Whether it’s the hair cuts or the sudden love for chokers – you can’t ignore the ongoing 90s comeback and some of its best (and worst) pop cultural ingredients. The return of many beloved independent music heroes from that era definitely belongs to the first category. British shoegaze institution SLOWDIVE just release their first album since 1995, following a live reunion in 2014. And its a vital return by the five-piece that doesn’t feel like a retro affair at all but more like a logical next step within their own musical legacy.
The tender and haunting return of SLOWDIVE just happens to be one of many recent reunions by beloved 1990s acts that are currently happening. On the search for explanation for this phenomenon we sat down with drummer Simon Scott and vocalist/ guitarist Neil Halstead and confronted them directly with the comeback singles of some of those legendary bands, looking for connections and opinions. It became quite an entertaining and insightful afternoon.
Simon: (in pretended disgust) Uh, that’s horrible!
Neil: What a crap! (laughs)
Do you guys remember the first time talking again and planning the whole reunion?
Neil: We started chatting about it in 2013 really. I did a few solo shows where Rachel joined me for a few gigs and sang a few songs with me. And all the other members eventually showed up there as well. My manager back then was really the one saying ‘You should start playing together again.‘ It first was something like ‘Let’s do an acoustic version of SLOWDIVE’ and that really started the train of thoughts that lead us into talking about recording another album. Then we got asked to play at Primavera in 2014 and suddenly we ended up doing a few shows all over the place. Playing these shows was really important for us to gather a momentum and get some kind of focus to where our record was going.
So, a bit time to reactivate the chemistry was necessary?
Simon: No, it was almost instantaneously. We were an old gang and quite quickly all doubts were washed away
Neil: It’s not like we never stopped talking. We’ve all been in contact over the years between each other. I mean I hadn’t seen Simon in almost ten years, for example.
Simon: Which is weird ’cause we never fell out or something like this.
I can imagine that recording this album felt different than it’s predecessor Pygmalion in 1995, especially in terms of technology.
Simon: Yes, although we intended to specifically record together. Still, it was nice to send around files digitally to other members. Not being forced to record on tapes was also a nice thing. It was quite tough for our bassist Nick who hadn’t been in a recording studio for 20 years.
‘In the end it was a very organic process.’
Neil: After all most of us have been doing records continuously for the past 22 years so we were aware of the changes in the music industry. Returning to SLOWDIVE wasn’t as strange many might think.
02. The Jesus And Mary Chain
Simon: I haven ‘t heard the new album yet, I must confess
Neil: They were the sort of band that made me want to be in a band. They and groups like THE SMITHS, early PRIMAL SCREAM or COCTEAU TWINS.
They are often somehow – as I think – misplaced as part of the shoegaze scene/ movement.
Neil: … which is kind of weird since their career lasts significantly longer than ours and I wouldn’t consider them being a part of the scene.
Did you ever met them? You were both singed to Creation Records
Neil: Yeah, but not at the same time. I remember running into them on a festival a few years ago but that’s pretty much it.
Neil: Ah, is that RIDE? Is this their new single?
It is, indeed.
Simon: That’s really good. Haven’t heard it yet
Neil: When we first signed to Creation Records we played a lot of shows with them; at least one or two tours in America. They are also very close from where we come from.
Simon: Their debut album was released slightly earlier than ours so they already did ‘Top Of The Pops’ while we were still busy playing shabby support shows. (laughs)
The sound of bands like yours and RIDE clearly influenced a younger generation of groups who are now joined by these comebacks. What’s your opinion on the whole ‘shoegaze’ movement?
Simon: We always found that sort of categorization quite hard and never saw ourselves as part of a certain genre. That label was put on us from the outside, maybe because artists like us and RIDE got both signed to Creation Records. But it’s not like we hung out together, shared a studio or played on each other’s records.
Neil: That’s one of the good things about the internet. It allows a younger audience to take a look back, discover new bands instantly and give old records a new value. And it’s also a generation of musicians that was influenced by us. I remember MOGWAI attending our gigs, for example.
Simon: (in an instant) That’s LUSH!
That was fast.
Simon: Yeah, they got that trademark guitar swing sound, I instantly recognize
They are kind of a tragic comeback story as they came back, released one EP and then broke up again after only a year. Are you afraid that this could happen to SLOWDIVE as well?
Neil: Well, we’re fine and get on pretty well. I don’t worry that much about it. If it happens it just happens, you know?
Simon: On a personal level we really enjoy being back together. It’s always a bit strange when you’re teaming up again with your old teenage mates but so far it’s been great. No fighting at all.
A certain wisdom of age is also helpful, right?
Neil: Yeah, of course. I mean we didn’t fight that much when we originally split up. Simon left the band before the final album and when we finished touring it we were still only 23, 24 so it just ran its natural course. Creatively we didn’t have anything left to say, that was just it.
05. At The Drive-In
Simon: Never listened a lot to these guys but I really liked the follow-up band THE MARS VOLTA.
Neil: I remember being on a festival where I was going to see BEACHWOOD SPARKS and these guys played at the same time and pretty much everybody went to see them and I felt like I was the only person heading to the other direction. (laughs)
That’s a very Amercian sounding band and to me the whole dreampop/ shoegaze movement always felt a bit like a counter movement to the whole grunge scene back then. Did you feel the same way?
Neil: Not really. We liked metal a lot, for example. SONIC YOUTH were another huge influence.
‘When we were kids it was more about being against the shallow mainstream pop of the 80s. That was our common enemy, not the grunge scene.’ (Simon)
06. Super Furry Animals
Simon: They are a great band and Fuzzy Logic is an amazing album.
Neil: The solo albums of singer Gruff Rhys are also pretty good.
Yeah, I really like his synthpop side project NEON NEON.
Neil: I haven’t heard them so far.
Simon: He also did this documentary Separado where he went to South America to search for Welsh roots. A really weird but fascinating experience.
It’s one of those bands that constantly managed to slip under my radar. Any other ones you know?
Simon: Lots of bands, obviously. BARK PSYCHSOSIS were an early post-rock band in the 1980s we really liked but they somehow remained highly underrated.
Neil: It’s probably the same with the SUPER FURRY ANIMALS who somehow appeared in the course of the whole 90s Britpop movement without specifically fitting into it.
Neil: (thinking) Starts a bit like LCD SOUNDSYSTEM.
Simon: (a few seconds later) No, it’s GRANDADDY.
Any connection to these guys?
Simon: It’s a funny coincidence since I once played in a band that supported them. I think that was around 1999. Great band, of course.
Neil: I like it. Were they the first hipster band?
Simon: (laughs) Well, probably one of the first ones with the wasted lumberjack look and the beards.
Nostalgia can be both – a useful ally and the worst enemy – when it comes to these comebacks. Did you experience this on the new album?
Neil: We just approached the new LP as a new album. It felt pretty familiar right from the start and it needed to do that so that we can make a SLOWDIVE record.
Simon: There might be a bit pleasure regarding the sound but most of the time we just play for ourselves. We are not a heritage band that relies on old demos. We don’t want to just play the old tunes.
Neil: We’re already quite excited about getting back into the studio and see what comes out of this.