriction and self-consciousness that has allowed SLUG to create what may be the most unashamedly eclectic album of 2015 with debut RIPE.

A reference to the time it took to come to fruition (four years to be precise), the seeds for RIPE were first sown when Black, a stalwart of the North East music scene and former front man of surf popsters The Bubble Project, was touring as a session musician with Sunderland legends Field Music. “At the tail end of the Field Music tour in 2010, I was instilled with this sense that I could do my own thing. I’ve always wanted to work on my own project, but that’s when you realise all your own weaknesses. When you thought you were great, it turns out you’re not, and I had to learn everything from scratch, but I found that really exciting.”

Incredibly self-critical by his own admission, Black describes his first year of demos as containing “a lot of dross”. All part of the editing process, Black allowed these demos to steer him in a new direction until two years after he started he was happy enough to show friends what he had created, enlisting the help of Field Music’s David and Peter Brewis. “After Peter enjoyed the first real slice of SLUG, which was essentially Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped In Plastic, there was a snowball effect from then on and we went into the studio. We tried to be as over ambitious as possible; we knew everything wasn’t going to work and that’s fine. It gave me a lot more scope to work with different songwriting techniques and sonic ideas.”

As for the recording process, Black was meticulous, writing down more or less every part of a song to take into the studio, playing each part himself “no matter how badly” to get his ideas across. “I’m terrible at explaining myself, so that way David and Peter could see what I wanted. They’re both extraordinary engineers; they know music inside out to the point where you start double guessing yourself. There were a few head in hands moments where I was just like, ‘Pete, fix this for me will you?!’, but at the same time, I knew what I wanted. You always have to stay true to your own vision, and Peter and David understand that. They were very pivotal in making the album sound much better than I could have ever done by myself.”

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SLUG as a band represent a sense of freedom, of the wonderfully unpredictable, of not being afraid of offbeat idiosyncrasies

Despite this painstaking approach to recording, Black allowed himself to continue to think outside of the box to create a record that is both precise yet surreally fun, full of twists, turns and obscurities. It’s impossible to pin RIPE down to one genre, something which perhaps comes from the melting pot of influences that helped to shape it, from 70s horror film soundtracks by Goblin to Prince and Led Zeppelin. “The great thing about those film scores is that they jump all over the place, from prog-rock to punk then all of a sudden you go into some kind of drone or minimalist classical – it keeps your attention all the time and that’s what I wanted to do with RIPE. That’s why there’s an eclectic mix on there; I don’t want to repeat the same idea over and over, and I thought I should be more bothered about trying to double guess myself than the listener trying to double guess it.”

As a listener, it’s not so much about double guessing but about being constantly thrilled by RIPE at every turn. Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped In Plastic is all fuzzy guitars and jittery energy, perhaps reflecting the paranoia of the subject matter which takes on the idea of people in power realising it was all an illusion when they once deemed themselves indestructible. “I realise people probably think, ‘what the fuck is he talking about?’ [the cryptic song titles and lyrics are a recurring theme], but I get bored when lyrics are very straight, I like to have a bit of fun and use imagery. There’s a trick in every song.” Running To Get Past Your Heart sees Black’s love of surf-pop come back to the fore, while Kill Your Darlings could easily be part of one of the aforementioned 70s film soundtracks, with its slightly ominous tinkling piano keys and careful percussion melding with Black’s smooth vocal harmonies to create a quiet sense of claustrophobia. Then there’s sleazy stomper Greasy Mind which has a hint of INXS’s Need You Tonight about it. “That’s my Pour Some Sugar On Me Def Leppard tune that one, it’s going to be a dance floor classic!” Laughs Black. “It’s about straight-up coitus to be honest, but it’s tongue in cheek. We’ll call it ‘the sex song’. I allowed myself to be sleazy on one song.”

Obviously it’s incredibly difficult to talk about SLUG without mentioning Field Music; after all, the prolific Brewis brothers have an almost legendary status within North East music. David and Peter both play in the live incarnation of SLUG, along with Andrew Lowther and Rhys Patterson, and the Brewis-isms we’ve come to know and love are present on RIPE, particularly when it comes to vocal harmonies and percussion. With SLUG being very much his brainchild, does Black worry that the Field Music connection may overshadow his hard work? “I’m not daft, I knew those connections would be made. But I would personally say SLUG was mine. When you’re talking about the sound of the album and how it was engineered, that’s where Pete and Dave had their influence, their fingerprints are on there, but about 95% of everything was written before I went into the studio, including drums and piano. There were times when Pete and Dave would add things, and everything they did add – the bastards – always sounded better than what I could have done. I know what it is, Pete and Dave know what it is, and people who follow the band know what it is. People thinking that your album was made by Pete and Dave out of Field Music is a complement more than anything, but I don’t worry myself too much about whether people think it’s a Field Music thing, if I did I’d drive myself round the bend.”

SLUG release RIPE on Monday 13th April via Memphis Industries. They play Stockton Calling at The Georgian Theatre on Saturday 4th and The Cluny, Newcastle on Sunday 12th April.

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