Slowing Down With Geoffrey Scott of Slowness: An Interview
Brief Bio of the Band Slowness
For over a decade now, Slowness has been putting out solid music that is dense, powerful and emotive. And, chances are, you've never heard them. The band is a blend of drone pop jangle and new wave shoegaze under layered and genderless synchronizations and is reminiscent of I.R.S. era REM, Hum, early Stereolab and mid-period The Cure.
Slowness was formed in San Francisco, California in 2008 by Julie Lynn and Geoffrey Scott. The debut EP “Hopeless but Otherwise” was released in 2011. After a jaunt through the United States, the group recorded the LP “For Those Who Wish To See The Glass Half Full”, released in 2013.
The second album “How to Keep From Falling Off a Mountain” was written and recorded by Lynn (bass, keys, vocals) and Scott (guitar, keys, vocals) in both San Francisco and New York, and the duo became a quintet with the addition of Scott Putnam on drums, Greg Dubrow on bass and Sean Eden (Luna) on additional guitars. The record was produced by Monte Vallier (Weekend, The Soft Moon) and Geoffrey Scott.
The latest LP, “Berths”, was released on June 7th to critical acclaim and shows the band embracing their darker side, while still writing transcendent and beautiful and accessible songs. Geoffrey Scott took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with me and discuss the new album, music in general, life in the City by the Bay and books. I hope you enjoy.
An Interview With Geoffrey Scott of Slowness
Justin W. Price: Can you give me some background on Slowness? How did it come about? How is it different from any other projects you may have been involved with.
Geoffrey Scott: Sure. So Julie Lynn and I started this project together in 2008 and we had known each other for about seven years. We had played together casually with friends and we’d sit down and maybe play guitar or something at one of our apartments. I was playing in a couple of different bands. She was interested in what I was doing and I was interested in what she was doing. She never seemed very ambitious about her music. She always called herself a porch musician, which I found hilarious and I still give her shit about it.
In 2006 we got together as a couple and it took a couple years before we started really playing. But for those first couple years she was encouraging me to turn a bunch of noise that I was making into songs because she was interested in forming something together and I thought that was a great idea, too. Up until then I had done some recording— I had played bass in bands and I was playing guitar in The Caseworker for a bit and she encouraged me to do that so I did. So I started demoing and started taking them to her. She learned the bass specifically for this project and as she was learning the bass she was putting down parts to ideas that I had.
That took us a year or two to develop and then we were house sitting and a friend of mine, Erik [Karl], became our drummer and we started demoing there so we were really layering, more like scaffolding, the process more than I had never done before--from noise, to ideas, to four track demos, to adding bass, to getting a drummer, to the three of us being in a room and demoing those songs [as a band]. Then there was me basically learning how to sing, for real, and bringing those demos to Monte Vallier, who has been our producer ever since, and making a real recording out of them.
I was always under the impression with the D.I.Y. idea that you can do everything yourself, but I don’t really think you can. A lot of people do do it, and some definitely can, but I think you need help. So Monte became the person who helped us record and mix. I really think you need someone to mix you and you need someone to master you. I know a lot of the kids these days are mixing and mastering themselves but [laughter] I require help and someone who really knows that they’re doing and someone who is also a bit of a guru in the sense that you can learn from in terms of how to not take yourself so seriously. How to encourage you but also to keep you in check so that you’re not going through the whole thing as sort of an egomaniac. And Monte is that for us.
JP: I know as a writer too...I know the same thing. I mean, I can write whatever but I need someone else separate from me to look at everything to say this works and this is crap. Whatever. Especially if you’re taking your band seriously. That’s really good advice.
What is the name Slowness all about?
G: At the time we were doing the demoing and and and played a couple of shows, I was reading a book by Mian Kundera called Slowness and I just thought it was a cool idea. And we weren’t setting out to be a shoegaze band and we weren’t fans of Slowdive. I was warned against sounding too much Slowdive but I didn’t care. I just liked it. I couldn’t come up with anything better.
And thinking about what it means is kind of relevant because everything is so fast and because of our--Julie’s and my--desire to live a slower life, a quieter life, even though we live in San Francisco which has become the craziest place.
JP: Come on out to Juneau if you want a slower life!
G: Yeah! Exactly. I probably should ‘cause I’m interested in that. But, we’ve built our adult lives here and we’re still here but probably not forever. The idea of Slowness not only meaning that you do things slowly but it also means a quietude and it also means kind of being a little thick, you know? Like not being whip smart about everything and the merit of that. It might have been Bukowski or Burroughs or somebody I was reading recently “I was among my people, who are the dim witted” and Slowness means that too. There’s real value in not being so bright and so sharp and so quick all the time.
JP: You touched on this a little bit but when I hear you, I hear “Disintegration” era Cure as well as shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine. Who are some of your musical and lyrical inspirations?
G: That’s one of my favorite records. I mean, that’s one of my top three albums of all time but I swear I never tried to replicate it. I guess it’s just in my blood to a degree. I guess that’s nice to hear because a lot of people say to make the music that you want to hear.
We never really set out with an idea to sound like anybody. We both love the Cure. I love R.E.M. I was never like a shoegaze fanatic. I like the Stone Roses a lot. I like the Charlatans UK. My Bloody Valentine, I think, is really interesting. I like their most recent album more than anything before that. I did not grow up as a My Bloody Valentine fanatic.
I like some of those bands but I was never totally into shoegaze and wanting to become a shoegaze band and that just kind of happened by default, or by mistake. I really wasn’t that great of a guitar player when we started and I’m still not. I would just would make a loop. I would tune my guitar into an alternative tuning that was easier to play and I would get loops from that and then I would play some arpeggios or some sort of lead melody over that and have different layers of guitars so therefore you have shoegaze, I guess.
And then I always liked, when we were first starting, Kraut Rock. Repetitive drumming, like from Can or StereoLab, that was just sixteenth notes on the bass drum, that kind of stuff, so I guess it just kind of came together like shoegaze and we sort of got lumped into that genre.
JP: I think the biggest difference is I don’t hear the wall of distortion like you do with a lot of Shoegaze bands. Definitely down tempo and simpler sounding riffs that really aren’t simple. One of my favorite albums of all time is “Downward is Heavenward” by Hum. And I hear some of that, especially in the new record, too.
JP: Hum. Remember Hum?
G: Like H-U-M?
JP: Ya. H-U-M. They were a big shoe
gaze band in the nineties.
G: You know what? I don’t know them.
JP. You need to check them out. “Downward is Heavenward.” Great album.
G: Okay cool.
JP: You kind of described your songwriting process a little bit. You wanna go more into what is like for Slowness? Is it collaborative? Are you all in one room? Is it sending demo tapes to each other? How does that all work?
G: It varies. It’s not dissimilar to how we started in that I will send a riff to Julie and she will take it and loop bass parts down, or keyboard parts for it, and harmonies for it. And there are a good number of our songs that start with her bass line too.
This more recent record, this record that we’re putting out, “Berths,” did start with the two of us in a room. Probably more than anything else. We toured Europe in 2014 and we immediately, like the day after we returned to New York, set up our guitars and played, she and I, bass and guitar, and came up with three songs and the next week we recorded them with Christy [Davis].
The second half of the record went back to the old way because we weren’t working closely together anymore. You know, we broke up as a couple during the making of this, so the second half is more piecemeal. Two of the songs on the second side I brought to the table and one of them she brought to the table with the bass line.
JP: How does that work now with you being formerly romantic partners and now just musical partners. Is it more tension? Is it more professional? How does it work?
G: It’s a good question. In some ways it’s better because we’re growing now as collaborators. We’ve taken a certain element out of our relationship and we’re working on this. This band is our baby. We didn’t have kids together. We did this thing together. And it’s kind of precious to both of us. We weren’t sure if it would continue because you don’t know what’s going to happen when you break up. We’ve been working on our friendship and we have been working at our dynamics in the band, which weren’t always easy as a couple. I don’t know if any couples find it easy being in a band together because it’s a lot of hard work, and then at the end of the day you go home together. So some of the dynamics of the relationship creep into the band dynamics and that’s not easy, especially if you decide to break up. You break up because something’s not working. So there were things that were also not working in the band dynamic, but those are the things we’re working on now, and our friendship, so that’s how it’s different.
JP: You guys are based out of San Francisco. Is that where you’re from originally and do you think that San Francisco has affected your music and maybe your lyrics at all?
G: it’s strange because sometimes some people have written [that our music] sounds like California. That it sounds like maybe the Byrds and some surf element. Again, we never tried to do that. Maybe if anything is related to the Byrds or a California sound, that probably comes more from REM and Peter Buck. I don’t try to copy him but it’s just so ingrained in me, but I love his playing so much. When I started playing guitar, that’s how I played. So, I think perhaps that crept in. And then definitely the lyrics. San Francisco has always been a mixed bag for me. I’ve been here for 25 years now, and it’s changed so much and it’s gotten more difficult for me. I really loved it when I got here. And I know everything changes. Every place changes. But what’s happened in San Francisco is not really like any other place. The tech influence and the wealth is more intense.
It’s been difficult to experience. We’re getting priced out of living. Every one decided they wanted to move here about ten years ago. The tech community was all down in the south bay and then everyone wanted to move into the city because they realized “oh, that’s a cool city!” So the real estate goes way up, then the rent goes way up, and people get displaced. The Ubers and the Lyfts add to the congestion, and your old places that were enjoyable to go to have been co-opted and taken over. Or they disappear, like some of the great venues that we’ve played at and hung out at have disappeared. So communities have essentially been— I wouldn’t say destroyed. I mean, some communities have been destroyed. And by the way, I’m coming from a white privileged, middle class, American male perspective. The Latino community in the Mission District has been totally taken over and people have had to literally leave the city, you know. And the same goes for the African-American community. I still have rent control, so I’m not complaining, and I’m also very grateful for everything that I have. But to see all of that go on around you, it’s definitely fodder for writing and grounds for resistance of some sort, and there’s a political element in our writing that’s not just national, it’s local.
JP: I caught some of that lyrically. What I liked about the political aspect of the lyrics is that they weren’t angry or emotional. You were just sharing how you were feeling. I was thinking like Dead Kennedy’s and stuff like that where politics are angry and violent. You know, we need to have some intelligent discourse.
G: [laughs] Well, hey! Thanks! I appreciate the punk aspect. I also am a big proponent of nonviolence, so if that’s coming out that’s good.
JP: Well good. I guess the other question, to kind of dovetail off of that is, what’s the music scene like in San Francisco? I guess you could include Oakland and San Jose and all that surrounding area.
G: For me, Oakland and San Jose are like Los Angeles and Chicago. They’re so far away and I’ve always stayed pretty close to home in San Francisco. I think Oakland’s cool and I like going over there and Berkeley. But I haven’t spent a ton of time over there and I find Trans-Bay commuting very arduous. So, I’ve never had a connection with Oakland or San Jose, socially or musically. There are some really cool bands in San Francisco who are our band friends but the music scene is also being threatened here because nobody comes here to be an artist anymore. It’s too expensive. You have you have some affordable housing for artists to be inspired to move to move to a place. You know, you should only need to come up with five or seven hundred bucks for rent. There are local bands. There are cool local bands. There are artists here. But I don’t feel a great sense of community in that way, because of what’s happened in the city.
The Interview, Continued
JP: What are some your favorite spots to perform locally, and even nationally internationally?
G: Well, one of the coolest places to play in San Francisco has been taken over by a real estate developer and no longer exists. It was called the Hemlock. We used to play there all the time. It was probably the coolest bar/Venue in the city. The room only held, I dunno,100 people or something, maybe 140 you could get in there tops.
There’s a place that still exists called the Makeout room. We are playing our record release show there in June 12th. That’s still there thankfully. And there are the bigger venues that exist but we don’t really get an opportunity to play at those much. We played at a place called the Independent, which is awesome. There’s The Great American Music Hall. And The Fillmore, of course. So those places are still doing fine, as far as I know, because touring bands come in and there’s a lot of disposable income in San Francisco. So at that level, there’s still a music experience, but that’s not the local experience, you know? Whenever I go out to a local show at one of the smaller venues, we’re all usually are lamenting the loss of another venue, or worrying that another one will go away, or that another rehearsal space will get taken over by a developer. So the San Francisco music scene is definitely threatened.
JP: How do you feel about the record?
G: Great! We love it. It’s different from our other stuff. There are songs on each of our previous releases that echo what we’re doing on this one, but maybe only one or two on each. We set out to make this new one a representation of those few slower, heavier, older songs. So the whole thing is slow and heavy and a bit dark. I guess it represents our time. And loss. And what’s going on all around us [in San Francisco]. It’s all a perfect recipe for a really dark document. And that’s what we’ve made. But we love it and think it’s beautiful. If you listen to it at night, or at low volume, you could consider it a chill record. But if you really crank it up in your headphones or listen to it really loud, you’ll get more of the doom out of it. And that’s what we were going for.
JP: How often do you guys perform in general?
G: Umm, not that much these days. You know, because of the change in our relationship, and Jules— she has kids. They’re teenagers now so life is taking over a bit. We’ve taken a big long break from playing. We used to play a lot more and maybe we will more in the future. But for this record, we’re doing four shows and that’s it. We may do a couple more in the fall.
JP: it’s sometimes fun to worry about the studio and not worry about how it translates live.
G: Yeah, exactly. And then we can just take a break and think about the next direction.
JP: Where do you see yourself in the next decade, personally and musically?
G: Oh wow. The next decade. I would like to see this thing keep going. You asked at first how this was different from other bands: I’ve never been in a band where I have such a committed collaborator. Julie is different from most musicians and people that I’ve met and worked with. She’s incredibly dedicated. She’s has kept this thing afloat. She’s the one that, you know, originally lit a fire under our ass to make it something. She has a lot of tenacity and positivity and it takes someone like that to keep it afloat. And I enjoy working with her. This is our fourth record and a lot of people could be content with that— and I am content with that. If we were to say, “You know what, we’ve had a good run. That’s enough.” That could be one direction. But I know there’s more in us. And there’s unreleased material that we have. I don’t know why it would have to end. A lot of bands break up these days and then five or ten years later they get back together, like LCD sound system did. Or like Luna did. They break up, they’re like “We’re done!” but then they’re like “Actually, that was cool. We miss that.” Maybe you just need to look at it differently. We don’t have to work together all the time. We don’t have to do shows all the time, but maybe we could make another album. Maybe it’ll take five years. In ten years I would ultimately like to still have this thing together. I would like to have two or three more records out. And I would like to ultimately not be living in San Francisco. It might be great for lyrical content but it’s stressful. I’m getting older and I want to relax a little bit more.
JP: Where would you wanna live?
G: That’s a good question. I really don’t know. I have some ideas. Like maybe Mexico City or Berlin. Thailand or something. Or Los Angeles or New York. I dunno.
JP: You could try them all though, right?
G: Sure. Yeah. Perhaps. I just like the idea of having a home and I don’t know how to do that because housing is such a problem now.
JP: Moving on. I said we were gonna do some kinda fun questions not at all related to music. The first one, this is a big controversy on Facebook: Does pineapple belong on pizza?
G: [laugh] I mean, I never have it but I’ve never minded it together with ham.
JP: What are your five desert island movies?
G: “Whale Rider.”
JP: Good choice!
G: You like that one too?
JP: Kind of a random choice but a good one. Beautiful movie, all that scenery.
G: God. So beautiful. Okay. Umm. “Paris, Texas” [long pause]. I love movies so much. It’s really difficult. See, I could do this with the records but I can’t do it with the movies. Sorry. I know you gotta go too.
JP: I have about ten more minutes. I’m okay.
G: The “Big Lebowski.”
JP: I was thinking you’d say that.
JP: Yeah. I mean. That’s the one I’d pick. It’s got everything. I’d also pick the “Full Monty,” but this is about you, not me.
G: Ummm. I wanna say “Do the Right Thing” and then “Dead Man.”
JP: Is the Jim Jarmusch one?
JP: Excellent. And what is your favorite book? You’ve mentioned a lot of authors so I didn’t know if you have a favorite book.
G: Awww shit. I really don’t. Could it be my most epic experience I’ve had with a book?
G: The Magic Mountain.
JP: Who wrote that one?
G: Thomas Mann.
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