In 2015, with their Mercury-nominated debut album, Slaves joined a generation of young Londoners in an existential crisis to ask them ‘Are You Satisfied?’. A year later, the two-piece punk band were telling that same generation, whom they’d been observing with their sophomore album in mind, to ‘Take Control’.
On the eve of the release of their third LP, which insightfully explores the everyday ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’, chatting to Clash in a pub in Camden Town, they’re more mature, pensive and confident, and ready to shake off any preconceptions the industry may have had of them.
“I would say this is the sound that I’ve wanted us to work towards forever,” explains Laurie Vincent, the Kent punk duo’s guitarist, as soon as we get into talking about the new album. “I feel like this album, now, is what Slaves has always been in my head”.
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Since their first album, Slaves have been championed by tastemakers, made fans out of musicians from all genres, and become popular among punk fans as well as in the mainstream. This is partly to do with their charismatic live performances, in which vocalist and stand-up drummer Isaac Holman converses with the crowd, tells stories and screams over Vincent’s penetrating riffs. But it’s also to do with their charm, sense of humour and social commentary.
Despite these elements, however, Slaves have also received criticism from people within the indie scene, with questions being raised about their authenticity. For example, in an interview with Crack magazine in 2015, Nottingham two-piece Sleaford Mods described Slaves as “a pile of shit” and claimed that the band were “trying to play this working-class game” and were “fucking appalling”.
Meeting the band, however, there aren’t any false pretences. They have a youthful self- assurance that gives them the confidence to crack jokes and talk about what they want. But, as well as this, they seem equally sensitive and vulnerable, which suggests that their music, which has in the past questioned the political landscape, environmental consciousness and social science, might be the result of a childlike inquisitive nature, rather than provocation, anarchy or activism.
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I feel like this album, now, is what Slaves has always been in my head...
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“There are still influential people in the industry that just don’t understand us,” Vincent says when asked about the criticism. “They don’t get it. But then you don’t get a lot of things if you don’t give it time to consider them. And not a lot of people will have time to consider things they’re not interested in”. Holman agrees, clarifying “If these people met us, in real life, I guarantee they wouldn’t be saying that stuff”.
When asked about what their critics might like about their latest album, Vincent replies “Good question”. After pondering, he says “I think, if they listened to this album, even if they were still not to like it, I think they would give us points for how much we’ve developed”.
He also adds that “it’s only been two years since ‘Take Control’” but in his eyes, they’re “almost a new band” and explains how he feels like ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’ is going to “make people see us for the first time”.
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‘Photo Opportunity’ - track seven on the nine track LP – seems to structurally and lyrically represent the direction the band are going in. It still has an un-compromised, DIY style, but with a maturity that has evidently come from long hours in the studio and a genuine, constructive reflection on their previous projects. “I stuck that on when I was really hungover the other day and I just started crying,” explains Holman. “It was just proper… it gets me. Like I’m listening to someone else’s tune. I don’t think I ever had that on our other albums. This is the first time and it feels good”.
“‘Photo Opportunity’ was actually the first thing that we’d written, post ‘Take Control’” Vincent adds. “I remember being at Shepherd’s Bush [Empire] on the ‘Take Control’ tour and soundchecking that riff and Isaac starting to write it. We’ve had that song the longest, and it was actually the first, out of what’s on the new album, the first song we wrote. And as soon as I heard the more introspective lyrics, I was just like ‘keep doing that’… the second verse of ‘Photo Opportunity’ is my favourite lyrical part of the album”.
Talking about the lyricism on ‘Photo Opportunity’ and the rest of ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’, and reflecting on some of his previous work, Holman almost stiffens up. “I feel like we exhausted that kind of social commentary thing. We were just barking about what was wrong with everything… we can’t just keep going on about what’s wrong with the world”.
Vincent agrees, laughing “Not for a third album… I remember saying to you that if we were gonna do it again, we’d have to offer a solution!”
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I stuck that on when I was really hungover the other day and I just started crying...
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As well as experiencing varied lyrical content on ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’, you’re taken on a meandering sonic journey. The album kicks off with ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’, a hard- hitting intro, described by Holman as “the best” social commentary track, which will reassure Slaves’ fans from the early days, followed by the more playful ‘Cut And Run’.
‘Daddy’, which features subtle backing vocals from Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell, provides a melodic interlude after the “fucking heavy” ‘Bugs’ and one of Vincent’s son Bart’s favourite’s ‘Magnolia’, and before you know it, you’re listening to track nine, the title track, which concludes the album.
“I think it’s gonna make people pay attention when they listen to it. Because it keeps going like that,” Vincent claims while explaining the variation on the album. “It’s almost like each song is a room you step into. Because ‘Artificial Intelligence’ has this grungy, futuristic type of sound. It’s almost like a film with every song. There’s like a feeling and a mood. And when we recorded that, we reflected that as well. We didn’t just spend a week smashing them out”.
Three albums deep, despite the cryptic social media posts and job adverts suggesting the band were splitting up, which turned out to be promo for their ‘Chokehold’ video in which Vincent hosts auditions in the hope of finding a new drummer while Holman pursues a dancing career, the bond between the pair seems as real as ever.
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We’ve both brought such different skills to our band. Literally polar opposites...
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When Holman talks, Vincent listens intently like a younger brother. “In reality, I think I’ve learned more from Isaac than anyone else, ever,” he declares when asked who’s taught him the most valuable lessons over the years. “We’ve both brought such different skills to our band. Literally polar opposites and watching Isaac, and his help in the studio, has got me to a point where I can almost sing a lead part”.
Joining Slaves for a drink, reminiscing over their previous works and chatting about their latest project (as well as Vincent’s new customised Fender guitar) made it clear that the two-piece have not actively tried to create an image of themselves that they think people want to see, and haven’t tried to cater for any sector of the music industry in particular. Rather they have been working hard to make music they’re proud of, while sharing their musical coming-of-age with whoever wants to listen. Judging by their palpable excitement and eager confidence, ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’ is the project they are most proud of and is an honest body of work that they hope will take them to the next level as recording artists.
“As much as it's a compliment to hear 'You've gotta see them live!',” Vincent explains. “I want someone to say 'You've gotta listen to their record'”.
Well, ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’ is out today (August 17th) and… you’ve gotta listen to their record.
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'Acts Of Fear And Love' is out now.
Words: Patrick Fennelly / @Fennelly
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