For almost a decade now, ever since they first showed their faces with the single Angst back in 2014, Norwegian band Sløtface have been some of the finest proponents around of taking on the world, its problems and yours, with rapid-fire, razor-blade rock and roll. Across a range of releases and two albums, 2017’s Try Not To Freak Out and 2020’s Sorry For The Late Reply, they’ve brought the smarts to full-throttle pop-punk with songwriting with real heart and warmth.
But all things change, and Sløtface do too. We spoke to bandmember Lasse Lokøy a few years ago about his polyglot pop project Lokøy, and he has since left to pursue that full-time. Guitarist Tor-Arne Vikingstad has also departed, which has left Haley Shea captaining the ship alone. With the band in her hands, she has decided to reinvent Sløtface as a conceptually fluid rock-band collective, able to pass collaborators, ideas and styles through the project’s membrane to fit any task or goal, all operating under her leadership and vision. The first taste we are getting of the new crew is new EP AWAKE/ASLEEP, out this February. The new record showcases a variety of styles, some familiarly Sløtface-y, like HAPPY, others branching out into waters new, like the streetsmart blurry pop of Beta or a blend of both, like the growling Come Hell Or Whatever. We caught up with Shea to find out more.
So, I guess to begin with the obvious – Lasse and Tor-Arne have left, so it’s a new Sløtface. Can you tell us exactly how and why that change came about, and why, in the end, you decided to continue under the Sløtface umbrella as a solo project?
Yes! First things first – we don’t call Sløtface a solo project. We call Sløtface 2.0 a rock-band-collective, basically because I feel like that gives credit to everyone involved in the project, which calling it a solo-project doesn’t. I front the collective and am the main face, main songwriter and I guess project manager, and then the collective includes the live band members, which are a pretty big, rotating cast at this point, but with a dedicated core-band that I try to do as much with as possible, the producers and songwriters we work with, the photographers, artists and people collaborating on the visual side of things and the fans as well.
“Basically, I feel that the music industry sometimes isn’t the best at giving credit where it’s due, especially to songwriters, producers and recording musicians, who are so heavily involved in making music sound the way it does, so when I decided I wanted to continue releasing music under the name Sløtface, calling it a collective felt like the most honest way to go about it.”
To rewind a bit – this change came about after Lasse first, and then Tor-Arne, left the band during the pandemic to pursue other paths in life. Lasse wanted to leave to focus on his solo-project Lokøy, which I highly recommend checking out, and he wanted to move to LA, and Tor-Arne left to pursue his career in journalism full-time, a long-time dream of his. All of that happened very amicably and they were very supportive of me carrying on with the project that Sløtface is, so I’m super grateful to them and proud and happy they are making choices that are the best for their lives. It did however mean some big changes happened quite quickly in my life, because I had seen us carrying on with us as members into the future, so I had to have some big thinks about things when they left. At first, I considered quitting music altogether to maybe go back to school or get another kind of job, but after falling in love with music again after having so much time to think during the pandemic, I realised that I don’t really think there is a path that could make me happier and mentally healthier. At that point I considered starting a new band, or starting a solo project, but in the end, I decided that I love Sløtface’s teams and fans and collaborators all over the world so much, and wanted to keep connecting with them. That still felt honest as Sløtface’s lyrics and world have always had a lot of me in them.
I guess in one sense, it must be an exciting ripping-up of the formula? Because after two albums, you’ve kind of established a sense of who you are, and how you sound, in your own heads and in other people’s. Now you have a new fluid set-up, and no-one knows what to expect. That must be liberating?
It has been liberating and fun and a good shot of energy into the project I think. After the initial ‘what the fuck’ of figuring out what I wanted to do with the project, and coming to terms with the new path my life was taking, it felt a bit like a blank slate that I could fill with whatever I wanted to, and it’s been fun to take all my favourite parts of the old Sløtface and combine them with lots of new elements, people and methods of working on music. After the initial shock it’s been such a creative boost and so fun to explore what Sløtface can sound like with an even more open mind than I had before, because we were obviously a bit set in our roles and routines for writing after being in a band for ten years together.
In terms of the practicalities, what was the timeline of all this happening? How long after the breakup of band did it take for you to start working on music again, and where and when was the new EP written?
We had talked about Lasse leaving first, and then Tor-Arne during the hardest lockdowns in the pandemic, 2021-ish, and I started working on new music during that same year, having the first couple of sessions with [artist and producer] Mikhael Paskalev, who co-wrote and produced three of the tracks on the EP, in June of 2021. At first it was just to test some new ways of making music. I didn’t know if it would end up being for Sløtface, or for pitch [to other artists] or for a new project all-together, but for me the best way to deal with confusing times in my musical career has always been to think less and make more, and that strategy felt like a good one this time as well.
“There’s something about just testing ideas and collaborators for me, instead of giving myself too much time to think, that’s really helpful. After Mikhael and I had written a few songs in Oslo, and I had decided that more music under the name Sløtface was the way to go, I really buckled down on working on an EP from the start of 2022.”
That’s also when we kind of firmed up the core-live-band who play on most of the tracks on the EP, some of my favourite musicians and friends who are quite active in other projects as well here in Norway, and I also got producer and songwriter [and Strange Hellos member] Odd Martin Skålnes on board to help with the EP. He did Sorry For The Late Reply with us as well, so that felt very safe to me in a time where I was doing a lot of stuff for the first time on my own. We pretty much figured out a lot of how this new collective idea could work through the course of 2022.
There’s a lot of variance on the record in terms of sound, with poppy songs like Beta, a pop ballad like Friday Nights, sludgy rock like Come Hell Or Whatever, and then some ‘classic’ Sløtface like HAPPY. You said it’s a mixtape of wildly different things – did you enjoy presenting it to the world like that, like a sampler of the possibilities of the new Sløtface?
Yes! Definitely. I think that’s a good way to describe it. With this first longer release as Sløtface 2.0, I was very intentional about wanting to showcase a lot of different sounds and possibilities, and to keep things open. That way I feel like there’s still a lot of room to experiment on future releases, which is really important to me in this phase and we’re not being so dogmatic about what Sløtface is in this new iteration.
Do you think the rotating collaborator process has changed not only the ingredients that go into the songs, but maybe also you yourself, and how you write?
Absolutely. Working with these collaborators, and getting insight into their songwriting processes, affected the way I worked a lot. Lyrically and sound-wise I was in a very searching phase while working on this EP, so being able to try on different characters that the different collaborators brought out, and experimenting with new ways of writing lyrics and using sound, really encouraged me to grow a lot during this process. The lyrics on Beta and HAPPY for instance are very different versions of me lyrically, and I had a blast tapping into those different ideas.
There’s a lot of identity flux on the record, of looking at your past on Cowboys In The Dark, the future on HAPPY, and a sense of contentedness with your place in the world on Indoor Kid and Nose. Would you say it’s a bit of a ‘where-am-I-right-now?’ record?
Not really. I see this EP more as a journey through songs that are very real and sometimes painfully honest to me and my life. There are songs I think of as the ‘AWAKE’ songs, like HAPPY, Friday Nights and Nose, and those I think of as the ‘ASLEEP’ songs on the record, like Beta, Come Hell Or Whatever and Indoor Kid, which is also where the title comes from.
“I see it as a kind of fluctuation between these dreamier fantasy songs, where I’m really trying to pull myself out of reality and my comfort zone as far as lyrics go, and the places I feel safest and most confident that have a more classically Sløtface confessional style, and then there are some tracks that are in a kind of in-between state, like twilight or dawn.”
How do you see it all working live? The interaction between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Sløtface?
So far, the shows have been such a fun blend of the new and the old. Now that the musicians are different and we’ve added another guitarist to most of our shows even the old stuff feels a bit different to me after playing with the same people for so many years, but I feel it’s all been blending together really nicely. We’re trying mostly just to play the songs we have the most fun with and are trying to make the live-show a very energetic experience and not thinking too hard about anything else.
“The outlines will keep on getting filled in, though I’ll keep on changing” – that line is maybe a nice representation for the whole process of evolution on the EP. Do you feel that way?
I think that could be a way of describing the way I feel some days about this new phase of the band, but to me that line is also just about getting older in general, and learning more about yourself. I think life changes a lot as you get to the end of your 20s for a lot of people, at least for people I know. That line definitely feels too calm and centred to describe my feelings about this process [the changing Sløtface], as most days there has been a lot of energy and excitement and fantasy in this process.
Does it feel very different now with Sløtface as a collective, as opposed to a band? You were the main songwriter and singer before, so things haven’t changed that much in one sense, but now you have 100% of responsibility for the thing, rather than shared responsibility – does that feel different? In good ways and bad ways?
Being organised as this collective that I lead and have the main responsibility for feels quite different to being in a more traditional band. I wasn’t the main songwriter before, and depended very much on Lasse and Tor-Are bringing riffs and chords to start the writing process, so finding new collaborators for that part of things has definitely been the biggest change as I don’t really play any instruments very well. This new way of working has positives, and things that make me sad and nostalgic for the past. On the one end I miss being in my early twenties and being in a band and us hanging out with the same four people all the time and feeling like such a democratic unit, but I also know that that can’t go on forever for most of us, as we get older and have responsibilities and rent to make and all kinds of boring adult stuff. For where I am in life now, this collective set-up is working really well. I love getting to meet new people and making music with them, as well as with some of my best friends, and I also like that the decision process is a bit more stream-lined now that I control the project. It’s an exciting challenge for me as a person and a musician, and I’m quite nervous and excited about where this new future will take me.
AWAKE/ASLEEP is out now on Propeller Records.