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

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Image: Owen Sanger (aka Slobo)

We’ve just begun a short heatwave in the UK when I manage to put faces to names and connect with Slobo & Azere via Zoom. They look suitably fresh and summery, Owen (Slobo) in a baking attic room in Leeds and Rowan (Azere) in Kenya, which turns out isn’t as hot as England today.

The conversation flows easily as Owen expounds on his eagerness to see their seven song Open & Endless EP released, finally. “The focus has been on just getting it out. We recorded it last year. I was meant to go to a party in January but then I got Covid and that coincided with Rowan sending over a load of beats, ideas for me to play around with. So, I was stuck on my own writing to those tracks for a week and then in February we got to write and record together.”

As independent songwriters I wonder how working as a duo transpired and Rowan continues, saying: “I’ve always loved Owen’s songwriting,” – it’s apt to mention here that the pair met in high school music class and stayed friends over the years despite moves to the likes of Japan and Cardiff – “I write instrumentals, I don’t have a mind for lyrics all the time and I had a few pieces of music and I thought Owen would be open to combining our efforts.” Guitarist Owen found the idea of being given some music upfront freeing compared to his usual process, a chance to experiment and “sing weird or focus on anything other than my hands playing guitar”.

We got a lot of things off our chest that we hadn’t had a chance to express and we both wrote lyrics. It felt really natural

With their internet collabs in the bag the pair grabbed a few days at Planet Telex, a smartly refurbished old telephone exchange building out in the Northumbrian wilderness. Given the location’s history as a communication hub, Owen highlights the irony of the EP having “a communication theme”. “We got a lot of things off our chest that we hadn’t had a chance to express and we both wrote lyrics. It felt really natural,” Rowan elaborates. The songs on the EP bear this out, they are having conversations with each other, lyrically and musically, but also “talking with our past selves or to other people in their lives” says Owen.

The lead track Wild Things, Wild Places has an expressive honesty, its light tone and swaying lyrics about opening up to beauty, even the darkest parts of yourself. It immediately feels safe and sets a very high bar. Followed by For Tris, a heart-breaking ode to loss, it’s obvious the pair are digging deep emotionally. Moonbeams includes conversational studio excerpts that also litter some other tracks, and these ground the music in a definite physical space. Speak In Colour, with a gentle acoustic riff begins: “Please shut the fuck up, I’m talking. And I don’t do that much”, expresses everything at the heart of the EP. Vulnerability in emotions, perhaps specific to young men, the song then unfolds, widening out into a rainbow of progress.

Open & Endless feels very much like a labour of love; crafted and cared for, it comes replete with beautifully evocative artwork by Sophie Forster illustrating its lyrical content. Rowan casually mentions other half written musical pieces currently in the ether and personally I can’t wait to hear what comes of these too, because I’m left wanting more.

Slobo & Azere release Open & Endless EP on 21st July.

Image: Rowan Lees (aka Azere)

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